If you ask a Buffalonian what they like most about their city, there’s a pretty good chance they won’t bring up the weather. However, when San Da, spiritual leader and founder of the Bodhi-Sukha Monastery in Kenmore, is asked what he likes about Buffalo, the first words out of his mouth are, “I like the weather. The snow”.
For San, the cold weather is a relief. San is a recent immigrant from Burma, which has an average daily temperature of 77 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter. An active member of the Burmese community in Buffalo, San has spent the past three years establishing a monastery and furthering his ties in America.
San emphasizes the word “different” when he describes his past and present lives. The economic and geopolitical status of our two nations are polar opposites. In Burma, San witnessed restrictions on basic freedoms - a reason he believes the freedom in the U.S. is much greater. Burma, now known as Myanmar, recently experienced a mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims fleeing a campaign of ethnic cleansing by the current governing party, the National League for Democracy. The Burmese government favors tight control over what their people can and can’t do. Citizens who criticize or disobey the government receive severe punishments, causing an increase in their prosecution throughout the last year. Although San continually describes the U.S. as more free, he maintains a deep love for and pride in Burma, looking forward to returning there one day.
San believes healthcare in America is much better than in Burma, despite the language barrier for individuals with limited English proficiency. However, this difference is all positive for San. He has very little to complain about; in many ways life is better for him in Buffalo, and it is very evident that his spirituality helps him maintain a positive outlook on the world.
Buffalo’s Burmese population has continuously increased over the past few years; about 8,350 Burmese have made Buffalo their home in the past decade. These refugees are fleeing violence and persecution from their home country and a life in Buffalo is their chance to live freely and peacefully. However, members of the Burmese community still face many hardships here, including a language barrier, culture differences, obtaining education, and dealing with trauma. While getting here brought them physical safety, these hardships prevent them from living the lives they deserve. The refugees need an environment that is inclusive and welcoming in order for their transition to go as smoothly as possible. There are a few groups in Buffalo helping to make this happen, including organizations like the International Institute of Buffalo, Journey’s End, and the Burmese Community Support Center. San Da’s work helps to continue this aid for the Burmese community.
In Burma, San’s monastery served as an education center for the town. There he helped to teach between one hundred and two hundred children, ranging from the ages of five to twenty. San’s Burmese monastery sent him to Buffalo to create a new monastery that would unite Buffalo’s Burmese community.
For San, the Burmese community here in Buffalo is incredibly interconnected. San and the five other monks who live near him work hard to keep the Burmese community together and he enjoys visiting the other monks often. The community has monthly events and weekly meetings where they share knowledge and their religion, and they help families in the community. Together, they provide a situation in which the Burmese community feels tightly connected; no refugee will feel left out at San’s hands. In addition to the connections of the Burmese community, they are also furthering their inclusion in the greater Buffalo community.
Meditation plays a key role in San Da’s life. For him, Buddhism requires meditation to maintain purity. San notes, “All people individually...are angry, hungry, thirsty at any time, so that is a problem. All the time they want to sleep or walk or stand or sit for a long time is very bad for you. So our mind, our heart…can’t be clear or pure so I will meditate at any time so my mind is pure. That is our (Burmese) knowledge.” San has no problems here; his monastery is his home, and it’s clear how much he cares about his mission and the members of his community. By spreading his message of meditation and purity of the mind, San Da hopes to ease the troubles facing the community, one heart at a time.
“All people individually...are angry, hungry, thirsty at any time, so that is a problem. All the time they want to sleep or walk or stand or sit for a long time is very bad for you. So our mind, our heart…can’t be clear or pure so I will meditate at any time so my mind is pure. That is our (Burmese) knowledge.”