The Southeast Asian country of Burma remains an elusive destination for many a globetrotter. The country-which is held on a tight leash by the military government, sanctioned by the West for numerous human rights violations, and known officially as Myanmar-has only been open to tourists for 15 years, and it still gets fewer than one million visitors per year. Lucky for Santa Barbara, then, that the Museum of Art is bringing Asian art expert Donald Stadtner to town to sign his new book, The Birth of a Sacred Site, and give a lecture on the spiritual highlights of this hidden land.

A former professor at the University of Texas in Austin, Stadtner began visiting Burma with funding from the Smithsonian Institute in 1979. He’s been back countless times and has published other books about his research there. For this lecture, Stadtner will focus on the three sacred centerpieces of Burmese’s Buddhist tradition.

The first is the Shwedagon Pagoda, which is the major national temple. Inside the large golden stuppa, legend has it, are eight hairs from the Buddha that two Burmese brothers were given in India after his enlightenment. The second site is referred to as the Golden Rock. It’s a large boulder that sits on the precipice of a cliff, balanced perfectly. The belief is the balance comes from a piece of the Buddha’s hair in the middle of the rock. And the third major tourist attraction and sacred Burmese site is the Mahamuni Buddha, a 6.5-ton bronze statue. It was taken from western Burma in an 18th-century military campaign and moved to the Mandalay area, where it’s been a pilgrimage site ever since.

Stadtner agrees that Burma is a largely unexplored land, but explained that travel there is really quite easy. He also leads tours himself for as many as six people, so maybe this lecture could serve as the jumping off point to your next adventure.

Stadtner will speak about the sacred sites of Burma at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art on Sunday, September 23, at 2 p.m. Call 884-6423.


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