Whilst preparing for our recent trip to Burma (Myanmar) we came across references to the ‘jumping cat monastery’. Most of these references have little information beyond “cats jumping!!” consequently we had not realised that we were to visit this fabled place.
The jumping cat monastery is more properly called Nga Hpe Kyaung (Ngaphechaung) Monastery and is located on the western shore of Inle Lake in the Shan State of Burma. Transport around the area is almost entirely by boat and this was how we arrived.
The monastery is reported as being from the 1850s and is of wooden construction, on stilts over the lake. Burma is famous for its timber, especially teak, and this is often used as a building material for monasteries. We were later to visit the stunning example of a teak monastery at Inwa (Ava) south of Mandalay, called Bagaya Kyaung Monastery.
Architecturally, Nga Hpe Kyaung Monastery is typical but no more impressive than others in the area, although the pillars are impressive.
The monastery is as well know for the quality, and variety, of its collection of Buddha statues, as well as its jumping cats, for example:
And now the cats.
The sign above is the crux of the phenomenon of the jumping cats; they have been trained – bribed – to jump through hoops for food. Arriving towards the end of the day the two cats out for performing were not especially interested in doing anything, on account of having been eating all day. The old cat was having none of it and just continued to sleep, oblivious to bribes and the waiting tourists.
Fortunately, for us, the younger cat – who was very similar to our Lucy cat – was persuaded, by gentle stroking and pointing at the hoop and food, to demonstrate its legendary jumping skill as the photographs below show:
Further evidence of the jumping of the cats can be seen in the numerous videos available, for example this one. The most impressive photographic evidence can be found here, which has not one but two simultaneously jumping cats.
We would have liked to explore more, as there was a shop and cafe, but visiting time was up. On the way out was a sign explaining the philosophy of the monastery:
Welcome to Ngaphechaung Monastery
We thank you for coming. This is a Buddhist communal monastery. Here we, the monks, have devoted our lives to the three main causes:
1. to learn, practise and progress towards Nibana,
2. to unfold and teach this wholesome means of truth-finding to others,
3. to propagade the Dhamma for the sake of worls peace.
We also strive to teach the people to cherish their traditions and culture, and to keep up their morals.
As such, monasteries like ours have become the centres of learning, teaching, practicing and even consulting.
We welcome everybody here regardless of race, colour and religion. However, we expect you to be properly dressed while visiting here. You do not have to pay any fees. Contributions are at your own discretion. These will be greatly and duly used for the community. We thank you for understanding and co-operation. May all beings be blessed with peace and right happiness.
Ngaphechaung Monastery – Worded & Donated by Tin Aung Moe (Tour Guide)
— words by Paul
— pictures by Paul & Elizabeth