National Geographic : 1963 Feb
press on the Buddhas. So much gold has been added to one bronze Buddha in Mandalay that his hands and parts of his body have all but lost their shape. Shrines and temples stud this land in such amazing numbers that I asked a friend, "How could Burma afford to build so many?" "Haven't you heard," he asked, "how our ancient capital, Pagan, acquired its temples?" I hadn't, and so he told me the legend of the hermit Shin Issagona, who sought the philosopher's stone to turn base metals into gold. Like many a hopeful alchemist, he felt he had all the proper ingredients. But 178 he failed. Disgusted, he threw the mixture into a cesspit. There was a flash of flame and a plume of smoke. Acid in the cesspit had provided just what was needed. Shin Issagona took the magic stone he thus obtained and told the people of Pagan to heat caldrons of base metals. Then he touched each caldron with his stone. And by his magic, everyone acquired an abundance of gold to contribute to building temples. Seeing so many shrines all around Manda lay, I was ready to believe that story. Gleam ing marble and whitewashed spires rise like forests of fir trees whitened with snow.