The late Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw was born in the year 1904 at Seikkhun, a large, prosperous and charming village. At the age of six, he was sent to receive his early monastic education. Six years later he was initiated into the monastic Order as а samanera 11 and 11 A novice monk given the name of Shin Sobhana (which means Auspicious).
He was ordained as a Bhikkhu of November 1923. Sumedha Sayadaw Ashin Nimmala acted as his preceptor. Within four years, Ven. Sobhana passed all three grades of the Pali scriptural examinations conducted by the government. Ven. Sobhana went on with his own.
Ven. Sobhana went on with his own studies of the scriptures, being especially interested in the Mahasatipatthana Sutta. The Mahasi Monastery at Seikkhun (whence he became known as Mahasi Sayadaw) fortunately remained free from the horror and disruption of war. During this period, the Sayadaw’s disciples prevailed upon him to write the “Manual of Vipassanā Meditation”, an authoritative and comprehensive work expounding both the doctrinal and practical aspects of satipatthana meditation.
It was not long before the Mahasi Sayadaw’s reputation as a skilled meditation teacher had spread throughout the region and came to the attention of a devout and wealthy Buddhist, Sir U Thwin. U Thwin wanted to promote the Buddha Sasana by setting up a meditation centre directed by a teacher of proven virtue and ability. After listening to a discourse on vipassanā given by the Sayadaw and observing his serene and noble demeanour, Sir U Thwin had no difficulty in deciding that the Mahasi Sayadaw was the meditation teacher he had been looking for.Then, at the personal invitation of the then Prime Minister, U Nu, Mahasi Sayadaw came down from Shwebo and Sagaing to theSasana Yeiktha (Meditation Centre) at Rangoon, accompanied by twosenior Sayadaws. Thus began Mahasi Sayadaw’s guardianship of theSasana Yeiktha at Rangoon.
On 4th December 1949, Mahasi Sayadaw personally instructed the very first batch of twenty-five meditatorsin the practice of vipassanā. As the meditators grew in numbers, it became too demanding for the Sayadaw to give the entire initiation talk to all the meditators. From July 1951, the tape-recorded talk wasplayed for each new batch of meditators with a brief introduction by the Sayadaw.
Within a few years of the establishment of the Sasana Yeiktha atRangoon, similar meditation centres were inaugurated in many parts of the country with Mahasi-trained members of the Sangha as meditation teachers. These centres were not confined to Burma alone, but extended to neighbouring Theravādan countries like Thailand and Sri Lanka. There were also a few centres in Cambodia and India. According to a 1972 census, the total number of meditators trained at all these centres (both in Burma and abroad) had exceeded 700 thousand. Mahasi Sayadaw was honoured in 1952 by the then Prime Minister of the Union of Burma with the prestigious title of Aggamahapandita (the Exalted Wise One). At the historic Sixth Buddhist Council, which was inaugurated with every pomp and ceremony on 17th May 1954, Mahasi Sayadaw played an eminent role, undertaking the exacting and onerous tasks of Osana (Final Editor) and Pucchaka (Questioner). In 1957 the Buddha Sasana Council of Burma sent a Theravāda Buddhist mission to Japan.
Mahasi Sayadaw was one of the leading representatives of the Burmese Sangha in that mission. Also in 1957, Mahasi Sayadaw undertook the task of writing an introduction in Pali to the Visuddhimagga 12 Atthakatha, to refute certain misstatements about its famous author, Ven. Buddhaghosa. Considering these fruitful activities in promoting Buddhism in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, we might describe Mahasi Sayadaw’s missions to these countries as “The Dhamma-vijaya” (victory of the The Dhamma) journeys.
It was characteristic of the Venerable Sayadaw’s disinterested and single-minded devotion to the cause of the Buddha Sasana that, regardless of his advancing age and feeble health, he undertook three more missions to the West (Britain, Europe and America) and to India and Nepal in the three years (1979, 1980 and 1981) preceding his death.
From the memoirs of a contemporary (Shattock E.H. An Experiment in Mindfulness. New York): “By the end of the first week of my retreat, Mahasi Sayadaw came back from the hospital, and invited me to give him a daily report.
He looked sick and tired, and yet immediately impressed me as an example of remarkable self-control. He was a tall, well-considered man, his face expressed curiosity. I felt that this was a man of great understanding and sympathy, without narrow concepts of truth. I was encouraged by the idea that he might approve of my questions and that from him, I wouldn’t have to settle for a formal, doctrinal response. It was not coming from self-absorbed ascetic; his face radiated power and confidence and serenity”.
Sumathipala Nahimi Senasun Arana
Sumathipala Nahimi Senasun Arana Heelbathgala Road Kanduboda Delgoda Sri Lanka
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