English Section

      Buddhism Today 

Vietnamese Section

   

...... ... .  . .  .  .
The Myanmar Contribution to the Spread of Theravada Buddhism throughout the World
Professor U Ko Lay,
Vipassana Department, Faculty of Pattipatti, Yangon, 1998

It is as a religion that Buddhism has come into contact with Western thought, and this has been through the Pali tradition, the Buddhism of Ceylon, Burma, Siam and Cambodia" [1]

"He who knows Pali needs no borrowed light: When the sun is shining we do not need the moon" [2]

On this auspicious occasion of the Inaugural Opening Ceremony of the International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University, it is pertinent to recall the first Buddhist Mission ever sent to the West, organized by Myanmar people. The mission headed by the Venerable Ananda Metteyya formerly Allen Bennett of London arrived in England on 23rd April, 1908, fully ninety years ago. Although of short duration, the mission remaining in London for only eight months, served as great impetus and Inspiration to Bhikkhus from Myanmar to follow in his foot steps.

Inspite of great barriers, chiefly of language, in their missionary path to the West, many Myanma Bhikkhus beginning with the most Venerable U Thittila blazed their trails one after another, not only to England but to Japan, America, Australia and finally Africa. Their shining example of persistent endeavours to spread the Dhamma throughout the World should serve to give inspiration to us, the faculty as well as the students of this unique International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University and to instill in them a sense of responsibility for continued maintenance of the Path that has been laid down by their glorious predecessors.

I

The First Buddhist Mission from Myanma to the West

Germans claim to be the first Westerners to gain an insight into Buddhism and to extol it. They have very good reasons to do so. Two profound philosophers, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and a great composer Richard Wagner interest in Buddhism at the beginning of the nineteenth century; Indological research at the German Universities penetrated it to its very roots. "Great scholars such as Hermann Oldenberg, K.E.Neumann, Paul Dahlke, George Grimm, Karl Seidenstucker, Nyanatiloka Maha Thera (Anton Gueth), the first German to be a Buddhist monk, and a host of others provided excellent translations of the Pali canon as well as original works on the doctrine and history of Buddhlsm." [3]

There is also the British claim that, of all the countries in the West, Britain has rendered the greatest service to Buddhism. The name of Rhys Davids is prominent amongst the British scholars who dedicated their lives to Buddhist studies. Rhys Davids and Robert Childers were in the Ceylon Civil Service for several years. Both of them were drawn to the study of Pali in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). On his return to England in 1864, Childers compiled his famous Pali-English Dictionary which gave a great impetus to the study of Pali.

Founding of the Pali Text Society

Rhys Davids resigned from the Ceylon Civil Service in 1872. Back in England, he associated himself with the work of Childers, Oldenberg and Fausball. Of the many and varied contributions he made, the greatest was the founding of the Pali Text Society in 1881. He announced the object of the Society as follows: 'To render accessible to students the rich stores of the earliest Buddhist Literature now lying unedited and practically unused in the various MSS scattered throughout the University and other public libraries of Europe!. The most learned Sayadaws of Myanmar headed by Ledi Sayadaw and the Ven. U Nyanna were among the distinguished scholars from Ceylon, England, France, Germany, Holland and United States who had welcomed his project of founding the Pali Text Society.

After the Society had been successfully launched, the first task undertaken by Rhys Davids was editing the Pali Texts in Roman characters. Within twenty years, all the Pali canons and their Commentaries were completely edited in Roman characters. The next project, to translate the Tipitaka into English, began earnestly with the co-operation of well-known scholars from various countries.

Contribution of Myanma Scholars

It is a matter of great pleasure to know the early association of Myanma learned Sayadaws and scholars with the Society-in its noble task of translating the Tipitaka into English. Their learning and enthusiastic support were freely made available to the Society. Mrs. Rhys Davids was fondly called "London Devi" by the illustrious Ledi Sayadaw for her frequent references to him for expositions on knotty problems she had encountered in her translation of Pitaka especially Abhidhamma.

When Pitaka translations were begun in 1910, Mrs. Rhys Davids pressed into service the Buddhist scholarship of U Shwe Zan Aung to translate and edit the Abhidhammattha Sangaha which was published as Compendium of Buddhist Philosophy. This was followed in 1915 with Kathavatthu(Points of Controversy), translated and edited jointly by them again. U Pe Maung Tin who became the first Head of the Oriental Studies of Yangon University translated the Atthasalini as the Expositor. This was followed by translations of the Visuddhimagga in three volumes.

The most erudite Sayadaw U Narada of Patthana fame was approached by Miss I.B. Horner to tackle the highly abstruse and expansive treatise of Patthana Pali, the seventh book of abhidhamma which had been given up by Western scholars as a "valley of dry bones". Sayadaw U Narada rendered it into English under the title of Conditional Relations in two volumes which appeared in 1969 and 1981 respectively. The same Sayadaw translated Dhatukatha, the third book of the Abhidhamma Pali and it appeared in 1962 as Discourse on Elements. To make further contributions to Pitaka translations, the illustrious Ashin Thitthila of world fame undertook the translating into English, of the second book of the Abhidhamma Pali, Vibhanga. The Pali Text Society published it under the title of the Book of Analysis. The Sayadaw's literary achievement is all the more remarkable in view of the fact that the translation was made during a short visit to England where he celebrated his seventieth birthday upon completion of his translation work in 1966.

The First Practising Buddhist of Britain and the Buddhist Society

The first fifty years of the nineteenth Century saw feverish scholarly activities in most of the Universities of Europe and Britain with scholars collecting Buddhist manuscripts, cataloging them and beginning to translate some of them, most importantly the Dhammapada. But the interest in Buddhism remained mostly academic, confined only to the University campuses.

The appearance in 1970 of the Light of Asia by Edwin Arnold made Buddhism not merely a subject of academic study: it drew the attention of many common people with ordinary intelligence to the Light of Reason which was shining brilliantly in the Eastern Skies. One such person was an Englishman, R. J. Jackson. He had read the Light of Asia and studied the Dhammapada in translation and became the first Briton to announce to be a practising Buddhist.

In 1906, he began to give series of lectures on the Teachings of the Buddha from the traditional soap-box in Hyde Park. He was joined by one Col. J. R. Pain, an ex-soldier from Burma. Together they opened a book-shop for the sale of Buddhist literature. As the interested audience to Hyde Park lectures grew in number, they decided to found the first Buddhist Society in England, where they began to meet regularly instead of going to Hyde Park. It was then that the two men got in touch with another Englishman, Allen Bennett by name who had gone to Myanmar and become a Buddhist monk.

Ananda, Metteyya (1872-1923) The first English Bhikkhu. Led the Buddhist Mission from Burma. Author of "The Wisdom of the ARyas. From acrayon drawing in the library of the Buddhist Society by Alexander Fisher.

The First Buddhist Mission to the West from Myanmar

Allen Bennett was the son of an engineer, born in London on 8 December 1872. Trained in science, he became interested in Buddhism by reading Edwin Arnold's The Light of Asia. He also studied translations of the Buddhist Scriptures. Being afflicted with chronic asthma, he left England for Ceylon with the dual purpose of escaping the severe cold climate and studying the Dhamma deeply under competent guidance. That was in 1898. He had applied himself so well to his studies in Buddhism that by 1901, he was able to deliver his first public lecture on Buddhism, The Four Noble Truths, in Ceylon. By that time he had made up his mind to lead a Buddhist Mission to England. He also had the intuition that such a mission could meet with success if only headed by a member of the Buddhist Order, necessitating thus to become a monk. For that purpose he proceeded to Yangon where he had better a chance of his plans getting materialised.

When he reached Yangon, he met with favorable circumstances that encouraged him to press ahead with his plans of the Mission to England. First the benefactress who became his Dayika to support his entrance to the Buddhist Order was the wife of a high official; U Hla Oung, the then Auditor-General of Burma. Mrs. Hla Oung, known as Daw Mya May, was well educated and well prepared to give Allen Bennett all the help he needed to head the mission to England. At the great ceremony of Ordination, in 1903, when he became Bhikkhu Ananda Metteyya, he delivered a long address, "Herein lies the work that is before me, to carry to the lands of the West the Law of Love and Truth declared by our Master, to establish in those countries the Sangha of his Priests" [4]

As arranged by his Dayika, Mrs. Hla Oung, Bhikkhu Ananda Metteyya spent his first Vasa in Mandalay, studying Vinaya from famous teachers of Visuddhayama, meeting with Ledi Sayadaw and a leading citizen of Mandalay, U Kyaw Yan who later became sponsor of his mission to England. Back in Yangon, with the co-operation of Dr. E. R. Rost, a member of the Indian Medical Service, Bhikkhu Ananda Metteyya lost no time in announcing his intention to found an International Buddhist Society, to be known as the Buddhasasana Samagma -- at first in these countries of the East, and later extending it to the West. The first meeting of the new Society was held on March 15th, 1903. Ananda Metteyya acting as Secretary General and Dr. Rost as Hon. Secretary. U Kyaw Yan became their representative in Mandalay. The Society at once attracted considerable attention and enthusiastic greetings were received from all over the world. Imagine this occurring in Yangon, ninety years ago!

Ananda Metteyya and Dr. Rost were soon joined by J.F. M'Kechnie who had come all the way from Scotland to help them in their work on The Buddhism, the illustrated Journal of their newly formed Society, aimed at spreading Buddha Dhamma in the West, but particularly in Britain. J.G. M'Kechnie was a talented writer who on his own had already become quite knowledgeable in Buddhistic studies. In due course he also entered the Buddhist Order and became Bhikkhu Silacara. By now they were in correspondence with R.J. Jackson and Col. J.R. Pain in England and had arranged with them to sell the copies of the Journal, 'The Buddhism' published by them in Yangon.

In the meanwhile preparations continued apace in Myanmar, Yangon and Mandalay branches forming their own committees for dissemination of news of the proposed Buddhist Mission to England, collecting donations to fund the mission. In England itself, the small Buddhist Society first formed by Jackson, Pain and friends was expanded into the Buddhist Society of Great Britain and Ireland to prepare the way for the coming of Ananda Metteya. Professor Rhys Davids of the Pali Text Society accepted the Office of President of the Society. Many distinguished members of learned societies and those interested in the study of Buddhism, Pali and Sanskrit Literature joined the newly formed Society in various capacities.

The Buddhism journal which was sold at that time at the book-shop in England carried advance news of the first Buddhist Mission to England from Myanmar. Dr. Rost, as the London agent of the Yangon Society arrived first early in April 1908 to make necessary preparations and to rent two small houses at Barnes to house the Mission. On April 23rd 1908, a deputation of the members of the enlarged Buddhist Society, headed by Dr. Rost and accompanied by an interested press went down to the London docks where they welcomed the first Buddhist Mission to the shores of England. The mission consisted of Ananda Metteyya, 'Secretary-General of the International Buddhist Society of Rangoon', Mrs. Hla Oung, Hon. Treasurer, and her son and his wife.

"No sooner had the mission landed than the difficulties attended on a member of the Sangha, keeping his Bhikkhu vows in a western city, became embarassingly apparent. He was not allowed to sleep in a house where a woman slept; hence the need for two houses at Barnes. His food could only be eaten at special hours, nothing later than noon. He slept on a bed on the floor, to avoid breaking the precept against 'high and soft beds', and in every other way tried to preserve the ascetic dignity of his adopted life. The most awkward situations, however, arose not in the house but out of it. He was not allowed to handle money, so could never travel alone. He wore at all times the bright yellow robes of the Sangha, and such a garb brought wondering crowds and ribald comment...."

Inspite of the chronic asthma that dogged him all his life, Ananda Metteyya accomplished in London a volume of intense work which was quite phenomenal. He met and talked with many people, corresponded with many, formally admitted into the fold of Buddhism all who wished to be received; he generated inspiration all round by his mere presence.

All too quickly the time passed away for the Mission which had to go back to Myanmar on 2nd October 1908, mostly for health reason. At an interview given to a Yangon paper, Ananda Metteyya expressed himself highly gratified with the work that had been done, but it was just a beginning and so much remained to be done. In an 'Open letter to the Buddhists of England' which appeared in "The Buddhist Review",first published in London by the Buddhist Society tin 1909, he appealed to all interested to support the work of the Society in London, describing with great eloquence the Glory of the Message of which the West had such immediate need.

But although the will to return remained unabated, his health made a further attempt impossible. But when the first World War broke out, he spent his days as an invalid with friends in Liverpool. After the war in 1920, he went to London and even managed to give some lectures. He then became part time Editor of the The Buddhist Review and did his best to inspire the dying Society to fresh endeavour. "For most of its life, however, the Society had to carry on without the active help of a man whose vision and tenacity of purpose had brought it to birth. [4]

Ananda Metteyya died on 9 March 1923 when he was fifty years old. It is gratifying to know that his Dayika, Mrs. Hla Oung and Secretary of the Buddhassanana Samagama, Mandalay Branch continued to assist him throughout the sixteen years of his ardent, missionary work whether as a Bhikkhu or a layman or whether he was resident in Myanmar or England.

The old Society gave a flickering glow of Dhamma light through a series of brilliant lectures given by Francis Payne. He stepped into the breach, for Ananda Metteyya who, out of the Robe, was dying. Payne was present when he died. He at once prepared a Buddhist Funeral Service. "Flowers and incense were placed on the grave by members of the large gathering assembled, and so there passed from human sight a man whom history may sometime honour for bringing to England as a living faith the Message of the All-Enlightened One"[4] I would like to add "from Myanmar with the generous assistance of the Myanmar people who always wish to share with others the ever shining light of Dhamma.'

Myanmar gave England the first Buddhist Mission and continued to support the old Society through its various vicissitude and changes until it breathed with new life again under the leadership of Christmas Humphreys. He graciously recorded the generous support given by U Kyaw Hla of Mandalay, who happened to be an old friend of mine. I am happy to reproduce here the note of gratitude written by Mr. Humphreys:

U Kyaw Hla of Mandalay who acted as an agent of the old Society, was doing immense service as agent for the Magazine and collector of much needed funds. Time and again, when we wondered how the printer's bill would be paid, he sent us a timely cheque collected in small sums from our readers and friends.

II

The period 1924 to 1938 was an interlude for the presence of Myanmar in the Buddhist Scene In Great Britain. The field of Buddhist activities in England with regard to Theravada School was held then by our brethren from Sri Lanka and Thailand.

About the middle of 1925, there arrived in England two Buddhist representatives of Theravada tradition. The Venerable Ardicca Wuntha from Myanmar and Anagarika Dhammapala of Maha Bodhi came from Ceylon. The Venerable Ardicca Wuntha was the first of the Burmese Sangha to reach England since Ananda Metteyya arrived in 1908. He visited the Buddhist Society and was much impressed by the efforts of the members to take the Precept of Panca Sila in Pali. He spent an evening at the Society teaching the eager students correct Pali pronunciation. It is regrettable that more information about the Sayadaw's visit to London was not available. However we will have some more to say about the Sayadaw when we come to present the missionary endeavours of his disciple the Venerable U Thittila in due course.

Anagarika Dhammapala's visit was of more substantive nature. He came to London to make preparations for setting up a branch of Mahabodhi Society and also to look for a suitable place to establish a Buddhist Vihara where missionary bhikkhus could reside while doing their missionary work. Anagarika Dhammapala had the vision that no missionary endeavours conducted by Theravada Bhikkhus would be tenable for long unless they had a Vihara of their own.

He was able to officially inaugurate the British Mahabodhi Society on Dhammacakka Day, 24th July 1926. Two years later in June 1928, the second Buddhist Mission to England of Buddhist bhikkhus, (the first from Sri Lanka) made up of three distinguished monks headed by Sri Devapriya Valisinha arrived in London. The three bhikkhus, Vens. Nandasare, D. Pannasara and P. Vajiranana, who distinguished himself by being the first bhikkhu to obtain a doctorate at Cambridge in 1936, soon became popular in London. They were invited by other associations to speak on Buddhism.

They opened classes for teaching Pali and Buddhism and also to give training in meditation. There were regular Sunday evening classes. It is interesting to find in the Diamond Jubilee Souvenir of Mahabodhi Society that Bhikkhu Silacara who was ordained in Myanmar and had helped Ananda Metteyya in his mission, had taken up the work of the Mahabodhi Society He had been ailing for some time and Sri Valisinha looked after him, organising a fund to maintain the aged Bhikkhu.

The two institutions, the British Mahabodhi Society and the Buddhist Vihara continued on progressing and developing inspite of many difficulties, especially financial, until the Second World War broke out. The Vihara closed in 1940 and did not re-open till 1954.

After the war, the Vihara was re-established after formation of a Trust. The new Trust together with the new Incumbent Ven. Dr H. Saddhatissa were able to establish the reality of a Theravada Sangha based in London by acquiring a freehold property at Chiswick. The Mahabodhi Society was revived by the Ven Saddhatissa in 1966.

Besides these stalwart efforts of the Sri Lankan Buddhists to put down firm roots of Theravada Buddhism on the British soil, it is very heartening to note that Thai Brethren had not remained behind to contribute on their own towards the spreading and expansion of Theravada Buddhism in the Western lands.

The first Thai Buddhist organisation to be established in Britain was the Buddhapadipa Temple. The opening ceremony of the Temple, on 1 August 1966, was conducted by their Majesties the King and Queen of Thailand. The Temple is a refuge for Thai monks of the Theravada school, bent on propagation of the Dhamma through lectures and regular sessions of meditation. Under the guidance of bhikkhu residents at the Temple are various Committees devoted to Buddhist mission in U.K., to provision of service within the precinct of the Temple and to arranging functions, lectures and courses at the Temple. Connected with the Temple are many meditation Centres spread throughout Britain where competent Thai meditation Masters conduct regular meditation courses which are well patronised and highly popular.

The above accounts of the missionary endeavours of Sri Lankan and Thai bhikkhus, although very short and incomplete, are provided here to form a comprehensive picture of Theravada Buddhist activities in England since the time of the Myanma Mission headed by Ananda Metteyya till the outbreak of the Second World War.

III

Incomparable missionary zeal and effort of the Most Venerable U Thittila of Myanmar

One Autumn in 1938, the air charged with rumblings of the approaching catastrophic war, there stood on the doorsteps of the headquarters of the Buddhist Society, London, a bhikkhu clothed in yellow robe, waiting for the door to open. Even with the presence of Sinhalese and Thai Buddhist monks residing then in Southern parts of London for over a decade now, the spectacle of a yellow robed bhikkhu in the West End sector of London was still strange enough to attract curious gaze from the passing crowd. The bhikkhu was Venerable U Thittila of Yangon, a disciple of the Venerable U Ardicca Wuntha mentioned earlier on.

The visit to the Society in 1925 by U Ardicca Wuntha appeared to be a kind of reconnaissance to ascertain conditions of Buddhism and possibilities of further missionary work in Britain. He went back to Myanmar with great enthusiasm and hope of launching another Buddhist Mission from Myanmar headed by him and assisted by his disciple U Thittila.

But alas! Fate decreed that it was not to be for him. It was his brilliant student and later his assistant, U Thittila who put up with indescribable difficulties to fulfil the wishes of his dear Teacher.

U Thittila was born to Daw Htwe, wife of U Aye on 10th July 1896 (Myanmar Era 1258) in the village of Padigon, Pyawbwe District of Central Myanmar. By the young age of seven, he was sent to the local Monastery to start his education in the Buddhist Scriptures. He had sailed through effortlessly all the lower courses of instruction in the village monastery when he was transferred to other institutions where he started higher studies of Tipitaka. When he finally came to study at the feet of Ven. Ardicca Wuntha, after his formal ordination as a bhikkhu at the age of twenty years, he was quite ready to take all the higher Pariyatti examinations after receiving thorough coaching from his new teacher.

It was at the famous centre of learning in Mandalay, the Masoyein Monastery, that his new teacher the Ven. U Ardicca Wuntha was drawing much attention by his skillful, learned expositions of the Pali Canon. It was also there that he first came to know of Ven. U Nyanna who, with his fine knowledge of English, was helping Ledi Sayadaw in his communications with the learned scholars of the Pali Text Society, London. Whilst preparing himself, diligently for the highest honours of the Pariyatti examinations, he was aspiring to learn English to be able to translate like U Nyanna the Teachings of the Buddha.

When he heard of and saw the feverish activities in preparation of the Buddhist Mission to England, and saw in person Ananda Metteyya who was to lead the mission, he made a firm resolution that he too one day would travel to these distant lands to spread there the words of his Supreme Master, the Buddha.

When he confided his aspirations and resolution to his teacher, he was delighted to hear that his teacher not only approved of his plans but was also thinking along the same lines himself. In order to implement their wishes, they decided to move to Yangon where conditions were more favorable for learning English. The monastic citadels which held fast to conservative views on Pitaka education were dead against learning of English by bhikkhus. That was the main reason for tardy entrance of Myanma Bhikkhus to the stream of propagation of Dhamma flowing in the West through the efforts of Dhammadutas from Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Ven. U Ardicca Wuntha and his disciple U Thittiala founded a monastery of their own in Yangon, where scholastic fame of the Ven. U Ardicca Wuntha soon attracted many students and support from Dayakas. It was not long before they had firmly established a Pariyatti academy training many students for the highest examinations conducted by local organizations and the Government. U Thittila himself won the honour of being selected as the Pathamagyaw Scholar for all Burma from amongst five thousand candidates.

Thereafter, while serving as a lecturer at his master's monastery, he found time to learn English from private teachers. Then as the barrage of criticism for bhikkhus to learn English intensified, he left with his teacher's blessing for India where he began to study English and Sanskrit at the Santiniketan University. He also went to stay in Ceylon for sometime seeking to extend his knowledge of English. But it was only at Adyar near Madras, where he acted as a librarian of the Theosophy association that he had the opportunity to be directly associated with English speaking people. From them he gained much help in improving his ability to speak English and also learning of English customs and manners with which he was unacquainted previously. [4] Even at that early period, when he was still endeavouring to polish his skill in English, he managed to find time to assist the revival of Buddhism in Southern India, setting up a free Buddhist Elementary School and acting as President of South India Buddhist Association. Such was his selfless and untiring interest in the cause of spreading the Dhamma. Such qualities and unswerving determination of U Thittila to make known to all the Doctrine of Peace of the Buddha became much more manifested when he finally arrived in England in the autumn of 1938.

I take the liberty to reproduce here much from "A Buddhist Companion. An Exposition and Selected Quotations of Ashin Thittila". It was published by Robert E.W. Iggledon, one-time devoted pupil of Ashin Thittila, to honour and celebrate his 100th year (1996). U Thittila stayed in England for fourteen consecutive years, including the war years, withstanding unbelievable conditions for a bhikkhu. Only he himself will ever really know the sometimes sever privations and problematic situations to which, especially as a bhikkhu, he was subjected. For a pioneer member of the Sangha in those days even the basic matter of existence was hedged with almost insurmountable difficulties. However he never weakened, refusing to go back to Myanmar even the request of his old teacher. A kindly Christian clergyman came to his assistance unsolicited, providing food and shelter away from the dangers of bombing in London for five months. Ven. U Thittila spent the rest of the war years by doing voluntary social service as a medical attendant, after attending required courses of instruction at the Red Cross Offices.

It was only at the end of the war in Europe in 1945 that he could find a chance to fulfil his great wish to spread the knowledge of the Dhamma. He got in touch with the Buddhist Society which was revived after the war. Of him, Mr. Humphreys who was heading the Society, wrote "The bhikkhu Thittila became of more and more service to the Society, foreshadowing the time when, in September 1947 he would be able to give it whole time, and became one of the leading figures in English Buddhism".

Mr. Humphreys had recorded his appreciation and gratitude for services rendered by other devoted Buddhists of Myanmar. In his account of the World Tour in Search of Buddhism, he had written, "I found old friends and a dozen new ones in Siam, and in Burma met for the first time our oldest Eastern friend, U Kyaw Hla, for twenty years the Burmese Secretary of the Society. There I was given a cheque for 1500, the magnificent result of an Appeal organized by U Kyaw Hla and Mr. and Mrs. U Kyaw Min for the benefit or Buddhism in England ... I found no better friends of the Society than those in Burma who for all those years had given us generously of their best for the sake of the Dhamma in England.'

Starting with small audiences and few students at first, gradually U Thittila's lectures and study classes soon became the focal point of Buddhist activities of the Society. Those classes that he held went on to open up a new understanding of the Buddhist teaching in the West. In addition to his busy schedule of regular classes several days every week, many held in the evening to suit those who worked, he upon request also started to hold special classes for Abhidhamma studies. It was the very first time that Abhidhamma had ever been systematically taught in the West. At that time his students were quite unaware that they were being taught by one of the most qualified teachers they could probably have asked for he never ever spoke of himself nor of his scholastic qualifications and achievements.

Neither did he ever speak of acute difficulties he met sometimes just to maintain himself, since in those days during the war there was no Vihara anywhere in England for a bhikkhu to reside. When in 1949, with the help of the Myanmar Embassy, a Vihara called Sasana Kari Vihara was formed, his difficulties were somewhat eased. But the Vihara consisted of only two rooms on the first floor of a house near Victoria Station in London, and by 1952 even that was closed for financial reasons. At the not so young age of about fifty years, he had to face the sometimes bitter winter climate of the West, snow and ice accompanied by freezing winds. He often suffered from living in extremely cold quarters.

Working under such circumstances, only someone of his mental calibre and immensely tough training and discipline could have withstood the intense teaching programme. He held classes for informal discussion groups, Abhidhamma meditation, teaching the Pali language, setting and marking examination papers and giving public lectures, week after week, year after year. He spread the Dhamma most extensively not only in England, but upon invitation he travelled to France, Germany, Holland. Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Norway and Sweden. As a lone bhikkhu, sometimes in the most adverse of conditions, his pioneering work for the Dhamma in Europe lasted for fourteen years from 1938 to 1952.

He returned to Burma in 1952 at the invitation of Yangon University to teach Abhidhamma to B.A and MA. students. This signal recognition by the University for his brilliant scholarship and outstanding performance as a pioneer Missionary in the West removed all the stigma attached to his learning of English and leaving Myanmar forsaking his Pariyatti obligations. His triumphal return to Myanmar augurs well for further pursuance of knowledge of English by Myanmar bhikkhus.

The sixth Buddhist council held in Myanmar 1954-1956

I propose to make a slight diversion from my account of the missionary endeavours of Ven. U Thittila to give a short report of the Sixth Buddhist Council held in Myanmar 1954-56 for the benefit of younger generation of Buddhists of all countries and also to mention the important and useful role played by Sayadaw U Thittila in the Chattha Sangayana proceedings and after.

The Government of Union of Myanmar, the first Myanmar Government of Independent Myanmar, decided in April 1950 to organize and hold the Chattha Sangayana in Myanmar after due consultations with other Theravada countries. Consequently, a religious delegation headed by the Most Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw visited Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos to inform the Sanghas there of the proposed Sixth Buddhist Council and seek their co-operation.

In Myanmar, an advisory board known as Ovadacariya Sanghanayaaka Council consisting of all the Title-holder eminent Sayadaws, State Ovadacariya Sayadaws, and State Vinayadhara Sayadaws. They formed the Advisory Group responsible for guidance of all activities pertaining to holding of the Sanghayana.

Under it was constituted the Bharanitthana Sangha to carry out all the necessary functions. If consisted of 25 members representing Myanmar and one each representing Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. It was permanently stationed at the Jambudipa Hall, Kaba Aye, Its first task was to assemble all the 40 books of Pali in Myanmar and corresponding Pitakas of the other countries. While the Myanmar group went through the various versions of Myanmar Pitaka, comparing with copies of stone slab Pitakas of Mandalay Hill, and decided on the consensus for the final adoption, bhikkhus from other countries went through the same procedures concerning the different versions of their own country.

Then they grouped together again to decide on the version to be accepted as the 'Chattha version' after careful scrutinisation, discussions, arguments and final concordance. This process of rendition took place actually in 3 stages of Osanavisodhana, each body with members representing each of the five countries working separately under its own Chairmanship.

These preliminary preparations lasted for three years from 1951-1954. Then having agreed upon the final version, approved unanimously by all the parties concerned, the first Sanghayana assembled on the Full-moon day of Kason, May 1954. This was called the Tipitaka Panca Nikaya Pali Sanghayana where the 40 books of well verified, accepted version of the Pali Pitaka was chanted by 2500 bhikkhus in five sessions called Sannipata spread over two years from 1954 to 1956.

Each Sannipata was conducted under the Chairmanship of a representative of each country in rotation beginning with Myanmar. The first Sannipata was presided over by Agga Maha Pandita, Abhidhaja Maha Ratthaguru Nyaungyan Saydaw of Mandalay. With his permission, Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw acted as Chattha Sanghiti Pucchaka while Bhaddanta Vicittarabhi Vamsa, Pitakadhara Mingun Sayadaw served as Chattha Sanghiti Vissajjhaka beginning with questioning and answering on Vinaya Pitaka.

Having finished questioning and answering on each portion of the Vinaya, Pucchaka Sayadaw invited the Assembly of 2500 bhikkhus to chant the Text together. " ... eva meva mayampi dani sabbeva Chattha Sanghiti Mahadhammasabba patiyapanna Idam ... padam ekato ganasajjhayam katva samagga sammodamana butva saghayeyyama"

The congregation of 2500 monks then chanted the approved Texts already purified by 3 stages of systematic verification. After the completion of this Tipitaka Panca Nikaya Pali Sangayana, Atthkattha Sangayanabegan from 1956 to 1961, holding four Sannipatas for 51 books of Commentaries, participated by 300 Sanghiti Karaka Sayadaws.

This was followed from 1961 to 1962 by Tika Sanghayana in two Sannipatas for 26 books attended by 150 Sanghiti Karaka Sayadaws. No information was available whether Bhikkhus from foreign countries participated in these Atthakatha and Tika Sangayanas, most probably they did not.

The opening session in 1954 was attended by among others from Sri Lanka, two German Bhikkhus Ven. Nyanatiloka and his disciple Ven. Nyanaponika who stayed on in Myanmar to do meditation courses under Mahasi Sayadaw.

The Mahayana representatives were Ven. Karlis A.M. Tensions, the Buddhist Archbishop of Latvia and his assistant Ven. Friedrich Lustig. (The three Baltic states Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, it will be a surprise to know, have all along been Mahayana Buddhist countries since the time of Mongol Empires). These two monks arrived in India at the time of Buddha Jayanti Celebrations. They naturally came over to Myanmar hearing the news of the Sixth Council. They were not invited representatives; they did not participate in the proceedings. But it was arranged to accord them observer status and as such they attended the Chattha Sangayanas Ceremonies. As a matter of fact they never left Myanma since then. A monastery was built for them in the gardens, west of Shwe Dagon Pagoda, where they stayed till their demise, the Arch-bishop on May 9,1962 and his assistant sometime later.

Proceedings began at 12 noon on may 14 January 1954 in the "Chattha Sangiti Mahapasana", Kaba Aye, Yangon with Abhidhaja Maharatthaguru Nyaungyan Sayadaw, Mandalay, as Sangha Nayaka.

A total of 2473 Theras from Myanmar and 144 Theras from Thailand, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Laos consisting of Sangha Nayakas, Sangharajas and Maha Theras of each country attended the Congregation.

The proceedings took place in five sessions (Sannipatas), each of which was attended by representatives of the following countries, some as active participants or Sangitikirakas, and others as observers or guests.

Notes

[1] E.J. Thomas, The History of Buddhist Thought
[2] K.E Neumann, Introduction to Majjhima Nikaya
[3] Western Contributions to Buddhism -- Pereira.
[4] Sixty years of Buddhism in England ... Christmas Humphreys

Source: http://www.Nibbana.com

 


Updated: 3-5-2000

Return to "Buddhism around the World"

Top of Page