*The Anecdotes of Sayagyi u ba Khin, ii

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*The Anecdotes of Sayagyi U Ba Khin, II*
Compiled by

Saya U Chit Tin, WKH

Copyright 1988, The Sayagyi U Ba Khin Memorial Trust, U.K.

Heddington near Calne, Great Britain

Dhammadana Series 8
Dedicated by the compiler to

*Mother Sayama*

(Sayama Daw Mya Thwin)

This Publication is one of several marking the

tenth anniversary of Mother Sayama and Saya U

Chit Tin's coming out of Burma to continue their

work in the Tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin by

teaching the Buddha-Dhamma in the West.

Introduction.................................................... vii

Venerable Ledi Sayadaw (1846-1923)

by Saya U Tint Yee.............................................. 1

Saya Thet Gyi (1873-1945)

by Saya U Tint Yee.............................................. 9

Sayagyi U Ba Khin (1899-1971)

by Saya U Chit Tin.............................................. 21

That Empowering Laugh

by Jocelyn B. King.............................................. 47

The Teacher Found

by Jocelyn B. King.............................................. 53

In Memory of Sayagyi U Ba Khin

by Jocelyn B. King.............................................. 56

U Ba Khin, the Guru of the International Meditation Centre, Burma

by Dr. Om Prakash............................................... 58

Thray Sithu Sayagyi U Ba Khin

by Daw Mya Sein................................................. 61


This second collection of //Anecdotes// concerning //Thray Sithu Sayagyi U

Ba Khin// brings together short biographies of his teacher //Saya Thet

Gyi// and his teacher's teacher, //Venerable Ledi Sayadaw//, as well as a

more detailed account of Sayagyi's life. We are very pleased to be able to

include two anecdotes written especially for this booklet by Mrs. Jocelyn

B. King, a close meditation student of Sayagyi's who went to meditate

together with her husband Dr. Winston L. King in July 1959. We are also

reprinting another article of hers and articles by two other students who

worked under Sayagyi's guidance. These were originally published in the

special issue of the //Maha Bodhi// magazine (April 1972) devoted to

These anecdotes will be of interest to the many students of Buddhist

Meditation in the //Tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin// and will serve as an

inspiration to them to keep striving for the goal of //Nibbanic Peace//

Knowing very well the greatness of the Parami of the coming Buddha,

//Ariya Metteyya//, who will be able to quench the fires of hell, Sayagyi

assuredly taught //Knowing Anicca: The Way to Nibbana// and has also shown

us the way to encounter //Buddha Ariya Metteyya// by diligently practising

the //Eightfold Noble Path// as taught by //Buddha Gotama//. Sayagyi

conveyed this Path to us in its pristine purity.
May Peace prevail in the world!
*Truth Must Triumph!*
Saya U Chit Tin



Saya U Tint Yee

Ven. Ledi Sayadaw was born in 1846,[1] in Saingpyin village, Dipeyin

Township in the Shwebo district, which is to the north of Mandalay. At

that time, Upper Burma was still under the rule of the Burmese kings. His

father's name was U Tun Tha and his mother was Daw Kyone. He was given the

name of U Tet Khaung.[2]
When Ven. Ledi Sayadaw was born, one of the central posts in the

house supporting the ridgepole suddenly lighted up. Light went up from the

ground to the top of the roof and continued out to the sky. This event was

seen by everyone in the house. This was reported to a well-known learned

man, Sayagyi U Kyaw Hla, who was versed in astrology and physiognomy, was

consulted concerning what to name the boy. When he scrutinized the

handsome boy, he gave the name "Maung Tet Khaung" ("Maung" is the

equivalent to "Master" as a title for young men; "Tet" means "climbing

upwards"; "Khaung" means "summit" or "roof"). True to his name, Ven. Ledi

Sayadaw succeeded to the highest degree in his learning.

He received a traditional education. In the villages, this meant going

to the monastery school where the bhikkhus (monks) taught the children the

alphabet and how to read and write. They also learned to recite many Pali

texts. They would memorize the Mangala Sutta, for example. Then the

language and literature they studied were based on the Buddha's Teachings.

At that time, the level of literacy was higher in Burma than in Western

countries. When the British took over Burma as a colony, they were very

impressed by the level of education in the country.

Ven. Ledi Sayadaw began studying under Sayadaw U Nanda-dhaja at the age

of eight. When he was fifteen, he ordained as a samanera (novice) under

the same Sayadaw and took the name Nana-dhaja ("the banner of knowledge").

As a samanera, he studied Pali grammar and the Buddhist texts including

the Abhidhammattha-sangaha, a commentary which serves as a general

introduction to the Abhidhamma section of the canon. He then went on to

study the Abhidhamma texts themselves.
In those days, before the introduction of electrical lights, the

samaneras and bhikkhus studied the written texts during the day and

recited from memory after dark. Working in this way, Ven. Ledi Sayadaw

mastered such texts as the Dhatukatha (Discourse on Elements), the

Patthana (Conditional Relations), and the Yamaka (Pairs).
At the age of 18, as Shin Nana-dhaja, he grew dissatisfied with life as a

samanera because he was only learning Buddhist texts (the Tipitakas). So

he disrobed and became a layman. His first teacher, Ahphyaukpin Sayadaw U

Nanda-dhaja, and Myinhtin Sayadaw U Dhammasara sent for him one day after

the rains retreat and tried to explain the disadvantages in being a layman

and the advantages of being a samanera. They tried their best to persuade

him to take robes again, but he would not. Myinhtin Sayadaw told the young

Maung Tet Khaun that he would not give him orders, but he would like to

propose that the young man continue his studies. Maung Tet Khaung was very

intelligent and had already learned much of the Tipitaka as a samanera. By

continuing his studies, he would be able to earn a good living and had a

comfortable life as a layman. The young man agreed immediately, saying he

would never hesitate when it came to learning.
"Would you be interested in learning the Vedas first?" the Ven.

Myinhtin Sayadaw asked.

"Yes, venerable sir," answered Maung Tet Khaung.
"But you must become a samanera," the Sayadaw said, "otherwise, Sayadaw

U Gandhama of Yehtut Village will not take you as his student."

"I will become a samanera, reverend sir," Maung Tet Khaung agreed. In

this way, he ordained again as a samanera.

By that time, Sayagyi Kyaw Hla had died, so he was entrusted to the

care of Sayadaw U Gandhama, who taught him not only the Vedas but also

explained the merits to be gained by being a monk and promoting the

Buddha-Sasana. The young samanera was happy learning the Vedas with this

teacher, and after completing his studies, he returned to his former

teacher, Ahphyaukpin Sayadaw. He had spent six months as a layman at home

and it took him eight months to learn the Vedas. Now that he had learned

the Vedas and was well versed in the Tipitakas, he was very happy to

remain in robes. He was to spend the rest of his life in the Sasana. One

day, he told his story to his immediate disciple, Ledi Pandita Saya U

Mayng Gyi. "At first I was hoping to earn a living with the knowledge of

the Vedas by telling people's fortunes," he said. "But I was more

fortunate in that I became a samanera again. My teachers were very wise,

and with their boundless love and compassion, they saved me."

The brilliant Samanera Shin Nana-dhaja now arrived at the age of 19.

Not only had he learned the Vedas and the Tipitaka, he was also well

versed in poetry and had written many verses on the Vedas, Jataka tales,

and Pali grammar.

On April 20, 1866, at the age of 20, he took the higher ordination to

become a bhikkhu under Ahphyaukpin Sayadaw U Nanda-dhaja. His aunt, Daw

Phone, and her husband, U Kan Sa, were the sponsoring lay disciples. There

were twenty Kammava Sayadaws helping in his ordination. Sayadaw U

Nandadhaja was his preceptor.
On June 6, 1867, just before the rains retreat, the future Ledi Sayadaw

took leave of his Preceptor and the Kammava Sayadaw. After paying them due

respects, he left for Mandalay to continue his studies. Mandalay was the

most important centre of learning in Burma. There, he studied under

several of the leading Sayadaws and some of the leading lay scholars. He

studied in the Mangala monastery under Ven. San-kyaung Sayadaw.

At this period, King Mindon (ruled 1853-1878) organized the Fifth

Buddhist Council, which was held in Mandalay in 1871. The main purpose of

this Council was to edit the Buddhist texts. These texts were carved on

729 marble slabs that stand today at the foot of Mandalay Hill,

surrounding the Kathodaw Pagoda. Ven. Ledi Sayadaw helped with editing and

translating parts of the Abhidhamma.

During his studies, Ven. San-kyaung Sayadaw gave an exam of twenty

questions for two thousand students. Only Ven. Ledi Sayadaw was able to

answer them satisfactorily. His answers were published later (in 1880)

under the title Parami-dipani ("The Manual of the Perfections"). This was

the first of many books to be published in Pali and Burmese by Ven. Ledi

Under the last Burmese king, Thibaw (ruled 1878-1885), Ven. Ledi

Sayadaw became a Pali teacher at the Maha-Jotikarama monastery in

Mandalay. (This monastery is known in Burmese as "San-kyaung." Ven. San-

kyaung Sayadaw was the leading monk in this monastery.) Ven. Ledi Sayadaw

had passed all his exams after only eight years as a bhikkhu, and was

therefore qualified as a beginning teacher. Even after he began teaching,

he continued to study under other Sayadaws. He also discussed the Doctrine

with well-known lay scholars who were very learned in the Pali texts, and

he learned from them as well. In 1882, he went to Monywa, a city on the

Chindwin River to the north-west of Mandalay. This was to become his

permanent residence. There, he taught the samaneras and bhikkhus the Pali

In 1885, the British conquered Upper Burma, and King Thibaw was sent in

exile to India. A year later, Ven. Ledi Sayadaw went into retreat in a

forest to the north of Monywa. The forest was named Ledi forest. After a

time, many bhikkhus came, requesting that he teach them. A monastery was

founded and named Ledi-tawya monastery. He took the title by which he is

best known in the West from this monastery: Ledi Sayadaw ("the venerable

teacher of Ledi").[3]
It was later, in 1897, that his main works began to be published. In

that year, his "Manual of Ultimate Truth" (Paramattha-dipani) was

published in Pali. This was a commentary on the Abhidhammattha-sangaha. In

this work, Ven. Ledi Sayadaw corrects some mistakes he found in the

existing commentary on that work (Abhidhammattha-vibhavani). This led to

some controversy, as the older commentary was used by many of the bhikkhus

in studying the Abhidhamma, but eventually, Ven. Ledi Sayadaw's

corrections were accepted.

Ven. Ledi Sayadaw's second book (Nirodhi Dipani) was on Pali grammar.

Both of his first texts are very difficult and show his mastery of his

subjects. Through them, he became famous as one of the most learned of the

bhikkhus in Burma. Later Ven. Ledi Sayadaw began to publish books in

Burmese, including his own translation of his "Manual of Ultimate

Meaning." He wrote his Burmese texts in a simple language that made it

easy for lay people to understand them. He said that he wished to write in

such a way that a farmer could read his works. Before that time, very few

books on Buddhist subjects were written so that lay people could

understand them. Even when teaching, the bhikkhus would often recite long

passages in Pali, then translate them word for word, and it was difficult

for the listeners to follow.

Ven. Ledi Sayadaw also wrote many works in verse, as this made it

easier for lay people to memorize them. In answering questions sent him by

Mrs. Rhys Davids of the Pali Text Society, Ven. Ledi Sayadaw said, "I have

written a book called Paramattha-sankhepa (a Burmese translation of the

Abhidhammattha-sangaha in verse form) that even young girls can learn

easily in four or five months. Another book, Sadda-sankhepa, also in

verse, helps a beginner to learn Pali in five or six months. My

Vinayasankhepa, again in verse, helps the bhikkhus to learn the rules and

duties of a bhikkhu in two-months' time."[4]
In //The Manuals of Buddhism//, seventy-six manuals, commentaries,

essays, and letters written by Ven. Ledi Sayadaw are listed. His texts

were all based on the Pali texts. He never went beyond what is contained

in the Teachings of the Buddha as approved by the Theravada Buddhist

Ven. Ledi Sayadaw was also influential in the West. A discussion of the

Yamaka book of the Abhidhamma, which he wrote in Pali, was published in an

appendix to the Pali Text Society edition in 1913. A partial translation

of his text was published in the Journal of the Pali Text Society (1913-

1914) under the title "Some Points in Buddhist Doctrine." As so many of

his texts, it was written in answer to questions sent to him. In answering

Mrs. Rhys Davids' questions, he uses a pun on her name in addressing her

as "the London Devi of the texts" (Landana-pali-devi). A discussion of the

Patthana, entitled "On the Philosophy of Relations," was also published in

the same journal (1915-1916). U Shwe Zan Aung, who collaborated with Mrs.

Rhys Davids on the translation of the Katha-vatthu (//Points of

Controversy//, first published in 1915), referred many questions to Ven.

Ledi Sayadaw.
Finally, the Niyama-dipani ("The Manual of Cosmic Order") was first

published in partial translation in //The Buddhist Review// (1915-1916).

This text, written especially for Westerners, is included in //The Manuals

of Buddhism//, with the parts left out of the first edition included. Ven.

Ledi Sayadaw was aided in his contacts with the West by the Society for

Promoting Buddhism in Foreign Countries, which was founded in Burma 1913.

Some of the English speaking members were helpful in translating the texts

Ven. Ledi Sayadaw wrote in Burmese.

Ven. Ledi Sayadaw was honoured for his contributions to Buddhism. In

1911, the British Government of India, which rules over Burma, awarded him

the highest honour given under them to bhikkhus: Agga-maha-pandita ("a

scholar of the highest order"). Today, this sort of title is conferred on

bhikkhus by the Burmese government. Such titles are usually given to

bhikkhus who are over sixty years old and who have done research on the

Pali texts and published books which are useful to the bhikkhus and the

lay community. Later, he was given an honorary doctorate (D.Litt.) by the

Governor General in a ceremony held at Rangoon University.
Ven. Ledi Sayadaw travelled to India to Bodhagaya to visit the place

where the Buddha was Awakened. A poem written in Burmese about the

important events in the life of the Buddha as related to the seven days of

the week is still well known and learned by Burmese children. Meditators

in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin are familiar with this poem as it is

recited by Mother Sayamagyi at the end of group sittings. An English

translation is given in //Anecdotes I//.
He gave many classes in studying the texts and in meditation on trips

throughout Burma. Several meditation centres founded by him are still

functioning in Burma.
Towards the end of his life, Ven. Ledi Sayadaw had trouble with his

eyesight due to the poor lighting he had had for many years when reading

and writing. At the age of seventy-three he went blind. It was when he was

blind that he devoted all his time to teaching and practising meditation.

He died in 1923, at the age of seventy-eight, after spending fifty-eight

years as a bhikkhu.

*SAYA THET GYI (1873-1945)*

Saya U Tint Yee
Saya Thet Gyi [5] was born in 1873 in a farming family in the village

of Pyawbwegyi, which is across the Rangoon River from the city of Rangoon.

He was a devout Buddhist even as a child. He went to school for only six

years, as he needed to work to help support his family. He worked for a

time driving bullock carts and then in a rice mill counting the bags of

paddy loaded in the boats. He only made six kyats a month, but the kyat

was worth much then. The equivalent today would be approximately three or

four thousand kyats. At that time he began to practise meditation in a

casual way under a lay teacher named Saya Nyunt.
He married and had a son and daughter, but one year there was an

outbreak of cholera and Saya Thet Gyi lost five members of his family,

including his two children. His daughter, who was about fourteen, was very

close to one of her first cousins, and this niece died in Saya Thet Gyi's

arms. When they were preparing for the niece's funeral, his daughter began

to complain about a stomach ache. She came down with cholera and also died

in her father's arms. These great losses led Saya Thet Gyi to go to many

of the Sayadaws and lay teachers, seeking a way out of suffering and

Around 1903, he followed the example of his first meditation teacher, U

Nyunt, and went to Monywa to practise meditation under Ven. Ledi Sayadaw.

He was around thirty years old then. He was accompanied in his search by a

companion. While he was away, his wife and sister-in-law looked after his

rice fields and sent money to support him. He was away for thirteen years.

The first year or two, he would return to the village to see his wife and

friends, but after that, he worked without pause.
His family sent him about one thousand kyats a year to support him. At

times the only food they had to eat was dehydrated cooked rice, which they

would add water to reconstitute it. They would eat this with a little

dried fish.

Ven. Ledi Sayadaw taught Saya Thet Gyi Anapana meditation and explained

about Vipassana. He learned the basics about the four essential elements

of material phenomena, about consciousness and the mental factors. But the

main practice was concentration of the in-breath and out-breath.

After working for thirteen years, he decided to return to his native

town. When he took leave of Ven. Ledi Sayadaw, his teacher told him, "You

should continue practising and strengthen your concentration (Samadhi).

When concentration comes, the factor of wisdom (Panna) will come too. Once

the factor of wisdom comes, you will be able to spread the Teaching


At that time, Saya Thet Gyi was not very satisfied with the results he

had obtained. He knew his concentration was strong, but he had not reached

his goal.
Before returning to his native village, he wanted to see his former

teacher, Saya Nyunt. He crossed the Chindwin River, which has a very swift

current, and he searched for a week in the forest there, but without

success. So he returned to his native village.

Back in his native town, he and his companion stayed at his own Dhamma

Hall. Saya Thet Gyi did not even go to see his wife, but continued to

meditate. His wife and sister-in-law would not go to see him because they

thought he should have come to see them first.

There was a lady staying near the Dhamma Hall, so Saya Thet Gyi and his

companion asked her to provide their meals, and they paid her to do this.

Just a week before they came there, the villagers had decided to fix up

the Pagoda and Dhamma Hall, which had been allowed to fall in disrepair.

When Saya Thet Gyi and his companion arrived, everything had been cleaned

Saya Thet Gyi continued meditating for a year. The people in the

village saw that he and his companion had come back but did not go to

their house. They found this peculiar, and some of the people said they

may have become mentally deranged.
Saya Thet Gyi and his companion continued to meditate -- especially

Saya Thet Gyi. He worked continually and his concentration kept improving.

He got sensations throughout his entire body, but he was not able to

penetrate further. His concentration was too broad, rather than being

narrow and strong enough. He remembered Ven. Ledi Sayadaw's instructions,

however, and continued to work.

Suddenly, one day, he felt a sensation in only one small spot -- a

sensation that arose on its own. He watched that sensation very carefully,

and suddenly he gained insight in what might be called "the nature of

phenomena." He knew he had made significant progress in his work. He could

not consult Ledi Sayadaw directly, but he knew that the books written by

his teacher were at his home. He was yearning to consult these texts, for

he was experiencing something new, and he wanted to compare his experience

with what his teacher had said in his manuals. So he decided to go back to

his house.
When his sister-in-law saw him coming, she said to her sister, "There

comes your husband. Don't speak to him. You've been saying you want to

divorce him." Both the sisters had been laying plans to divide the

property between themselves and Saya Thet Gyi.

The sister-in-law went down from the house, as she planned to leave the

compound before Saya Thet Gyi arrived at the house. But somehow she found

she could not leave, and instead, she walked up and down in the compound.

When Saya Thet Gyi entered the gate, she suddenly had a change of heart

and greeted him very politely. "Why have you come?" she asked. "How are

you? How is your health?"

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