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
(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.
*TABLE OF CONTENTS*
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
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
*VENERABLE LEDI SAYADAW*
Saya U Tint Yee
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.
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.
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.
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.
U Gandhama of Yehtut Village will not take you as his student."
this way, he ordained again as a samanera.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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").
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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  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
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.
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
had obtained. He knew his concentration was strong, but he had not reached
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.
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.
companion asked her to provide their meals, and they paid her to do this.
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.
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
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.
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?"