Sunday, 29 June 2014

Sain Pyin Gyi: Where It All Began

This precious stupa and Buddha statue is hundreds of years old, and on the site where Ledi Sayadaw ordained as a young boy

"…beyond the conventional radar, this is the heart of yogi tourism, where foreign meditators, carrying tourist cash dollars, come to explore the heartland of their spiritual souls. For some this is the area ‘where it all began." Chindwin, David Lambert

Located in Dipayin township, Sain Pyin Gyi is the village where Ledi Sayadaw was born (1846) as well as where he first ordained as a full monk (1866). Saing Pyin Gyi can be translated to mean “many scattered bison,” suggesting the vast wilderness that must have existed here some time ago. Indeed, Sayadaw U Nyanissara lists the other wild animals that roamed here during the mid nineteenth century: barking deer, antelope, reindeer, hyena, wildebeest, and goat. Now, however, it is a community of over one thousand homes.

Here a major project is being undertaken to save for all posterity all remaining works by Ledi Sayadaw that have not yet been inscribed by stone. Once finished, serious meditators from around the world can come and pay their respects to the great monk.

Prior to his birth in the Katoe Quarter, a great rainbow appeared from a tamarind tree growing on his parents’ land, which then swooped into his family’s home and went back out again, bathing the sky in a brilliant radiance. In words chiseled in stone at the very site and rendered from a Monywa talk, Ledi Ashin Kelarsa Agga Maha Pandia has described this as a “miraculous, nay, auspicious event.” The event was later accorded its own name, referred to as “Indra’s Bows,” among other names. U Candima acknowledges that “from a modern perspective, this rainbow display is hard to believe. There were, however, many witnesses.” 

U Candima goes on to share that news of this rainbow quickly spread throughout the village, and “learned people predicted that the child would take delight in the Buddha’s Sasana when he came of age. They added that the child would master the Tipitaka and would devote his life to selfless service in missionary work.”

Following the great rainbow, the boy was given the name Maung Tat Khaung, which can be translated as “one who will climb up to the very top”. Maung Tat Khaung’s parents were simple rice farmers in a typical small village that revolved around agriculture. In pre-colonial Burma it was also standard for monasteries to look after the basic educational needs of the community’s young men. 

This is the very tamarind tree that a rainbow passed through on the night of Ledi's birth, an omen that many interpreted to mean that great things would come to the boy. Today, only serious meditators are allowed to meditate around it.

After turning ten, he entered Kyaung Ma Monastery as a novice and was given the name Shin Nyanadhaja, and here he began his study of Pāḷi and the scriptures under Sayadaw U Nanda. Maung Tat Khaung continued his studies in nearby Ye Thwet Village and received full ordination when he was twenty, having read all of the books held in the two towns near his home (and including a brief period in which he disrobed for eight months to help on the family plot). 

He studied not only from the scriptures, but also astrology and poetry, and in his later years would return to this field by composing poems based on the Abhidhamma. In fact, these poems came to be learned by the young and old alike throughout the country; people would often greet him to their town when he visited, and discuss and parse the meaning of these poems long after he left. Soon after turning twenty-one, it was said that he walked to Mandalay with his nephew to continue his formal studies at the royal capital. 
A painting in the very Sima Hall where Ledi Sayadaw was ordained as a boy depicts the event as it happens

This is the very Sima Hall where Ledi Sayadaw ordained as a young boy

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