Saturday, 12 March 2016

The Widow's House of Ledi Sayadaw

How, especially in the days before digital media and when the printing press was just gaining widespread use, was Ledi Sayadaw was able to keep up with his scholastic duties despite living in extremely remote places and traveling at a frenetic pace for two decades? During his travels, he was often accompanied by an extremely large teak crate-- the original now on display at at the Maha Ledi Monastery-- and an additional container that stored palm leaf manuscripts. Ledi advised that if one writes next to a library, preference is given to points of dry academia, limiting the audience and preventing anyone except the highly learned from accessing the material. However, if one writes surrounded by the fields of nature and coming off a steady meditation practice, the genuine flavor of the Dhamma can come out within the lines. 

As for his writing supplies, students and lay attendants always made sure these were on hand, a common responsibility in the day for anyone looking after their teacher. Stories remain of students sharpening hundreds of pencils at once, so prolific was the author! Ledi Sayadaw frequently spent entire nights writing, with only a small oil lamp by his side. One of his few requests was to not have a a “widow house” lamp, but rather a larger one that would allow him to write more easily for long periods. However, his prodigious output steadily diminished his eyesight, so that by the last years of his life, he was entirely blind.

Now what, one may ask, was a "widow house"? In Ledi’s day, oil lamps were not large, and so had to be powered by repeated pushing and pulling of a stick which would ignite the petrol within the lamp, eventually causing the thick wick in the glass portion of the lamp to be lit. As this was a job done only by men, those women who lived alone (often as widows) had to do so in the dark, giving the lamps its name.

The carved dipanis of Ledi Sayadaw, chiseled into marble at Maha Ledi Monastery in Pyinmana, central Myanmar, near Naypyidaw

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