Friday, 26 May 2017

Webu Sayadaw's "Ground of Victory"



Spiritual striving and worldly gain often appear on opposite sides of the spectrum, but this is certainly not the case at Aung Myay Monastery in Shwebo. 

The monastery's name means “ground of victory” and refers to an episode connected to King Alaungpaya. (Ground of victory in Burmese is aung myay. Bate Mann refers to a religious building or holy place. Throughout history, other kings have proclaimed their own “ground of victory,” but this one associated with King Alaungpaya is one of the more famous in the country. In contemporary Myanmar, Burmese may declare their own “ground of victory” to motivate themselves in accomplishing a difficult task.) Long before ascending the throne, Alaungpaya passed this spot as a simple village hunter, afterwards claiming that he saw a frog eating a snake and deer chasing away a tiger there. Modern monastery artwork depicts this scene. Ashin Sarana suspects that whatever King Alaungpaya actually saw was repackaged to evoke Jātaka Tale 77, in which King Kosala saw this identical scene as one of sixteen symbolic dreams. The Buddha interpreted this as illustrating the perverse character of distant future times, when the less skillful would rule. In later years, during the colonial period, some Burmese would interpret British rule and the country’s attendant social breakdown as fulfilling that prophesy. The Burmese typically learn about King Kosala’s dreams as children, so this land, the pre-colonial Burmese past and this particular Jātaka Tale are culturally linked together in a powerful, symbolic resonance. Many years later, when he was preparing for war against a stronger foe, he chose this auspicious spot as his “victory spot” because he had twice witnessed a weaker animal conquering a stronger one.

When the British annexed the country, they recognized the symbolism of this patch of ground, and that it represented past Bamar military might and nationalism. So they tried to deliberately render the grounds inauspicious, first by hanging prisoners there and then by converting the entire area into a British cemetery.

This British posturing evidently did little to dissuade Webu Sayadaw, however, as he decided to establish his third monastery here in 1940, eventually spending his Rains Retreats here after the invitation from a female doctor from Rakhine State who was concerned about his poor health. The compound spans thirty-two acres, with an inner perimeter track that is a nice way to get a feel for the grounds. These dirt paths run parallel to an ancient wall and pass by some neighboring communities living just outside the monastery.