Saturday, 19 August 2017

The Meditation Movement in Burma

Why did the patipatti (meditation) movement take off in Burma's postwar era? The Golden Path has tackled this question, and has discovered over 20 factors leading to the conditions where this not only could grow, but thrive. The following excerpt is taken from an unpublished draft, which would be included in the meditator's guide Part 3. (However, with minimal dana now available past Part 2, and given that the volition to ultimately share all works freely to all, it is unlikely this will reach publication, unless further support is forthcoming.)

One theory relates to the powerful experience of surviving the brutal war years. Such a period allowed some of the great future teachers to spend more time in meditation, and both during and immediately following the war many thousands of lay people were pushed from their home and found refuge in the monasteries. Author U Tin Oo notes that many Burmese fled to the Sagaing Hills during World War II, where they began a vipassanā practice that was maintained well after the fighting subsided. The same has been said of the vast Buddhist communities that the Mohnyin Sayadaw cared for at Thanboddhay Monastery. And even Mahasi Sayadaw himself saw his development and teachings affected by his experiences during the way. At this time, he had to leave Taungwainggale and return to his native village of Seikkhun, for it was safer. While here he practiced, taught, and wrote his famous Manual of Vipassana Meditation, a comprehensive guide on how to practice according to the Satipattana Sutta.

However, yet another factor seems to directly contradict this. Rather than seeing the hard times of the war as guiding people to concentrate on what was really important, Maha Gandayone Sayadaw U Janaka instead felt instead that they led to an opposite result. In Autobiogrgahy, he wrote that “[m]orality became too low after the war among both young and old people. The government commissioned a committee to give Buddhist lessons at school to check this moral deterioration.” U Silananda seems to bridge these two views in discussing his opinions on how the war affected morality. He writes: “World War II had caused to upset the living conditions of many a people in one way or another. Just as the people who were originally seemingly delicate, mild and soft-hearted in nature had joined the tough army as impulsed by their intense patriotism; there were some who had entered into monkhood being fed up with their own’ life’s condition.” 

Objective reporting certainly backs up U Janaka’s observations, as the rise in dacoits at this time in Burma was well documented—however, others made a political argument to account for this, and that it was more due to a weak central government than the overall morals of people. In any case, in U Janaka’s view, this decline began many years before, stemming from the Colonial Era, and only peaked after the war years. For this reason, he fully supported the idea of the Buddhist Revival, commenting that “State and Religion would have a perfect coordination to work out the progress of the State as well as the Religion.” With such low morality amongst the people, he compared the work ahead with that of King Anawrahta and Shin Arahan one thousand years earlier when Theravada Buddhism was established in the country. In this way, the rise of the patipatti movement could be seen as a kind of state-orchestrated policy accomplished with the cooperation of renowned monks, and having been motivated by the decline of the faith and morality that had been building for decades, and culminated only now.

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