These are the recollections of Most Ven. U. Dhammajiva Maha Thero regarding his days of learning under Ovādacariya Sayādaw U Paṇḍitābhivaṃsa Maha Thero of Myanmar.
Most Ven. U. Dhammajiva is the present Abbot of Mitirigala Nissaranavanaya Forest Monastery of Sri Lanka and he is a reputed meditation teacher fluent in Sinhala, English and Burmese. He spent close to four years in Myanmar under the guidance of Ovādacariya Sayādaw U Paṇḍitābhivaṃsa Maha Thero. He was part of the team appointed by Sayadaw-ji to overlook the construction of Panditarama Forest Meditation Center during the early days.
Mitirigala Nissaranavanaya Forest Monastery is the foremost Meditation Center in Sri Lanka. The center is well known for popularizing Walking Meditation in Sri Lanka using sand paths similar to what was used in ancient India and Sri Lanka.
Most Ven. U. Dhammajiva Maha Thero re-visited Panditarama in 2012 with a small group from Sri Lanka after many years and followed it up each year with a team of yogis and monks. This has led to a strengthening of the Dhamma relationship between Panditarama and Mitirigala Nissaranavanaya Forest Monastery.
Recollections of a Sri Lankan young novice monk of his
Golden Era at Panditarama
“It is a pity that the Maha-si Sayadaw and all his senior instructors of meditation passed away so quickly in Burma within such a short period. Only Pandita is remaining” my preceptor Most Ven. Matara Ňānārāma Maha Thero remarked one late evening in 1991 before going to bed. This was because I had just mentioned to him about my reading of the book “In this very life” by Ven. U Panditabhivamsa at the Nissaranavanaya monastery library just before attending to him that evening. I then came to know that Ven. Ňānārāma knew about the Sayadaw and later asked about Burma and the Maha-si tradition about which he was a key figure in Sri Lanka especially among local Maha-si monks.
It was an event I clearly remember in my early monk-hood as an attendant to Maha Thero. After Ven. Ňānārāma‘s passing away, Ven Nyanynda known as Galle Sayadaw, a senior Burmese monk well known to Ven. Ňānārāma as well as to Sayadawgyi visited Nissarana Vanaya and informed us that the Burmese government has granted to Sayadawgyi the title of “Agga Maha Pandita” degree in honor and accordingly he asked for my consent to accompany him to Burma for this royal convocation ceremony. I was glad to go and meet “Pandita” through that opportunity and accordingly I visited Burma on 27th Jan 1992.
After the early part of the major government sponsored ceremony and the pilgrimage with all the Agga Maha Pandita Sayadaws, I got chance of visiting Panditarama with Galle Sayadaw, Agga Maha Pandita U Nyanynda. At that time only Nayaka Sayadaw U Sasana was there at Panditarama and it was not difficult to get permission to go and meditate in Panditarama due to the good introduction from Galle Sayadaw.
Later Sayadawgyi returned to Panditarama after a foreign tour and I saw him for the first time and thought of him as another Ven Ňānārāma. This is how the Burma chapter in my life commenced. I tried to write down all the words of Sayadawgyi from his sermons. Further secretly I started learning Burmese language to sharpen my understanding of Dhamma talks and interviews when and where possible. The most admirable feature I found was Sayadawgyi’s technique of communication, sharpness in usage of Language with grammar and ironically that was the weak point in me. I saw him as Zen Master who communicates by all possible means, such as the posture, timeliness, opportunity, language and facial expressions to list some.
For my own use I got a yellow colored book by Sayadawgyi explaining the technical side of the Vipassana Meditation and it appeared to be a unique contribution by him to Maha-si method. One day I mentioned that to Sayadawgyi. But he was humble enough to mention that his contribution was insignificant to the Maha-si method. Even if that was the case, for me his humility was the main reason for my great admiration. I also found his technical approach very rational probably due to my Physics back ground. Later the same booklet appeared as a single paper indicating “some brief guidelines for interview”.
I quickly adjusted myself to Panditarama environment and was able to adhere to the regular time table while gaining confidence through the other facilities in not only understanding Vipassana but in sharing the same with others too. I found that many visiting Yogis to Panditarama found it difficult to adjust to its environment and left within a short time. However, I was fortunate in having Bikkhu U Vivekananda as a fellow meditator who became my mentor, so to say.
After about two years we visited Kyauktan village passing Hse Main Gon (HMG) for a summer period and for the first time visited the HMG property. Sayadawgyi later indicated his interest in building a forest monastery in this property. Gradually, I came into the planning committee and started the planning of the forest monastery with three others appointed by Sayadawgyi. Meanwhile I started translation works of Burmese books into Sinhala language commencing with the book “American Dharma Desana” by Sayadaw-ji.
Some visitors from Sri Lanka had even remarked that I had no idea of returning to Sri Lanka. Everything was progressing fast at HMG. Thâmanay Kyaw started writing the book on Sayadawgyi, later titled “One Life Journey” where he has presented vivid episodes about Sayadawgyi in great detail.
After receiving several requests from the Nissarana Vanaya in Sri Lanka, I had to go and ask for permission from Sayadawgyi to return home. First he convinced me to stay one more year and to galvanize my meditative experience under him and I had to agree. Practice continued together with heavy field work such as HMG project planning. Due to repeated demands received after one more year I was compelled to inform Sayadawgyi about my returning to Sri Lanka. At that time too Nayaka Sayadaw U Sasana pointed out that it was better to stay with Sayadawgyi, but the situation was not under my control and I returned in Dec. 1996 during Christmas time.
Soon after coming back I accelerated my translation works as indicated by Sayadawgyi and the following books were translated into Sinhala and published for free distribution.
- Maha-si Sayadawgyi
- “ Vipassana shoe nee kyam” ( Vipassana nayappakaranaya) 1000 pages
- ( Translated first 2 chapters into English and published as an e-book in vipassana.com )
- Introduction to Vipassana by Maha-si Sayadaw. 27 pages
- American Dharma Desana talks in USA. BPS publication: 263 Pages
- Panditarama Sayadaw-ji’s instructions. 58 pages
- Rain drops in mid- summer by Sayadaw-ji: 58 pages
- Paving the way: Guidance for yogis at interviews/ Brief guidelines for interviews. 28 pages
- Tapyekan Sayadaw’s instructions
- Pha-auk Sayadaw’s ; Nibbana Gamini Patipada 1040 pages
- U Janaka ( Chanmyay) ; Vipassana meditation 119 pages
With all these publications I visited Sayadawgyi in 2002 with two more monks from Sri Lanka and introduced them to Sayadawgyi. Bhikkhu Vivekananda from Nepal also joined us. Again due to various activities back in Sri Lanka I had no opportunity to visit Sayadawgyi until 2012.
(During my 2010 USA tour I visited Sayadawgyi at Thatagata meditation center at San Jose, California. I stayed three days with Sayadaw-ji. Kenneth Morris, Barbara Janus with Ko Hla Myint were also there.)
By that time Panditarama and HMG had changed so much that I myself felt like a stranger. My Burmese language knowledge also was weak. Still U Mya Thanung the translator, Daw Win, Ko Hla Mying etc. together with Thamaney- Jo could make the environment sufficiently familiar to me. I learned that U Kyaw Kyaw had passed away. Many of the earlier faces were not to be seen any more.
I was determined to visit Sayadawgyi at least once a year as time permits. Accordingly in 2012-2013 I visited with a small group towards the year end international retreat at HMG. Due to these yearly tours I had the rare opportunities to have personal meetings with Sayadawgyi. In each of the tours I enjoyed visiting the Sri Lankan embassy at Yangon too.
Each time I visited Burma, it was obvious to me that changes were rapidly taking place. The discipline within the center has become gradually strict while Burma as a country was losing its discipline and the erosion of the Burmese culture was quite noticeable. It is fairly certain that the maintenance of the very high image of Panditarama is heavily dependent upon only one person, Sayadawgyi.