Dhamma eradicates suffering and gives happiness. – Sayagyi U Ba Khin


Sayagyi  U Ba Khin was born in Rangoon, the capital of Burma, on 6 March 1899. He was the  younger of two children in a family of modest means living in a working class  district. Burma was ruled by Britain at the time, as it was until after the  Second World War. Learning English was therefore very important; in fact, job  advancement depended on having a good speaking knowledge of English.

Fortunately, an elderly man from a nearby  factory assisted U Ba Khin in entering the Methodist Middle School at the age of  eight. He proved a gifted student. He had the ability to commit his lessons to  memory, learning his English grammar book by heart from cover to cover. He was  first in every class and earned a middle school scholarship. A Burmese teacher  helped him gain entrance to St. Paul’s Institution, where every year he was  again at the head of his high school class.

In March of 1917, he passed the final high  school examination, winning a gold medal as well as a college scholarship. But  family pressures forced him to discontinue his formal education to start earning  money.

His first job was with a Burmese newspaper  called The Sun, but after some time he began working as an accounts clerk in the  office of the Accountant General of Burma. Few other Burmese were employed in  this office since most of the civil servants in Burma at the time were British  or Indian. In 1926 he passed the Accounts Service examination, given by the  provincial government of India. In 1937, when Burma was separated from India, he  was appointed the first Special Office Superintendent.

It was on 1 January 1937, that Sayagyi tried  meditation for the first time. A student of Saya Thetgyi–a  wealthy farmer and meditation teacher–was visiting U Ba Khin and explained  Anapana meditation to him. When Sayagyi tried it, he experienced good  concentration, which impressed him so much that he resolved to complete a full  course. Accordingly, he applied for a ten-day leave of absence and set out for  Saya Thetgyi’s teaching centre.

It is a testament to U Ba Khin’s determination  to learn Vipassana that he left the headquarters on short notice. His desire to  meditate was so strong that only one week after trying Anapana, he was on his  way to Saya Thetgyi’s centre at Pyawbwegyi.

The small village of Pyawbwegyi is due south of  Rangoon, across the Rangoon River and miles of rice paddies. Although it is only  eight miles from the city, the muddy fields before harvest time make it seem  longer; travellers must cross the equivalent of a shallow sea. When U Ba Khin  crossed the Rangoon River, it was low tide, and the sampan boat he hired could  only take him to Phyarsu village–about half the distance–along a tributary which  connected to Pyawbwegyi. Sayagyi climbed the river bank, sinking in mud up to  his knees. He covered the remaining distance on foot across the fields, arriving  with his legs caked in mud.

That same night, U Ba Khin and another Burmese  student, who was a disciple of Ledi Sayadaw,  received Anapana instructions from Saya Thetgyi. The two students advanced  rapidly, and were given Vipassana the next day. Sayagyi progressed well during  this first ten-day course, and continued his work during frequent visits to his  teacher’s centre and meetings with Saya Thetgyi whenever he came to Rangoon.

When he returned to his office, Sayagyi found  an envelope on his desk. He feared that it might be a dismissal note but found,  to his surprise, that it was a promotion letter. He had been chosen for the post  of Special Office Superintendent in the new office of the Auditor General of  Burma.

In 1941, a seemingly happenstance incident  occurred which was to be important in Sayagyi’s life. While on government  business in upper Burma, he met by chance Webu Sayadaw, a monk who had achieved  high attainments in meditation. Webu Sayadaw was impressed with U Ba Khin’s  proficiency in meditation, and urged him to teach. He was the first person to  exhort Sayagyi to start teaching. An account of this historic meeting, and  subsequent contacts between these two important figures, is described in the  article Ven. Webu  Sayadaw and Sayagyi U Ba Khin.

U Ba Khin did not begin teaching in a formal  way until about a decade after he first met Webu Sayadaw. Saya Thetgyi also  encouraged him to teach Vipassana.  On one occasion during the Japanese occupation of Burma, Saya Thetgyi came to  Rangoon and stayed with one of his students who was a government official. When  his host and other students expressed a wish to see Saya Thetgyi more often, he  replied, “I am like the doctor who can only see you at certain times. But U Ba  Khin is like the nurse who will see you any time.”

Sayagyi’s government service continued for  another twenty-six years. He became Accountant General on 4 January 1948, the  day Burma gained independence. For the next two decades, he was employed in  various capacities in the government, most of the time holding two or more  posts, each equivalent to the head of a department. At one time he served as  head of three separate departments simultaneously for three years and, on  another occasion, head of four departments for about one year. When he was  appointed as the chairman of the State Agricultural Marketing Board in 1956, the  Burmese government conferred on him the title of “Thray Sithu,” a high honorary  title. Only the last four years of Sayagyi’s life were devoted exclusively to  teaching meditation. The rest of the time he combined his skill in meditation  with his devotion to government service and his responsibilities to his family.  Sayagyi was a married householder with five daughters and one son.

In 1950 he founded the Vipassana Association of  the Accountant General’s Office where lay people, mainly employees of that  office, could learn Vipassana. In 1952, the International Meditation Centre (I.M.C.)  was opened in Rangoon, two miles north of the famous Shwedagon pagoda. Here many  Burmese and foreign students had the good fortune to receive instruction in the  Dhamma from Sayagyi.

Sayagyi was active in the planning for the  Sixth Buddhist Council known as Chatta Sangayana (Sixth Recitation) which was held in 1954-56 in Rangoon. Sayagyi was a founding  member in 1950 of two organizations which were later merged to become the Union  of Burma Buddha Sasana Council (U.B.S.C.), the main planning body for the Great  Council. U Ba Khin served as an executive member of the U.B.S.C. and as chairman  of the committee for patipatti (practice of meditation).

He also served as honorary auditor of the  Council and was therefore responsible for maintaining the accounts for all dana  (donation) receipts and expenditures. There was an extensive building programme  spread over 170 acres to provide housing, dining areas and kitchen, a hospital,  library, museum, four hostels and administrative buildings. The focal point of  the entire enterprise was the Maha Pasanaguha (Great Cave), a massive hall where  approximately five thousand monks from Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India,  Cambodia and Laos gathered to recite, purify, edit and publish the Tipitaka  (Buddhist scriptures). The monks, working in groups, prepared the Pali texts for  publication, comparing the Burmese, Sri Lankan Thai, and Cambodian editions and  the Roman-script edition of the Pali Text Society in London. The corrected and  approved texts were recited in the Great Cave. Ten to fifteen thousand lay men  and women came to listen to the recitations of the monks.

To efficiently handle the millions in donations  that came for this undertaking, U Ba Khin created a system of printing receipt  books on different coloured paper for different amounts of dana, ranging from  the humblest donation up to very large amounts. Only selected people were  allowed to handle the larger contributions, and every donation was scrupulously  accounted for, avoiding any hint of misappropriation.

Sayagyi remained active with the U.B.S.C. in  various capacities until 1967. In this way he combined his responsibilities and  talents as a layman and government official with his strong Dhamma volition to  spread the teaching of Buddha. In addition to the prominent public service he  gave to that cause, he continued to teach Vipassana regularly at his centre.  Some of the Westerners who came to the Sixth Council were referred to Sayagyi  for instruction in meditation since at that time there was no other teacher of  Vipassana who was fluent in English.

Because of his highly demanding government  duties, Sayagyi was only able to teach a small number of students. Many of his  Burmese students were connected with his government work. Many Indian students  were introduced by S.N.  Goenka. Sayagyi’s students from abroad were small in number but diverse,  including leading Western Buddhists, academicians, and members of the diplomatic  community in Rangoon.

From time to time, Sayagyi was invited to  address foreign audiences in Burma on the subject of Dhamma. On one occasion,  for example, he was asked to deliver a series of lectures at the Methodist  Church in Rangoon. These lectures were published as a booklet titled “What  Buddhism Is.” Copies were distributed to Burmese embassies and various Buddhist  organisations around the world. This booklet attracted a number of Westerners to  attend courses with Sayagyi. On another occasion he delivered a lecture to a  group of press representatives from Israel, who were in Burma on the occasion of  the visit of Israel’s prime minister, David Ben Gurion. This lecture was later  published under the title “The Real Values of True Buddhist Meditation.”

Sayagyi finally retired from his outstanding  career in government service in 1967. From that time, until his death in 1971,  he stayed at I.M.C., teaching Vipassana. Shortly before his death he thought  back to all those who had helped him–the old man who had helped him start  school, the Burmese teacher who helped him join St. Paul’s and, among many  others, one friend whom he had lost sight of over forty years earlier and now  found mentioned in the local newspaper. He dictated letters addressed to this  old friend and to some foreign students and disciples, including Dr.S.N. Goenka.  On the 18th of January, Sayagyi suddenly became ill. When his newly rediscovered  friend received Sayagyi’s letter on the 20th, he was shocked to read Sayagyi’s  death announcement in the same post.

Shri S.N. Goenka was in India conducting a  course when news of his teacher’s death reached him. He sent a telegram back to  I.M.C. which contained the famous Pali verse:

Anicca vata sankhara, uppadavaya-dhammino. Uppajjitva nirujjhanti, tesam vupasamo sukho.

Impermanent truly are compounded  things, by nature arising and passing away. If they arise and are extinguished, their eradication brings happiness.

One year later, in a tribute to his teacher,  Shri.S.N. Goenka wrote: “Even after his passing away one year ago, observing the  continued success of the courses, I get more and more convinced that it is his  metta (loving-kindness) force which is giving me all the inspiration and  strength to serve so many people–Obviously the force of Dhamma is immeasurable.”

Sayagyi’s aspirations are being  accomplished. The Buddha’s teachings, carefully preserved all these centuries,  are still being practiced, and are still bringing results here and now.

Dhamma eradicates     suffering and gives happiness. Who gives this happiness? It is not the     Buddha but the Dhamma, the knowledge of anicca within the body, which gives     the happiness. That is why you must meditate and be aware of anicca     continually.____Sayagyi U Ba Khin

About dhavalrajgeera

Physician who is providing free service to the needy since 1971. Rajendra M. Trivedi, M.D. who is Yoga East Medical Advisor www.yogaeast.net/index.htm http://www.yogaeast.net/index.htm Graduated in 1968 from B. J. Medical College, Amadavad, India. Post Graduate training in Neurological Surgery from Charles University in Czechoslovakia. 1969 - 71. and received Czechoslovakian Government Scholarship. Completed training at the Cambridge Hospital and Harvard University in Psychiatry. Rajendra M. trivedi is an Attending Psychiatrist at Baldpate Hospital. He is the Medical Director of CCA and Pain Center in Stoneham, MA where he has been serving the community since 1971 as a Physician. OTHER AFFILIATIONS: Lifer of APA - American Psychiatrist Association Senior Physician and Volunteer with Massachusetts Medical Society and a Deligate of the Middlesex District. www.massmed.org Patron member of AAPI - American Association of PHYSICIANS OF INDIA. LIFE MEMBER OF IMANE - Indian Medical Association of New England. Member of the Board of Advisors "SAHELI, Boston,MA. www.saheliboston.org/About1/A_Board Dr. Trivedi is working closely with the Perkin's School for the Blind. www.perkins.org. Dr. Trivedi is a Life member and Honorary Volunteer for the Fund Raising Contact for North America of BPA - Blind People Association of Amadavad, India. www.bpaindia.org Dr.Trivedi is the Medical Advisor for Yoga East since 1993. He is a Physician who started Health Screening and Consultation At Shri Dwarkami Clinic in Billerica, MA. https://www.dwarkamai.com/health-and-wellness

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