Mahasi Meditation Centre was opened in 1950, with the Most Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw as its Principle Preceptor. The most Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw started the teaching of the Mahasi method of insight in 1947 and taught for 33 years until his death in August, 1982.

The Venerable Mahæsø Sayædaw was one of the very rare personalities in whom there was a balanced and high development of both profound erudition linked with a keen intellect, and deep and advanced meditative experience.

(၂၂-၁၂-၂၀၁၅) မဟစည္ဓမၼဗိိမာန္ေတာႀကီတြင္က်င္းပျပဳလုပ္ေသာ ဓမၼကထိကအစည္းအေ၀း

(၆၆) ႏွစ္ေျမာက္ မဟာစည္ၾသ၀ါဒခံယူပူေဇာ္ပြဲႀကီးသုိ႔ၾကြေရာက္ေတာ္မူလာၾကေသာဆရာေတာ္ႀကီးမ်ား

(၆၆) ႏွစ္ေျမာက္ မဟာစည္ၾသ၀ါဒခံယူပူေဇာ္ပြဲႀကီးသုိ႔ၾကြေရာက္ေတာ္မူလာၾကကုန္ေတာ္ ဆရာေတာ္သဃာေတာ္မ်ား

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Mahasi Sayadaw's Biography

The Venerable U Sobhana Mahāthera, better Known as Mahāsī Sayādaw was born on 29 July 1904 to the peasant proprietors, U Kan Taw and Daw Ok at Seikkhun Village, which is about seven miles to the west of the town, Shwebo in Upper Myanma; once the capital of the founder of the last Myanmar dynasty. Sayādaw’s name was Mg Thwin.

At the age of six he began his studies at a monastic school in his village, and at the age of twelve he was ordained a Sāmanera (Novice) receiving the name of Sobhana. On reaching the age of twenty, he was ordained a bhikkhu on 26 November 1923. He passed the Government Pāḷi Examinations in all the three classes (lower, middle and highest) in the following three successive years.

In the fourth year after his Bhikkhu ordination, he proceeded to Mandalay, noted for its pre-eminence in Buddhist studies, where he continued his further education under various monks of high scholastic fame. In the fifth year he went to Mawlamyaing where he took up the work of teaching the Buddhist Scriptures at a monastery known as “Taung-waing-galay Taik-kyaung”.

In the eighth year after his Bhikkhu ordination, he and another monk left Mawlamyaing, equipped with the bare necessities of a bhikkhu (i.e.almsbowl, a set of three robes, etc.) and went in search of a clear and effective method in the practice of meditation. At Thaton he went to the well-known Meditation Teacher, the Venerable U Nārada, who is also known as “ Mingun Jetavan Sayādaw the First”. He then placed himself under the guidance of the Sayādaw and at once proceeded with an intensive course of meditation practice.

He had progressed so well in his practice that he was able to teach the method effectively to his first three disciples in Seikkhun while he was on a visit there in 1938. These three lay disciples, too, made remarkable progress. Inspired by the example of these three, gradually as many as fifty villagers joined the courses of intensive practice.

The Venerable Mahāsī Sayādaw could not stay with the Venerable Mingun Sayādaw as long as he wanted as he was urgently asked to return to the Mawlamyaing monastery. Its aged head monk was gravely ill and passed away not long after the Venerable Mahāsī Sayādaw’s return. The Venerable Mahāsī Sayādaw’s was then asked to take charge of the monastery and to resume teaching the resident monks. During this time he sat for the Pāḷi Lectureship Examination on its first introduction, and passed on the first attempt in 1941 and was awarded the title of Sāsanadhaja Sirīpavara Dhammācariya” .

On the event of the Japanese invasion, the authorities gave an evacuation order to those living near the Taung-waing-galay Monastery and its neighborhood. These places were close to an air field and hence exposed to air attacks. For the Sayādaw this was a welcome opportunity to return to his native Seikkhun and to devote himself whole-heartedly to his own practice of Vipassanā meditation and to the teaching of it to others.

He took residence at a monastery known as Mahāsī-kyaung, which was thus called, because a drum (Myanmar-si) of an unusually large (mahā) size was housed these. From that monastery, the Sayādaw’s popular name, Mahāsī Sayādaw’s, is derived.

It was during this period, in 1945, that the Sayādaw wrote his great work, Manual of Vipasssanā Meditation, a comprehensive and authoritative treatise expounding both the doctrinal and the practical aspects to the satipaṭṭhanā method of meditation. This work of two volumes, comprising 858 pages in print, was written by him in just seven months, white the neighboring town of Shwebo was at times subjected to almost daily air attacks. So far, Volume I and Chapter V of Volume II have been translated into English and are published under the titles “A Practical way of (Insight Meditation) Volume I” and “Practical Insight Meditation: Basic and Progressive Stages”.

It did not take long before the reputation of Mahāsī Sayādaw as an able teacher of Insight Meditation (Vipassanā) had spread throughout the Shwebo-Sagaing region and attracted the attention of a prominent and very devout Buddhist layman, Sir U Thwin, who was regarded as Myanmar’s Elder Statesman. It was his wish to promote the inner strength of Buddhism in Myanmar by setting up a meditation centre to be guided by a meditation teacher of proven virtue and ability. After meeting Mahāsī Sayādaw and listening to a discourse given by him and to the meditation instructions given to the nuns in Sagaing, Sir U Thwin was in no doubt that he had found the ideal person he was looking for.

In 1947 the Buddha Sāsanā Nuggaha Organization was founded in Yangon with its objectives of furthering the study (pariyatti ) and practice (paṭipatti) of Buddhism, with Sir U Thwin as its first President. In 1948 Sir U Thwin donated five acres of land at Bahan Township, Yangon, to the organization for the erection of a meditation centre. It is on this site that the present (Thathana or Sāsanā) Yeikthā, i.e: “ Buddhist Retreat” is situated, which now, however, covers an area of twenty acres, with a large number of buildings.

In 1949, the then Prime Minister of Myanmar, U Nu, and Sir U Thwin requested that the Venerable Mahāsī Sayādaw come to Yangon and give training in meditational practice. On 4 December 1949, the Sayadaw introduced the first group of 25 meditators into the methodical practice of Vipassanā meditation. Within a few years of the Sayādaw’s arrival in Yangon, similar meditation centres sprang up all over Myanmar, until they numbered over 683 now. In neighboring Theravāda countries like Thailand and Sri Lanka, such centers were also established in which the same method was taught and practiced. By end of December 2016 the total number of meditations trained at all these centres (both in Myanmar and abroad) had passed the figure of 4.8 million.

At the historic Sixth Buddhist Council (Chaṭṭha Saṅgāyanā) held at Yangon for two years, culmination in the year 2500 Buddhist Era (1956), the Venerable Mahāsī Sayādaw had an important role. He was one of the Final Editors of the canonical texts, which were recited and thereby approved, in the sessions of the council. Further, he was the Questioner (Pucchaka), that is, he had to ask the questions concerning the respective canonical texts that were to be recited. They were then answered by an erudite monk with a phenomenal power of memory, by the name of Venerable Vicittasārābhivaṃsa.To appreciate fully the importance of these roles, it may be mentioned that at the first Council held one hundred days after the passing away of the Buddha, it was the Venerable Mahākassapa who put forth those introductory questions which were then answered by the Venerable Upāḷi and the Venerable Ānanda.

After the recital of the canonical scriptures, the Tipiṭaka, had been completed at the Sixth Council. It was decided to continue with a rehearsal of the ancient commentaries and sub-commentaries, preceded by critical editing and scrutiny. In this great task, too, the Mahāsī Sayādaw took a prominent part.

In the midst of all of these tasks, he was also a prolific and scholarly writer too. He authored more than 100 writings and translations, mostly in Myanmar, with a few in the Pāḷi language. One of these deserves to be singled out is his Myanmar translation of the Commentary to the Visuddhi magga (visuddhi-magga Mahāṭīkā), which, in two large volumes of the Pāḷi original, is even more voluminous than the work commented upon and presents explanations on many difficult points, linguistically and in its contents. In 1957 Mahāsī Sayādaw was awarded the tile of ‘Aggamahāpaṇḍita’ .

Yet even all of this did not exhaust the Mahāsī Sayādaw’s remarkable capacity for work in the cause of the Buddha-Dhamma. He undertook several travels abroad as follows;.

  • Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam (1952)
  • India and Sri Lanka (1959-1959)
  • Japan (1957)
  • Indonesia (1959)
  • America, Hawaii, and England, Continental Europe (1979)
  • England, Sri Lanka. Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand (1980)
  • Nepal, India (1981)

The first two of his tours were in preparation for the Sixth Council, but were likewise used for preaching and teaching.

In the midst of all these manifold and strenuous activities, he never neglected his own meditative life which had enable him to give wise guidance to those instructed by him. His outstanding vigour of body and mind and his deep dedication to the Dhamma sustained him through a life of 78 years.

On 14 August 1982, the Venerable Mahāsī Sayādaw’s succumbed to a sudden and severe cerebral stroke which he had suffered the night before. Yet on the evening of the 13th, he had still given an introductory explanation to a group of new meditators.

The Venerable Mahāsī Sayādaw’s was one of the very rare personalities in whom these was a balanced and high development of both profound erudition linked with a keen intellect, and deep and advanced meditative experience. He was also able to teach effectively both Buddhist thought and Buddhist practice.

His long career of teaching through the spoken and printed words had a beneficial impact on many hundreds of thousands in the East and the West. His personal stature and his life’s work rank him among the great figures of contemporary Buddhism.

Updated in March 2017