Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa

Introduction to 2.1.12: Paṭhamabrahmacariyasuttaṃ & Dutiyabrahmacariyasuttaṃ
(Leading a Holy Life and the Fruits thereof & The Purpose of the Holy Life)

S.N. Goenka expresses his deep gratitude to Myanmar in one of his articles* by relating how the saddhamma has maintained its purity in the golden land of Suvaṇṇabhūmi:

After the completion of the third Dhamma Council under the patronage of Emperor Asoka, the Venerable Moggaliputta Tissa sent dhammadūtas (Dhamma messengers) to different countries to spread the beneficent teaching of the Buddha. The arahants Sona and Uttara were sent to Suvaṇṇabhūmi. At that time, the ruler of Suvaṇṇabhūmi was King Sirimasoka, and the capital city was Sudhammavati. On their arrival, these Dhammadūtas first taught the Brahmajala Sutta. Impressed by it, many people became established in the true Dhamma and many others left the household life and became monks.

In the centuries that followed, at no time was the teaching of the Buddha ever wholly lost in Myanmar. Whenever the teaching became weak, especially in Vinaya, it was renewed from Sri Lanka. The foundation of the teaching of the Buddha always remained strong, and that is why the Fifth and Sixth Dhamma Councils were successfully held there. The pure Dhamma that the disciples of the Buddha, the arahant Bhallika as well as the arahant Gavampati, taught the people of Myanmar could not have been limited only to sīla (morality). The Buddha himself did not merely give discourses on sīla; he also taught how to develop in sīla by gaining control of the mind through the practice of samādhi (mental concentration), and he taught how to achieve total purification of the mind through the practice of paññā (wisdom, insight). The Noble Eightfold Path is complete only with the inclusion of all three trainings. Therefore, the Buddha's arahant disciples must have done more than merely give discourses on sīla; they must have taught samādhi for developing concentration of the mind, and Vipassana for purification of the mind. Only with mental purification does a person become truly established in sīla, because it is only then that the unwholesome habit of generating defilements in the depths of the mind is removed. Any arahant who went to another country and established Dhamma there must undoubtedly have taught the local people the technique of Vipassana, which is the life-transforming practical teaching of the Buddha. Yet it is true that the pure Dhamma, which the arahants Bhallika and Gavampati had taught to the people in the form of Vipassana, became contaminated within 275 years after the time of the Buddha. Except for a few people who preserved it in its pristine purity, the Teaching became corrupted.

Therefore, when the arahants Sona and Uttara with their five disciples came to Myanmar, first of all they taught the Brahmajala Sutta. This contains a list and refutation of the 62 kinds of philosophical views of eternity or nihilism, as most people understand them; at the same time, it is an important sutta about Vipassana meditation. Describing corrupt and deficient meditation techniques, the sutta explains the weaknesses of the various sectarian philosophical views resulting from the practice of these techniques, and it also teaches the way to full liberation from the wheel of existence through the practice of Vipassana. The arahants Sona and Uttara showed the way to attain true liberation through Vipassana, and this technique was maintained in its pure form for centuries in the Mon State of south Myanmar. Along with this pure paṭipatti (meditation practice), the pariyatti (theoretical study) of the Tipiṭaka was also maintained there in its pure form.

It was only because of Vipassana that the sammuti and parāmaṭṭha, sekkha and asekkha saṅghas remained alive here from generation to generation. The term sammuti saṅgha denotes ordinary Bhikkhus who have not yet been able to reach the ariya stage but are striving for it. Sekkha Bhikkhus are those who have become ariyas; that is, they have attained one of the first three stages of enlightenment, whether as a sotāpaṇṇa ('stream-enterer'), sakadāgāmī ('once-returner') or anāgāmi ('non-returner'). The asekkha or parāmaṭṭha stage is the stage of an arahant, a fully liberated person. All these stages, sekha or asekha, can be reached only through the practice of Vipassana. Therefore it is clear that the technique of Vipassana was preserved in it pristine purity for many centuries in south Myanmar. In the same way, the entire literature of the Tipiṭaka was properly preserved there, initially in oral form (by memorisation) and later in written form.

In north Myanmar, however, both the Tipiṭaka and the technique of Vipassana had been lost. That is why the Dhamma became totally corrupt there. The spiritual teachers of that time, called Aris, were completely immoral. Though they called themselves Bhikkhus, they were a disgrace to the Saṅgha. This was the state of affairs in the middle of the eleventh century, when King Anuruddha (Anawratha) reigned in his capital of Pugram (Pagan). An arahant Bhikkhu named Dhammadassi from south Myanmar learned about the situation. Overcome with compassion, he journeyed to Pagan and met and taught Anurudddha. The king was deeply impressed. Unlike the corrupted teaching of the immoral monks, he found the pure Dhamma very attractive, agreeable and beneficial. Therefore he gladly accepted it.

To establish the pure Dhamma in his kingdom, King Anuruddha asked King Manua, the ruler of Thaton (Suddhammavati) in the South, for the Tipiṭaka. But King Manua rejected this request. Angered by his refusal, the powerful Anuruddha invaded south Myanmar and conquered Thaton. There he found thirty sets of the Tipiṭaka, and he reverently placed the volumes on thirty elephants to bring them to Pagan. He also brought the defeated King Manua and his family, giving them a palace in which to live. Thus the pure pariyatti and paṭipatti reached the kingdom of Pagan in central Myanmar. Within a few years it became established as a result of the selfless service of the meditating monks who had arrived there. Since then, the effort has never failed to preserve both these aspects of the Dhamma in their pure form. The arahant Bhikkhu Dhammadassi, the progenitor of this whole movement, was satisfied with its success. Journeying further northwards, he made his abode in the peaceful caves of the Sagaing Hills, on the western bank of the Irrawaddy River. Thus the pure Dhamma was revived there as well. In the ensuing years, many monks seeking liberation came to him to learn the technique of Vipassana. Even after his parinibbana, the Sagaing Hills continued to be a beneficent centre of Vipassana meditation. The teaching of Vipassana was maintained from generation to generation by an unbroken chain of teachers and students. It is true that the majority of Bhikkhus had an inclination for pariyatti (the study and teaching of the Tipiṭaka), while only a few were interested in paṭipatti (the practice of Vipassana). Nevertheless, these few Bhikkhus practicing Vipassana preserved the technique in its pristine purity in an unbroken teacher-student tradition.

History records the names of neither these teachers nor their students. But there is proof that the technique was preserved in its pristine purity: About 125 years ago, an extremely intelligent and hard-working young Bhikkhu, Ledi Sayadaw, had become proficient in the study of pariyatti. He went on to learn the technique of Vipassana still being taught in the caves of the Sagaing Hills; and after mastering the technique, he began to teach it to others. His vihāra (monastery) was in Ledi village near the town of Monywa. There he meditated most of the time and taught the other Bhikkhus. At other times he travelled throughout Myanmar. Because of his mastery of pariyatti, he was able to write many books on Dhamma in both Pali and Burmese languages. Thus he strengthened pariyatti, and at the same time he kept alive the pure tradition of paṭipatti by teaching the technique of Vipassana to a few people.

Ledi Sayadaw was a great saint with considerable foresight. He had complete faith in the prediction that 2500 years after the Buddha, the Vipassana technique of pure Dhamma would arise again, return to India, and spread to the whole world. He realised that the prediction would be fulfilled not only by Bhikkhus, and that good lay teachers would need to be developed. Therefore he made the technique, which had previously been restricted to Bhikkhus, accessible to lay people as well. Although he trained some Bhikkhus to teach, he also established a lay farmer named Saya Thetgyi as a teacher. After him, the anāgāmi householder Saya Thetgyi taught the technique to many, and he trained some Bhikkhus as well as lay teachers. Of these, the lay teacher Sayagyi U Ba Khin was very successful in teaching the Dhamma to foreigners; and it was through his compassion that I obtained the technique of Vipassana.

To carry out Sayagyi's Dhamma wish, I undertook to bring to India whatever I had learnt sitting at his feet. Accordingly, in 1969 I came to the land of my forefathers with this priceless technique. Discerning people of India gladly accepted it, and the technique began to be re-established here after an interval of about two millennia. It also began to spread to many other countries, enabling suffering humanity around the world to benefit from the Buddha's liberating teaching.

Therefore I say again and again that not only I but all Vipassana meditators who have benefited from this technique are grateful to Myanmar, and will always remain grateful. To the Bhikkhu Saṅgha, to the teacher-student tradition, who preserved both the pariyatti and the paṭipatti in its pristine purity, they are extremely grateful, and always will be. How can any Vipassana meditator ever forget the debt to Myanmar? To be grateful is strong evidence of progress in Dhamma. Gratitude is abundantly beneficial. Thus we are all very grateful.

Dhamma is munificent in the beginning, Dhamma is munificent in the middle, Dhamma is munificent in the end. Dhamma, that is, sīla, samādhi, paññā, is munificent and beneficial in its entire path for anyone walking on it by practicing it. Every step taken on the path of Dhamma gives healthy, wholesome results here and now; no step, no effort taken on the path is wasted.

Pāli lesson (with audio) 2.1.12

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Last modified: Monday, 14 December 2015, 8:31 AM