Oct 6, 2018
Vipassana in the Tradition of Sayagi U Ba Khin as Taught by U Ko Lay
Location: Naung Yan Damaryon Meditation Center, Yangon, Myanmar
It wasn't just SN Goenka
Usually, when the Vipassana tradition of Sayagi U Ba Khin is mentioned, SN Goenka is equated to be the teacher. I had a startling surprise when Tin, a Vipassana meditator, said he was going to sit in the tradition of Sayagi U Ba Khin, but taught by U Ko Lay. That's when it hit me. I am in Myanmar where Goenka learned from U Ba Khin together with everyone else who attended the course. It wasn't just Goenka! He had other peers who hold the same ranking as him as an authorized Vipassana teacher. In Burma alone, there are Mother Sayama Gyi (aka Mya Thwin), U Chit Tin, U Tint Yee, U Ba Pho and U Boon Shain. There were even Westerners who were authorized by U Ba Khin to teach Vipassana.
I asked Tin if I could come with him, and he said yes.
Sayagi U Ko Lay
(Sayagi U is an honorific name and not part of the official name) Sayagi U Ko Lay is learned in the best educational institutions of the time - Yangon University, London University, Cornell University and Columbia University, USA. After founding the Myanmar University, he became its first vice-chancellor. After retiring, he devoted his life in the practice of Vipassana. His major work is the translation of the Tipitaka Pali canon into English. This is only one amongst many translations.
There is a Burmese tradition that one should become a monk at least once in the lifetime. Sayagi U Ba Khin and U Ko Lay (one of U Ba Khin's closest disciples), went to Sayadaw's (acknowledged by many to be an arahan) center and became monks for 10 days.
Naung Yan Damaryon Meditation Center
The sit was 8:30am at the Naung Yan Damaryon Meditation Center. When we arrived, some people were already sitting - they were all old people. Hmmm...kinda like me! Unlike Goenka's style, this center had the statue of Buddha and the portrait of the U Ko Lay. I got a sense that the practice is steeped in the Theravada tradition of Buddhism. In contrast, Goenka's Vipassana is non-sectarian and is not under the Buddhism umbrella - even though it references Buddha in the practice. U Ko Lay wasn't there. He is now 87 and sick. In his place to moderate the sit was his assistant teacher. But being a Saturday, first-timers to the center have to go through an orientation by the assistant teacher - me included.
Having done nine 10-day courses with SN Goenka, I didn't feel like I needed an orientation, but they had their own policy in place. The assistant teacher together with Tin and another elder took turns in giving me the orientation. They were all very pleasant and exuded positive energy, but somehow, the orientation took an impasse. In my recollection, it went like this:
With that, they continued explaining how suffering is woven into our very existence. I nodded without any rebuttal or disagreement.
After the orientation, I finally got to meditate. But the verbal back-and-forth somehow tired me out. I didn't go deep. I never do anyway. It's enough that with Anapana (breath focus), I could already bring myself calmly into stillness.
Derivatives and Arithmetic
The following day, Tin and I bumped into each other again at the hotel. He explained to me what I was going through. I somehow sensed his frustration that "I wasn't getting it" and unlikely to progress on my journey. I just explained that Buddha's words are like Mathematical Derivatives...advance Math. And I just learned Arithmetic and going through my Algebra. That perhaps at some point, I'll be in a position to understand Derivatives - just not now.
Obviously, we couldn't come to terms with our sense of Dhamma (truth). And that's ok. I never expect anyone to see things my way and I'm aware that my tenets of dos-and-donts will change with experience and time. I just happen to be on this page at the present moment. But one thing clear to me about this encounter is that the people at the center have their hearts in the right place. They are well-meaning and only want to share Dhamma through the words of Buddha.
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Works of U Ko Lay
- Guide to Tipitaka
- Manual of Vipassana Meditation
Reader Comments:Kerrie Wong
(Oct 9, 2018) Oooooo I won't argue. As Long as it's the same teaching frm Buddha? This is very insightful thank you for sharing!
(Oct 9, 2018) Kerrie, they were quoting Buddha every step of the way! It's good to learn from other teachers who come from the same tradition.
(Oct 9, 2018) Do I know anyone else who would argue what Buddha said with a monk? hahaha. (I do, it was me)
(Oct 9, 2018) Not surprised. PM me what the argument was all about . Curious 🙂
Leave a comment?
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Yangon (city), Myanmar
Yangon International Airport
How to Get to Downtown Yangon from the Yangon International Airport (RGN)
- take the shuttle bus from Airport to Downtown Yangon, it costs MMK 500. It passes through the main artery of Yangon.
Yangon Travel Tips
- useful site: Wiki Travel Yangon
USEFUL INFORMATION(as of Jan 2020)
Myanmar FYI / Travel Tips
- accommodation - not all destinations in Myanmar can accommodate foreign travelers. Walk-in hotel guests could be refused. Better make an online booking, or make sure the hotel you wish to stay, at is listed in the online booking sites (Agoda, Booking.com, etc.)
- local time - adjust time 30 mins behind from Thailand (if arriving from Thailand)
- Burmese people - Burmese people are new to what's happening to Myanmar - being opened-up to the rest of the world. They remain friendly, helpful and curious. Tourism being new, the culture is not yet corrupted by it.
General Travel Tips
- avoiding scams - as a general rule, I ignore the touts or anyone I don't know who call out to me. The calling comes in many forms - "Hi! Where are you from?", "Excuse me! Excuse me!", "Where are you going?". I don't look them in the eye and I remain non-verbal with them. If you reply to them, you just gave them an 'in' to hound you. In order not to look rude, I smile and wave the 'not interested' hand to them, without looking at them.
- power bank - hand-carry your power bank. Do not check it in. You can be called in when you are already inside the plane to go all the way to the loading dock so you can personally remove the power bank...and chances are, you'll have to surrender it to them. And you might delay the plane departure!
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