Lecture No. 14: Buddhism in Late Konbaung Period [1819-1885] - Buddhism, Philosophy, and Khmer Literature


Buddhism, Philosophy, and Khmer Literature

The teachings of the Buddha are aimed solely at liberating sentient beings from suffering. The Basic Teachings of Buddha which are core to Buddhism are: The Three Universal Truths; The Four Noble Truths; and The Noble Eightfold Path.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Lecture No. 14: Buddhism in Late Konbaung Period [1819-1885]

Lecture No. XIV
Buddhism in Late Konbaung Period [1819-1885]

1.   Five kings ruled in this Period namely (1) Bagyidaw[A.D. 1819-1837], (2) King Thayawaddy[A.D. 1837-1846], (3) King Bagan[A.D. 1846-1853], (4) King Mindon[A.D. 1853-1878] and (5) King Thibaw[A.D. 1878-1885]. It was a tragic period because it was in this period that three aggressive wars were waged by the British in 1824, 1852 and 1885 and the whole of Myanmar was annexed in three installments ending Myanmarmonarchy and sovereignty.
2.   Despite political decline, this period witnessed some religions achievements by the kings. King Bagyidaw commissioned the compilation of the history of Buddhist religion from the time of the Buddha so as to praise the diligent bhikkhus and put to shame undisciplined bhikkhus. The compilation is known as “Sasana-Lin-ka-ya-kyan”. It was the work of an ex-monk Maung-Daung Sayadaw II who was appointed minister with the title “Maha-dhamma Thin-gyan: He was also a member of the committee the King appointed to compile a chronicle known as “Hman-nan Yazawun” (Glass Palace Chronicle). The Sasana-Lin-ka-ya-kyan was completed in 1831. In 1897 it became a printed book which is used till today.
3.   In the reign of King Thayawaddy another Sri Lankan mission arrived. Then the Samgharaja “Neyyadhamma-bhivasa” instructed two bhikkhus of the mission on Tipiaka and conferred ordinationon Sri Lankan novices. One pupil of his later became Samgharaja. He was Paññāsāmi who compiled the Sasanavasa Treatise. King Thayawaddy marched to Dagon (Yangon) in 1841 with full armed forces including war boats via the Ayeyawaddy River to worship Shwedagon Pagoda. He built fortresses and a new town named “Aung Myay Yan Hnin”. He renovated Shwedagon Pagoda and donated to it a big bronze bell of 21 tons which is still being hung in a pavilion at the north-east corner of the platform.
4.   His successor who was his elder son was King Bagan. He lost the second Anglo-Myanmar war and Pegu province was surrendered to the British/ King Bagan appointed Paññājotabhidhaja as Sagharaja (Sasanabaing Sayadaw). This monk wrote a commentary and its sub-commentary in Myanmar on the Aguttara Nikāya. He also translated into MyanmarSaddhamavitasini”. His other works were commentaries on Sayutta Nikāya and Dīgha Nikāya written in Myanmar.
5.   Despite wars and political turmoil, Theravada Buddhism continued to flourish. There was progress in Buddhist scholarship. Pali texts were translated into vernacular, thus making them available and accessible to Myanmarliterati. The entire Suttanta appeared in Myanmar language; commentaries, sub-commentaries and Vinaya were authored by learned bhikkhus.
6.   The reign of King Mindon [A.D.1853-1878] was not only the period of peace and progress but also the peak of progress and development of Theravada Buddhism. He stopped the war with the British and launched a programme of reform and modernization like Emperor Meiji of Japan, he introduced western applied sciences to industrialise his kingdom.
7.   His achievements in the promotion of Theravada Buddhism were farreaching. Bhikkhus who were lax in the observance of the rules of Vinaya were required by royal order to take vows of obedience. A lay office named Mahadan Wun - Minister in charge of punishing bikkhus who broke the rules of the Vinaya was appointed by the King. The Thudhamma council chained by the Sangharaja first unfrocked such breakers of Vinaya rules and handed them over to the lay authorities for trial and due punishments.
8.   The Reform movement: During Mindon's reign there emerged a reform movement led by prominent learned monks of worn the noted ones were (1) the Ok-Hpo-Sayadaw (2) the Hnget-twin-Sayadaw(3) the Shweggin Sayadaw and the Thingaza Sayadaw.
A new situation in Lower Myanmar resulted from the British colonial rule there contributed to the emergence of the Reform movement. Although the British had declared Lower Myanmar "British Burma" the people of Lower Myanmar still recognized Myanmarking as their sovereign and Sangharaja at Mandalayas their ecclesiastical authority. The British being non-­Buddhist did not pay heed to religion of the natives. Instead they were promoting Christianity and English education. Therefore, the laity and Sangha felt very much neglected by the new ruling authority. They looked to king Mindon for help. Many leading Bhikkhus migrated to Upper Myanmar where they could receive royal support and patronage and pursue their learning under the guidance of famous monk teachers.
9.   That was the time that the Ok-Hpo-Sayadaw rose up to prevent the migration of Bhikkhus to Upper Myanmar. He held assembly with the Bhikkhus and told them that if the observed the rules of the Vinaya faithfully and strictly, no secular authority was needed - The Buddha. The Buddha emphasized the practical side of his teachings and ceremonial and ritual performances were superfluous and redundant. Meditation, Vipassana, strict observance of the Vinaya rules and the teachings of the fundamentals of Buddhism were the essential duties of the bhikkhus Ok-Hpo-Sayadaw even challenged the authority of the ThudhammaCouncil which the king appointed.
10. The Hnget-twin Sayadaw was more radical than Ok-Hpo sayadaw. He was a forest monk who resided at a forest recluse named "Hngettwin" at the foot of the Sagaing hill range. He proposed reforming of Buddhist practices saying that offering of food, flowers, fruits, light etc. to the Buddha's shrines and pagodas was useless. What matter most in Buddhism understood of its fundamentals and essentials. Meditation was most of meditation as a prerequisite for ordination. He even went on to say that meditation was of much greater importance than learning (Pariyatti). This radical view caused much unhappiness and commotion among Thudhamma Bhikkhus and all ceremonies and rituals. But, fortunately, the Hnget-twinSayadaw never attempted to form another sect. Ok-Hpo Sayadaw also did not break away from the established order [Thudhammasect] to set up another sectarian group. They were outspoken reformists but not separatists. They were not guilty of causing disunity to the Sangha.
11. The Shwegyin Sayadaw, a native of a place named Shwegyin near Shwebo was another reformist who tried to bring the entire Sangha back to the fold of Vinaya. He evens prohibited his disciple monks chewing betel and tobacco after noontime. He said that observing the Binaya disciplines was one of the qualities of code of conduct according to the Vinaya, no authority was needed to enforce it by law.
12. The Thingaza Sayadaw was a popular preacher. He preached the dhamma with the insertion of humorous tales so that the general public could understand. Like the ShwegginSayadaw he was a reformist. He held that the Bhikkhus should go back to the very essence of Buddhism rather than being involved in learning and scholarship. He was a purist and he emphasized the importance of practicing the code of conduct as prescribed by the Vinaya. He was a member of the ThudhammaCouncil. King Mindon honored him by building grand monasteries for him. But the Thingaza Sayadaw spent most of his time in forest recluses. He did not harbor only intention to set up a new sect, but he remained member of the Thudhamma Council.
13. The serious problem was in British Myanmar [Lower Myanmar] where the Bhikkhus being away from both temporal and ecclesiastical authorities, became lax in disciplines. The king felt it was his duty to do something about the Sasana in Lower Myanmar.
14. The 5thBuddhist Synod:
Under Mindon's patronage and with his support the 5th Buddhist Synod was held at the capital Mandalay from A. D. 1868 to 1871 [3years]. Learned bhikkhus from at home and abroad were invited who sat in the assembly and daily recited and corrected all canonical texts [Tipitaka]. The edited texts were inscribed on the Sagyin marble slabs for reference. There are 111 slabs on which the Vinaya was recorded, 410 slabs on which Suttas were recorded and 208 slabs on which Abhidhamma was recorded. The total number of the slabs is 729. They were set up in serial order in the spacious precinct of Maha LokaMaruzein Pagoda, which Mindondedicated in 1857. In this Pagoda the duplicate of the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha brought from Sri Lanka was enshrined. Each inscribed slab is housed in a masonry building with a little Stupa on its roof. The 729 buildings are the Dhammazedis. If you pile up these 729 marble slabs you will get the height of a 13-storey high rise building - the world's largest book, perhaps. The collection of these tablets is unique in the Buddhist world and it is often mentioned as the largest book in the world, though not in the Guinness Book.
15. A new Hti on the Shwedagon Pagoda
Mindon's next religious deed was the dedication of a new canopy (Hri or crown) on the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. Due to the appeal to him of Myanmar Buddhists in British Burma to renovate the Hti donated by king Hsinbyashin, which had fallen into decay due to lod age. Mindon had a new Hti made to put on the Shwedagon. But he was not allowed to come down to British Burma for the British feared that his presence in British Burma would arouse Myanmar patriotism and undermine their authority. His minister brought the Htito Yangon but he was not allowed to put it on the Pagoda. It was the Myanmar Buddhists in British Burma as British subject who carried out the ceremony of Hti hoisting, nevertheless placing Myanmarking's Hti on the Shwedagon Pagoda had the effect of reviving Myanmarsovereignty and Theravada Buddhism in British Burma. Religious and psychological gain of this event was added to the prestige of Mindon as a pious Buddhist King.
16. A great marble Buddha Image.
Among many religious monuments Mindon built a colossal Buddha Image of marble deserves merit and attention. Sculpted out of a big monolith from the quarry of Sagyin Hills north of Mandalay, this great image in a sitting position is popularly known as Kyauk Taw Gyi Phaya. But its official title is Maha Thetkya Marazein. Ten thousand devotees contributed their pious physical labor by turn for 13 days to transport the big stone to the temple site via a canal specially dug for ferrying it during high monsoon rain. On 16 May 1865 King Mindon came out in state to perform the rite of consecrating the Image.
17. King Mindon also built Thu Dhamma zayats and Pathan Zayat [religious examination halls and Dhamma Sala]. A big grand brick monastery known as Atu-mashi[the Incomparable] Maha Atula Wayan monastery at mandalay.

  The last Myanmar King, Thibaw A.D. 1878-1885

Thought he was a weak king politically; he was a good scholar. He was the only son of Mindon who passed difficult religious examinations at many levels. His religious works were the holding of religious examinations, patronising and supporting Theravada Buddhism and building of Man Aung Yadana Pagoda. The Third Anglo-Myanmar war broke out in 1885. The British deposed him and deported him and his family to Ratnagiri in India where he and his family died in misery, poverty and disgrace.
The End of lectures.

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