RANGOON — Funeral rites were held for esteemed monk and Vipassana meditation master Sayadaw U Pandita at the Panditarama Hse Mine Gone Forest Meditation Center in Pegu Township on Friday, as tributes to the 94-year-old teacher, who died on April 16, flooded in from around the world.
Revered in Burma by admirers ranging from President Htin Kyaw and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi to thousands of ordinary people who turned to his teachings on Buddhist practices and ethics, U Pandita also had significant influence within Buddhist circles internationally.
In the United States, many have credited him with influencing the rapid rise of Buddhism and Buddhism-inspired thought there in recent decades.
Joseph Goldstein, a prominent American Vipassana teacher and founder of the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) based in Barre, Massachusetts, was an early Western student of the monk.
“Many of us here are saddened to hear of Sayadaw U Pandita’s passing. He was such a powerful influence in all of our lives, urging us on to realize our highest aspirations. His great service to the Dhamma is inestimable. It feels like the passing of an era,” Goldstein told the Lion’s Roar Buddhist magazine this week.
Goldstein first met U Pandita in 1984, when the Burmese master taught what was then a rare three-month insight meditation course in the United States.
Years later, in a preface to the monk’s book “In This Very Life,” Goldstein credited the course as “a turning point in the transmission of Theravada Buddhist practice in the West.”
Another founding IMS teacher Sharon Salzburg said: “We brought Sayadaw U Pandita to the Insight Meditation Society in 1984. Joseph and I had never met him before but sat that retreat under his guidance. U Pandita Sayadaw turned out to be quite fierce and demanding. He absolutely brought out my best effort, no holding back, and revitalized my meditation practice.”
“I can’t even find the words to describe how important he’s been for me,” Salzburg told the Lion’s Roar.
American author and Buddhist Alan Clements spent eight nights interviewing the monk in February this year, in a series of conversations titled “Dhamma Advice to the People of Myanmar and Beyond,” which will be included in a forthcoming book.
U Pandita illuminated the “Requisites of Reconciliation,” the very basis of Suu Kyi and her new government’s policy of peace-building during Burma’s transition from dictatorship to democracy, which brings oppressors and the oppressed together through the practice of non-hostility and active metta (loving kindness in action).
The monk’s long connection with Suu Kyi was discussed in an article published in 2015 by her confidante Htin Kyaw.
Writing under the pen name Dalaban, the president wrote that whenever he met the monk while Suu Kyi was under house arrest, U Pandita always inquired about the health of the woman he referred to as “daughter.”
In 2002, after Suu Kyi was briefly released from house arrest, the late teacher accepted invitations to visit her home to receive donations. The heavy security presence around the house at that time made some junior monks nervous, but U Pandita would even alter his travel schedule to respond to requests for a visit, wrote Dalaban.
Once, the monk asked Suu Kyi to promise “to spare some time to practice Vipassana,” Dalaban recalled. Suu Kyi simply replied: “I will, Sayadaw, when I have time.”
In 2011, following her latest release from house arrest, Suu Kyi took refuge at the Panditarama Shwe Taung meditation center in Rangoon for a few days, according to Htin Kyaw’s article in a 2015 publication commemorating the silver jubilee of the center.
U Pandita was born in Rangoon’s Insein Township in 1921. He entered the Mahabodhi Monastery at the age of 7 and became an accomplished Buddhist scholar before studying meditation under the late venerable Mahasi Sayadaw. He was considered to be one of the leading authorities in the practice of both Samatha and Vipassana meditation, and for more than 40 years was a spiritual advisor for many retreat centers and Buddhist organizations in different countries.
In 1991, he founded the Panditarama Shwe Taung monastery and retreat center in Rangoon.