On This Day

The Day a Renowned Rakhine Buddhist Scholar Died

By Wei Yan Aung 11 May 2020

YANGON—On this day in 1932, U Shwe Zan Aung, who made the first translation of the ancient Buddha Abhidhamma texts into English, passed away. While serving as a decorated officer in the colonial government of British Burma, the ethnic Rakhine man pursued studies in Buddhist doctrine and started to write articles in Burmese and English in Buddhism Magazine and the Journal of the Burma Research Society.

Encouraged by Buddhism Magazine publisher Annada Myittarya, the second English man in recorded history to become a Theravada Buddhist monk, U Shwe Zan Aung translated Abhidammattasaṅgaha Kyam, known as the Compendium of Philosophy, from Pali into English for Western readers.

The first edition was published by London’s Pali Text Society in 1910 and the second edition came out in 1925. The treatise won high praise from scholars in the West and also served as a reference book for missionary Buddhist monks of Myanmar.

U Shwe Zan Aung also served as an interpreter between prominent Buddhist monk Ledi Sayadaw U Ñaṇadhaja and Rhys Davids, president of London’s Pali Text Society, for many years, translating her questions on Abhidhamma texts. U Shwe Zan Aung died at the age of 61 on May 11, ten days before he was due to receive the title of Doctor of Literature from Yangon University.

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