Myanmar’s Meditation Master Who Spread the Practice Abroad
By Wei Yan Aung 6 March 2019
Today marks the 120th birthday of Sayagyi U Ba Khin, who is known for his promotion of vipassana meditation in Europe and India through his International Meditation Center in Yangon since 1952. At his center in the Golden Valley neighborhood of Yangon, the former accountant general welcomed everyone to learn how to practice the non-sectarian technique for a total eradication of mental impurities and the highest happiness of full liberation. As well as local Buddhists, his students included westerners and members of the diplomatic community in Yangon, including U Goenka, a Burmese-Indian who later became an internationally acclaimed vipassana meditation teacher and established meditation centers worldwide.
When Myanmar sponsored the Sixth Buddhist Council in 1954, some Westerners who came to the event were referred to Sayagyi (a Burmese word for “master”) for instruction in meditation since at that time there was no other teacher of Vipassana who was fluent in English. In 1961, he delivered a lecture to a group of press representatives from Israel, who were in Myanmar on the occasion of the visit of Israel’s prime minister. This lecture was later published under the title “The Real Values of True Buddhist Meditation.”
Despite his international reputation in the 1960s, Sayagyi was not allowed to leave Myanmar at the time to personally conduct meditation sessions abroad due to the country’s self-isolation policy under the then Ne Win regime. Upon his death, Sayagyi U Ba Khin is immortalized by his disciple Goenka, the Sayagyi U Ba Khin Vipassana Village still used by meditators and students from all over the world and the Global Vipassana Pagoda in Maharashtra in India.