Regarded as one of the world’s most eminent meditation masters and Theravada Buddhist scholars, the Venerable Sayadaw U Pandita of Burma (now Myanmar) passed away on April 16, 2016, at the age of 94. Successor to Mahasi Sayadaw and spiritual adviser to Burma’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate and State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, Sayadaw U Pandita entered monastic life at the age of 12. Through decades of experience in the theory and practice of meditation, he cultivated in others the motivation to know and experience the taste of the dhamma, which he viewed as many times better than all the other tastes of the world. With this goal in mind, he established meditation centers throughout the world, working tirelessly to share the Buddha’s teachings in accordance with the instructions of Mahasi Sayadaw (1904–1982), encompassing both scripture and practice so that neither would be omitted. He lived as head teacher for eight years at the Mahasi Meditation Centre in Yangon, where the worldwide mass lay insight meditation movement began in 1947, until 1990, when he founded the meditation and study monastery Panditarama Shwe Taung Gon Sasana Yeiktha, also in Yangon.
In the months before his death, Sayadawgyi (as he was known in his latter years; the suffix -gyi means “great”) granted me a special invitation to discuss the “dhamma of reconciliation.” Over eight successive nights in February 2016, Sayadawgyi shared the wisdom that forms “Dhamma Advice to a Nation,” his final message to those seeking to heal from decades of brutal totalitarian rule in Burma. The following interview is a short excerpt from that material. While his is perhaps the most renowned and respected voice, U Pandita was but one of many of Burma’s “voices of freedom”—the courageous individuals who have fought tirelessly for human rights and democracy against the tyranny of one of history’s most vicious military regimes, often at risk of imprisonment, sometimes at the cost of their lives. And while the realities of our inhumanity to one another still threaten to drag us into realms alien and incomprehensible, the message of these voices, of freedom through reconciliation, comes from the front lines of a familiar and collective struggle for justice, dignity, and triumph over oppression in all its forms.
The following interview will appear in the forthcoming book “Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma’s Voices of Freedom in Conversation with Alan Clements” and its accompanying film highlighting those at the heart of Burma’s 28-year nonviolent revolution of the spirit.
It is common to react to violation with hurt, anger, outrage, and at times revenge. As we know, many millions of people in your country have been oppressed for over 50 years by a succession of dictatorships. What advice can you offer those who harbor feelings of hostility and retribution? How can one overcome those feelings and refrain from acting on them? Forbearance is the best. In this country we say, “Khanti [forbearance] is the highest austerity.” In the human world we are certain to encounter things we do not like. If every time one encounters difficulty there is no forbearance and one retaliates, there will be no end to human problems. There will only be quarrels.
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