A Brief Biography of the Mogok Sayadaw

A Brief Biography of The Mogok Sayadaw

Excerpts from
The Biography and Practice of The Mogok Sayadaw

Translated by Dr. Jenny Ko Gyi
ITBMU, Myanmar

The venerable Mogok-Sayadaw-to-be was born the fifth of eight children to U Aung Tun and Daw Shwe Eik in U Yin Daw village in Myit Nge township, near Mandalay, in 1261 Myanmar era (around year 1900). His childhood name was Maung Hla Baw. Since infancy, the child Maung Hla Baw was good-natured, and was almost without anger. He never quarreled with his siblings over food or clothes. He was contented with whatever food or clothes he was given by his parents. He never used vulgar, low or useless language, nor did he like others do it. When he was sent to the village teacher, U San Ya (there were no schools in the village in those days), he was fast beyond his years in learning and was always loved and praised by his teacher. He would play only after he had learned what the teacher had taught him (many of the lessons had to be learned by heart) . If he had not finished studying, he would not get up to play with his friends. And he also never quarreled nor fought with his friends. He became a novice when he was nine years of age, his preceptor being the Sayadaw U Jagara, the abbot of Gway Bin Taw Ya monastery in his native U Yin Daw village. Being a Wednesday born child, according to the Burmese custom, he was named Vimala (monks and novices born on Wednesdays are given names that begin with Y, R, L, V. Those born on other days of the week also have names corresponding to their respective days of birth.) .The young novice Vimala was dutiful toward his teachers, and was never reluctant in fulfilling his duties as a student toward his teachers. On alms-collecting rounds, he received more donations than other novices did, and was nicknamed ‘novice Sivali’ (after the venerable Sivali during the Lord Buddha’s time, who was foremost – apart from the Buddha – in receiving the largest amount of donations). While the novice Vimala was studying at Gway Bin forest monastery in U Yin Daw village, Tada U township, swarms of bees came and rested on the robes of the young novice that had been hung to dry. On this unusual arrival of swarms of bees, the abbot of Gway Bin Taw Ya forest monastery remarked that the novice Vimala would not be an ordinary person, and predicted this novice would become an outstanding person. When the novice Vimala was about fourteen years of age, at the insistence of his cousin Ba Yin aka novice Canda, the novice Vimala crossed the Dutthavati River rowing a small canoe carrying his cousin Canda in it. It was rainy season, when water and waves were high, and the river wide. There was a huge whirlpool mid-river, and as he rowed, the small canoe was carried toward this whirlpool. Leave alone rowing over the whirlpool, no one even dared go near it in boats big or small. Onlookers on both sides of the river thought they saw the novices' canoe going round in the whirlpool, and was slowly sinking. Worried, they took canoes tied (to posts) on the river banks, and rushed toward the novices' canoe, hoping to save them. As they drew near, they saw that even though the canoe was actually going over the huge frightful whirlpool, it was apparently like rowing over perfectly calm waters. And when asked, the novices looked surprised and said they did not even know they had got into the whirlpool, and that they thought they were on calm waters. Noticing that his childhood teacher was growing old, and sensing the necessity to pursue his religious studies, he asked his parents to send him to Mangala Taik in Amarapura. When his parents had time and again postponed the date to send him there, he asked his preceptor sayadaw's permission, then, taking only the requisites, left without informing his parents. He got so popular with his followers in Amarapura that delivering dhamma talks became time-consuming, and the resident sayadaw of Mangala Taik had to remind him not to waste time merely delivering dhamma talks. He was pure, and was wise and learned beyond his years in the affairs of the world and in the dhamma, and this surprised even senior monks mahathera. And his wisdom earned him the nickname 'novice Sariputta'. The novice Vimala was ordained, supported by the merchant U Win and Daw Daw Saw, on the 8th waxing moon of Wazo, 1281 Myanmar era; his preceptor was Bhaddanta Sujata mahathera, the resident sayadaw of Mangala Taik, Amarapura. Soon after the newly ordained bhikkhu Vimala had come out of the ordination hall, and had hung his upper robe for the sweat to dry, swarms of bees immediately flew over and heaps of bees rested on the newly ordained monk's robe (for the second time in his life). Seeing this, the '(Oung Gin Shippar)Eight Victory Sayadaw' U Nagavamsa predicted that this was a monk who would certainly attain enlightenment in that life. The monk Vimala studied canonical texts under Sayagyi U Ohn, and travelling by train each day to Mandalay, he also studied under the Khemasivam sayadaw, Toung Byin Payagyi Taik U Khanti sayadaw, and Toung Byin Shwe Yay Soung Taik sayadaw U Adiccaramsi. U Vimala was so famous for his teachings of night recitals of Abhidhamma that student-monks had to live under trees, bamboo groves, in pandals (sheds) near pagodas, just to have a chance to study under U Vimala. It was difficult for student-monks even to get a small space to sit to follow U Vimala's teachings, after which they had to go to nearby Lake Toung Tha Man where they had to learn by heart under shady trees what they had studied. Those who studied under U Vimala at that time say the groves near Lake Toung Tha Man were filled with the color of student-monks' robes. When the 'Eight Victories' Sayadaw U Nagavamsa heard that U Vimala, besides teaching canonical texts to students everyday, was also preaching the dhamma, admonished him,'You will only gain merit by teaching canonical texts, and by preaching the dhamma. Work to complete your own task first.' This prompted religious awakening (samvega) in U Vimala. Sleeping only a few (hours), each night U Vimala started meditation practice when it was past midnight. He went to Mandalay and Monywa to continue his practice, but still was not contented. Returning to Mangala Taik, Amarapura, he again studied the Pali taught by the Buddha during His forty five years (as a Buddha). Studying Dhammapada Pali, Anguttara Pali, Samyutta Pali, etc., he was satisfied on seeing that only the three parinna (three stages of knowledge) were necessary for (ordinary) savaka. Only after U Vimala had practised to his satisfaction did he start his dhamma teachings to followers. The senior nun Daw Vilasi from Mogok, who at that time was a resident of Mogok corner in Mingun, explained to U Vimala that although she had studied night lectures of Abhidhamma to the end, and was teaching monks as well as nuns, she did not fully understand her lessons. For this she was unhappy, and she asked U Vimala to teach her, out of compassion for her and her students, Sangaha, subcommentaries, Abhidhamma night lectures, etc. When Ledi U Paduma Sayadaw, who formerly had been giving dhamma talks annually in Nyaung Lay Bin, was hit by a stroke, he recommended U Vimala who was efficient both in canonical texts and in practice. For eleven years hence, U Vimala gave dhamma talks yearly in Nyaung Lay Bin. In Mogok corner in Mingun, stupas, monasteries, along with a pond for monks and nuns to use in all seasons, sprang up. U Vimala also went to Mogok (a place that produces rubies), Northern Shan State, every year, and devotees from Mogok, out of sheer dedication to him, donated pandals, stupas, ponds, monasteries, rest-houses, etc., not only in their native Mogok, but also in all places where U Vimala went to. And monks and man alike started calling him the 'Mogok Sayadaw'. On the 13th waxing moon of Thadingyut in 1962 (1324 Myanmar era), around midnight, there was a thunderous roar. There was light as bright as day that lasted for about two minutes, and the tens of thousands of sparrows that had been sleeping in the huge tamarind tree in the Sayadaw's monastery for years, suddenly and simultaneously flew up and away. This sight of tens of thousands of birds flying away simultaneously in the bright light was haunting and even caused goose bumps to appear. The sparrows never returned. Around midnight on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd waning days of Thadingyut 1324 (October 1962), bright lights came out from the Sayadaw's room, and U Hla Bu who slept outside Sayadaw's room heard Sayadaw as if he were speaking to someone. All doors were closed. So U Hla Bu went in and asked Sayadaw,'I just saw light, and heard your voice. Who were you speaking to?' 'Oh, Hla Bu, you know. There's not much time left', the Sayadaw answered. Bright illuminating balls of light were seen by those in the monastery compound, preparing for the approaching kathina ceremony, going into the Sayadaw's monastery through the roof, and then coming out.(The Biography and Practice of The Mogok Sayadaw, Jan 1994 edition, p. 313) On 15-10-1962 (the 2nd waning moon of Thadingyut - two days before the Sayadaw was about to enter parinibbana), the venerable Mogok Sayadaw said, '(I) the monk is getting old. Decide that this sasana will be no more, this sasana will be no more. It is about to disappear. If you ask why this sasana has to disappear, then (I'll say) it disappears because it is time. These texts, these practices, most people do not follow. The monk is (I am) getting old. So it will disappear. Will it not?' 'You are just in time, just before (the sasana) disappears. Hastily do it. You are just in time.' 'The train is about to depart. You are just in time. You have only just alighted (the train). Do you sense that the train is about to depart.'(The Biography and Practice of The Mogok Sayadaw, 1994 Jan edition, p. 309)

The Last Day (4th waning day of Thadingyut 1324, 17th October 1962)

At 5.00 A.M. on 17-10-1962, when the Sayadaw's close disciple Daw Tin Hla and senior nun Daw Kumari went to offer breakfast to the Sayadaw, he said,'You are still young. You will be struck by the tide of worldly conditions. And I see you shall be so struck. Practice the dhamma intensively so that you will be able to endure the these tides.' Then the Sayadaw called Daw Tin Hla's husband, U Kyaw Thein and told him, 'Listen carefully. When I am no more, you will be struck by various worldly conditions. Practitioner the dhamma so that you can overcome them.' 'You have recorded the dhamma I have taught you.Listen to them. If you do not understand them, listen again and again. Stay behind and listen to what I have taught you'. (Biography and Practice, 1994, p. 317) Not understanding how the hint was to be interpreted, U Kyaw Thein went to U Tha Saing who had lived with Sayadaw for a long time, and asked him what the Sayadaw might have meant. 'He is probably going to Yangon to his devotees', U Tha Saing said. Hearing this, U Kyaw Thein was somewhat relieved. (Biography and Practice, 1994 edition, p. 317) Sayadaw had been repeatedly giving hints in his dhamma talks, or while being tended to by devotees. But seeing Sayadaw in good health, nobody had the slightest idea what he meant. (From The Biography and Practice of Mogok Sayadaw, by U Kyaw Thein, Jan 1994 edition, p. 331)

The Last Homage
October 17th 1962 (4th waning day of Thadingyut, 1324, Myanmar era)

Kathina - robe offering at end of lent, ceremony day of U Chit Hla and Daw Thaung (Mogok)
Guest Sayadaws who had come from various monasteries were being offered breakfast. The Mogok Sayadaw was going from one table to the next greeting guest sayadaws. At one table he sat down and joined in the conversation. The guest sayadaws were about to get up from breakfast. There was the 'Eight Victories' Sayadaw U Nagavamsa who, since the Mogok Sayadaw's young days, had been like an elder brother, and who had guided and admonished the Mogok Sayadaw throughout his lifetime. The Mogok Sayadaw bowed and touched the foot of the 'Eight Victories' Sayadaw with his forehead, and said,'My paying homage to you in this manner will be the last time for me, venerable sir'. Venerable monks and laity nearby all heard this, and saw the Mogok Sayadaw touching the 'Eight Victories' Sayadaw's foot with his forehead. It was so meaningful. Then The Mogok Sayadaw, with palms joined, and heads bowed, sent the elder monks to their cars.
(from 'A Lifetime's Sasana' by The Venerable U Ghosita, Oct 2002 edition, p. 425)
The Grief Began

The Sayadaw was still giving dhamma-related talks. 'Go now, practice your own dhamma', he told his devotees. Only U Kyaw Thein was remained near him. 'Continue your practice when I am gone. Stop all your business. People have enough just to eat.'
'When are you leaving for Yangon, venerable?' 'My khandha (aggregates) will say where I am going, and what I shall do. Just listen to what I tell you. I am not feeling very well.' 'Then I'll go for a doctor, venerable.' 'If you want to fetch a doctor, do it only after 1.30.' When it was around 1.00 P.M., Sayadaw said, 'My eyes have become blurred. Practice so that you can overcome sensations that everyone who has khandha will have to endure. Stay behind without forgetting (with mindfulness).' And at 1.20 P.M. the Sayadaw was liberated from the burden of khandha, and entered the ultimate peace. Before cremation of the Sayadaw's remains, the venerable Agga Mahapandita Janakabhivamsa of Mahagandharama monastery, Amarapura, and A ne sa khan Sayadaw gave admonishments. The funeral was attended by a crowd so large it was never before seen.

Some Unusual Evidences on Cremation

Hair, finger nails, toe nails, of the Sayadaw's remains kept growing longer. Relics were partially formed from bones that had not been completely burned. Eyeballs, their shape unchanged, turned to stone-like relics. Joint bones of hands were found to have been hook-linked to one another.

(The Biography and Practice of The Mogok Sayadaw, U Kyaw Thein, Jan 1994, p. 338)

Bony remains kept at U Thaung (Elephant Cheroot)'s residence were found to have turned to relics which sometimes illuminated.
A molar, left and found unburnt, gradually grew stumps on all sides.