2016/05/05 Yeshua on Sayadaw U Pandita Passing

Remembering Burmese Meditation Master, Sayadaw U PanditaSayadaw U Pandita

by Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan


Sayadaw U Pandita was probably the most influential elder of the Insight Meditation tradition in modern times. I first heard his name in the mid-8os, when I practiced at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. Resident teachers Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzberg often shared stories of practicing with Sayadaw. In the 90s I moved to Asia, and started to take annual retreats in Burma, first at centres led by other teachers in the Mahasi Vipassana meditation tradition, then at Panditarama, Sayadaw U Pandita’s Rangoon centre. Later I also attended retreats at Hse Mine Gon, U Pandita’s forest meditation centre in central Burma.

Sayadaw U Pandita (Sayadawgyi to his students) had a no nonsense reputation. This was reinforced when I entered his centre for the first time, and was shown to a spartan wooden dormitory for foreign meditators. A sign on the wall read “Your best is not good enough. Sayadaw will only accept your very best effort.”

Just prior to the Buddha’s passing away, his last words to his followers were “Seek out your liberation with diligence.” Do not veer right, do not wander left, go straight. This characterized well the main guidance Sayadaw imparted to his students. Application of ceaseless striving. The answer Sayadawgyi gave to almost any difficulty encountered in the practice was to apply more effort to sustained mindfulness. Some students, only half jokingly, referred to him as a Viriyawallah. (Viriya is the Pali word for effort. A wallah is a common South Asian suffx used to describe a person involved in a particular trade or activity.)

At his centre, Sayadawgyi was always available to his students, as well as to countless visitors,throughout the day. In the evening as I did my walking meditation on the balcony of the meditation hall in Rangoon, I was also aware that he was doing his walking meditation in the open area just below, teaching not only by word but by example. Sanday afternoon was set aside for Dhammadiscussion with foreign students, as a group, for a few hours at Sayadawgyi’s quarters. No question related to the Dharma or one’s practice was out of bounds. If the question did not relate to one’s practice, he would swiftly dismiss it, but all questions related to one’s practice received thoughtful and careful replies and usually deep and insightful responses.

Sayadaw was one of those rare individuals who was a model of a moral life and an absolute blessing to meet. Words are not adequate to describe his impression on me, other than to write that when I met him I knew I was meeting the genuine article. Pure unwavering yet compassionate attention without pretense or show. I last saw him six months ago at his Rangoon centre, where I listened to him giving a Dharma talk on generosity and dharmic community for the Kathina Ceremony after the rains retreat.

He is best known through his book In This Very Life. In Joseph Goldstein’s foreword, he noted that “His emphasis on heroic effort is joined with a joyous confidence that liberation is possible in this very life. Sayadaw has helped us recognize our own inner capacity to overcome the limitations of the conditioned mind.”

Sayadaw devoted his entire life to the Dharma, from a young age of 7 through to the end of his life. He was a scholar who could reveal deep understanding of the Buddhist canon, but more importantly embodied the path, through to completion, of the practice of liberation. Through his selfless devotion to provide space for his students growth his life will continue to have a beneficial impact. I offer three deep bows in gratitude for the benefit of directly receiving his guidance.

Yeshua, and his wife Anitra, have been practicing annually at Panditarama Lumbini in Nepal for the past ten years.