If you have practiced meditation at one of the world’s many Goenka Vipassana centers, then you have likely heard the name Sayagyi U Ba Khin, about whom the late Goenka, in his nightly discourses, relates several stories. You may remember U Ba Khin as the young man in the Burmese government accounting office who, under threat of dismissal, took a leave of absence for a Vipassana course and returned only to find himself the new Accountant General of Burma.
U Ba Khin was Goneka’s teacher. U Ba Khin himself studied under a lay meditator, a villager by the name of Saya Thetgyi (who, before taking up teaching of dhamma, ran a rice mill and took care of a large family). But U Ba Khin was still just a practitioner. He might not have become a teacher, and worked with Goenka, had it not been for a monk regarded as one of Burma’s modern arahants.
Webu Sayadaw was born in upper Burma in the town of Ingyinbin, a place so small and insignificant that even now, about the only references to it in a Google search are related to Webu and Vipassana. His early monastic life seems to have been routine, and he later became known for teaching a form of meditation that required only anapana, or observation of the breath. As he said in one of his translated and transcribed teachings, “If we establish one technique with strong effort and get rid of all doubts then…we shall find the answers.” Webu spent most of his life in Ingyinbin and two other nearby towns far away from Rangoon, the central government, and its officials.
U Ba Khin, though, was a man on the move. He had the opportunity to visit many monasteries and meditation centers while traveling on government business. The story goes that one day, he was near Webu Sayadaw’s monastery and went to pay respects. The monk is said to have questioned U Ba Khin carefully and to have been impressed with the bureaucrat’s knowledge, ability, and energy. And so the arahant encouraged the accountant to begin teaching Vipassana. The rest, as they say, is history.
Well-known and well-respected, Webu Sayadaw was also frequently recorded. Given the vicissitudes of 20th century Burmese history, the country’s wet and humid climate and the general state of development (in which archiving materials and methods were probably a low priority), we are lucky that some of this record has survived. You can sample it yourself in a recent film about the great arahant.
Just over one hour in length, the 2012 documentary features photographs and video footage of Webu Sayadaw, as well as samples of his lectures (used as a kind of soundtrack to text-based portions of the film). The story is told from several points of view. The most immediate voice is Webu Sayadaw’s, but unless you understand Burmese you will rely on others, including U Mandala, ordained under Webu Sayadaw and now abbot of Webu’s monastery at Ingyinbin. Other voices include Goenka on Webu’s meditation methods, and U Ko Lay, ex-Vice-chancellor of Mandalay University, on his experience learning mediation from Webu.
While the film is obviously not the product of a studio, it appears well researched, offers a useful introduction to the life and teaching of Webu Sayadaw, and collects in one easily accessible location a wealth of rare visual documents. The makers of the film are not identified either in the film or at Pariyatti, which hosts the film via its YouTube account. Perhaps this oversight will be rectified soon.
Ven. Webu Sayadaw: Anthology of a Noble One
Part 1 Biography 0:00
Part 2 Webu Sayadaw’s Meditation 06:30
Part 3 Webu Sayadaw’s Teaching 13:20
Part 4 Personal Experience 19:45
Part 5 Travel 30:45
Part 6 Scenes from a Life 42:45
Part 7 Present Day 48:00
Featuring the voices of:
1. SN Goenka
2. U Ko Lay, the ex-Vice-chancellor of Mandalay University
3. U Mandala, current abbot of Inginbin Monastery
4. Webu Sayadaw