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Buddhadharma : Fall 2016
fall 2 0 1 6 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 57 When Sayadaw U Pandita came to Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, in 1984 to lead a retreat primarily for a small group of Western teachers and senior Western students, most knew him then only as the succes- sor to the Mahasi Sayadaw, who had passed away two years earlier. Yet for many of those who are the most senior teachers in the West today, that retreat provided a singular opportunity to do long-term intensive practice with one whom they came to regard as a true master. When I was training with him decades later, U Pandita pulled out photo albums from that retreat. I remember his joyous smile as he showed me pictures of Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg, Jack Kornfield, and others, glowing from months of intensive practice and of course looking a good bit younger than I remembered them. Over the course of this and subsequent retreats held in the U.S., Australia, and elsewhere, many of these Western teachers describe not only training in satipatthana (mindfulness meditation) practice with a level of energy and precision beyond what they had previ- ously imagined possible but also for the first time engaging in intensive long-term practice of the brah- maviharas: metta, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. The profound impact of this pairing— U Pandita’s precise energetic style of mindfulness practice with brahmavihara practice—on the way in which Buddhist meditation is taught in the West is abundantly evident. However, it is not always clear to newer students how many contemporary Western presentations are in large part a legacy of U Pan- dita’s formative guidance of a generation of Western teachers. U Pandita was born in Burma in 1921. Losing his mother at age four and his father at ten, he began his primary education in the traditional way, at a monastery, and ordained as a novice monk when he was twelve. At eighteen, he went to study with the great Sayadaw U Kelasa of the Kyauk Tan Mahabodhi Monastery near Bago and ordained as a bhikkhu there at twenty. U Pandita would go on to become a distinguished scholar of the Pali texts in his own right, teaching textual studies in Ran- goon, earning the preeminent title of Abhivamsa, and eventually participating, when he was thirty- three, as both Reciter and Corrector of Pali in the Sixth Sangha Council of 1956. While teaching Pali in Rangoon in his late twen- ties, U Pandita also studied English with Saya-gyi U Hpe Thin, and the two of them made an agree- ment that whoever came to see dhamma first would tell the other. Saya-gyi U Hpe Thin later went to A Lifetime of Insight Jake davis recalls the legacy of Burmese meditation master Sayadaw U Pandita, including his influence on the western Insight movement. Sayadaw U Pandita at Panditarama Yangon, Myanmar, Fall 2015