Extract 9 - Interview with Webu Sayadaw
For an explanation of words in Pali - the language of the time of the Buddha - please see the Pali Glossary.
By a group of Western students (Jan. 19, 1976)
Sayagyi U Chit Tin: These are the disciples of Sayagyi U Ba Khin — ﬁfteen foreign disciples, men and women. Today is the ﬁfth anniversary of Sayagyi U Ba Khin’s death. Fifty monks were offered breakfast very early this morning, and about 150 disciples were invited to the feeding ceremony. These disciples have been coming for the whole month for their Vipassanā courses at the Centre. These people can stay in Burma for only seven days. So they do meditation for seven days, leave for Bangkok or Calcutta, then come back here again. Some of them are on their second trip. More will be coming for a third trip. The meditation course is arranged for the whole of this month to commemorate the passing away of Sayagyi. Some of the students are from America, some from England, France, and New Zealand — very far away places, representing many nationalities. Some have come from Australia, and there is one disciple from Malaya.
Ven. Webu Sayadaw: This is just like the time of our Lord Buddha. Then also they arrived in the presence of the Buddha, all at the same time. Not from the same country, not from the same town, the same place, but from different countries, different towns — all men of noble hearts, arriving simultaneously at the same place to pay respects to the Lord Buddha. Noble beings, whether human or celestial, never tired in giving homage to the Lord Buddha. Glad in their heart, they worshipped the Buddha in great adoration. The Buddha, having unbounded love, pity, and compassion for all beings, showed them the way. They followed and practised his Teachings with meekness and in all humility, being good and disciplined students. Wandering forlornly thoughout the whole of saṃsāra (continued rebirths), looking for a way out, they have now reached the end of their journey. They have now found what they have been searching for during the whole of saṃsāra. Innumerable were those who attained Nibbāna by following the Buddha’s advice.
Now you are all just like those seekers of the old days. And just like them, if you are determined to acquire what they did, and if you are equipped with noble zeal and earnestness, having now reached a place of sanctity, where the Buddha’s Teachings are kept alive, doing all that it is necessary to do, following the Teachings with meekness and humility, without wasting time, working hard in this way — being able to work hard in this way — you will achieve what you have been working for: the supreme goal of the holy life. This is something you should all feel happy about.
Do they understand what I have said? I wonder if they do.
Sayagyi U Chit Tin: One or two might understand, sir. They have learned some Burmese in America.
Webu Sayadaw: Have they? Well, very good. I am glad. The ones who understand can then pass on the Teachings of the Buddha to the others, thus beneﬁting many. Isn’t that so? Who is the one who can speak Burmese ﬂuently? So, disciple, you understand Burmese. Do you understand me? Only a little? Well, a little will be useful. Understanding only a little of what the Buddha taught will be of great help. Just a few of the Buddha’s words are not really a little. They mean a great deal. There is something that you have longed for and worked for throughout saṃsāra. When you understand the Teachings of the Buddha and follow his advice, you will achieve what you have been looking for.
Now, what is it you wish to gain, for now and for always, throughout endless saṃsāra? What do I mean by now? I mean the immediate present. Right this moment. You all want happiness, relief from suffering right now. Don’t all of you want that? And you all want to be assured of happiness in saṃsāra, too. Well, during all the rebirths in saṃsāra means you are all the time subjected to old age, illness, and death. It means great suffering. You are all afraid of old age, illness, and death, aren’t you? Yes, you all are, I’m sure. Being frightened, you don’t want to have anything to do with them, do you? What you really long for is a place where these sufferings don’t exist — a place of happiness where these things are nonexistent, where old age, illness, and death are unknown, where all these sufferings cease — in short, Nibbāna. This is what you are striving for. If you will follow the Buddha’s instructions with all meekness and due humility, you will achieve your goal, won’t you? You will have accomplished all your work, having gained success, having gained what you have always longed for.
So, what you understand may be very little, only a short brief teaching. But if you follow it diligently, the achievement will not be small. It is what you have been striving for throughout the ages. Can that be regarded as only a small reward? Not at all. It is indeed a big reward. Once you understand the instruction, however brief and concise, and follow it carefully, without ceasing, happiness will be yours. There will be happiness for all the universe, for all humans, Devas, and Brahmās. Although the teaching may be only a few words, the achievement will be great. All you want is achieved. Is that not so? Indeed it is.
So, disciple, can you manage to follow and practise that short instruction? Can you? Very good. Like you all, at the time of the Blessed One, there were people who wandered forth, looking for peace and happiness for all time. They were looking for it before the Awakened One had made his appearance yet. Who were they? Oh, you can say the whole world. But I will single out for you the example of Sāriputta and Moggallāna, the auspicious pair, who later became the two chief disciples of the Blessed One. Maybe you are acquainted with the story of their going forth. Sāriputta and Moggallāna were living the holy life as wanderers, looking for the deathless. It was Sāriputta who ﬁrst came into contact with one of the ﬁve disciples who had learned the Doctrine from the Blessed One. The wanderer Sāriputta saw him going around for food. Seeing his faculties serene, the colour of his skin clear and bright, Sāriputta at once knew that he possessed the knowledge of the way he had been looking for. Sāriputta followed the holy monk until he had ﬁnished his round and left the town with his alms food. The wanderer Sāriputta waited at a respectful distance while the holy monk ate his meal. Then, Sāriputta went up to him, paid courteous respects, and asked him about his Teacher and the Doctrine he taught.
All this is in the Piṭakas (canon), but I will give you just a short summary. The holy monk replied that he had gone forth under the Blessed One, who was his Teacher, and that it was the Blessed One’s Doctrine that he followed. When Sāriputta pressed for an exposition of the Doctrine, the holy monk said, “I have only recently gone forth. I have only just come to this Doctrine and discipline. I cannot teach you the Doctrine in detail. I can only tell you its meaning in brief.”
This holy monk had actually reached the supreme goal, so he must have known the whole Doctrine, but out of humility, he confessed that he knew only a little. Then Sāriputta, that one who later became the chief exponent of the Blessed One’s Doctrine, said that he did not want much. He only wanted to hear a little of what the Buddha taught. The holy monk granted his request. He gave him only a sketch of the Doctrine. How little was it? So little it was not even a whole stanza. When Sāriputta heard the short statement of the Doctrine, he said that it was sufﬁcient for him. For the spotless, immaculate vision of the whole Dhamma had arisen in him after hearing just a little of it.
So the teaching was only a few words, but Sāriputta’s understanding was not little at all. He understood the whole Doctrine. So, disciple, you too understand a little, don’t you? Well, if you do, and follow the Blessed One’s advice, your achievement will be very great.
I, of course, cannot speak your language. So you, disciple, if you understand a little, pass it on to your friends so all of you will know a little of the Dhamma. Can’t you do this? I’m sure you can.
All of you have created, each one of you, great pāramīs. That’s why you are all here, coming from various countries, distant lands, far, far away from here. But because you have acquired sufﬁcient pāramīs you all arrive here at the same time, simultaneously from different countries. And having reached here, you want to know the Doctrine. So you have heard the Doctrine. You have learned the Buddha’s advice. But you do not remain satisﬁed with just hearing the Doctrine and just remembering it. You want to practice it. So you strive energetically and begin to walk the path. You establish the necessary effort (viriya), and in time, you must surely enjoy the fruits of your effot. Even now you know, of course, don’t you? You’re getting results commensurate with your application and diligence.
You are all here now because you have acquired sufﬁcient pāramīs to do so. The Blessed One said that if you stay with the Dhamma and follow the Doctrine you are dwelling near him although physically you may be at the other end of the universe. On the other hand, if you reside near him, so near, so close that you could hold the ends of his robes with your hands, yet, if you don’t follow his advice and practise the Doctrine according to his instructions, there is the whole distance of the universe between him and you. So, you live in various countries — far, far away. And yet, you are all so close to the Blessed One. Following his advice diligently, with due meekness, you will achieve what you wish, you will win the goal that you have strived for throughout saṃsāra. Innumerable are the holy ones who have trodden the Path and reached Nibbāna. So also, you, from different countries, different towns, all holy people, arriving simultaneously at the place of sanctity, if you set up sufﬁcient effort (viriya) and work diligently with all humility you will also arrive at your goal.
This is really an occasion for happiness and joy. We all can’t help being buoyant in spirit, cheering and admiring you, seeing your wonderful devotion and zeal. I wish you all success. Well done. Well done.