Webu Sayadaw - Short Biography

Ven. Webu Sayadaw was born on the sixth day of the waxing moon of Tabaung of the year 1257 (Burmese Era) (February 17, 1896) in Ingyinbin, a small village near Shwebo in upper Burma. He was ordained as a novice at the age of nine and was given the name Shin Kumara. All boys in Buddhist Burma become novices at their local monastery at some time in their teens or even earlier, but usually return home after a predetermined span of time. Shin Kumara, however, decided to stay at the monastery to receive a religious education. At the age of twenty, he was ordained as a full member of the Saṅgha, the Buddhist order of monks, receiving the Upasampadā ordination, and was thereafter addressed as U Kumara.

U Kumara went to Mandalay to study at the famous Masoyein monastery, the leading monastic university of the time. In the seventh year after his full ordination, he abandoned the study of the Pāḷi scrip­tures and left the monastery to put into practice what he had learned about meditation.

Buddhist monks can choose between two activities: the study of the scriptures (pariyatti), or the practice of Buddhist meditation (paṭi­patti). While scholarly monks tend to live in centres of learning in order to be able to pass on their knowledge to younger monks, meditating monks leave the busy atmosphere of the monasteries to retire to a solitary life in the jungle. They often live in caves or simply under trees and come into contact with people only on the occasion of their morning alms-rounds.

After leaving the Masoyein monastery in Mandalay at the age of twenty-seven, U Kumara spent four years in solitude. Then he went to his native village of Ingyinbin for a brief visit. His former teacher at the village monastery requested U Kumara to teach him the technique of meditation he had adopted, and U Kumara did so. “This is a shortcut to Nibbāna,” he said, “anyone can use it. It stands up to investigation and is in accordance with the teachings of the Buddha as conserved in the scriptures. It is the straight path to Nibbāna.”

There is a set of thirteen practices called the dhutaṅga that are often taken up by monks living in solitude. They are designed to combat laziness and indulgence. One of these practices is never to lie down, not even to sleep. Monks taking up this particular practice spend the nights sitting and meditating or walking and meditating to rid themselves of sleepiness. The thirteen dhutaṅga may be taken up individually or together.

Ven. Webu Sayadaw is said to have followed this practice of never lying down all his life. He taught that effort was the key to success, not only in worldly undertakings, but also in meditation, and that sleeping was a waste of time. I was told by one of his disciples that on the occasion of his ordination under Ven. Webu Sayadaw, he had a mosquito net and a pillow, in addition to the monks requisites. Ven. Webu Sayadaw, pointing at them, asked him what they were. “A pillow and a mosquito net, sir.” “Are these part of the monks requisites?” “No, sir.” And the newly ordained monk decided to give these “luxuries” back to his family.

Ven. Webu Sayadaw undertook pilgrimages to the Buddhist sites of India and of Ceylon. He passed away on June 26, 1977, in the medi­tation centre at Ingyinbin, his native village.