Late Bloomer Monk in live long learning

PHOTO: Aye Min Soe
PHOTO: Aye Min Soe

International Literacy Day 8 September 2018 was fitting celebrated not only at Nay Pyi Taw, but also across the country. The occasion at Nay Pyi Taw was graced by the presence and inaugural address of H.E Dr. Myo Thein Gyi, Union Minister for Education. He was reminded of the award of the UNESCO’s Mohammed Reza Pahlavi Prize for Literacy in 1971 to Myanmar for successful conduct of people based 3 R movements.
The writer of this article was actively involved in such literacy campaigns together with his history student.
Here the writer is inspired to present the history of Myanmar Literacy especially in the Bagan dynasty of 55 Kings. Thanks to the monastic education patronized by royalty and supported by the public, literacy rate was and is always high then and today. The British Colonialists were amazed to find that literacy in Myanmar was much higher than that of their country of that time.
Buddhism being a literate religion, the three R’s Reading, Writing and Arithmetic is basic and compulsory for the three Sasanas _ Pariyati, Patipati and Pativeda. The Three Baskets (Bodies) of Literature (1). Three Bodies of Suttas (Discourses) (2).Five Bodies of Vinia (Disciplinary Rules for monks) and (3).Seven Bodies of Abhidhamma) must be thoroughly learnt and understood. Therefore literacy is a must.
Due to joint efforts of Kings, Monks and Public literacy and Buddhist scholarship read its peak in Bagan comparable to Taxila and Nalamda Universities in India those days.
King Kya Swa (1234-50 A.D) even abdicated throne to devote himself full time to learning. It was during his reign that one late bloomer monk U Kyi Pwey emerged. One old monk of Bagan, one morning, noticed that the pit into which he discarded bamboo toothbrush every morning was filled up. He got a lesson, “I have been lazy and idle these years, not proceeding to higher learning. Had I learnt bit by bit, like that pit, I would have leant much.
So the old monk made up his mind to learn high literature. He went to King Kya Swa and requested to donate him soft stone pencil as he wanted to learn high literature. The King donated what the monk asked. At that time the King gave the old monk a wooden pestle. “Old monk, come back to me when wooden pestle gives out green sprouts”. The old monk knew the meaning. He returned with the wooden pestle.
After some years of intensive efforts, the old monk became a full-fledged learned monk, mastering all Tipitaka Treatises. His name spread far and wide.
A group of highly literate monks want to test if the old monk was really literate and learned. They invited the old monk to a water tank near Sulamani Temple Pagodas. They asked the old monk to submerge for few minutes and come up above water. As the examiner monks were about to ask the old monk question, they tried to clear up their mouths and throats, thus producing the sounds.
Aham, Aham, Aham, Aham. အဟမ်း၊ အဟမ်း၊ အဟမ်း၊ အဟမ်း။
The old monk thought he was asked to explain the meaning of the Pali word, “Aham”. Without much ado and without delay, he rattled out non-stopped the meaning derivation, the grammar and all historical and literacy aspects of the word “Aham”.
All examiner monks jointly paid homage to old monk recognized him learned and educated. The old monk was acclaimed “Shin Ditha Pamaukha” learned monk known in all directions.
The old monk cut a green shoot and tied it to the wooden pestle and appeared before King Kya Swa, saying. “Your Majesty, the wooden pestle you gave me was some years ago now green shoots”. The King examined the old monk by himself to their satisfaction. He apologized for what he had done. He promised he would be supporter of him and requested him to compile Treatises. The first treatise the old monk compiled was Thinbone Gyi Dika (သင်ပုန်းကြီး ဒီကာ). But in the list of literacy works of Bagan (ပုဂံ ပိဠိကတ်တော်များသမိုင်း) his name and works appeared.
Today the water tank in the monastery near the Sulamani Temple Pagoda is well-known as Aham Kan or Sar-mai Kan (Aham tank or Examination Tank). အဟမ်းကန်၊ စာပေကန်.
This old monk is more well-known as U Kyi Pwey (Mr. Pestle) than Shin Dithapamaukkha ဦးကျည်ပွေ့၊ ရှင်ဒီသာပါမောက္ခ. The second Shin Dithaukkha. He was the first Shin Dithapamaukkha. The second Shin Ditahpamaukkha was the monk envoy sent by King Narathihapate to lead his peace mission to Chinese Emperor Kublai Khan of Mongol Dynasty.
The first Shin Dithapamaukkha U Kyi Pwey left his examination Tank or Aham Kan at Bagan and his literacy works in Pitakattaw Thamaing. Whereas the second Shin Dithapamaukkha, the monk envoy left his stone inscription recording in detail of his peace mission and successful diplomacy. The inscribed stone is displayed in the Bagan Site Museum.
U Kyi Pwey (Mr. Pestle) Shin Dithapamaukkha gives us the lesson “ပညာလို၊ အိုသည်မရှိ (There is no age limit for learning, live long learning). The lesson we got from the Second Shin Dithapamaukkha monk envoy is “Peace from diplomacy settles all conflicts”.

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