Pay Homage to Sasana Heroes

A ceremony to confer religious titles to winners of the Tipitakadhara Examination is held in Yangon on 18 May 2018.  Photo: Zaw Min Latt
A ceremony to confer religious titles to winners of the Tipitakadhara Examination is held in Yangon on 18 May 2018.  Photo: Zaw Min Latt

Myanmar known as the Golden Land to the world has been a home to Buddhism especially Theravada Buddhism since immemorial time and from the time of embracing Buddhist way of life, the people have been exercising highly culture, literate, hospitality, and morality and advanced in secular and spiritual fields. These are the benefits that the people have been experiencing for life by applying the art of living under the guidance of spiritual leaders from the very inception up to modern time.
The teachings of the Buddha are termed Pitaka which is used with reference to learning and a receptacle such as a vessel or a basket separately that were compiled and rehearsed at the Council namely the Vinaya Pitaka, (the Discipline basket in which Vinaya learning was kept), the Sutta Pitaka (the Discourses basket) and the Abhidhamma Pitaka (the Profound Teaching basket) in which the Abhidhamma learning was kept and then handed on from generation to generation till the present time.
The method of oral transmission called ‘Bhāṇakas’ tradition in Pāli means committing the Teachings of the Buddha into their memory played the most important role in religious teachings. The lineages of bhāṇakas were responsible for preserving and transmitting the teachings of the Buddha until the 1st Century BC. Myanmar as the strongest Theravada Buddhist country among Theravada Buddhist community, the examination system in religious sector has been created by the successive kings and their subjects until the present day to promote and preserve the genuine teachings of the Buddha at home and in abroad. Among those exams, Tipitakadhara Selection Examination, which was born together with the independence of the country, includes one of the most difficult exams in the country.
There was hardly any person who did not know Sir U Thwin who was the pioneer for Buddhist revival in Myanmar in those days. He was reputedly a very wealthy person and he had been popularly addressed as ‘a ‘multi-millionaire’ (သူဌေးကြီး). During the time following the country’s achievement of Independence, he had made energetic efforts in the highest interests of the people as well as Buddhism. He had in his heart the spiritual welfare of his country to carry out the greatest task for the enhancement of Buddhism. He was eager to hold the Tipitakadhara Selected Examination to pay respect to the hero monks of the country.
In 1949, one year after the independence of the country from British, the Myanmar government considered the need to purify, perpetuate and propagate Buddha Sāsana, to promote the emergence of a heroic Sāsana personality with the ability to memorize and recite the entire Pitaka by heart and to seek out personalities with special intellectual powers to receive the reverence and praise of the devotees, with the support of the Government, Buddhasasananuggaha Organization held Tipitakadhara Selection Examination for the first time in 1949.
The exam has two sections: oral and written one which is lasting over one month (thirty three days). The oral exam in the Vinaya Pitaka covers five volumes in five books of the text comprising 2260 pages. The oral exam in the Sutta Pitaka covers three volumes in three books comprising 782 pages and the oral exam in Abhidhamma Pitaka covers seven volumes in twelve books comprising 4941 pages. The candidate is examined in the Three Pitakas: Vinaya, Suttanta and Abhidhamma. Every candidate monk has to reproduce the prescribed texts orally and only if the candidate passes oral examination, he has a chance to sit for the writing exam so this exam is the most difficult one in the world.
The oral exam on these 7983 pages or about 2.4 million words is not a viva voce, and it is an exam on total recall and faultless reproduction. The candidate will be given a point in the Pāli Canon, any point, and asked to continue reciting from there, line by line, paragraph by paragraph and page by page. Or he would be given a point and asked to go back from there a certain number of selections and to recite from there. There must be no error in the word form, the pronunciation must be correct, the flow must be smooth and the enunciation must demonstrate the proper understanding of the meaning of the passage being recited. A candidate who requires prompting for five or more times is considered fails in the oral test.
The written exam is not only on the Pāli texts but also on the Commentaries, Sub-Commentaries and other related treatises. The ten major Commentaries in ten books and the major Sub-Commentaries in fourteen books cover 17917 pages. Candidates are tested on the doctrinal understanding, comparative philosophy, textual discrimination, taxonomic grouping and analysis and on the interrelationships. Thus, Tipitakadhara Selection Examination is one of the longest and toughest exams in the world.
Searching for Tipitakadhara hero monks
The examination was held for the first time in 1949 (6th Waxing of Tazaungmone in 1310 Myanmar Era) at Mahasi Meditation Center. Seventeen candidate monks enrolled for the exam but only six persons appeared for the exam. As mentioned earlier, the exam was conducted for one month long and after the oral and written exams were over, the result was not satisfied with the respected Venerable Senior monks as well as the responsible persons. The announcement came out that no candidate passed both oral and written examination for the first time. Although the result showed in negative, the organization managed to pay honor to those monks who participated in the exam showing their pious generosity to the monks so the responsible persons organized the paying honor ceremony to those heroes monks
Ven.Vicittasārābhivamsa (later known as Mingun Sayadawgyi) was one of the one hundred monks invited to attend the honoring of the First Tipitakadhara Examination held by the newly independent Union of Burma. He observed the President of the Union of Burma holding high the raised palm brought together in reverence and never lowering them throughout the opening ceremony. He noticed the disappointment on the President’s face and as well as of his Ordination Sponsor, Sir. U Thwin, when the result was announced that no candidate monk had passed. At that moment, Ven.Vicittasārābhivamsa felt that the reverent palms were directed towards all the assembled monks in search of Sāsana hero to emerge. He felt that the debt of reverence should be repaid so he resolved to endeavor to become a Tipitakadhara (bearer of the Tipitaka). He informed Daw Dhammacari, a nun, his foster mother in religion and declared his intention to Sir U Thwin. He said, “I will return the gratitude of you by participating Tiptakadhara Exam coming year. I will try to gain at least ‘Vinayadhara’ but if I’m feeling healthy, I intend to occupy ‘Tipitakadhara’ title.”
After resolution to repay the nations’ debt in search of a hero of the Theravada Buddhism, Ven. Vicittasārābhivamsa set about the task systematically. He took up the Pāli Canon passage by passage, book by book. He first set out to understand the passage thinking in Burmese and in Pāli. He broke the passage into sentences, paragraphs or sections according to the degree of difficulty. He enrolled for the 3rd time Tipitakadhara Selection Examination. When the Third time came around in 1950, he was ready to repay the debt to the devotees of the nation. He appeared for the exam. He started to commit memory the Pāli Text of Vinaya Pitaka which has five volumes and it contains 2260 pages. At the oral exam, he reproduced the entire Vinaya Pitaka in a clear, firm voice, unhesitatingly, without hesitation and error and precisely enunciated each word and phrase audible to the whole audience. When there were different versions he pointed each out and suggested the most suitable one and the audience felt very satisfied with his great task and he passed it so Buddhsasana Nuggaha Association conferred him ‘Visittha vinayadhara’ and in writing exam he passed with distinction so he was awarded the title ‘Visittha Vinayadhara mahāvinayakovida’ and as a result of passing that exam he was given free first class pass ticket for ship and train.
In the 4th time, he recited the first part of Abhidhamma Pitaka which consists of five books and passed the written exam with distinction in the same year. He kept on reproduced the last part of Abhidhamma Pitaka which has eight volumes and which has 4988 pages. He completed both oral test and written exam with distinction so he was conferred the title of ‘Buddhasāsana visittha ābhidhammika mahāābhidhammakovidha’in the 5th time. In the sixth time of the exam, he committed into memory the Sutta Pitaka which has three volumes and contains 779 pages and passed it exceptionally in 1954, Ven.Vicittasārābhivamsa successfully completed the recitation of the entire Pitaka so he was conferred the title of ‘Buddhasāasana dighabhānaka mahādighanikayākovida’
In the Sixth Tipitakadhara Examination he successfully recited the Sutta Pitaka so Tipitakadhara Dhammabhandagārika (Bearer of the Tipitaka and Keeper of the Dhamma Treasure) appeared to restore the lineage of Bhanaka tradition in Theravada Buddhism. The President of the Union of Burma presented Ven.Vicittasārābhivamsa with the Title, Insignia and prerequisites of the Honor in a ceremony held in February 1954. The Guinness Book of Records of 1985 has this entry Human memory; Bhandanta Vicittasara recited 16,000 pages of Buddhist canonical texts in Rangoon, Burma in May 1954. Rare instance of eidetic memory the ability to reproject and hence “visually” recall material are known to science.”
Tipitakadhara Selection Examination was born together with the independence country and it turns over diamond dueled. Within these seven decades, there have been many heroes Tipitakadadhara monks appeared in Myanmar totally fourteen in number. Now, the exam turns to 72nd time and the far sighted respected senior Venerable Sirs and the leaders of the country joined hand together to carry out this noble task. Due to their great effort, we, the Myanmar monks have been restoring the ancient Buddhist Bhanaka tradition and the people of Myanmar have been enjoyed the prosperous in secular and spiritual progress. In addition to those above mentioned living Buddhas, there are still many new generation future living Buddhas who have been devoting their lives to preserve and perpetuate the teachings of the Buddha so long as Buddha Sasana flourishing. Therefore, with this article, I respectfully pay homage to the late Venerable Mingun Sayadawgyi, the first-ever Tipitakadharadhammabandhagārika and dedicated to all living Buddhas, Sasana Heroes.

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