Dr Nyan Tun, Assist. Lecturer (NRDC)
Any organizations as well as educational institutions have formulated their relative mottos for the target they are going to march. The University of Yangon which was established in 1920, the oldest and the well-known University in Myanmar, is one of the ancient academic institutions which have been reached its centenary in 2020 and as recorded in the history it has been the most prestigious University in Southeast Asia and one of the top Universities in Asia throughout 1940s and 1950s. The Motto of University of Yangon is ‘Natthi vijja samam mittam’ (နတ္ထိ ဝိဇ္ဇာ သမံ မိတ္တံ) the Pali sentence which means friendship is not equal in value to knowledge. It is the most significant sign for the educational institution holding invaluable motto for the present and the future of the nation. The motto shed light on the Myanma educational concept adopted by our ancestors even being set up under the colonial period.
Let us have a look the historical background of Myanma education from its inception and what we come to know is the fact that nobody can deny Pali language plays the most important role which influenced on Myanmar society. Actually, Pali language has been a home to Myanmar since immemorial time. We have ample evidence to prove the existence of Buddhist education imparting literacy and numeracy and religious based education since the Pyu period (1st century A.C) as excavation of archeological site in Hmawza (then known as Sri ketra) where the golden palm leaves inscribed Buddhist scripture were found and Buddhist monastic education system is an old educational process dated back from that century even the present time and the schools provided the essential education needs throughout Myanmar history and they were the only source of education for all sort of lives ranges from the royal princes to common subjects.
The Sangha, the spiritual leaders received royal patronage not only because it was the spiritual focus of society but because it was also an educational institution. Education at that time in principle meant the study of the development of moral and spiritual character. Buddhist education helped to give Myanmar a rate of literacy considerable above those of other Far Eastern countries in early 1900s. Monasteries have been the centres for social, economic, culture, education, politics, custom and tradition. Thus, spiritual leaders have been occupying not only the seat of respected leaders in spiritual progress but also the teachers of the people in Myanmar history.
I am interested in the motto of the University of Yangon so I traced where this Pali sentence is rooted and searched it and finally found it that it was the work of the great scholar who appeared in Pinya dynasty during the reign of King Thihathu (712-721) also known as ‘ငါးစီးရှင်ကျော်စွာ’. The author was not the respected venerable monk but a product of monastic school who served in the highest rank under the king Kyaw Swar. He was none-other than but Caturangabala, the Minister, (စတုရင်္ဂဗလ အမတ်ကြီး), a well-known poet as well as the great Pali scholar in Pinya dynasty. The minister was from Prome (now Pyay) while serving as a secretary he was conferred the title of ‘သီရိမဟာစတုရင်္ဂဗလ’ for he was well-versed in the four fields: (1) well-versed in Grammar, (2) well-composed poems, (3)could raise questions dealing with social, law and political affairs (4) was excellent to play chess. He had the above mentioned four forces so he was named ‘Caturangabala’. He composed many treatises due to his well-versed knowledge in Pali, Sanskrit. Among those treatises, the most important treatise that he compiled was ‘Lokaniti’ (လောကနီတိ) which means social ethics. The treatise was composed in stanza which means poem style and the author divided his treatise into seven sections which consists of 167 stanzas in number.
We need to raise the question in this context why did the minister compile his work in Pali version? The response is just simple for the influence of the language at that time was Pali and the Myanmar language and literature have not yet developed. Thus, most of respected scholars recorded their works in Pali language. The term ‘Pali’ originally refers to the canonical texts which preserved the teachings of the Buddha by Theravada school of Buddhism and the Pali texts are the oldest collection of Buddhist scripture orally transmitted from generation to generation by the Theravada Buddhist monks up to date.
The motto of the University of Yangon was taken out from the stanza number 23 of Lokaniti treatise. As written style, most of the verses or poems in Pali have four lines and the University motto is the first line. Anyway, in this article I would like to mention the entire poem to pay respect to the late Minister, Caturangabala. The stanza goes: ‘Natthi vijja samam mittam, na ca byadhisamo ripu, na ca attasamam pemam, na ca kammasamam balam.’ It means friendship is not equal in value to knowledge; there is no enemy like sickness; no love is equal to self-love; no power equal to moral merit.
The national schools and national colleges were born together with a group of patriotic Myanmar university students who boycotted the Rangoon University Act. Due to the students’ strike, the nationalistic spirit was enormously aroused for Myanmar education and Myanmar independence. National schools were set up around the country. We learned that General Aung San, the father of the nation, was also one of the national students as well as Pali outstanding in his high school life. As an article written by his daughter (now State Counsellor) entitled ‘My Father’ in her book “Freedom from Fear”, she said, “In 1932, he matriculated in the ‘A’ category with distinctions in Burmese and Pali and went to study at Rangoon University.”
The influence of Pali on Myanmar society has been benefited to produce the well known secular and spiritual leaders as well as scholars for the nations. We learned that when Rangoon University College started running its academic year; Pali was one of the compulsory subjects that all Intermediate Arts (I.A) students have to study. One of the world well-known Pali scholars was none other than but U Pe Maung Tin (1888-1973), the first national professor of Pali language as well as the first ever principal of University College, Rangoon University and he was also known as Pali Maung Tin because of his knowledge of Pali and Buddhism. He laid the foundations for the university’s ‘Oriental Studies’ comprising Pali and Burmese studies. While studying in London, he kept in touch with Pali Text Society (PTS) and translated the profound doctrine of the Buddha called ‘Visuddhimagga’ The Path of Purity (1922), and Atthasalini, the Expositor, the commentary on Dhammasangani Pali text, the first book of the seven Abhidhamma texts (1920).
The influence of Pali terms in the academic field proves how the words are precise and essential for the technical terms such as ‘ပါမောက္ခ ကထိက၊ တက္ကသီလ၊ သမဂ္ဂ၊ ဓာတုဗေဒ၊ ရူပဗေဒ၊ သတ္တ ဗေဒ၊ရုက္ခာဗေဒ၊ ဇီဝဗေဒ၊ ဘူမိဗေဒ၊ သချ်ာ၊ ခန္ဓာဗေဒ၊ ဇီဝကမ္မာဗေဒ၊ ဝါဏိဇ္ဇာဗေဒ၊ အဏ္ဏာဝါ ဗေဒ၊ဒဿနိကဗေဒ၊ ဘောဂဗေဒ၊ မနုဿဗေဒ၊ပထဝီ၊ တက္ကာဗေဒ’and so on. In the common ground, the use of Pali terms in daily life are beyond words, for instance, ‘ဝေဒနာ၊ သောက၊ ပရိဒေဝ၊ ဒုက္ခ၊ မေတ္တာ၊ကရုဏာ၊ မုဒိတာ၊ ဥပေက္ခာ၊ရာဂ၊ လောဘ၊ ဒေါသ၊မောဟ၊မာန၊ဘဝ၊ဒိဌိ၊မိစ္ဆာ၊ အသုဘ’.etc.
I am not a product of the University of Yangon but I thought to myself as its product for I have a chance to learn under the renowned retired professor and senior lecturer from the University of Yangon while studying at Sasana University (Yangon). One of my respected professor and head was the late U Tin Lwin who served as at the Department of Oriental Studies as a professor and head (from 1986-1989) and he was a modern Pali scholar as well as the author and another respected senior lecturer was the late U San Tan who served at the Department of Myanamr. After retiring from their respective posts, the two scholars shared their experienced, knowledge and their subjects to us until they expired. Luckily, I have an opportunity to serve as a teaching staff at the Nationalities Youth Resource Development Degree College (NRDC) which is affiliated to the University of Yangon so even though not being a full product of the University of Yangon, I think I have the rights to say proudly I am a part of the products of the University of Yangon.
As I mentioned earlier, Pali is a home to Myanmar, the golden Land so the influence of Pali literature and guidance of the admonishment of Buddhist ethical and moral ethics will prevail on this land forever. Social ethics inscribed in the heart and soul of the people are not to associate with the fool, to associate with the wise and to honor for those who are worthy of honor and moral ethics that curbed in the heart of the people are not to do any evil, to do what is good and to purify the mind.
At the 100th anniversary celebration of University of Yangon, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi comments on the motto of Yangon University in her congratulatory speech and what she said, “In accordance with the University’s motto ‘There no friend like learning’. The University of Yangon is a place that provides education, which is like a good friend of the citizens. During its first 100 years, the University of Yangon has encountered various experiences according to the vicissitudes of life and is now celebrating its Centenary Celebration. The University of Yangon, the first-ever university of Myanmar, is the greatest and most prestigious university in Myanmar’s history. Fulfilling the demand for Myanmar’s history, the University of Yangon became a pivotal point of Myanmar’s education, Myanmar’s politics and Myanmar’s independence.” Therefore, we believe the motto will come to life the status of the University of Yangon as its prestigious glory.