Venerable Pa Auk Tawya Sayadaw
The Most Venerable Pa-Auk Tawya Sayadaw Bhaddanta Āciṇṇa, commonly referred to as the “Venerable Pa-Auk Tawya Sayadaw” (and, in less formal circumstances, as “Pa-Auk Sayadaw”), is the current abbot and principal teacher at Pa-Auk Forest Monastery. “Sayadaw” is a Burmese honorific title meaning “respected teacher.”
The Sayadaw was born in 1934, in Leigh-Chaung Village, Hinthada Township, in the delta region about one hundred miles northwest of the capital, Yangon. In 1944, at age ten, he ordained as a novice monk (*samanera) at a monastery in his village. During the next decade, he pursued the life of a typical scholar-novice, studying the Pali Texts (including Vinaya, Suttas and Abhidhamma) under various teachers. He passed the three Pali language examinations while still a novice.
In 1954, at age twenty, the Sayadaw received the higher ordination as a bhikkhu. He continued his studies of the Pali Texts under the guidance of learned elder monks. In 1956 he passed the prestigious Dhammacariya examination. This is equivalent to a BA in Buddhist Pali Studies and confers the title of “Dhamma Teacher.”
During the next eight years, the Sayadaw continued his investigation into the Dhamma, travelling throughout Myanmar to learn from various well-known teachers. In 1964, during his tenth “rains retreat” (vassa), he turned his attention to intensifying his meditation practice and began to practise “forest dwelling.” Although he continued with his study of the Pali Texts, he now sought out and gained instruction from the revered meditation teachers of those times.
For the next sixteen years, he made forest dwelling his primary practice. He spent these years in the southern part of Myanmar, in Mon State: three years in Mudon Township (just south of Mawlamyine) and thirteen years in Ye Township (approximately one hundred miles down the coast). During this period, he lived a very simple life, devoting his time to meditation and study of the Pali Texts.
In 1981 the Sayadaw received a message from the abbot of Pa-Auk Forest Monastery, the Venerable Aggapañña. The abbot was dying and asked the Venerable Acinna to look after his monastery. Five days later, the Venerable Aggapañña passed away. As the new abbot of the monastery, the Venerable Acinna became known as the “Pa-Auk Tawya Sayadaw.” Although he oversaw the running of the monastery, the Sayadaw would spend most of his time in seclusion, meditating in a bamboo hut in the upper forested area, which covered a deserted range of hills running along the base of the Taung Nyo Mountain Range. This area later came to be known as the Upper Monastery.
Since 1983, both monastics and laity have been coming to study meditation with the Sayadaw. Foreign meditators began to arrive at the monastery in the early 1990’s. As the Sayadaw’s reputation steadily grew, the Upper Monastery gradually expanded from a simple bamboo hut and a handful of disciples to more than two hundred and fifty kutis (meditators’ huts) in the forest; a large two-storey meditation hall for the men; a library (with office, computer room and men’s dormitory on the lower levels); a clinic; a hospital; an almsgiving hall; a two-storey refectory; and a reception hall and dwelling for the Sayadaw. In the Lower Monastery, facilities include more than 180 kutis, a new kitchen and, for the women, a large three-storey meditation hall (with sleeping quarters on the ground floor) and a five-storey dormitory (still under construction).
Currently (March 2007), there are more than one hundred and thirty foreign monks, nuns and lay practitioners residing at Pa-Auk Forest Monastery. During our three-month rains retreat, the total monastic population averages between six and seven hundred. Together with laypeople, the monastery population sometimes tops fifteen hundred during festival times.
In 1997 the Sayadaw published his Magnum Opus, an enormous five-volume tome titled The Practice that Leads to Nibbana, explaining the entire course of teaching in detail and supported by copious quotations from the Pali Texts – it is currently available only in Burmese and Sinhalese. On January 4, 1999, in public recognition of the Sayadaw’s achievements, the government bestowed upon him the title Agga Maha Kammatthanacariya, which means “Highly Respected Meditation Teacher.”
The Sayadaw speaks fluent English and has lectured and led retreats outside of Myanmar since 1997. In December of 2006, he travelled to Sri Lanka to undertake a long-term personal retreat, staying in seclusion and suspending his teaching schedule throughout 2007. As of this printing, his teaching schedule for 2008 includes a four-month retreat in the United States, July – October, to be held at the Forest Refuge in Barre, Massachusetts.
The Sayadaw personally conducted a six-month intensive retreat at Pa-Auk Forest Monastery, Myanamar from January to June of 2010. After the retreat, the Sayadaw joined bhikkhus from Tusita Hermitage in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, India for Vassa (Rains Retreat). The Sayadaw entered his own personal retreat for the three-month period.
In brief, the system of meditation taught at Pa-Auk Forest Monastery is based on the instructions by Lord Gotama Buddha as found in the Pāli Canon (Tipiṭaka) and its commentaries. The system comprises the threefold training of strict observance of precepts (sīla), developing concentration (samādhi), as a basis for attaining wisdom (paññā). This is further subdivided into the seven stages of purification which provide a step-by-step formula for systematically purifying one’s body (physical actions), speech and mind of defilements in order to realize Nibbāna in this lifetime.
The Sayadaw’s teachings have been published in several books which are highly regarded internationally.
The Sayadaw is both a highly esteemed Dhammācariya (Dhamma Teacher) and an accomplished Kammaṭṭhānācariya (Meditation Teacher). He speaks fluent English and has lectured and led retreats in Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Germany, UK and USA.
In public recognition of his achievements, the government of Myanmar bestowed upon him the title “Agga Mahā Kammaṭṭhānācariya”, which means “Most Highly Respected Meditation Teacher” in 1999.