Visits to IMC: meditators and statesmen, alike!

International Meditation Center: what a place, and how many stories! On the first day of our Dhamma tour we will try to pack in as many as possible as we review the sacred history of this special site. Here is one such story you can expect:

Sao Shwe Thaike, the Shan leader who became the first President of the Union, got his start in meditation at IMC. While the circumstances surrounding his introduction to dhamma practice are not clear, it is indisputable that the experience had a profound effect on his life.  Indeed, not only did he become more religious himself, but he also began to take greater interest in such major Buddhist initiatives as overseeing monks’ exams in his home regions, supporting the renovations of many monasteries and pagodas, and arranging for the translations of the Tipitika into Shan language. As to how he had his first start meditating, there are at least three different accounts. On the ten-day discourse S.N. Goenka shares a story about Sao Shwe Thaike seeing the benefit that other students derive from structured courses under U Ba Khin, and after unsuccessfully pleading that an exception be made for the precept to abstain from intoxicants, he enrolls in a course and successfully completes it. Patricia Elloitt, whose The White Umbrella is written about his widow, records him stopping by IMC prior to a diplomatic party, and Webu Sayadaw encouraging him to follow U Ba Khin’s instructions in a pagoda cell, which (despite being skeptical about meditation) he does and finds so calming that he skips the party altogether. This story is also the one shared by U Chit Tin, who adds that Sao Shwe Thaike was given a southern cell, and thereafter this was usually allocated to distinguished older men for use. For his part, U Sein Lin only notes that the great politician asked for only one concession: that he be allowed some sustenance in the evening. He was allowed this, and in later courses did not ask again. Finally, using his father’s personal diary, U Ba Khin’s son shares how Sao Shwe Thaike greeted Webu Sayadaw at the train station for his initial visit in 1953, got his first taste of anapana under U Ba Khin for twenty minutes in following days, and then an extended session for two hours. During Webu’s visit the following year, Sao Shwe Thaike then organized a major welcome, allowing the wider Burmese public to pay respects to him. Saya U Chit Tin reported that Webu later remarked, "When we first visited, this place was like a jungle, but what progress has been made within these years! It is like the time of the Buddha when so many benefited. Can one imagine how many enjoyed the fruits of the Dhamma in a single moment then?  Can one count the number? They were innumerable!"