What Caused the Post-World War II Patipatti Explosion in Burma?
Following is an excerpt from an unpublished draft of Shwe Lan Ga Lay, the meditator's guide to Burma/Myanmar:
It was the postwar period where lay meditation practice really began to take off, a phenomenon that jumpstarted in Burma before spreading and becoming established in neighboring Buddhist countries.
And in Burma, nowhere was this happening more than at Rangoon’s Sasana Yeiktha Center, where U Nu and other prominent lay leaders brought in Mahasi Sayadaw to establish the new grounds.
Ingrid Jordt, a scholar who spent many years as a nun at Mahasi, captures the excitement and enthusiasm that characterized the early days of this site. She notes that “the laity flocked to the center to practice for enlightenment. The thrill of participating in the mass lay project of enlightenment had never before been so conceived in institutional terms. The center grew around Mahasi in the way that the texts describe laity coming around the Buddha. People vied with one another to have their offerings accepted by him, and new forms of participation emerged: schoolchildren on vacation, night yogis who returned to their offices during the day, retirees, and nuns all immersed themselves in a rigorous schedule of sitting and walking meditation, punctuated by monkly meal offerings at which the laity thronged around the eating tables to observe the project of sasana revitalization happening before their very eyes.”
And Masoeyin Sayadaw U Theiktha expresses just how it felt at that moment in time to have a genuine practice that one could undertake to follow diligently, after so many years of war and colonization: “It had been a long time that we had become almost unbearable or choking, as it were, for not knowing the real concept or meaning of it. Our happiness knew no bounds when we came to discover the right method relating to the latent ambiguity in the higher aspects of Maha Satipatthana meditation practice.”
And although the non-monastic International Meditation Center led by Sayagyi U Ba Khin may have not seen the same high numbers (and was not state-supported to the same extent), its role and influence were profound. Many of the elites of society attended courses and became deeply affected by their experience, which sometimes manifested even in their work in matters of state. And it was not only the heads of Burma who were attending, but also top politicians other countries, scientists, Supreme Court judges, university professors, and actors.
As the monastic teacher Maha Gandayon Sayadaw U Janaka put it, “If I were asked what you pray for, my answer is simple. One has to work for himself to get what he wants.” This ethos took over the Burmese people in these years, and can be seen manifested in Sayagyi U Goenka's mission in the following decade (he himself benefited from his patipatti boom as a student during this time).
Why was it at this very time that the patipatti movement began to flow now as a raging river? There are many theories attempting to answer this, and it may have been the case of several important factors occurring at once, making the conditions ripe for such an undertaking. In the following section, we present no less than twenty possible arguments that have been put forth on this topic.