Among many Dhamma teachers, Anagam Saya Thet Gyi was one that was known to have attained the highest stage of sainthood that a lay Buddhist was able to attain. – Anagami – Non-returner stage. This person according to the Pali Canon, he will be reborn in Brahma world. It is an inspiring story for lay Buddhist follower Anagam Saya Thet Gyi also wears Mala Rosary Beads, just like his teacher Ledi Sayadaw.
Saya Thetgyi was born in the farming village of Pyawbwe, eight miles south of Yangon, on the opposite side of the Yangon River, on June 27, 1873. He childhood name was Maung Po Thet. His father died when Po Thet was about 10, leaving his mother alone to care for the four children: four siblings including him in all – his two brothers, sister and him.
His mother supported the family by selling vegetable fritters in the village. The little boy was made to go around selling leftover fritters. When he was 14 years old, Maung Pho Thet started working as a bullock cart driver transporting rice, giving his daily wages to his mother. He was so small at the time that he had to take a box along to help him get in and out of the cart.
Pho Thet’s next job was as a sampan oarsman. He earned his living as Oarsman in the village of Pyawbwe. Maung Pho Thet married Ma Hmyin when he was about 16 years old, as was customary then. When he was about 23, he learned Anapana meditation from a lay teacher, Saya Nyunt, and continued to practice for seven years.
Epidemic struck the family
This rustic peace and happiness was shattered when a cholera epidemic struck the village in 1903. Many villagers died, some within a few days. They included U Thet’s son and young teenage daughter who, it is said, died in his arms. His brother-in-law, Ko Kaye, and his wife also perished from the disease, as well as U Thet’s niece who was his daughter’s playmate.
This calamity affected U Thet deeply, and he could not find refuge anywhere. Desperately wanting to find a way out of this misery, he asked permission from his wife and sister-in-law, Ma Yin, and other relatives to leave the village in search of “the deathless.”
His wife supported him in search of deathless
Accompanied in his wanderings by a devoted companion and follower, U Nyo, U Thet wandered all over Myanmar in a fervent search, visiting mountain retreats and forest monasteries, studying with different teachers, both monks and laymen. Finally he followed the suggestion of his first teacher, Saya Nyunt, to go north to Monywa to practice with the Ven. Ledi Sayadaw.
With U Nyo, he finally went back to his village, but did not return to his former householders life. Ledi Sayadaw had advised him at the time of his departure to work diligently to develop his Samadhi (concentration) and panna (purifying wisdom), so that eventually he could begin to teach meditation.
He sets up a meditation retreat center
Accordingly, when U Thet and U Nyo reached Pyawbwe, they went straight to the sala (rest-house) at the edge of the family farm, which they began to use as a Dhamma hall. Here they meditated continuously. They arranged for a woman who lived nearby to cook two meals a day while they kept up their retreat.
He sets up a meditation retreat center
Soon some of U Thet’s relatives and friends began to request that he teach them meditation. U Ba Soe offered to take charge of the fields and the household affairs and U Thet’s sister and a niece took responsibility for preparing the meals. U Thet started teaching Anapana to a group of about 15 people in 1914, when he was 41 years old. The students all stayed at the sala, some of them going home from time to time. He gave discourses to his meditation students, as well as to interested people who were not practicing meditation. His listeners found his talks so learned that they refused to believe that U Thet had very little theoretical knowledge of Dhamma.
In about 1915, after teaching for a year, U Thet took his wife and her sister and a few other family members to Monywa to pay respects to Ledi Sayadaw who was then about 70 years old. When U Thet told his teacher about his meditation experiences and the courses he had been offering, Ledi Sayadaw was very pleased.
U Thet then taught Vipassana meditation to about 25 monks learned in the scriptures. It was at this time that he became known as Saya Thetgyyi. There are many who will come here to learn Vipassana.” He agreed, and began holding regular courses at his sala in Pyawbwe.
As more and more people came to learn meditation, Saya Thetgyi appointed as assistant teachers some of the older, experienced meditators like U Nyo, U Ba Soe, and U Aung Nyunt. The center progressed year by year until there were up to 200 students, including monks and nuns, in the courses. There was not enough room in the Dhamma hall, so the more experienced students practiced meditation in their homes and came to the sala only for the discourses.
Anagam Saya thet Gyi
From the time he returned from Ledi Sayadaw’s center, Saya Thetgyi lived by himself and ate only one meal a day, in solitude and silence. Like the bhikkhus, he never discussed his meditation attainments. If questioned, he would never say what stage of meditation he or any other student had achieved, although it was widely believed in Myanmar that he was an anagami (a non-returner), and he was known as Anagam Saya Thetgyi.
For 30 years he taught meditation to all who came to him, guided by his own experience and using Ledi Sayadaw’s manuals as a reference. By 1945, when he was 72, he had fulfilled his mission of teaching thousands.
Saya Thetgyi moved to Yangon, both for medical treatment and to see his students there. He told some of them that he would die in Yangon and that his body would be cremated in a place where no cremation had taken place before. He also said that his ashes should not be kept in holy places because he was not entirely free from defilements, that is, he was not an Arahat (fully enlightened being).
One of his students had established a meditation center at Arzanigone, on the northern slope of the Shwedagon Pagoda. Nearby was a bomb shelter that had been built during the Second World War. Saya Thetgyi used this shelter as his meditation cave. At night he stayed with one of his assistant teachers. His students from Yangon, including the Accountant General, U Ba Khin, and Commissioner of Income Tax, U San Thein, visited him as much as time permitted.
He instructed all who came to see him to be diligent in their practice, to treat the monks and nuns who came to practice meditation with respect, to be well-disciplined in body, speech and mind, and to pay respects to the Buddha in everything they did.
Saya Thetgyi was accustomed to go to the Shwedagon Pagoda every evening, but after about a week he caught a cold and fever from sitting in the dug-out shelter. Despite being treated by physicians, his condition deteriorated. As his state worsened, his nieces and nephews came from Pyawbwe to Yangon. Every night his students, numbering about 50, sat in meditation together. During these group meditations Saya Thetgyi himself did not say anything, but silently meditated.
One night at about 10:00, Saya Thetgyi was with a number of his students He was lying on his back, and his breathing became loud and prolonged. At exactly 11:00 p.m., his breathing stopped altogether, and Saya Thetgyi passed away.
His body was cremated on the northern slope of the Shwedagon Pagoda and his disciples later built a small pagoda on the spot.
Posted by Maung Paw at 3:44 PM