The Venerable Webu Sayadaw of Myanmar (Burma) was one of the greatest Theravada Buddhist meditation masters of recent times.
An exemplar of the strict and simple meditative life, he constantly stresses to his disciples the need to tread the Buddha’s path to its final goal right here and now, in this precious but fleeting human existence.
The vehicle he chose for his own practice was Anapanasati, mindfulness of breathing, and he constantly called this the direct short cut to Nibbana.
Again and again, the master hammers home the point that the only worthy aim of human life is the attainment of Nibbana by practice of the Buddha’s teaching. And again and again he tells us that this entire practice lies literally right in front of our noses.
The Webu Sayadaw was born on the sixth day of the waxing moon of Tabaung of the Burmese year 1257 (17 February 1896) in Ingyinbin, a small village near Shwebo in upper Burma.
He was ordained as a novice at the age of nine and was given the name Shin Kumara. At the age of twenty, he was ordained as a full member of the Sangha, and was thereafter addressed as U Kumara. (“Webu Sayadaw” is a title meaning “the holy teacher from Webu,” given to him after he became an established teacher.)
U Kumara went to Mandalay to study at the famous Masoyein monastery, the leading monastic university of the time.
In the seventh year after his full ordination, he left the monastery to put into practice what he had learned about meditation. After leaving the Masoyein monastery, U Kumara spent four years in solitude.
Then he went to his native village of Ingyinbin for a brief visit, where he taught the technique of meditation he had adopted. “This is a shortcut to Nibbana,” he said, “anyone can use it. It stands up to investigation and is in accordance with the teachings of the Buddha as conserved in the scriptures. It is the straight path to Nibbana.”
Among the thirteen practices called the dhutanga, which are often taken up by monks living in solitude to combat laziness and indulgence, is the practice of never lying down, not even to sleep. Monks taking up this particular practice spend the nights sitting and meditating to rid themselves of sleepiness. The Webu Sayadaw is said to have followed this practice all his life.
He taught that effort was the key to success, not only in worldly undertakings, but also in meditation, and that sleeping was a waste of time.
I was told by one of his disciples that on the occasion of his ordination under the Webu Sayadaw, he had a mosquito net and a pillow, in addition to the monk’s requisites. The Webu Sayadaw, pointing at them, asked him what they were. “A pillow and a mosquito net, sir.” “Are these part of the monk’s requisites?” “No, sir.” And the newly ordained monks decided to give these “luxuries” back to his family.
The Webu Sayadaw emphasized the practice of meditation as the only way to bring the teachings of the Buddha to fulfillment.
The study of the scriptures, though helpful, is not indispensable for the realization of Nibbana.
The technique of meditation taught by the Webu Sayadaw is one of forty techniques mentioned in the scriptures for the development of samadhi or concentration. It is called anapana sati and requires one to be aware
(1) that one is breathing in while breathing in,
(2), that one is breathing out while one is breathing out,
(3) of the spot or area which the stream of air touches while one is breathing in and out.
In theVisuddhimagga Buddhaghosa describes sixteen ways of approaching this meditation, but the Webu Sayadaw kept reminding his disciples they needn’t know about all of these; all they really needed to know was the reality of in-and-out breathing.
U Hte Hlain, the collector of some of the discourses contained in this book, writes: “The Webu Sayadaw preached sometimes five, sometimes ten times a day.
Seven main points were always included in his discourses. If the Webu Sayadaw gave 10,000 discourses in his life, then these points were expounded by him 10,000 times. He always included them, even if he had to repeat them again and again.
He always explained the teachings in simple terms, so that the ordinary man could understand. He tried to explain the Dhamma in such a way that the most difficult thing became easy.”
The seven points are:
(1) One can only expect the fulfillment of one’s aspirations if one is perfect in morality.
(2) When practicing generosity (dana) in the religion of the Buddha, the mental attitude and volition involved are very important.
(3) Believing in the law of kamma, one should always act with an upright mind.
(4) One should not aspire to any happiness of either the human or celestial worlds — which are impermanent — but only to Nibbana.
(5) Because of the arising of the Buddha we have the opportunity to practice right conduct (carana) and wisdom (pañña) fully and thereby to benefit greatly.
(6) From the moment we are born to the moment we die, there is the in-breath and the out-breath. This is easy for everybody to understand. Every time we breathe in or out, the breath touches near the nostrils. Every time it touches we should be aware of it.
(7) While we are walking, working, doing anything, we should always be aware of the in-breath and the out-breath.
Buddhism as it is practiced in rural Southeast Asia.
From: “Webu Sayadaw”, edited by Access to Insight. Access to Insight, 8 June 2010, https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/webu/index.html . Retrieved on 9 July 2013.