Ven. Rerukane Candavimala

3. This is a Burmese Temple

The Head Quarters of Shwegyin Nikāya

This temple is so-called because Ven. U. Vinayālaṅkāra from Burma founded it. Although it is called the Burmese Temple not everything is done in the same way as they do in temples in Burma, because that isn't possible. In the early days there was not much contact with the temples of the Siyam Nikāya (Thai tradition) though. We had two other temples belonging to our Nikāya, Batuwita Temple and the Bolgoda Temple, therefore we had close links with those. Very soon we also forged links with the temples of the Siyam Nikāya. Now there is no separation and we will all get together and perform religious services.

Before I arrived at the Burmese temple, I stayed in various places for short periods. I stayed for about a year at Kalutara Kumari Kanda temple. I spent one rains retreat there. There was an erudite monk there called Kotmale Saddhāvāsa.

I spent a considerable time at the Bolgoda Temple. After the monk who resided there, Ven. Dhammajoti passed away, I took over looking after the temple. While I was there I did as much as I could to rejuvenate the place. I brought monks over from the Burmese Temple to conduct many religious ceremonies.

I also stayed for a while at a temple in Kirivatthuduwa, belonging to the Ramanya Nikāya. That temple had been neglected, as the Head Monk had many other temples to attend to. Some people called him the Universal Monarch of Temples. He was a monk from Mullegama. I stayed in these other places because there was already a monk here, Ven. Aggadhammālaṅkāra.

I stayed in different places for about 10 years and after he passed away I came back. I came here after the venerable died, and since it is an important place I had an idea to develop it.

In the early days I did not have the idea that I should stay in a temple. I wanted to meditate in the forest. I went to two or three such places. I fell ill and that prompted me to go back to temples. It is natural to have a change of mind like that.

From the beginning my foremost wish was to learn the Sublime Dhamma very well. There was no wish to write books nor teach others. My main idea was to learn it for myself and gain good results from it. I only wanted to cross over saṁsāra (the round of briths and deaths). So how does one, while being in a temple, giving sermons, writing books and attending to various religious ceremonies work towards that? I do as much as I can to progress in meditation: I attend to everything and I also allocate some time for meditation. Now I feel, though, it would have been better if I had devoted all my time for meditation.

I would like to say something about our Shwegyin Nikāya. When Emperor Asoka sent Dhamma Emissaries abroad, one of the countries which benefitted was Suvaṇṇabhūmi. It is also popularly called the Ramanya Country in lower Burma. Editor’s note: in fact the exact location of Suvaṇṇabhūmi is not established. One suggestion is that it could be Ramanya. In the time of King Rāmādhipati, the decline in the Buddhist Dispensation was so deep that there dawned a time when it was difficult to be certain of the validity of the Higher Ordination. At that time they realised that an authentic Higher Ordination lineage still existed in Sri Lanka, and 48 monks were sent to bring back the pure Higher Ordination lineage from there.

It was the time of King Buvaneka Bahu whose kingdom was at Jayawardenapura and the Acts of Discipline (Vinayakamma) were carried out at the Boundary (Sīma) which was on the river Kalyāṇa, in the Water Boundary (Udakukkhepasīma). The 48 monks, after obtaining the Higher Ordination, returned to their own country of Ramanya and established all the other monks in Higher Ordination. In this sense, the lineage of the monk Soṇuttara ended and the Mahā Vihāra lineage began at that time in Burma.

But as time went on, even the Mahā Vihāra lineage started to deteriorate. This decline was a cause for much grief for Ven. Jāgarābhidhya Saddhammavaṁśa Dhammasenāpati Atulādipati SiriPavāra Mahā Dhamma Rājādhirājaguru and he removed himself from the immoral monks and refrained from having Dhamma-associations with them and established a group of moral and precept-abiding monks and lived in a border area.

The aforementioned name is an honorific title given to him by the King. His name was Jāgara, and he was born in the village of Shwegyin. Because of that he was also called Shwegyin Sayādaw. It is this name by which he was famous in Burma. But in Sri Lanka he was known as Jāgara. He lived in the time of King Mindon. He reigned from 1853 – 1878.

That king was a devout and intelligent king. He sponsored the 5th Council (Pañca Saṅgāyana) and did other wholesome deeds such as engraving the Tipiṭaka on white marble blocks at Kuthodaw temple in Mandalay. He also established a constitution called the Dhammavinaya decree and attempted to purify the Buddha’s dispensation, although it was not very successful.

King Mindon knew Ven. Jāgara from his early days as a prince and was his devout follower. The king established a new city called Mandalay and invited Ven. Jāgara there. He built five new temples and offered them to the venerable monk. He also tried to clean-up the dispensation with the help of Ven. Jāgara.

Ven. Jāgara established a list of 20 verses of Dhamma-advice to aid in the running of the five temples. Under his good rule the monks staying at those temples developed in both Pariyatti and Paṭipatti. Amongst Ven. Jāgara’s group, there were 21 monks who were successful in obtaining the Rājaguru degree. Word spread and many monks started joining Ven. Jāgara’s group, and soon there were more than 1000.

It was not the intention of either the King or the venerable to establish a new sect (nikāya). However his group of monks had become quite outstanding in the country. Therefore people called them the monks from the Shwegyin Nikāya, after the name of Shwegyin Sayādaw. That is how the Shwegyin Nikāya was established. It spread country-wide and gained much fame.

Ven. Jāgara did not appoint anyone as the Head Monk. Everyone however regarded him as the Head Monk. The chief lay supporter was King Mindon. Since the Nikāya began in the temples of the King, it is a Royal Nikāya. When Ven. Jāgara was there, though it was termed a Nikāya, it is difficult to say that it was established in a systematic way.

In order to ensure the continuation of the Nikāya after his demise, a Head Monk was chosen, Visuddhācāra Dhajādhipati Pavāra Mahā Dhamma Rājādhirājaguru Mahā Thera. He was a revered scholar of the Tipiṭaka and was held in high esteem. He was also the author/editor of many highly acclaimed literary works. The English Government had conferred an Aggamahāpaṇḍita degree upon him.

It was during his time that the Nikāya was organised in a systematic way. He also established a constitution with thirty phrases to secure the future of the Nikāya. That is the current constitution of the Shwegyin Nikāya. Today, this Nikāya has spread to Sri Lanka and Thailand. In Burma there are about 15,000 monks and about 200 temples in the Shwegyin Tradition. In 1996 this means.

The Sixth Buddhist Council (Chaṭṭha Saṅgāyana) which was held in Burma was mainly carried out with the help of the monks of this Nikāya. Furthermore this Nikāya has many authors, meditation masters, yogis, meditators and austere practitioners. The monk who wrote numerous books on meditation, spread the Satipaṭṭhāna Meditation technique to the world, the great meditation master Aggamahāpaṇḍita Mahāsi Sayādaw Bhadanta Sobhana Mahā Thera was also a Shwegyin Mahā Thera.

The founder of the Shwegyin Nikāya, the Ven. Jāgara Mahā Thera also came over to Sri Lanka in 1872. Following his visit, Sri Lanka too became influenced by the Shwegyin Nikāya. After that a student of the Mahā Nāyaka of the Shwegyin Nikāya came over to Sri Lanka, Ven. U Vinayālaṅkāra. It is under his leadership that this temple started, and for that reason this temple is known by his name.

With him as the preceptor, 27 young monks including me were ordained there. So we were the first batch of Shwegyin monks in Sri Lanka. In 1907, on the 20th of January, this temple was offered to Ven. U Vinayālaṅkāra and other monks, as a consecrated ground (sīma) for the Mahā Saṅgha. Therefore this temple in Pokunuwita, the Vinayālaṅkārārāmaya is the first Sri Lankan temple that the monks from the Shewgyin Nikāya have themselves established. Therefore I feel the Shwegyin Nikāya has become firmly established here. The first Head of the Shwegyin Nikāya in Sri Lanka was Ven. Uduwe Vimalaraṁsi Thera. The second was Devinuvara Ñāṇāvāsa Mahā Thera. In Sri Lanka, the Shwegyin Nikāya is quite small compared to Burma: it has about 250 monks and about 70 temples. In 1996.

My Higher Ordination was in Burma

Those in Burma know exactly how to perform the Higher Ordination according to the Vinaya, the Disciplinary Code, and they do it very well. They also have an excellent understanding of the precepts. Some people in our country do not even know the precepts, let alone how to live accordingly.

In Burma, when the Rains Retreat period is coming to an end, they hold an examination for the monastics, which is entirely a memory test. Ubhaya Pātimokkha (Bhikkhu and Bhikkhunī Regulations), Mūlasikkhā (Training in the Main Rules) and Khuddasikkhā (Training in the Minor Rules) are some of the books that one gets tested on, purely by recitation. I too took this test. I recited the Ubhaya Pātimokkha first. I also remembered most of the Khuddasikkhā. In Burma it is a very good thing that both written and recitation tests are conducted for the monks.

I only returned to Sri Lanka after my Higher Ordination and those recitation examinations. I could not do anything much in Sinhala. I faced some difficulties, due to this fact.

I mentioned earlier that I stayed a few months at Dematagoda Mahā Visuddhārāmaya. I listened to the teachings of Ven. Siridhamma as a bystander when he was teaching others. That is how I learned Sinhala. He taught the Tipiṭaka in Sinhala. I did not officially learn Sinhala writing from anyone, I feel even now that I cannot write Sinhala very well. I listened to Ven. Siridhamma when he taught others and that is the knowledge that I used to write all of those books. I do not know if my Sinhala is good or bad. I have written about 30 books with the knowledge that I possessed of the Sinhala language. I cannot remember exactly how many.

I mentioned earlier that it was Ven. Siridhamma who encouraged me to write, and so I started writing little by little. In those days it was very difficult to get books published. There were shop owners like J.B. Fernando but they were too scared to print books like these. They were very afraid that they would not be able to sell these books. Because of that I did not write for a long time. After leaving Visuddhārāmaya, in order to oblige others’ requests, I used to write articles to newspapers and journals but did not have much enthusiasm to write books.

4. Why I Wrote my Books