The Ancient Roots Of The U Ba Khin Vipassanā Meditation (eng)

The Ancient Roots of the U Ba Khin Vipassanā Meditation

Sayadaw U Ba Khin


Vipassanā meditation taught in the tradition of U Ba Khin has by now become one of the most widely practised forms of insight meditation in the world. Thanks to the diligent efforts of S. N. Goenka in particular, the U Ba Khin method is currently being taught on a dāna basis in affluent societies like the United States of America just as in poverty stricken areas of India, with the same instructions given in Theravāda countries like Sri Lanka and in Islamic countries such as Dubai and Iran.1 Instructions in this particular type of vipassanā meditation are also available in prisons, both in the East and in the West, as the U Ba Khin method has acquired governmental recognition for its potential to reform even hardened criminals.

This success speaks for the potential of this method of developing liberating insight, yet little is known about the origins of this meditation technique. U Ba Khin (1899-1971) learned vipassanā meditation from U Thet (1873-1945), whose teaching activities took place with the support of the famous Burmese scholar monk Ledi Sayadaw (1846-1923).2 Beyond that, no further information seems to be available from Burma. In spite of this paucity of records from Burma, however, there is evidence that this meditation practice reaches far back into the history of Indian Buddhism. It is this evidence for “the ancient roots of the U Ba Khin vipassanāmeditation” that the present article intends to explore.

In addition to the relatively limited literary records of Indian Buddhism still available today, fortunately already since the second century of our era Chinese Buddhists had begun to systematically translate discourses, monastic rules, commentaries and treatises from various Indian Buddhist schools. The sustained effort of the Chinese translators over the centuries eventually created what could well be the most extensive corpus of translated material in the history of mankind.

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