A Personal Appreciation of and Felicitations for Sayadaw U Silananda
M. Tin-Wa, Ph.D.
When one of the Editors of Dhammananda Newsletters requested that I write an article in English on whatever topic I choose, one that is most relevant and timely, I decided to give a summary of U Silananda’s life and work in the US from my personal perspective. Hopefully, this will inspire the readers to continue to support him more in every way in his Dhamma work.
Since his detailed biography and articles about his many accomplishments have already been covered or listed in previous issues, announcements, flyers and in books and booklets, it would be redundant to repeat or reproduce them all over again. I have chosen to provide an overview of Sayadaw’s extraordinary depth of Buddhist knowledge, his ability to communicate this knowledge of the process of insight and Buddhist teachings clearly and precisely in English to laypeople and most important of all, his singular dedication and ability to inspire others through the Buddhist missionary work. The best way for me to do this is to give a brief personal account of what I encounter during my association with him for twenty years.
I will begin with a short pertinent background of myself, describe my first meeting with the Sayadaw and my continuing association with and support to him in his worthy cause. Along with my four brothers, I was brought up as a Burmese Buddhist. During the pre-teen and teen years, we attended the Mya-Thein-Dan
Monastery in Pa-zung-daung during our Summer Holidays to take religious instructions and to learn additional Burmese language, culture and manners from the learned monks. In our teen years, we were ordained as novices ( koyins). However, when I left Myanmar in early 1962 right after College for US, I lost complete touch with any Burmese monks. Lest we forget our culture, roots and religious inheritance, our mother would read, extract and rewrite in English some Buddhist
literature and sent us some concise articles on the essence of Buddhism along with other worldly advice since we were away from homeland for long years.
After 16 years in the US, when I met my college friend, Daw Mu Mu Khin, she informed me that her mother just arrived with some Burmese monks. She took
me to meet the most Venerable Taungpulu Sayadaw in November 1978 who was visiting US and residing at a temporary monastery in Palo Alto Hills. It was only about 20 minutes away from Stanford University where my Austrian wife, Anna, was completing her M.D. degree and I had just come up from Southern California. Just a week prior to my chance of meeting with my old friend Mu Mu, I had mentioned to my wife about my dream where I was searching for some Burmese monks. I remarked to her that I had not been ordained as a monk yet, which is very important in our tradition. When we met Taungpulu Sayadaw, a week later, Anna reminded me about my dream, and the great opportunity available and immediately urged me to request ordination as a monk. My wish was granted by the Sayadaw.
When the Sayadaw returned to Myanmar in early December 1978, I became involved in the effort to bring back the Sayadaw and establish a permanent monastery along with Dr. Rina Sircar and her students, my friend Mu Mu and other Burmese. Then we received word from Taungpulu Sayadaw that Mahasi Sayadaw and several monks would be visiting US around April 1979 and we should make the appropriate plans to receive them. Mahasi Sayadaw first went to Yucca Valley in Southern California for Dhamma talks and retreat. On the day Mahasi Sayadaw and his group were to fly in to San Francisco, I received a phone call from my brother Dr. Hla N. Tin from Southern California. He called from the airport informing me about his visit with the Sayadaws. He stated that all the monks accompanying Mahasi Sayadaw were very learned, and I should take good care of them. I had known him to be a person not easily impressed nor readily offering praise to anyone unless well deserved. He said he was at Yucca Valley and was very satisfied with the intelligent answers given by these monks which included our Sayadaw U Silananda. That was a very strong and objective recommendation of the Sayadaws I was about to meet from a person who had always excelled in academics and had keen analytical training with a Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics. So, with that knowledge, I made extra effort that the Sayadaws’ visit went
smoothly and productive.
Their visit was such a success that one of the Burmese families, U Chit Tun offered his home to be used as a monastery for U Silananda and U Kelasa who were accompanying the Mahasi Sayadaw. He requested Mahasi Sayadaw to leave them behind to spread the Dhamma in the Bay Area with expressed support from U Htin Paw to make it succcessful. Sayadaws arrived at U Chit Tun’s house in July 1979. At that time, along with my friend Mu Mu, I was committed to helping Dr. Rina Sircar and her students to establish a permanent monastery for Taungpulu Sayadaw. However, within a few weeks time, I found myself, having to come forth
to safeguard the continued stay of U Silananda and U Kelasa in the US. I was able to secure a temporary quarters for six months per kind favor of an American Chinese student of Taungpulu Sayadaw, David Wong. Most of the support during this period was provided by Dr. Rina Sircar and her students with some help from some Burmese families.
It was during this period I discovered that not only does Sayadaw U Silananda has the knowledge, but also the determination and dedication about spreading Dhamma in the West. In addition to teaching a very popular Abhidhamma course at the California Institute for Asian Studies which Dr. Rinar Sircar arranged, he would travel up and down the Bay Area with me and give Dhamma talks and performed other religious functions even if it was for only one or two persons. I knew firsthand how much sacrifices he had made. He overcame a lot of obstacles in the beginning. My respect for him grew and that is why I have continued to help him in any way I can till now. My sentiment was shared recently by a Vietnamese student of his, Ms. Ha Truong. When I met her in Popa Hill in Myanmar in 1996, she had spent most of the year as a nun in Myanmar. She said, “Now that I know how all Sayadaws are revered and how well they are taken care of by the community in
Myanmar, I respected U Silananda even more, for the sacrifices he must have made to come to US to teach us. ”
In December 1979, U Silananda and U Kelasa were invited by a Sri Lankan monastery in Washington, D.C. where they continued with their missionary work. The Burmese community in Washington, D.C. organized to support and eventually set up a monastery for U Kelasa who stayed behind and became the Abbott of Mangalarama Vihara. However, U Silananda decided to return to California and helped Sayadaw U Pyinnya Wuntha set up the Monastery in Los Angeles. He did a lot of travelling up and down in California giving Dhamma talks and Meditation retreats wherever he was invited.
During the six months from July to December 1979, after attending some of his courses, teachings and retreats, supporters around the San Francisco Bay Area expressed their intent to establish a monastery for U Silananda. Around October 1979, U Silananda indicated to me that another group headed by Dr. Maung Maung Chwan, Eddy, Stanley and Peter Khoo were also interested in the same thing. He asked me to persuade the different groups I have been working with to throw support behind Dr. Chwan’s group for the sake of unity to support the common goal. By February 1980, the good news of the approval of non-profit status by the State of California was received. Not so pleasant news was that the able TBSA President Dr. Chwan had to relocate to the East Coast and his initiative and energy was lost to TBSA.
At this point, I thought we might lose U Silananda to Los Angeles or elsewhere, because no suitable place had been made available for him to reside in the Bay Area. That was when I locked up my office in April 1980, worked exclusively and diligently for a few months with his supporters. I also found and rented a two-bedroom house on Staples Street in San Francisco, known as the first Dhammananda Monastery, over some strong objections of some TBSA Board members. They were concerned about the liability of the rent money if the support was not forthcoming, and so were considering to rent a studio apartment at best. I prevailed after I assured them that I solely guaranteed the payment of the year lease if such was the case. U Hla Oung, Dr. Julie Han Wood and Dr. Swe Aye came forth also to share the burden with me. We celebrated the historical Opening Ceremony of the first Dhammananda Vihara monastery on July 27, 1980 and proved that such fears were unfounded. Instead, great momentum and confidence were gained to start looking for a permanent place which resulted in the purchase of the
Woodrow Street property in Daly City, the second Dhammananda Vihara within two years.
After Sayadaw U Silananda got settled in at the Daly City monastery, I took a leave from TBSA from 1982 to 1994. During this period, in addition to fulfilling my initial commitment to support the establishment of a permanent Taungpulu monastery and the construction of the Pagoda, I concentrated on helping U Silananda in other matters, such as, initiating the Tipitaka CD-ROM project, founding Dhammachakka Meditation Center (DMC) and helping Dr. Marc Lieberman, a former student of Taungpulu Sayadaw with his founding of Nama-Rupa Foundation to which he requested me to join as founding member and director. Through these two
groups effort, Abhidhamma Newsletters and other publications of U Silananda came out. Well functioning monasteries, such as the Tathagatha Meditation Center in San Jose founded by the nucleus of the Vietnamese group who attended the functions of the above two groups and Abhyagiri Monastery on over 250 acres in Northern California also, came about. Both of these monasteries are offering meditation retreats, dhamma talks and other services not only to the Burmese community but also to the US community at large. Another development is the link between DMC and the Bodhi Tree Dhamma Center from Florida which invited U Silananda for month long Winter stays. Another offshoot of this is that the Burmese community in Florida were able to attend functions of U Silananda in Florida and later they organized with Sayadaw’s help to establish Dhamma Thukha Monastery. (see the New Years’ Wish article for U Silananda by Paddamya Khin in May 1997 issue of Dhammananda Newsletter.)
As a cascading effect from that, Burmese community in Jamaica is also establishing a monastery. Another outcome from DMC activities is that one of the attendees,
Oscar Valentinuzzi of Argentina became a monk known as U Nandisena, and assisted U Silananda in making inroads with the Spanish speaking meditators to
establish a Center in Mexico. Recently they had an opening of the first Theravada Buddhist Monastery in Mexico (see news in this issue). Plans are underway to
establish a monastery in Puerto Rico soon. Another domino effect.
I rejoined the TBSA Board in 1995-96 at the request of the Sayadaws because they felt very restricted and uncomfortable at the Daly City Monastery and needed a
New Monastery soon. Because of past misunderstandings, annoyance and report by neighbors, the city and county began investigating the legality of a monastery in a residential area, and began limiting the use of the facility. The new Board searched many places, including undeveloped lands, in cities, commercial districts, farmlands according to the minimum requirements set by the Sayadaws, with many hotly debated discussions. With the patience and guidance of the Sayadaws, the purchase of the Half Moon Bay property was achieved.
At the Sayadaws’ suggestion, I continued to serve the 1997-98 Board as Advisor in their effort to obtain the necessary approval to establish it officially as a
Monastery on the Planned Agricultural Development (PAD) land and obtain permits for expansion to enable larger meditation retreats, festivals, etc. Now it is officially recognized and approved as a Monastery by the Planning Commission and the permit to build and expand is forthcoming.
Sayadaw U Silananda is much sought after for his Dhamma Talks and Meditation Retreats all over the world. Everywhere he went, he encouraged his students to start up a new monastery for themselves. I understand Canada is next in line to have a monastery as a result. During recent months, he had to split his time between Malaysia where he conducted a long Meditation Retreat and in Myanmar, where he was requested by the Government to serve as Rector of the newly founded International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University. In another month, he will be returning to US to continue his work as usual in an unselfish manner.
My wise grandfather, well read both in non-religious and religious literature, had once told me, that one does not necessarily become a good monk by shaving one’s head and putting on the robes. But if you come across a good learned monk with sila, his advice was to seek him, support him and learn as much as you can from him. I believe I tried to follow his advice and have benefited greatly in the real sense of Buddhist tradition. As U Silananda is getting on in age, I would like to entreat all of his supporters to help with their generous donations for the current expansion project of the Monastery in Half Moon Bay, the third Dhammananda Vihara. This way, his students from all over the world can come to him here for his Dhamma talks and Meditation Retreats and he can slowly cut down on his extensive travels
which may take a toll on his health in his golden years, that none of us like to see. He deserves the best and we are not asking for much for him. Please contact TBSA at 17450 South Cabrillo Hwy., Half Moon Bay, CA 94019, USA, or call 650-726-7604 for making your generous donation.