Maha Saddhamma Jotika dhaja
Sithu Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt
The 5th month of Myanmar Lunar Calendar Wagaung has its literal meaning “The mid-month of Buddhist Lent”, the peak of monsoon. Non-stop rain fills up and spills over all water bodies causing floods and landslides. Myanmar old saying ဝါဆုိ၊ ဝါေခါင္၊ ေရေဖာင္ေဖာင္ [Billows of rain water in the months Waso and Wagaung] epitomises the natural environments in these two months. However, in spite of foul weather, Myanmar paddy planters do their job in full swing. Khat-tar or ground lilies [crinum amoenum] of all species and varieties spring up with blooms of colorful hues and fragrance everywhere across the country, deseruing the status of the designated flower of this month in Myanmar tradition. Lion is the zodiacal sign of this month and astrologically this month is named simha [Leo]. Heavenly bodies are not visible due to overcast sky. But astrologers say that in daytime the sun and asterism Hpou Sha and at night the moon and asterism Tharawun appear shining astride.
The traditional festival of Wagaung is “Sayey tan Pwe”. It is the festival of religious charity by casting lots. Myanmar word for lot is Sayeytan. To choose recipient monks for religious donation, food or alms in religious offering lots are cast. This custom of religious charity by means of lot casting originated in the lifetime of Gotama Buddha.
While Lord Gotama Buddha was residing in Weiluwun Vihara monastery at Yazagyoe, there occurred the time of food scarcity. Buddhist devotees could not provide alms food for all monks of the Vihara. They used different means of offering food. Some selected ten to twenty monks to offer food. Some provided food to monks only on Sabbath days. Some cast lots to choose recipient monks. Finally they all agreed to report to Lord Buddha on their situation and ask for the best means of settlement.
Lord Buddha expounded seven different modes of offering food to monks as follows:
1. Sangha-bhat which is the food offered to all monks.
2. Uddesa-bhat which is the food offered particularly to one or two monks.
3. Nimantana-bhat which is the food offered to the invited monks.
4. Sala ka-bhat which is the food offered to the monks chosen by casting lots.
5. Pakkhika-bhat which is the food offered to the monks on the waxing and waning days.
6. Uposathika-bhat which is the food offered to the monks on the Sabbath day and
7. Patipadika-bhat which is the food offered to the monks on the day after the Sabbath day.
Lord Buddha said that he approved all of them. So the Buddhist devotees unanimously decided to choose Salaka-bhat-food offered to the monks chosen by casting lots. To perform casting lots, one monk among themselves was chosen and appointed him unanimously “Bhattuddesaka” the monk who was given the charge of allotting food offered by donors. Lord Buddha gave permission and direction for selecting and appointing “Bhattuddesaka”. This monk must have special qualifications such as
(a) Good health
(c) Managerial skill
(d) Freedom from biases and prejudices and
(e) Ability to keep correct list of allotted and unalotted monks.
The first Bhathuddesaka was Maha Thera Ashin Datba. He discharged the duty of allotting Uddesa bhat, Nimanta-bhat and Salaka-bhat, with fairness and correctness.
Sayeytan lots are wooden or bamboo slats, strips or palm pei leaves on which names and addresses of the donors of food are scribed. They are put into a basket which is shaken up side dour many times so that the lots are shuffled up. Monks queue up according to their serial numbers of their seniority of their ordained years to draw the lot. Then they go to the houses as directed by their lots to partake alms food offered there.
Originally there was no rule fixing month, venue and date for casting lot charity. Myanmar Kings chose Wagaung as the month for performing this religious function because monks observing Wa vows and residing to gather in the same monastery might have difficulty in receiving enough food in Wagaung. Originally casting lots was to provide food to monks. But, later all four basic needs of monks [Satupyitsaya] – food, clothing (robe), Sheter (monastery) and medicine are also, sometimes, donated by casting lots.
History of the festival of Sayeytan Pwe can be traced back to the past. Stone inscription at old Bagan mention this festival. In lines 22 and 23 of Saw Hla Win Pagoda stone inscriptions dated 1268, 1290 and 1291 A.D. There was mention of Seyeytan Pwe. King Thihathu [1298-1312 AD] of Pinya dynasty built a big wooden monastery and offered it to a learned monk named Hsu Twin Pyit Sayadaw. But Sayadaw advised the King to donate the monaskry by casting lot. From that time began the festival of Sayey tan Pwe in Wagaung.
Myanmar word Sayey tan Swan came into use in the time of King Tha Lun (1629-1648) of Nyaung Yan dynasty. Most Venerable Shwe U min Sayadaw monk of Pakhan Gyi translated two Pali Treatises (a) Culava Pali Nisaya and (b) Culava Pali Athakatha Nisaya into Myanmar them he translated two Pali words “Salaka” and “Bhalta” into Myanmar as “Sayey-tan” and “Hswan” Salaka means wooden or bamboo sticks on which letters are scribed and “bhalta” means “hswan” food for monks.
This Sayeytan festival was the favorite theme of Myanmar visual, performing and literacy artists. The festival is depicted in ten Myanmar Visual Arts, performed in Myanmar song, dance, music enacted in drama live and puppets and penned in prose, verse and drama by Myanmar writers- U Yar, U Min, Hpo Thudaw U Min, Mei Kway, U Hpyey and U Ponnya mentioned this festival in their verses and plays.
On page 229 of one Myanmar chronicle “Kon baung set Maha Yaza Wun Tawgyi vol. II the holding of the Sayey tan festival at the Palace of King Bagyidaw [1819-1837 A.D] was graphically recorded as follows:-
“On the 8th waning moon day of Wagaung, village monks and forest monks were invited to the palace Eight priestly utensils and other offertories were arranged on two hundred and sixty padaytha bins [wooden frames in the design of a tree (cornucopia)]. Their Majesties donated them to the invited monks and they poured libation water to share their religious merits with all sentient beings. Next their Majesties offered Salaka-bhat [Sayey tan Swan] to the monks”.
In all Myanmar religious occasions, a festive mood is created by the gathering of the lay devotees dressed in their finery, and dainty damsels carrying offertories on their heads, followed by parties of merry-maker male youths who joyously sing, dance and play folk music of ozi, dho bat and byaw befit the occasion.
The full moon day of Wagaung is designated as the Day of Metta Sutta — one of the Suttas in Buddha Paritta. The background history of Metta Sutta is as follows:-
A party of monks went into a forest for their Lent for religious practices there. The guardian spirits of the forest and yokkhasoe [guardian devas of the Trees] had to come doon to give place to the monks. They thought that their dwelling places were invaded by these monks. So they created fearful visions to frighten the monks away. The monks reported the matter to Lord Buddha. Where upon the Buddha gave them Metta Sutta [Discourse on Loving Kindness] to be recited or chantted so that all sentient beings- humans, animals and spirits would hear and listen to appreciate and understand the importance of living peacefully to gather without malice and harm, but only love and kindness to one another. At Buddha’s advice monks returned to the forest
and chanted Metta Sutta.
Upon hearing and understanding the meaning of Metta Sutta, the spirits of the forest and trees realized monks are friends not enemies who come there only for religious practices during Lent and they would leave after Lent. They had no intention to invade their domains and settle there. So monks and guardian spirits of the forest and trees became friends.
The following is the English Translation of Metta Sutta by the Late Rector-Sayadaw U Silanandabhivamsa, the International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University, Yangon, Myanmar.
Metta Sutta [Loving Kindness Discourse]
1. By the power of this Sutta, the Yakkha do not show fearful visions, and a person who makes effort regarding this Sutta day and night [by reciting and practicing], sleeps comfortably and when he is asleep, he does not have bad dreams. Oh good people Let us recite this protective Sutta which is endowed with these qualities and others as well.
2. He who wants to dwell penetrating the state of calm [Nibbana] and who is skilled in his good, should practice the three kinds of training. He should be able, up right, very up right, obedient, gentle and not conceited.
3. He should be contented, easy to take care of have few activities, have light living have few possessions and be controlled in his senses, he should be wise, and not impudent and not be greedily attached to the families [devotees].
4. He should not commit any alight wrong, by doing which he might be censured by wise men. May all beings be happy and safe. May their hearts be happy.
5. What so ever living beings there be, feeble or strong, long or big, or medium or short small or fat [round], seen or unseen, those dwelling far or near, those who have been born and those who are yet to be born, may all beings without exception be happy.
6. Let none deceive another or despise any person in any place. Let him not wish any harm to another with insult or ill will.
7. Just as, a mother would protect her only child at the risk of her own life, even so let him cultivate a boundless heart toward all beings.
8. Let his thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole world- above, below, and across, making them unrestricted, free of hate and free of enemy.
9. Whether he is standing, walking, sitting, or lying crown as long as he is awake, he should develop this mindfulness in loving kindness. This is the Noble Living here [in the Dispensation of the Buddha], they say.
10. Not approaching [taking wrong views, being virtuous and endowed with Vision The first Path Knowledge] and discarding attachment to sensual objects. Je definitely does not come again to lying in a (mother’s) womb.
End of Metta Sutta
By chanting or reciting Metta Sutta, you send out to all sentient beings message of your loving kindness, compassion and good will. All who receive your good messages reciprocate the same to you. You are immune from all dangers. You have no enemies, you have only friends.