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Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture,
by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or
by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that,
'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised
by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness'
-- then you should enter & remain in them.
Lesson 23: Learn Burmese Buddhism Words and Phrases
A Brief history of Buddhism in Myanmar
When you visit Myanmar, you will not miss the sight and sound of people from all walks of life paying respect to the statue
of the Buddha out of genuine admiration. You will also come across people chanting their prayers as
though the Buddha can grant their wishes.
The Gautama Buddha had once said, you must strive for salvation with your own effort. The result will be according
to your own kun2-Kja1-ma2(fate);
even the Buddha cannot change it.
In essence, the message is not much different from
"reaping what one sows" in the Christian Bible. (Galatians 6:7)
As far as I know, the original Buddhist teaching does not mention anything about ya1-da1-ya2,
a unique Burmese way to reverse or control kun2-kja1-ma2 for personal benefits and advantages
based on lau3-ba1(greed),
The word ya1-da1-ya2 has thet-ka1-ta1(Sanskrit)
origin, and probably used by the pone2-na3,
who are elite Brahmin class from ancient India.
236 years after the passing away of the Buddha, King Asoka of India known as
in Burmese sent out Buddhist missionaries to 9 different regional locations.
One of the regions called Thu1-wa1-na1 Bu2-mi
is believed to be coastal areas in Indochina including the present day Ta1-nin3-tha2-ri2
region where Mon people live. Sumatra, Indonesia was then known as Thu1-wa1-n1 dri1-pa1.
Archeological findings near the town of Pyay2
suggest that Theravada Buddhism had thrived during Pyu
Civilization in Tha1-yay2-khit-ta1-ya2
around 400 AD.
During 900 AD, pseudo-Buddhism with the mixture of Tan2-dra1 wa2-da1(Tantric)
rituals had reached Bagan, and Tantric religious leaders known as A-yi3-ji3
practiced what could be considered as supernatural and out lun3
methods including taking the virginity of young brides known as pan3-u3-hsoot wa2-da1.
Only around 1100 AD, King A-nau2-ra1-hta2
of Bagan had learned about the "true" Buddhism from the Mon
civilization at the time of the Mon Buddhist Monk Shin2 A-ra1-hun2,
also known as Dun2-ma1 Dut-thi2.
The king removed the religion of A-yi3-ji3 and brought Htay2-ra1-wa2-da1 Boat-da1 Ba2-tha2(Tharavada Buddhism)
to Bagan civilization.
So you can consider that Buddhism first flourished for the Burmese people in the 11th Century, although the history is much earlier if you
count civilizations in lower Burma.
Burmese people are very generous in supporting the livelihood of the monks and tha2 tha1 na2
(religion, particularly in reference to Buddhism),
but those who truly understand the Buddha do not feel the need to make their contributions public, just like
the left hand does not know what the right hand does
in Christian faith. (Matthew 6:3)
Some Burmese Buddhists include loving kindness in their daily prayer. Basically,
myit ta2 thoat or Metta Sutta
in Pali Language is a Buddhist way of sending unconditional and tender loving kindness to all creatures big and
small, near and far in all directions.
kjin2-na2 -- be tender and loving; having caring emotional ties or attachment
myit-ta2 -- unconditional love
kjin2-na2 myit-ta2 ta1-ya3 -- loving kindness
What is unconditional love? - my interpretation
Unconditional love is boundless and the most beautiful love of all that gives but not take, answers the cries but not demand,
loves not dependent on conditions nor impose conditions, protects but not possessive, and feels but not wish for anything in return.
The Buddhist literatures often describe this kind of love as the love of the mother to her only child.
Right Speech Hmun2 Hmun2 Pyau3
pyau3 in Burmese means "to tell". hmun2 means the truth.
When you double-up hmun2 (adjective), it becomes an adverb hmun2 hmun2,
which means "truthfully".
a-hmun2 ta1-ya3 is "the Absolute Truth", "the Universal Law" or "Dhamma" as realized
by the Buddha where ta1-ya3 refers to the law or fairness.
hmun2-hmun2pyau3 means truthfully tell.
This phrase is a request or a reminder not to tell a lie.
Here's some truth on what the historical Buddha has to say about good communication as practiced by the Buddha himself, in which
"the Right Speech" (one of the Noble Eight Fold Paths) is part of a good communication.
There are four aspects of what one should practice in a good communication. First of all, we must not knowingly tell lies not even in jest,
or fabricate "facts" that are untrue. No bragging, no exaggeration, and no back-stabbing.
In second aspect of "good communication", whatever we say must be pleasant to hear. Try to see positive things even in
unpleasant situations. No insults, no nagging, no gossiping, no extortion or threats, and no interfering to break up relations
among other people.
Thirdly, whatever we say must be relevant and useful to the listener(s). No boring stories and lectures, please! What if the
teaching is boring, but useful to the listener(s)? Then, there is the fourth aspect.
In the fourth aspect of a good communication, we must find the right time to say what we have to say if the message to
be conveyed is unpleasant or a bitter pill to swallow for the listener(s). Be a good listener to determine the right time to say
what needs to be said. I must also add, it would be a good idea to include no interruption, no hesitation,
no repetition, and stop speaking when it's time to stop.
To summarize this universal truth on a good communication,
hmun2 hmun2 -- truthfully
hla1 hla1 -- beautifully
a-thone3 kja1 -- be useful
-- speak only at the right time.
Thoat or thoat-tun2 is "sutta" in the Pali and
"sermon" in English.
In a classic sermon known as Ka2-la2-ma1 thoat, the Buddha challenges his yweare2 tu2(contemporaries) including laymen, holy men, and truth seekers to test the truth by examining even the Buddha
himself. He does not advocate blind-faith. You can read Pali to English translation of Kalama Sutta on
In other lectures and suttas, he even advices to abandon the attachment to the Dhamma (the teaching of the Buddha),
which is compared to a raft ( pfoun2 in Burmese ) used to cross the troubled waters.
Once you reach the safety of the other shore, you must leave the pfoun2 at the bank of the river, rather than carrying
it on your shoulder in your onward journey in life.
When you attend popular Dhamma talks by the monks, or listen to audio lectures commercially available, you will hardly hear the
recitation of this sutta. This original teaching of the Buddha is less popular with ordinary Myanmar people probably
because in Burmese
yin2-kjay3 hmu1(culture) and
da1-lay1 htone3-zun2(tradition), you
pfa1-ya3 -- the Buddha,
ta1-ya3 -- Dhamma or the Universal Law,
thun2-ga2 -- Orders of Monks,
thet-kji3 -- the elders,
hsa1-ya2 -- the teachers
mi1-ba1 -- the parents
ah2-sa1-ri1-ya1 -- (same as teachers)
without questioning. This is unlike how the children are taught in the western culture where new discoveries, advancement in science,
and break-throughs in technology are made. However, I feel that a fine balance is needed between science, imagination, superstition,
and the religion.
dun2-ma1-set-kja2 -- The Wheel or the Universal Law
(Dhamma-cakka in the Pali); the wheel (realm), or the doctrine started to roll by the Buddha.
In the West, this law is better known as The Four Noble Truths. The Burmese
Buddhists believe the Buddha appeared in Heavenly World known as Nat Pyi and taught this teaching to
his mother Meare2 Dau2 who was re-borned there.
It would be tough to sell this "story" to the Westerners. Not surprisingly, Supernatural World that might exist in extra dimensions beyond
our 3-dimensional World somewhat like those described by Quantum Physics and
Superstring Theory is
a low-key subject among Western Buddhist teachers. In fact, in Buddhism, there are
31 planes of existence, with beings in some of the
higher planes having life-spans of billions of years.
If you consider Einstein's Theory that time is relative, the "stories" mentioned in the
texts such as one day in some levels of Heavenly World is equivalent to a week or even years in Human World is not so outrageous.
Overcoming the illusion of permanent self (Anatta)
In Buddhist analysis on the experience of "self" or "I", it is ever changing flow of five processes known as the five Aggregates
(khan2-da2 nga3 ba3) :
-- Matter - Body sense organs such as eye, ear, nose, tongue, and skin when in contact with external
sources produce visible form, sound, odor, taste, tangible things.
-- Consciousness - faculty that awares the presence of objects that comes into contact with.
-- Sensation - pleasant (pleasure), unpleasant (pain), or neutral feeling.
-- Perception - recognizes what comes into contact. E.g., this flying form visible with eyes is a crow.
-- mental formation - includes the concept of "I", and all volitional activities: attention, will,
determination, concentration, greed, hate, desire, conceit, and conditioned responses. E.g., the thought, "I hate crows", and
another thought on how to get rid of it.
The thought on how to get rid of the crow comes into existence based on conditions. As the crow flies away, that stream of thought ceased to exist.
The experience is replaced by other flow of processes. Apart from those flow of processes, there is no permanent entity or "soul" lurking around.
Our experience of "I" is like a river. A river gives the illusion of permanence and unchanging existence. But, the fact is that apart from
changing flow of water, there is no such thing as a permanent river. If you come back the next day, it is already replaced by new water drops.
Our experience of "I" is like a movie with a frame of picture for every moment. A thought that occupies just a single frame assumes that the
whole movie is "I". A mind that sees this illusion understands Anatta.
When the illusion of "I" drops, so are greed, hate, and conceit. This illusion is the root-cause of our suffering (Dukkha). If one summarizes
the whole teaching of Buddha, it is about Dukkha, the cause of Dukkha, and ways to end Dukkha.
The Eternal Law of Kamma (Karma)
The word "kamma" or "Karma" may be familiar to many Westerners, but not all of them may understand the deep meaning behind it.
sate sun2-da1(Volition) or
yi2-yweare2-chet(intention) plays a major
role in this chain of actions and their consequences. Unlike the Newton's law of
cause and effect as understood by modern science, those consequences may not necessarily follow right away at the
moment of action, and therefore it is hard to associate actions with their consequences.
In short, if you do good things, good things will follow like a never departing shadow. Likewise, if you commit
bad deeds, bad consequences are inescapable. In Buddhism, this chain of cause-and-effect is extended to speech and even thoughts.
Just like Jesus had once preached, if you
commit adultery even in your mind, you are a sinner to
some extent. ( Matthew 5:27-28)
In Buddhism, this applies even to a single thought moment of misdeed. (Misdeed here refers to greed, hate, and delusion).
It should be noted, however, that there is no "final judgement day" by the Arbitrator as in other faith and belief systems.
You will be either punished or rewarded by your own deeds good or bad.
For details on the Law of Kamma, please refer to audio lessons by Bhikkhu Bodhi,
an American Buddhist monk and leading authority on Theravada Buddhism, and teachings
by Gil Fronsdal.
This lesson is not about preaching Buddhism, nor do I practice what I type all the time, so let's get back to
Burmese words on Kamma.
-- I had a bad day. (luck + negative + good + negative ending)
-- That guy is so lucky! (this + man + lucky + so much)
kun2-kja1-ma2 -- The eternal law of Kamma
It should be noted that the average Burmese person tend to equate "luck" or "random chance" with kun2
as in kun2-sun3-meare3 or "lucky draw", which deviates from the original teaching of the Buddha.
Finding one's own kun2-kja1-ma2 could also mean finding one's true love.
Anatta vs. karma
If Anatta is true and there is no permanent soul, then who gets the results of our "karmic" actions good or bad?
The following passage is from page 33 of "What the Buddha Taught" by Walpola Rahula (Library of Congress Catalog Card
Number 62-16338, First Ever Edition 1962.)
'When the Aggregates arise, decay, and die, bhikkhu, every moment you are born, decay, and die.' Thus even now during this life
time, every moment we are born and die, but we continue. If we can understand that in this life we can continue without a
permanent, unchanging substance Self or Soul, why can't we understand that those forces themselves can continue without a
Self or Soul behind them after the non-functioning of the body?
passage in page 34 continues:
A person who dies here and is reborn elsewhere is neither the same person, nor another (Pali: na ca so na anno).
Perhaps, we can just look at the "reborn" process in this very life. Our conditioned responses ( modern psychology term) are the
result of our repeated actions in the past. The mind and willful thoughts that acted in the past no longer exist. But, the resulting
momentum and information is transferred onto the present state of mind. When conditions are appropriate, they come back to life onto
the blank screen of our movie, and as far as the present state of mind is concerned, it is "I" who was in the past. (If we analyze
the thoughts as brain waves, they are different waves at different time.)
Kun2 kja1-ma2 vs. Determinism
kun2-kja1-ma2 has some aspects of determinism in that the past has been fixed. But, there is free-will
in the present, which will determine the future in the direction of applied forces and resulting momentum of the past just like the
billiard balls on the pool table.
Our journey in life that we walked so far is the consequence of previous deeds-- good or bad.
Chances are high that the past actions and choices that we have made will still have influence on the outcome of our
kun2-kja1-ma2 well into the future.
But, right now-- here and now at this moment-- we have freedom to make the choice. The choice is ours and so is the responsibility.
Our kun2-kja1-ma2 in the future has not been written yet!
If ya1-da1-ya2 makes any sense at all, our actions from here and now onward will be the driving force
that may even alter and reverse our kun2-kja1-ma2. If our deeds, actions, speech, and intentions are
positive, pure, and free from lau3-ba1(greed),
mau3-ha1(delusion), our future written in the stars, and more importantly in
this blue planet that we called Earth, will be a bright one.
What do you mean by "Tha2 du1"?
Tha2-du1 is "Sadhu" in Pali Language. It is an exclamation of appreciation and agreement.
When Burmese Buddhists say that word at the end of their prayer 3 times, it somewhat has the connotation of
"May my/our wish(es) come true."
When younger people pay respect to the elders (usually to their teachers or parents), they may have
in their sub-conscious mind...
"May what I am about to wish come true!"
When ya1-hun3 and thun2-ga2 (order of Buddhist monks), say
tha2-du1 three times, it is understood as "Excellent! Excellent! Excellent!"
Burmese Buddhist Prayer Au3-ka2-tha1
Most Burmese Buddhists can at least recite this prayer even if they don't deeply understand the meaning.
I spent some time to understand the meaning of difficult Pali words myself, and spent
even more time in translation of the whole prayer into English. Read my
translation of Au3-ka2-tha1 with Burmese Script.
Visitors' Guide to Buddhism in Burma (Myanmar)
zay2-de2 -- Pagoda pfa1-ya3 -- refers to the Buddha by the Buddhists. ta1-ya3 -- Dhamma or the Universal Law taught by the Buddha. pfa1-ya3shit-kho3 -- performing Buddhist rituals and prayers pa1-hto3 -- temple where there is space inside the structure for worshipping. a-hlu2 ngway2 -- donation + money da2-na1 -- offering of money, material things, or services out of good will pfone3-ji3 -- monk pfone3-ji3 kjoun3 -- monastery ko2-yin2-- novice monk hsoon3 khan2-- go for alms by the Buddhist monks
The essence of this lesson
As for the ending of this lesson, I will tha2-du1 in all direction all around me and say....
"May you find peace, tranquility, and happiness. May the force be with you-- always!"