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Color Codes: nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, conjunctions, particles, postpositional markers, interjections.

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Kalama Sutta

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.

— The Buddha to the Kalamas in Kalama Sutta

Ananda Temple in Bagan

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 MP3 Audio Filefate;

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)

Winsein Taw Ya Reclining Buddha

As far as I know, the original Buddhist teaching does not mention anything about

ya1-da1-ya2, MP3 Audio File

(Sanskrit: yātra) a unique Burmese way to reverse or control kun2 kja1-ma2 for personal benefits and advantages based on

lau3-ba1 MP3 Audio Filegreed

dau3-dtha1 MP3 Audio Filehate, and

mau3-ha1 MP3 Audio Filedelusion.

The word ya1-da1-ya2 has

thet-ka1-ta1 MP3 Audio FileSanskrit origin, and probably used by the

pone2-na3, MP3 Audio File who are elite Brahmin class from ancient India.

236 years after the passing away of the Buddha, King Ashoka (Aśoka) of India known in Burmese as

ah2-thau3-ka1 min3-ji3 MP3 Audio File

sent out Buddhist missionaries to 9 different regional locations. One of the regions called

thu1-wa1-na1 bu2-mi MP3 Audio File

or Suvarnabhumi in Pali is believed to be coastal areas in Indochina including

ta1-nin3-tha2-ri2 MP3 Audio File

Tanintharyi region in Myanmar which in the past extended to the present day Mon State where

moon2 lu3-myo3the Mon people

lived and Southern Kayin State.

Historians are not clear if the legendary "Golden Land" Suvarnabhumi is present day Southern Myanmar or further south in Indonesia. It should be pointed out that the region further south was not Suvarnabhumi, but known by an another name

thu1-wa1-na1 dri1-pa1. MP3 Audio File

According to the book "Suvarnadvipa: Ancient Indian colonies in the Far East" by by R.C. Majumdar, thu1-wa1-na1 dri1-pa1 included Malay Pennisula and Sumatra, Java, Boneo and Bali islands.

Archeological findings near the town of

pyay2 MP3 Audio File

suggest that Theravada Buddhism had thrived during

Pyu MP3 Audio File

civilization in

tha1-yay2 khit-ta1-ya2 MP3 Audio File

Sri Ksetra Kingdom around 400 AD.

During 900 AD, pseudo-Buddhism with the mixture of

tan2-dra1 wa2-da1 MP3 Audio FileTantric

rituals had reached Bagan, and Tantric religious leaders known as

a-yi3-ji3 MP3 Audio File

practiced what could be considered as

out lun3 MP3 Audio File — supernatural methods

including taking the virginity of young brides known as

pan3-u3-hsoot wa2-da1. MP3 Audio File

Only around 1100 AD, King

A-nau2-ra1-hta2 MP3 Audio File

Anawrahta of Bagan had learned about the "true" Buddhism from the Mon civilization at the time of the Mon Buddhist Monk

shin2 A-ra1-hun2, MP3 Audio File

Shin Arahan also known as

dun2-ma1 dut-thi2. MP3 Audio File

The king removed the religion of a-yi3-ji3 and brought

htay2-ra1-wa2-da1 boat-da1 ba2-dtha2 MP3 Audio FileTheravada Buddhism

to Bagan civilization.

So you can consider that Buddhism first flourished for the Myanmar 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 dtha1-na2 MP3 Audio File — 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)

Loving Kindness

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-na2be tender and loving; having caring emotional ties or attachment

myit-ta2unconditional love

kjin2-na2 myit-ta2 ta1-ya3loving 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"truthfully".

a-hmun2 ta1-ya3 is "the Absolute Truth", "the Universal Law" or "Dhamma" as realized by the Buddha where


refers to the law or fairness.

hmun2-hmun2 pyau3 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 had 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 good communication,

hmun2 hmun2truthfully

hla1 hla1beautifully

a-thone3 kja1be useful

a-chain2 hmun2 hma1 pyau3speak only at the right time.

The Buddha's teaching on the Right Speech is beautifully compiled here.

Kalama Sutta

thoat or thoat-tan2 is "sutta" in the Pali and "sermon" in English. In a classic sermon known as ka2-la2-ma1 thoat, the Buddha challenged his

yweare2 du2contemporaries

including laymen, holy men, and truth seekers to test the truth by examining even the Buddha himself. He did not advocate blind-faith. You can read Pali to English translation of Kalama Sutta on www.accesstoinsight.org.

In other lectures and suttas, he even advised to abandon the attachment to

da1-ma1teaching of the Buddha known as the Dhamma, which was compared to

pfoun2a raft

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 hmu1culture and

da1-lay1 htone3-zun2tradition, you

lay3-za3respect and


pfa1-ya3the Buddha,

ta1-ya3Dhamma or the Universal Law,

thun2-ga2Orders of Monks,

thet-kji3the elders,

hsa1-ya2the teachers

mi1-ba1the parents

ah2-sa1-ri1-ya1same 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.

The Wheel

dun2-ma1-set-kja2The 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 the Heavenly World known as nut pyi2 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 the 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

khan2-da2 nga3 ba3 - the five Aggregates.

  • ru2-pet khan2-da2Matter

    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.

  • wain2-nyin2-net khan2-da2Consciousness

    faculty that awares the presence of objects that comes into contact with.

  • way2-da1-net khan2-da2Sensation

    pleasant (pleasure), unpleasant (pain), or neutral feeling.

  • thin2-nyet khan2-da2Perception

    recognizes what comes into contact. E.g., this flying form visible with eyes is a crow.

  • thin2-kha1-ret khan2-da2mental 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 being 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

doat-kha1 — (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-da1volition or

yi2-yweare2 jetintention

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.

kun2 ma1-koun3 bu3

I had a bad day. (luck + negative + good + negative ending)

de2 lu2 kun2 koun3 lite da2

That guy is so lucky! (this + man + lucky + so much)

kun2-kja1-ma2The 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-zun3 meare3lucky 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


dau3-dtha1hate, and


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-ya3 shit-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

Burmese Buddhist Monks going for alms

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!"