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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Monastic Education and Myanmar


Monastic Education and Myanmar

            The development of the country or the nation depends largely on its respective education, for it is an essential thing of all. Moreover education takes parts in an important role for the way of living and thinking of people and it can show the standard of human society. If we say the history Myanmar’s education, we cannot neglect the monastic education which was involved mainly in Myanmar.
          The lord Buddha came out in the 6th B.C. in India and His teachings were spread almost all in Asia. In 3rd century B.C. during the time of Moriya dynasty, King Emperor Aśoka was a great supporter of Buddhism and he sent out Nine Missionary Groups to nine countries. Some of them arrived at Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Suvannabhūmi, Golden Land. The latter is considered that situated in Myanmar. Venerable Sona and Venerable Uttara were great benefactors of Buddha Dispensation, Sāsanā, in Myanmar and they performed missionary in Suvannabhūmi, modern Tha Hton, successfully. From that now on, Buddhism had been establishing in Myanmar fixed and firmly. In A.D 1044, the King Anawratha had removed impure Buddhism flourished in Pagan the capital city and he had replaced with pure and noble Theravada Buddhism which he gained from Tha Hton.
          At that time of Pagan, majority people were farmers and they had to rely on monks for their education. Reading, writing and calculating were fundamental subjects for their daily life. Especially they had learned Buddhist literature, culture and traditional sermons from the both monks and educated lay-people. This is starting point of monastic education in ancient Myanmar. It would not be said that there were out of date subjects even though they had learned a few subjects and only religious literature then. Because their environment was just agriculture and their life was so simple as well.
          Moreover, Pagan in earlier period had no sound and proper communication with neighbourhoods and over-sea countries either by road or by ship or least of air. When children were at five, in general, their parents sent them to a closed monastery to study. In those day of majority people had to learn as either novices or lay students till at twenty. At that time of twenty years old, they keep on pursuing their education according to their wish. If not, they go back respective homes and most people became farmers as a rule and the rest became clerical-staff to the king. Some of them keep on their education running highly and thus spent their life as monks guiding the people in accordance with Buddhism.
          So the monastic education was considered sufficient for both royal-class and base-class in an ethical point moderately for long years. But there was no doubt that the monastic education system had weak point in earlier age. Here for instance, as you notice, there were little chances for women to study in a monastery and there were neither private schools nor institutions for them as well. It is because monks follow the precepts strictly and they must avoid staying together with women under the same roof even for a night. For this reason, they had lost their education, and those of the day, majority women were illiterate.
In other sense, this is just lame excuse to women, for the King Anawratha made Buddhism as state religion guided by Reverence Shin Arahan. No matter how, there had come out contemporary lady composers with famous monks and the women had good name in learning while they were engaging in their household-chores. Seeing this some women in those of the day had proper chance to study either from monks or other lay scholars who were disrobed. In brief, it can be seen in different historical records that some of the women in Pagan were so good at Pāli literature as well as Buddhism that the learned monks had to praise their ability.
          As languages or subjects studies, they had learned not only Pāli but Myanmar, Mon and Sanskrit. On the other hand, there had developed the arts of living, such as architecture, agriculture, sculpture, traditional medicine, fine arts etc. and there were many evidences, historical events, Pagodas and monuments that can be seen in Pagan even in present day.
           In Kone Baung dynasty, A.D 1752-1885, monastic education was more active and bright and many subjects were added and taught except military science, body arts, performance arts and so forth which are not suitable for monks and their monasteries. But these subjects were taught in some monasteries by Pwe Kyaung monks.
          People studied and devoted their time in learning eagerly and even the state rulers did. Later Kone Baung era, there many state scholars were sent to the foreign countries to study sciences and technologies and those were trained in monasteries in accordance with the expectation of rulers. As a result of it, there came out industries, factories and mills. And various kinds of literature works appeared in standard. King Min Don and King Thi Baw were great supporters to monastic education in Yatanabone era involving in by themselves. 
          During late 18th century and early 19th century periods, monastic education were almost fade away and became weak its function and role. Because Myanmar was colonized by British and Christian missionary schools and European schools were come out strongly supporting by their respective government. On the other hand, second great world war was happened as wind the flame. In those days, religion, education, economic etc. and every sector were delayed to develop.
          After gaining independence, the government of Myanmar and State Great Saṅgha Council came to reestablish monastic education and they made rules and regulations accordingly. They supported its plan both mind and body with heartily and willingly to present day all over the Myanmar. Besides, it made syllabus for text books and specified the time to set for the examination on Buddhism yearly.
          Now a day, there we can see many Buddhist institutions or Monastic educational Learning Centre in Myanmar such as International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University (Yangon), State Pariyatti Sasana Universities (Yangon & Mandalay), Sitagu International Buddhist Academies (Sagaing, Yangon & Mandalay) and Buddhist Universities (Yangon & Mandalay) and so on which are teaching not only Pāli and Myanmar but other modern literatures and languages, and linguistic subjects, too. They have been teaching and guiding both Saṅgha Order and lay-people. As a main point, we cannot neglect Pariyatti Sar Thin Taik (Traditional Institutes or Learning Centres) which have been standing as fortress for the Buddha Dispensation in Myanmar.
          But, as the reader may think, monastic education had to face ups and downs situation along with its long journey and it is law of nature. According to the Policy of Rulers, it changes and will also transform either grand or beat-up alternatively. Everything is victim of circumstance, isn’t it? I’m sure that monastic education and its functions are more far and wide in its history and I also expect this is a bit brief of article will drive a great satisfaction to the readers.
With Metta,        
Reverence Uttamananda
May 01, 2009
References;
1.     The Encyclopedia of Myanmar (Vol. 8 & 10)
2.     The Buddha, Printed by SIBA, Sagaing, Myanmar)
3.     A perspective and prospect and their impacts by Dr. Ashin Nyanissara
4.     Lecture notes (2009) by SIBA, Yangon Campus)
5.     The monastic education of Myanmar by U Than Htut (Assistant lecturer)
 This article was published in The Voice of Saṅgha Magazine by SIBA (Yangon Campus) in 2010 and it was now re-edited by the author himself. 
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