The greatest religious conversion in the history of mankind took place on 14 October 1956 at a 14-acre vacant plot of land now known as ‘Diksha Bhumi’ in Nagpur, Maharashtra. On that historic day, 380,000 Dalits (Untouchables) converted to Buddhism under the leadership of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. The person chosen by Dr. Ambedkar to administer the Three Refuges and Five Precepts was none other than Sayadaw U Chandramani of Kushinagar, whom Dr. Ambedkar regarded as his true mentor. The Nagpur conversion was indeed a great miracle because never before in the history of any religion in the world has so many people at one time and at the instance of one man changed their religion voluntarily.
Why, of all Buddhist monks living in India at that time, did such an intelligent leader as Dr. Ambedkar choose Ven. U Chandramani, a Burmese Sayadaw to be his Dhamma guru and mentor? The answer to this question is revealed by reading life story of this noble personage, whom many regard as the “Hero of the Sasana” in India.
The Early Years
Sayadaw U Chandramani was born on June 1876 in Akyab district (modern Sittwe) of Arakan (Rakkhine) State in Myanmar. He was the eldest of three siblings, born to rich parents. At the age of ten, he studied under his uncle Sayadaw Ashin U Sandimar, a famous
Tipitaka teacher. Two tears later he became a samanera and was named Shin Chandra (‘Shin’ in Burmese means ‘novice’). At that time, Anagarika Dhammapala and Colonel Olcott, founders of the Maha Bodhi Society of India had arrived in Sittwe to help form a
Maha Bodhi Society there. At a meeting in Sittwe, Colonel Olcott explained the necessity of reviving the Buddha Sasana in India and suggested that a young novice who had the necessary courage and qualifications should be selected, trained and posted to India. Finally two novices from Sayadaw U Sandimar’s monastery, Shin Chandra and Shin Thuriya were chosen for the task. In November 1891, Shin Chandra and Shin Thuriya, together with student, Thar Doe Oo, as attendant and companion, set sail on the noble mission for India.
On arrival, the trio went to stay at to the Kuthodaw Rest House in Bodhgaya built by King Mindon (1808−1878) near the Bodhi tree. They were placed under the charge of a learned Sri Lankan monk, Ven. Chandajoti, who lived there with three other Sri Lankan bhikkhus namely: Ven. Sumangala, Ven. Pemmananda and Ven. Sudassana. The Hindu Mahant who was occupying the Mahabodhi Temple objected to the presence of the bhikkhus. In February 1892, he instigated his followers to ransack the Rest House resulting in two of the monks being severely beaten up by his men. Luckily, theBurmese novices and their attendant were out with some visitors.
When news of the attack reached Anagarika Dhammapala and Colonel Olcott, they travelled from Calcutta to rescue Ven. Chandajoti, Shin Chandra, Shin Thuriya and Thar Doe Oo. A pupil of Ven. Sumangala, who also suffered some beating, accompanied them to stay in a house near Gaya. It took Ven. Sumangala four months in hospital to recover. From that time onwards, no Buddhist monks or lay worshippers were allowed to stay at the Kuthodaw Rest
Horrified by the incident, Shin Chandra went back to Burma in 1892 but returned to Calcutta within a few months, in 1893, with great determination to continue his mission in India. In Calcutta, Shin Chandra and Thar Doe Oo met the Arakanese merchant U Kyi Zayi who was so impressed by the young samanera that he decided to provide them lodgings at the Arakanese Maha Bodhi Society building. They stayed there with an Indian monk, Ven. U Jinananda who acted as their tutor. Unfortunately the Society broke up just before the start of the 1895 rains-retreat, and the novice and his friend had to move to another temple under the charge of Ven. Mahawira. He was so impressed by the keenness of Shin Chandra,
that he rented a small house for them at Gamma Village in Ghazipur District, where Shin Chandra studied Pali, Hindi and Sanskrit under an Indian Pandit Jarnegayran. It was in Gamma Village that both Shin Chandra and Thar Doe Oo started to eat only vegetarian meals.
Meanwhile Ven. Mahawira was thinking of returning to his permanent abode in Kushinagar. When U Kyi Zayi heard this, he approached Ven. Mahawira and expressed his wish to donate a monastery provided a suitable plot of land was found in Kushinagar. Ven. Mahawira went there to search for a suitable site and found one. He negotiated with the Hindu landowner to sell him a five-acre plot of land at thirty-five rupees per acre and informed U Kyi Zayi who
donated one thousand rupees to start the building. Unfortunately on the way to Kushinagar, Ven. Mahawira was robbed of all the cash and he had to put up temporarily with a Hindu Sadhu nearby.
Shin Chandra Comes to the Rescue of Ven. Mahawira
One day, a letter came from U Kyi Zayi in Calcutta explaining that he had donated one thousand rupees to Ven. Mahawira to build a monastery in Kushinagar. He suggested that Shin Chandra should go there to assist. Although he only had half a rupee for the train fare, Shin Chandra and a Punjabi friend named Yogi set out on foot. After three days walking, they got a train and arrived at Deoria Station the next morning. There they heard the bad news that Ven. Mahawira had been robbed. They did not know where he was but heard rumors that he was still at Gorakhpur town, about 50 miles away. So they took a train to Gorakhpur only to learn that he was actually in Kushinagar 35 miles away. Shin Chandra and Yogi started off on foot on that 35-mile journey to find Ven. Mahawira staying with a Hindu Sadhu. Shin Chandra cabled U Kyi Zayi with details of what had happened. Soon they received another donation of one thousand rupees from U Kyi Zayi to start the building, with a further guarantee that any additional money required would also be provided by him. Ven. Mahawira then bought the plot of land in 1898. Shin Chandra assisted him with the buying and storage of building materials including timber, bricks and mortar.
Scriptural Training and Higher Ordination in Burma
Three months later, Shin Chandra returned to Gamma village to resume his studies. While he was there the Head Teacher suddenly died of cholera. Shin Chandra became very sad and depressed. When U Kyi Zayi learned about the tragedy, he quickly arranged to send him back to Moulmein to spend the rains-retreat in 1899. After the rain-retreat, Shin Chandra was transferred to Mandalay where he studied the Pali Scriptures under several renowned teachers and attained mastery in Pali and Buddhist Philosophy. While studying, he also was teaching Sanskrit to other students, notably to a novice, Shin Sakkapala, who in later life was to become a well-known Aggamahapandita, Taung Pauk Sayadaw.
While in Mandalay, Shin Chandra also received Higher Ordination (Upasampada) at the Panwar Vihara (also known as Ramugrama Vihara) in February 1903. His preceptor was his uncle Sayadaw U Sandimar of Akyab. Our new Bhikkhu, Ashin Chandramani, followed Sayadaw U Sandimar to Akyab. After two months in Akyab, he returned to Kushinagar to stay with Ven. Mahawira.
Together with three other monks, they spent vassa (rain-retreat) that year in Kushinagar. He spent his time teaching his three fellow monks Hindi, Sanskrit and Pali, as well as Buddhist literature to five local Indians. Ashin Chandramani also assisted in completing the unfinished parts of the building that U Kyi Zayi had donated.
Thereafter Ashin Chandramani started to translate the Dhammapada into Hindi and in 1909 a thousand copies were distributed in India. He also translated two important medical books from Sanskrit to Burmese. His translation from Pali into Hindi and Sanskrit included Maha Satipatthana Sutta, Anatta Lakkhana Sutta and Sangiti Sutta. He spent most of his time translating other Buddhist books, documents and journals into Hindi and Sanskrit so that Indians would become interested in Buddhism and understand it better.
Passing Away of Venerable Mahawira
Ven. Mahawira, who was of Arakanese-Indian parentage, was the first Hindu in modern times to become a Buddhist monk. He was formerly a wrestler and while in Sri Lanka, he became interested in Buddhism. In 1890, he was ordained as a monk. In 1891, he returned to India and took up abode in Kushinagar. At that time, Kushinagar was a deserted place. Through the generosity of the merchant U Kyi Zayi and his wife Daw Mi Chan Mra, Ven. Mahawira was able to purchase a 5-acre plot of land near the Mahaparinibbana Temple and
construct a Rest House in 1901, followed by a Buddha Vihara in 1902. It was in that monastery he passed away in March 1919, at a ripe old age of 85. Sayadaw U Chandramani was left to make the funeral arrangements in consultation with his local devotees and
friends, and upon hearing the sad news U Kyi Zayi donated one thousand rupees towards the funeral expenses. The body of Ven. Mahawira was cremated and his ashes were enshrined in a small brick stupa within the grounds of the Mahaparinibbana Temple. Sayadaw U Chandramani then continued his mission as Abbot of the Burmese Buddhist Monastery in Kushinagar.
Establishing a Monastery in Sarnath
After the demise of Ven. Mahawira, Sayadaw U Chandramani worked even harder to revive the Buddha Sasana in India. In 1908, he established a small monastery in Migadarvoon (Deer Park) forest in Sarnath where the Lord Buddha had preached the First Sermon. Later, his nephew Ashin U Kittima came to stay in the Migadarvoon forest (Isipatana) and was trained in the local languages and Buddhist literature. Thereafter he was put in charge of the monastery and Sayadaw U Chandramani returned to Kushinagar. The weather at Migadarwoon Forest was bad and food was scarce. Some devotees from the Andaman Islands built a brick building in Varanasi at a cost of some thirty thousand rupees and donated it to Ashin Kittima. The Forest Monastery at Migadarwoon had no permanent resident monk
at that time; however, a watchman was employed to look after the Monastery and the pilgrims.
Confirming Kushinagar as Site of Mahaparinibbana
In 1901 Sayadaw U Chandramani and the merchant U Kyi Zayi applied to the English Governor of India in Calcutta seeking his permission to allow pilgrims to worship the historic reclining Buddha image inside the Mahaparinibbana temple. The Governor in turn referred their application to the Indian Law Department in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. The Lucknow Law Department replied that it had not been officially established that Kushinagar was the site of Lord Buddha’s Mahaparinibbana although the minister-in-charge of the Antiquities Department had stated that it was so but others had disputed it. Further excavations of the Mahaparinibbana site revealed the presence of several copper blocks containing Brahmi characters.
As the Indian Stone Inscription Research Department was unable to decipher them, the copper blocks were sent to London for verification. After two years, the British experts deciphered the Brahmi script to read as follows: “The Lord Buddha passed away here on this site.” Only then did the Indian Government officially recognize Kushinagar as the site of the Buddha’s Mahaparinibbana. Thus the ancient Mahaparinibbana Temple once again became a living shrine. Its possession by Sayadaw U Chandramani in 1904 was a significant step in the Buddhist revival movement. It has made Kushinagar one of the most sacred Buddhist shrines for pilgrims to visit and worship.
Acquisition of land to support Sasana growth
To support the growth of the Buddha Sasana in poverty-stricken rural India, it was necessary for the Burmese Buddhist Temple to be selfsufficient. Before long, fourteen acres of bush situated thirty miles from Kushinagar were acquired. Volunteers cut down the trees and the local villagers who rented the land prepared it for cultivation and planted various crops. The villagers had prepared the deed of the rented land in the name of U Chandramani. This was followed by the acquisition of ten acres situated at the front of the Kushinagar Temple, and another ten acres at the back of the Temple at a total cost of two hundred fifty rupees. These twenty acres of land were contracted out to a supporter at a nearby village for cultivation.
Gradually, this land became very important to Sayadaw U Chandramani and a vital aspect of his Sasana promotional work.
Twelve years passed by. One day an Englishman named Nicol Masaye, District Commissioner of Deoria came to Kushinagar to pay his respects first to the Mahaparinibbana Buddha statue and then to Sayadaw U Chandramani. Mr. Masaye mentioned that he had travelled to many countries and had seen many large and attractive images but had never seen one as life-like and capable of arousing the emotions as this Mahaparinibbana Buddha image. In his opinion it was the most original and most beautiful object in the world. Mr. Nicol Masaye further enquired how a foreign Bhikkhu like Sayadaw could survive in Kushinagar; whether he had any friends there to rely upon, and how many acres of land he had to survive on. Surprised to find out that Sayadaw only owned 34 acres he suggested that Sayadaw should look for more land and make an application to him. He added that as the Indian Government was then in the process of drawing up legislation to nationalize the country’s farmland, Sayadaw should act quickly and he would help. Before he returned to
Deoria he also asked Sayadaw to inform him if he ever was in need of urgent help as Sayadaw was a foreigner.
Accepting the District Commissioner’s offer, Sayadaw selected a plot of bush measuring about fifty acres situated about 2½ km from Kushinagar. The application was submitted in the name of Sayadaw U Chandramani to the District Commissioner’s Office in Deoria. When news of the application leaked out, people from five nearby villages protested strongly and filed an objection as follows:
• U Chandramani was a foreigner and as such he should not be given the right to hold the deeds of any Indian land;
• The fifty acres was not bush but pasture used for grazing cattle and oxen and belonged to the five villages;
• There was a Mahashiva Cave, a religious cave respected by all races living in the land (Note: the Cave was installed overnight as soon as the news of Sayadaw’s application leaked out and spread to the villagers);
• If it were to be given away as agricultural land, only the surrounding villagers should share it.
Not only did the villagers protest against Sayadaw’s application, they also boycotted the five families who supported Sayadaw. The Land Office came to investigate and found that the land actually was bush and the Cave was a new one hastily put up overnight. However, a
District Officer examined the case and decided that U Chandramani should not be given all fifty acres but only ten acres.
Sayadaw U Chandramani was not satisfied with the District Officer’s decision and hired a lawyer to lodge an appeal. The District Commissioner, Mr Nicol Masaye, advised Sayadaw not to send the appeal in his name alone because the law did not permit sole ownership of fifty acres or more of Government land. He suggested that Sayadaw should form an association and apply for ownership in the name of the association. Sayadaw therefore invited bhikkhus from Kushinagar and Varanasi, and together they formed an association called ‘Kushinagar Bhikkhu Sangha Association’, headed by Sayadaw U Chandramani as President. The Committee members were Ashin Dhammarakkhita of Kushinagar, and U
Kittima, U Ezzutananda and U Pyinna Wontha of Varanasi.
Not long after that, the Deoria DC invited Sayadaw and the leaders of the five villages to his Office and tried to mediate an amicable settlement. Mr. Masaye explained that even though U Chandramani was a foreigner, the Bhikkhu himself had been living amongst them and struggling to survive in that land, and therefore he thought the Bhikkhu deserved the fifty acres. The village leaders disagreed and continued to strongly protest against the Bhikkhus’ application. Mr. Masaye gave up trying to mediate between the Bhikkhus and the
villagers. Using his authority, and in line with the prevailing law of the country, he finally made a decision and granted ownership of the fifty-acres of land to the Kushinagar Bhikkhu Sangha Association.
Decision of Indian High Court
The villagers were very unhappy with the Deoria DC’s decision and appealed to the High Court in Allahabad. While the case was in progress, Sayadaw instructed his workers to prepare the land for cultivation. Immediately, the villagers armed with sticks and swords
tried to stop the workers. Sayadaw, convinced that having won the DC’s decision he had the right to cultivate the land, instructed his men to continue working. The Government then sent fifty policemen to guard the workers and stop any untoward incident. After three months, the Allahabad High Court decided in Sayadaw’s favor. The villagers had to pay court costs as well. Dissatisfied with the outcome, they appealed to the Supreme Court in :ew Delhi.
While awaiting a decision from the Supreme Court and with the policemen still there guarding the land, Sayadaw continued to fell the trees. The villagers came out to buy the timber and the Association made about 2500 rupees in the first instance and altogether 5000
rupees. Using that money Sayadaw had transformed a wild bush into cultivated farmland in spite of opposition by the protesting villagers.
After one and a half years, the decision from the Supreme Court in New Delhi came. Sayadaw had again won the case and the villagers had lost including the court costs. Only then did they accept the verdict and give up their fight. But they made so much trouble for Sayadaw’s supporters, that the five families were afraid to continue living in the village. The police were doing their best to protect Sayadaw as well as his supporters. Such were the hostile circumstances in which Sayadaw had to face to promote the Buddha Sasana, always urging his supporters to work hard and transform idle bush into arable farmland.
Five more village families came over to support Sayadaw, making a total of ten families. However, there was still no peace, since the protesters from the five villages continually sought every possible opportunity to create trouble for them. It took seven years to transform the bush into arable farmland. In the meantime, the Kushinagar Bhikkhu Sangha Association decided to insert into the Land Title that whatever produce obtained out of those fifty acres of land, the resident Bhikkhus of the Kushinagar Temple would have sole responsibility to manage and benefit from it. Sayadaw then had over fifty acres of farmland, including the thirty-four acres bought previously in his own name. That farmland was rented out to the
villagers and every year he collected about twenty wooden bowls (one hundred kilos) of rice in place of rent.
There was a five-acre plot of land on which Sayadaw had planted fruit trees and these trees were growing to form a beautiful garden. The rest of the land produced other crops and vegetables according to the season. Sayadaw appointed five of his Indian supporters from
the village to oversee the work in the fields and the security of the workers. Slowly but surely the situation with the surrounding villagers improved and peace was restored. The villagers could buy the seasonal produce cheaply from Sayadaw’s fields including rice, fruits and vegetables; they could also rent plots of land from Sayadaw to raise farm animals such as cows, pigs and chickens. The situation therefore improved so much that the people from the five villages, except a minority of the stubborn leaders, happily greeted Sayadaw as their ‘Chandramani Baba’ and respectfully touched his feet in Indian custom whenever they met him in the street. Hence through his untiring efforts, patience, determination and
goodwill, he earned their respect.
Not long after peace had been completely restored with the villagers, Sayadaw received a letter from his childhood friend, the former Shin Thuriya, who first came to India with him. Thuriya was now a layman and he had established himself in Akyab as a prosperous rice
merchant. Sayadaw was very happy to receive his friend’s letter and reminisced about his long past as he replied to his friend. Sayadaw then allowed Maung Pho Yin who had accompanied him to Kushinagar to go on leave to his native village. As for Sayadaw, he was quite content to remain in Kushinagar looking after the pilgrims, monks and lay people alike. He made sure his guests had the things they needed and supported them morally and physically in any way he could. He was always looking forward to the revival of Buddha
Sasana and better days to come in Majjhimadesa or India.
Facing problems even with a Puja Ceremony
Once, Ven. Mahawira and Sayadaw U Chandramani organized a Puja ceremony to commemorate the Parinibbana of the Lord Buddha by burning a 25-foot long paper model of the Mahaparinibbana statue at the Cremation Stupa. The celebration was conducted on the
full moon day of Wesakha. It was organized by the DC of Deoria and was very well attended. In order to include the Hindus in the celebration, a Hindu Sadhu was invited to light up the paper figure of the Buddha. His act drew protests from the crowd who declared that the Sadhu had become their enemy. By putting a torch to the effigy of the Gautama Buddha who was their enemy and who had different views from their own, the Sadhu had sinned. They screamed and shouted at the Sadhu and boycotted him. He suffered so much abuse in his village that he could bear it no longer. Therefore, he applied to DC’s Court in Deoria seeking to prevent discrimination against him. The District Commissioner invited all the Hindu leaders from Kushinagar and Deoria District to a meeting. Among those attending the meeting were Ven. Mahawira and Sayadaw U Chandramani, the representative from the Antiquities Dept. and many Hindu Sadhus. The DC who chaired the meeting asked the Hindu leaders why the person in question should be ostracized. They unanimously replied
that the Buddha was their enemy and because the Sadhu had put a torch to the effigy of the Buddha, he had sinned.
The DC then quoted from the Ramayana Epic citing the abduction of King Rama’s wife, Sita, by the wicked King Dasagiri and asked if Dasagiri was a foe or a friend of Rama whom they all worshipped. They replied that King Dasagiri was the foe of King Rama. The DC
asked if it was true that they made an effigy of King Dasagiri their enemy, and put a torch to the effigy each year. They agreed and said that as Hindu sages they took turns to burn the effigy. When asked if that person was sinning against their belief they agreed that was not
the case. The DC then concluded that if a Hindu sage were to put a torch to their enemy Buddha’s effigy, he was not committing a sin by the same reason. The DC warned that there were laws to prevent discrimination and victimization and he had no choice but to take
appropriate action. The Hindu leaders were reluctant to press on with their argument and agreed to take the Hindu Sage back into their association. Satisfied with this, The DC compensated the Sadhu one hundred rupees, with an instruction that he should invite all the
Hindu sages to celebrate the occasion with a big feast.
No Drinking from a Well Belonging to a Low Caste
Ven. Mahawira and Ashin U Chandramani organized the digging of a well in the grounds of the Kushinagar Temple; its water was pure and very clear. Everyone including the surrounding villagers were allowed to use the well, in view of the scarcity and difficulty of
obtaining potable water in that area. However, a few Hindu Sages started to spread rumours that U Mahawira and U Chandramani were of low caste and hence the well dug by them should not be used for drinking or washing. It had not gone through a purification ceremony
as required by Hindu custom; therefore, Hindus must not drink or use that water and rumours were spread throughout the villages and surrounding district.
Sayadaw Mahawira and U Chandramani explained that as Buddhist monks, they were sons of the Buddha and as such, they had no high or low caste system. In Sri Lanka and Myanmar, the people did not perform any purification ceremony when they dug a well as there were no such instructions in the Buddhist texts. The villagers had been given permission to drink or make use of the water from the well and it was up to them to use it or not. Some villagers decided to drink and make full use of the water and some did not; even today, the situation remains as before, although some present day villagers are changing and are not bothered by this matter.
Opening of Free Schools And Colleges
In attempting to promote Buddha Sasana, it is acknowledged that young people are more acceptable to change than their elders. Keeping that in mind and in consultation with a visitor from Sri Lanka named Anagarika :uhawkawdar, Sayadaw U Chandramani had a bamboo-shed built within the compounds of the Kushinagar Temple and opened it as a non-fee paying Primary School. That was an opportunity for his antagonists to arouse the surrounding villagers and to cause some resentment. They declared that if the children were to go to that school, all of them would become Buddhists and lose their Hindu belief. At a meeting they decided that none of their children would be allowed to attend the Chandramani School.
However, the poorer families could not afford to take their children elsewhere; they had no choice but to educate them at a free school. As a result the Chandramani School had a first intake of five students secretly sent by their parents. A full-time teacher who was very dedicated and hard working was available to teach the five children. After failing to persuade the parents against sending their children to the school, the antagonists now abused and threatened the children on their way to the school and even harmed them. In spite of all this
mistreatment, the antagonists’ attempts failed; the number of students increased to forty within the first year.
In order to accommodate the increased intake, it was decided to erect a new brick building. Soon donors came forward to pay for the cost of the one-storey brick building named “Chandramani Primary School”; the name was carved in stone and a signpost proudly
displayed. The Chandramani Primary School gradually grew and enrolment reached 350 students and 3 full-time teachers. The children were very disciplined and their education improved. In consultation with the School Committee, Sayadaw U Chandramani then organized and built a Secondary School and handed it over to the Government. Again Sayadaw worked very hard to build a ‘:ew High School’ to his own taste and specifications; he organized and planned it with the help of the School Committee and was very successful. Sayadaw completely furnished the New High School and handed it over to the Government to run it. Not content with just building high schools, Sayadaw also built the ‘Kushinagar Degree College’ with an intake capacity of over five hundred students. This was made possible with the help of a rich man who owned a sugar mill, together with city dignitaries and parents of Gorakhpur town, who had great respect and regard for the Most Venerable Ashin U Chandra. The famous Kushinagar Degree College still stands today, as a symbol of the Sayadaw’s love and affection for his people.
Many pupils graduated from the Chandramani Primary, Secondary and High Schools and, even today, are working all over India, all of them occupying responsible positions. They were very grateful to Sayadaw and deeply respected him for his good deeds. Daily, between 100-150 pilgrims visit Sayadaw to pay their respects. Sayadaw was like a college professor and very highly regarded for his intimate knowledge of Hindu languages and local dialects and also for the appropriate use of them.
Sayadaw U Chandramani becomes an Indian Citizen
The promotion of the Buddha Sasana by Sayadaw U Chandramani alone could only achieved satisfactory results. In order to expand the Dhammaduta activities, Sayadaw invited all the Buddhist monks to a meeting. During the meeting, they agreed to form an organization called ‘Majjhimadesa Maha Sangha Organization’. (:ote: In Buddhist texts, Majjhimadesa is defined as the districts where the Lord Buddha was enlightened, traveled and preached His Dhamma.) The Majjhimadesa Maha Sangha Organization (MMSO) was headed by Kushinagar Sayadaw U Chandramani as President and Sravasti Jetavana Temple Sayadaw U Mahinda as Second President. Other members of the Committee were Varanasi Temple Sayadaw U Sandimar who was famous for his patience, and Sayadaw U Kittima, an expert in Myanmar and Pali literature, English, Hindi, Sanskrit and Urdu languages, as well as stone inscriptions. All the rest of the participating Sangha became members of MMSO.
Because the Indian Government did not recognize an organization formed by non-nationals, Saradaw U Chandramani and Saradaw U Sandimar decided to become naturalized Indian citizens. After that they could register MMSO officially. To fulfill the Organization’s aims, two Suttas, namely; Mangala Sutta and Parabhava Sutta were translated from Pali to Hindi and distributed countrywide. This was followed by translations & distributions of the Anattalakkhana Sutta and Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta.
With the formation of an officially recognized Bhikkhu Sangha organization, the Buddha Sasana is now set to grow just as a giant tree can only grow if its main root is firmly established. By becoming Indian citizens, Sayadaw U Chandramani and Sayadaw U
Sandimar had permanently planted their roots in India. The main person, who enthusiastically carried out the duties of the MMSO, was Ashin U Sandimar.
Revival of the Buddha Sasana in Nepal
According to history, Buddhism was a dominant religion until the time of King Jayasthiti Malla who ruled Nepal during medieval times (around 1382 C.E.). He imposed the Hindu caste system in Nepal and banned Buddhist culture and tradition forcing the celibate monks to disrobe and return to lay life.
Suppression of Buddhism by the Hindu rulers is seen by the fact that after Nepal came under British rule around 1816, Brian Hodgson went there as Assisant to the Resident in a new office. He obtained many manuscripts from Buddhist pundits such as Amrutananda and sent the collection to Asiatic Society of Bengal and to India House in Paris and other libraries. Once, Minister Rana Bahadur Jang of Nepal seized a Buddhist Vihara and threw away all the books on the street. Dr. Wrights, who was the Physician to the British Resident salvaged them and presented them to Cambridge University. It was from these sourses that Burnuff and his disciple Max Muller compiled the early history of Buddhism.
The situation worsened during the Rana regime, which ruled Nepal from 1846 to 1953 reducing the Shah monarch to a figurehead and making the Prime Minister and other government positions hereditary. That was the age when Buddhism was totally forgotten by the people of Nepal. The Rana regime banned all Buddhist activities and forbade people from converting to Buddhism but traditional Buddhists were allowed to become Hindus.
Ordination of Nepalese Bhikkhus
Sayadaw U Chandramani played a dominant role in reviving the Buddha Sasana in Nepal by ordaining Nepalese into the Sangha and guiding them in the Dhamma and Vinaya. At that time there was no Bhikkhu Sangha in Nepal. For centuries Nepalese were aware of only Buddhist priests (Vajracharya) from !ewar Buddhism (Vajrayana) and Tibetan Lamas. They were unaware of Theravada Buddhist monks and nuns. Vajracharyas are household monks. They lead domestic lives and are not celibate. Not all Tibetan monks are celibate. It depends on the school they belong to.
The first Nepalese to take ordination was Ven. Mahapragna, a Khattiya by birth. He was initially ordained as a ‘Gelung’ (Tibetan monk) in 1926. Later, he was arrested for his conversion from Hindu to Buddhist monk and exiled to India. There he met Sayadaw U Chandramani in Kusinagara. Impressed by Sayadaw, he ordained as a Bhikkhu paving the way for Theravada ordination once again in the history of modern Nepal after almost 600 years. Another Nepalese who converted from Gelung to bhikkhu under Sayadaw U
Chandramani was Ven. Pragyananda. He was the first yellow-robed monk to appear in the streets of Kathmandu valley at the end of 1930’s. He stayed at Kindol Vihara at the invitation of Dasaratna Shahu (later Ven. Dhammaloka) and gave discourses. The attendance at his discourses increased day by day and it worried the Rana government, which arrested all the members of Vihara all of whom were imprisoned, fined and later released. Fortunately, Ven. Pragnananda was away at that time on pilgrimage in India.
Soon after his release from prison, Dasaratna Shahu, came to Kusinagar and ordained under Sayadaw U Chandramani as a novice under the name of Dhammaloka in 1932. He returned to Nepal as a monk but was arrested immediately on his arrival in Kathmandu and was imprisoned once again for six days and on the seventh day was taken to Court. When questioned by the Judge, he told him that he was a Kathmandu resident and a Buddhist. The Judge asked why he was wearing such clothing; he replied that in India there were two
kinds of Buddhists, one ‘Gahatta’ and the other, ‘Anagariya’; the Anagariya Bhikkhus wore the kind of clothing he was wearing.
The Judge then asked the police why such an obviously innocent person had been arrested. The police said that if all Nepalese were to dress like that there would be all kinds of problems for the country, and that was the reason Dhammaloka was arrested. The Judge said
that not every Nepalese would act like that; only those who truly wished to reach Nirvana. The Judge therefore ruled that Ashin Dhammaloka was completely innocent and ordered him to be freed. Following his release from prison, he went to stay at Kindol Vihara and continued his religious activities. He was finally able to carry out religious activities freely in Nepal. He succeeded in propagating Theravada Buddhism in the streets of Kathmandu valley.
Ven. Ammitananda was another well-known Buddhist scholar and pioneer who ordained in 1936 under Sayadaw U Chandramani in Kusinagara but was imprisoned along with Ven. Mahapragna at Bhojpur in 1937. In 1942, he came back to Nepal from abroad after completing his study and gave discourses at the request of Ven. Dhammaloka in Swayambhu during vassa. His public discourses impressed many people who came to listen to him. Other bhikkhus, samaneras and nuns of Nepal studying abroad also returned to join him and gave public discourses in different places of Kathmandu valley. This was a great breakthrough during the repressive Rana government. The Rana government had banned all public assembly for fear of political unrest and demand for political reform in Nepal.
Because of their religious activities, the monks were arrested on 30 July 1944 and brought before the then Prime Minister Shamsher Jung Bahadur Rana. He made new rules to curtail the Buddhist activities. Those who didn’t follow these rules were asked either to
leave the country or return to worldly life. All the venerable monks, who were active in revival of Theravada in Nepal refused to obey the order and were exiled once again from Nepal. The exiled monks this time included Ven. Pragnananda, Ven. Dhammaloka and many other monks. The exiled monks formed ‘Dharmodaya Sabha’, Nepal’s first Buddhist organization on 30th November 1944 in India with Sayadaw U Chandramani as chairman and Ven. Amittananda as its general secretary.
When World War II ended in 1945, a Nepalese Bhikkhu returned home to test the situation; he found no one was giving him any trouble. Before long, some Nepalese Bhikkhus and Nuns in Kushinagar, bearing the powers of Triple Gems foremost in their minds, left for their homeland to carry on with the promotion of Theravada Buddhism. Sayadaw U Chandramani arranged to send some Bhikkhus to Myanmar and some to Sri Lanka to improve their education and knowledge of the scriptures. In Kathmandu, Ven.
Dhammaloka took charge of building a Theravada Buddhist temple. Another temple ‘Yanmangala Vihara’ was built in the same city where Ven. Buddhaghosa took charge as the Head Bhikkhu.
The King of Nepal donated one hundred thousand rupees to the Dharmodaya Sabha to build more Buddhist rest houses for the Theravada Buddhists. Ven. Dhammaloka and Ven. Amittananda, both Nepalese nationals, played leading roles in the building programme. Thus, Theravada Buddhism came to thrive in Nepal and Buddha Sasana was once again firmly established.
Thanks to Sayadaw U Chandramani, the Buddha Sasana has been revived in the land of Lord Buddha’s birth. Today there are 96 Theravada Viharas in the country, 303 Bhikkhus and Samaneras and 135 Anagarikas. Some are resident in Nepal and others are either studying or practising Dhamma overseas. (Source: The Ananda Bhoomi; year 33; issues 32 and 33).
Passing Away of Sayadaw U Chandramani
The Most Venerable Kushinagar Sayadaw Ashin Chandramani possessed all the necessary qualities, such as patience, courage, stamina and untiring effort to rebuild the Buddha Sasana in India, and to develop it in Nepal, and to carry on teaching and practicing both Vipassana and Loving Kindness meditation. In addition to his Dhammaduta activities, he took a keen interest in the education of the young people of Kushinagar because he knew that any change of mindset would have to come from the younger generation. As Kushinagar is world famous as the final resting place of the Buddha, many pilgrims as well as tourists make it a point to visit the Burmese Temple to pay their respects to Sayadaw, who was always concerned about the welfare of the pilgrims. While doing all that, he passed
away in the Kushinagar Burmese Temple on 8 May 1972 at the age of 97, having lived nearly 80 years as a Bhikkhu in India serving the cause of the Sasana with great determination and patience, despite all the hardships he faced including a very poor diet, poor
living conditions and environment.
To all of Sayadaw’s devotees, especially in India and Nepal, the news of his death was a great blow. He could never be replaced and they could never again find such a great missionary. He was truly the Hero of the Sasana in India. His death was a great loss to
everyone, especially his devotees in Kushinagar. A total of thirty-two countries mourned his death and hundreds of messages expressing deep sorrow were received. Devotees of his native town of Akyab (Sittwe) made a bronze statue of him and installed it in the local
monastery in 1973. A Burmese writer, U Tha Doe Hla of Mizan Quarter, Akyab wrote the book entitled “The Life Story of Sri Bhaddanta Chandramani of Kushinagar which was published in 1975 and translated into English in 1999. This article is extracted
from the book.
As a tribute to his life-long service to the Buddha Sasana in India, the U Chandramani Foundation Trust was established in 2000 AD to continue his noble task. In 2004, a devotee of Nagpur in Maharashtra State donated 13 acres of land with two old buildings at Bhanegaon Village near :agpur to the Foundation with the objective of starting a Buddhist center to propagate the Buddha’s Teaching among the local villagers who are mostly Dalits. The present Bhikkhu-in-charge of this centre is Sayadaw U Rakkhita Dhamma, a Myanmar monk closely associated with the author since 1996 in Chanmyay Yeiktha Meditation Centre in Yangon. Presently, Sayadaw U Rakkhita Dhamma has a busy schedule teaching the local villagers about the Buddha Dhamma and conducting Vipassana and Metta meditation
classes. Each year, he holds a novitiate programme for the local youths and leads them on alms round to the surrounding villages to acquaint them with Buddhist traditions.
The Origin of Ref:
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