The Venerable Mahāthera Ledi Sayādaw,
Aggamāhapaṇḍita, D. Litt.
Known to scholars of many countries, the Venerable Ledi Sayādaw, Aggamāhapaṇḍita, D. Litt., was perhaps the outstanding Buddhist figure of this age. With the increase in interest in Buddhism in Western lands, there is a great demand for his Buddhist discourses and writings.
Bhikkhu Nyāṇa, who was later known as Ledi Sayādaw, was born on Tuesday, the 13th waxing of Nattaw, 1208 B.E. (1846 C.E.) at Saing-pyin Village, Dipeyin Township, Shwebo District. His parents were U Tun Tha and Daw Kyone. Early in life he was ordained a novice and at the age of twenty a bhikkhu, under the patronage of Salin Sayādaw U Paṇḍicca. He received his monastic education under various teachers and later was trained in Buddhist literature by the Venerable Sankyaung Sayādaw, Sudassana Dhaja Atulādhipati Sīripavara Mahādhamma Rājādhirājaguru of Mandalay.
He was a bright student. It was said of him: “About 2000 students attended the lectures delivered daily by the Venerable Sankyaung Sayādaw. One day the Venerable Sayādaw set in Pāli twenty questions on the pāramī (perfections) and asked all the students to answer them. None except Bhikkhu Nyāṇa could answer those questions satisfactorily.” He collected all these answers and when he attained fourteen years (vassa) as a bhikkhu, while still at San-kyaung monastery, he published his first book, Pāramī Dīpanī (Manual of the Perfections).
During the reign of King Theebaw he became a Pāli lecturer at Mahā Jotikārāma Monastery in Mandalay. A year after the capture of King Theebaw, i.e., in 1887 C.E., he moved to a place north of Monywa Town, where he established a monastery under the name of Ledi-tawya Monastery. He accepted many bhikkhu-students from various parts of Burma and imparted Buddhist education to them. In 1897 C.E. he wrote in Pāli Paramattha Dīpanī (Manual of Ultimate Truths), a commentary on the Abhidhammattha-saṅgaha.
Later, he toured many parts of Burma for the purpose of propagating the Buddha Dhamma. In the towns and villages he visited he delivered various discourses on the Dhamma and established Abhidhamma classes and meditation centres. He composed Abhidhamma rhymes or Abhidhamma summaries and taught them to his Abhidhamma classes. In some of the principal towns he spent a rains retreat imparting Abhidhamma and Vinaya education to the lay devotees. Some of the Ledi Meditation Centres still exist and are still famous. During his life he wrote many essays, letters, poems, and manuals in Burmese. He has written more than seventy manuals, of which seven have been translated into English and published in ’The Light of the Dhamma.’ Vipassanā Dīpanī (Manual of Insight) was translated by his disciple Sayādaw U Nyāṇa, Paṭhamagyaw. Paṭṭhānuddesa Dīpanī (A concise exposition of the Buddhist Philosophy of Relations) was originally written in Pāli and translated by Sayādaw U Nyāṇa. Niyāma Dīpanī (Manual of Cosmic Order) was translated by U Nyāṇa and Dr Barua and edited by Mrs Rhys Davids. Sammādiṭṭhi Dīpanī (Manual of Right Understanding) and Catusacca Dīpanī (Manual of the Four Noble Truths) and Alin-Kyan (An Exposition of Five Kinds of Light), translated in part only, were all translated by the editors of ’The Light of the Dhamma’. Bodhipakkhiya Dīpanī (Manual of the Factors Leading to Enlightenment) was translated by U Sein Nyo Tun, I.C.S. (Retd.) and Maggaṅga Dīpanī (Manual of the Constituents of the Noble Path) was translated by U Saw Tun Teik, B.A., B.L., and revised and edited by the English Editorial Board of the Union Buddha Sāsana Council.
He was awarded the title of Aggamahāpaṇḍita by the Government of India in 1911 C.E. Later, the University of Rangoon conferred on him the degree of D. Litt. (Honoris Causa). In his later years he settled down at Pyinmana where he died in 1923 C.E. at the ripe age of 77.