DR. REWATA DHAMMA (1929-2004)

Sayadaw Dr. Rewata Dhamma was Founder and Spiritual Director of Birmingham Buddhist Vihara and Dhammatalaka Peace Pagoda. He passed away peacefully in the early morning of Wednesday, on 26th, May 2004. Without him, Birmingham Buddhist Vihara and Dhammatalaka Peace Pagoda could not have been established. Though he is not with us physically, the principle, guidance and institute that he has originated for the propagation of Dhamma will never disappear. He is always spiritually and mentally represented us. Here some of his biography.

Sayadaw Dr. Rewata Dhamma was born in Myanmar in December 1929 and was brought up in the rural village of Thamangol in the Hanthada District on the banks of the Irrawaddy. Entering the monastery as a young novice, he took full monastic ordination at the age of 20. After studying Theravada Buddhism under several eminent scholar monks, he passed the highest examination in scriptural studies at the age of 23 and was awarded the prestigious title of Sasanadhaja-siripavara dhammacariya in 1953. The following year he was among those helping during the Sixth General Sangha Council held in Yangon to establish the scriptures. In 1956, he went to India to study Hindi and Sanskrit as a state scholar, and then continued to study Indian philosophy and Mahayana Buddhism in Varanasi University. He obtained an MA in Sanskrit in 1964 and a PH.D in 1967. During his stay in India, he wrote, translated and edited several books in Pali and Hindi, most published by the Varanasi Sanskrit University. One of these, Ahidhammatha Sangaha with Hindi translation and his own commentary written in Hindi, was awarded the Kalidasa prize from the Hindi Academy as one of the outstanding books of the year in 1967. Subsequently he joined the university’s academic staff and acted as general editor of a Buddhist encyclopaedia.

While in India he was in contact with all sorts of people. He was on the committee that welcomed the Dalai Lama after his flight to India and has had many personal audiences with him since. More curiously, he was invited to Peking at the very height of the Cultural Revolution to attend the death-bed of Prince Sihanouk’s mother. Importantly for his future plans, during this period he also became custodian of the Buddha relics once belonging to the Burmese royal family.

1n 1975 Dr. Rewata Dhamma was invited to England where he established a Buddhist monastery in Birmingham as his base. From there he journeyed to lead retreats and teach Buddhism at various centres in Europe, North, Central and South America. In 1998 he accomplished the building of Dhamma Talaka Peace Pagoda, after years of planning, as a suitable resting place for the royal relics. During this time also, Dr Rewata Dhamma’s non-political stance and dedication to the cause of reconciliation gained the confidence not simply of bodies like Amnesty and the UN but ultimately of the present Myanmar government. His high reputation in Asia made him much in demand at international and governmental conferences and his gentle, humorous and compassionate demeanour won him friends and admirers all over the world. In 2002 the Myanmar Government granted him the high title of Aggamahapandita. For many years, he has been a Vice President of the World Buddhist Sangha Council, as well as founder member of International Engaged Buddhists.

Sayadaw has also written in English numerous articles and several highly esteemed books on Buddhism, among them the following: Comprehensive notes in conjunction with Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi on the Abhidhammattha Sangaha, Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma (Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Sri Lanka, 1993). An exposition of The First Discourse of the Buddha (first published by Dhamma Talaka Publications, Birmingham, in 1995; 2nd edition from Wisdom Publications, Boston, USA, in 1997; French translation in 1998). He has translated the Theravada Maha Paritta chanting book (Dhamma Talaka Publications, 1996). The Buddha and His Disciples appeared from Dhamma Talaka Publications in 2001.

His most recently published book encompasses Buddhist meditation techniques, Emptying The Rose Apple Seat (Triple Gem Publications, Singapore, 2004). Fortunately Sayadaw received an advance copy of this but the promotional copies did not arrive until the day after his death. They are now available from the Vihara. His final, perhaps his most outstanding book, has yet to go to press. This is Process and Consciousness and Matter, explaining in detail all aspects of the thought and matter processes according to Abhidhamma.