Author affiliation: Department of Theology and Religious Studies, King’s College London, London, UK; Department of Buddhist Meditation and Psychology, Shan State Buddhist University, Taunggyi, Myanmar
This article explores the popular Sunlun and Theinngu meditation traditions in Myanmar. The founders, Sunlun Sayadaw Ven. U Kavi (1878–1952) and Theinngu Sayadaw Ven. U Ukkaṭṭha (1913–1973), both led a lay life until in their mid-40s and only then took up meditation, going on to become highly respected meditation teachers. Their meditation techniques are similarly distinctive in employing rapid, strong and rhythmic breathing. They combined this with the contemplation of the intense, usually unpleasant, bodily sensations that are thus induced. I document their techniques and application in detail, highlighting their complexity and diversity. I draw contrasts between the use of sati, mindfulness, in their methods and the way it is used in the modern Mindfulness movement. Finally, I discuss the ways in which the practices and experiences of both masters had to be authorised to survive where other meditation traditions have been outlawed. Senior members of the Burmese Sangha catechised both masters separately, using Pāli canonical and post-canonical texts as a benchmark to verify the popular belief amongst Burmese people that they were arahants. I locate this testing within the context of the concerns, sense of duty and status experienced by Burmese lay people in relation to defending Buddhism from decline.