Monastic Buddhism in the Medieval Period - The Vydyadhara in India, Myanmar and Tibet

Article Index
Monastic Buddhism in the Medieval Period
Reform Movements: Tantric yogis and Forest monks
The Vydyadhara in India, Myanmar and Tibet
Milarepa and the Yogins of Tibet
The Kagyu Monastics
Footnotes
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The Vydyadhara in India, Myanmar and Tibet

The aim of the Siddha in Buddhism was to attain the state of a Vydyadhara. This term needs some explanation. Vydyadhara literally translated means "Insight-holder" or "Knowledge-holder". But the term has a wealth of meaning in tantric lore. A Vydyadhara is one who possesses the "knowledge of reality", whereby he or she acquires power over the physical world, he stands in a privileged position vis-à-vis the Universe and can pass at will through the dimensions. Through specialized higher knowledge, the Vydyadhara is able to manipulate the framework of nature.
In other words, the Vydyadhara is a master not only in terms of seeing into the mind, but wields control over the concrete field of existence. He or she can transit through space and time, and has an influence on human destiny.
In Myanmar, the existence of the Vydyadhara has not been forgotten. Indeed, the Shwedagon Pagoda is, to quote one author, "generally believed to be a favorite haunt of Weizzars, hermits endowed with magical powers and semi-divine beings, which have come to do obeisance to it, in order to gain eternal merit for their well-being in future lives." (8) Here the term "Weizzar" (variously spelt, Waizzar, Weisar, etc.), is short for "Weizzar-Dho". This is the Burmese equivalent of the Sanskrit Vydyadhara and of the Tibetan Vajradhara.
Interestingly enough, this term also has a well-known English equivalent: Wizard. Modern Western man no longer believes in his Wizards, and treats them as fairy tales out of the past. Nevertheless, in old Celtic lore, a "Wizard" was a wise man, a holder of wisdom, who could look into the past and future. Merlin, the advisor of the legendary king Arthur, was such a wizard.

A Wizard or Weizzar is a person possessed of the special knowledge whereby the fundamental ground of space and time can be subtly influenced by a mind to conform to certain desired results.
The Burmese master the Botaw (secular master) Aung Min Gaung was a Weizzar, and his disciple, U Tila Wunta, is one at the present time.
The Burmese say that among Weizzars there are two kinds: Lawki Weizzars and Lawkuttara Weizzars. The former are Wizards who have acquired mastery over the physical world; they know the secret mantras and talismans, by which world-events can be affected. A Sei Weizzar is a type of Lawki-Wizard, who uses his psychic powers for healing the sick. In Myanmar, someone who has accomplished the transmutation of matter through the science of Alchemy is also a Weizzar of the Lawki type. When Namgyal Rinpoche resided in Myanmar as a young monk he spent considerable time observing and studying with the Weizzar alchemists who, in the old days, would often visit U Tila Wunta's monastery in Rangoon. Weizzars are also believed to be able to know who a person was in their previous lifetimes, and are able to observe the reincarnation of someone who has died. Lawki Wizards are Siddhas who can consciously and willfully work miracles, as and when they choose.
Lawkuttara Weizzars, on the other hand, are more than ordinary this worldly wizards. They are enlightened wizards, or in other words, wisdom masters who have seen the foundations of Reality. They are saints who have realized the transcendental. The true Vydyadhara is a Lawkuttara Insight Holder.
This leads us to the Forest Monks of Myanmar. Forest Monks are often closely related to the Vydyadhara tradition, since they too have left the city and village monasteries to go out into the wilderness. Dissatisfied with the absence of a meditation practice amongst their fellows, the Forest Monk Tradition came into being as a reform movement. Like the Mahasiddhas of former times in India, the Forest tradition has now grown very strong in Myanmar, Thailand and Sri Lanka, supported by monks and nuns who want to live a spiritual life of meditation.