U Aung Thein Nyunt, Director, D.P.P.S, Director,    D.P.P.S, Ministry of Religious Affairs

 The Teacher still lives

The Mahâparinibbâna, or final passing away, of Lord Buddha took place 2500 years ago, but He still lives, so long as His utterance, Buddhâvacana, i.e., the Dhamma, consisting of Suttanta, Abhidhamma and Vinaya piíakas, are still being learned and practised,  as if being taught by himself. ''Dhammavinaya will remain your Teacher after my final passing away'', the Buddha said. (Dî; Tha 1-3, Vi; Tha1-5)

It is obvious that maintenance of the Buddhist Scriptures is central to perpetuation of Sâsana. The fact of Pariyattimeva sâsanamûlaè has been borne in mind by the mahâtheras over the ages. So, only three months after the Mahâparinibbâna the first Buddhist Council, Pathama saàgâyanâ, was held mainly to keep the Buddha's utterances in its original and pure form. The Saddhammasammosa sutta, of Sadhamma vagga, Pañcakanipâta, Aàguttaranikâya enumerates the five factors contributing to the disappearance of Sâsana thus: Bhikkhus do not listen to the dhamma respectfully; they do not learn the dhamma respectfully, they do not bear in mind the dhamma respectfully; they do not ascertain respectfully the meaning of the dhamma that has been borne in mind, and they do not practise Insight Meditation respectfully as is appropriate to the supramundane dhamma, the meaning and the spirit of which they have understood. It is not to be doubted that lack of commitment to memory of the Piíakas and of ascertainment of their meaning by followers are a great hindrance to the long endurance of Sâsana.

Making the Teachings remain pure through Buddhist Councils.

It is elaborated in Dutiya Pamâdâdivagga, Ekaka Nipâta, Aàguttara Commentary that paíipatti can exist only when pariyatti exists, and paíivedha  can also exist only when paíipatti exists. Therefore, to have the long and pure existence of the tap root of Sâsana,  the first Buddhist Council led by Venerable Mahâkassapa was held. At its conclusion the Chief Disciple exhorted: ''O bhikkhus, now in possession  of the Dhamma inherited from Lord Buddha, we are bound by duty to maintain it well; Pray do so as good sons of the Buddha". From that time onwards the maintenance of Buddha's teachings fell on the shoulders of five groups - Saèyutta Nikâya by the group led by Venerable Mahâkassapa, Dîgha Nikâya by the group led by Venerable Ânanda, Vinaya Piíaka by the group led by Venerable Upâli, Aàguttara Nikâya by the group led by Venerable Anuruddha, and Abhidhamma and Majjhima Nikâya by the group led by the senior disciples of Venerable Mahâkassapa. Thus teachings of the Buddha in its pristine purity have been left for posterity, including present Myanmar Buddhists so it is incumbent upon us to carry the Banner of Dhamma (the Truth )as a token of gratitude.

All along the history of Buddha Sâsana, from the First Buddhist Council in Râjagaha to the sixth in Myanmar, the great mahâtheras had always strived for keeping the Teachings in its original and pure form. Up to the Third Buddhist Council, the arahats with various epithets such as Tevijja, Chaéâbhiñña, Paíisambhidâpatta, or Tipiíakadhara recited in unison from memory the Buddha's teachings  on the occasion concerned.

At the Fourth Buddhist Council [Ceylon] circa Buddhist Era 450, 500 arahats, foreseeing the diminishing of  Piíka texts in future, took great pains to inscribe the Buddha's teachings on the palm-leaf [Potthakâruéha]. Indeed, in the period beginning 236 B.E., when Venerable Mahâmahinda, son of King Asoka, had started Buddhist missions in Ceylon, there appeared outstanding bhikkhus of great learning by the names of Cûéanâga Thera, Cûlâsumana Thera and Cûlâbaya Thera who could recite from memory the Tipiíaka in its entirety (Abhi Tha, 2, 427); (Dî; Tha, 336); (Dî; Tha, 2, 104). The Tipiíaka needed to be turned into written form because the present world is destined for degradation in every matter. It is known that, at the earnest request of King Mahâvijayabâhu in Ceylon, King Anawrahta of Bagan sent over Piíakattaya Pâragû theras (Mahâvaèsa, 58) (Ceylonese History of Buddhist Sâsana). Indeed the mahâtheras of that time in Ceylon are worthy of our gratitude for their good preparation to hold the Fourth Buddhist Council.

Internationally, there were the mahâtheras who wonderfully carried the Banner of the Truth in Buddhist history, namely: Myanmar learners-by-heart of the Three Piíakas [also comprehending them] Venerable Aggavaèsa of Bagan; Tipiíakadhara Abhaya Mahâthera, abbot of Shwegu Monastery and author of Sambandacintâ íîkâ (old version) and Saddatthacintâ Íîkâ (old version); Tipiíakadhara Cûéâbhaya Thera of Thailand who wrote Milindapañhâ Íîkâ circa AD 14th-15th centuries , Suvaúúadîpa Thera, author of Apheggusâradîpanî-íîkâ Pâli during the reign of King Sinphyumyashin in Hanthawaddy Period; Mahâtipiíakâlaàkâra Taungphilar Sayadaw of Innwa Period; Makâralopa (Taungdwingyi Sayadaw) Khingyiphyaw; Tipiíakâlaàkâra Bargaya Sayadaw Venerable Dhammâbhinanda who had written 30-plus treatises including Saddatthavedacintâ nissaya; and Piíakattaya Pâragû (Nyaungkan Sayadaw) U Budh, one of the most illustrious in Piíaka literature (Myanmar).

The Fifth and Sixth Buddhist Councils in Myanmar

The Fifth Buddhist Council was held by way of transcribing the Piíaka Pâéi Texts on marble slabs [seéakkharâruéha] numbering 792 in the compound of Kuthodaw Pagoda under the direction of Tipiíakadhara Bhaddanta Jâgara, abbot of Dakkhiúârâma Payagyi Taik, Taungpyin, Mandalay, during the reign of King Mindon of Konbaung Period. In 1235 M.E. King Mindon was so anxious to have bhikkhu reciters-from-memory of the Three Piíakas that he invited the leading mahâtheras to the palace, supplicating them to make efforts to that end, the historical records say. But even a Tipiíakadhara was not yet to be, but only a few who were partially successful appeared. There might have been unknown Tipiíakadharas as there was lack of official oral examinations then.

When printing presses had come into common use after the Fifth Buddhist Council there appeared many versions of Piíakas, indentified by the publishing house concerned - Jambu Meikswe, Sudhammawati, Hanthawaddy, Kawi Myet-mhan, etc. Moreover, there were also the Piíakas in different versions of various Theravâda countries including Ceylonese, Thai, Cambodian, or Laotian. When the Sixth Buddhist Council was suggested there had been criticisms that it could not be held unless there was a Tipiíakadhara like Venerable Ânanda. On 13th November 1947 the Buddha Sâsana Nuggaha Association of Myanmar decided  to hold Tipiíaka Selection Examinations and to establish a Meditation Centre. Thus the Tipiíakadhara Selection Committee, together with its Rules, was constituted after Myanmar's gaining of Independence in 1948. Still, there were fault-finders who argued that the committee would not be able to produce even a Tipiíakadhara.

A whole seed for holding the Sixth Saègâyanâ

Indeed the Tipiíakadhara Selection Examination was the single most important factor making way for holding the Sixth Buddhist Council.

Its objectives are as follows:

(a) To produce persons of great learning with perfections, or pâramîs;

(b) To promote Pariyatti Sâsana to the highest degree; and

(c) To produce persons worthy of the epithet dhammacetî, who can recite form memory the entire Piíakas.

Like the Tipiíakadharas of yore especially Venerable Ânanda and Venerable Upâli at the time of the First Buddhist Council, the upcoming Tipiíakadharas, reciting from memory the entire Piíkas, will surely help keep the Teachings of the Buddha genuine and enhance the sacred undertaking of Saègâyanâ.

Pariyatti examinations and Tipiíakadhara Selection Examination in Myanmar

Pâéi Pathamapyan examinations - at three levels called Pathamange, Pathamalat and Pathamagyi - have been held since colonial times. Candidates have to learn Piíaka-based texts such as Basic Pâéi Grammar, Basic Abhidhammattha Saàgaha, Dve Mâtikâ, Subodhâlaàkara and Vuttodaya, analytical methods concerned with words, syntax and grammatical rules, Mâtika dhâtukathâ, analytical enumeration and interaction of natural phenomena concerned with Yamaka and Paííhâna, and Pâéi - Myanmar translation. However, the Dhammâcariya, or Buddhist Scriptural teachership, has been held since 1952. It has three main sets of treatises to be mastered, namely: Sîlkakkhandhavagga Pâéi & Commentary, Pârâjikakaúóa Pâéi & Commentary, Dhammasangaúî and its exposition Aííhasâéinî. And the learning methods to approach them are those based on grammar, ñâsa, netti, abhidhammapaííhâna, âbhogasaèvaúúanâ, and upacâ. It usually takes about five years to pass Pathamange and thence to Dhammâcariya. However, a Dhammâcariya graduate, failing to study more Pâéi Texts, Commentaries and Sub-commentaries for lack of talent, will not gain any benefit, like the one who possesses the key to the treasure house of Piíakas but does not open and use it.

After passing the Tipiíakadhara Selection Examination, one will become the custodian of Piíakas, able to use and share it with others at the same time. His learning is great enough to proclaim him invaluable; and you may just look at the qualifications required of such a candidate, as follows:

A candidate for the Tipiíakadhara Selection Examination

(1) Shall be a monastic, bhikkhu or sâmaúera, but not a lay person;

(2) Shall have passed Pâéi Pathamapyan (Pathamagyi)(OR) Cetiyaàgaúa student-course (OR) Sakyasîha student-course;

(3) Shall be endowed with respectable personality, pâsâdika guúa; and

(4) Shall abide by the rules and regulations precribed by Tipiíakadhara Ovâdâcariya Committee.

The Tipiíakadhara Selection Examination usually lasts 33 days of oral and written testing, perhaps the longest event of an examination in the world. Every day a candidate is required to recite from memory the text contained in about 150 pages [a page is 27.5 cm x 18.5 cm] in good diction without any prompts from his personal examiner. Thus it is considered virtually impossible for a lay person, with his/her day-to-day cares, to sit for that examination. Moreover, after the formal recitation of Piíakas through many days the candidates have to sit for a written examination concerning their comprehension of Pâéi Texts, which is then judged against the expositions contained in relevant Commentaries, Sub-commentaries and the tratises, known as Anu, Madu and Gaúíhi. As such it is inevitable for a candidate to have the knowledge equivalence of Pathamagyi, which could be considered a basic knowledge of Piíakas. This examination, with the requirements of deep learning, stamina and great efforts on the candidate's parts, indeed calls for hard-working, respectable looking persons in good health. Again, it is of paramount importance that the candidate follow the rules and regulations set with foresight by the Tipiíakadhara Ovâdâcariya Committee for such a long event.

At the first Tipiíakadhara Selection Examination in 1948 there were 17 candidates enlisted but in actuality only six sat for the examination, producing not even a successful one.

At this rantings of critics against the project grew louder. Even the mass ciuculation Bama Khit Daily suggested the closure of it with arguments, like committing to memory of the whole Tipiíaka was natural for ancient times when there were no palm-leaf manuscripts, folding or regular books ; but studying for this examinations  now is unnecessarily hard work to a candidate as there already are Pâéi Pathamapyan and national Pariyatti examinations for monastics. Still, some Saàgha organizations gave their consent for the second Tipiíakadhara Examination to be held in 1949, accompanied even by an ultimatum that the examination be closed if it could not produce a successful candidate. The Buddha Sâsana Council also obtained a consencus that the project must be suspended if a certain successful one could not be produced. Fortunately, out of the five candidates sitting for the second Tipiíakadhara Selection Examination in 1949, Venerable Paññâsâra, aged 26, of Nyaungdon Monastery, Bahan, Yangon, was awarded the "Visiíthavinayadhara" title for his ability to perfectly recite from memory the 2260 pages of 5-text Vinaya Piíaka over a stretch of 15 days. He was successful in written comprehension tests as regards only two texts of Vinaya Piíaka out of five but dropped his attempt at the remainder as he was inclined to dwell at the forest monastery. However the Tipiíakadhara Examination was now allowed to exist. At the third Tipiíakadhara Selection Examination in 1950 there were five candidates including Venerable Vicittasârâbhivaèsa, of Mingun Dhammanâda Monastic Learning Centre in Sagaing Hills. He was awarded the ''Visiííhavinayadhara" title for his ability to perfectly recite from memory without any prompts the 5-text Vinaya Piíaka in one year only. After he passed with distinction the written comprehension test on all the Vinaya Piíaka he was presented with the "Mahâvinayakovida" title. Again, at the fourth Tipiíakadhara Selection in 1951 he was able to recite from memory the first 5 texts of Abhidhamma, covering 1390 pages, followed by his success with distinction in the written comprehension test concerning them, which was usually checked against the expositions contained in Commentaries and Sub-commentaries. Then he was similarly successful as regards the remaining two Abhidhamma texts (3597 pages) the following year at the fifth Tipiíakadhara Selection Examination. At that time he was conferred "Visiííhaâbhidhammika"as well as"Mahâabhidhammakovida". At the sixth Tipiíakadhara Selection in 1953 he perfectly recited from memory without any prompts the Suttanta Piíaka, the 3-texts of Dîghanikâya, and passed with distinction the written comprehension test on it.So he was presented with the titles "Visiííhadîghabhâúaka" and "Mahâdîghanikâyakovida". As such Ven. Vicittasârâbhivaèsa, having mastered all the three Piíakas, was now declared "Visiííhatipiíakadhara-Mahâtipiíakakovida". He was now ready to take up the duty of Responder at the upcoming Sixth Buddhist Council in 1954. He was set to follow in the footsteps of Venerable Ânanda of the First Buddhist Council, as Tipiíakadhara Dhammabaúóhâgârika in the Buddhist world. The argument that a Buddhist Council without a Tipiíakadhara was inappropriate was no longer true. A brief entry on this venerable as the best learner by heart in the world can now be found in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Just like Venerable Paññâsâra was an immediate cause for the continuance of Tipiíakadhara Selection Examination so also Venerable Vicittasârâbhivaèsa was the immediate, decisive cause for holding the grand event of Sixth Buddhist Council.

The Tipiíakadhara Selection Examination

The Tipiíakadhara Selection Examination, taking up to 33 days of oral and written tests, calls for conviction, concentration and perseverance on the candidate's part, hence it is probably one of a kind in the world.

At this, 20 syllabus texts out of all 40 Chaííhasaègâyanâ-version Pâéi Texts, covering 8026 pages (page size 27.5 cm x 18.5 cm), must be perfectly recited from memory, without any prompts from others and hesitancy but in good diction. After reciting from memory the prescribed parts, the candidate sits for a written test on them. Formerly the examination took at least four years to cover the four parts prescribed. However, since 1981 the 5-text Vinaya Piíaka can be tackled in two parts, covering two years, in accordance with the decision of the Second Meeting of the State  Central Working Committee of Saègha. As such at present, the Tipiíakadhara Examination lasts 5 years covering 5 parts, with oral and written tests on 20 syllabus Pâéi Texts, inclusive of Commentaries, Sub-commentaries, Anu-Madhu-Yojanâ, Gaúíhi dîpanîs, Texts of Sayings, books on interpretation, and miscellaneous reference books. The 5 parts in the examination process are as follows:

Year One: The former two out of 5 Vinayapiíaka Pâéi Texts (Ubhatovibhaàga)

(a) Pârâjikakaúóa Pâéi= 381pp., 3 days for recitation and  1 day for written exam.

(b) Pâcittiya Pâéi    = 470 pp.,

Total = 851 Pages

Year Two: The latter 3 out of 5 Vinayapiíaka Pâéi Texts

(a) Mahâvagga Pâéi = 511pp.,  3 days for recitation and    1 day for written exam:

(b) Cûéavagga Pâéi  = 508pp.,

(c)Parivâra Pâéi    = 390pp.,       

Total = 1409 Pages

Year Three: Suttanta Piíaka; 3 Dîgha Nikâya Pâéi Texts

(a) Sîlakkhandhavagga Pâéi =236pp.,   3 days for recitation and 1 day for written exam.

(b) Mahâvagga Pâéi       =283pp., - Do -

(c) Pâthikavagga Pâéi      =260pp.,   - Do -

Total = 779 Pages

Year Four: The former 5 out of 7 Abhidhamma Piíaka Texts.

(a)Dhammasaàgaúî    = 298pp., 3 days for recitation and 1 day for written exam.

(b)Vibhaàga Pâéi             = 453pp..- Do -

(c)Dhâtukathâ Pâéi = 100pp.,   1 day for recitation and 1 day for written exam.

(d)Puggalapaññatti Pâéi      = 85pp., - Do -

(e)Kathâvatthu Pâéi          = 454pp.,   3 days for recitation and 1 day for written exam.

Total = 1390 Pages

Year Five: The latter 2 out of 7 Abhidhamma Piíaka Texts (8 books)

(a)Yamaka Pâéi Vol. I    =265pp.,   6 days for recitation and     

(b)   "        Vol. II   = 316pp.,  5 'Lower' Yamaka Texts -1day

(c)    "        Vol. III   = 330pp.,    5 'Upper' Yamaka Texts -1day

(d)Paííhâna Pâéi Vol. I  = 464pp.,  12 days for recitation and 2 days for written exam.

(e)   "     "   Vol. II   = 493pp.,   (Beginning to Kusalatika samp-

(f)   "     "   Vol. III  = 605pp.,    ayuttavâra-1 day; and Kusala-

(g)   "      "  Vol. IV  = 636pp.,  tikapañhâvâra to the end of   Paííhâna Pâéi, Aííhakathâ,

(h)   "      "  Vol. V   = 488pp.,   1-day)

Total = 3597 Pages

The above-mentioned 5 parts may be tried, each in one year, with the requirement that sitting for written examination will be allowed only after the recitation from memory concerned has been successful, and tackling one part shall follow the success in the former part. Trying the parts at random is not allowed. Success in a part will give the candidate a Passed Certificate, as follows:

(a) Year One: The former two out of 5 Vinaya Piíaka Texts.

The regular, successful recitation of 851 pages from memory, using certain prompts and assists as allowed by the Rules, will beget "Ubhatovibaàgadhara" title, and perfect recitation "Visiííhaubhatovibaàgadhara" title [visiííha=distinction]. Specified certificate and insignia, free ticket for internal travel and monthly cash donation are awarded to this successful candidate. If he also passed the written examination on this former two Texts referring to Commentaries and Sub-commentaries, he would be awarded the "Ubhatovibaàgakovida" title.

(b) Year Two: The latter three out of 5 Vinaya Piíaka Texts.

After regular, successful recitation of 1409 pages, added by the former success, the candidate is given the "Vinayadhara" title. If passed with distinction, he obtains the "Visiííhavinayadhara"title. After this, if he successfully sat for the written examination referencing the 4 Commentaries and 6 Íîkâs on Vinaya, he would get the "Vinayakovida". If passed with distinction, he gets the "Mahâvinayakovida" title. Specified certificate and insignia, free tickets for internal travel and monthly cash donation are awarded to him. Finishing parts 1 and 2 means he is a venerable bearer by heart of one Piíaka.

(c) Year Three: 3 texts 779 pages, of Dîgha Nikâya, Suttanta Piíaka.

Regular recitation begets "Dîghabhâúaka" title; and recitation with distinction, "Visiííhadîghabhâúaka", added by specified certificates, insignia, and monthly cash donation. Written examination on interpretation of the scriptures concerned follows only after a successful recitation from memory. "Dîghanikâyakovida" title is awarded after a successful written examination referring to 3 Commentaries, 4 Íîkâs and associated Dîpanîs on 3 treatises of Dîgha Nikâya. If so passed with distinction, "Mahâdîghanikâyakovida" is presented. After passing Suttanta Piíaka Dîgha Nikâya, he is "Dvipiíakadhara, Dvipiíakakovida", or a venerable bearer by heart of two Piíakas.

(d) Year Four: the former five, 1390 pages, out of 7 Abhidhamma Piíaka Texts.

Regular reciter by heart is awarded "Mûlaâbhidhammika" title; if passed with distinction. "Visiííhamûlaâbhidhammika" title. If written interpretative examination in the said 5 Texts is passed referring to Commentaries and Sub-commentaries concerned, he is presented with "Mûlaabhidhammakovida" title. And if it is with distinction,  "Visiííha Mûlaabhidhammakovida" title is presented .Already passed in two Piíakas, and now added with a half of Abhidhamma, he is usually called a venerable Piíaka master passed in 2½ Piíakas.

(e) Year Five: the latter two, 3597 pages, out of 7 Abhidhamma Piíaka  Texts.

Regular reciter by heart is given "Tipiíakadhara". If passed with distinction in reciting from memory of the above three Piíakas, "Visiííhatipiíakadhara"title is awarded him. If passed in written interpretative examination on the said two Texts, referring to Commentaries and Sub-commentaries concerned, he is now well versed in the Three Piíakas in its entirety, and so is awarded the "Tipiíakakovida" title. If passed with distinction in every written interpretative examination, he will obtain "Mahâtipiíakakovida" title. At Sixth Tipiíakadhara Selection Examination in 1953 Venerable Viciííasârâbhivaèsa always passed both in recitation by heart and written interpretative examination with distinction. Hence he was awarded "Visiííhatipiíakadhara, Mahâtipiíakakoovida" title. At the 12th examination in 1959 Venerable Neminda won the "Visiííhatipiíakadhara" title.

How the Tipiíakadhara Selection Examination is conducted.

Every year the Tipiíakadhara Selection Examination begins at mid-cold season, in the third week of December. From opening day to the last day of examination, it covers at most 33 days. It opens with a grand ceremony in Vijaya Mingalar Dhamma Thabin Hall, usually attended by State Saègha Mahâ Nâyaka Committee Chairman-Sayadaw and members, Tipiíaka Ovâdâcariya Committee Chairman-Sayadaw and members, Tipiíakadhara/ Tipiíakakovida Ttile-holder monks, prompter-monks and lay prompters at the oral examination. The ceremony in progress is reverently appreciated by State leaders, Minister for Religious Affairs, local authorities, generous donors of four monastic requisites for about 200 Saègha involved in the whole event of examination and staff members who are responsible for this event. Firstly mahâtheras deliver ovâdakathâs to more than 100 candidate-monks. Then State leaders and Minister for Religious Affairs supplicate on Sâsana affairs, expressing their joy concerning the occasion. At the close of ceremony responsible Mahâ Theras and candidate-monks are invited into Mahâ Pâsâúa Cave, the venue of the Sixth Buddhist Council. Inside the cave are arranged the numbered seats for candidate-monks and prompter-monks.

Ovâdâcariya Committee

In accordance with Section 12(1)of Tipiíakadhara Selection Act, the Minister of Religious Affairs after supplicating to the SSMNC forms a 9-member Ovâdâcariya committee, selecting them from the State Central Working Committee of Saègha or elsewhere. Then, in accord with section 24(1)of the same Act, this ovâdâcariya committee undertakes choosing the question-setter, holding examinations with dates and venues, choosing supervisors, examiners and markers, prescribing conditions and general management.

Supervision Sub-committee for Oral Examination

Ovâdâcariya Sayadaws come every day to the examination centre and oversee the work of Supervision Groups for Oral Examination, each consisting of 4 persons, namely: supervisory monk-1; prompter-monks-2; and assisting lay expert-1. Before them, the candidate, sitting on the prescribed seat  with a white holy umbrella overhanging him, sits for the examination on reciting from memory of the scriptures. So at each seat the 4-number Supervision Group takes up their duties.

How the Recitation from Memory is carried out

The Supervision Group listens carefully to the candidate who is reciting the scriptures from memory, with relevant scriptural books open before them for checking. At the same time they take note of the candidate's correctness as well as clarity and diction. These are taken into account in awarding a distinction, and on their recommendation the Ovâdâcariya Committee gives its decision. In recitation even a peyyâla (blank for repeated lines) is not to be forgotten. If the candidate has to stop for lack of memory, he is granted 1 minute for regaining it, and may continue in time; if he cannot continue, the prompter comes in, up to 5 times in one examination day. After the prompter has assisted the candidate even with one whole sentence and if he still cannot continue he is to be judged "Failed". However, a candidate, flawless on most days of examination but if he needs more than 5 times of prompting even in one day, is to be judged "Failed". Moreover, Supervision Groups rotate their duties at the seats of candidates  one after another as assigned by the Ovâdâcariya Committee.

Recitation from Memory and Recess

Recitation from Memory by the candidate is to be done in two parts: AM and PM, with a recess in between. The morning part, from 08:00 AM to 10:00AM, has 4 periods, each of which lasts 25 minutes. The recess between periods is 10-15 minutes, as prescribed by Ovâdâcariya Committee. The evening part, from 13:00 PM to 16:00PM, has 5 periods. So there are altogether 9 periods, enough to cover 100-150 pages of scriptural texts to be recited from memory by the candidate. With sympathy towards candidates' physical as well as mental relaxation they are allowed one day rest after 3 consecutive days of recitation.

Striking of circular bronze drums at Examination in Recitation

The spacious Mahâ Pâsâúa Cave seems to be crowded what with 100-odd candidates with their seats and white holy umbrellas and supervisory committee members, divided into relevant groups. Getting ready by taking positions is signalled by 7 strikings of the circular bronze drum. To start and restart the examination in recitation, it is struck 4 times, and 2 times for the recess. At conclusion for the day 7-time strikings take place.

This examination as a whole lasts 24 days, 18 examination days proper and 6 days of rest, as every 3 consecutive days of recitation must be followed by 1 day of rest. Again, there are 3 more days for compilation of records, their evaluation, and office work to put out the results. Then a written interpretative examination on the scriptures for candidates just passed in oral examination of this year and such successful ones last year is held, lasting 5 days. One more day is needed to mark the written answers and put out the results. Hence a total of 33 days for the whole event, which probably may claim to be the longest examination in the world.

How the Written Interpretative Examination is carried out

In written interpretative examination a candidate has to answer 10 out of 12 questions contained in the question paper concerned with one scriptural Text. The question paper tries to test the candidate's ability concerning the meaning of Pâéi Text and the derivative ones contained in relevant Commentaries and Íîkâs. This examination can be taken only after the candidate's success in oral examination. However, if he failed in the written examination he could try again next year. A candidate, having failed 3 times in an oral or written examination and not having achieved recitation of three-fifths of the required text, shall forgo the awardment of travelling expense for more examinations.

The written interpretative examination is held once for the day, from 12:30 pm to 16:00 pm, during which the candidate selects and tackles 10 out of 12 questions - Paéi Text- 4; Commentary-4 ; and Íîka-4. Obtaining 75 marks means Passed and 85 and above marks, Passed with distinction. If the candidate obtained more than 80 marks each day, averaging 90 for all papers, he would be entitled to "Passed with Credit", enough for "Mahâ" to be added to his title in the certificate and on the seal.

This Tipiíakadhara Selection Examination, with 75 marks to be gained in a written examination, is very difficult to pass, and may be compared with 40 Passed marks in civil education schools, 50 Passed marks in PâéiPathamapyan (Nge, Lat and Kyi), and 65 Passed marks in Dhammâcariya (Lecturership) examinations.

Title Certificate, Seal and Objects of Insignia

(1) Success in one main division of Tipiíaka: This person, after his success in both oral and wittten examination, is awarded a Sâsana victory pennant with the symbol of a yellow-handled white Kanakadan umbrella, a Title Certificate and a Seal with inscription of his title. If passed in one oral category only, the same things are awarded except that the white Kanakadan umbrella on the pennant is red-handled.

(2) Success in two main divisions of Tipiíaka: This person, successful both in oral and written examinations, is awarded a Sâsana victory pennant with the symbol of two yellow-handled white Kanakadan umbrellas, Title Certificate and a Seal with inscription of his title. If passed in one category only, he is awarded the same things except that the white Kanakadan umbrella on the pennant are red-handled.

(3) Success in all three main divisions of Tipiíaka: This person successful both in oral and written examinations, is awarded a Sâsana victory pennant with the symbol of three Yellow-handled Kanakadan umbrellas, Title Certificate and Seal with inscription of his title. If passed in one oral category only, he is awarded the same things except that the white  Kanakadan umbrallas on the pennant are red-handled.

Moreover, cash donation in lump sum, a monthly donation for purchase of  provisions, free travelling tickets (by road, water and air)for a Tipiíakadhara together with one, or two, personal attendants, all in accord with the title status, are awarded.

Preparation for entering Recitation Examination

According to the Rules, the candidate must start recitation from memory with the first part of Ubhatovibhaàga, Vinaya Piíaka. Only after passing oral and written examinations of this Piíaka can he proceed to sit for Suttanta or Abhidhamma Piíaka.

The two texts of Ubhatovibaàga Pâéi have 851 pages, so at least 10-15 pages of it need to be memorized per day at the least. A lot of efforts is called for in the test recitation of these texts, memorized in daytime, is recited in the evening, and without hesitation or haphazard manner at that; manifold repeated learning is required  because clarity of diction and pleasant voicing are taken into consideration. Test recitations for many times are required to be ready to enter the oral examination. Like a long-distance runner, the candidate has to be established in his own standard time beforehand as regards the recitation, practising up to 10-11 hours to cover 350-400 pages of Texts with friends at hand acting as prompters.

Moreover, during his full time practice the candidate has to have a mind free from defilements as much as possible so that he could have concentration. In fact, reciting from memory of scriptures calls for morality, concentration and knowledge in a candidate. Concentration makes way for sharp intelligence. Persons engaged in petty daily affairs cannot have concentration, and also wisdom. It is paramount that a candidate must be healthy and vigorous and active in mind. Yet it is useless for a person without conviction in the Buddha's words, Dhamma. A person endowed with conviction and mindfulness rarely gives in to defilements. It is impossibe for one, not possessed of the Five Powers, i.e, saddhâ, viriya, sati, samâdhi and pañña, to sit for the examination in recitation.

Long ago, the Buddha praised Venerable Cunda, who bore the Tipiíaka by heart, and even called such a bhikkhu "Sutabuddha". One who bears the Banner of Dhamma(Truth) is the Precious One in Dhamma, he said. A dhammabaúóâgârika is a walking storehouse of Dhamma and should be considerd a "Dhammacetî"; isn't it said so? A Tipiíakadhara, established in conviction and perseverance, has finished the long journey of sîla, samâdhi and paññâ, mastering the highsest monastic course of study consisting of 20 Piíaka Books (8026 pages).

Preparation for Written Examinations

One is entitled to sitting for the written examination only after his success in the recitational one. After successfully reciting the Pâéi Text concerned, he is bound to try to comprehend the relevant Commentaries and Íîkas. One is likely to study in various ways in preparation for the examination, e.g, seeking out the original and deep meaning, making comparisons, drawing inferences, memorizing some references of Commentaries and Sub-commentaries  in some places, etc. Candidates for Tipiíakadhara remarked that recitation from memory is comparatively easy due to its reliance on memorization only while the written examination is rather difficult because it needs to refer to expositions contained in Commentaries and Íîkas and to use one's reasoning power.

On the Long Journey Motivated by Five Powers

In the long (59 years) story of Tipiíakadhara Examination the candidates enlisted numbered 7103, the actual participants 5474, partially passed 1662, but only 11 have been awarded the Tipiíakadhara Tipiíakakovida title. Among those outstanding theras 4 have passed away. The departed might now have attained the supreme bliss, the Deathless, or being reborn in the celestial abodes, they might be discoursing on Buddha Dhamma there. The remaining 3 Tipiíakadharas probably will pass the written, interpretative examinations in near future and obtain the Tipiíakakovida, thus ending their long and arduous journey of sitting for these examinations. Again, some of the remaining candidates are indeed bearers of one main division of Piíakas, having already passed both oral and written examinations in Vinaya. But they have been unable to go further because of health reasons or their busy missionary work concerned with running meditation centres and monastic schools. One-Piíaka-passed candidates now number up to 114, two-Piíaka-passed 13 and 2½-Piíaka-passed 5. Perhaps some are being held back from more victories for their teaching, preaching, conducting meditation retreats and other social welfare works. But those struggling on under the leadership of Five Powers - conviction, diligence, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom - are being held in reverence all the more. (See the Tables in appendices (a) (b) (c) (d) )

Three Major Reasons for Endurance of the Tipiíakadhara Selection Examination

This most difficult of examinations has seen the passage of 59 years and counting, being supported by the tripod of Mentor, Candidate and Donor in a balanced strength. Mentors/supervisors play significant role while those of candidates and donors also cannot be counted out.

A certain story goes thus: Once there was an outbreak of fire at a monastery. The abbot came running out, cradling a young novice only. He explained to his donors that material things could be gotten again while a novice couldn't for he might one day become an outstanding bhikkhu in Sâsana. In fact only mentors endowed with morality, concentration and knowledge could bring up Tipiíakadharas so they are inevitable to the existence of Tipiíakadhara Selection Examination.

However a candidate's conviction and steadfast diligence are also important. Dedicated to the future of Sâsana, he obeys every direction of his mentors and uses his powers to the full. Becoming established in moral precepts, he is now able to take the long journey of the most difficult examinations in perseverance, enjoying the development of concentration and knowledge in him. Indeed such a candidate-bhikkhu is essential to the existence of Tipiíakadhara Selection Examination.

The other major reason is Myanmar mentality that is devoted to supporting the Saègha Order. Donors galore are available to him who is given to serious learning of Piíaka literature - from his teachers, parents, relatives through the generous public to his main donors who had him ordained as bhikkhu in the first place. Thus Myanmars' goodwill and generosity are a major factor to the long standing of Tipiíakadhara Selection Examination.

Therefore, it is no exaggeration that such an examination is possible only in Myanmar.

The Buddha's words should be borne by heart if he is to be held in adoration

An argument may arise that nowadays, with the Buddha's words already inscribed on palm-leaf, folding book, stone slab, ink print, books and even in CDs, the bearing by heart of his words is unnecessary. The physical inscription and the mental impression at heart are not the same. The former is useful only in presence of the user for it might vanish anytime. There is no benefit whatsoever when the physical inscriptions cannot be obtained at will.

However, impressions retained at heart of the Buddha's words benefit one whenever they are recollected, being helpful at any time. Such a person is able to walk straight on the path of Dhamma, while being helpful to his surroundings. Output equals the input concerning the learning process to bring up Tipiíakadhara.

When learning by heart the Pâéi Texts, one personally "meets" with their possessor the Buddha, bringing into oneself the infinite Attributes of him. In oneself the adoration for and conviction in the Buddha grow overwhelmingly, leading to the missionary inclination by way of prolonging the Buddhist spirit and teaching the Path. Insight grows in one while learning the Paéi Texts in conjunction with the elaborative Commentaries and Sub-commentaries. Brimful with the adoration for and appreciation of the Buddha's attributes, wisdom and perfections, one is never bound to deviate from his teachings. With the consciousness at heart about the benefit to oneself and fellow beings the victorious earner of "Tipiíakadhara, Tipiíakakovida" will always be beautifying the world, carrying the Banner of Victory in Dhamma.

Promotion of Nikâya Teaching

Forty Buddhist Canonical books, or 54 Pâéi Texts, of Chaííhasaègâyanâ version are prescribed in principle for Tipiíakadhara Selection Examination, but in reality only 20 books of course study, or 20 Texts, are used in the oral and written examinations. To also learn the rest - 20 books, or 34 Texts would be too much for the candidate. However, these could be used in oral and written examinations, if voluntarily asked by the candidate.

(a) Majjhimanikâya: 3 Texts (Mûla, Majjhima, Uparipaúúâsa) in 3 books

(1) Recitation from memory:   3 days per Text; total 9 days

(2) Written exam:    1 day per Text; total 3 days

(b) Saèyuttanikâya: 5 Texts in 3 Books (Sagâthâvagga, Nidânavagga, Khandavagga, Saéâyatana vagga, Mahâvagga Pâéi)

(1)Recitation from memory: 3 days per Book; total 9 days

(2)Written exam: 1 day per Book; total 3 days

(c) Aàguttaranikâya: 11 Texts in 3 Books (Ekaka to Ekâdasaka)

(1)Recitation from memory: 3 days per Book; total 9 days

(2)Written exam: 1 day per Book; total 3 days

(d) Khuddakanikâya: 20 Texts; First Part - 2 Books

(1)Recitation form memory: 3 days per Book; total 6 days

(2)Written exam: 1 day per Book; total 2 days

(Khuddaka Pâéi, Dhammapada, Udâna   - one Book)

(Itivuttaka, Suttanipâta, Milindapañhâ     - one Book)

(e) Khuddakanikâya: 20 Texts; Second Part - 3 Books

(1)Recitation from memory:   Vimâna (4 Texts in one Book) ..3 days

Paíisambhidâmagga:    one Book 3 days

Netti Pâéi:         one Book... 2 days

(2) Written exam:    1 day; per Book...3 days


(f) Khuddakanikâya: 20 Texts; Third Part - 2 Books

(1)Recitation from memory:       Jâtaka Pâéi Vol.I & II  in 2 Books, each in 3 days; total 6 days 

(2)Written exam:    1 Book; per Day; total 2 days

(g) Khuddakanikâya: 20 Texts; Fourth Part - 4 Books

(1)Recitation from memory:   Apadâna Pâéi Vol.I: 3 days

Apadâna Pâéi Vol.II: 3 days

(Including Buddhavaèsa and Cariyâpiíaka)

Mahâniddesa Pâéi....3 days

Cûéaniddesa Pâéi.... 3 days

(2)Written exam: 1 day; per Book; total 4 days

Through course- of- study Piíakas in 20 Books (8026 pages) should be considered tiring enough for a would-be Tipiíakadhara, the above-mentioned 20 Texts lying in a dormant state have now been revived, thanks to Abhidhajamahâraííhaguru Masoyein Sayadaw U Thuriya and others, and are now available for oral and written examination, through Nikâyujjotakasamiti (a) Nikâyasâsana Promotion Association which was established on 24-3-1974. These examinations are held about one month earlier than the Tipiíakadhara Selection Examination, sort of a preparatory practice for the big event. That association, now 33 years old, has produced more than 1,700 successful monks in its Nikâya examinations, it is learnt. Since about 10 years ago Ministry of Religious Affairs also has revived, under the supervision of State Saègha Mahâ Nâyaka Committee, the Nikâya examinations; so the dormant Texts have now become active in examinations to the delight of all.

Buddhist Missionary Work in Sîla, Samâdhi, Paññâ

At Tipiíakadhara Selection Examination Vinaya Piíka is the first to be tackled. It is incumbent upon the the bhikkhu candidates to do so because " Vinayonâma sâsanassa âyu, Vinaye íhite sâsanaè íhitaè hoti", i.e, "Discipline is the life-essence of Sâsana".  Vinaya Piíaka, or the Buddhist Disciplinary Rules, is wide-ranging due to addition after addition of ecclesciastical decisions made over 2550 years. Pârâjikakaúda Aííhakathâ explains that Vinaya Piíaka contains a detailed exposition of three knowledges. If one bears the Vinaya Piíaka by heart and practises them for liberation through discriminative knowledge based on a study of Commentaries and Sub-commentaries, his practice in morality will make him attain the Three Knowledges for sure.

In Suttanta Piíaka is found expositions on 62 kinds of heretical views and also a detailed exposition on 6 kinds of psychic power. If one bears by heart and practises them for liberation through discriminative knowledge based on a study of  Commentaries and Sub-commentaries, his practice in concentration will make him attain the 6 kinds of psychic power for sure.

Only in Abhidhamma are taught things like analytical intellect. If one bears by heart and practises them for liberation through discriminative knowledge based on a study of Commentaries and Sub-commentaries, his practice in wisdom will make him attain the 4 kinds of analytical intellect.

In truth the Tipiíakadhara Selection Examination in Myanmar calls for bearing the Piíakas by heart and a profound knowledge of their significance, so it is a great missionary endeavour based on morality, concentration and knowledge. Tipiíakadharas, having passed the oral and written examinations on them, are indeed custodians of Dhamma, or Sutabuddhas. They are the ones who carry out relaying the Banner of Dhamma.

I respectfully bow in honour of those who carry the Banner of Dhamma.

Thank you all.

[1] Presented at The International Conference of All Theravâda Buddhist Universities held at International Theravâda Buddhist Missionary University, Yangon & Woodlands Hotel, Poppa Mountain Resort, Bagan, Myanmar, 9-12th March 2007