Our lineage

Art by Arinna Weisman

One of the greatest gifts we receive is the transmission of the Buddha’s teachings from our teachers. I feel an immeasurable gratitude to my teacher Ruth Denison and her teacher U Bha Khin.

A number of weeks ago Ruth Denison sent me a package with a small yellow post it curled on the top page with “Our Lineage” written in her generous hand writing. I read through the pages last night on the floor of my small bedroom. I was struck how the Dharma has leapfrogged from a Burmese monk Sayadaw Ledi, to a peasant farmer Saya Thetgi, to the Accountant General of the Burmese government U Bha Khin, through a German school teacher Ruth Denison to this Jewish, lesbian, and feminist. It says much about the power of the Buddha’s teachings.

Sayagyi (respected lay teacher) U Ba Khin was born in March 1899 to a family of modest means. There is a picture of him at the center standing very erect in front of his center, The International Meditation Center in Rangoon, Burma. Masses of blooming roses are on either side of him. I hear he loved flowers, roses in particular and could spend hours talking about them. He is holding a few in his hand as though communicating his formal expression isn’t the only thing to know about him.

He was first in every class, but needed to work when he graduated and so began as an accounts clerk in the Accountant Generals Office of Burma, unusual for a Burmese as the English were still in Burma and usually only employed themselves or Indians. He became Accountant General in 1948 and often served concurrently as Trade Development Minister, Chairman of the State Agricultural Marketing Board and member of the Advisory Board of the National Planning Commission. Often he was asked where he found all his energy. He replied, “Because I practice Buddhist meditation I can handle many important tasks. If you want to be healthy, happy and energetic like me, why don’t you take a meditation course?”

In 1952 U Bha Khin founded the International Center in Rangoon. Because he was so busy, Goenka, one of his students, reports he wished that only people with very good paramis ( the ten perfections which include generosity, loving kindness, patience and wisdom) come to him to learn the Dharma and that then these students spread the teachings. The other disciples of Saya Thet Gyi and Ledi Sayadaw only taught Burmese students, but because U Bha Khin could speak English fluently he was able to transmit the teachings to English speaking seekers, including Ruth Denison and Aya Khema. He died suddenly of an illness in 1971. One of his famous quotes is: Dharma eradicates suffering and gives happiness. Who gives this happiness? It is not the Buddha but the Dharma, the knowledge of annica (impermanence) within the body, which gives this happiness. That is why you must meditate and be aware of annica continually .

May our practice transmit the liberation teachings of the Buddha to future generations.

“Actions have consequences. Prior to action is intention.” – Arinna’s teacher Ruth Denison