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December 28, 2022
Pariyatti's most recent imprint republishes titles from the Myanmar Piṭaka Association (MPA), formerly known as the Burma Piṭaka Association. This imprint is called MPA Pariyatti Editions (MPE). Dhammapada: Verses & Stories, published in 2019, was our first MPE title. The volition to print books from the MPA first came up around 2005, when Brihas Sarathy, our current Executive Director, was involved with Pariyatti as a volunteer and later as a board member.
"A couple of popular titles from the MPA had been made available by The Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies (CIHTS) in Sarnath, Varanasi, India," Brihas said. "Since the mid-1980s and early 1990s, CIHTS had published Ten Suttas from the Dīgha Nikāya, and Dhammapada: Verses & Stories, but they were hard to come by. In 2005, while I was in India, I wanted to see if these books could be republished and made more widely available. At that time we did not have any way to contact the MPA in Burma. So, I contacted CIHTS in India to see if they could help out. Unfortunately, I never heard back so that was a dead end."
Myanmar Piṭaka Association
The Myanmar Piṭaka Association (formerly known as Burma Piṭaka Association) was founded in 1980 by U Nu, former Prime Minister of Burma, with the concurrence of the Government of the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma headed by the then President, U Ne Win. The association's mission: promote an understanding of the Piṭaka texts (Tipiṭaka or Pāli Canon, and commentaries) as interpreted and accepted in Theravāda Buddhism through translations in English. On its website the association has described in detail how they went about this extensive project of translating the Piṭaka.
The Myanmar Piṭaka Association falls under the Myanmar Ministry of Religious Affairs and its Department for the Promotion and Propagation of the Sāsana.
"In May 2006, a friend of mine discovered the myanmarbookshop.com website, which had launched a month earlier on Myanmar New Year Day (April 17, 2006). We were thrilled to see that they carried the entire catalog of books form the MPA and not just the two titles available via CIHTS. There was an abundance of titles on numerous nikāyas (collections) and suttas (discourses), as well as commentaries and explications, and expositions by eminent Burmese scholar-monks. So, we started ordering them for ourselves and our Dhamma friends. The books were always bound the same; they had an orange cover and were printed on what looked like recycled paper. For a fixed rate of about $12, the Myanmar Bookshop offered all-inclusive shipping back then, and we were amazed at how quickly batches of books arrived from Burma to the USA and Canada. We were trying to collect all their English MPA books; eventually you would end up with a whole segment on your bookshelf filled with these orange covers," Brihas said.
When reading the English translations by MPA, Brihas said the language felt familiar, relatable. "The texts were obviously not translated by Goenkaji, but had the same flavor—probably because they're from the Burmese Buddhist tradition. At that time I kept thinking: 'Wouldn't it be great to offer high-quality editions of these books?'," he said.
About a decade later, in January 2015, when Brihas had been serving as Pariyatti's Executive Director for a few years, he spoke with Pariyatti Board member U Tin Htoon about this idea. "U Tin Htoon is originally from Burma but based in California. He has an extensive network of contacts within Myanmar, so I asked if he could help make this a reality. Thanks to U Tin Htoon, by December of 2015 we had received an official letter from Myanmar Government's Ministry of Religious Affairs giving Pariyatti permission to republish their titles."
The process of releasing the MPA catalog—we have 37 titles on our list—will take many years as digital files of these books are not available. When a digital file does not exist, the book will need to be scanned first. The scan will subsequently need to be converted into digital text—via Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software—after which the digital text needs to be carefully proofread for errors introduced by the OCR process.
We had already resigned ourselves to individually scanning each of the MPA titles when we received a surprise email from one of the users of our Pariyatti Treasures, informing us that missing copies of The Light of Dhamma and many other treasures were available on the Kaba Aye Buddha Research Library (KBRL) website. Unaware of this website, we were delighted to find out about it, especially as it turned out it also hosted scanned copies of all the MPA titles we needed! So, we did not need to individually scan the books, and could directly start the OCR process using the scans provided on the KBRL website. Several staff members and volunteers are involved with the OCR and proofreading.
"Although it is going to be a long process, we are going to end up with this beautiful set of bound books. It will be a wonderful resource for readers and scholars, as there is only a limited number of English translation of the Tipiṭaka."
We have shared the photo collection by Robert Hover before, but with the running theme of this year's campaign being 'highlights and milestones,' the story of how those photos became available can not be left out.
Between 2005 and 2008 Pariyatti was in touch with Robert Hover. Robert, who was a former student of Sayagyi U Ba Khin and appointed by him to teach, had taken photos of Sayagyi and the International Meditation Center (IMC) in Yangon during his trips to Burma in the 1960s and he still had these (then) never-before-seen images on 35mm color slides. Via email we discussed digitizing and professionally archiving them, but Robert passed away in December 2008, before the project could eventuate.
In 2019 we got in touch with Robert's daughter who supported us in completing this long-pending project. After about 14 years, the project came to fruition that same year. It turned out there were 99 slides; we had them scanned and the scans digitally retouched. The collection has been made available to all for free download with no copyright restrictions.
The timing was interesting as the first scans from the collection were ready on the 120th birth anniversary of Sayagyi U Ba Khin on March 6, 2019.
BELOW: The original (left) and retouched (right) versions of the classic photograph by Robert Hover, of Sayagyi U Ba Khin meditating in the IMC pagoda.