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date: 25 September 2022

The Buddhist Vidyādharas (Weikza/Weizzā) in Burma/Myanmarlocked

The Buddhist Vidyādharas (Weikza/Weizzā) in Burma/Myanmarlocked

  • Niklas FoxeusNiklas FoxeusDepartment of History of Religions, Stockholm University

Summary

The notion of the vidyādhara, “bearer of wisdom/practical knowledge/ritual lore,” was a common figure in various Indian traditions and appeared in Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain texts, as well as in Indian narrative literature. Originally, these beings were depicted as semi-divine, youthful figures flying about in the atmosphere between heaven and earth, endowed with supernormal powers. Later, this figure came to be viewed as a soteriological state that a human being could attain in his/her present life through religious practice, thereby becoming a kind of superhuman, god-like being. This interpretation was mainly encountered in Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain tantric traditions. In Indian Buddhism, the ideal of becoming a vidyādhara came to be linked to a variety of practices, including alchemy, meditation, and the recitation of mantras, by which supernormal powers could be acquired. Such practices were also performed to achieve spiritual success by a bodhisattva on the long path to buddhahood. The concept of a vidyādhara as a soteriological ideal for humans to realize in their present lives has been emphasized not merely in Indian but also in Tibetan and Burmese traditions, where it became localized and adapted to the local culture and society.

Although the nature and origin of the premodern notions of vidyādhara (Pāli vijjādhara) and related practices in Burma/Myanmar have yet to be investigated, these notions and practices came to be rather widespread there during the colonial period from about the end of 19th century, and their popularity culminated during the postindependence period starting in 1948. Since these periods, a weizzā or a weizzādhour (Pāli vijjādhara) has been understood to be a human being who achieves a superhuman state. This is a two-stage process. First, as a human being, he (it is always a man) achieves a lower-state of weizzāhood by engaging in a variety of practices such as Buddhist meditation and morality in combination with alchemy, magical squares (yantras), or indigenous medicine, or reciting mantras through which he acquires supernormal powers (Pāli iddhi, abhiññā; Burmese dago; Sanskrit siddhi), such as being able to predict the future, to materialize objects, to be able to levitate, to be present at two places at the same time, etc. Second, he achieves an ontological transformation (htwek-yap-pauk) through which he acquires a semi-immortal life that enables him to transcend saṃsāra and to attain nirvana and awakening (Pāli bodhi) in a remote future as a Buddhist saint (Pāli arahant) or as a buddha in one extended life. In the meantime, the accomplished weizzā leaves the human realm and enters a hidden world, and from there he seeks to promote and defend the Buddha’s dispensation (Pāli sāsana) and to save the suffering sentient beings. From his hidden abode, a weizzā can communicate with and give instructions to his human devotees through telepathic messages or omens, by apparitions, or by possessing them. In this way, a weizzā is perceived as an intrinsically Buddhist figure that is linked to Buddhist meditation, morality, soteriology, cosmology, and eschatology.

Subjects

  • Buddhism

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