Weikza-Lam (I): The Buddhist Magician

Weikza practices are less common than practices of merit or vipassanā meditation.

The word weizza comes from the word Pali vijjā, which means “knowledge” or “wisdom”. These practitioners seek wisdom through the study of magical arts in front of the vipassanā practitioners who seek it sitting while counting breaths.

A weizza or weikza, in pāli vijjādhara (connoisseur of charms, sorcerer) is a semi-immortal supernatural figure in Buddhism in Burma associated with esoteric and occult practices such as spell recitation, samatha and alchemy. The goal of this practice is to achieve the timeless state of weizza, which awaits the appearance of the future Buddha, Metteyya.

The Burmese weikza-do, a powerful Buddhist thaumaturge master of the esoteric arts and possessor of extraordinary magical power, makes a complete and extravagant use of his powers to help good people and defend the Buddha. The Burmese legend of Shin Arahan and King Anawrahta is closely enshrined in the story of Dhammāsoka found in the Mahāvaṃsa.

Through this and related legends, the Mon and Burmese identify Lower Burma as Suvaṇṇabhūmī, the “Golden Earth”. The legend of Soña and Uttara, appearing for the first time in the Dipavamsa, was recast in its Burmese form in the Kalyāṇī inscriptions of the fifteenth century of King Dhammacetī.

Shin Upagot dwells in his underwater palace awaiting the advent of the Buddha Metteyya. The legend has its origins in Sanskrit Buddhism and makes its debut in Burma in the 11th century Lokapaññatti.

The weikza-do debuts as a Buddhist hero in the Burmese folklore of the early nineteenth century in the figure of a magician named Bo Bo Aung.He is portrayed as a layman dressed in white with a turban leading an army just in the service of a Cakkavattī king named Setkya-min whose task is the defeat of evil and the beginning of a Golden Age in preparation for the immanent advent of Metteyya .

The notion that Metteyya will appear in the near future falls outside the traditional Theravada parameters, but, nevertheless, the idea seems to have enjoyed considerable popularity among the general population over time.

From the 19th century, the myth of Setkya-min inspired numerous claimants to the throne to launch millenarian uprisings, first against the Burmese crown, and then against the British colonial government; the last and most famous of these was the Saya San rebellion of 1930-31.

After independence in 1948 under the U Nu government, the weikza-lam associations that had a millenarian orientation were treated with suspicion and even harassed occasionally and since the military coup of 1962, including also the public profession of the millenarian ideology Setkya- min.

The figure of Setkya-min is based on a historical namesake, Crown Prince Setkya (1812-1838). Prince Setkya was assassinated in 1838 by his uncle, Tharrawaddi, who usurped the Burmese throne. Being a character of royal stock, Setkya’s blood could not be shed so he was drowned in a velvet sack according to protocol. The legend says that the prince did not die and was taken to heaven by the weikza-do Bo Bo Aung. There he waits, hidden, the propitious moment to return to the world.

Even King Bodaw-paya (1782-1819) seems to have contemplated for a time that he himself could be an incarnation of Metteyya, although an official proclamation of such a claim was never made.

Weizza continues to exist in Myanmar, although the socialist government during the era of Ne Win suppressed this ideology. The previous government banned the publication of weizza materials and the sale of weizza prints, which are popular on the altars of homes. Even so, weizza followers abound. There are exclusive groups of weizza devotees called gaing. These groups follow a set of principles, are headed by a charismatic leader and focus their devotion on one or more weizza saints.

Another popular weikza-lam orientation to the standard Theravada eschatology which states that the religion of Gotama Buddha will last 5000 years, of which approximately 2500 are still missing. The disappearance of the religion will be followed by a period of several million years, only after which Metteyya will finally appear. The Weikza-lam associations that accept this scenario devote their energies not to the beginning of a Golden Age, but to the prolongation of the practitioner’s longevity so that he can meet Metteyya Buddha personally in a single life.

These non-millenarian and future-oriented weikza-lam groups always seem to have been the majority, and they continue to flourish today. A common variation of the previous scenario has the weikza-do waiting for the parinibbāna of the relics of the Gotama Buddha, an event that would occur at the end of the current 5,000-year Sāsana.

In a 1979 speech before the Central Committee of the Socialist Party, General Ne Win compared these alleged doctrines as dangerous as those of the Reverend Jim Jones who ordered the mass suicide of his followers in Jonestown, Guyana in 1978.

General Ne Win allegedly prohibited military personnel from joining weikza-lam associations on the grounds that such membership undermined the chain of command.

The weikza-lam is an esoteric religious system that requires initiation under a master or Saya, and instruction in a repertoire of occult sciences whose mysteries can not be shared with others. As such, the weikza-lam contrasts with the Theravada normative that is exoteric in its teachings and observances.

Learning in weikza-lam involves training in one or more of the following disciplines:

  • the use of magic spells and spells (command);
  • alchemy (aggiyat), particularly associated with the manipulation of mercury and iron.
  • traditional medicine (hsay), which includes indigenous, Chinese and Indian Aryuveda pharmacopoeias,
  • and most importantly due to its effectiveness, the launching of runes or magic diagrams (aing, sama).

Runes are generally understood as devices for protection or healing and can be drawn into amulets that are worn or inserted under the skin, or tattooed on the body. Alternatively, they can be written on sheets of paper that are then rolled into pills or burned and in ashes and swallowed as medicine.

In addition, the runes are used to delimit the limits in the ground, especially for the rites of initiation and exorcism.

All these esoteric techniques are organized under a classification system of ‘sciences’, whose vocabulary is drawn mainly from the Pali sources.

While training in esoteric sciences is the responsibility of the disciples of Weikza-lam, normative Buddhist practices are not neglected. Saya is the Burmese corruption of the pāli Acariya and generically means simply ‘master’. Sometimes teachers in this tradition are known as weikza-Saya “masters of esoteric knowledge” or teachers of hsay-Saya “of medicine” to distinguish them from other teachers.

The largest category in pāli under which these various sciences are regulated is Gāndhārī-vijjā (Burdari-weikza Burmese pronunciation).Included under this term are also extraordinary powers (Iddhi) or meditative attire (abhiñña) near enlightenment and, in fact, often stand out as essential to any progress.

The most important of these is the observance of the five Buddhist precepts (Sila) and the cultivation of various meditations assimilated to the category of samatha theravadin or tranquility meditation.

Weikza-Lam practitioners will often take the eight or ten precepts of the Buddhist Sabbath for extended periods of time as the added renunciation to enhance their spiritual potency (hpon); whereas samatha in particular is considered effective for its ability to deliver supernormal powers. Equally important, equip the weikza-lam practitioner with moral and mental superiority the necessary strength to exercise control over a large number of spirits from the demonic to the benign, whose power must be exploited to discover the secrets of herbs, spells and critical spells.

At the level of daily practice, they are healers, exorcists, magical protection providers and forecasters for clients and the faithful. Ideally, the teacher does not charge a fee for their services, their generosity being part of their discipline and training.

A typical consultation of these teachers in Rangoon follows the following procedure: After learning about the condition of the patient, he will prepare himself by calming his mind with a preliminary meditation. Then, he extends his hands over the patient’s body to feel the aura that indicates the aetiology of the ailment and, therefore, the remedy to be prescribed.

According to the teacher, the disease arises from three general causes:

Diseases such as measles, food poisoning, etc., are ordinary physical conditions that can be treated either with indigenous medicine or, if that proves ineffective, with Western medicines.

The disease could be caused by payawga, a malevolent influence of supernatural origin like black magic. In such cases, the master would have to deal with the forces of darkness in battle using all the hidden instruments at his disposal. This entailed a risk for the teacher, since there was a possibility that he could be defeated and damaged, but if he succeeds, the patient would return to normal.

On the other hand, the disorder could be diagnosed as an irreversible consequence of karma, such as retribution for an undeserved fact (akutho), in case there is no cure, the patient would be advised to participate in religious devotion as a way to prepare for the inevitable.

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