The Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw of Myanmar can be considered as one of the most influential meditation masters of modern times.
He was born into a peasant family on 29 July 1904 in Seikkhun village, Shwebo District, Upper Burma. At the age of 12 years he became a novice (samanera) under the name of Shin Sobhana at Seikkhun's Pyinmana monastery where he had already pursued a monastic education as a lay boy for six years. During the following years he thoroughly studied the Buddhist texts under Sayadaw U Adicca of Seikkhun's Pyinmana monastery and later under Sayadaw U Parama of Thugyi-Kyaung monastery, Ingyintaw-taik.
At the age of nineteen (26 November 1923) he received higher ordination under Sumedha Sayadaw Ashin Nimmala. He continued his studies under a number of famous teachers at West Khinmakan monastery in Mandalay. After slightly over a year at the study monastery in Mandalay Ashin Sobhana was requested to assist teaching at the Taikkyaung, Taunwaingalei in Moulmein. Up to his 25th rains (vassa) Ashin Sobhana spent his time teaching scriptures and Vipassana at the Mahasi monastery in Seikkhun village, Upper Burma, and at the Taunwaingalei Taikkyaung in Moulmein. It was during this time that Ashin Sobhana undertook a thorough study of the Mahasatipatthana Sutta. His deepening interest in Vipassana meditation took him to nearby Thaton where he then practiced Vipassana meditation for four months under the guidance of Mingun Jetavan Sayadaw U Narada (1868-1955). Ashin Sobhana in turn instructed his first three disciples in Vipassana at Seikkhun village in 1938. In June 1941, at the age of 37 years, he passed with distinction the government- held scriptural examinations and thus received the Dhamma teacher title (Sasanadhaja Siripavara Dhammacariya).
Upon the invitation of Sir U Thwin and the Buddha Sasana Nuggaha organization Mahasi Sayadaw took up residence at a newly established meditation center in Yangon, on 10 November 1949, which soon was named as Mahasi Meditation Center (Mahasi Sasana Yeiktha). There Mahasi Sayadaw began teaching Vipassana meditation to a rapidly increasing number of meditators on 4 December 1949.
In 1952 the government of Burma honored Mahasi Sayadaw's scriptural achievements by conferring an Aggamahapandita title upon him.
During the Sixth Buddhist Council (Chattha Sangayana), which was held between 1954 and 1956, Mahasi Sayadaw served with much skill as the 'questioner' (pucchaka), final editor (osana sodhaka), and 'national admonisher' (ovadacariya), while Tipitakadhara Sayadaw U Vicittasarabhivamsa served as the 'answerer' (chattha sangitivisajjakaka).
During the Second World War, while the Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw was residing at Seikkhun village he wrote the 'Manual of Vipassana Meditation' (Vipassana Shunyi Kyan), a fundamental work of two volumes on the theory and practice of Vipassana meditation, which was first published in 1942. Being a prolific writer the Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw has more than 70 books related to Vipassana meditation to his credit, many of which have been translated into English.
During his lifetime the Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw was instrumental in establishing over 300 Mahasi meditation centers in Burma, all following his teachings. The Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw undertook many Dhamma missions to foreign countries during which he planted the seed of Dhamma. Among the countries he visited are India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Japan and other Asian countries. His Dhamma missions also took him to North America and the United Kingdom, France (Tournon and Paris, 1979) and Holland. As a result, a keen interest in the Mahasi approach to Vipassana meditation developed and led to the establishment of numerous Mahasi meditation centers outside of Burma.
On 14 August, 1982, having spent 58 rains (vassa) as a Buddhist monk, the Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw at the age of 78 passed away. During a life selflessly devoted to the spread of the Dhamma he had helped thousands upon thousands onto the path of liberation.