The Burmese Buddhist Temple (also known as Maha Sasana Ramsi; simplified Chinese: 缅甸玉佛寺; pinyin: Miǎndiàn yùfósì) is located on Tai Gin Road in Novena, Singapore. Founded in 1875, the temple is the oldest Theravada institution and the only Burmese Buddhist temple of its kind in Singapore. The temple houses the largest pure white marble statue of the Buddha outside of Myanmar, and has become a religious landmark for Burmese and Singaporean devotees to make merits and take part in merit sharing activities alike.
The Burmese Buddhist Temple (BBT) was founded by a Burmese, named U Thar Hnin, also known as Tang Sooay Chin, at 17 Kinta Road (off Serangoon Road) in 1875. In 1878, U Thar Hnin donated the temple to U Kyaw Gaung, a Burmese traditional physician. The temple houses the largest pure white marble statue of the Buddha outside of Myanmar. It is also the only Burmese Buddhist temple built outside of Myanmar in the traditional Burmese architectural style.
U Kyaw Gaung, also known as Khoo Teogou, was born in Mandalay, Myanmar in 1866. He arrived in Singapore at an early age and was later joined by his wife, Daw Khin Mae and their three children. Coming from a land of great Buddhist influence, it was U Kyaw Gaung's ambition to introduce Theravada Buddhism in Singapore.
In 1907, he was elected as Trustee of the temple. While administrating for the temple, he had dreamt of acquiring a sizable marble Buddha statue as seen in Myanmar. Undaunted by limited funds raised from his hard-earned earnings and public donations, U Kyaw Gaung pledged to carry out the mammoth task. After several trips to Myanmar, an immense marble weighing more than 10 tons from Sagyin Hill, 50 km north of Mandalay, was sighted. Sagyin Hill was famous for its superior quality marble in Myanmar. The stone was bought for Rs1,200 and delivered to Mandalay, a city reputed for its skilled craftsmanship. Eventually, a magnificent Buddha image measuring 3 metres (eleven feet) in height was immaculately sculptured out from the stone in 1918.
Despite the lack of modern transportation and heavy machinery at that time, and the numerous challenges he faced during the arduous 2,500 km land and sea journey, U Kyaw Gaung successfully transported the newly completed Buddha statue to Singapore in 1921 intact with assistance from the late Aw Boon Par of Tiger Balm fame. The marble statue was at first housed in a shed known as Buddha Wehara. In 1925, it was moved to Kinta Road where it was housed in a private chamber. This chamber became a shrine hall where devotees paid homage to the Buddha. In 1935, U Kyaw Gaung died at the age of 69 and the temple was partially converted into a private residence. U Kyaw Gaung's children looked after the temple during the Japanese Occupation and in the post-war period.
In 1981, the family of the late U Kyaw Gaung was served notice by the Urban Redevelopment Authority to vacate their house. Following the government's resettlement programme, the temple was relocated on Tai Gin Road in 1988 where it stands today. Under the guidance of the temple's Spiritual Advisor, Sayadaw U Pannya Vamsa, together with the combined efforts of the Resident Monks, members of the public and well-wishers, the temple was officially opened in 1991. The temple has intricate Burmese architectural style with teak wood carvings that were donated by the Tripitaka Nikaya Main Ministrative Body (Ti Ni) of Myanmar. The new temple houses a spacious shrine hall, a meditation hall, a multi-purpose hall, a library and living quarters for the monks.
A Bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa), can be seen in the compound of the temple that was grown from a seed from its parent tree which is situated at Mangala Vihara Buddhist Temple at 30 Jalan Eunos, Singapore. A Buddha image is placed under the Bodhi tree to remind people that Sakyamuni Buddha attained Enlightenment while meditating under a Bo tree at Bodh Gaya, in the Ganges valley, circa 600 BC. It was nurtured by the late Madam Boey, a devotee of Mangala Vihara. Its parent tree was a sapling brought from Sri Lanka. The Bodhi tree in Sri Lanka was brought by Venerable Mahinda, the son of King Asoka from India, was a descendant of the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha attained Enlightenment.
(Insight) meditation in quiet surroundings]] Venerable Sayadaw U Pannya Vamsa was born at Wakema, Myanmar on 10 January 1928. He was ordained as a novice at the age of fourteen and received higher ordination as Bhikkhu on 16 April 1948. He studied Pali and Buddhism in Wakema, Yandoon and Mandalay. In 1953, he passed Dhammacariya, the highest examination in Pali, with distinction. The government of Myanmar awarded him the degree of Sasanadaja Siripavara Dhammacariya. ("Blessed Noble Dharmafarer, Banner of the Teaching")
In 1954, he was selected by the government of Myanmar for missionary work in Cocos Island, and extended subsequently to Sri Lanka, Andaman Islands and Malaysia. In Malaysia, from 1970 to 1979, he served as a religious advisor to the Young Buddhist Association of Malaysia and as chief examiner of the Malaysia Buddhist examination syndicate. He founded the Sunday Buddhist Institute, an organization for the study of Buddhism and meditation. In 1979, he became a lecturer in Buddha Abhidhamma at the University of Oriental Studies, Los Angeles.
He has built 8 Burmese Buddhist monasteries in cities worldwide like Los Angeles, Sydney, Chicago, Toronto, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Rangoon and Auckland between 1979 to 2002. He has written over 9 books in English including titles such as Maha Paritta Pali Sacred Verses, The Dawn of Buddhism and The Ten Perfections. In recognition for his works, the Myanmar government conferred on him the religious titles of Agga Maha Pandita ("Foremost Great Wise One") and Agga Maha Saddhamma Jotika ("Foremost Great Light of the Sublime Dharma") in 1994 and 1998 respectively. In his 70s today, Sayadaw currently resides at the Dhammikayama Burmese Buddhist Temple in Penang, Malaysia.
The temple's resident Sangha consists of four Burmese monks headed by Sayadaw U Pannya Vamsa while the management of the temple's operations is run by a management committee that consists of devotees from the Burmese and Singaporean communities. The monks conduct regular Dhamma talks, chants and blessings for devotees all year round. Its annual calendar of events includes New Year Special Offering to the Sangha, Chinese New Year's Eve Chanting, Water Festival (Thin Gyan), Vesak Day, Vassa (Rain Retreat) Offering of Robes, Kathina Celebration and Novitiate Programme. Other weekly activities held at BBT are:
Although the temple was not originally situated here, there has always been a strong Burmese presence in the area. Many of the connecting streets off Balestier Road were named after cities and places in Myanmar such as:
Since the relocation of the temple, the area has once again become a sizable Burmese community in the vicinity, either as residents in the area or simple gathering at the temple on festive days to celebrate occasions special to the community. The temple lies within walking distance of another historical site, the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, a gazetted national monument.