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Weikza-Lam (II): The Immortal Magician

In keeping with the ultimate goal of the system, weikza-lam practitioners also work for their own physical perfection, applying the same sciences to their own bodies to make them invulnerable, and to avoid hurting or decomposing. The main metaphor is alchemical, where the corruptible body is transformed into a stable substance, like base metals that tarnish and transmute into gold.

It is when he completes this transformation that the practitioner becomes a weikza-do, a ‘possessor of [esoteric] knowledge’. Another term for such a consummate one is htwet-yat-pauk, which literally means ‘to go out of place’ and means that the adept’s own body is the exit point from which the mortal plane escapes.

In the weikza-lam manuals, the final stage of transition from such a master to being an immortal magician is portrayed in a variety of ways depending on the sectarian affiliation of the authors.

In one of the most dramatic scenarios the Sayadaw disciples prepare a coffin in which he will be unconscious. The coffin will be sealed and placed inside a specially prepared chamber, perhaps a ordination hall for its sanctity, or simply buried in the ground. At this time, the teacher will be defenseless against the forces of darkness. In the Buddhist causal theory, the specific type of kamma referred to here is called aparāpariya vedanīya kamma. Unlike other kammas whose consequences can be modified or obviated through action, the consequences of this type of karma are inevitable and can not be avoided and will surely attempt to destroy it. To defend it, his disciples will draw protective diagrams, recite the appropriate spells and arm themselves with alchemical stones to throw the evil forces when they try to enter the consecrated space. After a predetermined lapse of time the coffin will be opened and if the disciples find the empty box with only the clothes, they will know that their Sayadaw had successfully dematerialized their body and escaped as an immortal being.

The person who makes the transition in this way is called ashin-htwet, or someone who ‘comes out alive’.

A variant is that, instead of leaving only clothes, the successful practitioner leaves behind an incorruptible body in the form of a mummy that will serve as a kind of relic for veneration by the faithful. (Recall that the initial purpose of the vipassanā was just this one: to leave a pretty mummy when dying). A weikza-do that goes this way is called athay-htwet or one that ‘comes out by [apparent] death’- apparent because, although the body is dead, the practitioner’s mind did not die when leaving the body, but ascended to the realm of the immortals perfectly alive.

The third possibility, of course, is that, upon opening the coffin, the disciples find that the corpse is rotting, at which point they will realize that their Sayadaw had failed in their purpose and died a mortal death. While the weikza-do are released from physical limitations they continue to communicate with their mortal followers by giving farewell instructions in dreams or meditations, or in person. Sometimes they take the body of a disciple for a period of time, or even reanimate the corpse of a recently deceased individual, whatever is necessary to perform some necessary task in the world.

According to Theravada metaphysics, when mortals die in their minds experience a moment of «death consciousness» (cuti-citta), which ends the present life, immediately followed by a moment of ‘rebirth consciousness’ (paṭisandhi-citta) , which starts the next life. In the theory of weikza-lam, when a perfect htwet-yat-pauk leaves the body, his mind renounces these two moments and simply continues uninterruptedly in the same life.

There is a great variety of different interrelations of the weikza with respect to the way in which quehtwet-yat-pauks communicate with the disciples. The Ariyā-weizzā association they maintain with human beings is understood as a sign of altruism, since it is believed that contact with mortal flesh is repulsive to their refined sensibilities.

Being always present in the world and devout Buddhists, the weikza-do can be invoked for protection, for spiritual advice, and also for worldly blessings. In popular religious art, weikza-do has been added to a changing pantheon of about twenty individuals, composed of both historical and legendary figures. Among them are laymen like Bo Bo Aung, typically dressed in white, Buddhist hermits (yathay) wearing monk robes and conical hats, and Buddhist monks.

The most popular weikza-do today is the layman Bo Min Gaung who is believed to have shed his mortal body in 1952.

Weikza-lam associations often claim to be in communication with one or more of these figures, and invariably trace their own age line of teachers, real and apocryphal, back to the people included in the list. Variations in the standard pantheon – marked in lithography by graphics of who has been painted – can most often be traced back to rival weikza associations and reflect their own sectarian interpretations of the weikza-lam story.

In the weikza-lam theory, the acquisition of supernormal and extraordinary powers and long life are in themselves mundane achievements. But weikza-lam is also presented as a fully developed ‘supramundane’ lokuttara salvation system; one that sees as totally in line with Theravada orthodoxy, while at the same time offering an alternative to the soteriological standard recognized by the religious establishment.To take for granted the normative eschatology that situates the advent of Metteyya in the far distant future, the weikza-lam argues that his esoteric practices are a surer way of finding the future Buddha than merely making merit.

The superiority of weikza-lam derives from its unique approach to the task. First, by eliminating the inevitability of death, the weikza-do avoids the vagaries of the rebirth process. The weikza-do generate bodies that are stored in hidden caves to which they can enter and exit in will be. These bodies are used when acting in the human world and can throw even a virtuous person into hell as a result of a long-forgotten wrong done in a previous life. This is of critical importance because once fallen into that unfortunate state the duration of the torment will be so long that all possibilities of meeting Metteyya Buddha will be lost. Second, advocates will point out that the motivation for taking weikza-lam is intrinsically meritorious because by definition devotees use their esoteric knowledge to protect the Buddha’s religion from the forces of evil.

Hence the advantages of becoming a weikza-do: having become immune to death, he is guaranteed to find ter Metteyya in this very life, and having equipped himself with magical powers so that he can defend the Buddha’s religion, he is well positioned to gain the merit necessary to be liberated by the saving teachings of Metteyya.

But the weikza-do is not obliged to attain nibbāna at that very moment of time as an arahant disciple of Metteyya. Instead, as Gotama, he may choose to strive for full Buddhahood, in which case he would extend his stay in Saṃsāra by a myriad of more lives. Or, he can choose to remain as he is, a Buddhist magician, fighting evil and doing good … indefinitely.

The attitude of the weikza-lam towards modern vipassanā is one of educated reserve. Although they generally recognize that liberation is possible in the present age through meditation, weikza-lam devotees sometimes wonder if it is as easy to achieve as some contemporary vipassanā teachers claim. At the same time, weikza-lam practitioners often shy away from practicing vipassanā out of fear that they may reach Nibbāna too quickly, thus depriving Buddhism and the world of their magical protection. Some even maintain that in the present age samatha and vipassanā lack real efficacy unless the body is first fortified by the cultivation of the esoteric sciences.

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