The Student Who Taught Me (TOKM) *

by Dr. Thane Oke Kyaw Myint

In the book of tribute to me, that Prof. Aye Maung Han, Prof. Nyunt Thein, Prof. Ye Myint Kyaw published for my seventieth birthday, many of my former students wrote about what they learned from me when I was teaching and working with them over two decades as a teacher in our medical college.

I would like to share with whoever gets to read this, learning is not one way but two ways : while the students are learning from the teacher, the teacher himself learn from his students. Some of the lessons that I learn from them are work related but many more lessons are about being a good person, being dutiful, respect for people, compassion, humbleness, gratitude, integrity and religiosity. For a significant number of them, being either a medical student, a house surgeon and later as a qualified doctor or specialist, life was never a bed of roses.They juggled to fulfill their professional role as well as the role as the bread earner for either their young families or in support of elderly parents.

The student who taught me has written and published significant number of books ranging from fiction (based on his life experiences) to belle letters and articles mainly of which are not only sharing knowledge but also inspirational.

The last time I went back home, he kindly gave me a book of his.

I have read his book more than once. I go back to each chapter of his book repeatedly , especially when I come across an incident or experience, which relates very much to a relevant chapter of his book. And through this book, my student teaches me.

I had a strong affinity with my colleagues and students and previously when my memory was better than now, I could remember most of whom I taught by their names and the year they graduated. The author, although I knew him well, was not close to me as student, intern and in service,as unfortunately he was either in units other than where I was in or he did postgraduate studies only I had left the country.

Some years back, at the request of Prof. U Aye Maung Han, I gave a talk about my experiences of working in UNICEF, which were so different from my life as a paediatrician. I had titled the talk as “Shades of Mediocrity” as I felt that what I would talk about might seem both to the audience as well as to myself as my having gone through a state of mediocrity, as someone who moved from being a clinician to being an UNICEF staff responsible for public health, nutrition, water and sanitation, emergencies and the broader aspects of interventions to ensure that the the rights of children would be fulfilled. I did genuinely wondered many times, whether I had contributed significantly beyond mediocrity, to areas of work which I had never worked in.

I had used the title from Simon and Garfunkel’s Homeward Bound lyrics: “All my words came back to meIn shades of mediocrity”.

And I also quoted the vow in Burmese that appears on the front page of every book written by the well known author Tekkatho Phone Naing. The following is my own translation, more correctly my “transliteration” as I will never be able to give a precise translation of of Saya Phone Naing’s poem:


If you should not gain, by reading what I have written,
You cannot lose, if it helps to overcome ennui
If at least a word or a para will make you thoughtful
If you should find such in my writings, I the slave of writing
Will feel that my duty is done.
I will never claim that my writings are to be cherished by the reader,
Nor through my writing I will claim as being more learned than the reader
I will not go over your head, nor claim to enlighten you
I make this my vow.
Tekkatho Phone Naing
(The original “vow” by the author, I have added as a photo as I do not know how to write in Burmese on Facebook)
After I had just recited the first few lines, someone from the audience stood up and finished the poem for me, the whole passages and vow that had been made by the author.

On top of that he said the “mediocrity or mediocre” need not be seen as permanent nor to be disparaged, as he himself was once a mediocre student during his college life.
The person who said that he was “mediocre” was far from being mediocre, he was already a writer of renown and at the time my talk, he had not only acquired more accolades both as doctor and a writer than most of us but also held a senior teaching position at the medical college.

I must come back to the book he gave me. I want to tell how my ” mediocre” student, whom I know that is never so, with his writings taught me to be a better person. The book is “Mingalar shi thaw aung myin gyin” or “Auspicious acts conducive to success”. I have looked at how the word ‘mingalar” could has been translated. In the version of Paritta Protective Verses in Pali, Burmese and English, Sayadaw Silannadabhivamsa translated “mingalar” as “highest blessing”. But, I would like to use “auspicious acts” because according to the Oxford English Dictionary, auspicious means “conducive to success”, and thirty eight auspicious acts in the Mingalar Sutta lead towards the highest blessings. Maybe those who are more conversant with Pali may question my translation. But it would be appropriate for the book, to be translated as “auspicious acts that lead to success”. The author himself has translated “mingalar” as “rules for good and auspicious conduct”.

The writer has written a chapter for each of the MIngalar (act or conduct) with erudite explanation on each of the mingalar, quoting each in Pali and Burmese. He has based these not only by rote or learning but from lessons given by eminent sayadaws of Burma. References are made to books on dhamma and sermons by Ledi Sayadaw, Dr. Pyinneikthara, Sayadaw Seikienda, Shwe U Min Sayadaw and many more. He shows not just learning and knowing but how much he has internalized and practiced each of the auspicious act, by referring to his life lessons.

The fourteenth stanza of the Mingala sutta describes the first three auspicious acts:
“Asevana ca balanam,
Panditanan ca sevana,
Puja ca pujaneyanam”

“Not to associate with fools, to associate with the wise And to honor those who are worthy of honor.From: translation by Ashin Silanandabhivamsa.

As I read, I learn and am so impressed not just by the narratives of his life experiences but also by seeing the depth of understanding of Mingalar Sutta. While starting life as a simple young student, he gets to where he is now by following the various tenets of Buddhism. I use the word “erudite” for him as again Oxford English Dictionary gives the meaning of “erudite” as “having or showing great knowledge or learning” as those who have read the book would agree with me that he has not only understands and learns but also practices what he has learned.

His third chapter is on the third auspicious conduct “pujaca pujaneyyanam” : he wrote about me, as one of the persons whom he considered as his “guru”‘ among those he honors as being worthy of honor. I was very touched on reading this chapter as well as it makes me feel humble to be among those he honored the most as I may not deserve such honor, as I did not have as much contact with him during both his student years nor later as a paediatrician.

Each chapter of this book carries with it the precise meaning of each mingalar and how he has conducted himself according to his deep understanding of each.After the third reading of the book, I feel as though he are saying the words to me and guiding me towards not only just understanding but also ensure that my conduct are within the tenets of each of the mingalar.

Ko Ye Myint Kyaw, with your book, you have taught me and I would like to thank you for this. I have only one wish to ask of you: the wish is to ask you to write a similar book on “Metta Sutta” my favorite sutta in the paritta, as I know the extent of metta (compassion) that you have for the patients, their families and your students.May all the highest blessings be upon you.

With metta
Thane Oke Kyaw-Myint
20 June 2015.

Dr. Ye Myint Kyaw wrote :
Thank you very much Saya

Front cover
Back Cover
TOKM with family and friends
Poem for TOKM by his former student

Categories: S T U

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