Kaba Aye Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar is a leading attraction that is significant not only in religion and culture but also in politics. The name literally means “World Peace Pagoda”. It was constructed by U Nu, the Prime Minister of Burma in 1952 for the Sixth Buddhist Council that was to be held in 1954. The council lasted for two years, ending in 1956 which marks the 2,500th year Jayanti anniversary of the Buddha’s death, or more appropriately his Parinibbana or final nirvana, which takes place when the body dies and the spirit attains complete awakening.
The pagoda is 34 meters high and 34 meters around its base, located on the Kaba Aye Road about 11 kilometers to the north of the city. Constructed simultaneously in the same complex is the Maha Pasana Guha or “great cave”, which is a replica of the Satta Panni cave in India where the first Buddhist Council was held in 543-542 BC when the Buddha attained Parinibbana. The man-made cave is 139 meters long and 110 meters wide. The assembly hall inside the cave is 67 meters long and 43 meters wide. Today, the Maha Pasana Guha cave is used as venue for the Tipitakadhara Tipitaka Kovida Examinations, a religious examination in Theravada Buddhism on Tipitaka (or Tripitaka) teachings. The exams involve both oral and written texts and extensive recitation.
The Sixth Buddhist Council also known as the Sixth Great Synod was participated in by 2,500 Theravadan Elders and monastic representatives from Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Japan, and of course Myanmar, the host country. One of the main purposes of the sixth synod was to preserve the teachings and practices of Buddha according to the interpretation and application of Theravada tradition. This is traditionally the purpose of the great gatherings. For two years, the participating Elders and monks recited from their existing redaction of the scriptures in the tradition of Theravada Buddhism. The scriptures are written in the Pali language, thus it is known as the Pali Canon. After the council, a redaction of the Pali texts was synthesized and transcribed in several native languages. For the Prime Minister of Burma, the goal of hosting the synod was to establish Buddhism as the official religion of the country. The last synod, the Fifth Buddhist Council was held 83 years earlier also in Burma.
U Nu’s effort of establishing a Buddhist state, however, fell short. After the Council, the Burmese parliament was compelled to declare Buddhism as the official state religion on August 29, 1961, but this was repealed after only a year by the new Prime Minister, Ne Win. Both Buddhists and non-Buddhists did not like the idea of having a state religion. According to Buddhist elders, their religion should not be politically institutionalized or imposed on people.
The large Kaba Aye Pagoda compound offers peace and quiet not only to its devotees but for tourists who wish to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The complex is never without a crowd of monks, devotees, pilgrims and tourists in reverence. Inside are lotus flower and lotus bud designs, colorful porches decorated with arched pediments, ancient relics, four pillars with four great Buddha figures and an 8-ft tall silver Buddha statue. The complex is open from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. every day for a small admission fee.