The "science" of magically transforming substances, the precursor of modern chemistry, which probably had its origins in ancient Egypt; distinct alchemical traditions emerged among the Greeks and Romans, Arabs, Indians, and Chinese. In Burma, metallurgy for magical purposes (aggiya, "work with fire") sought a "philosopher's stone" that would free the possessor from old age and death, circumventing the cycle of death and rebirth (samsara) that Buddhism declares is the fate of all living things. Zawgyi (alchemists) claimed that by extending life they would be able to encounter in person the Future Buddha, who will appear 5,000 years after the death of Gotama Buddha, enabling them to pass directly into nibbana. One of the most famous legendary alchemists was the "Goat-Bull Monk," who, having blinded himself, used the philosopher's stone he concocted to replace his sightless eyes with one eye each from a goat and a bull, bought at a butcher's shop. His image is found at the Shwe Dagon Pagoda. Zawgyi traditionally have been popular figures in Burmese drama, often depicted as pitiful or comic rather than heroic figures. Though strong in body and endowed with strong desires, they cannot have congress with women because the odor of meat-eating human beings is overpowering, and they must content themselves with the company of nonhuman "fruit maidens," which grow on extremely rare trees in the Himalayas. This legend may have been antimagical propaganda circulated by orthodox Buddhists. It also reflects the ancient belief that immortal beings are tragically denied the consolation of human companionship and love.
   See also Dhammazedi; Weikza.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.


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