Promi­nent monks join cho­rus against Ma Ba Tha

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - HTET KHAUNG LINN news­room@mm­times.com

Several revered mem­bers of the Bud­dhist clergy have spo­ken out against the na­tion­al­ist group, dis­tanc­ing them­selves from what they called a “di­vi­sive” fac­tion.

SEVERAL revered Bud­dhist monks from across Myan­mar have spo­ken out against the na­tion­al­ist Ma Ba Tha move­ment, de­scrib­ing it as a mi­nor­ity group and its ac­tions as di­vi­sive and politi­cised.

The monks joined a grow­ing cho­rus of crit­i­cism of the move­ment, which was re­cently dis­owned by the State Sangha and hit with le­gal com­plaints by the Na­tional League for Democ­racy (NLD) gov­ern­ment.

U Ariya Bhivamsa, an ab­bot at Myawaddi Mingyi Monastery in Man­dalay, said some monks had ini­tially viewed Ma Ba Tha – or the Com­mit­tee for the Pro­tec­tion of Na­tion­al­ity and Re­li­gion as it is called in English – as a pro­tec­tor of Bud­dhism, but most had come to re­alise that it was radical and close to the mil­i­tary-linked Union Sol­i­dar­ity and De­vel­op­ment Party (USDP).

“The ma­jor­ity of the Sangha com­mu­nity does not sup­port Ma Ba Tha. But while the good and dis­ci­plined monks keep silent to avoid dis­putes, Ma Ba Tha monks are be­ing boast­ful,” he told Myan­mar Now.

U San­dar Siri, an ab­bott at Shwe Thein Monastery in Yangon who par­tic­i­pated in the 2007 Saf­fron Rev­o­lu­tion, said Ma Ba Tha was a ma­lign in­flu­ence and caused dis­agree­ments among monks.

“Myan­mar’s Sangha [Bud­dhist or­der] never ex­pe­ri­enced any rift since Ther­avada Bud­dhism started to flour­ish here. But Ma Ba Tha has now caused a rift,” he said. “They must stop their works as they are go­ing against the will of the ma­jor­ity of the monks.”

U Eis­saria from Vimutisukha Vi­raha Monastery in Hpakant town­ship, Kayin State, another lead­ing monk dur­ing the Saf­fron Rev­o­lu­tion, said Ma Ba Tha’s at­tacks on other re­li­gions and its sup­port for the USDP dur­ing the 2015 elec­tions had un­der­mined re­la­tions be­tween the pub­lic and clergy.

“There has been a re­mark­able di­vi­sion among peo­ple and monks. The works of Ma Ba Tha are dis­turb­ing Myan­mar’s com­mu­ni­ties – in­stead of pro­tect­ing race and re­li­gion,” he said.

U Eis­saria added that Ma Ba Tha “at­tacked the NLD with ex­trem­ist ide­ol­ogy”.

Threats and a dam­aged rep­u­ta­tion U Eis­saria said Ma Ba Tha had also done con­sid­er­able dam­age to the in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion of Myan­mar’s monks, not­ing that he and fel­low clergy had been la­belled na­tion­al­ists dur­ing their trips abroad to Den­mark, France and Swe­den.

“My friends told me such dis­tur­bances are hap­pen­ing in these coun­tries since the emer­gence of Ma Ba Tha,” he said.

U Cin­tika, an ab­bott from Maha Vi­ji­tarama Monastery in Man­dalay, said Ma Ba Tha’s sup­port­ers were so ag­gres­sive that they would even threaten mod­er­ate monks who pub­licly ques­tioned the move­ment.

“There have been dis­putes and ac­cu­sa­tions be­tween pro- and an­tiMa Ba Tha monks,” he said, adding that he re­cently re­ceived a phone call in which sup­posed sup­port­ers of U Wi­rathu, a fire­brand na­tion­al­ist monk based in Man­dalay, had threat­ened to kill him.

An un­ex­plained in­ci­dent last month had raised fur­ther con­cerns. U Cin­tika said a mo­tor­bike crashed into him while he was walk­ing back from a lo­cal pagoda at night and the driv­ers sped away with­out iden­ti­fy­ing them­selves.

Ma Ba Tha monks con­tacted by Myan­mar Now of­fered a lim­ited re­sponse to the crit­i­cisms lev­elled against the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

U Vi­mala Bud­dhi, another fire­brand monk based in the Mon State cap­i­tal Moul­mein, said Ma Ba Tha had no po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion and only worked to de­fend Bud­dhism.

U Sopaka, a Bud­dhist monk who is the of­fi­cial spokesper­son of Ma Ba Tha, said the or­gan­i­sa­tion would con­tinue to strengthen Bud­dhism, re­gard­less of the state­ments by other monks, the State Sangha or the gov­ern­ment.

“We have clear ob­jec­tives and a roadmap – we will im­ple­ment them in the fu­ture,” he said. A turn­ing point? Ma Ba Tha rose to promi­nence in the wake of the 2012 com­mu­nal vi­o­lence be­tween Rakhine State Bud­dhists and Ro­hingya Mus­lims, and it ini­tially gained sym­pa­thy for their views from Myan­mar’s Bud­dhist ma­jor­ity.

Ahead of the 2015 elec­tions, Ma Ba Tha monks por­trayed Bud­dhism as threat­ened by Myan­mar’s Mus­lim mi­nor­ity and said the USDP should con­tinue to run the coun­try in or­der to pro­tect Bud­dhism.

Ten­sions be­tween Ma Ba Tha and the gov­ern­ment have been steadily ris­ing since the NLD as­sumed power in April, as the move­ment tried to pres­sure the NLD dur­ing its at­tempts to re­solve the Rakhine cri­sis.

On July 3, the NLD’s Yangon Re­gion Chief Min­is­ter U Phyo Min Thein said the coun­try does not need Ma Ba Tha. The monks said they would re­spond with a large protest, but even­tu­ally backed out.

It ap­pears to have been some­what of a turn­ing point and the gov­ern­ment, NLD mem­bers and se­nior monks have all be­gun to crit­i­cise and pres­sure Ma Ba Tha.

Last week, the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Com­mit­tee dis­tanced it­self from Ma Ba Tha, say­ing it had never of­fi­cially en­dorsed the move­ment and that it was op­er­at­ing out­side of Sangha rules and reg­u­la­tions.

A day later, U Wi­rathu was hit with a defama­tion suit filed with po­lice by a Yangon char­ity over highly in­sult­ing re­marks he made against UN Hu­man Rights Rap­por­teur for Myan­mar Yanghee Lee.

Photo: Naing Wynn Htoon

Ma Ba Tha hold a cel­e­bra­tion mark­ing its third an­niver­sary on June 5 in In­sein town­ship.

Photo: Zarni Phyo

Monks from the Sangha Maha Nayaka Com­mit­tee leave af­ter a meet­ing in Yangon on July 13 in which they of­fi­cially dis­as­so­ci­ated from Ma Ba Tha.

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