Myanmar Religious Officials Decry Buddhist Monk’s Pagoda-Building Spree

2016-05-11
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Buddhist pagodas overlook the Salween River in the Hpa-An region of western Myanmar's Karen state, Dec. 9, 2013.
Buddhist pagodas overlook the Salween River in the Hpa-An region of western Myanmar's Karen state, Dec. 9, 2013.
Hemis

Religious officials in Myanmar have condemned the actions of an influential Buddhist monk and his followers who are erecting Buddhist pagodas on the grounds of churches and mosques in eastern Myanmar’s Karen State.

Monk Myaing Kyee Ngu, also known as U Thuzana, has been building pagodas—also called stupas—near Christian churches and mosques in eastern Myanmar’s Karen state in an act of defiance to supposedly reclaim ancient Buddhist lands.

Ven Abiyabiwuntha, abbot of the Myawaddy Monastery in Mandalay, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the government-appointed body of high-ranking Buddhist monks that oversees and regulates the Buddhist clergy in Myanmar has so far failed to stop Myaing Kyee Ngu’s activities.

“The State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee must take action against him, but I haven’t heard that it has done anything to him,” he said.

“Actually, building stupas is not important for Buddhism; the important thing is to have dhamma—loving-kindness and goodwill,” he said. “What he is doing by building stupas is destroying dhamma.”

Myaing Kyee Ngu abruptly departed Karen state when Aung Ko, minister of religious affairs and culture, stopped there for a visit after meeting with members of an interfaith group last week in Mandalay to discuss religious issues, including his recent invasive pagoda-building spree.

Tin Win, Karen state’s religious minister, told RFA that Myaing Kyee Ngu had already left for Bangkok when Aung Ko arrived to see him, leaving him to meet with another monk who is Myaing Kyee Ngu’s assistant.

The monk told Aung Ko that Myaing Kyee Ngu was seriously ill, and the minister asked him to pass on his message to reconsider his actions of building stupas on lands belonging to other religious groups, Tin Win said.

Resolving the problem

Myaing Kyee Ngu and 300 supporters erected a dome-shaped Buddhist shrine last week on the grounds of St. Mark Anglican church in Kondawgyi village of Hlaingbwe township.

The monk, who is spiritual adviser to an armed ethnic Karen group, built his first pagoda on the church property on April 23 despite objections by religious authorities.

“Christian people who live in that area are very simple and honest,” Tin Win said. “Buddhist people who have built stupas on their church land under Myaing Kyee Ngu’s orders are their relatives. They said they are not upset with the Buddhists and will let them do whatever they want on their church land.”

Aung Ko also met with Anglican Bishop Saw Stylo, who oversees the Anglican church in Karen state and neighboring regions, and told him that he would try to see Myaing Kyee Ngu.

Aung Ko also urged state leaders to resolve the problem.

“The minister and his group seemed surprised to see about 20 stupas in the village and on the church grounds,” Tin Win said.

“We still have about 30 to 40 people [Myaing Kyee Ngu’s supporters] on the grounds, so we’re worried about having problems with them,” he said.

Ven Abiyabiwuntha said no one should erect pagodas on the grounds of churches or other religious sites that are not Buddhist.

“Nobody should do it,” he said. “It’s unfair to build stupas on land that doesn’t belong to you.  It is not in accordance with social and religious rules.”

“If the person who builds stupas on another’s properties is a monk, he will be no longer be a monk, according to Buddha’s rules,” he said. “Some people build religious buildings with permission from the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, but in this case, it seems he erected these stupas without permission from the Sangha Committee.”

Religious oppression

Aung Ko, a former military general and ex-Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) lawmaker, came under fire by religious groups in early April for comments in which he denied any deliberate government oppression of religious minorities, including Christians, Hindus and Muslims, in the predominantly Buddhist country.

During an interview with the Myanmar-language service of Voice of America, he also said Buddhists were “full citizens,” while Muslims constituted the majority of the nation’s “associate citizens,” implying that they are partial citizens or foreigners.

Predominantly Buddhist Myanmar has experienced spates of violence directed at religious minorities—mainly Christians and Muslims—for decades.

In Rakhine state in western Myanmar some 140,000 Rohingya Muslims were displaced in 2012 after violence erupted between them and local Buddhists, leaving more than 200 dead and tens of thousands homeless.

The Rohingya, who bore the brunt of the attacks, were later forced to live under harsh conditions in displacement camps.

Myaing Kyee Ngu has also built pagodas on church compounds in Hpa-an township and near a mosque in Mya Pyi village, prompting many people to condemn his actions on social media, according to a recent report in the online journal The Irrawaddy.

He has plans to build additional Buddhist structures at a church compound in Kondawgyi village, the report said.

Reported by San San Tin, Tin Aung Khine and Zarni Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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