As COVID Deaths Soar, Myanmar Junta Urges Citizens to Recite Buddhist Verses

By The Irrawaddy 20 July 2021

In Buddhism, to abstain from killing living beings is the most important moral precept. After killing more than 900 people—including dozens of children, some barely 6 years old—since its coup in February, the military regime, which describes itself as the defender and promoter of Buddhism in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, is now urging the people to take refuge in Buddha.

On Tuesday, readers were left open-mouthed when they saw a notification in the junta’s mouthpiece newspapers in which the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture urged them to recite daily in their homes the Ratana Sutta, a Buddhist discourse that followers believe can offset the effects of famine and disease.

Bodies are lined up to be cremated at Yeway Cemetery on July 12. / Supplied

In response, a Buddhist monk wrote on his Facebook page: “What people need is oxygen, and not the verse.”

Coup leader Senior General Ming Aung Hlaing recently denied the existence of an oxygen shortage in Myanmar, shortly before cemeteries in the country’s largest city Yangon saw an unprecedented influx of corpses, with hundreds of people dying of COVID-19 each day over the past week.

Most of the deaths are due to the regime’s decision to restrict access to oxygen, a crucial lifeline for victims in serious COVID-19 cases. The regime has ordered private oxygen suppliers not to refill oxygen cylinders for individuals, while patients are finding it extremely difficult to get beds at hospitals or COVID-19 centers, and are forced to rely on treatment at home, including finding medical oxygen.

The Religious Affairs and Culture Ministry said it had asked the region- and state-level Buddhist authorities known as Sangha Nayaka Committees to instruct township-level Buddhist authorities to recite the Ratana Sutta and other religious verses in line with COVID-19 regulations in their respective wards, villages and townships.

A notice from the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture published in junta-controlled newspaper Myanma Alinn Daily on Tuesday urging members of the public to recite the Ratana Sutta in their homes.

The request came a month after junta troops swore and beat Buddhist monks from Masoeyein Monastery in Mandalay who were reciting suttas during a prayer service for Myanmar. It appears the regime is growing increasingly desperate as its anti-COVID efforts are failing, suggested netizens.

The junta-controlled Ministry of Health and Sports said that 5,189 new cases and 281 deaths were recorded on Monday. Over 94,000 cases were reported with 2,150 deaths between Feb. 1 and July 19, with the majority of deaths being recorded since mid-June. The actual numbers are believed to be higher.

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