Buddhist Committee’s 969 Prohibitions Prompts Meeting of Movement Backers

By May Sitt Paing 10 September 2013

Monks and a number of organizations behind the Buddhist nationalist movement known as “969” will hold a meeting after a Buddhist council issued a directive banning the formation of 969-based monks’ networks and prohibiting use of the movement’s emblem as a symbol for Buddhism.

The State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee (SSMNC), a government-appointed body of high-ranking monks that oversees and regulates the Buddhist clergy in Burma, issued the directive on the grounds that the 969 movement’s tenets were not accordance with the rules and regulations set by the SSMNC. The order, dated Aug. 14, states that it is illegal to form monk networks organized around the principles of the 969 movement, and bars linking the 969 emblem to the Buddhist religion.

The directive makes no mentioned of what actions might be taken against those who violate the prohibition.

A meeting to discuss the directive will be held by several of the 969 organizations scattered across Burma, U Khemasarah, a Buddhist monk from Mandalay who is sympathetic to the 969 movement, told The Irrawaddy.

“I don’t know why they [the SSMNC] dislike our activities, which we put great effort into. We have not even obtained any assistance from them for our movement. I am not going to say anything special at the moment, but I will when I personally meet with the SSMNC,” U Khemasarah said.

He emphasized that 969 organizations were formed not for political purposes, but strictly to further nationalistic and religious causes aimed at protecting the integrity of the Burmese nation and the religion of 90 percent of its people, Buddhism.

“We don’t take part in political affairs, steal others’ possessions, attack or lie to others. So you cannot say we violate the ethics of a Buddhist monk. We just make our special efforts in order to preserve our race and religion,” U Khemasarah said.

The monk declined to provide further details on the date, venue and agenda of the meeting, saying only that the gathering would take place soon.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs, which has given its blessing to nine monk-led organizations, has stated that it will not legally recognize 969-based networks. All 47 of the monks who make up the SSMNC disapproved of the use of the 969 emblem as a symbol of Buddhism, according to the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

“We don’t approve or permit the formation of a 969 Buddhist monks’ network. We didn’t direct them [to form a network] either. The directive was issued with the approval of all 47 monks who are members of the SSMNC,” Tun Nyunt, a director for Rangoon Division’s Department of Religious Affairs, told The Irrawaddy.

During a trip to the United States in June, Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann said actions would be taken against 969 movement organizers, who have been blamed by some for religious strife between Buddhists and Muslims that has taken place in Burma over the last 15 months.

The 969 movement encourages Buddhists to transact all business affairs with solely Buddhist-owned enterprises, effectively acting as an indirect boycott of businesses owned by Muslims or any of Burma’s other religious minorities.

In addition to the de facto economic discrimination, CDs of monk sermons that contain anti-Muslim propaganda have been widely distributed by followers of 969. The movement gained prominence in mid-2012, after violence between Buddhists and Muslims erupted in Arakan State.