Burmese Abbot Takes Once-Disputed Helm of Monastery in Thailand
By Nyein Nyein 21 August 2013
CHIANG MAI, Thailand — More than a year after an outcry over a Thai attempt to take over the last Burmese monastery in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, Burmese Buddhists on Tuesday managed to officially install one of their countrymen as abbot.
The 67-year-old Burmese monk Sayadaw Badanna Kawnanya, who has been part of the monkhood for 47 years and teaches at the Buddhist Maha Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, was appointed to lead the Wat Sai Moon monastery. Badanna Kawnanya has spent the last 30 years in Thailand.
Soe Win, the chairman of the Buddhist Association in Chiang Mai, told The Irrawaddy that “we are happy to have a Burmese abbot in our Burmese monastery.”
The monastery, which has been a cornerstone of the local Burmese community for generations, has had a long succession of Burmese abbots. According to its records, the last 10 abbots have been Burmese.
U Arthaba, the predecessor of Badanna Kawnanya, resided in the monastery for about 65 years and died in 2011. One year after his death, Thailand’s Department of Religion indicated that it planned to hand over leadership of the Wat Sai Moon monastery to a Thai abbot, prompting a backlash from the Burmese community in July of last year. Following protests, both Thai and Burmese authorities met and agreed to carry on the tradition of appointing a Burmese abbot to preside over the monastery.
Well-known Burmese and Thai abbots attended Tuesday’s ceremony, along with Burma’s deputy religious affairs minister, Burma’s ambassador to Thailand and members of the local Burmese community.
Tin Win, the Burmese ambassador to Thailand, said in an address to those in attendance that the new abbot’s responsibility was “just to take care of the monastery.” Legal ownership of the monastery compound belongs to a Thai monk, he added.
Wat Sai Moon is the only monastery left in Chiang Mai at which Thailand’s Department of Religion has allowed a Burmese abbot to preside. There were once more than a dozen monasteries in the northern Thai city led by Burmese abbots, but the Thai Department of Religion has gradually replaced them with Thai Buddhist leaders.
Only one monastery in Thailand, located in the northern city of Lampang, is officially recognized as Burmese, guaranteeing that succession of the abbot there goes to a Burmese monk.