Chiang Mai Monastery Dispute Resolved

By Lawi Weng 24 July 2012

A Burmese abbot will be assigned to run Wat Sai Moon monastery in the center of Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, and so solve a weeks-long deadlock, according to the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok.

The Burmese monastery has been at the heart of a dispute after Thailand’s Department of Religion decided to replace the late Burmese abbot who died last year with a Thai clergyman instead.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, Mee Mee, who was dealing with the issue at the embassy, said, “The counselor [Naing Htoon] told me this morning by phone that the Thai government will let a Burmese monk lead the monastery.

“He told me that the Thai government will not interfere in the monastery issue and will let Burmese monks lead the monastery.”

For us, we are very happy to get it back because it is important to maintain our heritage and for those Burmese migrants to have a place where they can gather and pay respect to Burmese Buddhist monks, she added.

Soe Win, a trustee of the monastery, said that they will work closely with the Burmese Embassy in the future to replace new abbots of the monastery.

Wat Sai Moon was constructed over 400 years ago during the reign of famous Burmese King Bayinnaung who invaded Siam in 1563. Wat Sai Moon was built by some of his army officers during that time, according to experts.

During the dispute, Burmese people in Chiang Mai appealed to the Thai authorities not to hand over control to a Thai abbot. The monastery has had a succession of ten Burmese abbots according to its book of records. The latest, U Arthaba, died last year.

Dr. Ashin Nyanissara, better known as Sitagu Sayadaw, is one of Burma’s most respected monks and urged local Burmese community leaders to form a committee to talk to the Thai authorities regarding a solution during a visit to the monastery on July 16.

According to Thai law, a Thai monk can be appointed to succeed as abbot in the event of the death of his Burmese predecessor. Only one monastery in Thailand, located in the northern city of Lampang, is officially recognized as Burmese.

Burmese Ambassador to Thailand Tin Win traveled to Chiang Mai from Bangkok on July 17 to discuss the problem. He said for hundreds of years there were more than 100 Burmese monasteries in Thailand but now there are only a few remaining so it is important to protect those which remain.