Religion Ministry Done Leaving Sangha to Govern Ma Ba Tha

By Htun Htun 31 July 2019

YANGON— The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture announced on Tuesday that it is done leaving disciplinary action over two key figures of Myanmar’s leading Buddhist nationalist group solely to the country’s Buddhist religious authority according to the traditional regulatory framework governing Theravada Buddhist monks.

On Monday, Myanmar’s highest Buddhist religious authority, the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee (known by its Burmese acronym Ma Ha Na), summoned Mawkyun Sayadaw and Insein Ywama Sayadaw in order to deliver admonitory sermons to them for their roles in organizing an annual celebration of the nationalist group Ma Ba Tha.

Mawkyun Sayadaw showed up but Insein Ywama Sayadaw only sent a letter to the Ma Ha Na saying that he could not make it.

Ma Ha Na refused to accept his explanation.

Afterward, the ministry released a statement saying it was finished taking disciplinary action against the two.

Nearly 1,000 Buddhist monks and their followers from across the country gathered at the headquarters of the Buddha Dhamma Prahita Foundation (formerly named Ma Ba Tha, the Burmese-language acronym for the Association to Protect Race and Religion, by which it is still widely known) in Yangon’s Insein Township the third week of June for the foundation’s annual meeting.

The foundation’s use of its original name was banned by the government in May 2017.

Ma Ha Na oversees violations of the traditional regulatory framework of Theravada Buddhist monks, according to its principle of handling religious issues by the Sangha (Buddhist clergy) themselves. If they are unable to handle disciplinary issues with a monk accordingly, they may disown them and leave them open to legal action or government prosecution.

Ministry Director U Aung Hsan Win declined to comment when asked by The Irrawaddy if legal action would be taken against the two monks from the government.

At its plenary meeting on Monday, Ma Ha Na reaffirmed its ban on Ma Ba Tha and its successor Buddha Dhamma Prahita Foundation, calling them illegal. Ma Ha Na also ordered the foundation’s signboards taken down within 45 days, saying that action will be taken in line with the 1990 Law Relating to the Sangha Organization if it fails to comply.

Ma Ha Na also asked the government and the religion ministry to take action as necessary concerning the Buddha Dhamma Prahita Foundation.

“We have nothing to say. It is up to [the government] whether or not to take action. We have nothing to say because we didn’t break any law,” Sayadaw U Thaw Pa Ka, spokesperson for the Buddha Dhamma Prahita Foundation, told The Irrawaddy.

The foundation, in its reply to Ma Ha Na, accused the latter of failing to act in the interest of the Sangha and Sasana (or Buddhist teachings) it is supposed to represent. It also warned that if Ma Ha Na acts imprudently under the pressure of a group of authoritarians who want to undermine Sasana, it will have to take the blame on their behalf.

A statement released at Ma Ba Tha’s annual gathering in June urged voters to shun Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy party in next year’s general election.

“We, the Buddha Dhamma Prahita Foundation, which has been safeguarding race and religion, seriously urge fellow monks and people to oppose by all means—including refusing to vote for—those who are responsible for … actions [that] could ruin the country, race and religion,” the statement read.

Translated from the Burmese by Thet Ko Ko