Shwedagon Monks Say Buddha Statue Resembling Myanmar Dictator Doesn’t Violate Scripture

By Htun Htun 17 July 2020

YANGON—The presiding monks of Shwedagon Pagoda have ruled that the pagoda’s Jade Buddha Statue, which has caused controversy among Buddhists due to its resemblance to former military dictator Senior General Than Shwe, does not go against Theravada Buddhist scripture.

All 10 senior Buddhist monks in charge of overall management of the most sacred Buddhist site in Yangon went and checked the statue on Wednesday, following talk on social media that the statute bears a close resemblance to the face of the retired military dictator.

“You can’t demolish a pagoda or a Buddha image without a strong reason. Mainly it depends on Mudras [ritual gestures, mostly hand gestures],” said Dr. Ye Aung, a member of the pagoda board of trustees. “They checked if the statue has standard features and if its Mudra is in line with Theravada Buddhist scripture. They said the statue was built in line with Pitakas [Buddhist scriptures] and nothing is wrong with it. You can’t demolish a Buddha statue that does not go against Buddhist scriptures.”

The Buddha statue is housed at Punya Kula religious hall at the Saturday Corner of the pagoda, and was built and donated by the Ministry of Mines in 1999 when the country was under military rule. The statue is 1.5 m high and weighs 324 kg, and is embellished with 91 rubies, 9 diamonds and some 2.5 kg of gold, according to records.

The presiding monks said that it is natural for Buddha statues to be influenced by cultures of the countries where they are built, citing the examples of Buddha statues in India and Thailand, according to Dr. Ye Aung.

In the first week of July, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture ordered that 67 Buddha statues housed inside the pagoda compound on Mt. Min Wun in Pyinmana, Naypyitaw, be removed because their Mudras go against Theravada Buddhist scriptures and they were built as idols as part of Yadaya, a system of magical rituals done to delay, neutralize or prevent misfortune or bring good fortune.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture has also ordered that any Buddha statues with disgraceful Mudras be fixed or be removed.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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