Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Buddhist Monk Called the “Burmese Bin Laden” Turns Himself in to Police
Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu, who has been called the “Burmese Bin Laden,” surrendered to the Myanmar police on Monday, according to the Associated Press. A Myanmar court issued a warrant for Wirathu’s arrest in May last year on a charge of sedition after he gave a series of speeches criticizing the government and praising the country’s military as champions of Buddhism. Wirathu founded a nationalist organization (that has since been disbanded) in 2012 that was accused of inciting violence against Muslims, particularly of the Rohingya ethnic minority, who are facing a genocide.
Under Myanmar law, Wirathu will have to be defrocked by Buddhist authorities before he can be arrested. If he is found guilty, he could be sentenced to anywhere from three years to life in prison. When he turned himself in, Wirathu said, “I will pay homage to senior monks, and then I will go with police. I will go wherever they send.” One of his supporters, Pyinyar Wunthar, said that Wirathu’s surrender has nothing to do with Myanmar’s upcoming election and that he just wants to “clear the accusation against him before the government changes.”
Rohingya Muslims Raise Money for Buddhists
Meanwhile, Rohingya Muslims in refugee camps in Bangladesh and in Myanmar are raising money for humanitarian relief funds for their Buddhist neighbors in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, despite the long history of violence and tension between the two groups. According to Radio Free Asia (RFA), the funds are meant to provide shelter and food for Buddhist Rakhine people who have been displaced by fighting between government troops and the extremist Arakan Army (AA) has killed nearly 300 civilians and driven more than 220,000 people from their homes since late 2018, and where coronavirus cases are now surging. “Since the Rohingya people themselves have been living like this as refugees since 2012, they truly sympathize with others who are going through this too,” Kyaw Min, chairman of the Rohingya Democracy and Human Rights Party, said. Kyaw Hla Aung, a Rohingya community leader now living in a refugee camp, said he thinks the victims of the fighting in Rakhine now face more difficulties now than the Rohingya themselves. “I saw this on Facebook. . . Their houses and other things were set on fire. They have had to move to other places to live, and their shelters do not protect them from the rain or the wind,” he stated. “We feel bad that they have to live like this.” Sources told RFA that they hope the humanitarian efforts will rebuild trust between the two communities.
Thai Protesters Co-Opt Celestial Symbols
Pro-democracy protesters in Thailand are co-opting celestial and Buddhist symbols traditionally used by the monarchy, according to a New York Times Opinion piece. Astrologically color-coded parasols, narratives celebrating Thailand’s monarchs as demigods or Buddhas-to-be, and other symbols have traditionally evoked and justified the divinely sanctioned power of the Southeast Asian country’s kings and queens. But now protestors are using these narratives to challenge the monarchy’s symbolic and political legitimacy. Associated with the awakening of the Buddha, light is a symbol of the monarchy in Thailand; kings appear with auras of light around them both in paintings and in photographs. Now, every night, thousands of protesters hold their mobile phones up high, beaming flashlights. Protesters have also been wearing black T-shirts meant to evoke a solar eclipse—a phenomenon thought to be a bad omen for kings. The protesters have been mixing traditional symbols with borrowed symbols of protest from Hong Kong and from pop culture. In late September, the Thai protesters staged an event in which nine protest leaders (nine is an auspicious number in Hindu-Buddhist cosmology) knelt on the royal parade grounds outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok, pressing a cement plaque into the ground. The plaque featured the three-finger salute from “The Hunger Games” movies and text that read: “This country belongs to the people. It is not the king’s property as they have deceptively told us.”
New Thai Airways Flight Will Fly Over 99 Holy Buddhist Sites
Thai Airways will offer a “flight to nowhere” that will fly over 99 holy Buddhist sites, during which passengers will be given a prayer book and a meal and can chant Buddhist mantras, the Guardian reported. The airline company was struggling even before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the new initiative is an attempt to make up for lost revenue. The flight will begin in Bangkok, fly over temples in 31 provinces, then return to Bangkok. Tickets cost between 5,999 baht (196 USD) and 9,999 baht (327 USD).
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