Burma's Tug of War Between Monks and Govt
covering burma and southeast asia
Monday, April 23, 2018

Burma's Tug of War Between Monks and Govt

By BA KAUNG / THE IRRAWADDY Monday, February 20, 2012

Prominent dissident monk Ashin Gambira is facing new charges. (Photo: AP)

While the Burmese authorities seem to being reaching out to opposition political groups including pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, renewed tensions have surfaced between Naypyidaw and dissident monks in the country.

On Sunday, the state-run media reported fresh legal charges were underway against influential Buddhist monk Ashin Gambira. The 33-year-old was only recently released from prison as part of a major amnesty after being jailed for his prominent role in the monk-led “Saffron Revolution” democracy protests in 2007.

The outspoken dissident is accused of breaking laws concerned with re-entering the monkhood without formal authorization after his release last month, and for breaking into three monasteries in Rangoon and squatting in one—all were previously sealed by the government during their crackdown on insurrection hotbeds in 2007.

The state-run media said that Gambira ignored three separate calls by the Sangha Maha Nayaka, the state-backed monk council, to present himself for formal admonition regarding these charges.

Gambira responded to the monk council on Feb. 8 by urging the senior Buddhist clergy to handle these cases in accordance with rules set out for monks and to resist any sort of influence by civilian authorities in the process, according to a letter obtained by The Irrawaddy.

He wrote that the sealed monasteries in Rangoon were shut down in a 2007 government raid, which he described as like a military attack against a rebel base. Gambira re-opened these monasteries, he said, because Buddhist monks and nuns like himself who were recently freed from incarceration had no proper accommodation and were staying in civilian residential quarters.

Gambira wrote that he strongly objected to allegations—mentioned in the summons by the council—that opening these monasteries broke the law. He also complained about the council's recent ruling to evict Ashin Pyinna Thiha, another prominent Buddhist monk in Rangoon, from his monastery for giving a talk at a party office of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.

In the letter, Gambira also expressed his “strong condemnation” to the council for taking no action whatsoever regarding the continued incarceration of 43 Buddhist monks for political reasons.

Tuesday's state-run media report said that such usage of “objection” and “condemnation” has made it impossible for the Sangha Council to deal with Gambira through normal clergy channels. Therefore, punitive actions will be taken against the dissident monk who was described as being “under a complete political spell.”

The United States expressed concern when the Burmese authorities briefly detained Gambira on Feb. 10 in order to force him to meet with the Sangha Council.

On Sunday, Gambira joined hundreds of people, including recently freed 88 Generation Students dissidents, who accompanied Ashin Pyinna Thiha from Sadhu Pariyatti Monastery to another monastery on the outskirts of Rangoon following his eviction by the council.

Currently, details of how the authorities will bring Gambira to trial are still unclear. But any legal proceedings would undoubtedly undermine the otherwise positive political atmosphere in the run-up to the parliamentary by-elections in April, in which Suu Kyi is contesting a seat.

The relationship between Buddhist monks and successive military regimes in Burma has always been frosty, and this situation does not seem to have improved since the nominally-civilian government took office last year.

A confrontation between a group of monks and the Burmese authorities in Pakokku Town of Upper Burma in 2007 led to the largest anti-government nationwide demonstrations since the failed democracy uprising of 1988.

Please read our policy before you post comments. Click here
E-mail:   (Your e-mail will not be published.)
You have characters left.
Word Verification: captcha Type the characters you see in the picture.

Fred Wrote:

For your humor. The Chinese government makes comment. Per the BBC:


Translated from Mandarin: "You will have fewer arguments if you don't discuss religion or politics." There's more to it than that, but it isn't printable.

Be prepared to be re-directed to a website listing formally approved topics about China.


Bill Gov Wrote:
Dear Knightly,

The Burmese Patriots do not believe there are political and non-political monks. They are religious monks.

Monks have also been consulted by past and present rulers for formulating national policies.

Anyone who thinks that politics is only a game should not be in politics because politics involves decisions making for the good of the country that will affect the lives and livelihood of the common people.

It is not just whims and fancies of the likings of politicians.

knightly Wrote:
I absolutely agree with Htoo. Monks lead the very different life style from that of the ordinary people. The issue of monks involving in politics would eventually defame the Sasana. The Saffron revolution is acceptable based on the fact that all the politicians were in prison then and the monks were compelled to lead it for the people. But things are a lot better now in the country. Politics is no longer a dangerous game and people are free to involve in it. So for the sake of the Sasana, those political monks should disrobe and get engaged in politics, if they are sincere and confident enough. For many Buddhists, it is very improper to see monks doing and saying politics, using the advantages they are having as monks.

chris jericho Wrote:
@ Fred - failed again. this article is about the conflict of influence on the burmese civilians by the ruling class on one hand and buddhist monks on the other. try to stay on context.

there are plenty of china-related articles on this site. this ain't the one.

Sein Aung Lin Wrote:
Dear Author of this article,
Why on earth did you address the monk as Gambiya instead of U Gambiya or Ashin Gambiya? What's wrong with you? Since your name is Ba Kaung, I assume you are Burmese. There is no excuse for you to address Buddhist monks this way. Shame on you! Shame on Irrawaddy!

Fred Wrote:
Chris Jericho thinks I’m needlessly picking on China. The Burmese government has tried copying many Chinese trends, some now out of favor. Currently Burma is still promoting “special economic zones”. The Chinese needed these when they abandoned socialism, because, otherwise, nobody would have invested in China. There is also the trend of promoting industrial production, without serious concern for the environment. Thailand’s deal-makers are trying very hard to be sure that Burma doesn’t stop their pet project. Too much pollution for Thailand, let’s let the Burmese choke on it! And Burma’s going to give them tax breaks, etc., etc. When Burma’s government straightens itself out, it’ll have no difficulty at all cutting normal deals attracting foreign investment.

And Burma, like China, has tried to exert its influence on religion. Let the religious people do what they want, or Burma will wind up with Chinese style religion, with two versions of each: government sponsored, and independent.

Moe Aung Wrote:
chris jericho,

The Lady badly needs Cory's kind of decisive victory over Marcos but also needs to shun an elitist approach and resist the corrupting influence of being in parliament/office. Frankly my willingness to give her the benefit of the doubt is diminishing by the day.

Ko Nay Oo Lin,

Reds under the bed, huh?


Not sure if the Vinaya categorically forbids monks from acting on behalf of the lay folk, their traditional supporters. Disrobing must be required for taking up arms. But they don't ask for such complications, do they?

zawzaw Wrote:
Ashin Gambira not guilty and didn't break the law.That is clear who is make to ruin the Democracy & peaceful situation of the country.We also condemned to State Sangha Maha Nayaka for their unfair decision.Free Ashin Gambira now.

Thura Zaw Hein Wrote:
One of senior monks in Sangha Maha Nayaka once whispered me that they are under complete control of the Religious Affairs Department officials. They are used to be asked to say three times of ‘Sadu’ following subject texts read out by the officials to show agreement on the subjects. If Sangha are not happy with the content then they are requested by the officials just to keep quite following their statements as a sign that there is no objection.
It is believed that more and more army field personnel are assigned in the RA Department which has become Sangha Gestapo in Myanmar. One report on DVB showed a clear face and acts of a Gestapo during sealing of the Maggin monastery with close up shots.
Monks like Ashin Gambira were borne with the Sangha Gestapo for the oppressed populace. If the Gestapo changed to accept civilized softer behavior in line with their own religions, then we would not need any more Gambira. But for this particular point of time we still need more Gambiras in Myanmar.

Goo Wrote:
Nyi Nyi Lwin must go back to Jail for life.p

Bill Gov Wrote:
Who ever said that politics is a dirty game?
It is the Burmese government that has used unfair tactics to gain the upper hand. Politics is not a game but involves the lives and livelihood of the people of Burma. The people of Burma have been made to suffer under the regime for the past 50 years caused by "gutter" politics. This is the real inconvenient truth!

Htoo Wrote:
It is commonly said that politics is a dirty game. True monks are supposed to lead a purer life, different and away from ordinary human politiking.

However, with current Myanmar politics almost all in the hands of military representation, all anti-hardliner forces (including Buddhism groups) are needed to correct the tilting balance.

25% military (& 65% ex-military) representation in the current parliament is an inconvenient truth. This is an unfair representation, however, it would take time, mutual respect, trust and co-operation from all sides to bring about a fair and harmonious representation in the parliament.

For the sake of the country and all the people, let's hope that all parties play a very fair game of politics.

chris jericho Wrote:
@ Moe Aung - Don't hold your breath on ASSK.

If I have to draw conclusion from her book 'Freedom From Fear', she is yet to show any administrative skills both at personal level or professional levels. I'd give her benefit of doubt, though. I am crossing my fingers that she is not the second coming of Corazon Aquino, who led her people out of tyranny, but drove them deeper into poverty, corruption and nepotism.

@ Fred - What a way to troll the commentary page! the article does not remotely mention about religious oppression in china at all. yet you somehow managed to troll it with sinophobia. don't know how to comprehend a paragraph. I bet self-claimed professor tocharian can help you out.

priscilla Wrote:
Well it is understandable that they can even kill the monks with knife, as I have seen a video footage of 2007 Saffron Revaluation a soldier has slide a monk head as just like sling apple with a knife. They surely will have pay back what they are doing to people.

Priscilla Wrote:
I am third generation Christian. I am not sure that you guys know how much we are being oppressed by this government since Ne Win, not mentioning minor cases such as we are not allowed to gather to worship in Sunday every where we like, we are not allowed to play christian song in speaker in Christmas etc etc we are not allowed to build a church building since 19 century.
If,again I say IF, we are so lucky to have any new government in our life time, may be the new government would take care of religious freedom.

I'll be waiting with my finger cross.

junii Wrote:
The government needs to use sensitivity and care in handling this situation. Don't let it escalate and set back all the progress made. It needs to remember that where the monks go, the people will follow.

Bill Gov Wrote:
Dear Htoo,

What on earth are you? If you should know Burmese politics so well, you should also know that the whole Burmese parliament is 25% military and 65% so-called non-military. Did these members of parliament dis-uniformed? No. Did these miltary members of parliament are involved in politics? Yes.

Htoo Wrote:
Those who closely follow Theravadan Buddhism (therefore, monks in robes) for the sake of viniya (code of conduct for monks) must abstain from any involvement in politics. If a monk seeks to be involved in politics, the first step he should take is to disrobe, therefore, forsake his monkhood. This makes issues much less complicated for one's self and for all.

Ko Nay Oo Lin Wrote:
This monk is BCP monk.

kerry Wrote:
Surely this monk is speaking for the freedom of the people of Burma.

Surely this is where Burma is heading, with an openly fee and fair by-election as the next step before any more sanctions are removed.

Hurting any more monks is certainly not a very good idea, at this time. However sensitivity is needed... Ven monk was surely tortured.

If this goal not real, then ... why not?

Fred Wrote:
China insists on controlling its religions, creating its own duplicate religious structures. This will get particularly funny when there are two Dalai Lamas running around. There are many things that China will only learn the hard way. Perhaps the Burmese government can spare itself the aggravation and stay out of the religion business.

Moe Aung Wrote:
Is ASSK contesting the by-elections so that she could stand up and fight for the rights of both man and monk, or is a parliamentary role a be all and end all for her? What about the rights of workers and farmers, students and the army rank and file?

Does she interpret her leadership role so narrowly and vaguely in the broader context, or is she for real when it comes to the crunch?

Ashin Gambira is a true leader among the Burmese Sangha which has an heroic tradition of standing up for the people from U Ottama, U Wisara including former monks such as Saya San and U Seinda. Blessed is our nation that has had such leaders throughout our history.

more articles in this section