Burma’s Influential Figures
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Burma’s Influential Figures

By The Irrawaddy DECEMBER, 2003 - VOLUME 11 NO.10

(Page 2 of 6)

He worked at Rangoon and Mandalay universities for more than twenty years until 1982, when he left to work at Tokyo University and other universities in Japan.

Living in semi-retirement, Than Tun keeps busy nowadays by translating English books into Burmese and Burmese books into English. In 2000, the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize Committee awarded him its highest honor for scholars.

Than Tun says he has not been active in politics since 1947, but Burma’s military authorities are not convinced. After publicly mocking the ruling generals for revering white elephants, which they believe bring good fortune to the country, the censor board temporarily banned his writings. "An elephant is an elephant, black or white," he said earlier this year.


Kyaw Zan Tha

As one of the few sources of real news in Burma, shortwave radio stations carry a lot of weight. And few programs attract as devoted an audience as does "Burma Perspectives," Kyaw Zan Tha’s weekly radio broadcast on the BBC Burmese Service from London. Listeners in Burma and abroad tune in each week to hear politicians, scholars, journalists and activists sound off about current issues in Burma.

Thiha Saw is also gaining a reputation as one of the best media personalities in Burma for his work as editor of Myanma Dana, a respected monthly business magazine in Rangoon.


Ahshin Sandar Dika

Motivation has never been a problem for Ahshin Sandar Dika. In 1984, he passed his matriculation exam with the second highest score in all of Burma. But even before he took his high school final, he knew exactly what he wanted to do. "Ever since I read my first religious book in ninth grade I’ve wanted to learn the Buddhist canons," Ahshin Sandar Dika says. The experience moved him to dedicate his life to the monkhood, burying himself in Pali Buddhist scriptures and practicing Vipassana (Insight) meditation. He’s done some writing of his own, too: about 20 books that explain Buddhist teachings and his spiritual experiences, all in simple language for lay devotees.

Another monk deserving of attention is U Zawtika. The family-man-turned-monk was born to Muslim parents before converting to Buddhism. A prolific writer about Buddhism, his essays combine religious teachings with Western psychology theories, and emphasize that Buddhist meditation is not merely for religious retreats but can be part of one’s daily life.


Social Services
U Hla Tun

After watching his only daughter suffer for years with leukemia before she succumbed to the disease in 1997, U Hla Tun decided to dedicate his own life to helping other terminally ill, and poor, patients.

The certified accountant, in his late 70s, founded his hospice program in Rangoon with his personal donation of US $100,000 in October 1998, making it Burma’s first registered charity organization. In its first 22 months, the hospice home care team visited 2,400 poor, terminally ill cancer patients in the capital and surrounding townships. In addition to providing financial aid and food as well as medical and nursing care, the hospice also funds burial rites for the deceased. All hospice services are provided free of charge to patients of any religion and ethnicity.

In September 2000, U Hla Tun completed construction of a 46-bed inpatient care center on five acres of land donated by the government. He now plans to take his services up-country.

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