No Escape from the 31 Planes of Existence
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Tuesday, September 21, 2021


No Escape from the 31 Planes of Existence


Under construction—31 new parliamentary buildings in Naypyidaw (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Naypyidaw—the “Abode of Kings”—is Than Shwe’s monument to his own rule.

I am not an astrologer, but I will venture one prediction about the year ahead: that the regime in Burma will hold its election as planned and formally introduce what it calls a “discipline-flourishing democracy.”

So far, however, the junta leaders remain tight-lipped about the how and when of the election. At this stage, the best anyone can offer is an educated guess.

But come what may, the election will happen—be sure of it.

Why am I so certain of this, when others have suggested that the junta will probably try to find some pretext to put the vote off indefinitely? Because the clearest evidence of the junta’s intentions can be found in Naypyidaw, where construction of new parliamentary buildings is proceeding apace.

This news is not entirely reassuring, however. According to a recent Reuters report, much work remains to be done on the new legislature, “from unfinished roads to painting many of the  parliamentary complex’s 31 buildings, with pagoda-style roofs sheathed in scaffolding.”

But others who have been to the junta’s capital say that they are amazed at how much progress has been made since last March, when only the main building of the Hluttaw, or Parliament, had been completed. In recent months, the regime has ordered army engineers and construction workers to work even faster to meet their deadline—whenever that might be.

While some people are preoccupied with the question of when the buildings will be finished, I am  more intrigued by the number being built—31.

In Buddhism, this number has a special significance. According to Buddhist cosmology, 31 is the number of planes of existence into which we can be reborn. Humans belong to the fifth plane,  above other beings such as animals and hungry ghosts, but below the devas—the god-like beings who exist in the realms of form and formlessness.

The important thing to remember about the 31 planes of existence is that they are all subject to suffering. By following the Buddha’s teachings, however, one can escape the rounds of rebirth and attain a state that is completely beyond suffering, known as Nirvana.

It would not be too far-fetched to suggest that the junta’s decision to construct a parliament consisting of 31 buildings is a deliberate allusion to the Buddhist concept of 31 planes of existence. After all, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, the undisputed supreme leader of the regime, is known to be a devout Buddhist with an obsession for numerology.

In his youth, Than Shwe devoted almost as much time to the study of Buddhist scriptures as he did to learning psychological warfare, the military field in which he has excelled throughout his career. According to one army general who worked with him years ago, the young Than Shwe was “half monk and half army officer.”

These days, of course, he is better known as the ruthless dictator who ordered his troops to open fire on unarmed Buddhist monks during the 2007 Saffron Revolution. But to his own mind, at least, he remains a faithful follower of the Buddha’s doctrine, or at least those parts of it that can serve as a basis for his own superstitious beliefs.

So what message is Than Shwe trying to send by modeling the parliament buildings on the realms of suffering? Is he trying to warn his successors that holding earthly power is not as desirable as those who aspire to it might think? Or is he expressing his own desire to transcend the realm of politics, to achieve a Nirvana of absolute power without the responsibility of actually ruling? 

Whatever Than Shwe is thinking, it’s clear that he still feels he has some important business to take care of down here among us mere mortals.

Besides the election, he has recently been cleaning house, purging the military of anyone he suspects of disloyalty. Two officials have already been sentenced to death, accused of leaking documents relating to a secret trip to North Korea by the junta’s No. 3, Gen Shwe Mann, in November 2008. Another has been given a long prison sentence for involvement in the case.

Meanwhile, a reshuffle at the War Office—including the reassignment of five colonels to inactive posts—also points to an ongoing effort to neutralize any elements within the ranks of the military whose loyalties to Than Shwe are suspect.

As all of this goes on, Than Shwe is putting the finishing touches on his line-up of leaders who will assume key positions after the election. Nothing has been settled yet—it remains unclear, for instance, whether Shwe Mann will become president or simply retire—but military sources say Than Shwe has been giving this task his full attention.

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tocharian Wrote:
May the 37 Nats of Burma punish Than Shwe, his relatives and his business crony Tay Za for what they have done to the country, including logging Mt. Popa, the sacred abode of the Nats.

LuuSoeLay Wrote:
Welcome to the world’s most expensive ghost town, where a foolish man rules. He will be a ghost there life after life.

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