People of 2006
covering burma and southeast asia
Monday, July 15, 2019


People of 2006

By The Irrawaddy DECEMBER, 2006 - VOLUME 14 NO.12

(Page 10 of 12)

—Aung Zaw

Kavi Chongkittavorn

An enemy of injustice

My first impression of Kavi Chongkittavorn was that he is very critical and very un-Thai. And in a country where mentioning the name Aung San Suu Kyi, or declaring that one is Burmese, can result in a negative response, Kavi was warm, welcoming and kind.

That was in 1993 after Thailand was visited by Nobel Peace Prize laureates, including the Dalai Lama and South Africa’s Desmond Tutu, to secure the release from detention of fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi.

Kavi, an assistant group editor at The Nation newspaper and publishing organization in Bangkok, and a vociferous political commentator for the past 20 years or so, spoke passionately and also amusingly. We became firm friends.

Kavi is one of a very few Thais who care about Burma and Burmese democratic politics and has written more than 500 editorials on the subject. “In each editorial,” Kavi proudly says, “I asked for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.”

For his effort he is blacklisted by the Than Shwe regime.

Kavi was also passionately opposed to Thailand’s now deposed Thaksin Shinawatra government, which he believed was turning his own country into a police state version of Burma. Sometimes in our meetings before Thaksin was ousted he would suggest that democracy might arrive in Burma faster than in Thailand.

But when I met him in August this year he prophesized the news one month ahead, correctly predicting the September 19 coup that removed Thaksin. Kavi has also predicted that the new Thai government will have a less cozy relationship with the Than Shwe regime across the border. I hope he is right about that too.

—Aung Zaw

Spiritual Leaders

U Jotika

Freeing the mind

The 59-year-old Burmese Buddhist monk, Sayadaw U Jotika, has in recent years become one of the most popular religious leaders among young Burmese, and his books are regular bestsellers.

Born into a Muslim family in Moulmein, Mon State, U Jotika studied at a Roman Catholic missionary school in Rangoon. He graduated from Rangoon Institute of Technology with a degree in electrical engineering, but his true love was philosophy. His varied cultural background and education exposed him to many different religious traditions, including Islam, Hinduism, Christianity and Judaism.

U Jotika once declared that when he was young he did not believe in any “organized” religion. At the age of 26, he decided to leave his family and take up the life of a Buddhist monk.

The former skeptic found that life was unsatisfactory, and that most people seemed to devote their precious time to amassing wealth, enjoying sensual pleasures or pursuing fame and positions of power. As he wrote in his most recent book, The Free Mind, “Buddhism is the religion of freedom.”

U Jotika is now a household name in Burma, following the publication of his books on meditation and the art of living. He travels widely in the region and in western nations, where he lectures on Buddhism.

His followers and readers say that U Jotika’s teachings have helped them to cope with depression and the stress of everyday life, while instructing them to understand the nature of the mind and the imperfection of the self.

The Free Mind was published to wide acclaim among Burmese, and many critics remarked that it was about much more than religion. As the title suggests, a major theme of the book is intellectual freedom—something hard to come by in military-ruled Burma.

One who believes in truth and justice, the author contends, can never hold prejudices and must always seek a balanced solution to problems through open dialogue.

Such guidance can serve the Burmese people well in their desire to change the status quo in the country. “If you don’t have any opportunity to express [yourself], you lose creative thinking,” writes U Jotika. One can only hope that Burma’s ruling generals take his message to heart.

—Khin Maung Soe


Burma’s extra-special terrestrial

By San Zarni Bo

This well-known telepath and astrologer—her real name is E Thi—hails from the Rangoon suburb of Thingangyun, and her growing client list reads like a “Who’s Who” of Burma’s ruling elite. The country’s high-ranking military leaders, businessmen and even Thai politicians are regular customers.

A meeting with Rangoon’s leading sage doesn’t come cheap and can take weeks, if not months, to book.

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