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Buddhadharma : Fall 2015
fall 2 0 1 5 buDDhaDharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 41 prior to this, largely due to the rising population of the Rohingya and the decline in the Rakhine Bud- dhists, the majority population. The violence rippled across the country and brought global exposure to the Burmese Buddhist nationalist organization called the 969 Movement. The name of the organization is numerical shorthand for the nine supreme qualities of the Buddha, six traits of the dharma, and nine traits of the sangha. Buddhist traditions are inundated with numbers and categories that stretch back for hundreds of years; however, the significance of 969 in Burma is quite recent. In the 1990s, the Burmese monk U Kyaw Lwin used 969 as a numerological counter to the South Asian Muslim use of 786. While not a global phenomenon, South and Southeast Asian Muslim business owners have displayed 786 to indicate that their establishments are owned by Muslims. The term acts as a surrogate for writing out sacred words such as Basmala (“In the name of Allah”) or bismil- lah-ir-rahman-ir-rahim (In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate and Merciful), which is a phrase that begins most surahs in the Qur’an. In Burma, Buddhists from the 969 movement and the Association of Protection of Race and Religion (MaBaTha) argue that Muslims pose a danger to their country. To protect the nation, these Buddhists have lobbied for four laws on race and religion to control and limit the Muslim population and, in their view, protect the buddhadharma. The first two of these are the birth control law, which passed in late May 2015, and the interfaith mar- riage law, which passed in early July. The Burmese Parliament continues to debate the two remaining bills, which pertain to monogamy and conversion. While these Buddhist nationalists see Muslims as a threat, human rights groups consider the actions of Buddhist nationalists and the Burmese government harmful to the Muslim population. Since 2011, Muslims of Bengali descent (who call themselves Rohingya) have been forced to live in concentration camps where they are deprived of jobs, school, and access to medical attention; their food supply is also limited. Since the 1980s, they have been without citizenship, and in the last few years many have fled the country in refugee boats, some dying in the attempt. Responding to these human rights attacks, the Burmese Buddhist monk Pamaukkha explained to a member of the Agence France-Presse (AFP), “We do not want anyone here posing as refugees or Bengalis, trying to swallow the nation or its people. They need to be sent back now.” The nation is Burmese and Buddhist, he and others argue. It does not have room for Rohingya. For conservative Burmese Buddhist monks and nuns (who are often more conservative than their monastic brothers), Muslims pose a threat to the Buddhist majority, financially and demographically. In a dharma talk from February 2013, the Bur- mese 969 Movement’s prominent monk U Wirathu explained, “[The money that you spend at a Mus- lim-owned shop] will be used to get a Buddhist– Burmese woman and she will very soon be coerced or even forced to convert to Islam. And the children born of her will become Bengali Muslims and the ultimate danger to our While there are notable Burmese Buddhist monks who work in concert with Western Buddhist visions of a pluralistic society, their efforts do not hold sway over the local Buddhist culture or influence Burmese legal reforms. U Wirathu, a prominent leader of the extremist 969 Movement, which has lobbied the Burmese government to limit the rights of Muslims ©apphoto/anuruptitu©apphoto/gemunuamarasinghe ➤ continued page 80