We stand by the Burmese people in their quest for democracy and freedom. Listen to our podcasts to hear from activists, artists, leaders, monastics, fighters, authors, and more to learn more about what's really happening in Myanmar.
Episode #204: Ashin Kovida, a prominent pro-democracy Buddhist monk, shares his remarkable journey from a remote village with no electricity to becoming a fervent advocate for democracy and human rights. His story is one of growth and transformation. He initially questioned foreign political concepts like democracy, and was against Aung San Suu Kyi, but later embraced the ideal of democracy and came to greatly admire her, especially after secretly reading her book Freedom From Fear. He continued to educate himself by listening to BBC and VOA, and engaging in discussions with visiting tourists.
Ashin Kovida's deep-rooted belief in the teachings of the Buddha has also led him to challenge the oppressive military regime in Myanmar. He emphasizes the importance of democratic principles and the need for governments to respect the will of the people—and reinforces this argument by referencing stories from the Buddha’s life and the core of his spiritual teachings. Ashin Kovida’s forward thinking extends to education as well, advocating for a broader curriculum in monastic education, one that includes subjects like math and English as well as Western philosophy and psychology, in order to make Buddhist teachings more relevant to a modern and diverse audience.
Ashin Kovida is not shy in offering his criticisms of Burmese monks who align with the regime. He also calls out the role of Western media for focusing on extremist Buddhist messaging while not reporting on the more progressive elements of the Saṅgha.
At a time when some wonder where the faith is heading while caught in the current strife, his answer is very clear. “Buddhism doesn't need to go anywhere! Ledi Sayadaw, was a revolutionist,” he asserts, referring to the famous 19th century monk, adding that many at the time accused him of being Communist, so radical were his ideas. “We worry about losing Buddhism, which is against the Buddhist teaching, but we don't need to worry,” he asserts. “Worrying about losing the Buddha's teaching is not the way to the Buddha's teaching! If you want to follow the Buddha's teaching, just practice, that's it!
Emergency Edition: Rakhine Roulette
Special Release: Vladmir Lenin once said, “There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks when decades happen.” At this moment, in the wake of Operation 1027, Myanmar is going through one of these weeks. We now find ourselves in a complex, fluid, fast-moving and high-stakes situation, one which may well very well decide the fate of the country, so we are rushing the production of related interviews to provide listeners with informed, up-to-date analyses.
Our inaugural episode in this series kicks off with Kyaw Hsan Hlaing, who provides an overview of the political context in Rakhine state, detailing the history of the Arakan League for Democracy (ALD), the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), the Arakan National Party (ANP), and the Arakan Front Party (AFP). He describes the often-fraught relations that the Rakhine people have had over the years with the Burmese military, the Bamar-majority National League for Democracy (NLD), and the Rohingya minority. He also explains the origins of the powerful Arakan Army (AA) and its political affiliate, the United League of Arakan (ULA), delving into their relations with the National Unity Government (NUG), why they initially agreed to a post-coup truce with the State Administration Council (SAC), but then why they have so dramatically broken that truce to join Operation 1027.
In closing, Kyaw Hsan Hlaing posits that contrary to the opinions of some analysts, the AA/ULA is deeply invested not only in crushing the Burmese military, but also in establishing a strong federal democracy. He describes how the high-stakes gamble that the AA took in joining the operation is very much in line with this aim. He closes by noting that if they make it through the present challenges and the military is defeated, the country has a real chance to become a stable democracy, which will benefit not only the Rakhine people, but all the citizens of Myanmar.
Jack Myint, Part 2
Episode #203: Jack Myint's journey is a tale of cultural contrast and resilience. He had the opportunity as a teenager to attend a program at a US college, sponsored by the State Department. Coming from the very traditional, Myanmar public schools, his experience of open discussion and critical engagement in an American college classroom was an awakening.
Returning to Myanmar from the vibrant American campus was stark, reverse culture shock. Jack’s independent spirit, only enhanced by his US trip, caused his mother concern under the repressive, military regime. She warned, “You're going to either get killed or end up in jail,” and that he needed to leave the country somehow. Jack chose to apply to college overseas; he navigated the challenges, was accepted at several schools, and secured a scholarship so he could attend one.
During Jack’s college years, Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, and he was invited to the ceremony, and he jumped on a Greyhound to DC. While expressing pride in a Burmese political figure being so admired on a worldwide scale, Jack acknowledges the conflicted nature of her legacy. He also feels that the NLD government made many mistakes which, in retrospect, may have contributed to the conditions leading to the 2021 military coup.
Jack’s strong view on sanctions is that they have historically proven ineffective in changing the behavior of despotic regimes, particularly in a resource-rich country like Myanmar, and that they primarily harm the people. He suggests that calls for sanctions in Myanmar are often motivated by emotional considerations, primarily as a symbolic, moral action than a concrete act of policy with clear consequences.
Jack concludes the discussion with a resounding sense of hope for the democracy movement, while calling out foreign observers who wrote them off long ago. “Never underestimate the resiliency of the Myanmar people! We've seen pretty bad stuff, and we've lived through it, and we've survived it… If I don't have hope, I have nothing. And at least in my lifetime, I think we'll we will see a return to the promise that Myanmar once showed the world.”
The Breath of Awakening (Bonus Shorts)
Episode #202: Diego Prieto, guided by the allure of the Buddha's teachings, embarked on what would become a transformative journey into Myanmar.
His first experiences with meditation took place in his home country of Chile, and he continued to take courses across South America, before heading to India, where he began work on a documentary about the Buddha’s teachings. But Diego’s perspective profoundly changed in the vibrant Buddhist society of Myanmar, deepening his understanding of practice by engaging in a living tradition. Myanmar revealed a dynamic Buddhism, shaped by the passage of time and the tapestry of changing cultures. It was a revelation!
The sacred sites that bore witness to centuries of meditation held a strong attraction for Diego, leaving an indelible imprint on his practice. In particular, The International Meditation Center (IMC), where S.N. Goenka took his first vipassana course with Sayagyi U Ba Khin, was an intense and powerful experience, and allowed him to confront his inner darkness in a profound way.
Later, in the ancestral village of Webu Sayadaw, Diego discovered that the practice of ānāpāna (the observation of breath) encompassed the essence of Buddhism's path to enlightenment, as opposed to just being a way to concentrate the mind, as he learned in his prior meditation. This revelation became the guiding light for his future practice, a seed of wisdom planted deep within.
Yet, there were more revelations to come. In the Thabarwa Monastery, compassionate action became a gateway to meditation for Diego. Engaging in acts of active compassion—cleaning, assisting the vulnerable, and teaching—he witnessed the transformative power of selfless deeds. It was an awakening that expanded his understanding of Buddhism's true nature, beyond the confines of traditional boundaries.
Contemplating Myanmar's current challenges, Diego drew upon his own experiences of turmoil and social unrest in his native country of Chile. In the face of helplessness, he advocates for presence, for listening and sharing, and for the profound lessons that emerge from embracing the pain of others.
Navigating the Financial Landscape
Episode #201: Sean Turnell provides a deep analysis of Myanmar's economic history and its transformation from a prosperous nation to one of the poorest in Southeast Asia. Throughout the episode, Turnell’s personal experiences, including his time as an economic advisor to Aung San Suu Kyi and his 650-day imprisonment following the coup, intersect with the nation's trajectory, emphasizing the resilience and courage of the Myanmar people in the face of adversity.
Turnell’s insights shed light on the detrimental impact of decades of disastrous economic policies imposed by successive military regimes. Turnell discusses the military's complete control over the country's natural resources and their focus on a “rent-seeking” rather than growth-oriented economy, resulting in widespread poverty.
He also explores the role of the Myanmar Economic Corporation and Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited, two major conglomerates overseen by the military, and the lack of transparency surrounding their operations. The conversation also delves into the brief period of economic openness and the shift towards more foreign investment during the transition period, which was driven by the military’s fear of becoming a vassal state of China.
Turnell highlights the challenges faced during the transition, emphasizing the difficulty of implementing reforms, and the resistance from a corrupt bureaucracy. He reflects on the potential for what a second NLD term might have been, and the bold economic reforms it might have brought to the Burmese people.
The episode concludes with a discussion of post-coup Myanmar, including the military’s reckless printing of money and its impact on monetary instability. Turnell highlights the widespread barter economy and economic inequality as factors preventing hyperinflation.
Battling Oppression with Economic Stability (Bonus Shorts)
Episode #200: “I am an Indian and American, and I carry both in my blood,” says Jagdish Dalal, who goes by the name Jag. “I am one of those with a Western mind and Eastern soul. So whenever I think about Myanmar, or I think about other Asian countries, I have a personal feel for it.”
With over five decades of leadership experience advising Fortune 100 companies, Jag is a sought-after speaker on information technology management and futurism. He emphasizes the importance of "impact sourcing" and the need for infrastructure to harness the incoming wealth from corporations in developing economies, creating a thriving middle class and reducing social inequality.
Jag's economic perspective on Myanmar is thought-provoking. He connects economic stability to political environments, believing that Myanmar must foster growth, not suppression, to avoid falling behind. His approach focuses on the economic root of Myanmar's problems, anticipating that an unraveling economy will lead to oppressive regimes and regional instability. He advocates for incentives over sanctions, viewing sanctions as counterproductive.
Jag closes by affirming that people the world over should be following—and concerned—about what is now happening in Myanmar. “The challenge is that that issue is in the back of the mind, so I think the more and more you do to bring it to the forefront, it's going to help,” he says. Jag references Insight Myanmar Podcast as an effective example of creating engagement through education. “I was concerned about [Myanmar] at one point in time, and I would have done something about it if I could,” he says. “[But this podcast] really put Myanmar ahead on my thinking platform. There are a lot of things out there that I'm thinking about, but now it is higher on my platform to be thinking about, and I really appreciate the opportunity.”