The origins of the meditation and mindfulness movement that have swept the world can be traced back to 19th and 20th century Burma (Myanmar). And still today in the 21st century, the Buddha's teachings of liberation animate a contemporary generation of Dhamma seekers in this small Southeast Asian country. In this podcast series, we will be holding in-depth discussions with a wide range of practitioners-- foreigners and local Burmese, lifelong monastics to lay practitioners, and including authors, scholars, meditators, teachers, pilgrims, and more--to highlight the depth and diversity of Buddhist practice to be found in the Golden Land and explore how the Dhamma has been put into practice by those seriously on the Path.
Home Is Where the Heart Is
You are listening to the second episode in our ongoing series, titled “Love Letters to Myanmar.”
This series features guests who share their warmest memories and anecdotes, discuss what life lessons they have learned from their time in Myanmar, and talk about the role that the country and culture has played in their lives. We hope these shows can aid us in keeping our hearts firmly rooted in the Golden Land, while also providing a sense of renewed energy and purpose as we face the on-going, very challenging developments in the Golden Land.
This second episode in the series is a mirror image of the inaugural program, which showcased the stories of three non-Burmese who were deeply impacted by their time in the country. In this one, we hear from three Burmese who left their homes at a young age in order to settle in foreign countries with their families.
Our guests include Yi Mon, whose family went to Japan; Paing, whose family went to Norway; and Lily, whose family went to the United States. They describe the challenges of adjusting to new countries and cultures while holding onto the values of their homeland, and how the Buddha’s teachings have guided their lives even after settling into new lands where few around them follow Buddhist principles or have a daily meditation practice. They close by sharing their thoughts and feelings in following along with the protest movement from afar.
For his contribution to the resistance, Ven Detta is seeking inspiration from Vladmir Lenin, spending the last several months studying the history of how soldiers are coaxed to defect during insurrections. He notes that during the 1917 Russian Revolution, “The military just stopped following orders.”
Being intimately familiar with Burmese military culture, Ven is far from naïve concerning the challenges of this work. He understands the Tatmadaw’s insular culture, and how brutality and cruelty are celebrated as virtues. He also acknowledges that military families live in military compounds, effectively making them hostages should any soldiers desert.
The work is dangerous, as anyone caught with anti-military literature or is found to even be in the possession of a printer faces extreme consequences. The military can shoot first, and doesn’t even need to ask questions later. And yet for Ven, this threat of excessive response on the military’s part only points out just how vulnerable they believe they are.
Ven feels that a key part of this campaign is to get defections happening in large numbers. The more soldiers defect or desert, the less the military can respond to individuals. This is of course easier said than done. Ven also believes that having some organization soldiers could defect to would be a critical component to a successful strategy, and towards this end he is eagerly awaiting the formation of the planned Federal Army.
Finally, Ven minces no words in explaining the role the monkhood should play. “Many people…will no doubt listen to what a monk will have to say. And there are several dozen monks who have immense sway over public opinion. And I think they need to stand up [and] speak from a religious perspective.”
Will the popular movement’s humanistic ethics that value each individual life and guarantees inherent freedoms overcome the Tatmadaw’s emphasis on discipline, along with distrust of critical, independent thinking? Ven believes in the righteousness of his side, but also knows this is a story still being written.
To support Ven’s defection mission, please consider https://insightmyanmar.org/donation (making a donation) for his cause.
Literally A Nightmare Scenario
Thiri is no stranger to the trauma brought on by the military coup. She spent five years with Human Rights Watch listening to people with cruel and brutal stories of their families killed or harmed by the military. Yet now she’s in the middle of it herself. She knows that there is no real safety anywhere anymore, as even residents staying indoors are getting beaten, arrested, and even killed for no reason. She grimly accepts this reality as best she can. She can’t even pause to enjoy a sunset anymore, because should she pull out a phone to get a picture of it, security forces could arrest her on the spot and confiscate her phone, thus exposing her many contacts.
Despite the nightmarish situation, Thiri has chosen to remain in Myanmar, even though she holds active visas for both Thailand and the US. She once seriously considered getting to safety, but in the end, she decided she couldn’t face the guilt of escaping when so many others couldn’t, and felt a strong sense of unity that she must carry on until the end. And Thiri plays no small role in the resistance. She is being called upon daily now to provide safe houses, transfer money, acquire materials, and a million other tasks that few others know how to do as well.
Thiri is doing all she can to communicate a true understanding of what is happening in her country to the world, and notes the continued presence of outside media give the Burmese people hope. But she confesses that she has not been completely pleased with some of the foreign journalism work so far.
Ultimately, Thiri is confident that they will win, if not for the simple fact that, in her words, “We deserve better.” She adds, “They cannot kill us all. So if any one of us survives, whether inside the country or outside, this is our victory.”
A Risk-Taker at Risk
“Thurain” (not his real name) had planned to spend the start of 2021 building on his already impressive worldly achievements. Though a “country boy” from birth, he had made his mark in Yangon, establishing not one, but three successful businesses.
But on February 1st, this all came to a crashing halt.
He began attending the nonviolent protests, but eventually decided to lend his skills to the resistance in a different way, in planning. He worked with a small group of people in the interest of safety, so that knowledge of the wider movement wouldn’t rest in any one individual. Unfortunately, one group member was captured, and after being tortured, shared details about the others. The group quickly dispersed, and Thurain remains hiding to this day.
Thurain remains active in the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), cold-calling civil servants still going to the office and encouraging them to take leave, a high-stakes decision-making process that could literally mean life and death for either party. He also tries to encourage police and soldiers to join the CDM, and works to prevent the military from installing ward officers at the local level, which he feels is the most critical part of the entire struggle.
He admits that he is often terrified, but that he works to calm himself whenever possible. He practices vipassana meditation, which he does even when in the middle of important discussions. If he has the time, he also composes poetry and paints, as those supplies are some of the few luxuries he allows himself while on the run.
Touches with the Golden Land
Our team has decided to present a new series that focuses on our love and appreciation for the Golden Land. We hope that upcoming episodes in this series can help to provide some kind of counterbalance to the emotionally draining content about the fraught situation we hear about daily. Titled “Love Letters to Myanmar,” it will feature a wide range of speakers who reflect back on what the country and people have meant to them. We hope this series can help remind us as to why we care so much about this country, and keep our hearts firmly rooted in the Golden Land in spite of the present situation.
Today’s inaugural show has three guests. Lee, a American vipassana meditator in the tradition of S.N. Goenka, talks about visits to pilgrimage sites in her tradition as well as sitting and serving on courses at centers there. Brey Sloan served as the Defense Attaché at the U.S. Embassy In Myanmar. She describes how the country transformed during the years of her service, and her personal encounters with figures ranging from Aung San Suu Kyi to General Min Aung Hlaing. Evie, an Austrian yogi, has been practicing meditation in the country since 1994 under such teachers as Sayadaw U Pandita, Shwe Oo Min Sayadaw, and Sayadaw U Tejaniya. She discusses how these spiritual teachings, along with the generosity she experienced in Burmese society, have transformed and enriched her life.
At the end of today’s program, there will also be a roundtable discussion with several members of the youth organization, Global Movement for Myanmar Democracy. Our podcast has been collaborating with this group to organize an exciting virtual activity on April 24th, in which artists from around the world will be donating their pieces, with all proceeds going to those in need in Myanmar. More information about the event can be on our webpage.
Going Rogue: A Doctor on the Front Lines
Coco’s career path in medicine wasn’t supposed to end up this way. But on February 1st, for Coco and so many others, “all of the dreams just got wasted away.”
He was initially hesitant to join the street protest, out of fear. Finally, he was coaxed outside, but when the first shots rang out, Coco found himself literally frozen in terror. However, he was inspired by some teenagers showing courage in the face of such mortal risk. After it was over, he spent time with them processing the experience, acknowledging the fear as being natural. But they noted that in their mission to win back democracy, they have to overcome it.
Coco uses his medical skills to support the protests. Initially, while doctors were ready to administer service to protester and soldier alike in line with their medical vows, the military decided to specifically target medical volunteers, as they have been at the forefront of the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). As a consequence, medical teams now have to work surreptitiously and furtively. Although Coco and his fellow doctors had seen their share of gruesome injuries before the protests, nothing could prepare them for what they now encounter: missing limbs, headshots that had literally blown the face entirely off, triage battle conditions, and administering aid while taking live fire.
Coco is unsure how long the movement’s adherence to nonviolence can be sustained, as the Tatmadaw continues to show greater depths of cruelty, while the international community has shown no further willingness to engage.
Please consider making a donation to support the nonviolent protest movement in Myanmar.