Ingraining the 969 Ideology

Ingraining the 969 Ideology By , June 27, 2013

Wimala Biwuntha shows a 969 logo during the introduction speech ceremony in a monastery in Rangoon, April 22, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

RANGOON — Wimala Biwuntha is a pint-sized monk with boyish features who could barely see over the lectern during his recent sermon to a mesmerized crowd at a Rangoon monastery. Yet his stature in Burma grows daily, thanks to his stark message to fellow Buddhists: “We are digging our own graves.”

Wimala’s sermon in the low-rent suburb of Insein was billed as an “introduction to the Buddhist logo”. To warm up the crowd, a catchy pop tune called “Song to Whip Up Religious Blood” was played at high volume on a continuous loop on the monastery’s loudspeakers. “Buddhists should not stay calm anymore,” ran the lyrics.

Wimala hails from Mon, a coastal state near Rangoon. The Mon pride themselves on being Burma’s earliest converts to Buddhism. In October, with violence raging in Arakan, he and fellow Mon monks set up the “Gana Wasaka Sangha” network to propagate 969 teachings.

It distributes a map showing Burma surrounded by Muslim-majority countries where Buddhism once flourished, such as Indonesia. “If necessary,” runs its slogan, “we will build a fence with our bones.”

Wimala arrived for his sermon barefoot, his shaven head shielded from the searing pre-monsoon sun by white umbrellas held aloft by disciples. His sermon was filmed by two cameramen, who later burned it onto DVDs that are distributed across Burma. Now that junta-era controls on the Internet have gone, 969 speeches are also widely disseminated on Facebook and YouTube.

Wimala’s preaching style is by turns intimate and hectoring. He cracks jokes. Often, he closes his eyes and intones like a revivalist preacher. Unfurling a poster of the 969 logo, he led the audience through the first of many renditions of the movement’s catechism.

“When you eat?” he asked.

“Nine six nine!” shouted his followers.

“When you go?”

“Nine six nine!”

“When you buy?”

“Nine six nine!”

“When you wake up?”

“Nine six nine!”

“When you sleep?

“Nine six nine!”

Afterwards, Wimala spoke approvingly of monks in Karen State who fine Buddhists caught buying from Muslims.

The Mon monks have delivered dozens of sermons in known sectarian trouble-spots. Wimala’s speech in the Pegu farming town of Minhla in February was followed by rising communal tensions, Muslim residents told Reuters. Four weeks later, a Buddhist mob destroyed mosques and Muslim houses in the town. Many of Minhla’s 500 Muslims fled.

In an interview, Wimala said 969 might have inspired followers to commit anti-Muslim violence. But they were an ill-educated minority whose actions had been exaggerated by “Muslim-owned media”, he said.

Emboldened, Wimala wants to reach a younger audience. He and other abbots are promoting compulsory religious education for Buddhist children.

The Mon monks plan to teach 60,000 children at more than 160 schools in Rangoon and Moulmein, said Yin Yin Htwe, 34, a Wimala donor and disciple who runs a jewelry business. “I want children to learn the dhamma (Buddhist teachings), improve their manners and protect the nation and religion,” she said.

Outside, waiting to greet Wimala, are dozens of primary schoolchildren with 969 logos pinned to their shirts.

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