Saturday, 2 April 2016

Former President of Myanmar to Become Buddhist Monk

The Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) announces that with the recent Burmese election, now-former president U Thein Sein will soon ordain as a Buddhist monk and intensively practice Vipassana meditation. While to many Westerners there it may seem like something of a contradiction to go from the highest echelons of power to a life of voluntary simplicity and poverty, but in over a thousand years of Burmese history it's not so odd. While past kings went in and out of monkshood, to take only the last century or so, many Burmese heads of state have flirted with renunciation before, during, and after their leadership. 

For example, the first independence leader, General Aung San, said he briefly considered leaving aside the nationalist cause in order to follow as a student of the Italian monk (and friend of Webu Sayadaw and Sun Lun Sayadaw) U Lawkanawta. The first president, Sao Shwe Thaike, learned Anapana and Vipassana under Sayagyi U Ba Khin at International Meditation Center, and later became a leader in Shan Buddhist revival. His president at the time, U Nu, was perhaps the greatest meditator-in-office, trying to encourage Vipassana meditation as a state policy of newly independent Burma and once refusing to interrupt his self-imposed 45-day course even when Karen rebels were camped out in Mingaladon and nearly took over the capital of Rangoon! Even Ne Win, the general who launched the 1962 coup that Myanmar only recovered from in 2010, spoke at the end of his days in power as wishing to leave his lavish life behind for that of cool monkhood. While Than Shwe, who was in charge for much of the recent years, seems not of the same religious bent, he did oversee the construction of the splendid and inspiring Uppatasanti Pagoda in Nay Pyi Daw. And Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has studied under Sayadaw U Thumana and Sayadaw U Pandita, and now is advised by Sitagu Sayadaw. Much attention was paid when she arranged for her sons to come to Myanmar when it was still extremely politically unstable and have the traditional shinpyu, or ordination ceremony. 

In short, post-presidency monkshood and meditation in Myanmar may be akin to American presidents setting up charities following their tenure. While some such as Carter and Clinton devote themselves wholly to those issues they care most about, others such as Ford, Reagan, and Bush have done far less. 

To read more about the Pyin Oo Lwin monastery where U Thein Sein went, see here.

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