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Boulder Shambhala Center to Host Conference on the Humanitarian Crisis in Myanmar

By Melanie Klein

 

I remember the heartsick feeling that arose after hearing that a faction of monks, Buddhist monks, supported violence against a minority population in Myanmar.

Voices of Courage at Naropa University and the Boulder Shambhala Center.

This faction, known as Ma Ba Tha (the Burmese acronym for Organization for the Protection of Race and Religion) is led by the monk Ashin Wirathu, and takes the position that the Rohingya—a largely Muslim population living in the western state of Rakhine—must be eradicated from Myanmar to protect the nation’s Buddhist religious culture. This crude and dangerous view, in distinct opposition to the Buddha’s teachings, is made more outrageous by the fact that the Rohingya make up only 4% of Myanmar’s (formerly Burma’s) total population.

Nearly one million Rohingya have been driven out of the country by Myanmar government forces (prompting broad accusations of genocide) and into what has become the world’s largest refugee camp in neighboring Bangladesh. The Rohingya who remain in Myanmar continue to be harassed, undermining UN efforts to repatriate the exiled Rohingya. Further complicating this picture are armed attacks

Myanmar Street Scene, photo by Larry Steele.

against the government by ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and other minority communities seeking greater autonomy. Amid this tremendous confusion and aggression, there are, of course, many Burmese people—monastics, journalists, and activists—who are appalled by this violence and suffering and are actively working to counteract it.

Naturally, I was far from alone in feeling touched by this discord, and last autumn a Shambhala member asked if she could underwrite a conference and fundraising benefit for the Rohingya people in Boulder. Clearly the thing to do was say yes!

On April 28th, the Boulder Shambhala Center will host a conference, Voices of Courage: Facing Extremism in Myanmar and Wherever it Arises, at Naropa University. We’re fortunate to be hearing from a number of voices that will shed light on the status of the humanitarian crisis today and share with us their varied and inspiring responses to it.

As the title suggests, and recognizing that the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh is nothing short of epic, we know that sharp divisions occur in every corner of the world. Our daily U.S. news is full of this. Hate crimes are on the rise. Social media outlets present endless and unmitigated hate speech. The tenor of intolerance seems to have reached fever pitch.

Like other groups, we Shambhalians long to understand how to create the causes and conditions for genuine, brave, and compassionate dialogue to occur across divides. While our initial focus on Sunday will be on the crisis itself, we’ll then turn our attention to exploring how we can work with division and hatred in our local communities, our country, and beyond.

Voices of Courage panelists will include a courageous Burmese leader who is

Ven. Ashin Issariya, founder of the All Burma Monks Alliance and featured speaker at Voices of Courage. Photo by Larry Steele.

traveling to Boulder for the event: the Venerable Ashin Issariya is founder of the All Burma Monks Alliance. He was a leader in Myanmar’s 2007 Saffron Revolution and was exiled for years for his human rights work. The panel also includes Hena Zuberi, Director of the Burma Task Force, and Editor in Chief of muslimmatters.org, where she writes on issues related to Muslims living in the West. And Khin Mai Aung, an American civil rights attorney with roots in Myanmar and Rakhine, who has written extensively about the Rohingya crisis with articles appearing in Lion’s Roar and the New York Times.

Hozan Alan Senauke, Vice Abbot of the Berkeley Zen Center, will facilitate the panel discussion. He is co-founder of the Buddhist Humanitarian Project, which is dedicated to supporting the Rohingya refugees. Net proceeds from ticket sales, and all funds raised at the conference, will go to BHP.

We will also screen The Venerable W. on Saturday, April 27th, in our Main Shrine Room. This film starkly illuminates the views and influence of Ashin Wirathu, the firebrand monk who has incited violence against the Rohingya people. This film is the third in a “trilogy of evil” series from director Barbet Schroeder. New York Times critic Glenn Kenny writes, “The monk is perhaps the least showy of the subjects of Schroeder’s trilogy. He speaks quietly, although his mouth often twists into an expression of petulant smugness. But in a sense, this is the most terrifying of Schroder’s portraits.”

At this difficult time in Shambhala it feels worthwhile to turn our attention, at least to some degree, away from our own heartbreak and toward the unimaginable suffering of this humanitarian crisis. We offer these events not only for their own sake, but as a way for us to deeply consider the dangers of extremism, and to extend outward to promote a more courageous, tolerant, and wholesome society.

 

Melanie Klein is Executive Director of the Boulder Shambhala Center. She holds a divinity degree from Naropa University and is an ordained chaplain, teacher, and meditation instructor in Shambhala.

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3 responses to “ Boulder Shambhala Center to Host Conference on the Humanitarian Crisis in Myanmar ”
  1. Sandra noel
    Apr 16, 2019
    Reply

    This is such a compassionate and needed response to a terrible situation, thank you so much for your courageous efforts,

  2. Vicki Giella
    Apr 19, 2019
    Reply

    Dear Melanie,

    Have you contacted Richard Reoch about this program? As you must know, he has been directly involved with the Myanmar crisis and and been there as a peace activist. I think his voice would be much appreciated by Shambhalians and his absence feels painful.

  3. Melanie Klein
    Apr 22, 2019
    Reply

    Good morning Vicki, it was to Richard Reoch that I first reached out last year when I encountered this dreadful situation. He has been incredibly helpful in educating and supporting me. We hoped he’d join us for the Boulder event, but his travels are taking him elsewhere this spring. Warm regards, Melanie


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