Thursday, 25 October 2012

Ashin Issariya's Voice

Ashin Isssariya, aka King Zero, aka Minthunya was born in 1975 in Kungyangon Township, Yangon Division. This is his story. Told at the end of February 2010 in Mae Sot, Thailand.
King Zero went to a government school, but his school was closed in 1988. “My father asked me if I wanted to go to the monastery, because he wanted me to be educated. I did and joined the monastery. I became a novice at the age of 14. I stayed at the village monastery for three years and studied the Dhamma and Pali. I then went to another monastery, where I stayed for four years. After that, I moved to Pago monastery, where over 1,000 monks live. I lived there for three years. I then started studying at the Yangon State Sasana University. This is a university for monks. Apart from the Dhamma and Pali, we also studied subjects like philosophy and history. I wanted to achieve a higher education.” King Zero studied at this university for two years.
“I met another monk, Ashin Sopaka, at university. We started a library to encourage education and to speak about the (political) situation in our country. This we felt was necessary, as many monks did not know about it. I have always been interested in reading and writing articles. Some of my friends were members of the NLD. I spoke about all this to my fellow monks. Many of them were afraid and thought it was dangerous to be involved in these sorts of things. The first library was started at Sasana University in 1999. Many people were afraid to join, though. I gave information – in secret – about politics and publishing. And sometimes I went to the NLD office. ”
“In 2000, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi visited our area and we went to meet her in Dala town, but we were stopped and blocked from seeing her. I was there with Ashin Sopaka. We went back to university. They discovered our library and closed it. People had talked about it, that is how we were discovered. We had to sign an agreement that we would stop with the library.”
At university there is a rule that when you fail to take your exams, you are expelled. “We did not take exams and lef university.”
King Zero went back to his village and set up a library there. He then moved to Mandalay and stayed at Masoyin monastery. This is a well-known monastery with over 3,000 residing monks. “I studied Pali language there. I wanted to go to a private Buddha university to study and met a professor who agreed to help me. At a private university you have more freedom, it is not government owned. If I would go there, I could organise more activities. I went and studied English and Sanskrit, among others. I studied there for 7 years.”
King Zero published books and articles and collected many CD’s and books about politics.
“In 2000 I met another monk called Ashin Kovida. We discussed politics and became friends. He became my English teacher.”
In January 2003, a library was opened in Mandalay. The Best Friend Group of Literature, as it was originally founded by Ashin Issariya and Ashin Sopaka at Sasana University, was known by this time as The Best Friend. The library had many books and also provided free language classes: English, but also Japanese and French. Both monks and laypersons attended the library. In 2004, a second library was opened in Mandalay, near the Eindawya Pagoda. And in Sagaing there was one, too. Every library offered classes on different subjects and political discussions. In total, The Best Friend opened 12 libraries inside Burma.
“In January 2007, U Lin Lin introduced me to Ashin Gambira. This was in Yangon. We met in secret. Ashin Sopaka was in Mae Sot at the time. We sent messages and tried to meet. I went to Mae Sot secretly and talked about the organisation of a movement from the inside and outside.” “We organised a STOP-sign sticker-campaign. These stickers were put up inside the country. Many people were interested. The STOP-sign was even drawn on banknotes! We also had stamps with the sign. In March 2007, I visited Bangkok and India to meet people. I met many political leaders and read many books. I took back many books and information. I went back to Burma and started to meet and talk with friends. We went on organising the uprising.”
“In September of that year, Ashin Gambira came to Mandalay to meet us. This is when the monks were beaten in Pakokku. We discussed what to do and issued a statement: we requested an apology from the regime for the treatment of the monks. If this apology would not come by a certain date, a Pattanikkujjana (alms boycott) would start.”
King Zero was being watched though and moved to Yangon where it was safer for him. “I shared information and talked to people in the monasteries in Yangon, Sagaing, Pago etc. Every night, I visited monsteries and put up the stickers. Many people were enthousiastic. Ashin Gambira spoke with the foreign media a lot.”
“We knew we had to prepare for something to happen. We issued the statement saying we wanted an apology by September 17. If not, the alms boycott would start. Many monasteries joined in this call for a Pattanikkujjana. We did not get an apology. On 18 September, we recorded a Pali version of the Pattanikkujjana on MP3. We sent this to Ashin Sopaka in Thailand and told him it had to be distributed to the foreign media such as RFA and BBC. The media should be told that the monks had started.”
And they did. Hundreds of thousands of Burmese monks started to march the streets of Burma and chanting the Metta Sutta on loving kindness. Many people joined the monks. It became known as the Saffron Revolution.
“A senior monk we knew had contacts with the army and knew they were planning to shoot us. From the Schwedagon Pagoda, one group of monks went to the Sule Paya. They shot at the monks at the Schwedagon Pagoda. Many monks were shot and sent to jail. We organised pictures and sent images to the media. There was one group at the Sule Pagoda and one group in the monastery. I went to the monastery. Everything was blocked by the soldiers. We could not march anymore and were forced to withdraw. Loudspeakers of the order troops screamed: ‘Stop walking! We will shoot! Go back to your Kyaungs (monasteries)!’ We entered monasteries. There had been many beatings. Monks had been tortured. Everything was destroyed.”
On 26 and 27 September, many students joined in the peaceful walking in the streets. Many of them were arrested, too.
“On 28 September, my brother came to the monastery I stayed at. It was evening. My mother had sent him. She told me they were looking for me and that I had to leave. I moved to another place and stayed there in secret. This was in seaside Yangon. I listened to the BBC news and heard what was happening: Ashin Pannasiri was arrested, Ashin Gambira was arrested. One month later, I was at an internet cafe. Many people I met were surprised I had not been arrested yet. I am lucky. I am still free to this day. My friends told me not to come to Mandalay. ‘They asked us King Zero photographs, but we did not give them’, they said. Many people were interrogated about King Zero. At the time, they did not know exactly who King Zero was. It is a nickname.”
Throughout 2007, King Zero stayed active. He joined forces with the 88 Generation Students and with Generation Wave. They organised new things and formed new leaders, as many of their former leaders had been arrested. They put up many stickers. They took risks.
“I was warned that I was being watched. I went to Mandalay twice secretly. They did not know. U Lin Lin was in the forest hiding at that time. In 2008, the country was struck by cyclone Nargis. I went to the Delta region and we helped the people. In October 2008, 8 members of Generation Wave were arrested. One of them was Ashin Gambira’s student. They were tortured and were asked about King Zero. They wanted names, family members, activities. I was warned not to come to Yangon and to the library there anymore. At that time, they nearly got me.”
The junta visited his village. They spoke with his brother. He did not say anything. “I secretly met my brother and other family members. They told me that if I would be arrested, I would go to jail for a very long time, like Ashin Gambira. They told me I had to go. They said: ‘Don’t care about your family. Go.’ I used my brother in law’s ID card and changed into layman’s clothes. I went to Yangon and then Pago. Via Kayen State I arrived in Mae Sot. This was 21 October 2008. My brother also had to go into hiding. I met Ashin Sopaka again in Mae Sot. I wanted to talk to the media. They knew I was there. Two weeks later I heard that my brother was back home.”
At the moment, King Zero is visited by monks and students who want to learn about the struggle. “Inside it is difficult to get money and information. I teach them about how they can organise themselves, how to connect to others, the 2008 Constitution, our underground ‘ugyi’ movement, we share information on sticks, spread it inside, etc. Some of our The Best Friend members are in prison. We help them as best as we can: we organise money, food and hire lawyers for them. Some are in prison because they came to see me and I taught them things secretly.”
“I also preach the Dhamma to migrant workers and people inside the prison in Mae Sot. I teach them to be a good person. Many people believe in Kamma: I am not good now, but will be in a next life. The Buddha taught that the present time is very important. Do not wait for your next life, it is the future. If you are bad now, do not worry, you can be good.”
Ashin Issariya tells about The Best Friend and it’s high focus on education.
“The Best Friend started in 1999 at university. In Burma it is difficult to read a book. There are no libraries. There are not many books around. I bought and borrowed books from friends and collected them. I have always had a dream of opening up libraries everywhere to educate the people. If people read, they develop themselves and know more. Also about the situation in Burma and what they can do to change it. People do not think, they are just waiting for a new chance in the next life.”
“Education in Burma is about learning facts and to be able to reproduce these. We do not learn how to think. We learn how to memorise facts. I have always been interested in philosophy and books and I do a lot of thinking. I met many educated people. I asked them how to think and asked many questions. During Colonial times, education was actually good in Burma, but under Ne Win, many educated persons left.”
“At the time, monks in Burma do not study Burmese. Many of them cannot write properly. It is the same with other students. The regime wants us to have a low level of education. The Best Friend taught the Burmese language, too: how to write an article and things like that. I think that especially for monks – being in a leading position and being role models in society – it is very important to be able to write properly.”
About the role of Buddhism in the struggle: “Buddha’s way is democracy’s way. To understand each other, to forgive. Do not kill. Do not steal. It is about the peaceful way. Non-violence. The regime is very cruel, they do not assert the Buddha’s way. The regime is not peaceful. Buddha told the people: ‘You need a good leader, a good king.’ We have the responsability to get a good leader.”
Why King Zero? “My penname – writer’s name – is Minthunya. Min means king, leader in Burmese; thunya is zero, nothing. In Burma, we never have a good leader. We are trying to get good leaders. I am interested in the concept of zero. I write about it in articles. Zero is very interesting: we have to strive in our lives to be zero, to be empty. Only then can we put new things and information in. It is like a glass: when it is full, nothing can be added. When it is empty, a lot can be put in. I have always read a lot about the concept of zero. If you are not zero, you cannot learn more, you are done.”
Will general Tan Shwe ever be reborn? “He will be reborn in hell. From Buddhism’s point of view at least. All people have both good and bad inside them. It is like dirt: you can wash off a little bit, but when there is a lot, you cannot wash it off anymore. A lot of dirt cannot be cleaned in water. Everything Tan Shwe does, is dirty. He cannot be pure anymore.”
King Zero addresses the people in the West: “Do not forget that Burma’s people are also human beings. We want freedom. We are not animals. We need to help each other. My countrymen are trying to get a simple thing like freedom. If we get freedom, we can share the peaceful way of doing things. We cannot do that now, because our country is not free. Our lives are difficult. In the West, many people are only talking. They are not actually doing anything. It is like the French oil comany TOTAL: they associate and cooperate with the regime and are only talking. We need direct support for the people. Many groups pretend to help, but are only showing off. Many NGO’s are like this too. We need money for the people, for libraries and education. If people are educated and have general knowledge, they can do a lot. Help people and organisations who directly help the Burmese people – many NGO’s don’t know much about our country and spent useless money.”
“At the moment we are trying to build more libraries inside – under a new name. Also primary schools. We go on.”
“Before the planned elections in 2010 are coming, we are busy telling the people how to go about it, how to organise themselves and how to demonstrate. It is important to show we do not agree with the 2008 Constitution. After the election, which the military will win, there will be a need for more organising and more libraries.”
“We must win one day!”
Interview by Elke Kuijper

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Sat 10 Nov 2012
BABSEA 2nd Annual Access To Justice Public Interest Fair
"justify">Get information and help support local community-based organizations, build a network, and find out about job and volunteer opportunities at this fair showcasing the work of NGOs working in Southeast Asia.
Where: Kantary Hills Hotel, 44 Nimmanhaemin Road, Soi 12, Chiang Mai
Time: 11 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
Entrance: free

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