We're proud to present transcripts of some of our Webinars below :  

Sakyadhita Australia  - ‘The Crisis in Myanmar’

Webinar with Jill Jameson 26/09/2021   


Opening prayer by Ven Chi Kwang

Helen Richardson: It's a great pleasure to introduce our special guest, Jill Jameson, and her topic, “The Crisis in Myanmar”. Jill has been a peace activist most of her life, and she's a Buddhist practitioner in the Zen tradition. She's been a trainer in peace building and conflict transformation in Myanmar, for over 25 years. Prior to this, she was involved in humanitarian and development work in Africa, Southeast Asia and India. Jill has been actively involved with the International Network of Engaged Buddhists for many years, she’s member of the Advisory Committee, and founded a chapter of Buddhist Peace Fellowship in Melbourne. In 2007, she received the United Nations Award for "Outstanding Women in Buddhism".  Jill, could you tell us a bit about the network of engaged buddhists, who are they and what exactly are they able to do in Myanmar? 

 

Jill Jameson: Well, it's a network of engaged Buddhists - network as opposed to organization - and the focus is on ‘Kalyana Mitta’, spiritual friends. Most of the members are from the Asia region even though there are members across many countries around the world, but mostly they're from sanghas and communities in Asia with limited resources. We are there to support each other, and to bring Buddhist values and practice to social issues. We have a conference every year, and one for example, was Buddhist - Muslim Dialogue a few years ago in Kuala Lumpur. This was at a time when there was rising hate speech in Myanmar, so it was to address that issue, bringing together many sangha members, monks and nuns from Myanmar as well as other countries to discuss this. Another recent INEB program has been a female sangha initiative for social transformation, empowering women sanghas in the southeast Asian region for gender equality, women led peace building initiatives and promoting religious pluralism. 

 

Helen Richardson: That’s sounds amazing.

 

These programs for Myanmar weren’t able to go ahead because of the coup, but hopefully later. There has also been training in Taiwan last year for female sangha members, and a whole range of other initiatives. And one, that I was part of, was a small buddhist delegation to Myanmar back in 2007, just after the Saffron Revolution, to bear witness to the suffering at that time, which was deep. We heard  70 monks had been brutally killed,  61 monasteries were shut down and 300 monks were imprisoned. Since that time one of our members Alan Senauke, from Berkeley Zen Centre  and I have been particularly involved, with the peace building training and other programs in Myanmar.  

 

Helen Richardson: We've all heard about the terrible military coup that happened last February. What do you know about the background to that and how were the military able to take power and just how brutal has it been for the people? 

 

Jill Jameson: Well, it has been extremely brutal. Regarding the background to the coup, the senior general Min Aung Hlaing was due to retire this year at the age of 65, so needed another title! And last year, he asked Aung San Suu Kyi who was State Councillor, in effect president, if he could be President - and she said, no! And the other  factor was the election last November, where Aung San Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, won an even more resounding majority than they had the previous election in 2015. Also, the National League of Democracy were planning on trying to change the constitution which gave the military dominance in the government. But looking further back, there has been a history of military dictatorship since 1962 - over the last 60 years. The same cycles of oppression, violence and fear have continued over those years. There have been protests and uprisings over this time, as in 1988, the student uprising where 3000 were killed; and in 2007, the Saffron revolution when 100,000 monks came out into the streets chanting loving kindness; and in 2017, the massive Rohingya genocide where a million people were pushed out to Bangladesh, and many were killed, women raped and houses burnt. The same violence that was inflicted on the Rohingya is now happening across Myanmar.

 

Helen Richardson: So in a sense it's an extension of what happened?

 

Jill Jameson: Yes, and it’s an extension, and the desire by the military to maintain control. 

 

Helen Richardson: As we know, Buddhism is the main religion in Myanmar, but what is the situation there for the Sangha, the monks and the nuns. I mean how many can be involved with the struggle against the military?

 

Jill Jameson:  Well, just to give a little background on the sangha, most people are Buddhist, about 85% are Buddhist, and a small percentage are Christian, Muslim, a few Hindus etc. The dominant ethnicity is Bamar – people who occupy central Myanmar, and around the edges of Myanmar are the ethnic minorities- which also include Buddhists - ethnic minorities such as in Shan, Mon and Rakhine States. There has been a Bamar Buddhist domination over this time which has created deep divisions where the ethnic minorities have felt left out. At the time of the Saffron Revolution in 2007, when 100,000 monks were walking across Myanmar chanting loving kindness - they were drawing attention to the poverty of the country - all the monks were united against the military. But since 2013, a nationalistic group of monks has formed called Ma Ba Tha, meaning, ‘purity of race and religion’. They are obviously racist, and from credible reports, receive substantial support from the military.   

 

Helen Richardson: So these are the monks we call the ‘bad monks’ who are inciting racism and giving Buddhism a bad name in Myanmar.

 

Jill Jameson: Yes indeed, and the leader Ven.Wirathu, was written up in Time Magazine, calling himself, ‘the Bin Laden of Buddhism’. Some of the peace building training that I've been doing over the years with many different groups from former political prisoners, students and also for some monks, including the Ma Ba Tha nationalistic monks. I've been able to do this through connection with one of the monks. What I’ve found is that most of them aren’t extremists -it's perhaps more to do with their very limited education. From our Buddhist delegation back in 2007, when we visited some of the monasteries, we heard that the monastic education was for the poorest children. For boys, with very few job opportunities, many of them become either monks or soldiers. There were at that time 400,000 soldiers and 400,000 monks. So that's the sort of background for many of the monks. When we talk about Ma Ba Tha monks, and in a country that has used fear and a top-down approach, they’re very easily led. Perhaps I'll share some of my images and stories about the sangha now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jill Jameson: To start with, this is Shwedagon Pagoda, and for anyone that’s been to Myanmar you will know this is an extraordinarily beautiful and powerful place. There are many pagodas here, and every night there are so many people there with their families - people who have been suffering for so long. Buddhist and other practices, other religions are a form of solace for the people. 

 

 

 

And in the north of Myanmar I visited several nunneries, and this is one where young nuns were studying, furthering opportunities to study where education is so low, being the same for the monks. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And many of the nuns were running kindergartens, this was kindergarten in a monastery, you can see they have virtually no equipment.

 

 

 

This is in a monastery where the nuns were involved in a primary school, and this is at lunchtime, serving lunch to the young students

This was a workshop I did in Shan State for monks and nuns who were already involved in community activities such as the Wong Metta loans program based out of many monasteries. The people would come together once a month to deposit or withdraw money, based on very low interest rates. This was an effective form of peace keeping in itself because people coming together from different ethnicities and religions get to know each other, and so conflict is less likely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our training provided a rare opportunity for monks and nuns to meet, as seen here in small group discussions, sharing their stories of conflict, finding commonalities and seeing how to work with these.

 

And at this monastery because as a foreigner, even then ten years ago, there was strict security, so someone was looking out the window to make sure that the authorities weren't coming, in which case I would have had to hide.  

 

 

 

This is one of the lay people who was also in the training, and he was showing a map of conflict in which he was involved, on the black board. One of the circles at the top represented the military - they had built a military base there. The circle on the other side represented the construction company which built the base, and to whom the military owed money. However, as the base didn't have enough money to give to the company, they told the company they could have seven villages instead of what the base owed, (small circles at bottom). As they discussed this together, they saw that if people lost their village they would have no land, with loss of livelihood, they would have to work probably for this construction company as itinerant workers. So, by inquiring into possibilities, they decided to ask the military how much they owed the company? Maybe they could try and raise that money because it was more important to get the land back.  So that’s an example of one of the issues, and several years after that we went back to the village where these people had come from and learned they had been successful in negotiating to get that land back. And they also shared these issues in the meetings that I went to in the monasteries with the credit program, setting examples for others to follow.

This was just one of the conflicts shared at our training, but land   confiscation has been the core issue of most of the conflicts shared at our trainings.

 

 

 

 

There is another story about this monk here, U Thatdama (at the whiteboard). A few years before this particular training with monks and nuns in another monastery, someone asked me if I could offer some trauma healing for monks who had been political prisoners post Saffron Revolution. A friend of mine had given me homeopathic arnica which I took to the training. But before we could get going, one of the monks stood up tall and said, ‘we are sons of the buddha, we are perfect as we are, so we don’t need any trauma healing’. So, we tried a different tack, we let go of the trauma healing and this monk here was one of that group who has since become an ardent peace builder. We often co-facilitate peace building training, as here. And this monk has opened the door to many of the monasteries, including to the nationalistic monks. So, who knows what comes out of this? But what they have appreciated very much is learning lots of tools for engaging their communities, to strengthen their sanghas and to build relationship, because they’ve been enclosed in monasteries and haven’t reached out to people. It’s been a unique situation mostly because for women to work with monks is unusual, and particularly as a foreigner. It has helped it seems, partly because I don’t come from an NGO, and I have a friend in Bermagui who’s been raising funds by selling things at a local market to support many of these trainings. Also, the framework for the peace -building training is based on the 4 Noble Truths, and we also explore the 4 Noble social truths and their underlying root causes, which I can go into later if you like. I feel very privileged to have had these opportunities.

 

 

Helen Richardson: That will be terrific Jill. But I’m just bringing you back to the current situation, and obviously as well as the country facing a military coup, they're also facing a pandemic of COVID-19. So, what is happening with that? 

 

Jill Jameson: Let me come to that just in a moment, just to add that many of the nuns who do this training gain confidence to be able to work with their communities.

 

 

 

And at another training, women's groups from the border areas and groups inside Myanmar, came together after there had been conflict between them and a lack of trust. This was alliance building to build a strong women’s movement through sharing their stories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And I was there just at the beginning of last year with a local organization that I've been working with on conflict for many years, and we start with inner peace building such as doing walking meditation in the forest.

 

And now to the coup. This image is of the crowds of people that are protesting peacefully against the military junta.

 

 

 

 

And today is the 14th anniversary of the Saffron Revolution, where the streets were also filled with non-violent protests against the military by chanting monks. This image of a monk is holding up a sign saying that although a couple of people have been released from prison, the whole of Myanmar is like a prison.

 

 

 

There are some courageous monks who have stood up and spoken out against violence and injustice in the past as well and are often not heard about. This monk here at an INEB conference in Taiwan 2015, just before this in central Myanmar, he had stood in front of a mosque, with about 700 people and said ‘kill me first’ to the assassins. He saved their lives.

 

 

 

This is a monk I met a few years ago who was arrested the day before the coup. He’s now in prison, and he was arrested because he said, “whoever ripples the peace in Myanmar will be known as the worst of the criminals”. This monk is an engaged buddhist. He was imprisoned in the Saffron Revolution, and later, he was building a meditation centre, and upstairs a training centre for unemployed youth. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

his is one of the leaders of the saffron revolution, another monk that became an ardent peace builder after feeling so sorry about the numbers of monks that had died, he wanted to be a peace builder. So this is him peace building. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is one of the monks here who is working with SEM/ INEB in distributing funds for example, from Australian buddhists (like some of you here have so generously given) to the monks and nuns in Myanmar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helen Richardson: I also wanted to ask you, the Saffron revolution, is that when Aung San Suu Kyi came into power? 

 

Jill Jameson: No, much before that. In 1988 she was back in Myanmar because her mother was unwell, and after the student uprising when 3000 students were killed, she became involved with the movement for democracy. Daw Suu Kyi was leader of the National League for Democracy, and they won 90% of the seats in the 1991 election. After that she was put under house arrest until about 11 years ago. And once she was released, and with the election in 2015, she and her party again received a massive majority. She is so dearly loved and respected throughout Myanmar, and received another huge majority in elections last year. She is in prison on trumped up charges since the 1st of February that would give her 75 years in jail. She is now 75, so the military obviously just want to get rid of her!

 

Helen Richardson: Okay, so I was asking about the impact of the global pandemic, of COVID-19 on this situation and what, if anything, have the military done to help the people. And what is the situation like?

 

Jill Jameson: Well, the situation is dire and it’s a most urgent need at this stage. The military have done the opposite of helping people. They've denied access to treatment that is in a way allowing covid to kill people off, - thus saving their military hardware. After the peaceful demonstrations for the first couple of months the military crackdown has been massive - aerial bombardment has caused much loss of life and destruction. But Covid has also been a huge onslaught. One in three have had covid and many people have died, but it is hard to know how many. However, many new crematoriums have been built and there are huge queues here.  And just to give an example of how the military are jeopardizing any treatment, they put out a fake call that someone needed help, and when three medics went there, they were arrested. They were forced to go back to their clinic and another two were arrested and jailed. Doctors and nurses were the first to come onto the streets after the coup, and three quarters of the civil servants in Myanmar have come out on strike. Everyone over the years I have been there, everyone wants peace. What the military is doing is the opposite. As far as Covid is concerned, now, what some of the monks are doing, are trying to build oxygen cylinder factories. People are so incredibly supportive of each other, sharing what they can. I had a message from someone recently who's working with nuns, and many of the nuns who have got Covid are in hospital, and others are looking after the younger nuns. They're trying to find resources to give to communities. That's another issue, about the impact of Covid and the coup on the sangha. 

 

Helen Richardson: Is any vaccine, getting into Myanmar? 

 

Jill Jameson: We been having INEB Zoom calls every month this year and last year too with Covid, supporting people in other places. But recently, we had Dr. Sasa who’s the head of the National Unity Government, speak to us and he was saying said that they were planning to get in 4 million doses of vaccine the next day. And they somehow got it through! Huge logistical challenges, because Thailand on one border, where Covid is also rampant and their military government is in cahoots with the military government in Myanmar, so they have closed the border. Any activists who cross the border to Thailand will be handed back, and they’re also jeopardizing the cross-border transportation of humanitarian resources. People have become incredibly creative in terms of how they protest and how they’re supporting each other and how they’re managing to share resources. 

 

Helen Richardson:  Looking at the political situation, if the campaign was successful and the military were ousted, is there any credible alternative with Aung San Suu Kyi, well, virtually in prison? 

 

Jill Jameson: There is an even more credible alternative now than the NLD in lots of ways because the National Unity Government comprises the elected members of parliament and ethnic leaders who have been absent of the past, so it's a much more representative governing body, so to speak. And they've also made apologies to the Rohingya.  So they've reached out across difference. And they have some very impressive and experienced people who've taken up positions in the ministries, and they've also got the wide diaspora around the world, who have connections with the different ministries. So it's like a big network that reaches out across the world. What they need and want is recognition by the international community, as an alternative to the junta. The military commander who calls himself the Prime Minister is the one who is responsible for the genocide of the Rohingya. The choice between leaders is stark. 

 

Helen Richardson: Are they asking for recognition from the UN or from the global community?

 

Jill Jameson: They are asking for recognition by the UN and also from the governments around the world. I'm part of a group WAM, Women Activists for Myanmar, lobbying politicians both to recognize the National Unity Government and also specifically as a women's organization campaigning against the use of torture and for the release of all political prisoners, particularly women.  There are now 1100 citizens who have been killed, 8.000 imprisoned including 20 monks, and 75 children under 17. As to the UN, the UN Representative for Myanmar came out very courageously with the three fingered salute, indicating he was on the side of the Civil Disobedience Movement and the National Unity Government. For now, the decision as to which side will represent Myanmar has been deferred until November. This will be critical for the future. 

 

Helen Richardson: I think the aid groups are, trying to help Myanmar, are they able to get through? I mean I'm thinking Red Cross, World Vision, all those sorts of groups.

 

Jill Jameson: Yeah. Red Cross would be dealing with Red Cross Myanmar which is under military control, so aid may not get through directly. What the National Unity Government are advocating is that people and aid groups support the local organizations who are on the ground, who have got the networks and that's where INEB, International Network of Engaged Buddhists is working through our local networks. I spoke recently with a monk who’s connected with INEB, the one who has been distributing some of the humanitarian aid for monks and nuns. Until recently, he was in a monastery in Mandalay and the abbot of that monastery was a supporter of the military and soldiers were occupying the school. So, our monk left, and this shows just one way how difficult it is for sangha no longer being united. He is now at a monastery where I facilitated a lot of peace building training in Shan State, and he is feeling insecure because the army calls on him quite often. In our conversation, we asked him what could people do to support, and what could we tell Australian Buddhists? And he said tell people about the coup, and the importance of recognition. I asked him about how monks are responding to trauma and fear that people must be experiencing. And he told us that people are calling him, feeling the loss of their future, and want to die. But he says he doesn’t hear of suicide, people are used to trauma and challenges, he said. But he is there for them, and as he said,

“I have a right and a duty to work for freedom, justice, and equality. None should live in fear, so it’s a duty of being human, lay or monk to fight against injustice. Otherwise, there could be no peace. We want all ethnicities and religions to have the same opportunities and equal rights.”

 

Helen Richardson: If you have a question, you could put it in the chat room, or just simply put your hand up and hopefully we'll be able to work around the feedback. Jill, what's your thoughts about the future for Myanmar? What's your thoughts about it, it just sounds so depressing and so difficult? 

 

Jill Jameson: Yes. From outside it does look impossible. The military have so many resources, and they've just been shopping in Russia, the Ukraine and Pakistan for more weapons. Just recently, the National Unity Government have taken up a ‘defensive war’, although the non-violent protests continue, but they've got virtually no weapons, so it’s so uneven. But they so strongly believe freedom from the military will be possible in the long run,as people are prepared to die for this. I spoke to a good friend I’ve worked with over the years who was on the border, a journalist, and as so many journalists have been imprisoned, she escaped to the border with her son, and she is still reporting. She won’t leave and is committed to staying there to work for change as best she can. I asked her too, what is the level of fear? She said people are afraid, but they are so committed. And another quality I’ve seen amongst the people is that they see possibility in the smallest places. And so that's what it's like. They’re not going into despair; they are working for change, together. 

Helen Richardson: Yes, sure. 

 

Jill Jameson: Another example of commitment and creativity was seen on International Women’s Day. I tuned into a webinar that day and there were three women in Yangon who were in hiding they said, after protests that day, as they couldn’t go home. They were on alert with any noise in case they had been followed and might be arrested.  That day, they had cut up some of their longyis or sarongs as flags and strung them across the entrance of the town to keep the military out. It is the tradition that if a man walks beneath a longyi he will bring evil and bad luck to himself. The Civil Disobedience Movement have been so creative in different ways and boosting morale in the process.

 

Helen Richardson:  I’ll pick up on that question. What can the Sangha do, you know, in this fight against the military, talking about the good sangha not the ones who are inciting racism.

 

Jill Jameson: Many of the moderate monks have been afraid to come out. Actually, with the recent anniversary of the Saffron Revolution, there was a report in this morning’s Democratic Voice of Burma that I’m following. Monks had gathered in Mandalay and were holding up banners saying, ‘the violence must stop, and listen to the will of the people’. Many monks have been supporting the civil disobedience movement, an extraordinary non-violent movement, and the monks have supported that. The monks have helped with dialogue between the police and the protesters, and many of them are trying to support their communities. One huge challenge, is that if any of the lay sangha go to offer monks dana, then the monks and the lay people are at risk as likely to be seen as part of the civil disobedience movement. So lay people aren’t giving to the monks, and so therefore that reciprocal relationship  is being broken, and the monks can’t give solace to the lay sangha at a time when it’s so badly needed

 

Helen Richardson: I mean that's really shocking, what does it say about the future for Buddhism in Myanmar if it's breaking down like that?

 

Jill Jameson:  Well, there are reports, even in one of the papers Myanmar Now, how unless the military are defeated, there's not much future for Buddhism in Myanmar. This is tragic and so sad to contemplate because Myanmar has had such an impact on the west, so many Buddhist teachers have had strong connections with Myanmar and the teachings from Myanmar. 

 

Helen Richardson: Jill we do have some questions. The first one is from Ven Juewei.

 

Ven Juewei:  Thank you so much Jill for your very interesting presentation, and also for sharing those powerful images. May I know how your Zen practice has helped to ground you in your key activities in Myanmar, especially as you encounter the atrocities on the ground? 

 

Jill Jameson: Yes, well practice is a life saver! One of these is the practice of deep listening, and is at the core of the peace building training that we do, ‘listening to the cries of the other’. With that deep listening, connecting with whatever the form of suffering, so that the other becomes no other than oneself. Something arises - compassion, love, and something changes. Self-compassion for my own vulnerabilities is also important. To be able to support people during the training, as well as now post-coup in Myanmar. And doing other things like spending some time in the garden, going for walks is also grounding. It’s heart breaking…..and there's no solution, only to be open and respond from there, and see what’s next. The women that I’m working with here through WAM, ‘Women Activists for Myanmar’, mostly young women students who have their family still in Myanmar. They’re incredibly bright, they're trying to study, are very active in the movement, and stressed and sick, stressed because of what's happening in Myanmar and to their families - so, to be able to offer support for them as well.

 

Sky Dawson: One of my memories of Myanmar was always the monks and the nuns, particularly the monks during alms round every day. And with the situation as it is what's happening for them, how are they doing?

 

Jill Jameson: Alms rounds are too challenging these days. It’s really difficult, and that’s why support through INEB/ SEM can help some of the monks and nuns because there are no alms rounds. It’s a very different story in Thailand, with Ven.    Dhammananda - whom some of you may know  - instead of doing alms round, they’ve put out tables outside their monastery and distributing food. People have been giving them food to be able to give to everyone, so it's sort of reverse alms round, but of course they can’t do that in Myanmar - that relationship is breaking, broken. 

 

Ven Chi Kwang:  I'm just wondering, because I have a bhikkhuni who’s staying with me and she spent a number of years recently in Myanmar, as a nun, and when I saw her pictures, I noticed that the temples seemed really large, with a lot of support. And I'm just wondering if these very large temples with a lot of support are being supported by the junta… by the government?  

 

Jill Jameson:  I don’t really know about these. I've been to many different monasteries, and particularly the ones that I stay in where we do a lot of our peace-building training, only simple ones. We have heard that some Ma Ba Tha monks have been given gifts but their relationship with the military is hard to prove. It just reminds me, there’s an American nun, I’ve forgotten her name, who's been in Myanmar for many years, and living at a nunnery in Yangon and she said earlier that the current situation is so important that everyone practices loving kindness meditation, and particularly to those that one may not agree with. The practice of Metta is another practice that I also find myself doing too, for dealing with heart brokenness and just seeing what’s there.

 

Ven Chi Kwang:  These monasteries were very fancy. They were very big, they had a lot of nuns, and a lot of the nuns have their own kutis, their own little house. It's all very big and I was surprised, actually. 

 

Jill Jameson: I don't know. I’ve been working through INEB with civil society organizations and sangha in simple monasteries. There is also the Engaged Buddhist Monastic Network in Myanmar, a hub of monks training in engaged work. Monks have gone to Cambodia to look at genocide, to Thailand to look at community development projects, and many of them are adopting more sustainable ways, growing their own food and supporting their communities, reaching out. And so they may not be big and fancy, but they’ve been doing some really great things and connecting with their communities, and I'm sure they will continue.

 

Ven Chi Kwang:  Fantastic. There are people actually doing this. Thank you, Jill.

 

Helen Richardson: Sky has a comment, I think.

 

Sky Dawson: I was just going to say Viranani who is an American nun and or Aryanani. She’s Swiss, but I don't think she can go out of her temple at the moment because of COVID, pretty much locked inside, so you've got the two working together, I think.

 

Jill Jameson: Last year, before the coup a lot of the monasteries and nunneries were used for people for quarantine, and also for people who were sick and being treated. But this year, that’s right, they’re closed, and even other centres in Thailand who have been helping nuns in Myanmar for their well-being and offering training, they’re closed as well.

 

Helen Richardson: We have a comment I think from Sirini.

 

Sirini: Thank you, that’s an amazing presentation, thank you so much Jill, really enjoyed it. I was also wondering in terms of fluency in English for the monastics. Are they able to communicate freely in English or is that difficult, is that a challenge? 

 

Jill Jameson: English is not allowed to be taught in most monasteries, and the monk that I spoke with recently, he was like others, forbidden at his monastery to learn English, but he studied it himself in Mandalay by going and meeting with tourists at some of the monasteries around Mandalay.  So, I work with not so much translators as co-facilitators, so that they may become trainers in future. But the lack of English is part of the downgrading of education.  Whereas 45% was of Myanmar’s GDP was spent on defence some years back, only 0.4% was spent on education, 0.5% on health.

 

Sirini: The reason I asked that is I guess, if the language barrier isn’t there then we can offer other support like trauma support and things like that from overseas or Australia, but we can’t do that if the language barrier is there. 

 

Jill Jameson: That is a very kind thought, and I can explore this further and get back to you. But it's not just language -sadly. There is a huge legacy of fear, over six decades of fear. So a lot of the work that I have been doing is trust building, sharing stories to be able to see our commonality, of reaching out across difference - with monks, nuns, farmers, students and former political prisoners. We have many different groups, and always reach out to listen to the stories across those differences. Monks and nuns have traditionally listened to the suffering in their communities and offered solace. So directly offering support to the monks and nuns – now largely cut off from support, they then are more able to respond and offer help.  

 

Sirini: What kind of support do you think that we can offer the monks and nuns, the monastics? 

 

Jill Jameson: Well, one way is to offer money to INEB’s appeal for the humanitarian support of monks and nuns, which I can transfer to INEB. Another INEB person who's working with nuns told me recently that their training program has been temporarily stopped although she’s continuing to work with the alumni from the program and support for the nuns. So the money would be distributed to the monks and nuns to continue supporting them, because they're cut off from their usual sources. 

 

Sirini: Fantastic, thank you so much. I guess at some stage you can send that information through to us, that would be good.

 

Jill Jameson: Thank you.

 

Helen Richardson: Are there any other questions we are getting very close to time. If not, Jill, I wanted to ask, you know, giving aid financially, what can we as Western Buddhists do?

 

Jill Jameson: Well, giving financial support is one thing, and as well, the practice of Metta; but I guess, others might have suggestions too. Just hearing about the situation, how do you respond? In a way, what engaged Buddhist practice is about is in seeing we're not separate from others and their suffering, and that we have an inescapable responsibility for the well-being of all. So, how do we respond to that? 

 

Helen Richardson: I’m also going to share your details for anyone who'd like to give to you and that money, I understand goes to the Network of Engaged Buddhists. 

 

Jill Jameson: Yes, thank you. 

 

Helen Richardson: I promised Ven Juewei I’d let her tell us about the forthcoming conference before we wrap up   - She has left a comment in the chat box  . . .can you read it Jack? 

 

Jack Wicks: [for Ven Juewei ]: It says: An international symposium on Humanistic Buddhism will be held over the weekend of 6th to 8th of November. It will be an opportunity for us to reflect on and co-create humanistic responses to the crisis we face. Please feel free to check out and register for this free symposium. It brings together over thirty international thought leaders. 

 

Jack Wicks: Yes, I've seen a lot about this symposium, it does look excellent, and there's a link in the chat window, or you can google International Symposium. 

 

Helen Richardson: Okay, thanks Jack. Any other questions before we wrap up. Jill anything else you'd like to say. Ven Chi Kwang has a question. 

 

Ven Chi Kwang:  Not so much a question, but Jill I know you’ve done a lot of work with this Civil Disobedience Movement -   many of them are living in or overseas or in Thailand, are there things that also can be done to help them directly because they’re of course doing a lot of the work and sometimes in quite difficult conditions in Thailand and overseas. Do you have any thoughts on how to help them because some of them are people, dissidents who have got over the border, and who are also struggling, and others are still in hiding, and yet they're doing quite a lot of dangerous work.

 

Jill Jameson:  Well, I don't know how one can support them from here. There are people who are there who are giving support, and we can support INEB and SEM in doing that work, because INEB is based in Bangkok. Many organizations that are in the network that are in Thailand like International Women's Partnership for Peace and Justice and lots of organizations, they're doing what they can to support people in Myanmar. It's hard from here to be able to do that directly other than, I don't know how, other than through sending financial support. When one’s there it's much easier to be able to talk and see where there are possibilities. The Civil Disobedience Movement it’s still really strong with people continuing to demonstrate peacefully, risking their lives, and they’re doing it in creative ways. At one stage they put soft toys on the streets instead of bodies, and they're doing flash mobs and they're making it clear they don’t want to live under the military any longer! What's really important is for us in the west to see that people there really want peace, and it's up to them. But they need our support, and they need our support at the government level as well. We still haven't seen Marise Payne – the Australian Government -issue sanctions on the Generals and their families. This is what WAM (Women Activists for Myanmar) are lobbying for – as well as recognition for the inclusive National Unity Government or NUG, and the will of the people to be free from military domination. NUG are about to present a case for  crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court. And this was reiterated by the United Nations Human Rights Council just a few days ago. They said, ‘what is happening in Myanmar are war crimes and crimes against humanity, and that there needs to be action on these, not just words. Myanmar is not alone on these issues, and it’s a tragedy really that the Declaration on Human Rights from 1948, was set up to be able to stop this sort of thing, but the UN system seems a bit broken, as it’s hard to get action. 

 

Ven Chi Kwang: I know that many of us are lost for words. Over the many years I’ve been following you, your efforts seem to have always been incredibly tireless.

 

Jill Jameson: Thank you Chi Kwang, but it’s just responding to the issues, and as I have been working there for so many years, friends are like family, so in effect, it's just responding to family.

 

Helen Richardson: Jill, what you're doing is really remarkable. I don't think there's any more questions are there, and anything else again Jill you'd like to say before we wrap. 

 

Jill Jameson: I’ll just mention what Bhikkhu Bodhi - some of you may know of him, but he also reiterated about the reciprocal relationship of the sangha being broken. Communities too poor and also fearful of supporting monks who would be seen as being on the side of the Citizens Disobedience Movement, and so the monks are unable to respond to them. So this is the tragedy in Myanmar on so many levels, so many fronts. 

 

Helen Richardson: Absolutely. And that’s something that we don’t see in the press, what’s happening with the religion, with Buddhism and how the military are working against that. 

 

Jill Jameson: There is that side, yes but the other side points to these remarkable courageous people putting their life on the line. So many, again and again, not deterred by the junta’s terror campaign, which has brutally killed 1,100 citizens, imprisoned and tortured many of the 8,000 people including 23 monks. The military are arresting family members, even children, there were 75 children under 17 in prison because when the military are looking for leaders, journalists or high-profile people and they can’t find them, they arrest their family members including children. Yet people are strong, and they still say, ‘we are going to win this’. And the people here still say that there's no falling into a heap. It's like what Joanna Macy has talked about. If you don't do anything you fall into despair, and if you can be part of the action, then that’s where engaged action is - where there's possibility. And who knows what's going to happen? We don't know, but there are possibilities. 

 

Helen Richardson: And for us that action is both Metta to be one with these people in Myanmar and to give. Right?

 

Jill Jameson: Yes. Thank you. 

 

Helen Richardson: Jill, thank you so very much. 

 

Jill Jameson: Thank you, thank you for this opportunity. 

 

Helen Richardson: It is our great pleasure. 

 

Ven Chi Kwang gives a blessing for Myanmar

Swedagon Pagoda, Yangon.JPG
Nuns studying in Lashio.JPG
Kindergarten lunch.jpg
Discussions.jpg
Conflict map shared in training.JPG
Peace-building training with monks and nuns.JPG
Womens Group.jpg
Civil Disobedience Movement protesting non-violently.jpg
Saffron revolution.png
Jill and Monk.png
Saffron REv leader.jpg

This is a recording of a live webinar hosted by Sakyadhita Australia on 19 April 2020. Bhikshuni Karma Lekshe Tsomo is a co-founder of Sakyadhita International and an extraordinary  teacher,  and leader who has helped change the role of women in Buddhism.

 Ven Thubten Chokyi on the Prison Project.

From our AGM :  May 2020.  

Ven%20Thubten%20Chokyi_edited.jpg

 Ordained for 13 years, Ven Thubten Chokyi is currently based at Chenrezig Institute, Queensland, and the Director of Liberation Prison Project Internationally.    For those who missed the AGM you can find the talk on Youtube here