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Fewer Senior Monks granted honorific religious titles by Burmese government

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Tawlawi : This year the senior Burmese military office that has traditionally conffered significant honorific titles for Buddhist monks, has approved fewer title confirmations than in previous years.

On January 4th, Burmese Independence Day, the Lt General Secretary of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), Tin Aung Myin Oo, announced the results in notification No. 1/2010. Senior Buddhist monks apply directly to the Ministry of Religious Affairs in order to be considered for the honorific titles, and receive confirmation in a congratulatory letter.

Yet according to a senior monk who preferred to remain anonymous for security issues, the numbers of senior monks who were notified of new titles has decreased compared to last year.

Specifically this year the SPDC only granted 120 titles to senior monks, as opposed to the 251 titles given in 2009.

In an interview with IMNA, a senior monk who received confirmation of his religious title explained how the number of senior monks that successfully applied for tiles decreased, “It is true the number of conferred titles to monks is fewer then last year. It is certainly due to the Ministry of Religious Affairs restricting the rules on giving religious titles confirmation, so the donation of these awards to senior monks is decreasing”.

In cities whose monastic population has in the past often succeeded in obtaining honorific titles, the decrease has been noticeable. Monks from the Division capitols of Madalay, Rangoon, Sagaing, Pakokku, Magway and Pegu were awarded fewer religious titles. A donor and member of Sasana Magai Pali Tekkatho Monastery at Pegu, confirmed that monks who are based in these cities have had fewer confirmations of titles.

The titles Abhidhaja Maha Ratha Guru, Agga Maha Pandita, Abhidhaja Maha Saddhamma Jotikadhaja are donated to senior monks who have a high level of education, and a level of moral certainty and metaphorical expression deemed worthy of the title.

“The decrease of monks [title confirmations] in these [above] cities is due to the government could reign-in senior monks who were being suspected of being connected with the 2007 ‘Saffron Revolution’ by giving reasons disruption within the monk’s discipline,” explained the donor from Sasana Magai Pali Tekkatho Monastery at Pegu.

In October 2007, Monks joined civilian and student protesters in demonstrations and marches protesting the removal of gas subsidies by the SPDC.  While initially students led protests, popular support for the protests grew as monks from monasteries countrywide joined protesters. Ultimately the protests were violently suppressed by SPDC forces, leading to the detention of yet unconfirmed numbers of civilians and monks.

The Sasana Magai Pali Tekkatho Monastery at Pegu was one of those raided in the SPDC’s subsequent crack down on monks during the ‘Saffron Revolution’.

An senior monk from Naypyidaw and an senior monk from Pakokku were conferred with the title Abhidhaja Maha Ratha Guru and one monk received the title Ganthavacaka Pandita amongst twenty nine Ganthavacaka Pandita applicants, according to a student monk from Moulmein, Mon State.

The honorific religious titles have been conferred to senior monks since early Burmese kings began the practice.  Annually these titles have been bestowed, through the colonel era, and with out disruption through years Burmese political turmoil, and into the 1980’s under the Burmese Socialist Program Party (BSPP). Currently the SPDC continues the practice of confirming titles through the post of the Lt General Secretary.

Monks who are refused confirmation of titles must apply again next year.  For those monks that have already received titles, they are granted for life and cannot be retracted.

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