Insight Myanmar

Insight Myanmar Podcast

We stand by the Burmese people in their quest for democracy and freedom. Listen to our podcasts to hear from activists, artists, leaders, monastics, fighters, authors, and more to learn more about what's really happening in Myanmar.

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Fiction and Fun in Burma
Yesterday
Fiction and Fun in Burma
Episode #126: When Rose Metro sat down to write (Have Fun In Burma), a novel set during the Rohingya crisis, she was already well aware that the country has long been viewed through an exotified, Orientalist lens. Being quite conscious of this past narrative, she wanted to draw attention to cultural conflict, using multiple perspectives. The protagonist, Adela Frost, is a politically progressive young woman. She interacts with diverse characters who represent common archetypes from the transition period in Myanmar. While this diverse cast of characters may well not communicate skillfully across cultures even in the best of times, their misunderstandings take on far more serious consequences, in a story built around the developing Rohingya crisis. Adela applies her values and perspective to the unfolding violence, unable to understand how the Burmese characters see the situation differently. Because they cannot even agree on a shared set of facts, let alone find a resolution, the tension mirrors the wildly divergent ways that the Rohingya crisis was covered by the media.   Rose also brings the subject of meditation into her narrative. Adela is taught a Mahasi style practice by the abbot of the monastery. For Rose, it was important that the meditation part of Adela’s journey, and its role in the wider Burma experience, did not happen in isolation, but was integrated into everything else taking place both at the monastery and in society at large.   “I think that's just the central tension. We have to have that balance of compassion and equanimity. That's so hard. How can you keep being open to feeling empathy for people when their suffering is so great? But also, how can you not just be like Adela and be like, ‘Okay, I'll fix it….’ If it has any chance of reducing suffering, either mine or someone else's, it's worth doing. I think that kind of humility is something that can take a long time to get to.”
Fiction and Fun in Burma
Yesterday
Fiction and Fun in Burma
Episode #126: When Rose Metro sat down to write (Have Fun In Burma), a novel set during the Rohingya crisis, she was already well aware that the country has long been viewed through an exotified, Orientalist lens. Being quite conscious of this past narrative, she wanted to draw attention to cultural conflict, using multiple perspectives. The protagonist, Adela Frost, is a politically progressive young woman. She interacts with diverse characters who represent common archetypes from the transition period in Myanmar. While this diverse cast of characters may well not communicate skillfully across cultures even in the best of times, their misunderstandings take on far more serious consequences, in a story built around the developing Rohingya crisis. Adela applies her values and perspective to the unfolding violence, unable to understand how the Burmese characters see the situation differently. Because they cannot even agree on a shared set of facts, let alone find a resolution, the tension mirrors the wildly divergent ways that the Rohingya crisis was covered by the media.   Rose also brings the subject of meditation into her narrative. Adela is taught a Mahasi style practice by the abbot of the monastery. For Rose, it was important that the meditation part of Adela’s journey, and its role in the wider Burma experience, did not happen in isolation, but was integrated into everything else taking place both at the monastery and in society at large.   “I think that's just the central tension. We have to have that balance of compassion and equanimity. That's so hard. How can you keep being open to feeling empathy for people when their suffering is so great? But also, how can you not just be like Adela and be like, ‘Okay, I'll fix it….’ If it has any chance of reducing suffering, either mine or someone else's, it's worth doing. I think that kind of humility is something that can take a long time to get to.”
Keeping the Burmese Language Alive
1w ago
Keeping the Burmese Language Alive
Episode #125: Given the deteriorating and destabilizing situation in Myanmar, one might assume that experts in the fields of Burma Studies, along with Burmese language teachers, would be more important now than ever. Yet nonetheless, the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) has elected to terminate the post of Professor of Burmese. Burmese language instruction at SOAS dates back to 1917, when civil servants associated with Britain’s colonial administration studied Burmese. Yet the institution is now experiencing financial problems that can be traced back to Brexit, and Covid has only exacerbated the situation. As a result, Justin Watkins, who currently holds the position, was informed in the summer in 2020 that his position was at risk of being cut, and he was given two years to seek out funding to build an endowment. However, the military coup happened only months later, it became very difficult to ask for funding for his program that otherwise would probably go to supporting a country in such dire circumstances. Watkins has requested a two-year extension, but the post is set to expire this month. Watkins fears that at a time when it has been so difficult for the crisis in Myanmar to break into the international community’s consciousness, cutting his program would only serve to further relegate the country and its people to the background. Plus, SOAS is one of the few institutions in the world that still offers Burmese language study. Watkins points to the negative effect that decreased opportunities for Burmese language study will have on aid workers, diplomats, human rights activists, and others who can do far better work when they are able to speak in the local language.
Power to the People
Sep 23 2022
Power to the People
Episode #124: Today’s guest, Guillaume de Langre, worked for several years in Naypyidaw as an adviser to the Myanmar Ministry of Electricity and Energy (MOEE), and explains the history of electrification in Myanmar. From the post-independence period through the 2000s, he describes how much of the country was dark. One reason is that Tatmadaw was never really interested in developing access to electricity to much of the country. It may seem strange that the military regime did not seek a more prosperous economy, which would have required a more efficient and widespread electricity grid. But de Langre explains how the generals followed a Soviet style plan of state-owned industries where actual productivity was never the goal. Then in 2000, providing access to electricity suddenly became a priority, and brought about a rapid transformation that greatly benefited the Burmese people and economy. However, usage rates went way up, straining the system in a new way.  De Langre notes that the government ended up spending more on energy subsidies than even on education, which ultimately led to sharp price hikes in 2019.  This led to exploring plans for alternative energy sources, like solar or imported power plants, several of which were in place on the eve of the coup. However, everything fell apart after the coup, as investors balked at what had become high-risk projects overnight. Sadly, de Langre also believes that even if the military is defeated, “it would still take years to fix the damage done to the energy sector by the coup… It will take years for companies to trust again and to lower their perception of risk.”
A Failure of Diplomacy
Sep 16 2022
A Failure of Diplomacy
Episode #123: Lucine has been the liaison officer between France and Myanmar for decades. With this rich experience, she offers an insightful perspective on the workings and machinations of the hidden world of diplomats across multiple crises in Myanmar. Burma used to be viewed as a kind of remote backwater that few knew much about. But that all changed with the ’88 democratic uprising. Working with the European countries and the US, Lucine advocated for an immediate travel ban and economic restrictions on high level military figures. Surprisingly, she was never arrested, a mystery that eludes her to this day. Back then, Western countries were very sympathetic to Burma’s plight. But since Aung San Suu Kyi’s fateful decision to personally defend the Rohingya genocide at the IJC, that all changed. Lucine explains that Aung San Suu Kyi hoped her hard stand would both help her election chances and placate the military, making a coup less likely. However, not only did Aung San Suu Kyi single-handedly lose worldwide sympathy and support for her country’s democratic transition, the military ultimately launched a coup anyway. Away from Myanmar, Lucine describes the anxiety many Burmese exiles now have in not knowing if their respective ambassadors support the democracy movement, or are little more than spies for the junta. Even worse, the military has instructed its embassies not to issue new passports, leaving approximately 80,000 stateless Burmese in limbo. Lucine cannot understand how most of the international community has simply stood by and watched the suffering of the Myanmar people grow exponentially. “No sympathy, no empathy, I would say! They don't care how many people are killed in a day, even though we've been sharing news and we've been crying out in many ways around the world!”
A Conversation with Gil Fronsdal
Sep 10 2022
A Conversation with Gil Fronsdal
Episode #122: Gil Fronsdal’s single visit to Myanmar came over three decades ago, but the impact of the trip on his spiritual life stays with him still. Initially practicing Zen, he went to Japan to deepen his practice, but he soon became disillusioned with the emphasis on ritual. He traveled on to Thailand, where he took a Mahasi course. Immediately impressed, he felt inspired go to the source of the teaching and seek further guidance under Sayadaw U Pandita, himself. When Gil did finally arrive in the country, he devoted himself to intensive meditation at the large Mahasi center in Yangon, including several months as an ordained bhikkhu. The experienced touched him “in some deep, emotional way.” However, studying under U Pandita was not easy. Gil knew a lot of the Westerners who burned out and developed psychological problems under U Pandita’s stern and exacting teaching about striving for attainment. But Gil’s Zen background helped temper the effect of this, while at the same he was fascinated with the attention to detail the Mahasi practice afforded. He began sitting in extended periods of bliss. In the context of Gil’s balanced and deeper practice space, Sayadaw U Pandita’s emphasis also resonated with him in a new, more concrete way, helping him realize how, in the “micro-moments” of his life, he was not so accepting as he believed himself to be. This eventually impacted his own teaching career, as Gil became increasingly conscious of not only presenting meditation as an aid to leading a balanced life, but also reminding his students about the potential of full liberation. Overall, that brief stay in the Golden Land continues to be a special memory for Gil. “Of the eight months I was there in the Mahasi center, I really felt like I was a guest of the country, and the whole culture. The whole country was hosting me and caring for me.” Following the talk, Gil requested that Insight Myanmar address his group, The Sati Center for Buddhist Studies. This talk will take place September 17 at 9.30 am, Pacific time. If you would like to join the discussion, (you can register here).
Htein Lin: Pursuing Art and Liberation
Aug 31 2022
Htein Lin: Pursuing Art and Liberation
Episode #120: On Thursday, August 25th, 2022, the accomplished artist and longtime activist, Htein Lin, was arrested along with his wife, Vicki Bowman. We had only just recently interviewed him, so hearing this news was doubly shocking. Htein Lin became was involved in the 1988 uprising in opposition to the military junta, and experienced guerilla warfare as a member of the revolutionary group, All Burma Students’ Democratic Front. While living in a reconnaissance camp along the Indian border, Htein Lin met an artist from Mandalay who became his mentor. Together they discussed art and painting techniques, and Htein Lin’s passion for art grew. Then in 1998, Htein Lin was arrested for nearly seven years when the letter of an old friend, a retired school teacher, was intercepted by the Tatmadaw. In prison, he continued to work as an artist, using objects found around the jail, such as pieces of glass, dismantled cigarette lighters, and syringes, etc. He even staged an art exhibition of this work for guards and prisoners. At one point, Htein Lin was transferred to Death Row. He and a poet friend were confined more than 23 hours per day with serious criminals, including at least two murderers. Yet his new neighbors offered up the one thing in their possession: their white, prison-issue sarongs as cloth upon which Htein Lin could continue to paint. Then just as suddenly, he was released. After returning to civil society, Htein Lin became increasingly involved in artists’ discussion groups and experimental performance art. He met and married his wife, Vicki Bowman, the former British ambassador to Burma.  Together, they sought and found meaningful spiritual community in Dhamma Dipa, a vipassana meditation center in the tradition of SN Goenka. This led to further awakening and integration of his life and art: “If you are living in the present without reacting, without anger, and [if you] share in anything negative, sharing with loving-kindness and compassion in you, you become a very beautiful piece of art.” May his equanimity be of support to Htein Lin in his recent re-arrest.
Wading Through a Burmese Haze
Aug 26 2022
Wading Through a Burmese Haze
Episode #119: Erin Murphy has been involved in Asia issues since 2001, and Myanmar, in particular, since 2008. She relates all this in her recently released book, (Burmese Haze).   She contrasts the somewhat distorted, emotionally charged view of Myanmar held by American policy-makers during the transition period with the harsh, even brutal military reality in Myanmar that was lurking just under the surface. Murphy recalls the sheer callousness of the military government’s refusal to accept humanitarian aid in the aftermath of the horrific and devastating Cyclone Nargis in 2008.   Regarding sanctions, for some in the American government the push for sanctions against the Tatmadaw has become almost a moral crusade. However, Murphy explains that the effect of any sanctions imposed on the regime will not be that onerous if other countries do not follow suit. As for any role that China might play, Murphy states, “I think one word that summarizes [the relationship between Myanmar and China] is ‘complicated’.”   When asked to speculate about the motivations of Aung San Suu Kyi, Murphy says that we may never know exactly what she was planning. She believes that The Lady has had to walk a fine line, balancing priorities, and no one really knows what her internal calculus was.   As for the Rohingya, it is but one of many decades-long, ethnic wars waged by the Burmese junta. Murphy says many in the international community should have seen it coming, but did nothing to stop it. Besides being an overall global failure, more recently it’s an instance of unfortunate timing, in which international attention got distracted by Myanmar’s nascent yet fragile democracy period.   On a sobering but positive note, Murphy concludes by saying that none of the protests have been in vain. “These are lessons; I don't see them as failures. Did they succeed in getting a democracy? No. But did they succeed in getting their cause recognized by the world? People know about it. And that's important, laying the groundwork… What you do is you keep getting new generations of people interested and then they bring in their tools, and their thoughts and their experiences.”
Progressing Towards Victory
Aug 19 2022
Progressing Towards Victory
Episode #118: Kyar Phyu returns to the Insight Myanmar Podcast to update listeners on how eventful the past number of months have been, in particular regarding her association with the CDM. Her activities came to the notice of military intelligence, and Kyar Phyu was forced to flee, taking refuge in a safe house for eight months. During that entire time, she only ventured outside twice, both times out of necessity: first when she contracted COVID, and then when her safe house became compromised, and she had to move to another. Eventually, Kyar Phyu realized it would only be a matter of time until she was captured if she stayed put. Eventually, she went to Thailand, ultimately settling in Mae Sot. To maintain her mental balance amid all the stress and challenges, she took up ānāpāna meditation, following the instructions of pyit-pyet (ဖြစ်ပျက်), or the arising and passing away of breath from the nostrils. “It made me be more compassionate to myself,” she says. “It made me more peaceful, so I can accept anything that happens.” Though Kyar Phyu also admits that balancing Buddhist meditation with a concerted effort to defeat an evil enemy is no easy to task. While Kyar Phyu still sees CDM as essential to the cause, she recognizes that it could not be sustained, financially or otherwise; many had to leave hiding and return to the office due to financial hardships, while many other workers were either pressured to return to work or arrested and found themselves in jail. She asserts that the People’s Defense Forces are the most important component of the movement now, more than the NUG. She also calls attention to the emerging woman soldier divisions, and is in awe of the brave, young Burmese females who are putting their lives on the line. This is no small thing in traditional Burmese society, with its heavily circumscribed gender roles. Finally, she remains confident that the SAC is facing defeat. “We are winning, but still, we have to be more systematic and have stronger communication. But still I feel we are in very good situation now.”
Attack on a Meditation Center
Aug 12 2022
Attack on a Meditation Center
Episode #117: “The army believed democratic fighters were hiding in my center, so they moved very aggressively. They entered my meditation center! They shouted, ‘Hey, I will kill you. I will kill you!’ Their soldiers knocked in the door of the female kūtis. Oh God, everyone is very scared. Very afraid. They are shooting; they are firing in the air. But when they came to the female Dhamma Hall, they saw the female yogis are practicing in the Dhamma Hall. So, they are very surprised and shocked, and they see that this is a meditation center, and see we are practicing. So, they calm down their anger.” The first portion of this interview contains a blow-by-blow narrative about the direct and personal experience of war, as experienced from the confines of a silent meditation retreat at Kyun Pin monastery, a meditation center in the tradition of Sayadaw U Pandita. Myanmar’s military bombarded two neighboring villages with mortars and rockets for two days, and at one point barged into the meditation center itself. Calmly and in great detail, Sayadaw U Jatila relates the screaming, the burning of houses for days on end, and the purposeful destruction of animals and basic necessities for daily life. He describes soldiers who have lost their minds due to alcohol and drugs, and ordered by higher military officials to engage in brutal acts against their own people. He then goes to discuss a wide range of matters. U Jatila feels strongly that people from all ethnic and religious backgrounds in Myanmar should enjoy basic human rights of freedom and safety. He calls out the military for using scare tactics to promote a nationalist Buddhist agenda that encourages anti-Islam sentiments. He also recounts his past meetings with Aung San Suu Kyi, and discusses what he learned about her meditation practice. Finally, he touches upon the very sensitive topic of armed resistance, discussing how Burmese democracy activists can resist the military.
Have Pity on the Working Man (Bonus short)
Aug 9 2022
Have Pity on the Working Man (Bonus short)
Episode #116: On July 7th, the official account of the European Union in Myanmar (posted a two-minute video) urging factories in conflict-torn Myanmar to re-open, charging that the factory shutdowns had driven former employees to poverty and even prostitution. In response, many charged that the EU was trying to manipulate Burmese voices to advocate for a policy that would benefit themselves but goes against the aspirations of the democracy movement. Today’s guest, Maung Maung, currently president of the Confederation of Trade Unions in Myanmar (CTUM), addresses this video, as well as labor’s role in the current revolution and the overall conditions for Myanmar’s workers. While Maung Maung does not dispute an accusation in the video that the closed factories harm ordinary Burmese workers, he believes it is hurting the regime more, and that is the current priority. Maung Maung also found the video highly offensive because it is quite chauvinistic and insulting for Western powers to try and “educate” the Burmese people on the dangers of local young women turning to prostitution. To make matters worse, the junta has picked up on the video and has begun to promote it as a way to normalize their brutal regime, meaning that, in effect, the EU has managed to provide the Tatmadaw with a key piece of propaganda to boost their rule. Yet, as hard as things are now in the country, Maung Maung is hopeful for the future. “We are winning. We want people to not just think like well, ‘The military is going to win again.’ No, it is not!”
A Reign of Terror
Aug 5 2022
A Reign of Terror
Episode #115: Matthew Wells is a member of Amnesty International’s Crisis Response team specializing in human rights violations, and has spent years investigating the ongoing atrocities by the Tatmadaw. One of the patterns that has come up repeatedly in their group’s study has been the Burmese military’s targeting of civilian communities rather than armed opponents. One particular Tatmadaw tactic that stands out to Wells is its reliance on airstrikes. Heavy bombardment is effectively traumatizing an entire population, and many Burmese are terrified whenever they hear a loud sound now, however distant. This is likely not unintentional, but rather part of a concerted effort to frighten the population into submission and create further instability. Recently, Wells’ group published a report documenting war crimes and displacement in eastern Myanmar. In some of these cases, villages were bombarded for days and nights without end, even though there were no lawful targets in the area. To make matters even worse, the military has launched assaults on IDP camps as well, so the people simply have nowhere to go now. He describes soldiers having become little more than bands of marauders that rape, pillage, steal, and burn their way through the Burmese countryside. The military has been doing everything it can to limit news of its atrocities, shutting off electricity and internet access, and punishing journalists and others. In spite of these obstacles, Amnesty’s work in uncovering the true story has been nothing short of miraculous. Through their examination of satellite imagery and a confidential in-country network, they have managed to document the ongoing reign of terror. Still, Wells is not satisfied that their work is achieving its desired outcome because of a lack of international response. And he is even less hopeful about the damage being done to the country’s essential infrastructure: a collapsed economy, a decimated health care system, long-term food insecurity, and disrupted education. These structural problems are exacerbated by the real challenge of effectively getting humanitarian aid into the country. Wells calls on listeners to do what they can to continue to keep Myanmar in the news and hold their local representatives accountable. “It's on all of us to try to bring more attention to the situation here and to make sure that our governments wherever we are in the world are likewise putting priority on this.” He also encourages people to continue donating to nonprofits that are providing aid.
Supporting Myanmar through Engaged Buddhism
Jul 29 2022
Supporting Myanmar through Engaged Buddhism
Episode #114: Growing up in the Bay Area, raised by parents who followed the Vietnamese meditation master Thich Nhat Hanh, Derek Pyle was no stranger to Buddhist theory and practice. While some Western practitioners separate their formal meditation practice from their experience of everyday life, Derek has always found value in integrating them, and has looked for inspiration from formal sitting practice to sutta study to undertaking projects as an Engaged Buddhist. One of his first projects was in 2017, when the Tatmadaw ramped up their aggression against the Rohingya. Derek reached out to (Alan Senauke), and the they worked on a petition and fundraising campaign in support of the Rohingya. Beyond this, Derek has been looking for ways that local Saṅghas can engage in the world in accordance with their values. This is especially important regarding the present situation in Myanmar. “[Given] the incredible violence being perpetuated by the military in Myanmar, I think it would be really interesting for Buddhist communities… to be thinking about… ‘What are the different approaches we could take to really think about how we might be able to intervene in a way that actually reduces violence?‘” Citing Aric McBay’s Full Spectrum Resistance, Derek has come to believe that “resistance movements are more effective if there is an amount of armed resistance, but that can't be the main tactic used.” This exploration has led to even deeper soul-searching on his own part, in hopes of finding answers to difficult questions such as whether non-violence is actually a viable method of resisting oppression. Derek calls out not only Buddhist organizations in the West for not doing enough to support the Myanmar resistance, but more generally, liberal democracy. He asserts that while it may stake out principled positions in favor of progressive change in theory, it may be preventing meaningful change in practice. He takes particular issue with a stance of “neutrality” towards oppression and violence, noting that it often means—in reality—tacitly supporting the side that perpetuates injustice. Derek continues to support the Burmese people. “I find it heartbreaking and terrifying that this is a reality people have to live in, and also incredibly inspiring that people are so courageous, and creative and rambunctious in the midst of all of that. It's really powerful.”
Spring is Coming
Jul 22 2022
Spring is Coming
Episode #113: “I often asked myself how people can really have the presence of mind to sit down and write amidst such extraordinarily difficult circumstances, to be able to reflect on the kinds of traumas that that they're experiencing.” So says Brian Haman, who, along with ko ko thett, is the co-editor of “ (Picking Off New Shoots Will Not Stop the Spring: Witness poems and essays from Burma/Myanmar (1988-2021)),” the first published literary work to come out of Myanmar since the military coup. It is a stunning collection of poetry and prose, bringing profound and heart-wrenching perspectives from a variety of Burmese people impacted by the ongoing conflict. Many of their selections for the anthology unflinchingly present the harsh reality of that violence, fear, despair, loss, and grief. What readers experience is a rawness of emotion and expression that overwhelms the many aspects of the coup and its aftermath that have been somewhat clinically reported on in the past year and a half in the mainstream media. Despite the extreme forms of violence being waged on innocent civilians, Brian was in awe of the power they displayed when they fought back with their voices. This was a force that the regime was equally aware of, and in fact anxious about, as they went to great lengths to go after those creative leaders whose art, music, poetry, or words were motivating the resistance movement. And even amid all the brutality and suffering, Brian still senses an underlying spirit that the Burmese people, that they believe they will eventually triumph. “For all the suffering and for all of the loss and trauma from the death and torture and things like that, nevertheless there is a spirit of optimism… [T]here is this kind of indomitable spring that that just doesn't seem to be able to be suppressed or repressed.”
Journey into Chin State
Jul 14 2022
Journey into Chin State
Episode #112: Simon traces the arc of his Chin homeland’s history and politics from the mists of history to the present-day conflict. Chin State is the poorest part of Myanmar, which suffers from an lack of developed infrastructure. Due to the lack of available medical care, Simon decided the best way he could serve his community was by becoming a doctor. He explains how perhaps Chin State’s root problem now is poor access to education. There are just a small number of woefully supplied schools several days of walking away for many villagers. And those fortunate enough to attend school often carry painful memories of the oppressive “Burmanization” of the curriculum, where Chin students were required to speak the Burmese language at school, and though largely Christian, were forced to memorize and recite Buddhist suttas.  Simon notes the enormous popular support for resisting the coup in Chin State after the military forcibly took power. Massive street protests erupted all over the province. Chin state also boasted the highest percentage of employees who joined CDM. The Tatmadaw responded with a swift and utter brutality that drove many Chin to ethnic camps to join the armed resistance. The Burmese military, in turn, responded with even more vicious ground attacks and airstrikes, which sent residents of entire towns fleeing on foot for their lives, many across the Indian border in Mizoram. “If we can wipe out, from the face of Myanmar, this military in the future, then all the Myanmar people will be joyful, peaceful and prosperous.”
Visual Rebellion
Jul 7 2022
Visual Rebellion
Episode #111: Emerging from under decades of harsh censorship, local journalism and investigative reporting made great strides in Myanmar during the democratic transition in the 2010s. But all that was wiped out in a single blow when the military grabbed power. They began revoking licenses, arresting journalists, and torturing and even killing some in prison, posing a real risk to anyone trying to document the current conflict, and forcing many to go underground. This is the backdrop to the formation of the media collective Visual Rebellion, a platform for Burmese photographers, filmmakers and artists to display their work as an act of resistance against the military government. Two of the collective’s members appear as guests on this episode. Laure, a French journalist based in Bangkok, had provided media trainings in Myanmar prior to the pandemic. As the situation grew increasingly dire following the military coup, Laure reached out through her network to former participants from her trainings, and soon learned the difficulties they were operating under. This helped give rise to Visual Rebellion. Visual Rebellion team members currently reporting from Myanmar have all assumed code names for their safety, and attended cybersecurity training. Any material they are able to smuggle out of the country—often accomplished at enormous risk to their personal safety—is immediately posted and distributed by Laure and her colleagues. Next, Khant Pyae Kyaw discusses his role as a documentarian for the Visual Rebellion team. When the coup hit, Khant Pyae Kyaw was out on the streets covering the weeks of nonviolent demonstrations. But one day he witnessed the killing of his friend and other protesters, which shook him to his core. He has since faced other dangers in his reporting, including being accused of being a PDF soldier, and interrogated. Still, with the help of the resources that the Visual Rebellion team is providing, he persists in doing all he can to tell the story of what continues to happen in Myanmar.
Journey Into Renunciation
Jun 30 2022
Journey Into Renunciation
Episode #110: Ariya Baumann’s spiritual journey began far away from the tropical surroundings of the Golden Land. She grew in a small town in Switzerland, among the snowy Alps. Raised in a Christian home, she began to ask herself existential questions about God. As she began to investigate possible answers, she came across some writings on Buddhism, and was immediately intrigued by the promise of meditation. Ariya tried on her own for a while, but wanted to take a more formal retreat, so she took off on a trip around the world. In Thailand, she joined a course at Wat Suan Mokkh, and then several Tibetan retreats in India. Two years later, she fell in love with an Australian man, and ended up following him back to his country, where she learned about an upcoming visit from Chan Myay Yeiktha Sayadaw U Janaka, a teacher in the Mahasi tradition. U Janaka encouraged Ariya to slow down her movements, so as to be able to observe every moment of mental and physical action. She found the results “stunning.” She had found her way. It was 1992, and very hard for foreigners to get visas for extended periods in Myanmar, but U Janaka managed to get her a six-month visa. She decided to ordain temporarily as a nun. But as months stretched into years, Ariya stayed in robes. She was amazed by what she experienced. “With the meditation, mindfulness, and concentration, and looking carefully, just like becoming an electronic microscope, we see more and more deeply into the true nature of this body of physical processes.” Over time, she picked up the Burmese language, which eventually led to her role as translator for Chan Myay Myaing Sayadaw U Indaka. She moved from the Yangon branch to the Hmawbi monastery, where longer meditation retreats were held, and became the foreign manager, and eventually, a teacher there. Her teaching career only grew from here. Alongside Daw Viranani and Chan Myay Myaing Sayadaw, she began offering intensive mettā retreats in English. Before COVID, the course was so popular that yogis would fly from all over the world to attend, and it was usually filled just days after registration opened. Today, Ariya is heartbroken about the current coup. “My heart is bleeding, and I'm so sad about what is happening in Myanmar right now,” she says. But as the devastation from the conflict continue to wreak havoc in the country, Ariya comes back to how much gratitude she has for the priceless spiritual lessons she learned there. “The fact that in Burma, the practice of meditation is respected and understood as something very precious. This makes Burma so special!... I find many people who have come to Burma have felt the same.”
Working Class Hero
Jun 23 2022
Working Class Hero
Stephen Campbell has spent the last twelve years studying labor movements in Myanmar and other Southeast Asian countries. Going back and forth across the history of the country’s labor movement, he describes something of a convoluted legacy of the role of labor in Myanmar, leading through the transition period and into the coup. 1988 was a watershed year for labor in Myanmar, according to Campbell. After being declared illegal in the 1962 coup, informal labor unions began to spring up, initiated by workers unhappy with the military regime. But when the new regime took over following the failure of the democratic revolution, many labor leaders soon found themselves behind bars Small changes finally came under the Thein Sein administration in 2011, when workers were allowed to unionize legally. Then the following year, tripartite collective bargaining was permitted by workers. But those gains are diminished somewhat because Burmese laborers are more dependent than ever on their wages, due to large-scale military- and corporate-land grabs throughout much of the countryside, which stripped countless poor families of their homes—and for many, thus their livelihoods—without any legal recourse. And overall, working conditions remained deplorable, with low pay, long hours, and unsafe conditions. Just six days after the military took power in 2021, 4,000 factory women, mostly young women, took to the streets in downtown Yangon. Campbell says that the organizing that took place in the initial days following the coup by labor was a template for the even larger, more general strikes that followed. Campbell sees much potential in the role of labor during the current revolution. He notes that if Burmese workers can develop greater solidarity, they would have the ability to shut the country down, a power that few other groups in the country can claim. And if they were able to do that, Campbell doesn’t see how the military would be able to fill their positions with replacement workers. Yet for that to happen, workers would need substantial outside support; many are living in dire economic conditions, and some compelled to return to their factory jobs to support their families.
Lives in the Balance
Jun 16 2022
Lives in the Balance
“You can you hear from how I speak that these days, I am very distracted and distressed by the development of the entire thing,” Han Htoo Khant Paing admits during this urgent and emotional interview. Han Htoo is the author of a recent The Diplomat article describing the four state executions that the Tatmadaw has ordered. In the context of the military’s terrible brutality and atrocities—abducting, raping, burning, and killing with impunity since the start of the coup in February, 2021—some may wonder about the significance of just four killings.  But Han Htoo believes they are very important and symbolic. Two of the condemned, Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw, are accused of the murder of a schoolteacher they believed to be a military informer. The other two are very prominent names from the democracy movement over the past few decades. One, Ko Jimmy was a student leader back in 1988 as well as being one of the key organizers of the 2007 Saffron Revolution. The other is an important Burmese hip hop artist named Zayar Thaw, who was also an elected Member of Parliament. Moving to the wider international context, Han Htoo is unsure what larger bodies could—and would—do. He focuses his comments on ASEAN (The Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Han Htoo unfortunately doubts that ASEAN will exert its influence beyond pro forma actions. He explains, “What [ASEAN member states] are really concerned about is stability, and the regional security threat,” and the executions don't really fit into that calculus directly. However, Han Htoo believes that the executions will only instigate more resentment from the resistance, which could further escalate the conflict and generate increased instability. In closing, Han Htoo urges listeners to do whatever they can in sharing his article and this interview, and writing to one’s local elected officials. He reminds us that if enough pressure is put on the Tatmadaw, it may literally save lives. “Please do anything that you can to save the lives of four champions of democracy and human rights.”
The Power of Dialogue
Jun 9 2022
The Power of Dialogue
Soeya Min first got his start in the travel industry, then switched to the entertainment field. When the pandemic struck, with a lot of free time on his hands, he started learning about psychology. All these endeavors led him to podcasts, and he started up his own program, called Thoughts and Opinions, in which he talks with guests from a wide range of backgrounds. More than just looking to boost his own platform, Soeya Min is looking to helping elevate the entire local podcasting industry in Myanmar. The coup has helped him appreciate the value of psychology, which he now recognizes as critical to helping ameliorate the varying degrees of trauma that people have been going through. With a colleague, he opened his own mental health service platform, and now supports many who are in need. In Myanmar, however, this was no easy task because of the stigma carried by issues of “mental health.” Soeya Min feels that the entire country has been living through trauma since the coup, and has seen an acute rise in depression cases. Some of his recent clients have included defected soldiers, which provides a rare insight into the psychology of the Tatmadaw. Such work has required him to listen without judgment, hard as that may be, while realizing that what the soldiers really need is a type of re-parenting. Soeya Min’s understanding of psychology is influenced by his Buddhist meditation practice, and has been intrigued to realize how closely related the two actually are. While mainly self-taught as a practitioner, he has drawn on some techniques from the Mahasi tradition. These days, he has also found a focus on mettā particularly helpful, especially as a mental health professional dealing with clients who are going through terrible circumstances. As a mental health professional, Soeya Min is quite concerned with how long the Burmese people can keep going without any outside assistance. “All the Burmese people are asking for support... But when you have not received the same reaction or support [as Ukraine], people might turn cynical. That's what I'm afraid of, people get cynical and down. Then what to do?”