The Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, a hardline Buddhist organisation that is better known by its Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha, has hit back at the Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, the highest order of Buddhist clergy in the country, which recently outlawed the group.
A Ma Ba Tha statement came following a “special conference” held at Aung San Tawra Monastery in the Rangoon suburb of Insein on 27-28 May, which was reportedly attended by some 10,000 devotees including monks and nuns from abroad.
“Ma Ba Tha was founded four years ago,” it said. “Ma Ba Tha is not an unlawful organisation. Since its inception, it has undertaken activities of goodwill, such as providing assistance to victims of natural disasters in this country, and conducting training workshops to spread the teachings of the Lord Buddha.”
The response came after the 47 members of the Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee declared on 23 May that the use of the name Ma Ba Tha be banned, and that the organisation be deemed illegal. It also ruled that use of the Ma Ba Tha banner by individuals or groups for any purpose would be prohibited as of 15 July.
“The Ma Ha Na decision is not in accordance with the Sangha’s basic principles,” said the Ma Ba Tha statement, referring to the state-sanctioned Buddhist clergy’s highest body by its own acronym. “However, Ma Ba Tha accepts the decision because it is worried that the unity of the Sangha will be affected.”
Following its two-day “special conference,” the group also announced that it would hereby adopt a new name – the Buddha Dhamma Parahita Foundation.
The hard-line group, which counts controversial firebrand monk Wirathu among its most prominent members, said it urged all its members to continue their activities of faith under the new name.
Speaking to DVB following the rally in Insein, Sayadaw U Par Mauk Kha, one of the group leaders, said, “The name is not the main thing. I do not want the association to come to an end. I want Ma Ba Tha to last a long time. However, the most important thing is for Ma Ba Tha to exist as an independent organisation that works to protect people’s race and religion without any connections with the government, political parties or other organisations.
“No matter whether we are called Ma Ba Tha or by our new name, Buddha Dhamma Parahita Foundation, our members will be exactly the same. The name is just a relative term.”
Senior monk Par Mauk Kha confirmed that he had officially resigned from Ma Ba Tha and taken a position as one of the leaders of the newly formed “Committee for Reporting Grievances.”