Abbot Penang Sayadaw U Pyinnya Wuntha has lashed out at the government-backed Buddhist clergy council, the State Sangha Maha Nayaka, over the forced eviction of his followers from Rangoon’s Maha Thanti Thukha Buddhist monastery on Tuesday.
The monastery has been at the center of an ownership row between the abbot and the State Sangha since the early 2000s.
On Tuesday night, State Sangha monks with the support of the Ministry of Religious Affairs raided the monastery and seven monks and 32 laymen—all followers of U Pyinnya Wuntha—were detained.
State-owned newspaper The New Light of Myanmar reported that the laymen were released on Wednesday morning and that the monks are being held “for further questioning.”
“I was told that they stormed inside the monastery as if they raided a terrorist base and took away [my] monks,” U Pyinnya Wuntha, 86, told The Irrawaddy by phone from Japan, where he is on a visit.
The abbot said the former military government built the monastery and granted the building and land to him in 1999, complete with legal ownership papers.
Following an overseas visit by the abbot in 2002, U Pyinnya Wuntha said, he fell out of favor with the government and the State Sangha claimed ownership of the large monastery.
He said that in 2004 “Gen. Khin Nyunt sent a letter and explained that they handed over the monastery to the [State Sangha] council because they found some administrative problems at the monastery while I was away.”
The State Sangha took control over large parts of the monastery and a small number of the abbot’s followers were allowed to reside in part of the building.
U Pyinnya Wuntha subsequently spent a decade living in Japan. Following the reforms, he returned and set to resolve the ownership issue. He said he contacted the State Sangha, adding, “But they said ‘no’ as it was donated to them.”
“So, I made a plea to the president, saying that we have every legal document on the ownership of the monastery. He responded that the property should go to someone who has legal ownership. But the State Sangha Maha Nayaka still insisted that they own it. Now it leads to an eviction, while I am away,” the abbot said.
Religious Affairs officials, quoted in state media, said at a press conference Tuesday that the government and individual donors paid about US$8 million for the monastery’s construction and that the abbot “has no right to privately own the property as the government already handed it over to the Sangha Maha Nayaka committee.”
U Pyinnya Wuntha insisted he has full ownership and he criticized the State Sangha over the way it conducted the raid and its activities at the monastery in the past decade.
“[State Sangha] monks with walkie-talkies raided a monastery, and their action was akin to people committing violence,” he said.
“My followers reported to me that during my absence the State Sangha Maha Nayaka put some parts of the monastery on hire for business use. They offered the venue for weddings and even for dancing classes!”
“We are the guardians of Buddhism who are against of any unjust action. Now we are mistreated. So people should be aware how bad the situation is,” the abbot said.