The Three Gems of the Buddha

Collection with 28 media items created by Transterra Editor

11 Nov 2013 16:00

In August 2012 the rioting began. Fueled by religious extremists and invisible politicians with murky motives, arson spread to every major city in Myanmar.

In the beginning the lynching of three Muslims in the country's most westerly state sparked cycles of revenge attacks between it's two inhabiting ethnic groups, the native Buddhists and the Muslim Rohingya, descendents of immigrant Bangladeshi sherpas working for British colonialists. A dawn-to-dusk curfew was enforced by martial law, the streets desolate with shutters pulled low over the normally bustling markets. Workers stopped turning up for work and at night they defended their villages from creeping arsonists. Acres of downtown turned to blackened wastelands, whole blocks of wooden houses reduced to ash. Possessions and the skeletons of livestock lay amongst the fallen rubble where they were left, and orphanages filled with abandoned children.

Since, targets have widened to include anyone of Muslim faith in Myanmar. In cities like Sittwe, Meikhtila, Mandalay, and Lashio the attacks follow a similar pattern, an individual racist attack, a lynching in response, followed by cycles of revenge attacks from both sides. Houses are burnt, hundreds die, and thousands are left homeless. Muslims being the minority, accounting for only 5% of the country's population, always come off worse. They are no longer allowed to vote, travel, or hold positions within the government services.

Now the military struggles to contain and downplay the violence, President U Thein Sein admits the country's push for democracy is jeopardized, complicating the idea of budding democracy amongst peaceful Buddhists.

In Burmese markets, luminous “969” stickers tell Buddhists where to spend their money. Rows of stalls proudly display the logo; tyre shops, jade booths, hotels, betel carts and pharmacies. But this is not a method of religious inclusion, it's a ploy to keep Muslims out. An aggressive nationalistic movement, of which Buddhist monk Wirathu is figurehead.

Wirathu was released from prison in 2011, after serving seven years for inciting religious violence. He was released under a government amnesty program.

"Muslims are only well behaved when they are weak, "said Wirathu in an interview with the Global Post. "When they become strong, they are like a wolf or a jackal; in large packs they hunt down other animals."

The number 969 is taken from the Buddhist texts, where each number relates to an aspect of the religion - Buddha, Dhamma (teachings), and Sanga (monks) – the Three Gems of Buddhism. But under the peaceful umbrella of promoting trade between Buddhists and protecting their cultural identity, the 969 are segregating faith and commerce, undermining religious relations, and driving a wedge with continued violence. But the movement's roots grow into something much more sinister, the beginnings of genocidal thinking, and right wing nationalism.

Photos by Spike Johnson

Myanmar Buddhism Muslims Violence Religious Mi... Human Rights Discrimination Asia

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The Three Gems of the Buddha 1
Mandalay, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
03 Oct 2013

Ashin Wirathu, the figurehead of the Buddhist 969 movement. In 2011 Wirathu was released from prison, after serving seven years for inciting violence against Muslims.

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The Three Gems of the Buddha 2
Mandalay, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
13 Oct 2013

One of dozens of Wirathu's portraits that hang in his Monastery.

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The Three Gems of the Buddha 3
Sittwe, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
21 Jun 2012

A mother buries her seventeen year old son in a hole near her home. He was shot the night before by the military, while out after curfew. His family have accused the military of taking bribes from the Rohingya to open fire on the Rakhine.

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The Three Gems of the Buddha 4
Meiktila, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
04 Oct 2013

Muslims rest while they rebuild their Mosque after it was damaged in fighting.

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The Three Gems of the Buddha 5
Sittwe, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
17 Jun 2012

A local man tries to fix his water supply in an attempt to begin cleaning his damaged home after fighting left it in ruins.

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The Three Gems of the Buddha 6
Sittwe, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
18 Jun 2012

Maung Maung Chay's uncles identify his body at Sittwe's morgue. He was shot by the Burmese military, when he was found near a Rohingya village after curfew. The military shoot on sight, as a deterrent to both Rakhine and Rohingya arsonists.

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The Three Gems of the Buddha 7
Sittwe, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
14 Jun 2012

Jinglee, homemade projectiles. Made from sharpened and barbed nails, these projectiles are used by both Rakhine and Rohingya. They are fired at each other from catapults made of wood and rubber.

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The Three Gems of the Buddha 8
Sittwe, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
14 Jun 2012

Orphaned children group together in one of the cities monasteries. They were left by their families as they fled their burning homes.

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The Three Gems of the Buddha 9
Sittwe, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
15 Jun 2012

An elderly Rakhine man shows the injuries he sustained when he was attacked when his village was raided by Rohingya.

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The Three Gems of the Buddha 10
Sittwe, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
17 Jun 2012

The Rakhine majority have been denied firearms by the government, and rely on the Police and Military for their protection. Still, they make weapons out of anything that they can.

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The Three Gems of the Buddha 11
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
16 Oct 2013

A lady attending a secret support and education group for young Muslims. She wouldn't give her name or affiliation for fear of being targeted by Buddhists in the city.

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The Three Gems of the Buddha 12
Meiktila, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
05 Oct 2013

A remaining mosque. Before clashes in March four hundred Muslim homes sat on this land. They were burnt during fighting.

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The Three Gems of the Buddha 13
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
16 Oct 2013

The doorway to a 969 supporter's house. In areas of town where ethnicities are mixed, families use flags and stickers outside their houses to determine they're affiliation, and iron bars for safety.

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The Three Gems of the Buddha 14
Sittwe, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
17 Jun 2012

The skull of a goat. Often livestock, pets and children are left behind in confusion or haste, as families rush to escape riots, or their own burning houses. Some don't escape the fires.

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The Three Gems of the Buddha 15
Sittwe, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
16 Jun 2012

A couple move all that's left of their possessions after their home was looted. They're walking from the edge of Sittwe, into the centre to try to find space amongst thousands of other refugees in one of the city's monasteries.

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The Three Gems of the Buddha 16
Meiktila, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
05 Oct 2013

A senior 969 activist. He believes in protecting Buddhism and Burmese culture from religious integration. Often this means oppressing the country's minorities, especially Muslims.

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The Three Gems of the Buddha 17
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
17 Oct 2013

The Buddhist "969" logo is seen on the shops and workplaces of it's supporters, as both a sign of solidarity, and exclusion against Muslims.

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The Three Gems of the Buddha 18
Sittwe, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
16 Jun 2012

Fire ravaged homes. Now the military use this burnt village as an outpost to contain the minority Rohingya population.

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The Three Gems of the Buddha 19
Meiktila, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
05 Oct 2013

Before clashes in March four hundred Muslim homes sat on this land. They were burnt during fighting.

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The Three Gems of the Buddha 20
Meiktila, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
05 Oct 2013

A boy plays marbles in the shell of a house abandoned during fighting.

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The Three Gems of the Buddha 22
Meiktila, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
05 Oct 2013

A Muslims man rests while he rebuilds a Mosque after it was damaged in fighting.

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The Three Gems of the Buddha 23
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
16 Oct 2013

A sculptor puts the finishing touches to Buddha's face.

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The Three Gems of the Buddha 24
Mandalay, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
12 Oct 2013

Wirathu's monks attend a 969 meeting, to discuss their proposed bill to ban interfaith marriage across the country, called "Safeguarding National Identity."

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The Three Gems of the Buddha 25
Mandalay, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
10 Oct 2013

A young hotel worker displays the 969 sticker that she's been given.

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The Three Gems of the Buddha 26
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
16 Oct 2013

A downtown mosque. In major cities, where the mix of ethnicities is greater, Muslims are worried for their safety, fearing Buddhist extremists, police apathy, and governmental bias.

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The Three Gems of the Buddha 27
Meiktila, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
06 Oct 2013

Workers move a tree that's fallen into the road, allowing trucks to pass into the city.