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Burmese Monk Talks about Compassion, Obama in Mahachai

January 27, 2009

From Irrawaddy

About 10,000 Burmese migrant workers living in Mahachai, in Thailand’s Samut Sakhon Province, attended a Buddhist sermon on compassion given by Dr Ashin Nyanissara, a famous Burmese monk, on Monday night, said one of the organizers of the talk.

Dr Ashin Nyanissara, who is better known as Sitagu Sayadaw, is the abbot of the Sitagu International Buddhist Missionary Center in Sagaing and one of Burma’s most respected monks. He has been active in raising funds for relief efforts in the Irrawaddy delta, where over 130,000 people were killed by Cyclone Nagris on May 2-3.

Monday’s talk raised about 400,000 baht (US $11,450) in donations, according to Ashin Wayama Sayadaw, a monk who helped organize the event.

This was the second time that Sitagu Sayadaw had come to Mahachai to speak. Last July, he gave a talk to around 5,000 people at the Thai Union Sports Stadium in Mahachai.

In his two-and-a-half-hour sermon, Sitagu Sayadaw discussed the common Buddhist themes of compassion and change. On the latter topic, he focused on the message of new US President Barack Obama, whose inaugural speech last Tuesday attracted worldwide attention.

“Most people who live here want to see change, so [Sitagu Sayadaw’s] talk really spoke to them,” said Ashin Wayama Sayadaw. “It gave them a way out of their feeling. I was also very impressed.”

Myo Thaw, a Burmese worker who attended the talk, said, “It is difficult for us to hear dhamma talks here. After I listened to him speak, my mind was cleansed and strengthened. This is what I desperately needed.”

“In Burma, it would be very difficult to see him. I could only see his picture in Burma,” he added.

Moe Thee, another Burmese worker, said, “When I heard him talk about how our donation would be used to provide clinics and schools in the delta, I felt very happy. I donated as much as I could. I want to donate more.”

Many Burmese migrants had the day off on Monday because it was the start of the Chinese New Year. According to sources, the event was held in part to give Mahachai’s large Burmese migrant population an opportunity to gather as a community.

It is estimated that more than 4 million migrants work in Thailand, of whom only about 500,000 are registered.

According to the Thai Labor Promotion Network, there are about 300,000 Burmese migrants, including those who have registered or are waiting for registration, in Mahachai.

A week after Cyclone Nargis hit the Irrawaddy delta, Sitagu Sayadaw set up emergency relief centers and clinics in Ka Don Ka Ni, Amar, Set San and Kunthi Chaung, which were among the worst-hit villages in the region.

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