Prominent monks have spoken out against the '969' campaign, saying the peaceful symbol has been misused to create divisions between people of different faiths.
The Venerable Kundala Kumar from Magwe township said the symbol, which is meant to be used to “remember and respect” the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, had been “defamed” by the anti-Muslim riots that occurred in Meiktila last month.
He said it had often been used for missionary work and religious education classes and as a means of reminding Buddhists to be mindful of the core values of their religion.
“969” stickers were found to be widespread not only in Meiktila but also towns in Bago Region to where the violence quickly spread, he said.
“We should not use this logo for any kind of unreasonable purpose or violence because it is meant to represent the ‘three gems’,” he said, referring collectively to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.
The stickers were apparently part of a campaign instigated by Mandalay monk Wirathu that was designed to encourage consumers to shun Muslim businesses. In an interview with The Irrawaddy last week, Wirathu denied that the campaign had been a factor in the violence in Meiktila, which saw Muslim shops, religious buildings and homes targeted.
Sayadaw Pan Pyo Let, a monk who has worked extensively with education and health charities as well as preaching, said all religious leaders have a responsibility to preach calm at times of crisis. He said he believed the recent violence was linked to political developments.
“As everybody knows, the country is now in a transition period and the president said he won’t go back but it is not happy news for some,” he said. “I want all people regardless of race and religion to consider the situation very carefully before doing anything.”
Sayadaw Ashin Sandadika said the “969” symbol and its equivalent word, arahem, had long been displayed in houses and shops to remind people about the values of their religion, and to keep the owner free from danger.
“We used this short word to create awareness of and always remember the ‘three gems’, and to keep peace in our mind. It is not designed to instigate violence or to criticise others,” he said.
The venerable urged people to consider the consequences of the recent violence, and to ensure that religious differences are “not abused” in a similar manner in future.
“I felt sorry for both Muslims and Buddhists,” he said. “If people from different religious groups show loving kindness to each other, the country will get peace.
“True companionate love isn’t based on religion and race – we all need to spread such kindness and compassion to all different faiths.”
The Venerable Ashin Sandadika made the comments during a trip to Meiktila with Shwe Parami Foundation, which he helped establish, and other social organisations.
The groups collectively donated K32.8 million ($37,250) to displaced survivors of the Meiktila violence – both Muslim and Buddhist.
The Venerable distributed K27 million in clothing and cash to rebuild destroyed homes.
The Myanmar Motion Picture Association donated K5 million, while the group Sarnar Mu Lat Mya donated K800,000. ID Fashion shop also provided 1000 T-shirts to residents of five Muslim relief camps and two Buddhists camps in Meiktila township.