Social Harmony:

International Buddhist Forum for Pluralistic Society 


Background and Rationale

Myanmar has become the site of widely documented anti-Muslim sentiment, which exploded violently in late 2012, and has continued sporadically since that time. This began with violence between Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhine, couched in rhetoric on citizenship, but clearly expressed its true nature in later violent clashes with wider Muslim groups across the country. This violence has coincided with the rise of a nationalist and strong anti-Muslim rhetoric spearheaded by Monks, which has spread rapidly across Myanmar’s predominantly Buddhist population, and now dominates any discussion on Buddhist-Muslim relations.

Initiatives by Buddhist moderates to calm the situation and promote space for dialogue and reduction in hate speech have been met with sharp and often accusatory responses. (The case of claims that the NLD is being sponsored by Muslim groups after statements condemning the violence; photo-shopped pictures of Daw ASSK wearing hijab, illustrate this point).

Interfaith responses by local and international groups have also been met with the same response, with many criticisms levelled against them, mostly with accusations of behind the scenes agitation and sponsorship from international Muslim organisations.

The rigidness of Myanmar Theravada tradition has also contributed to this tension. Isolated for decades from interaction with both neighbouring Theravadan and wider Buddhist traditions across Asia, Myanmar’s tradition was also adopted and manipulated to validate the firm and myopic nationalism that upheld the State’s grip on political and economic power for decades.

The situation has led a relative stalemate, where threats to moderates and interfaith groups are hampering their ability to counterbalance extremist rhetoric, which is becoming increasingly mainstream. It remains clear the urgent need for inter-faith dialogue to stem the violence and build trust. Working from within the Buddhist community will be a key step towards achieving that, and an area where international Buddhists can contribute through an intra-faith dialogue.

INEB has consulted intensively with its network of partners in Myanmar – especially those working on peace issues (both ceasefire processes within the ethnic minority States, and Buddhist-Muslim violence). There has been common agreement that in order to move beyond the stalemate situation and likelihood for latent tensions to continue erupting into violence, critical dialogue must happen within the Buddhist community. There is agreement that INEB has a key role to play from within the Buddhist community, to engage Myanmar Theravadan perspectives in a dialogue with global Buddhist perspectives (including from SE Asian Theravadan traditions), in order to explore and address the roots of the ongoing violence.

INEB has previously engaged on this issue during its Biennial Conference in Malaysia in 2013, specifically focusing on Buddhist-Muslim Dialogue. A closed door session with extremist and moderate Monks and multi-faith lay people from Myanmar resulted in agreement for INEB to facilitate a fact-finding committee on relations between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar. INEB has also begun involving in inter-faith dialogue at the ASEAN level, by drawing in prominent extremists as well as moderate Sangha members into regional level dialogues. As a Buddhist network, INEB holds a position of relative trust, which is vital for any attempts to involve in any serious dialogue with Myanmar Buddhists.

As a network of Buddhist social activists from Asia and beyond, seeking to bring the diversity of Buddhisms together for contribution to a healthy, just and peaceful world, INEB is proposing to engage with the Buddhist community in Myanmar through critical intra-faith dialogue in order to address the prejudiced rhetoric and resulting violence against Muslims, and encourage harmony across the diverse and pluralistic communities that are Myanmar.


To provide the space for critical dialogue on the fundamental non-violent teachings within diverse schools of Buddhism in order to address the causes of Buddhist-Muslim conflict and promote social harmony in Myanmar


Activities and Target Group

INEB is proposing three activity areas:

        1 Community-based Exchange (3 groups: Northern Shan, Southern Shan and Mandalay)

This activity will provide INEB’s international Buddhist social activists with opportunities to learn and share experience with grassroot communities and organisations in northern Myanmar, including conflict areas. This will also be an opportunity to explore the diverse challenges facing Myanmar beyond religious violence. On conclusion of the visits, a reflection among the 3 groups will provide space for exploring how the international Buddhist community can support these organisations and communities to deal with the issues they are facing.

Target group will be approximately 30 members from INEB network

         2 Roundtable with Interfaith Leaders (Mandalay)

This session will be an important space for INEB’s members to explore the challenges facing interfaith initiatives, and what role INEB can play at the international level in supporting these initiatives.

Target group will be:

  • · 30 members from INEB network
  • · 15 representatives from active interfaith groups  

    3 Public Forum (Mandalay)

Targeting Sangha, youth, NGO’s and wider interested public, the forum will be a space for intra-faith dialogue, where INEB will contribute the diverse experiences and practices from its social and peace activist members from around the world. It will also provide the space to engage in critical dialogue on Buddhist perspectives – to explore the current situation and ways to make it better, and to draw into the conversation the voice of the international Buddhist community. Media will also be a key target group for this activity, to ensure that discussions can move beyond the space of the forum. As part of the days’ activities, cultural events will also be integrated into the programme in order to balance the intensity of the issues discussed.

Target group will be approximately 200 members from Sangha, youth groups, NGO’s and interested public.

  • · Mandalay Division, Historical Buddhism in Myanmar and Monastic Schools, monk roles on education and development
  • · Southern Shan State, Buddhist Youth and Community Based Organizations on environment and education issues
  • · Northern Shan State, Monastic and Nunnery Schools for Social Engagement and Community Empowerment




24 November 2014 

Arrive to Mandalay and travel to Pyin Oo Lwin

Pyin Oo Lwin

25-27 November 2014 

Community-based Exchange(3 groups)

  • · Northern Shan State
  • · Southern Shan State
  • · Mandalay Division

28 November 2014 

Reflection and Preparation for Round table Exchange and Public Forum

Pyin Oo Lwin

29 November 2014 

  • · Roundtable with Interfaith Leaders
  • · Public Forum “Social Harmony in Buddhist Perspective”
  • · Myanmar and Siam Traditional Exchange


30 November 2014 

Depart from Mandalay



Expected Results:

  • · Deepening of understanding on Buddhist perspectives on peace and violence through experiences shared from the region
  • · Trust built to continue engagement in the process of dialogue between Buddhists and across faiths
  • · Exploration of ways to support and engage with grassroots communities in conflict and post-conflict areas


Partner Organizations

  1. Interfaith Consortium, Yangon, Myanmar
  2. Metta Development Foundation, Yangon, Myanmar
  3. Kalyana Mitta Development Foundation, Yangon, Myanmar
  4. Socially Engaged Monastic Schools (SEMS), Yangon, Myanmar
  5. Spirit in Education Movement (SEM), Myanmar and Thailand
  6. International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB), Bangkok, Thailand


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