In Myanmar, a once revered monk falls from the people’s grace

Around the turn of the 21st century, when I was still a political prisoner, I would often strain to hear the sermons of one of Myanmar’s most prominent Buddhist monks through the rusty iron bars of my cell.

The voice of Ashin Nyanissara—or Sitagu Sayadaw, as he is better known to his many followers—is still a familiar one inside the country’s prisons. Broadcast through loudspeakers, his words invite inmates to seek liberation—not from their jailers, but from their own spiritual defilements.

During my years behind bars, his dhamma talks were indeed a source of salvation. In those days, political detainees were denied access to books, writing materials, and letters from loved ones. Utterly cut off from the outside world, we regarded anything that delivered us from the confines of our lives as prisoners as a blessing. And so we listened to Nyanissara’s homilies with. . .

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