Thursday, January 17, 2008

Ashin Gambira

Ashin Gambira

Rev. Gambira

Clerical title: U Sandawbartha
Lay name: Nyi Nyi Lwin

U Gambira was born on 19th June, 1979, Tuesday, in Kaing-leh village, Pauk Township, Magwe Division, of parents U Min Lwin and Daw Ye.

A Glimpse of Family Background

U Gambira's father is a former military serviceman who had served in the army for more than ten years. As he has a justice-loving spirit and an altruistic mind, he got into squabbles with his superiors and eventually has to retire from army. After his retirement, he married Daw Ye and earned his livelihood as a merchant dealing in tea, tiger bones, tiger skins and gems.

U Gamibira's mother Daw Ye is a former school teacher who had served in Tha-boot-su and Kaing-leh villages in Pauk Township for thirteen years. It was only because of her dedication that she was able to serve as a teacher for thirteen years in such a time when BSPP officials and toadying school principals were flaunting their power shamelessly.

Ashin Gambira ( far right) and his family

When Daw Ye was working in Tha-boot-su village, all other teachers were provided dwellings but Daw Ye was made to commute from Pauk daily. At that time, she has two children with the younger daughter aged only fifty days. Then, when a niece of BSPP administrative official wished to get her post, Daw Ye was transferred to Kaing-leh village which is eight miles away from Pauk.

At that time, U Gambira's father U Min Lwin was building his business hard by founding rice mills and edible-oil mills, becoming somewhat well-off. He had to single-handedly undertake the tasks of caring for the two children, rice mill and oil mill business and cooking family meals. Daw Ye was still refusing to bow down and quit her job but daily suffering the headmaster's flaunting of abusive power.

And so on she went on till she retired from her job eleven years after she was moved to Kaing-leh village. U Min Lwin was frequently questioned by BSPP authorities who queried him why he got rich. He was often framed up for arrest too. The reason behind BSPP officials' hatred upon him was that his status rose due to his hard work while he was not a local and that he opposed injustice. Due to these circumstances, they moved to Pauk in 1983.

When the 1988 uprising broke out, U Min Lwin became a strike leader of Pauk Township. Next he became an NLD member and got elected as an independent member of parliament. During the '88 uprising, U Min Lwin had been a man of peace guiding oppressed people's rage and sense of revenge and retaliation toward peaceful outlets. If he wished so, he had the power to inflict vengeance upon the BSPP officials but he did not opt for an eye for an eye. During the '88 uprising, all his possessions were used up for the people. Only the oil mill remained in his hands. With the exception of the youngest kid, all his children were students then. The youngest child was four years old. After the uprising, U Gambira's father and his elder brother were convicted respectively for one and a half year and three years in jail. Therefore mother had to go around dealing with their cases and her second daughter Ma Khin Thu Htay had to drop out of matriculation class to undertake housework. Only when all her younger siblings had passed matriculation was she able to sit for matriculation exam, passing it in a single attempt with a flying color.

He has seven siblings out of which he was the fifth. At the age of five he started schooling at No.4 Primary School in Aungtagon Ward, Pauk. He always got first in the class in his primary school years, getting the headmistress' admiration.

Child soldier life
Along with breakup of family and slump in business, it seems that political senses started to take hold in his mind since 1988. As schools were closed for two years and parents' guardianship was disrupted, U Gambira became a loafer at early life. In response, his parents imposed stricter controls which made him more rebellious eventually landing him in the living hellhole. Thus at the age of twelve, the fifth standard student became a child soldier.

Beginning of religious life
Parents hotly looked for their son who suddenly disappeared from home. After learning that he was in a military installation in Rangoon, they took him out of it. Regarding the case, authorities came to Pauk for investigation. Fearing arrest and military service or imprisonment despite his under-age if authorities found him, he was novitiated by the abbot of Laythartaung Monastery, Pauk, and then sent to Insein Ywama Monastery in Rangoon. Enjoying religious life, he learnt the scriptures and passed elementary, junior, intermediate and senior religious exams as well as the exam on four nikayas with distinction.
Ashin Gambira ( with fan )
He had stayed in various monasteries. These included Insein Ywama, Htaukkyant Tawya , Thaddammawuntha Ahlone, Pakokku East, Pakokku Central and Mandalay Masoyein monasteries. At the age of twenty, he was ordained into monkhood sponsored by U Thein Oo and wife of Hlegu Town together with his family. During his religious learning years, he spent five years in Karen State Myaingyingu Town on missionary work.

Ashin Gambira alongside the family sponsoring for his monkhood

Natural psyche

U Gambira is a deep lover of his own country and people, devoted to justice and freedom. He abhors oppression and bullying. As an enthusiast for literature, he frequently purchased and collected books on religion, English language and computer technology. He also donated books to libraries throughout Burma. He set up a library in his native Pauk Town and donated books to it. He also made blood donation every year.

Ashin Gambira ( standing in the far left )


While living at Htaukkyant Tawya, the abbot was particularly fond of U Gambira and assigned him teaching duty. He was also invited to serve as the abbot of a monastery in Arakan State. However he turned down the offer as he intended to attend the Missionary University after finishing Dhammasarya class. He aimed to learn the scriptures in India after graduation from Missionary University and work as an international missionary preacher (Dhammakahtika). He also learned English language and computer science at his spare time. He also studied political science, aesthetic literature, poetry and music. He has also written religious articles, short stories and poems.

Changing of course
While studying for Dhammacariya class in 2005, he became particularly aware of people's poor livelihood, education and religion status to which he could not close his eyes and so he started campaigning among the monks. He highly detested Maj. Gen. Soe Win's dressing up of long-term convicts as monks to kill Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and students during the Depayin massacre. Because of junta authorities' such atheism, sacrilege, defamation of clergy by faking monks and looking only for conservation of junta's power hold, he let his ambitions dissolved, abandoned studying and led the September uprising.

His tireless hard work is a wonder. As a consequence, he was able to unify the clergy nationwide leading to the successful launching of 2007 September uprising. However, he has never expected the despotic generals to brutally massacre monks, students and the people as events bore out. He explained afterwards that he has taken to the streets as he did not anticipate such wickedness.

Whenever he recalled the atrocities, he suffered nervous tension and his health weakened. In spite of poor health, he has to keep up the momentum of the uprising while evading and hiding from arrest. Though his colleagues and friends urged him to go into exile, he faithfully upheld the vow among freedom fighters "not to flee abroad until the struggle is won."

Now he has been caught by authorities who were hunting him by leaving no stone unturned. On November 4th, he was arrested in Sintgaing area, Mandalay Division, where he was hiding and is now sojourning solitarily in Room No. 23, Ward No. 2, Insein Jail, Rangoon.

Life in jail
On December 5th, his family got permission to visit him for the first time. With his family's business teetering and distance to travel great, they have to make a great effort to visit him regularly.

Rev. Gambira will be driving out loneliness in jail by meditating and no doubt listening to another call for battle by monks and laypeople remaining outside.

His usual words are,
"We monks have no wife or wealth to cling to like the laymen. We came into life for missionary work, for humanity. And for us to be able to do missionary work, humans must be free from livelihood menaces, social perils and tyrants' hazards. We who have no attachment must clear up laymen's troubles. Since we instigate these jobs, we have sacrificed our self and lives. There are only two outcomes: arrest or death."

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