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Seeds of Democracy Flower in Rural

Subject: Seeds of Democracy Flower in Rural Burma (Letter from Burma by Aung San Suu Kyi)

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>From Mainichi Daily News
November 27, 1995

Letter from Burma
By Aung San Suu Kyi


The Road to Thamanya

Twenty miles from the town of Pa - an in the Karen State is a
hill that was known to the Mon people in ancient times as
"Paddy Seed Hill" because it resembled a heap of paddies.  The
Karen and Pa-o peoples who lived in the surrounding villages
would go up the hill to chop wood and to bake charcoal.  Often
they met with strange experiences which made them observe
that this was not a "thamanya" (Pali samanya meaning
"ordinary") place.  With one of those perverse twists of
linguistic logic the hill came to be known as Thamanya.

In 1980 the Venerable U Vinaya, a 69 - year-old Buddhist
monk of Pa - o extraction, went up the hill to the site of two
ruined stupas that had stood at the summit for centuries.  Stirred
by feelings of deep devotion the aging monk decided to remain
near the site of the long neglected stupas.  Now 15 years later
the extraordinary "ordinary" hill of Thamanya is known
throughout Burma as a famous place of pilgrimage, a sanctuary
ruled by the metta (loving kindness) of  the Hsayadaw, the holy
teacher, U Vinaya. 

Two weeks ago I made a trip outside Rangoon for the first time
since my release from house arrest.  A party of us set out in
three cars at four o'clock in the morning  along the road to Pegu
in the northeast.  We were headed for Thamanya, to pay our
respects to the Hsayadaw and to receive his blessings.  There is
a special charm to journeys undertaken before daybreak in hot
lands: the air is soft and cool and the coming of dawn reveals a
landscape fresh from the night dew. By the time it was light
enough for us to see beyond the headlights of our car we had
left the outskirts of  Rangoon behind us. The road was bordered
by fields dotted with palms and every now and then in the
distance, wreathed in morning mist, could be seen the white
triangle of  a stupa tipped with a metal "umbrella" that glinted
reddish gold in the glow of the rising sun.  I was travelling in a
borrowed Pajero: the young men in our party had assured me
that this was the best kind of car for rough country.  They said
successive safari rallies had been won by a Pajero.  I think there
must have been a bit of difference between those Pajeros that
emerged triumphant in rallies and the one in which we went to
Thamanya.  Our vehicle was old and in an indifferent state of
repair and every time we hit a particularly rough spot there was
a. vigorous and unpredictable reaction.  Several times the light
that did not normally work switched itself on abruptly; the car
radio dropped off and could not be put back; a thermos flask
full of hot water exploded in protest; a first-aid box which we
had thought securely ensconced at the back was suddenly found
nestling against my feet.  I had to keep myself from bouncing
too far toward the ceiling by holding on grimly to the headrest
of the front seats.  There were times when it seemed as though I
was perpetually suspended in midair.

At about six o'clock in the morning we drove through Pegu. 
Once it was a capital city of the Mons and also of King
Bayinnaung, the one Burmese monarch who left the heartland
to settle in the south, demonstrating a rare interest in the world
beyond the confines of his original home.  Nowadays Pegu no
longer has a royal air but it is still graced by the Shwemawdaw
Pagoda and by a huge reclining image of the Buddha, the

The road had become worse as we came further and further
away from Rangoon.  In compensation the landscape became
more beautiful.  Rural Burma in all its natural glory gladdened
our eyes even as our bones were jarred by the terrible antics of
our car as it negotiated the dips and craters.  Fortunately all of
us shared a keen sense of humour and the violent bumps seemed
to us more comic than painful.  Between rising into the air and
landing back with resounding thuds on our seats we managed to
admire the scenery: the tender green of the graceful paddy
plants; the beautiful lotuses, pink, white and blue, floating in
pools and ditches; the dark, violet-washed hills carved into
rolling shapes that conjured up images of fairytale creatures; the
sky shading from pale turquoise to bright azure, streaked with
deceptively still banks of clouds; the picturesque thatch huts
perched on slender wooden poles, sometimes half hidden behind
delicate bamboo fences trailing a frieze of flowering plant.  But
these pretty habitations lacked comfort and the people who
lived there were very poor.

Around eight o'clock we crossed the Sittang bridge into the Mon
State.  Passing through the small towns of Kyaik - hto and
Kyaik - kaw we saw the signboards of the National League for
Democracy gallantly displayed in front of extremely modest lit-
tle offices.  These signboards, brilliantly red and white, are a
symbol of the courage of people who have remained dedicated
to their beliefs in the face of severe repression, whose
commitment to democracy has not been shaken by the
adversities they have experienced.  The thought that such
people are to be found all over Burma lifted my heart

(This is the first in a year - long series of letters, the Japanese
translation of which appears in the Mainichi Shimbun today)