Sep 26, 2007

Saffron Revolution

Everyone reading this is probably aware of the events in Burma. There is a massive uprising against the military junta. The sangha is playing a prominent, and even a leading role, in the massive, mostly peaceful protests.

Some of you may wonder how proper it is for bhikkhus to be engaged in political actions of this kind. When making your judgment, here are some things to bear in mind;

- The bhikkhus in Theravada countries are not isolated hermits but integral members of the society. They are the sons and brothers of the common people who are suffering under this horrid regime.
- The bhikkhus also have a natural leadership role, and are expected by the laity to give them guidance and moral support.
- There is a scriptural precedent, if not for political marches, at least for the monks to express strong disapproval of immoral laity. This is the Patam Nikkujana Kamma, the over-turned almsbowl. Sometimes called "buddhist excommunication" it is the symbolical cutting of a lay person by refusing to accept alms from him, physically manifested by turning the bowl upside-down. This has been done by the monks in Burma against the military rulers.
- The regime in Burma is one of the worst, if not the worst, in the world. Besides having all the marks of nasty regimes everywhere, brutal, corrupt, venal, oppressive it is also strikingly incompetent. Besides having abundant natural resources and a literate population, Burma languishes in poverty, near the bottom of the UN rankings.
- If all that wasn't enough, the leaders are quite mad, and have been for a long while. As far back as 1970, the then dictator Ne Win ordered the country to switch to driving on the right-hand side because of a dream he had. More recently, the capital was moved from Yangoon to a remote town in the jungle on the advice of an astrologer.
- Any reports in the media of bhikkhus being involved in violence should be taken with a grain of salt. It is not impossible that some monks may act improperly, of course, but it is much more likely that these incidents are perpetrated by government agents disguised as monks. (If even the Canadian police resort to these kind of tactics, why not the Burmese junta?)

The situation has the potential of turning very ugly. The long-suffering Burmese people have nothing left to lose, and the junta is not likely to show restraint. International pressure can do little, the regime is already very isolated and doesn't really care what outsiders say. Let us all hope this beautiful country, an important focus of the Dhamma, is able to come through the fire to peace, prosperity and freedom.

Some links -

Buddhist Channel
- a source for Buddhist related news has very good ongoing coverage of the crisis.
Rule of Lords - an excellent blog of Burmese and Thai politics.
Info Please - their page with background on modern Burmese history.
Human Development Statistics - for Burma, if you like your data raw.


glenn fitzgerald said...

You can't help but have a deep respect for the monks. Their courage and their stubborn refusal to initiate change through violence serves as an example to us all.

Glenn Fitzgerald.

JD said...

It would be hard to turn a blind eye to the insanity in Burma if I were a monk there, so I don't condemn them for marching. I still think politics and social action in regards to monastics is a touchy subject. I read something Ajahn Suwat said once to the effect that monks shouldn't get involved in politics, however, who is to say what one would do when faced with a similar situation as the monks and nuns in Burma. I agree with Glenn in that I feel a sense of respect for them. Hopefully things get better for the Burmese in the coming days.

Jon said...

I'm impressed by the bravery of the monks and by their solidarity with the Burmese people. In "The Broken Buddha" S. Dhammika says monks are self-important parasites who care for nothing but ritual and the minutiae of the Vinaya. This clearly is not the case in Burma.

Tapassī Bhikkhu said...

For More into on Burma have a look as at the CIA's info on Burma.

We all hope for change and peace and that no one will lose their lives however it seems that they might not be so peace wishing as we are.

Bhnate Sujato my teacher got an e-mail passed onto him from a monk from Burma and telling a story. It goes something like this.

The army busted into a city temple with about 200 studying monks, they were ordered to line up facing the wall, and one by one they smashed they head against the brick wall, all dying except about 10 who hide in the temple.

One of the monks who is here at this monastery just came back from Burma before the Rains, not because of this but because of bad health from the poor Burmese food. He tells us how poor they are, He said a teachers wage is the same price it costs to buy an apple in Burma and so when you are in the Alms line and you get an apple you reflect to yourself you are eating a teachers wage and they someone rich must of offered this apple. He also told us about 'dirt cheap' that some houses have the earth as their floor.

I had a look at this ' turning over of the bowl' kamma in the Vinaya, however people get it wrong, it is not the monks bowl that is over turned, it is the lay persons bowl which becomes 'over turned'. It talks about the group of 6 monks trying to get dabbamallaputta expeled, it doesn't work , the buddha allows the kamma, the monks to the kamma, then Ananda is the one to go to tell the lay people 'your bowl has been over turned by the sangha'.

I thing a monk or nun holding their bowl upside-down is a very powerful symbol.

Tapassī Bhikkhu said...

For more on Burma also see this blog, more has happened then we really know bout with 1000s dead and 100s of monks

glenn fitzgerald said...

I just followed the above link which Tapassī Sakyaputta supplied.

The picture of the murdered monk lying face down in the water made me cry.

And I haven't done that for quite awhile.

Glenn Fitzgerald.