There is a velvet revolution quietly picking up steam in the military dictatorship of Myanmar in Southeast Asia. Some 1,500 Buddhist monks marched 10 miles in the rain through knee deep water in some places to passively protest the actions of the military junta there. They're destination was the famous golden hilltop Shwedagon Pagoda. It has long been a symbol for social and political justice, as well as independence.
(Above: Shwedagon golden pagoda. Source: www.asiatours.net, make sure to credit that website if you use this image).
Their mindful walk gained nearly the same amount of followers along the route and so, just as Gandhi before them these monks are showing the power of peace in creating change. Much like rain the they marched in, water can wear down and eventually break apart the hardest rock, so too will they wear and break down the unjust totalitarian regime.
The military dare not repress and clamp down violently on the monks for they are greatly revered in Myanmar and such a crack down would case a massive revolt from the people. To put it simply, the repressive government is in a tight spot.
The good people of Myanmar are so grateful for the engaged Buddhism of the venerable monks:
"I feel so sorry to see the monks walking in heavy rain and taking such trouble on behalf of the people. I feel so grateful as well," a 50-year-old woman said, tears rolling down her face. Like most onlookers, she asked not to be named for fear of drawing the unwelcome attention of the authorities.
At one point, a young man in white T-shirt and shorts flung himself to the ground, touching his forehead to the feet of a monk in a traditional Buddhist gesture of reverence.
The protests express long pent-up opposition to the repressive regime and have become the most sustained challenge to the junta since a wave of student demonstrations that were forcibly suppressed in December 1996.
The junta's crackdown on the protesters has drawn increasing criticism from world leaders, including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and President Bush. They have called for the government to release opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has been under house arrest for more than 11 of the past 18 years.
James: The day before saw another protest march that swelled with 5,000 people. So far, Fridays march was the 4th in as many days.
The Myanmar monks are an inspiration not only to their downtrodden people but to all people everywhere. They remind us what is possible through peaceful action. They remind us here in America to not be complaisant with our government and our freedoms. If we do not accept that we are interconnected with our government then we risk detaching from the process of maintaining a healthy society. Things can change in a heartbeat and a Democracy is, in a way, a living, breathing organism that needs constant supervision to make sure the leaders don't become too corrupt and backslide on the individual freedoms that help prevent suffering.
This all reminds me of one of my favorite gathas from Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace in Oneself, Peace in the World.UPDATE: Saturday saw another protest march in Myanmar (Burma). The military junta government has up till now has mostly remained on the side lines of these protests/marches. However, there are reports that the government is looking to infiltrate the monks and stir up unrest so that the military will have "cause" to crackdown on the demonstrators:
The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the official name of the military regime of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) has been accused of formenting violence to break up the countrywide protests led by the country's Sangha.
It has been reported that an Emergency Committee, chaired a senior general has been established to "forment trouble" in protest marches led by monks in various parts of the country.
The plan includes ordering soldiers and policemen to take off their uniforms, shave their heads and dress like monks, infiltrate the peace marches and forment trouble to break them up. The move is to pre-empt condemnation by the international community, which would be the case if the army moves in to forcibly attack the monks.
~Peace to all beings~