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Buddhism in the News


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Myanmar Monks Moblize for Peace

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:, 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~

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FRITZ said...

It is important to read this; Americans especially have forgotten about the constant, steady pressure of water, of presence, of conciousness.

I, too, would wish to fling myself upon the monks, thankful for them and their brave walk of peace. It is the smallest things, like walking, that can make the greatest differences.

They call him James Ure said...


Yes, Americans have been lulled into a false sense of security it seems.

We are hardly present and often ignore what is going on in our own government/country let alone what is going on in the world. Avoidance always seem to make problems worse.

Your are so right about the smallest things.

Anonymous said...

I hope the junta will repent. Their final decision will reflect the extent of their understanding of Buddhist teachings. What I don't understand if why the junta remains an oppressive power all these years in a modernised world nd surrounded by democratised ASEAN nations. If the junta remain unmoved by the march of the monks, it will indeed be an indication how political leaders are so alienated from the basic principles of this world, peace, compassion, love of the people.


They call him James Ure said...


Great comment. I hope the junta will come to its senses as well. It is time for peace and reconciliation there.

Douglas said...

All very well denouncing the violence in Burma but, in Australia, police have roughed up protesters outside the Burmese Embassy in Canberra:- “Thi Da, 33, who is due to give birth in two weeks, is pushed to the ground during protests at the Burmese Embassy....” People have no rights to speak in Burma - or in the West!!! Pregnant women, especially if they are Asian, and their unborn children, have even less rights on the streets of their home towns, uhhh!

They call him James Ure said...


I heard about those protests in Australia being repressed. It is sad indeed to see the great "Democratic" countries slipping in maintaining basic freedoms.

Anonymous said...

hi i realise you know a fair bit about buddhist monks i was wondering if you could answer the following questions
what is the significance of their dress and how has it been changed or altered over time

They call him James Ure said...


For the most part the robes of the monks depended on the dye that was available in the region. And then tradition just kept those different colors. And it also helps distinguish which sect/tradition/school of Buddhism the monastic follows.

The simplicity of wearing a basic robe partly symbolizes the vow they have taken to live a simple life. It is like their "uniform" in a way. A symbol of their non-status that they are no longer partaking in the material aspects of society.

The material and dyes for their robes are usually donated by the laity.

The color and style also can depend upon different sects. The robe also symbolizes the monks connection to the Buddha and his willingness to follow in his footsteps.

Within some Tibetan Buddhist schools, If their sleeveless tunic is trimmed with yellow brocade or they are wearing yellow silk and satin as normal attire, they are probably eminent monks or considered living Buddhas. Link This link will also help describe how the robes have changed over time.

Some, however, consider robes to be elitist and encourage pride as one "advances" within ones sect.

As for monks shaving their heads, it often symbolizes the renunciation of worldly things. It helps monks over-come vanity to embrace the simple life of a monk.

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