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Buddhism in the News


Friday, September 19, 2008

Some Burmese Monks Take up Arms.

The Dalai Lama has said repeatedly that war is an outdated policy but some Buddhist monks in Burma aren't listening to His Holiness nor their senior monks. They are tired of peaceful protests and want to take up arms (weapons).

Rangoon, Burma -- If Ashin Zawta has his way, the next time the government of Burma (Myanmar) clamps down on dissent it will have to deal with a new force: monks with guns. "Last September the Army proved too powerful for us and defeated our nonviolent tactics," says the young monk, whose real name, like those of other activists in this story, has been changed for security reasons. "We need weapons. That is the only way we can bring down this regime."

James: This is troubling news in my mind because monks have traditionally been pacifists and urged waring parties to put down guns instead of picking them up. War is a disturbing reality in this world of samsara but it is the practice of those who are not monks though war should be avoided at all costs by everyone if possible. The Sangha is where many lay followers turn too for spiritual guidance in troubled times such as in Burma. The monks are to be examples of the power of peace and non-violence which is the inheritance of all monks from Buddha.

However, that gift is lost and lineage tarnished once monks embrace their anger so fully that they are willing to kill. Can a monk shooting guns still consider himself a monk? I say no. Look at the example of the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh. The Dalai Lama never condones violence to resist the Chinese oppression in Tibet as it only breeds more violence and suffering. Thich Nhat Hanh was hated by both sides in the Vietnam war because he refused to side with Americans nor the Communists. He opposed violence from all sides.

How can we solve and reduce violence as Buddhists committed to non-violence (especially ordained monks who take additional vows from the laity) when our Buddhist leaders and teachers take up weapons despite teaching us non-monks to practice non-violence as taught by Buddha? It would be tragic to see robed monks shooting bullets in the streets of Burma. I hope they retake refuge in Buddha and not in the desire of revenge which only causes more suffering for all involved.

~Peace to all beings~

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L.B. said...

This is disturbing, when they who represent a cherished ideal of freedom from samsara jump right back into delusion.
Gives me a shiver.

G said...

In countries like Burma & Thailand (I live in the latter), Buddhism is the long-established religion, and is more often an expression of cultural identity than a genuine movement away from suffering towards awakening.

Monks get up to all sorts of things inconsistent with their monkish rules, some of them accepted by the general populace and some not. (Handling money is an example of the former whilst wielding weapons is definitely an example of the latter.)

In Sri Lanka of course, monks are directly involved in politics, some of them elected members of parliament, many advocating and promoting state violence against the Tamil Tigers and other members of the Tamil community. (Monks are not supposed to encourage violence, whether in relation to the state or the individual.)

It's not only Theravada monks that commit these sorts of misdemeanors, either. Have you ever seen the footage of Tibetan monks shooting rifles at the invading communist soldiers back when China annexed Tibet?

That some Burmese monks have voiced a desire to take up arms against their wicked government is no real surprise when recent monastic history is looked at. The Buddhadharma teaches us to be compassionate to those lost in ignorance (and which of us isn't?), and this includes such monks, however. This doesn't mean that we should support their deluded responses to their suffering and the suffering of their people, but neither should we condemn it or be judgmental of it, should we?

Let's hope that those that have taken refuge in the Triple Gem do not resort to violence to get their way, and that their oppressors see the light sooner than later.

May all beings be happy,
G at 'Buddha Space'.

They call him James Ure said...


Yeah I hope that the majority of the monks avoid such a radical action.


Well said. Yeah the Tibetan Buddhist monks doing the same is just as a disturbing. I agree with you that we must be compassionate. It isn't skillful of us to meet the monks' anger with anger of our own.

Kinderling said...

When you no longer apologise for doing what is right you will transcend the Buddha.

This loosening the mind from the bondage of ideology reveals that there are no restrictions, just freedoms.
You prepare for winter and for war, enjoying neither for the suffering, appreciating both for the cleansing. That darkness should triumph is the way of the apologist who has forgotten what she is apologising about but the motions are somehow satisfying.
The head should always be upon the shoulders.

Anonymous said...

Not everyone that joins the Sangha acts in ways that are worthy of the Buddha and the Noble Ones. There is nothing in this whole world worth taking up arms for, not if your heart is set on Nibbana.

Kinderling said...

There is nothing in this whole world worth taking up arms for, not if your heart is set on Nibbana.

Absolutely correct. You will be the sacrifice to the wolf because you make yourself sheep. The wolf does not kill the wolf. The name of Nibbana is for those ashamed to live because Nibbana not in them.

Burmakin said...

Thanks James for mentioning the article.

I would like to say the speaking from this anonymous young monk for arm rising doesn't represent the whole monk community of Burma.

Nonetheless, I need to acknowledge that some so-called monks in Burma have such shameful attitudes, not really understanding that Buddhism is based on two principles: that is to be shy for committing bad deeds, and to be afraid of committing sins (Lokapala Dhamma)

This also pointed out the evidence that even though the monastic education in Burma is highly centralized, the curriculum probably doesn't effectively instill the moral aspects deeply in the hearts of the Bikhus. In fact, many monasteries become just nominal, just chanting tedious prayers, pursuing only economic benefits, contented with symbolic spiritual acts.

Well, the grave misconception of the whole Burmese monk community is still there. That is inheritance from Theravada social structures that never criticizes social order of the elders. The collective belief is that as a monk who is the noble class of community, the same rank of three gems,all things you act are fair and correct as you are the noblest and people need to follow what you do, as you are the Buddhist leader of the community.

Perhaps, this is an obsession, because the lay men today ( or even in the past) were just making symbolic courtesy towards the monks. In reality, both in the laymen's conscious and unconscious minds, they have not recognized monks as the leader. The reason is simple, as people don't see any significant contribution from the Burmese Sanga institution to the benefits and prospects of Burmese society in the past, present and also in the future.

I am not blaming monks for about that. As one of the worst tyrannies of mankind, the political institutional structures of Burma itself has intentionally driven Sangas into such a state of the powerless, while in these obsessive cultural illusions, monks could be uninformed enough to blurt out such stupid words.

Any way, the evolution is happening rather than what this young monk is illusive about revolution. See today Christian Science Monitor(CSM) article which is the third part of the same author, you will see a difference and that is I think, the start of Burmese and Buddhism evolution in Burma.

With metta,

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Dhamma81 said...

There are many references in the Canon to stepping away from violence and anger and the consequences that come to those who do not heed the advice of the buddha, including birth in hell realms that last for eons.

If we take the Buddha's message seriously, then there is no reason to take up arms for any reason at all, the consequences are not worth the short lived pleasure of getting your needs met politically or whatever.

Unfortunately, in this day and age when moral relativism reigns supreme and is supported by the materialistic nihilism of social Darwinism and the political ideologies that spawn from that, many people don't think actions have results or even think Nibbana is something that can be realized.

I would say that a lot of these so called monks are not really monks at all of they are willing to take up arms and fight for a political cause.

The nihilistic ideas that help prop up communism/socialism and materialism are a plague on society today throughout the world. They are all considered to fall under wrong view according to the Buddha, and when one acts under wrong view the consequences are said to lead away from the path of practice.

The Dalai lama is not someone i see eye to eye with on a lot, but I think he has done a good job at staying away from violence.

I can certainly see kinderlings way of looking at this, and in some ways he is right, but as Buddhists it is not appropriate to act in violent ways no matter what.

There is no doubt that if things are not solved by violence and warfare the weak will be destroyed, but it really isn't Buddhist to consider violent means, that is where the dilemma lies. The Dalai lama knows this but he is willing to stand firm in his principles and that is admirable even though in politics and life in Samsara weakness is destroyed and social Darwinsm justifies. people like than Shwe or Pol Pot and all that they do. I can't imagine what these monks must have to live through in Burma, so I can't judge them and hate them, but i don't agree that a monks job is to take up arms.

Kinderling said...

Thank you Dhamma81 for your appraisal of my observations, and to the initiated it may be obvious I am no Buddhist - except being that of a budding flower - I wish kindly to tarry awhile to listen and reflect on shared insights.

It is the person who stands on guard (say North Korea) or holds back with arms tied (say like Tibet) who becomes the victim. The repose is to be relaxed, sensibly prepared, without malice so every moment is met as it should be.
Because the all the powers that are afraid of North Korea will one day attack it, and the all the powers unafraid of Tibet will one day invade it. As also happened to Cambodia. Every Buddhist country will be attacked by the Left, every Hindu country will be attacked by the Right. The feminist seeks dominance over the prostrate castrated male, the chauvinist over the feminised male. They attract their suitors.
If you are neither male or female who knows what to do with you?

All life is suffering and we chose our suffering.

Arun said...

In response to G-

Within the monastic community, there is considerable continuing debate as to the proper roles of monks. The Theravada is also not a homogenous entity, and there are internal divisions which reflect different interpretations of the monastic code (among other differences). For example, in Thailand, the Mahanikaya monks might handle money while Thammayut monks may not. (I admit, there are notable exceptions to this generalization.) And while there may be monks who follow a liberal discipline in Sri Lanka, the emergence of the JHU was met with condemnation from many Sri Lankan Buddhists. In short, as burmakin notes, these bellicose monks are not representative of the majority of SEA monks.

PeterAtLarge said...

I shudder at the thought of men taking up arms in the CAUSE of their religion--e.g. jihadists and "crusaders"--but it's something else entirely to take up arms in self defense or in defense of innocents.

tinythinker said...

So have any of you read Monks with Guns? at the Tricycle Editors Blog? It isn't a justification for the monk's to take up arms but it does offer an interesting historical context for this unfolding story.

I tend to wonder sometimes about the price of advocating non-violence at any cost when the advocates live in an open and wealthy society. I am not suggesting insincerity by anyone here, but I find it hard to personally judge or condemn the monks without having experienced the kind of inhuman brutality and disregard for life that some of them have witnessed their entire lives. I have noted that when it comes to topics such as abortion and other sensitive issues many Western-raised Buddhists are quick to emphasize the situation by situation angle for ethical judgments rather than a rigid code of moralistic prescriptions of "Thou shalts..." and "Thou shalt nots..."

I am not advocating or condoning violence by anyone, including these monks, but I do get concerned sometimes that we can get so good at fitting the Dharma to suit our own preferences.

They call him James Ure said...

I do too Peter.

Tiny Thinker:

For me the difference comes down to being a monk or not. Being a monk DOES mean taking on "Thou Shalts" because they personally choose to join and adhere to such rules.

That's being a monk and if they don't want to ahere to those rules and fight with guns then they are welcome to leave the monastery at any time.

And as for living in the west and being isolated I can't speak for everyone but I lived in Africa for 2 years and saw a lot of suffering and conflict.

And I know many who haven't traveled abroad who do understand too from extensive reading, watching documentaries and such.

tinythinker said...

Many of us have visited places or seen documentaries in which grotesque hardships have been revealed, but for most of us it isn't our daily or a life long reality. Again, I am not doubting anyone's sincerity. These are simply things that I ponder when these kinds of situations arise.

For example, I consider: Is whether the monks behave as we believe they should to be properly "Buddhist" an issue of primary concern? I don't claim my eyes are better than anyone elses', I just get the feeling that this is a symptom of the larger tragedy affecting Burma. And I consider: Should I have a greater with whether it is appropriate or inappropriate for Buddhist monks or the likely consequences of them doing so? I fear such actions would lead to more frequent and harsher purges and crack downs.

In that sense the teachings aren't important to me because they are the Buddha's and proper tradition (nor am I suggesting anyone here feels this way). If following the Dharma led to increased suffering I would say "Ditch it!". Instead I find such teachings valuable because they predict such tragic consequences and because they can be used to transform suffering and its causes.

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