When people come upon the Little Bang through google, the management page reports what search terms were used. By far the most common term is “Jatukam”. In the last few days it is terms such as ‘Burma monks protest” or “monks protest Myanmar” etc… but one interesting search term was “Can monks protest?”. This raises the question – should they?The religion as it formed under Gotama (Shakyamuni Buddha) was never designed to be a social institution or a formula for social welfare. Like it or not, the Buddha’s directive was to leave your home and family life, retreat to the root of a tree in simple robes and meditate. While certainly he did advise laypeople from Kings to Courtesans the Dhamma-Vinaya was always designed to be a formula for escape from Samsara. And as such, the monks were directed not to involve themselves in affairs of state or politics. When his own family Kingdom was on the eve of destruction, he went and sat between the warring armies for a couple of days, to try and encourage peace. Having no effect, he left and his home city was conquered.
But also like it or not – Buddhism has grown up, and become a social institution. The model of Ascetic Monks retreating to the forests and charnel grounds is no longer so valid as it once was. The religion does have a big influence on society, and its members these days are more likely to retreat to their computers and Internet, than to the root of a tree. It is not fitting to consider the role of monks strictly in the sense of the Vinaya that was designed for a different age.
Also one should consider that the monks involved have their own views and backgrounds – one does not become an automaton, a zombie of mass control just because one ordains to undertake practise or study. We have to view the protesting monks, not as ‘monks’ but as the people they are. So when we read 10 people killed, including 5 monks – I don’t see a special place for monks as killing is not a matter of greater or lesser victim, be it man, woman, child or monk. We kind of assume that being a monk the person will be more peaceful. “Just a harmless monk”. Which is of course a misconception. One of the killed monks was trying to wrest a gun off a soldier.
Sometimes you come to the time to act, and that is what is happening in Burma today. Remember, the duty as a ‘Buddhist’ is not to take sides. Compassion goes to all alike, without conditions. If you can do that first, then I think, you are ready to make an action.