Monk’s Protest

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.

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About Cittasamvaro

Auto blogography of an urban monk
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One Response to Monk’s Protest

  1. Cittasamvaro says:

    ” During the democracy protests of 1988, 600 monks were among the 10,000 people killed. In 1990, on the second anniversary of those killings, more than 7,000 monks and novices walked through Mandalay. Soldiers confronted them and opened fire, killing two. Across the country, monks responded by refusing to accept alms from members of the military or their families. By denying the military the ability to give alms, the monks were denying them the opportunity to make “merit” for their present and future lives. Monasteries were raided, hundreds of monks were arrested, and a new law was introduced placing the “sangha” — the monastic orders — under government regulation. Anyone setting up new orders or protesting or agitating within this new sangha framework could now be jailed for up to three years. “

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