I only heard about the situation in Burma from a meditator thinking of going there. When a friend from Hawaii sent me a link to a news article about monks’ involvement, I replied simply that I thought it important that the monks be clear that their involvement was only for promoting happiness, peace and freedom, not any political ideology. The problem started when I posted a similar reply at the end of the news article.
So then, within a few hours, I got an email inviting me to talk live on BBC. How bizzare, I thought. I hardly hesitated, though; if I could in any way interject the Buddha’s message of peace and harmony into the global community, it would be an honour.
I really wasn’t prepared for such a thing, but I think I made some point, dull as it may have been at midnight Thai time… if I’d been given another shot (always if!), though, I think I would have been more complete, as follows:
What do you think about the monks’ involvement in the struggle for freedom? (This was never asked, but I think it should have been)
It is great to see monks taking an active role in proclaiming good as good and bad as bad, and clearly they play a crutial role in this conflict. The key, though, in my mind, is that they must be clear in their involvement simply as moral educators – if they march, let them march for peace, freedom and happiness for the people and an end to repression and suffering. They should likely not be killed for that. But it seems clear that they will be in great danger when they engage in political ideology, calling for an end to this political system and demanding that political system. The old system is not likely to appreciate it and, anyway, it is stepping beyond the boundaries of what a monk should be. It removes the moral higher ground from under their feet, and opens them up to attack, just as it did in 1988.
What should the world be doing about Burma?
This question was asked, but I think a better question is “what should the world be doing about the world?” Burma does not exist in isolation, and has not come to this situation overnight. There is no way we can hope to avoid these kind of horrible tragedies as long as we continue as citizens of the global village to think only like sewer rats, striving only so far as how to get our share of the larder before it is gone. The Lord Buddha was asked by King Sakka why people in the world who want to live in peace and harmany are unable to do so. The Blessed One replied that it is because of jealousy and miserliness that people in the world who want to live in peace and harmany are unable to do so.
The problems of Burma are the problems of the world, and the problems of the world are all simply problems of the heart. We would rather watch it on primetime from a lazy-boy than actually make any effort to change the course of things. But I think of Bob Dylan in this: “the first one now will later be last”. There is no escaping karma, and in the end, the leaders of an oppressive state are simply building their own future abode. And the luxury we all have become slaves to in this life on the backs of the less fortunate will become our burden when we are slaves truly in the next life.
And I am stirred even more into giving up what laziness remains in me and giving all I have to this world, that it might in some small part avoid the crash course on which it is heading.