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Myanmar: Monks using Vinaya as remedy

by Visakha Kawasaki, Kandy, Sri Lanka, The Buddhist Channel, Sept 16, 2007

I write with regards to Jorge de Silva’s letter, “Political activities are forbidden for Sangha members”.  Mr. de Silva’s outrage is misdirected. Sri Lanka and Burma are so dissimilar, it’s doubtful that anything in Burma can be described as “just like in Sri Lanka!” Sri Lanka has a democracy while Burma is a brutal, inept military dictatorship.

He also seems misinformed about vinaya, since vinaya doesn’t flat out “forbid” political activities of the Sangha. The rules of vinaya govern the lives of monks and nuns, and also stipulate the procedures by which decisions are made and compliance to the rules carried out. These rules range from the weightiest of matters to minor questions of etiquette. The purpose is to provide a framework for individuals to pursue their monastic livelihood and also to maintain smooth relations both among members of the community themselves and between monastics and their lay supporters.

Precisely because the Burmese military rulers have violently mistreated innocent members of the Sangha, monks in Burma have looked to the vinaya for an appropriate remedy.

That is pattam nikkujjana kamma or "overturning the bowl" against the military. This refusal to accept alms should be understood as a stern rebuke to a lay person guilty of one or more of eight offenses. These eight are: striving for that which is not gain, striving for that which is not benefit, acting against a monastery, vilifying and making insidious comparisons about monks, inciting dissension among monks, defaming the Buddha, defaming the Dhamma, and defaming the Sangha. If a lay person acts in any of these ways, he should be ostracized with the Sangha refusing all contact. This is not a joking matter nor is it being frivolously resorted to in Burma today.

In 1990 the monks of Mandalay declared pattam nikkujjana kamma after the army opened fire on a dignified procession of 7,000 monks walking to receive alms in commemoration of the second anniversary of the August 8th democracy uprising. On that occasion two monks and two students were killed outright, seventeen others were wounded, and one novice disappeared.

After the massacre, a boycott was declared in a ritual performed by more than 5000 monks. After that Sangha act, monks didn’t accept offerings from the military, which tried to break the boycott by offering cooked meals at various intersections in Mandalay which were untouched.

If a lay person harms the Sangha, the Sangha should shun him by not accepting religious offerings, not performing religious ceremonies, not going to them and not giving religious sermons to them. According to vinaya, offenders can be boycotted until they make an apology.

The purpose of overturning the bowl is a compassionate one, viz. to help evildoers repent their deeds, to forsake their wrong ways, and to return to the true path. In 1990 the military rulers rejected the correction. Since then conditions in Burma have gotten worse for the people and the Sangha. Burma’s prisons hold many monks as political prisoners.

In the villages and towns, people know that their monks suffer with them.

May the rulers of Burma reconsider and correct the error of their ways!


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