May Loving-Kindness Spread to the Arakan State of Mya

by Kelvin Khor, Penang, The Buddhist Channel, Aug 13, 2012

Many could still probably recall the image of the Saffron Revolution in Myanmar in 2007 when thousands of the Theravada monks flooded the streets in protest over the ruling junta’s decision to ridiculously raise the price of fuel.

That momentous event, although undoubtedly tends to depict the monastic as compassionate heroes who fought for the benefit of the poor peasants and citizens in Myanmar, also raises several issues that pertain to Buddhism. For example, one very prominent question was how could the monks, who have renounced the worldly affairs, interfere in the political arena? But then, when thrown with this question, many Buddhists prefer to justify it as an act of compassion for the suffering Burmese people.

Recently, the Burmese Theravada monastic was thrown into the spotlight again when several monks’ associations played on the nationalist sentiment and aggressively called for the “extermination of the Rohingya Muslim community” due to their “cruel nature.” While monks are not prohibited from having a sense of nationalism and love for their country, it may not appear right in the eyes of Buddhism if the monks start asking or encouraging others to kill, no matter how cruel or wrong others could turn out to be.

Lack of respect for one another is one very common reason how conflict begins. Recall that during the Buddha’s time, there were also many different sects and teachers. Throughout his 45 years of teaching, neither had he proclaimed that those others as evil or cruel, nor he called upon his disciples to exterminate them. He even drew up the “Charter of Free Inquiry” as manifested in the Kalama Sutta where he encouraged individual freedom and respect for others by telling that one should not blindly accept his teaching. Hence, if the Buddha himself had never condoned such act of violence and slander in propagating the Dhamma, his disciples, even from this contemporary generation, should never set the precedence for it.

Even if a conflict breaks out, violence is never the solution. Recall the Buddha’s intervention to stop an imminent war break-out following the quarrel between the Sakyas and the Koliyans over the Rohini river. Respectful compromise, patience and most importantly, non-hatred, should be one’s best armor in dealing with conflict, not anger or violence. Again and again, we are reminded of the Buddha’s timeless message as recorded in Dhammapada v.5: “Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. Only by non-hatred is hatred appeased. This is the eternal law.”

What happen to the famous Karaniya Metta Sutta that has often been chanted during the Saffron Revolution in 2007? The sutta says that one should not deceive, despise or wish any harm to another with insult or ill-will and that one should cultivate a boundless heart toward all beings just like how a mother would protect her only child at the risk of her life. Wouldn’t it be very contradictory if those monks were to chant this sutta but at the same time inflicting harm on the Rohingya community?

At this point, perhaps it is clarifying to emphasize that I do not intend to criticize the Sangha Order in Myanmar. I am not attempting to question the purity of the Sangha there. Rather, I am airing my opinions to only those certain quarters of the Burmese Sangha who subscribed to such violence against the Rohingya community. I personally believe that there are still many blameless bhikkhus who arduously practice the teachings of the Buddha in its true spirit and promote the Buddha-sasana through peaceful and respectful means in Myanmar.

In fact, to help alleviate the current predicament that tarnishes the reputation of Buddhism and the Sangha Order, we would need to rely upon this group of blameless monastic members. It is through their strict adherence to the Dhamma-Vinaya that the members of the Order could be inspired to practice likewise and be less inclined to engage in unskillful deeds. I definitely do not expect all the monks to be saints, but at least I hope they could see and live by the spirit of ahimsa as preached by the Buddha.