YANGON – Religious orders of monks have been the face of Burma ever since Buddhism was introduced here more than 1,000 years ago. For a monk to involve himself in politics or to hold a political post is contrary to the ethical code of Theravada Buddhism. But in Burma today, this spiritual philosophy, rooted in compassion and non-violence, has assumed unexpected dimensions of defiance and recalcitrance, as monks challenge the hegemony of the military junta that rules our country.
We are both Burmese Buddhist monks – a leader of the All Burma Sangha Coalition that led the recent protests, and a scholar teaching in the United States. One of us is in hiding today, because Burma’s military government met the peaceful protests of our Buddhist brothers and sisters with violence and brutality.
Many monks and nuns have been abused and beaten, and thousands who have been arrested endure continued brutality. More than 1,000 are missing, and many are presumed dead.
A few weeks ago, Burma’s monks began to march and pray and spread loving kindness in an effort to solve our nation’s problems peacefully. Burma is a country rich in natural resources, but its people are poor. When the government suddenly and capriciously increased the price of fuel by as much as 500% overnight, everyone was affected – and made even more desperate.