(U Pandavamsa, picture taken in Rangon)
U Pandavamsa has experience his life 8 years 4 months to serving a sentence in the prison of Burma military junta, about 3 years in Insein prison, Rangon and 5 years 4 months in Tehyeit prison, Touwingyi, at middle Burma. He catched by military junta officer in the year 1997 with 300 monks his colleagues in Nga Htut Gyi monastery, at Rangon. When around the 1.000 monks was gathered and refused to receive donation alms from the government junta. The donation are given by Senior General Saw Maung, Chairman of State Law and Order Restoration Council ( SLORC) that giving present alms to hundreds monasteries in Rangon.
Now U Pandavamsa is head of Shwe Taung monastery, one of the biggest monastery of tens monasteries at near train station in Rangon, Burma. " We refuse donation because we are still commitment to the statement boycott to government of "patam nikkujjana kamma" agreement which has been reading in Mandalay, in year 1990, that still applies until now," says U Pandavamsa.
He is Secretary General of the Young Monks Union (Sangha Sammagi) for region Lower Burma. The organization have membership around 80.000 young monks and have activities working for public education and Buddhist religion serving. From the Ah Thiti Tazaung pagoda, in Rangon, the Young Monks Union have an office room and running their program activities. " We are not under ground organization," says U Zawana, Chairman of the Young Monks Union Lower Burma.
This is an interview with U Pandavamsa on the role of monks in Burma democratization movements.
Ask: The young monks has been playing important role in history of Burma modern politics. How about the role of monks in Burma democratization issues now ?
Answer: We are hopeless to get democracy now. We are still very traumatic with event the field killing of hundreds young monks and student university in demonstration protest which known as 8888 national tragedy. Also the event of monks mass shooting and monks arrested in Rangon and Mandalay in 1990, then the arrested hundreds monks in Rangon at 1997, and in Mandalay at 2003. Almost every year any tens monks was catched and jailed by junta military. Just because they have a mistake that they are boycott and refuse to receive donation from the military government officer and their families. Now, every monastery living under observe and tightly controlled by intelligent military junta personnel. All activities of monks must be have a permission from government, though just a religious ceremony.
Besides that, since year 2001, government through the Sangha Mahanayaka Committee ( A state’s Buddhist monk organization) was release a regulation of Order No. 15/2001 that will starting implemented in year 2006. The regulation said that the monks can not use his robe again after he is exit from the prison. The regulation are really make fright the young monks. We are not afraid to serving a sentence, but we will afraid if banned to wear our pride of monk robe.
Ask: Does the monks also must be sign a letter contract that he is promise to not involve in politics ? And is he obliged to have a monk identity card ?
Answer : Yes. We sign a contract letter that explains to promises to not involve in politics. The letter is just for the head monks of the famous and influential monasteries. Not for all monasteries. The monks also must be have a monk identity card. The card are release by Sangha Mahanayaka Committee. Anytime the card can be abstracted by Sangha Mahanayaka Committee if the monk deemed have been involves in politics. ( U Pandavamsa show his monk identity card. In his card written; his name, his father, home address and his monastery address).
Ask: How about the situation of civil society organization another ?
Answer: In fact, life all of public and civil society organizations in Burmese has successfully to be weak by military government. Weak and weak for all everything. Not only to the opposition party of National Democratic League ( NLD) Party, but also for all groups, including the religion organizations. The Government have been move the state's capital from Rangon to Pyanmana, in Middle Burma. The new capital under tightly controlled by intelligent military. The Burmese itself can not going to enter there. So now, not any again the internal politics pressure from Burmese himself to his government of the military junta.
Ask: In ideologically how about the idea of democracy in Burma Buddhism.
Answer: Sangha (monks community) very enthusiastic and supports democratization process in this country, because the democracy is in the line with Buddha's Dhamma teaching. Since 2500 years ago the idea of Buddha is not only about the living of monks but rather than is that for all human being. A value of democracy is recognized as 'sutta'. Metta Sutta is directly give attention to the humanitarian approach of democracy. A motto of the struggle of Burma Buddhist monks for democracy that is the democracy is not to tackle each other and not to be hurt by means of one's to another. This is becoming a social ethic base of democratic struggle of Burma monks.
Ask: Lesson from a number states in ASEAN, the religion has playing important role in democracy movement. In Philippine we known the democratization leadership of Cardinal Sin of Catholic bishop. In Indonesia we known Abdurahman Wahid of Islamic cleric. Or in Tibet we known Bhiksu Dalai Lama for Mongolia freedom movement. How about the Buddhist monks in Burma.
Answer: The same. Religion also has been playing important role in public life of Burmese. We are the monks always involving in every evolution social process. But maybe the way of struggle is different. In Buddhism we can not take a terrorism way and a extremism view. In " Dhamma" of Tipitaka textbook are prohibits to every Buddhist to take a terrorism way and doing a violence. Actually, the statement of politics boycott as written in ' the pattam nikkujjana kamma ' agreement from the Sangha is culminating radicalism and the hardest political view of the Burma monks political movements. In history, the boycott monks to government has been proven effectively to dropped the power regime. But the recent Burma military regime do not want to listen the voice of monks. The monks political expression actually is not in form a stage demonstration in the road or a direct struggle resistance to enemies. The role of monks is as a mediator to dialogues or lobbies to give resuscitation. The hardest struggle form is boycott or refuse to give serving the Buddhist prayer ceremonial to men who we assume have a social problem like as the military officer now. This isn’t just applied in relation with the politics, but also in a cultural relation of each others personal relations and social.
If we are taking a lesson from the political struggle of Tibetan Buddha Sangha in Mongolia as an example, actually, if it's required by situation of repression are the monks actually can take a position to direct participate in the struggle in field. The monks are to be involved in politics struggle. That is can become an example that religion of Buddha also has attention to democracy struggle. In the British colonialism era, the Burma Buddha Sangha is one of exponent’s most actives of struggle to the freedom, but now we are in the silent.
Ask: Almost every year any an report that was happen a violence and attack to religion minority others like to Christian or Islam in Burma. How about the religion tolerance in Burma ?
Answer: Till now, my relation with the other religion followers at around this monastery is good. If any Buddhist religion party like as the Thadingyut Festival (the candle festival), we always invite the imams Islam and also the Christian priest from around there to following the party. If any Christian religion party like the Christmas, we are also celebrate it. And so do if there any a Islamic religion party are like the reading Qur'an tradition, usually before the event started, they were sent to us various food and also give us the donation. The relation each others of leaders religion in around there is good. Sometime there is any case the religion minority violence but doesn't influence a good relation of our religion brotherhood here.