Thursday, July 05, 2007

Burma Buddhist Monks Fear Losing His Robe

By Wahyuana

(Monks at Mahagondayone Monastery, Mandalay, North Burma)

U Mahawthada is a young monk in Mandalay Hill monasteries complex, at Mandalay, about 500 mill north Rangon, Burma. Through his small radio he is stealth listen Burma politics broadcast with his friends. “Radio is cheap way to know what was happened in Burma," says Mahawthada. Usually, he got politics information from the radio BBC London, VOA (Voice of America) and DVB (Democratic Voice of Burma) from Norway. Mahawthada don’t like to hear or reading the mainstream Burmese media, because biased on political view, they only broadcast news which have positive view on the military junta. They will censor information on Aung San Suu Kyi information, on NLD (National League for Democracy) and on exponent's pro- democracy movement others. “A joke on the media inside Burma they are just make report on Sittar-sittar, Playar-playar, Thardu-thardu (mean is Pagoda-pagoda, Army-army, Donation-donation),” smile Mahawthada.

But I am in Burma not to make stories on the media. There I would make coverage on Burma Buddhist monks. For its reason I meet with Mahawtada. He refuses to make an interview with his real name. U Mahawtada is his title name as a monk from the Sanskrit language Buddhist tradition.

According U Mahawthada now the Burma military junta is being in a state of its strongest. It’s nothing any resistance from the groups of pro democracy movement from the inside Burma. "Most of all pro democracy groups in Burma has been successfully to be keeping quiet and to be weak by military junta. Not only the opposition group of NLD (National League for Democratic Party) which been ended, but also all groups of civil society, including the Sangha (monks community). But we are the monks still have a lucky because the Sangha still is strongest traditional power in the Burmese society. So now are only the monks which still have chance to make political change for the democracy," said Mahawthada. ..more...

Buddhist monk in throughout Burma is estimated reach 3% of total population peoples. With total population now 53 million peoples estimated there are any 1.500.000 Buddhist monks (hpongyi) and nuns (woman monks/thillasin). They are usually living together in close monasteries, any around 51.000 monasteries and pagodas at throughout Burma. Interesting on Sagaing Hill, South Mandalay is a complex where around 11.000 monks and 3.000 nuns live in hundreds monasteries in a cool, peace, and quiet mountains area -- really an exotic place. Buddha Theravada in Burma is majority religion about 90% of population.

In Burma are to be a monk not just for the men. Many women also waste her life for service as nuns. "In the last decade, the poorness has been cause many young women decided to choose her life to be nuns. The number nuns are increasing twofold compared to decades before. To be nuns is the best choice for the rural women that would been given her a guarantee to got free of food, clothes, and stay in monasteries at safe area," says Thiha Saw, a senior journalist and chief editor of Myanma Dana economic weekly magazine, at Rangon.

Monks Identity Card
The Burma junta is tightly controlled and observed to every all monks activities in monasteries. "We don't have a freedom religion. The military government places an intelligent military officer in every monastery to observing all the monk's activities. Each activity of the monks must be have a permission from the government though it just a religious ceremony," says U Pandavamsa, secretary general of the Young Monks Union for region the Lower Burma, in Rangon.

While according U Wayama, a monk in Swe Dagon pagoda, Rangon, said that the junta now only regulate the state Sangha Mahanayaka Committee as one of legal Buddhist monks organization. Swe Dagon Pagoda is the biggest pagoda in Burma from the 10 century heritage and it is center of Burma Buddhist spiritualism reference.

The committee of Sangha Mahanayaka has member 47 senior monks, which has been selected from a 300 senior monks council. The 300 senior monks council has selected by 1.400 monks representative from every province, sub province, district and representation of the famous and influential monasteries.

The state's Sangha Mahanayaka committee has capacity to arranging and observing to all activities of the monks. The body formed in the national level, province, sub-province, and the village level. Coordination operation under the Burma Religion Departments, the Sangha Mahanayaka has been entitled to release a monk identity card.

Many monks refuse the system of monks identity card. They said that the regulation just to limits monks activities mainly to make them far from the political activities. “Because the monks community (Sangha) is a cultural power that have potential to against junta,” said U Wayama.

Some monks argue that they are refuse with this state regulation because its opposite with the Vinaya of Tipitaka Buddhist textbook. ”Everyone has a basic right to experience his life as a monk. They aren't need permission to decide his life as a monk. Now any many monks who aren't to be member the Sangha Mahanayaka Committee because they are disagrees with existence a super power regulation body monk. They aren't confessed as a monks and alleged as a rebel," says U Pandavamsa, he shows his identity card monk.

Base note of the Young Monks Union region the Lower Burma, the state Sangha Mahanayaka Committee also have release a regulation of Order No. 15/2001 that was implemented started 2006. The regulation is addressed to all monks that have being served a sentence in the prison. The regulation said that the monks banned wearing his robe again after he is free from the prison. These regulations really make fright the young monks. "We are not afraid to living in the prison, but we are afraid if banned to wear our pride of monk robe. The monk robe is an identity of my life," he told.

Tate Naing, Secretary of Assistance Association for Political Prisoners Burma ( AAPP) in Chiang Mai, North Thailand, said estimated there is any about 3.000 political detainees in serving a sentence in hundreds Burma military prisons which scattered in throughout Burma. Around 300 detainees are Buddhist monks. “In custody they are treated like as a criminal prisoner. They are prohibited to wear their pride of Buddha robes," said Tate Naing

Burma Boycott Monks

Monk is cultural political power in Burma. But under junta regime they are go to the wall. Sangha (monk community) is a potential power to make bargaining political movement with the government. But under regulation the junta many peoples assumed they have been apathetic to the politic.

Ashin Zagara, he is head of senior monks at Chauk Htat Kye monastery at Rangoon and also as an editor of Damma Yeik Magazine --a popular local Burmese monthly magazine on Buddhism. He said actually the Burmese monks are not apathetic to the various political problems and the grief of life Burmese peoples under power the junta.

Zagara said, historically, the Burmese Buddhist monks always playing important role in the politics and social change. While Burma under power of King Naraphistu (1173-1210) in Bagan, at middle Burma, the Buddha Sangha is very actively to advocating the public life of peoples. The King Naraphistu has an ambitious to build a big Pagoda. He is applies a regulation which obligate for all men to compulsory work build the pagodas. The Sangha is boycotting its King policy, because the compulsory work system has made peoples to be poor. The Buddha Sangha boycott to give serving ceremonial prayer to the King families, because the King policy was acted arbitrary to his peoples.

While in history of Burma modern, the Young Monks Association (YMA) in the beginning of century 20 is the first organization and an exponent in struggle movement to Burma freedom from the British colonialism. The young monks are take a fights because they feel have been affronted by the British government officers which refuse to take off their shoes when they are enter to pagodas or monasteries.

But it’s a struggle democracy inspiring from the past. How it’s in the contemporary era? U Pandavamsa said the struggle of Tibetan Budha Mahayana in Mongolia under leadership Bhiksu Dalai Lama is a good inspiration on Buddhism political struggle for democracy. “The bhiksu in Tibet involves directly in leadership of political movement. They become main actor in struggle against regime. But in Burma we can not take its method. Very dangerous,” he said.

A senior journalist in Rangon, Thiha Saw, said, the role of politics monks in Burma is a cultural politics movement. "The method of the struggle Burma monks for democracy in Burma is make criticizes to the government by media, support indirectly to opposition party, and boycott to the junta," he said.

A top role monk in Burma democracy recently is a bloody event of the Mandalay monks bloodies in 1990. When tens of monks were dies by shot and hundreds was catched by military junta. When around 7000 monks' was gathered to celebrate second anniversary the student pro- democracy demonstrations of 8888 national bloodies tragedy. In the event also around 3110 monks was arrested and jailed by junta.

Eventful of the Mandalay monks bloodies 1990 was coordinated by the Young Monks Union (Sangha Sammagi). The leader is U Yewata, In the event was expressed a declaration "Pattam Nikujjana Kamma," agreement. That is a Buddhist monk important statement to refuses alms donation from the personnel military and their families. The all-Burmese monks agree to break off the spiritualism relation with military families. And the monks refuse to give serving the religious ceremony prayer to military families. Because they have assume that military junta personals was in outside of religion line and humanity. The military was done killing mass of thousands student demonstrator in 1988.

This statement is very important. In the Burmese Buddhist Terravada society, the ritual of giving alms from a layman to the monks in every morning is one of important parts of Buddhist rituals. The ritual alms bowl is marks of spiritual relations between a layperson and the monks that will help us to determine a place in heaven in next life after dies. Statement boycott monks of Pattam Nikujjana Kamma are a big ignominy and the fall of morale of one and their families.

The statement Pattam Nukkujana Kamma confessed in holy book of Buddha is Tipitaka, like arranged in section 262 of Vinaya book.

According U Pandavamsa, Secretary General the Young Monks Union ( Sangha Samaggi) for region Lower Burma. This statement is still applying until now. The committee compiler of Pattam Nikujjana Kamma is a team of respectable senior monks. They are representation from the famous and influential monasteries from throughout Burma.

They are U Tilawkar Biwuntha (head of Insein Ywama monastery), U Thumingalar Linkara (head of Mahar Ghandaryone monastery), U Nyarna Wuntha (head of Maydini monastery), U Panditha Biwuntha (head of Maharbawdi monastery), U Tanza Wunda (head of Ma Soe Yein Nu monastery), Ashin Aingitha (head of Parli Karyi monastery), U Wantha Wanpandi (head of Maggin monastery), U Waryamandar Biwuntha (head of Shwe Phone Pwint monastery), U Byanma Thini (monk of Shwe Phone Pwint monastery), and U Kaw Thanla (monk of Shwe Phone Pwint monastery).

The statement is still applying until now. In year 2003, about 26 monks were catched with brutally by military junta officer in Mahar Gondhayone monastery at Kabaraye, Rangon, because they are also boycott to receive alms from the government. The Mahar Gandhayone is the biggest monastery and most influential in Burma. Till now, every year any tens monks have been catched and jailed by junta Estimated there is about 300 Burma monks in the prisons because boycott alms from the military junta now.

"The boycott monks are a culminating strategy democracy movement of monks. This is a highest political morale movement of political Burma Buddhist Sangha," said U Pandavamsa.***

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