U Pandavamsa, picture taken in Rangon)
U Pandavamsa has experienced life 8 years 4 months to serving a sentence in the prison of Burma military junta, about 3 years in the biggest Insein prison, Rangoon and 5 years 4 months in the 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, Rangoon. When around the 1.010 monks were gathered to refuse donation alms from the government junta. The donation were given by Senior General Saw Maung, Chairman of State Law and Order Restoration Council ( SLORC) to hundreds monasteries in Rangoon.
Now U Pandavamsa is head of Shwe Taung monastery, one of the biggest monastery of tens monasteries compound at near train station in Rangoon, 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 that still applies until now," says U Pandavamsa.
He is also as Secretary General of the Young Monks Union (Sangha Sammagi) for region Lower Burma. The organization have member about 80.000 young monks and have activities to working for public education and Buddhist religion serving. From the Ah Thiti Tazaung pagoda, in Rangoon, the Young Monks Union have an office room and running their program activities.
"We are not under ground organization," says U Zawana, friend of U Pandavamsa and the Chairman of the Young Monks Union Lower Burma.
This is an interview with U Pandavamsa on the role of Buddhist monks in Burma under military junta recently.
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 students university in demonstration protest which known as 8888 national tragedy. Also the event of monks mass shooting and monks arrested in Rangoon and Mandalay. Almost every year any tens monks was catched and jailed by junta. The catched just caused they are boycott and refuse to receive donation from the military or government officer and military families. Recently every monastery living under observes and tightly controlled by intelligent junta personnel. All activities of monks must be having permission from government though just a religious ceremony. Since 2001 the government through the Sangha Mahanayaka Committee (A state’s Buddhist monk organization) was release a regulation of Order No. 15/2001 that started implemented on 2006. The regulation said that the monks banned to wearing his robe again after he is released from the prison. The regulation is really made fright for the young monks. We are not afraid to serving a sentence in the prison, but we will afraid if banned to wear our pride of monk robe.
Ask: Does the monks also must be sign a letter permission contract that he must be promise to not involve in politics activities? And is he obliged to have a monk legal identity card?
Answer : Yes. We sign a contract letter explains that we was promised to not involve in politics. But this sign contract letter is just for the head monks of the famous and influential monasteries. Not for all the monasteries. The monks also must be having a monk identity card. The cards are released by Sangha Mahanayaka Committee. Anytime, the card can be abstracted by the Sangha Mahanayaka Committee if the monk deemed has been involving 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 others?
Answer: The fact, life of all public and civil society organizations inside Burma has been successfully to be weakening by junta. Weak and weak all everything, not only to the opposition party of the National Democratic League ( NLD) Party, but also for all civilian groups, including the Buddhist religion organizations. The Government was moved the state's capital from Rangoon to Pyanmana, in Middle Burma. The new capital under tightly controlled by intelligent military. The Burmese peoples self can not going to enter there. So now not any again the internal politics pressure from Burmese peoples himself to junta government.
Ask: In ideologically how about the idea of democracy in Burma Buddhism teaching.
Answer: Sangha (monk’s community) very enthusiastic and supports the 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 important than that is for all human being. A value of democracy in Buddhism is recognized as 'sutta'. Metta Sutta is directly give attention to the humanitarian approach to the 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 number Asian countries that the religion has playing important role in democracy and social change. In Philippine we were known the democratization leadership of Cardinal Sin of Catholic bishop. In Indonesia we were known Abdurahman Wahid of Islamic cleric. Or in Tibet we were known Bhiksu Dalai Lama to Mongolia freedom movement. So, how about the role of 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 the evolution social process. But maybe the way of struggle is different. In Buddhism teaching we can not take terrorism way and the extremism view for the democracy struggle. In "Dhamma" of Tipitaka textbook are prohibits to every Buddhist to take action a terrorism way and doing violence action. Actually, the statement of politics boycott as written in ' the pattam nikkujjana kamma ' agreement from the Sangha is culminating radical and the hardest political view of the Burma monks political movements. In history, the boycott monks to government have been proven effectively to drop the power regime.
But the recent Burma military regime does not want listen the voice of monks.
The monks political expression actually is not in form a stage demonstration in the street or a direct struggle resistance to the enemies. The role of monks is as mediator to a dialogue 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 recently. This isn’t just applied in relation with the political actors, but also in a cultural relation of each others personal relations in social life.
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 power, the monks actually enabled can take a position direct participate in the struggle in the field struggle. The monks may to be involved in political struggle. That is can become an example that the Buddhist religion also has attention to democracy. In the British colonialism era, the Burma Buddha Sangha is one of exponents most actives on struggle to the freedom, but recently we involve in the silent struggle.
Ask: Almost every year any a 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 leaders 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 an Islamic religion party is like tradition the reading of Qur’an, its usually before the event started they were sent to us various food and also give us the donation. Relation each others of the leaders religion in around there is no problem. Sometime there is any case the religion minority violence but doesn't influence a good relation of our religion brotherhood here. ***