For the last week, thousands of Burmese monks have marched against the repressive Burmese military regime in cities across that nation. This is the largest public demonstration against the junta in nearly 20 years. As the Alliance of All Burmese Buddhist Monks march, chant, and overturn their almsbowls (patam nikkujjana kamma), refusing to accept donations from members of the military regime, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship offers our full support and solidarity.
Burma has lived under direct social and political repression for nearly 20 years, since the democracy uprisings of 1988. The army’s answer to the people’s yearning for freedom in 1988 was the killing of thousands of demonstrators. This repression has in no way abated over the years, bringing with it ethnic cleansing of minority groups, corruption, forced labor, and widespread poverty.
On Tuesday, September 18, 2007, monks demonstrated in cities across Burma. In Sittwe, west of Rangoon, they faced tear gas and gunfire before dispersing. According to reports from exile groups in Thailand, some monks were beaten and arrested. On Wednesday, September 19, more than a 1000 monks in Rangoon marched and briefly occupied the Sule Pagoda in the center of the city, after being barred from the famous Shwedagon Pagoda.
Day by day, we closely follow this news from Burma. These non-violent demonstrations by Buddhist monks are expressions of compassion at a time when the already impoverished nation is staggering under August’s government mandated price hikes. Burma’s monks have historically used techniques on non-violence against oppression. They initiated civil disobedience against British colonialists. They were visible and central in the movement of 1988. In 1990, the sangha declared patam nikkujjana kamma and the government crackdown saw more than 130 monasteries raided, and at least 300 monks forcibly disrobed, arrested, imprisoned, and tortured. As truly engaged Buddhists, Burma’s monks have earned the trust and respect of their nation. Today, they are leading the way to democracy and human rights.
Win Min, a Thai-based Burmese analyst, said the generals were cautious about stirring a public backlash if they acted against the clergy. “It’s a dilemma for the junta. If they don’t crack down on protests by monks, more people will join protests. But if they do, it could trigger massive public outrage against the government,” he said.
We call on all our friends in the international Buddhist community support Burma’s monks as they take a stand for liberation and the end of military rule in this suffering land. We urge Burma’s leaders to meet the monks, and all the millions yearning for freedom with open eyes and ears, and with all weapons set aside. Then Burma will again find its rightful place as a beacon of freedom and dhamma in the world.
Earthlyn Manuel, executive director
Rev. Hozan Alan Senauke, associate director
on behalf of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship community