Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Monk Leaders Call for Third Sangha Boycott

The Irrawaddy News

Several exiled Buddhist monk leaders have told The Irrawaddy that Burmese monks across Burma are preparing to launch another boycott of military personnel and their families due to ongoing abuses against Buddhist principles by the ruling military junta.

Known as a “pattanikkujjana” in Pali, a Buddhist monks’ boycott involves refusing morning alms from those said to have violated religious principles.

Burmese monks have declared a pattanikkujjana against the military regime and their cronies twice in recent history: the first time in 1990 following the suppression of Aung San Suu Kyi and her opposition party, the National League for Democracy, after they had won a national election by a landslide; and again in 2007, the so-called “Saffron Revolution,” when monks led demonstrations against price hikes in Rangoon that turned into a national uprising against the government.

Burma’s monasteries, some housing as many as 1,000 practicing monks, have been largely silent since the junta ordered a crackdown on the monk-led protests in August and September 2007. But several sources say that the simmering resentment could come to a head again in the lead-up to the regime’s election planned for 2010.

A monk in Rangoon who asked to remain anonymous told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday: “The local authorities are closely watching the monks and their monasteries. Moreover, there are plainclothes security forces keeping an eye on them.”

The military authorities closed and sealed Maggin monastery in Rangoon's Thingankyun Township in November 2007 after its abbot, Sayadaw U Indaka, was arrested for his involvement in the demonstrations. The monks and novices were evicted along with several HIV/ AIDS patients who were receiving treatment in the monastery at the time.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy, Ashin Issariya, one of the leaders of the exiled All Burma Monks’ Alliance (ABMA), said, “I want to call for all people and organizations to take part in a third monks’ boycott for the sake of peace and the welfare of all Burmese people.

“The Lord Buddha said that the sangha (Buddhist monkhood) had to carry out their religious duties by sacrificing their lives.

“Therefore, all members of the sangha must act to protect the Buddhist religion and the welfare of our people,” he said.

Currently, Burma’s Ministry of Religious Affairs is effectively controlling and curtailing the nations’ Buddhist monks under an order by the Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee (the state- sponsored Buddhist monks’ organization), which restricts monks’ travel and gatherings.

Ashin Issariya said that the junta’s troops and loyalists had committed many religious crimes, such as beheading Buddha images, raiding and destroying monasteries, and killing and arresting monks and nuns.

He added that there is no freedom of religion under the military junta and that all religions are affected.

“Therefore, if the military authorities do not apologize for their abuses and crimes, it is the responsibility of all monks, nuns and laypersons to boycott the junta,” he said.

Some activists in Burma told The Irrawaddy that currently many monks’ organizations and monasteries are trying to organize themselves and set up cooperation and communication with monks’ groups other parts of the country.

Ashin Thavara, a secretary of the India-based All Burma Monks’ Representative Committee (ABMRC), told The Irrawaddy: “Nowadays, the ABMRC is cooperating with the ABMA to not only carry out our religious duties, but to help the people and achieve peace in Burma and throughout the world.

“It is high time that all the people of Burma and around the world take action and boycott Burma’s military dictators,” he said.

Ashin Thavara said that during the September uprising, the junta’s soldiers and loyalist thugs had raided and destroyed more than 60 monasteries, and beat, arrested and killed several hundred monks and nuns. He claimed that there are currently more than 250 monks and more than 20 nuns in prison in Burma for their political activities.

“Some of them were sentenced to hard labor,” he added. “Others were sent with military battalions to work as porters at the front lines of the battlefields.”

During the 2007 Saffron Revolution, monks enacted a boycott of military families and cronies by overturning their alms bowls to refuse alms, an act of defiance that marked the uprising.

According to official data, there are more than 400,000 monks in Burma, and its community, the sangha, is considered one of the strongest and most revered institutions in the country. It has always played an important role in Burma’s social and political affairs, often in opposition to oppressive regimes.

Ashin Candobhasacara, one of the leaders of the US-based International Burmese Monks’ Organization, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday: “Our organization issued an announcement on Monday to mark the second anniversary of the Saffron Movement, and we plan to demonstrate against the Burmese junta by reciting the “Metta Sutta” (the Buddha’s words of loving-kindness) in front of the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh and in Union Square in New York on September 24 to 26.

“Now, all people and all organizations need to cooperate and condemn Burma’s military dictators,” he said. “We will encourage and support all the brave monks and demonstrators because they are sacrificing their lives and property for religion and peace in Burma and throughout the world.”

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