Burma

Bangladesh vows to protect Buddhists after attacks set off by Facebook photo of burned Quran

AP: Hundreds of Buddhists who fled their southern Bangladesh villages in the wake of attacks by Muslims started returning home Monday amid heightened security and more than 160 arrests.

The Buddhists moved to safety after an overnight weekend attack in which thousands of Bangladeshi Muslims burned at least 10 Buddhist temples and 40 homes in anger over a Facebook photo of a burned Quran.

Army soldiers, paramilitary border guards and police were deployed, and the government has banned all public gatherings in the troubled areas near the southern border with Myanmar, said Lt. Col. Jaed Hossain, a military commander who was helping to install tents for …

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Buddhism’s dirty secret

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One of the things that makes Buddhism an attractive spiritual path for people in the west is its historical track record as a peaceful religion. You’ll often hear western Buddhists say that Buddhism has never had any holy wars, for example. But there’s a but…

Certainly, there’s nothing in the Buddha’s teaching to support violence. In essence, Buddhism is a religion of peace whose teachings have no place even for “righteous anger” or violence as a means of self-defense. As the Buddha said,

“Monks, even if bandits were to savagely sever you, limb by limb, with a double-handled saw, even then, whoever of you harbors ill will at heart would not be upholding my Teaching. Monks, even in such a situation you should train yourselves thus: ‘Neither shall our minds be affected by this, nor for this matter shall we give vent to evil words, but we shall remain full of concern and pity, with a mind of love, and we shall not give in to hatred.”

But there have been historical instances of Buddhists resorting to violence, or supporting violence. And there are instances of that in recent times, and those are going on right now. In the recent past there’s been ethnic cleansing in Bhutan, ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, and recently two disturbing reports from Burma (or Myanmar): the forced conversions to Buddhism of Christians, and violence and oppression against the Muslim minority.

Greg Constantine, an award-winning photojournalist from the U.S. and currently based in Southeast Asia, has published the first of a two-part series on the plight of the Muslim Rohingya minority, who have faced discrimination in Burma, to the extent that hundreds of thousands have become homeless, many of them spilling over into neighboring Bangladesh, “where they are exploited, unrecognized, denied almost all humanitarian assistance, and in recent years, have faced a growing intolerance toward them by their Bangladeshi hosts.”

In Burma, Constantine says, the Rohingya “face severe restrictions on the right to marry, are subjected to forced labor and arbitrary land seizure and forced displacement, endure excessive taxes and extortion, and are denied the right to travel freely.”

Additionally,

“Most Rohingya are not permitted to travel beyond their village. Family household registers are updated regularly so the authorities know who and how many Rohingya are in each house. Any discrepancies to these records are punishable by fines and arrest.”

This is a disgraceful state of affairs. In a sense, this says nothing about Buddhism, since the principles of Buddhism forbid violence, and since merely adopting the label “Buddhist” does not magically transform people into saints. But in another sense the Burmese government is bringing discredit upon the name of Buddhism by perpetrating these actions. That such suffering is being brought about in a country that proclaims to be Buddhist should be unacceptable to all Buddhists.

Burma has made huge strides forward in the last few years, with the military dictatorship having handed over power to a democratic government. Today, Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest for opposing military rule in Burma, is at the White House to meet President Obama and receive the Congressional Gold Medal. Buddhists should hope that she is being asked for an accounting of recent anti-Christian and anti-Muslim actions in Burma, and how they can be ended. This is not to suggest that Suu Kyi is in any way responsible for these actions, or that she approves of them. I’m sure she isn’t, and doesn’t. The forces of reaction in Burma are still strong, with the military insisting on holding 25% of seats in the country’s government, and it’s possible that she’s not in a position to affect these unjust policies. But questions should be asked.

Thein Sein, Burma’s president, is attending the annual gathering of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly in New York next week, presenting another opportunity for Burma to be asked to account for the actions of its security forces. The pressures that helped Burma move from military dictatorship to fragile democracy can perhaps help stop further human rights violations.

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Burmese Christians forced to convert to Buddhism

The Express Tribune: Christian students from Myanmar’s Chin ethnic minority have been forced to convert to Buddhism, shave their heads and wear monastic robes, a rights group said Wednesday.

The Chin, a mainly Christian group in the poor and remote west of the predominantly Buddhist country, face harassment for the link between their faith and British colonial rule, according to the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO).

“President Thein Sein’s government claims that religious freedom is protected by law but in reality Buddhism is treated as the de facto state religion”, said Salai Ling, Program Director of the CHRO.

Rachel Fleming, another member of …

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In Buddhist Burma, monks gone wild

Andrew Lam: New American Media: For a country steeped in Buddhism, Burma is accruing terrible karmic debts.

Alarming news and images of attacks and killings by the Buddhist majority in Rakhine Province against a Muslim minority there have been slowly trickling out onto the Internet and the wider world. Pictures of charred bodies and crying parents have stirred largely unheeded calls for intervention, mostly from Muslim nations.

The attacks have been primarily one-sided, with Muslims generally and Rohingyas specifically the targets and victims,” Benjamin Zawacki, a Bangkok-based researcher for Amnesty International, told The Associated Press. “Some of this is by the security forces’ own hands, some by Rakhine Buddhists with the security forces turning a blind eye in some cases.”

The government in Burma, recently lauded for taking steps toward democratization, declared a state of emergency in June following the outbreak of violence allegedly sparked by the rape and killing of a Buddhist woman by members of the Rohingya minority — a largely Muslim group on the country’s western border with Bangladesh. The official death toll stands at 78, though activists say it is likely much higher and prompted the UN to call for independent investigation over human rights violations.

The Rohingya, meanwhile, remain caught between a hostile populace and a neighboring Muslim nation in Bangladesh that refuses to open its borders to fleeing refugees.

Such is the irony in a country famous for its Valley of the Temples and its unrivaled devotion to the Buddha. Alas, while Buddhism through a Western lens can appear rosy for its message of compassion, inner peace, and self-cultivation, in Asian societies Buddhism as an institution has much broader political applications.

Five years ago thousands of monks across Burma led in mass demonstrations against the military junta that paralyzed the former capital Yangon and other cities. The catalyst was an economic crisis, coupled with a devastating typhoon that destroyed homes and rice fields. The government’s failure to respond drove the monks to revolt, leading to the arrest and beating of hundreds of clergy. In such an overwhelmingly Buddhist country as Burma, the crackdown posed serious risks for the leadership.

For the monks, on the other hand, if fighting on behalf of the people seemed a moral necessity, such “spiritual engagement” apparently does not extend to the country’s Muslims — estimated at around 800,000. They are a population denied citizenship and, by extension, the beneficence of the Buddha.

In 2001 monks handed out anti-Muslim pamphlets that resulted in the burning of Muslim homes, destruction of 11 mosques and the killing of over 200 Muslims in the Pegu region. Four years earlier, another anti-Muslim riot broke out in Mandalay during the worship of a Buddha statue at the Maha Myatmuni pagoda. In that incident, an estimated 1,500 Buddhist monks led the attack on nearby mosques and Muslim-owned businesses, looting as they went.

As for the current crisis, Human Rights Watch is strongly urging the Burmese government to end arbitrary and incommunicado detention, and “redeploy and hold accountable security forces implicated in serious abuses. Burmese authorities should ensure safe access to the area by the United Nations (UN), independent humanitarian organizations, and the media.”

“The Burmese government needs to put an immediate end to the abusive sweeps by the security forces against Rohingya communities,” noted Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Anyone being held should be promptly charged or released, and their relatives given access.”

So far the killings have garnered little attention in the West, where they have registered little more than a blip in the news cycle. Equally as troubling, however, has been the muted response of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi – an icon of human rights across Southeast Asia. Her recent tepid call for ethnic equality in Burma, nearly two months after the violence erupted, was met with uniform criticism around the world.

In the 1960s the renowned Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh coined the term “Engaged Buddhism.” The intent, then as now, was to exhort fellow monks to emerge from their temples and engage with a society then in the grips of war.

The practice continues across much of South and Southeast Asia today. One example is the long drawn out war in Sri Lanka, during which militant monks formed their own political party, held seats in parliament and advocated military solutions to the conflict with the Tamil Tigers.

In Vietnam, the ruling class knows each time a Buddhist monk sets himself ablaze they’d better watch out. That was certainly true in 1963 when a Buddhist monk named Thich Quang Duc immolated himself in downtown Saigon to protest a crackdown on Buddhism. Unrest grew as civilian fear turned into anger, and the Catholic controlled regime of Ngo Dinh Diem fell soon afterward. The current communist regime still keeps a number of leading clergymen under house arrest for fear for a popular revolt.

But if Burma’s monks held the moral high ground five years ago when they protested against government oppression, that standing has quickly turned into a deep and dark sinkhole of depravity amid calls for the majority to oppress their neighbors.

“Teach this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech and a life of service and compassion renew humanity,” the historical Buddha, Gautama Siddharta, once said.

One wonders what he would say now, as innocent blood is shed in his name, and the path toward enlightenment that he taught to relieve the suffering of all beings had somehow derailed into a dark road of rebirth in the lowest levels of hell?

NAM editor, Andrew Lam, is author of East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres and Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora. His next book, Birds of Paradise Lost, a collection of short story, is due out in 2013.

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Violent Buddhists and the “No True Scotsman” fallacy

mel gibson in braveheart

Mel Gibson: Definitely not a “True Scotsman”

I recently had a conversation on Google+ (it’s a social network that’s — in my opinion — a much better alternative to Facebook) about Buddhist violence in Burma. Following the alleged rape of a Buddhist woman in Burma by members of that country’s Muslim minority, there was an outbreak of violence in which 2,600 homes were torched and at least 29 people died.

I condemned this violence unequivocally. There is no justification in the Buddhist scriptures for violence. There is no Buddhist doctrine of “just war” or even of “righteous anger.” The Buddha condemned all forms of violence, and famously said that even if bandits were sawing you limb from limb, you should have compassion for your torturers. In fact he said that anyone who had any anger in such a situation would not be one of his followers.

Now that seems kind of crazy, because every single Buddhist experiences anger. I know I do. Does that mean that the Buddha has no followers? I don’t think so. I think what the Buddha meant was that in the moment of being angry you are not following his teachings. In the moment of being angry we are not pursuing the path of mindfulness and compassion.

But back to that discussion on Google+.

See also:

The original thread I was commenting on was started by an atheist, and she had a number of atheist followers who chimed in, citing the violence as evidence that Buddhism is a bad thing (“full of shit”) was one phrase used. I had a feeling that there was a generalized disdain of religion which was being uncritically extended to Buddhism.

But in what way does it make sense to criticize Buddhism itself because of the behavior of people who call themselves Buddhists? If Buddhism (i.e. the Buddha’s teachings) said “violence is wrong unless…” then, sure, I’d accept the premise that Buddhism is full of shit. But it doesn’t. The Buddha was completely uncompromising on the question of violence. When people are violent they’re not following the Buddha’s teachings.

I articulated the point above, and was accused of employing the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. In case you’re unaware of this fallacy, it runs like this:

McTavish says, “No Scotsman would refuse to help an old lady crossing the road.”

Smyth says, “I witnessed, just yesterday, a Scotsman who refused an old lady’s entreaties to help her cross a busy thoroughfare.”

MacTavish replies, “Ah, but he was no true Scotsman.”

What our dear friend McTavish is doing here is trying to justify an unsupportable generalization when challenged with examples contradicting it. [Full disclosure: I am a True Scotsman.]

So, what does that mean in terms of Buddhists who are violent? Well, given that I would never make a generalization of the type “No Buddhists are violent” I don’t need to backtrack as McTavish did. My statement (and the Buddha’s) is more akin to a definition: “The Buddha’s teaching is to practice nonviolence. When someone is violent, they are not practicing the Buddha’s teaching.

So if I said “Scientists do not falsify results” that could be challenged by someone pointing to examples of scientists falsifying results. I could then fall back on the “No True Scotsman” fallacy by arguing that those cheating scientists are “not true scientists.” I’m attempting (using a fallacious argument) to justify a false generalization.

Now if I say that scientists who falsify results are not doing science, there’s no fallacy involved. I haven’t made a false generalization that I am trying to defend. I’ve made a fairly precise statement about what science does and does not consist of.

Similarly, people who are acting violently are not “doing Buddhism.”

The Buddha’s teachings provide no “excuses” for violence — not even the “he did it first” or the “I was just defending myself” types of excuses. There’s no use of the “No True Scotman” fallacy here — just a clear definition.

Now if only we could remember, as Buddhists, that when we express hatred we cease, at least for a while, to be Buddhists.

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EU welcomes “measured” Burmese response to rioting

The European Union said on Monday it was satisfied with Myanmar’s “measured” handling of the Muslim-Buddhist violence that engulfed one of its biggest towns at the weekend.

As rival mobs of Muslims and Buddhists torched houses in Sittwe, the biggest town in northwestern Myanmar, police fired into the air and Muslims fled to neighboring Bangladesh.

The fighting was the worst communal violence since a reformist government replaced a junta last year, began to allow political pluralism and vowed to tackle ethnic divisions – moves that helped persuade the United States and European Union to suspend economic sanctions.

Brussels made clear that it did not believe …

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Suu Kyi hopes victory is dawn of new era in Burma

Aung San Suu Kyi claimed victory Monday in Burma’s historic by-election, saying she hoped it would mark the beginning of a new era for the long-repressed country.

Suu Kyi spoke to thousands of cheering supporters who gathered outside her opposition party headquarters a day after her party declared she had won a parliamentary seat in the closely watched vote.

The Election Commission has not yet confirmed the results, but government officials have commented on Suu Kyi’s victory and the people of Burma – also known as Myanmar – have reacted with jubilation.

“The success we are having is the success of the people,” Suu Kyi …

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Freed prisoners add momentum, risks to Myanmar reform

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Aung Hla Tun, Reuters: Buddhist monk Shin Gambira endured solitary confinement, beatings and sleep deprivation in Myanmar’s prisons for his leading role in the 2007 “Saffron Revolution” — peaceful protests that were crushed by the country’s military.

Finally free at a monastery on the outskirts of Myanmar’s main city of Yangon, about the worst he will say of his captors is that they were “very rude and cruel”.

“Don’t let me elaborate on it. Let bygones be bygones,” the 33-year-old former protest leader said of his ordeal, following his release last week with about 300 other political prisoners.

Interviews by Reuters with more than a dozen of the newly released prisoners reveal a similar remarkable lack of bitterness toward their captors after years of imprisonment and torture for their beliefs. They described overcrowded cells at the notorious Insein detention center, watching a fellow inmate die from a lack of medical care, and routine deprivation of water and sleep among other abuses.

But nearly all said they backed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s decision to place trust in the government’s reform pledges and take part in April by-elections that could give her National League for Democracy (NLD) party a vital foothold in parliament, part of dramatic changes underway in the former Burma.

Still, the interviews with the former prisoners in Myanmar reveal an undercurrent of scepticism about the government’s true intentions and an impatience for more concrete democratic reforms.

Many also expressed concern that Suu Kyi risks weakening her powerful political capital if, as some believe, she takes a ministerial role as part of the reconciliation process. That could point to future tensions within the opposition and complicate the reform process if the pace of change stutters in coming months.

Sources within the opposition told Reuters there was already intense debate among dissidents over whether to set up a new political party as an alternative to the NLD. Opponents of such a move fear it would dilute the opposition’s message and pave the way for further splintering.

Htay Kywe, who helped lead pro-democracy protests in 1988 in which thousands of demonstrators were killed by soldiers, said Suu Kyi had made a “practical choice” to run in the by-elections and help restore the rule of law in the country.

“This is Daw Aung San Suu Kyi trying in the most non-violent way to work for the country’s transition to democracy. We support this,” said the 44-year-old, referring to Suu Kyi by her honorific title.

Htay Kywe, who spent about 17 years in prison in two spells after his first arrest in 1991, is among many members of the so-called “88 generation” who have been released in recent months and who are sure to play an important role in opposition debate.

The largest release yet of high-profile dissidents promises to speed up the national reconciliation process and provides a powerful argument for the United States and other Western nations to lift economic sanctions against the impoverished but resource-rich country.

Business executives, mostly from Asia, have swarmed into the commercial capital, Yangon, in recent weeks to hunt for investment opportunities in the country of 60 million people, one of the last frontier markets in Asia. Myanmar is also at the centre of a struggle for strategic influence as the United States sees a chance to expand its ties there and balance China‘s fast-growing economic and political clout in the region.

Myanmar has thawed astonishingly quickly in the past year.

The government has begun peace talks with ethnic rebels, relaxed its strict media censorship, allowed trade unions and protests, and showed signs of pulling back from the powerful economic and political orbit of its giant neighbour China. It was rewarded last November when Hillary Clinton made the first visit to the country by a U.S. secretary of state since 1955.

The exact number of political detainees still locked up in Myanmar’s prisons remains in doubt. But the opposition and government agree it is now in the hundreds. That may not be much higher than some of its Southeast Asian neighbours, making it hard for countries to argue in favour of maintaining sanctions.

Communist Vietnam, which has a bilateral trade deal with Washington, for instance, probably has political prisoners “in the hundreds”, said Bangkok-based Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch.

RECONCILIATION RISKS

Last week’s release brings the number of political detainees freed since last May to 645, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. This number represents a significant body of high-profile dissidents who are likely to influence internal opposition debate.

The latest group, ranging from the former head of military intelligence to a musician who penned songs about Suu Kyi, rejoin the political scene just as the government and opposition engage in a delicate, high-stakes dance toward reconciliation.

The views of this respected group of dissident opinion-formers are a vital gauge of support for Suu Kyi’s leap of faith in engaging with the nominally civilian government. If they clamour for faster reforms than the government or Suu Kyi are comfortable with, for example, it could risk a backlash from military hardliners who many observers believe are eager for a chance to reverse the democratisation process.

“We shouldn’t settle for the present situation, there is a lot to be done,” said Gambira, the freed Buddhist monk.

“Since the people were deprived of everything under a brutal regime for about 50 years they tend to be satisfied when they get something, compared with nothing in the past. I’d like to stress there is no room for complacency at present.”

Sceptics worry that Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi, herself released from house arrest in late 2010, could be walking into a trap, handing valuable international legitimacy to the government before any fundamental changes in Myanmar’s political system are secured. The United States, which has made the freeing of political prisoners a condition for lifting sanctions, said after the latest release it would exchange ambassadors with Myanmar for the first time in 20 years.

But Myanmar’s generals still effectively control parliament after a deeply flawed 2010 election and the constitution, written in 2008, guarantees the military’s dominant role in politics.

“Concerning the overall political situation, I’m not that optimistic. I’ll put it at about 55 percent,” said Khun Tun Oo, chairman of an ethnic Shan party allied to Suu Kyi’s NLD and who was released after nearly seven years in jail.

He plans to re-register his party but not to run in the upcoming by-elections, which many believe would legitimise the 2010 elections widely seen as a sham.

“No doubt she (Suu Kyi) will have her say but I’m not sure she will be able to change the constitution … the military is in a position to put a spanner in the works since they have the constitutional right.”

MEDITATION AND GARDENING

Khun Tun Oo appears to have suffered relatively little torture in prison, but others were less fortunate.

Sithu Zeya, a 22-year-old journalist for exiled media outlet Democratic Voice of Burma, said he had to drink toilet water for the first five days in prison in 2010 and went without sleep for 15 days. He was regularly beaten and saw an old man in his cell die from breathing difficulties after medical help failed to arrive on time. Like many fellow prisoners, he found solace in meditation and limited chances to read and play sports.

“We have been released because foreign countries demanded it, not because they (the government) think it was wrong to have political prisoners,” the former biology student told Reuters.

He said he supported Suu Kyi’s participation in the elections but worried she would be a weaker voice as a lawmaker. “I don’t want that to happen,” he said.

Perhaps the most remarkable figure to emerge from detention last week was former military intelligence chief and prime minister Khin Nyunt, whose purge from the government in 2004 turned him overnight from one of the regime’s most powerful figures into a lowly prisoner.

Ironically, he coped with his seven years under house arrest on charges of corruption in much the same way as Suu Kyi — meditating every day and tending to his garden.

Deprived of financial support, he said he and his wife scraped a living by selling orchids from their garden and later by selling his clothes, including traditional silk “longyi” garments he had received as gifts when he was thought to be the regime’s third most powerful official.

“It’s embarrassing to tell this but this is the truth,” he told Reuters at his home and former prison.

He ruled out a return to politics, saying he wanted to focus on his religious practice. Asked if he thought President Thein Sein could operate independently in his dealings with Suu Kyi, he smiled. “I think so, but I don’t know for sure.”

A concern repeatedly voiced by the freed dissidents was that the revered Suu Kyi could jeopardise her iconic and clean status by being drawn into a flawed political system.

“I’m fully confident in Aunty Suu’s leadership. She’s a national leader,” said 32-year-old blogger Nay Phone Latt, who was picked up by security forces at a Yangon café in January 2008. “But I’m really worried that she will become a cabinet member. Then she might lose contact with the party.”

Win Min, a Burmese political scientist at Harvard University and a student protester in the 1988 uprising, said the newly released 88 generation faced a challenge to push for genuine reforms without giving hardliners an excuse to crack down.

“At this critical juncture, 88 generation leaders may want to work in a space between the politics of struggle and normal politics to encourage the continuation of reform in a non-threatening way to the hardliners,” he said.

“For the moderates in the government, the challenge is how to work with the opposition and the 88 generation leaders to improve the economy on the grassroots level.”

“PEOPLE STILL SUFFERING”

Many freed prisoners cautioned that ordinary Burmese, struggling in poverty and often at the mercy of authoritarian local officials, have yet to benefit from the changes.

“They keep saying the higher authorities have changed, but the officials on the ground have not changed so the people are still suffering,” said Zeya, the journalist. “The reforms have yet to make positive impacts on the general public so I can’t say they are successful just yet.”

A near-term source of tension is likely to be the fate of the political prisoners who remain behind bars.

Of the 604 political prisoners claimed by the NLD, the government only released 302 by its count, saying that 107 had already been released, others had been double-counted or died and that 128 would not be freed because they had committed serious crimes such as using explosives.

“I want the government to carry out more meaningful changes like releasing the remaining prisoners of conscience, which really will benefit the people and the country,” said Nilar Thein, a female leader of the 88 generation whose latest arrest was in 2008.

For her, though, the most promising sign of real change in Myanmar was the confident smiles that greeted her on her recent release from detention. “I was really encouraged to see the courage and confidence on the faces of the people,” she said.

“There is more transparency then before. It was a big difference from my previous releases.”

(Additional reporting by Martin Petty in Bangkok.; Writing by Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Jason Szep and Jonathan Thatcher)

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Suu Kyi to spend three days in meditation centre in Rangoon

Myo Thant (Mizzima): National League for Democracy (NLD) General-Secretary Aung San Suu Kyi will go on a three-day retreat in a Rangoon meditation centre from Friday to Sunday, according to Win Htein, the NLD office chief.

“Starting Friday she will spend three days in the meditation centre at the Shwetaunggone Pannita Yama Monastery to practise meditation,” he told Mizzima. The monastery has three branches in Rangoon and he declined to identify the monastery, but some observers said it is believed to be the Shwetaunggone Pannita Yama Monastery at “10-Mile Hill” in Rangoon. After her release from house arrest in November 2010, she donated food to monks in the Shwetaunggone Pannita Yama Monastery…

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Aung San Suu Kyi’s hope for genuine democracy

In a program aired on Feb. 11, Aung San Suu Kyi discusses forgiveness, the importance of being concerned more for others than for oneself, and the benefits of meditation.

Q: I served as the general secretary of the National Democratic Congress Party when I was in Burma, and you stayed with our party when you visited the Kachin State back in 1989. I am very happy to hear that you have now been released from detention. I would like to know what you intend to do to bring about change in our country, what you will do when those changes happen, and how you will maintain those changes. Also, I would like to know how you would change the attitudes and beliefs of the people so that they can adapt to a constitutional democracy, taking into consideration the present situation that people are in.

A: I still remember with gratitude how the National Democratic Congress Party provided me with their kind hospitality during my visit. Once democracy is established in Burma, it will be very important to reform and change the educational system so that the attitudes and habits of a genuine democracy may take root in the society. Additionally, I think that various methods of disseminating news and information, of educating people, and of holding discussions and consultations in a free and open manner must be used to help people understand and participate in this effort of transformation. Since this effort must cover the country as a whole, we must organize to bring about a powerful force of cooperation from the entire country.

Q: I am a Chin ethnic national living in the UK. What kinds of things must one avoid in the process of achieving national reconciliation—especially when working with the ethnic nationality groups? What kinds of things could be a hindrance, and what kinds of things should be encouraged?

A: It is necessary to be able to see others’ points of view, so that there will be understanding and trust among the people. It will be difficult to have an understanding if one focuses only on one’s own wishes and concerns. It is important to have mutual and reciprocal respect for one another in order to have unity among the ethnic nationalities. If this cannot be achieved easily, one can at least develop love and friendship by being sincere and genuinely wishing to accomplish it.

Q: I am part of the Karen community living in Oslo, Norway. The military government has repressed you in many ways. They have given you one problem after another, and have even split up your family, but you have not retaliated in any way. You have focused only on working toward achieving national reconciliation. I can see that is your forgiveness that has allowed you to overcome all your difficulties. Could you tell me what you have done to acquire such a forgiving character?

A: As I see it, there are a lot of other people who have suffered and are continuing to suffer more than I have. So what I have experienced is not worth talking about. I have also been able to calm my mind with the help of the good comrades around me. I think that one can have peace of mind if one concentrates more on what one can do for others rather than thinking about one’s own problems.

Q: I am a Shan national now living in Canada. With regard to the 2nd Panglong Conference, if the conference is held and if ethnic concerns are discussed, issues such as self-administration and self-determination—which the ethnics have been longing for—are bound to be brought up, just as they were at the 1st Panglong Conference. If these issues are discussed, I think it would be very difficult for the military government that now rules the country to participate.

A: The 2nd Panglong is intended mainly to build and develop a genuine spirit of Union. When we discuss issues like self-administration and self-determination, these will be based on that spirit of Union, with the goal of achieving that spirit as well. Since this will be done without harm to anyone, there is no reason for anyone who values the spirit of Union not to participate in the process.

Q: Mother Suu, I am a former soldier. I lost my right leg and right hand due to land-mine injuries while serving in the Burmese military. Now, I am living in the United States. While I was in Burma, my disability pension was 400 kyat (U.S. 50 cents) a month. When I arrived in this country, I received disability assistance of U.S. $674 a month. In this country, if you are over 65 years of age, the government give you a pension whether you have worked for the government or not. The government also provides allowances for housing and food for people who are unemployed. This kind of system does not seem to exist even in communist countries like China. Whenever I hear of older people and the disabled begging for food in our country, I wish that a social welfare system like the one in the United States could quickly be established in Burma. What are your views with regard to this?

A: I would like to applaud and honor the strong will that you have to start a new life in the United States in spite of your physical disabilities. We in our own country would also like to have a social welfare system that would provide security for all those people who are disabled in body or in mind, people who are looking for work, and people who are aged and old. To get this, we need a government that will guarantee democratic rights and maintain a strong treasury. We are working to achieve those goals. May you be healthy and fulfilled with the good things that you desire, my son.

Q: I live in the state of Virginia in the United States. I have heard that you practiced meditation while you were under house arrest. Now that you have been released from detention, have you been able to find time to meditate at all? Also, when I was living in Japan, my Japanese friends would ask me why the Burmese, who are Buddhists, have not been able to get on the road to negotiations. What kind of mental attitude should a Buddhist have?

A: It is true that I do not have the time now to meditate as I did when I was under house arrest, but I am trying my very best to do so. Although the majority of the people in our country are Buddhists, it is hard to know how many of them really take Buddhism to heart. I consider myself only to be at the stage where I am endeavoring to become a good Buddhist. I think that if everyone tries to reduce greed, anger, and illusion as much as they can, we can then quickly get on the road to negotiation.

[via Radio Free Asia]
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