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Buddhadharma : Summer 2008
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 20 0 8 62 Talking with monks over cups of tea, their sense of insecurity was the first matter of conversation. Many of them are living alongside laypeople, a highly unusual and uncomfortable situation for Burmese monastics. The Thai sangha does not welcome or in- clude them in their temple life, and Burmese monks are not permitted to go on alms rounds for food. Their red robes also make them dangerously con- spicuous to immigration police. Even the established Burmese-style temples in Mae Sot are hesitant to have them in residence for more than a few days. Although a handful of escaped monks have just been granted asylum in the United States, without UNHCR refugee status, financial support, and the sus- taining regimen of practicing dharma together, most of the monks have left the street battles of Burma and entered a twilight zone of displacement on the Thai border. They deserve much better than this. Some of the eleven monks we met had been religious leaders in their com- munities. They had varying degrees of political awareness along with their advanced study of suttas and abhid- hamma. Several had been to university before ordination and were familiar with social theory. Some were activist monks. Ashin K, who had fled Burma in 2006 at the urging of his abbot, wore a tattooed portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi on his chest, just under his robes. Other monks seemed trauma- tized. They had followed their broth- ers and their conscience into the streets but had not anticipated the risks. What they saw in September at the hands of military and pro-junta vigilantes had left deep shadows on their minds. Each of them had to disrobe temporarily to escape from the cities, using false pa- pers and disguises to make their way across Burma. Crossing the border to presumptive safety, a sayadaw in this group was arrested by Thai police, and friends had to pay a bribe of $80 to save him from threatened repatriation. Understandably, some monks have given up their robes, melting into the larger community of Burmese in Mae Sot. There is no end to this story, but there are many beginnings. I believe the Burmese sangha will survive, because I believe that dharma itself cannot be harmed. Also, I have seen the courage of monks, nuns, and laypeople whose training is so thorough that, with or without robes, they were able to sustain their practice of mindfulness and metta in the depths of prison. Even torture was not able to break their practice. And in the months since our return, I have seen fearlessness flowering in the Burmese sangha. In a New Year’s statement, the All- Burmese Monks Alliance called on the people of Burma to continue their struggle against the regime but stressed the necessity of nonviolence. They urged monks to continue with their boycott of the Burmese regime until all monks and political prisoners have been released. In addition, the new In- ternational Burmese Monks Organiza- tion (Sasana Moli) has set up branches in fourteen countries—including the United States, Europe, Canada, Ban- gladesh, New Zealand, Australia, Tai- wan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India—to respond to the Burmese junta’s violent suppression of the sangha. Sasana Moli’s patron, the eighty-one-year-old Sayadaw U Kovida, recently spoke about the monks’ ac- tions and their alms boycott: I am convinced that Burma will get democracy very soon and that this boycott will end successfully. The monks inside Burma want to remind us time and again that the boycott is still on. It does not matter that they are having food forced on them. What’s more important is to realize that in their minds the struggle is still on. If they have the courage and vision and continue the fight, with support of the world, then Burma will see the light in the near future. On March 27, Burma’s Armed Forces Dharma Intr oducing Compact, elegant design. State-of-the-art technology.