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Buddhist monks – masters of non-violence, resistance and kung fu
by Graeme J. Davidson
13 October 2007

Meditating to overcome the selfish desires that cause suffering and embracing non-violent and compassionate attitudes and practices in your own life are at the heart of Buddhist teachings.

....There are about the same number of Buddhist monks as there are troops in Myanmar. And when they confronted each other on the streets of Yangon last month, the monks turned their food bowls upside down. This was the ultimate snub: not accepting gifts of food from the military. In so doing, the monks denied the troops – most of whom are also Buddhist – the opportunity of gaining spiritual merit.
....A 500 percent price hike in fuel to pay for an increase in government salaries ignited the rebellion. But the saffron-robed opponents of the military leaders who’ve ruled Myanmar since 1962 also want the release of political prisoners and a return to democratic rule.
....As happened during the last uprising in 1988 – when an estimated 3000 demonstrators died and countless others were imprisoned – the junta responded by suppressing those involved in last month’s defiance. Claiming their actions are necessary to restore order, the generals have forbidden meetings of more than five people and put troops on patrol at monasteries and pagodas.
.... Officials admit to 2093 arrests and to 10 deaths but the numbers are likely to be higher. Hundreds of monks and nuns have been detained and international communication networks cut or censored.
....Media coverage of the non-violent saffron revolutionaries and the way the Burmese revere them as moral leaders gives an impression that Buddhism is a religion of peace and justice and that the courageous Buddhist monks are acting like Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King in challenging an oppressive regime.
.... But that’s only a couple of frames, not the full picture.
.... Early last month, as the fuel-price protests began, Buddhist monks in the central Myanmar town of Pakokku held 20 government officials hostage, torched four of their vehicles and overturned others. In 2001, violence between Buddhists and Muslims in the region of Taungoo resulted in deaths and injuries. Moslem mosques, shops and homes were looted and burnt and Buddhist statues destroyed. During the 1920s, Buddhist monks forcibly expelled British colonists from temples when they showed disrespect by refusing to take off their shoes.
....The same form of Theravada Buddhism practiced in Myanmar is also the dominant religion of Cambodia, Laos and Sri Lanka – countries that have suffered horrendous acts of violence over recent years.
....So, does this mean that any Buddhist belief in non-violence is like the call for Christians to practise love and peace – an ideal most followers find excuses to avoid?
....Meditating to overcome the selfish desires that cause suffering and embracing non-violent and compassionate attitudes and practices in your own life are at the heart of Buddhist teachings. Although there is some debate about using arms to defend the faith, most Buddhist monks would rather die than take up arms. There’s no concept of a just war and the first of the five Buddhist precepts requires followers to avoid killing, or harming any living thing – including ants.
....Earlier this year, Buddhist monks at the Malaysian temple of Hong Hock See in northern Penang suffered an infestation of red ants whose bites put one person in hospital. Instead of calling in the exterminators, the monks sucked the pests into a vacuum cleaner and released them in a forest.
....Killing to protect others or in self-defence creates bad karma and the Pali scriptures suggest Buddhist monks avoid going near military parades.
Yet, as anyone who watches Kung Fu movies knows, Zen Buddhist monks were leaders in developing martial arts, which seems the opposite of non-violence. Kung Fu came from the Shaolin Monastery in the Henan Province of China. Buddhist monks also taught meditation to help Samurai warriors in Japan.
....But strict rules apply to martial monks. They can never be the aggressor, must only use the minimum force necessary for defence and must avoid killing or unduly harming the aggressor. They’re rules our belligerent Western leaders, as well as the Burmese generals, could benefit from following.



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