Editorial_December Issue
covering burma and southeast asia
Sunday, December 16, 2018


Editorial_December Issue

By The Irrawaddy DECEMBER, 2004 - VOLUME 12 NO.11


The Political Face of Burmese Buddhism


Religion is an important medium in the formulation of political strategies and identities in Burma. No political practice is possible without involving Buddhism—and Buddhism has been politicized to a degree where no religious act is apolitical.


The recent Buddhist summit held in Rangoon is a case in point. The three-day meeting, attended by more than 1,000 monks from around the world, ended on December 11 with promises to strive harder to spread Buddhism’s central doctrine of harmony and goodwill.


In his address to the opening session, Sr-Gen Than Shwe declared: “The world is witnessing numerous conflicts and crimes. All those evils result from greed (lobha), anger (dosa) and delusion (moha). We should rid the world of the roots of all evils and sow the seeds of goodwill, tolerance, kindness and altruism for the sake of peace and prosperity.”


In Burma, the morality (Sila) element of Buddhist teaching is regarded as the most important foundation of social and spiritual peace. The importance of observing moral precepts is compared metaphorically to the necessity of keeping one’s longyi (sarong) tied tightly around the waist, as failure to maintain one or the other brings serious disgrace and impedes spiritual progress.


One can recite, extol and spread the best of Lord Buddha’s teachings with magnificent rhetoric, but if one does not maintain fundamental morality, one is seen in the public eye as wearing the most elegant (Burmese) turban without having a sarong tied around the waist.


The metaphor suits the present situation in Burma. The Burmese generals are singing Buddhism’s praises while at the same time committing gross human rights violations, corruption, sexual abuses in ethnic areas, ordering media blackouts and harboring the world’s top drugs industry.

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