A Struggle for Authority
covering burma and southeast asia
Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A Struggle for Authority

By Gustaaf Houtman Thursday, November 1, 2007

(Page 4 of 4)

However, in my analysis of Aung San’s communications, I demonstrated that for Aung San to be considered secular did not mean that he abandoned Buddhist ideas in his politics the way it is widely thought. It is just that in his English communications he did not address the same sensibilities or the same audience as in his Burmese communications, which has led scholars relying on the first to oversimplify his politics.

Aung San brought into play the most valuable and complex ideas in the Burmese language to convince Burmese of the nobility of his struggle: metta, byamaso taya, loka, nibbana, samadhi, and many other terms. He conceived of, and attempted to gain respect for, his political aspirations in a vocabulary that he shared with his people and pitched this as high as he could. On the other hand, he simultaneously sought to impact the colonial regime by mastering the intricacies of the English language.

Aung San sometimes declared emphatically that politics is not about nibbana, but he also proclaimed that politics should not be dirty and encouraged people to be self-critical.

In proclaiming to have a monopoly over loka, the present military regime has politicised monks and ensured that they will surely continue to have a prominent role in Burmese politics. Does this not parallel the moment the army of Mara, realising that the Buddha’s teachings would lead all people away from his control of loka, (as subjected to the cycle of rebirth or samsara), decides to wage war on the Buddha to prevent this from happening?


[1] As included in Mental Culture chapter 6 – on military authority… p 159 (see also p 218):
“General Saw Maung, in his first public address on 12 September 1988, justified the SLORC's seizure of authority. Due to the unruly conditions, he said, the army was unable to ‘assist the people with cetana’. He appealed primarily to the monks, secondarily to the general population and thirdly to the army. He proclaimed that the State had agreed to conduct multi-party general elections ‘in accordance with the request made by the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee Sayadaws on 10 August 1988, and in conformity with the demands made by numerous organizations’. He concluded by asking that the elections be free and fair, and that army members should not use their authority or rank to influence the elections.[FN9]
[FN9] Saw Maung (1990:5–6,13–15).


Aung San. Nainganyei amyo myo (Various arts of politics). (Dagon Magazine, February-March 1940/November 1948. Later published in  Mya Han 1998:89-113 and Mya Han 2000:50-61.

Houtman, G. 1990. Mental Culture in Burmese Crisis Politics. ILCAA Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia & Africa Monograph Series 33, Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, 1999.

Houtman, G. Aung San’s lan-zin, the Blue Print and the Japanese occupation of Burma. Chapter 8 in Kei Nemoto (ed). Reconsidering the Japanese military occupation in Burma (1942-45). Tokyo: ILCAA, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, pp 179-224 (including an English-Burmese bibliograpy of Aung San’s communications (pp 213-224).

Myá Han 1998. Bogyok Aung Saní sapei lekya [The writings of General Aung San]. Rangoon: Universities' Historical Centre, 1998. (Though published by the foremost historical research group, this has two separate censorship permissions, one for the cover and one for the text).
———. 2000. The writings of General Aung San. (Translation into English by retired Ambassador Thet Tun). Rangoon Universities’ Historical Research Centre

Saw Maung, U. 1990. State Law and Order Restoration Council Chairman commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services General Saw Maung's addresses (12.09.1988–09.01.1990). Rangoon: Ministry of Information.

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