Thursday, June 19, 2008

More On Burma

Reading the Tipitaka over a 35 year period I have found that the Buddha said something about almost everything and where not, he said things that were relevant or related to them in some way. Take the recent situation in Burma for example. A large part of costal Burma has been devastated by a cyclone, various countries and aid organizations have rushed to help and the government refuses to let them do so. I think the last time something like this happened was during the Ukraine Famine of 1932-3 when Stalin refused to admit that there was anything wrong and refused all offers of help and continued exporting grain just to prove it.
A man called Vacchagotta had been told by someone that the Buddha was teaching that people should only give alms to him and his disciples and not to those of other religions. Vacchagotta went to the Buddha and asked if this was true. The Buddha replied, ‘Those who say this are not of my way of thinking, they misrepresent me, they say something that is false and untrue.’ He then added, ‘Indeed, whoever obstructs someone from giving creates hindrances in three ways. What three? He prevents the donor from acquiring merit, he prevents the donees from receiving the gift, and he has thereby completely ruins himself’ (A.I,161). This last phrase, pubb’eva kho pan’assa atta khato, is quite a strong one. Khata has the double meaning of ‘to uproot’ and also ‘to injure’ or ‘to harm.’ To discourage someone from giving (provided of course that the gift is appropriate and one is giving intelligently) for the joy and delight of sharing, could only grow out of jealousy or mean-spiritedness and would reinforce such unattractive mental states. To prevent someone from giving to those in desperate or even life-threatening circumstances would be – well, I cannot understand why someone would do such a thing. It would have to have its origins in some extremely perverse and twisted intentions.

9 comments:

yamizi said...

How about dana to a particular religion which will use the monie to fund their sharing campaign which does convert (that includes converting buddhists to their belief), and that during that process they may directly or indirectly talk Buddhism down.

This is good or bad dana?

Shravasti Dhammika said...

As I said 'provided of course that the gift is appropriate and one is giving intelligently.'

yamizi said...

Well, I posted this question to another fellow buddhist, he said it's a good dana 'cos at the point of giving, he only thinks of giving, and he doesn't care about how is the monie is going to be dealt with. He said if anyone gives in this way, one attain merits.

Dhamma81 said...

"Indeed, whoever obstructs someone from giving creates hindrances in three ways. What three? He prevents the donor from acquiring merit, he prevents the donees from receiving the gift, and he has thereby completely ruins himself’ (A.I,161)


I saw that this part of the sutta was printed on the Buddhist Channel site for your article. What struck me when I read it is that could also be applied to the monks. I was always of the personal opinion that the monks should never have refused alms from the military, and this sutta highlights my point.

I will say that I do not approve of Than Shwe or the military regime and their heartless actions, but didn't the monks shoot themselves in the foot in the three ways the sutta mentions?

Ajahn Jayasaro once said the reason monks should stay away from politics is because they are "good friends" to everyone. It shouldn't mean that the Burmese Sangha approves of the military regime, but from what I see they have shot themselves in the foot by getting involved in political affairs and by refusing alms and this sutta just highlights it even more for me.

I know my opinion on this differs from more liberal minded Buddhists. I am not in favor of "engaged Buddhism" at all, especially not by members of the Sangha, and if I am not reading this wrong the Buddha himself pointed out some of the dangers of the monks not allowing people to give and make merit.


I think you were talking more or less about the regime shooting themselves in the foot by not allowing foriegn or domestic aid in light of the cyclone, and that way of looking at this sutta is just as valid. For me, I think I see it both ways.

Hopefully you don't take offense to this, as it is not my intention to offend or upset you in any way.It's just a different way of looking at this sutta that I don't see mentioned often or at all. May you be well.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

The Buddha said that a monk should not eat meat if he has seen, heard or suspected that the animal was killed for him (M.I,369). In other words, do not accept something if you know that it was acquired by immoral means. He also said that making your livelihood by selling, poisons, flesh, arms, etc. is wrong (A.III,207). In other words, do not acquire what you need to live if others have been harmed in getting it. Monks who would accept food, etc.from people whom they know have obtained it through lawlessness, corruption and exploitation would be doing just that. Tolstoy said, ‘All that is necessary for evil to prevail is that good men do (in some versions ‘say’) nothing.’ I think the monks who quietly and non-violently showed their disapproval to of the Burmese generals and refused to accept anything from them were genuinely upholding Dhammic principles.
One last thing. Mature people can accept disagreement and contrary opinions without getting angry (which I do) and can express disagreement politely and reasonably (which you have done) without feeling that they have to apologize.

Dhamma81 said...

"Monks who would accept food, etc.from people whom they know have obtained it through lawlessness, corruption and exploitation would be doing just that."


I hadn't considered that above point at all. Thanks for a thouhtful and insightful post.

Ken and Visakha said...

Overturning the Bowl

The situation in Burma can be understood as a struggle between dhamma and adhamma (justice and injustice). These monks are not engaged in politics for its own sake; nor are they behaving independently. Instead they are applying the exact remedies stipulated by the Buddha for dealing with abusive and oppressive laymen. First they courageously extended metta toward the soldiers with weapons. Then they overturned their alms bowls. When those acts were met with violence, those who could fled.

When recalcitrant lay Buddhists intentionally harm and abuse the Buddha Sasana, as they are doing in Burma today, the Vinaya, monks' rules of discipline, prescribes patam nikkujjana kamma as the proper response of the Sangha. This act of the Sangha is an agreement to refuse alms from or to attend religious ceremonies held by those who have acted against the Sasana. Among the eight offences listed are “vilifying or making insidious comparisons between monks, inciting dissension among monks, defaming the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha.”

This is certainly not the first time the Burmese Sangha has decided to “overturn the bowl.”

In 1990, the Burmese Sangha community decided to boycott the regime led by Gen Saw Maung. Abbots and monks in Mandalay decided to hold “patam nikkujjana kamma” after regime forces had killed, arrested, and disrobed monks for “political reasons.” Even some very senior monks of the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee were involved.

In one incident, the Mandalay Division commander, Tun Kyi, later trade minister, invited senior monks and abbots to attend a religious ceremony but not one came. Military leaders realized the seriousness of the Sangha boycott, and launched a fierce counter-campaign.

On October 20, 1990, the regime issued Order 6/90, dissolving all but their own monk organizations and unions. The next day, Order 7/90 was issued, declaring that any monk or novice who contravened regulations banning non-religious activities would be disassociated from the Sangha and would be prosecuted.

The following day, the military crackdown began. In Mandalay alone, more than 130 monasteries were raided and monks were disrobed and imprisoned. As many as 300 monks nationwide were forced to disrobe and were arrested.

Former political prisoners recalled that monks who shared their prison quarters continued to follow their monk’s practice, despite being forced to wear prison uniforms. They never accepted being disrobed and maintained their Vinaya despite great hardship.

Those arrested included at least eight senior abbots and one Tipitaka Sayadaw, Ven. U Thu Mingala, a Buddhist literature laureate, who was sentenced to eight years’ harsh imprisonment.

Last year’s decision to carry out “patam nikkujjana kamma,” would have been given up if the military government had issued a proper apology for their offending misdeeds against the monks of Pakkoku.

The Vinaya stipulates that it requires a formal Sangha ceremony by at least four monks in an ordination hall to cancel the boycott. That apology, of course, was not forthcoming so the boycott continues.

Some senior Burmese sayadaws maintain that the “patam nikkujjana kamma” of 1990 is still in effect, as well, since that Sangha act did not lead to reconciliation, only another violent crackdown by the military authorities.

To be "good friends" of the Burmese generals, Burmese monks need to overturn the bowl and try to show them the harm they are doing themselves for the future, to say nothing of the dreadful damage they are inflicting upon the Burmese people and the Sasana itself.

Lester Sands said...

Did the Buddha say only give your money to the sangha, not the poor, or is this a misrepresentation that has somehow filtered down through the centuries?. I'm on the verge of giving up Buddhism because it seems so passive/apathetic when it comes to social issues. I wanted to start a collection to give to a cancer charity when a close relative was ill, but the leader of my zen group said that I misunderstood dharma and that the desire to give is essentially selfish because it comes from the ego to change the world according to my wishes, and that I should do more meditation and learn to accept things as they are.I sort of understand, but I was quite upset for some time. I left the group, and I think I'll leave Buddhism too.

Lester Sands said...

Did the Buddha say only give your money to the sangha, not the poor, or is this a misrepresentation that has somehow filtered down through the centuries?. I'm on the verge of giving up Buddhism because it seems so passive/apathetic when it comes to social issues. I wanted to start a collection to give to a cancer charity when a close relative was ill, but the leader of my zen group said that I misunderstood dharma and that the desire to give is essentially selfish because it comes from the ego to change the world according to my wishes, and that I should do more meditation and learn to accept things as they are.I sort of understand, but I was quite upset for some time. I left the group, and I think I'll leave Buddhism too.