Friday, February 7, 2014

The Apology of Burmakin IX

updated on Feb 18, 2014 for better explanation.

Evil wishes
In Samyutta Nikaya, I find an excellent story reference in regard to the controversial issue of whether Buddhist monks should take political action and side with any political group. The story is as follows:

In Rajagaha, Ven. Ananda was wandering with a large group of Bikkhus and he came to meet with Ven. Kassapa who was dwelling there. By that time, thirty pupils of Ven. Ananda had returned to the lower life (To my understanding, they offended the Parajika Monastic Code and were no longer monks).

The senior one, Ven. Kassapa, inspiring to shame upon the junior one, Ven. Ananda, asked his junior: "Ananda, why Buddha laid down the rule that Bikkhus should not take meals among families in groups of more than three? "

Ven. Ananda, who seemed to be rather old at that time (meaning he had mastered most of Buddha's direct teachings) replied: " They are three reasons:(1) not to form evil wishes, (2) (sequentially) form a faction and create a schism in the Sangha, and (3) not to menace families".

Ven. Kassapa said "you youngster, didn't know your measure yet (though you learned from Buddha, you don't know what to observe) ".

Ven. Ananda was disappointed and snapped to his senior: "I have grey hair on my head, Sir. Why you called me (this hoary guy) ‘this youngster’?"

Ven. Kassapa asserted: " this youngster - wandered with such a large faction of Bikkhus."

The inclusion of the intense terms such as “evil” and  “schism” indicated Buddha was serious in imposing this limit of the number of monks allowable for wandering together in groups. It does not sound like a father’s flummoxed concern upon the potential party brawls of his boisterous Bikkhu sons. Rather, it looks like a military martinet’s bureaucratic rule for the prevention of moral depravity regularly arisen from clamorous group mechanisms.

I am curious “why group mechanisms become a critical issue for Buddha?” As far as I can look for the reason from his teachings, Buddha found group morality too unimportant to be justified. In many places of Pali Canon, I see that Buddha rejected any moral justification grounded in group affiliation. This rejection can be significantly observed in the Vasettha Sutta, “A mercenary is someone who is just skilled in warfare. I (Buddha) can’t pay my regard to this warfare person as a Brahmin; a priest is someone who is just skilled in priest craft. I can’t pay my regard to this priest-craft person as a Brahmin”.

So which ground of moral justification did Buddha authorize? The answer is Buddha will approve only individual conscience. I discover in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta which has its signification in recording Buddha’s final words, “Ananda, be ye lamps unto yourselves. Rely on yourselves. Hold fast to the truth as a lamp. Seek salvation alone in the truth”.

I have noted earlier that all three reasons shall be interpreted in relation to group mechanism. Another useful caveat in interpreting the text is I should not take mere literal meaning of words in these sentences. So evil wishes in the Number 1 sentence is “evil wishes arisen from group mechanisms”.

Ordinary wishes such as longing to visit Miami on my vacation or imagination to win the Mega Million lottery will not be named by our compassionate Buddha as evil wishes. Don’t forget the text should be always viewed from the angle of group mechanisms. My conclusion is by ‘evil wishes’ Buddha indicated insistent greedy wishes of people immersed in their group’s lust.

Groups’ wishes are marked as “evil” because they are evil in nature. An interesting point is they are also marked as “wishes” that normally occurr to either individuals or to groups. So why we do not like to call individuals’ wishes as evil, too.

I think the answer lies in the fact that collective thoughts and inspirations of a group can be readily authorized just by the significance of that particular group. In other words, groups have some imminent power to justify their morals while individuals are lacking of such magnificent power.

Especially, when a particular collection of people has significant authority or privileged social status in society, their thoughts and inspirations are often regarded as the big Truth by that society. Should collective wishes and social authority of particular groups justify what are morals, this will be the end of the Truth.

It will not be tempting for us to accept ‘state morality’, ‘military morality’, or any special interest group’s morality as the Sangha's morality. Nor there is any charming validity for us in insistent slogans of Burmese monks, ‘People must protect Burmese morality, Buddhism morality, and Buddhist society’s morality’. While these claims are evil wishes from reflections of their group ego, the monks deluded themselves the group morals are bigger morals than anything else with their obsessed worship of the group’s affiliation and government’s authority. Buddha was clear in directing us to choose the right things by our own self-conscience and this instruction is completely opposite to the current claims of Buddhist monks who are relentlessly urging “we must do the chosen right things”.

In Buddha’s days, Devadatta who created schism of Sangha colluded with the State and thus their Bikkhu team received sumptuous feasts of donations from the authorities. Such earnings are completely impure for a Buddhist monk because a monk is entitled to his earning only by his non blame-worthy livelihood. If Sanghas’ earning for their living come by their collusion with the authority or by serving as instruments for the State or a particular group, the term ‘Sangha’ (free man, non-member to any household) becomes completely meaningless. There is also a tendency of infinite transgression and one day the corrupted Bikkhus will say, “the military morality and Bikkhu morality are the One for they both are intended for the well-being of society”.

I guess Buddha made these points in relation to Devadatta’s corruption with the state. These points have a much broader social scope than apparent control of undisciplined monks. If we see the order of the points, the concern for schism comes before the concern for families. Buddha, who is well versed in Dharma, would not randomize his points so I think Buddha’s ultimate is concern is for the benefits of society (families).

The story line of Devadatta leads me to think Buddha was prescient about the involvement of political actions of the separated Bikkhu sect in many schism cases. The Lord’s concern is not for a party brawl of drunken monks, which will be fun to be recorded on their iPhones rather than threat to the families. The political aims of Bikkhus menace families because the political power is almost always the abusive power.

Political actions of monks always menace the families. Doing political actions means monks side with at least one particular political group that is vying for the power. And those in the power are thieves and robbers. I don't want to prototype Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand but this is inconvenient reality. The current political institutions in those countries are formed by particular factions, which use their incumbent political power to plunder the property of others and manage (steal) the nation’s resources to their best advantages. That is also the main reason why these countries face numerous social conflicts from time to time.

Frederick Bastiat, the liberal thinker of the famous Parable of the Broken Window, thought that politics is an alternative cycle of the haves and the have-nots in their struggle for gaining the property i.e., once a particular group gains the power, they formulate the laws to their most advantages. Indeed, Bastiat's finding is still strongly valid for today, not only for national politics but also for global politics. Thomas Pooge, a German philosopher and human rights activist, observed global institutions are mere instruments of the top-tier nations (social class) to formulate the rules that give their class the most advantages at the expense of the disadvantaged others.

Bastiat criticized all governments of every nation on earth, including slavery-ridden America, "their making Law is for legal plunder". Politically motivated monks will need to rightly understand any political authority they are supporting is inclined to steal and plunder many other peoples’ rights and property. Benefiting the incumbent political group in power always means the plundered group (victim group) is menaced. Benefiting a non-incumbent political group also means the incumbent group in power is menaced.

The monks who take part in political actions need to answer the moral dilemma: the Monastic Code for their rule of conduct vs. supporting a big authority, which is always big enough for menacing many families. So far, I don’t find any validity in various kinds of complex justifications these violent monk groups have made.

My final advice is as a sincere Sangha, no monk shall side politically with any incumbent politician, opposition parties or even civilians. Any kind of political collusion leads to menacing the potential victims or already suffering victims who are afraid of their property and their lives being taken. Strictly speaking from the standpoint of Buddhist monastic tradition which meticulously inhibits a plunder or killing under any guise or any kind of involvement, politically inspired monks are very liable to breach 2nd and 3rd Parajika offenses of The Buddhist Monastic code.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Reading Identity and Violence on Burma (2)

Amartya Sen’s original work from Identity and violence: The illusion of destiny. Penguin Books India, 2007; pp. 74-77:

As was discussed in the first chapter, this book is especially concerned with the conceptual framework within which these confrontations are seen and understood, and how the demands of public action are interpreted. A confusing role is played here by the reliance on a single categorization of the people of the world. The confusion adds to the flammability of the world in which we live. The problem I am referring to is much more subtle than the crude and abusive views that have been expressed about other cultures by people in the West, like the irrepressible Lieutenant General William Boykin of the U.S. Army (whose claim that the Christian God was “bigger than” the Islamic God was discussed in the first chapter). It is easy to see the obtuseness and inanity of views of this kind.
What, however, can be seen as a bigger and more general problem (despite the absence of the grossness of vilification) are the possibly terrible consequences of classifying people in terms of singular affiliations woven around exclusively religious identities. This is especially critical for understanding the nature and dynamics of global violence and terrorism in the contemporary world. The religious partitioning of the world produces a deeply misleading understanding of the people across the world and the diverse relations between them, and it also has the effect of magnifying one particular distinction between one person and another to the exclusion of all other important concerns.
In dealing with what is called “Islamic terrorism,” there have been debates on whether being a Muslim demands some kind of strongly confrontational militancy, or whether, as many world leaders have argued in a warm— and even inspiring— way, a “true Muslim” must be a tolerant individual. The denial of the necessity of a confrontational reading of Islam is certainly appropriate and extremely important today, and Tony Blair in particular deserves much applause for what he has done in this respect. But in the context of Blair’s frequent invoking of “the moderate and true voice of Islam,” we have to ask whether it is at all possible— or necessary— to define a “true Muslim” in terms of political and social beliefs about confrontation and tolerance, on which different Muslims have historically taken, as was discussed earlier, very different positions. The effect of this religion-centered political approach, and of the institutional policies it has generated (with frequent announcements of the kind, to cite one example, “the government is meeting Muslim leaders in the next vital stage designed to cement a united front”), has been to bolster and strengthen the voice of religious authorities while downgrading the importance of nonreligious institutions and movements.
The difficulty with acting on the presumption of a singular identity— that of religion— is not, of course, a special problem applying only to Muslims. It would also apply to any attempt to understand the political views and social judgments of people who happen to be Christian, or Jewish, or Hindu, or Sikh, by relying mainly— or only— on what their alleged religious leaders declare as spokesmen for their “flocks.” The singular classification gives a commanding voice to the “establishment” figures in the respective religious hierarchy while other perspectives are relatively downgraded and eclipsed.
There is concern— and some astonishment— today that despite attempts to bring in the religious establishment of Muslims and other non-Christian groups into dialogues about global peace and local calm, religious fundamentalism and militant recruitment have continued to flourish even in Western countries. And yet this should not have come as a surprise. Trying to recruit religious leaders and clerics in support of political causes, along with trying to redefine the religions involved in terms of political and social attitudes, downplays the significance of nonreligious values people can and do have in their appropriate domain, whether or not they are religious.
The efforts to recruit the mullahs and the clergy to play a role outside the immediate province of religion could, of course, make some difference in what is preached in mosques or temples. But it also downgrades the civic initiatives people who happen to be Muslim by religion can and do undertake (along with others) to deal with what are essentially political and social problems. Further, it also heightens the sense of distance between members of different religious communities by playing up their religious differences in particular, often at the cost of other identities (including that of being a citizen of the country in question), which could have had a more uniting role. Should a British citizen who happens to be Muslim have to rely on clerics or other leaders of the religious community to communicate with the prime minister of his country, who has been particularly keen to speak through the religious leaders?

Streamlining Sen’s ideas:

Republicans in US, no matter how artificially indolent or artlessly clever are they, find themselves elegant to quote their deified President Ronald Regan’s words of his inaugural address in 1981, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem”. Congruent with Regan’s thoughts, the historical words of Buddha overtly declared to we followers, “monks (being infatuated with greed, arrogance and especially sumptuousness), are real problem-makers to besmirch my teachings (Buddha’s Sarsana)”, implicitly informing us if we know who definitely are stirring the gamut of these troubles against our peace and wisdom, we shall not be that gullible to impress these trouble-makers as our saviors from nasty medleys that these jaded bedlams are relentlessly creating for us.
Ironically, while Buddha disparaged monks as incorrigible disfigurers of his reputation, he never assumed his teachings (Sarsana) would ever have come under some threat of elimination in any quagmire situation. “Unperturbed and no-hold-barred, my Brahmin”, Siddhartha Gautama announced to Subhuti, who was his most erstwhile friend to be met after his enlightenment and his latest real-time streamliner to be taught before his death, “as long as there are individuals who love to follow the practices of my teachings, for sure, our loving earth will never be bereft of the Enlightened”. Buddha is the kind of person the philosopher of Open Society and its enemies will admire: “If you really like to live in a true republic, never love any the classified, love everybody in your surroundings”, Karl Popper expressed his abhorrence against Plato’s Republic by exposing hypocrisy of plutocracy and nativism that his great predecessor’s archetype was popularizing to deceive new coming generations of navies. Never ever attempted to exclusively endorse his own creed, nor having any proclivity to appraise even his closest disciples as the classified, Buddha can safely be described as one of the earliest individualistic liberal stars known to an open earth. Simpatico with the open society advocate Popper who intolerantly despised hegemony of pompous philosopher kings, Buddha did not see any necessity of tolerance for the role of “the Sanga-the collected, the classified, the blessed” as being beneficial for the propagation of his simple teachings, but the Lord envisioned “the Sanga-the individuals, the ordinary, the cursed” as the staunchest apologists who by themselves barring none are honing in on his Open Land.
Of course, this clear hermeneutic interpretation of Buddha’s words will barely be any fun to the colluded 969 monks of Burma. Nonetheless, these Burmese bourgeois will claim current problems of our society are too imminent so the Biblical principles of Buddha are at the least, temporarily inapplicable to the current myriad of out social situations and our people must be pragmatic and expedient in landing our inevitable duties of struggles and exercising our right of defense for sustaining our creed. Let us agree with them their proclaimed plethora of challenges are prevailing our more and more globalized society, terrorists’ threat; perilous social situations of Buddhist women; loss of natives’ rights in their own land, but as they said let us be duly pragmatic to ask ourselves and these hero monks, “are the duties for ameliorating our fundamental social problems belonging to the shoulders of the monks? If so what duties our laymen’s shoulders are for?”
Political and social problems are but the mundane affairs to be addressed by ordinary civilians and are not the obligations that bind supermen hermits to serve as enlightened jigsaw-solvers cum their noblest myth. If I am not prototyping spuriously, we clearly know mythical monks usually are not self-experiential with mishmashes of our societal life full of unpredictable and many incomprehensible clamor and turmoil. If they are not self-experiential, how can they say their understanding of our situation is pellucid? How they do are feeling the severity of pain and affliction as we laymen do? The literal knowledge of the complex non-religious civilian world, that the mythical classified might possess by hearing or reading, is by no means, a serious match to our civvies’ capabilities of developing individual insights to discriminate the depths and shallows of our problems, breeding our cleverness to winnow the chaff from the wheat, and bearing our learned tactfulness for manipulating our own affairs. For all those kinds of maturity, only we the unclassified, outsiders (in those mysterious persons’ blatant views) and crackpots are self-reliant partisans to combat unsteady blows of turmoil and tribulation that are too regular or not unexpected.
 Turning back to my hermeneutics, Teacher Buddha himself did not see monks’ wisdom as much useful for sympathizing with myriad-minded individual experiences. That thought rendered Buddha to hypothesize that even in their subject of so-called mastery of metaphysics, his monks can barely find skillful means that fit rightly to soothe diversely difficult individual situations. Buddhist hermeneutics interpretations which publicly undermine the role of monks even for the major impacts on one unknowable other’s spiritual enlightenment, will willingly agree with the viewpoint from our current Apollonian pragmatic analysis that  suggests the role of these earnest and callow monks in taking the challenges of scrambled social affairs of various undergirds is trivial at large.
             To that end, a policy that dramatizes sorcerer monks should participate in social affairs for acting as bellwethers for directing their herds is an absolutely malign misconception. On top of that, such anachronistic placement of peddling religious power in front of our general social affairs eclipses the need for development of open society in Burma, which will open its doors to welcome numerous diverse social characters to be all-too inclusive, barring none. Having no will to hide for condemning such obtuse and inane nepotism towards the religion’s guys flamboyantly meddling with social affairs, the writer of the Declaration of Independence of America, Thomas Jefferson, famously wrote his comments for Spanish nations in one of his sincerely polite, humble letters,  "History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes".

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Nothing in the universe to everything in the universe VII

In a relatively less-known Sutra, that I might call Vaidehi Sutra, Ajatasatru, the wicked prince, locked his mother Vadehi up in the prison in order to stop her from secretly carrying food to King Bimbisara. Vadehi prayed to Buddha saying that she wanted to be born anew and no longer wanted to live in this current world dominated by utter moral depravities. Indeed her own son was nearly killing her with full despise: she just escaped death by condemning her son that as far wicked as before, there were sons who killed their own fathers and thus had she never heard before a son should have ever killed his own mother. These words ashamed Ajatasatru so he abandoned his conceit of another homicide and just put her in confinement.
Buddha appeared in front of Vadehi in her confinement, saying that the Buddha Land (real world to be reborn and seen with the purest mind) in fact is not that far. From the highest non-other realm of the Buddha Land to the other lowest realms (31 relative stages of existence/ illusion ), Buddha expounded the practices that led to those different relative existences of beings.
The highest non-other realm, as Buddha described first for your practice to see the real nature of things is seeing the water. Water if you can see in pure mind is not water. It indeed is ice, the ice indeed is Lapis Lazuli (the Crystal Stone) that is the ground to support all existences (illusions). The Crystal Stone has eight corners, each corner carrying a hundred jewels, each jewel carrying a thousand rays, and each ray has 84,000 colors (this is a pretty scientific point of meticulous articulation to describe there is such a huge number of different color wavelengths) and from each ray there arises a billion of suns and so on... billions billions of universes.
Pretty surprised indeed, our universe, the space and time is just this cozy system of A Crystal Stone, a jewel, or indeed a ray reflecting a billion suns to form our illusions (our existences)? If it is not, how can giant stars be swallowed by an infintely small point called the Black Hole?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Reading Identity and Violence on Burma (1)

Reading Identity and violence on Burma (1)

Identity and Violence was one of many books of Amartya Sen, a professor at Harvard University and the 1998 Nobel Prize winner in Economics. Reading Sen’s sweeping philosophical work to challenge the reductionist division of people by race, religion, and class, I envision that Burma, my native country, can be made toward peace as firmly as it has been rapidly submerging in the recent hatred waves of the 969 pro-Buddhist campaigns. The expanding 969 hate movements led by racist Burmese Buddhist monks are believed to incite widespread anti-Muslim violence across Burma in recent months. In this series of articles, I would like to present how Sen’s thoughts can be formulated to develop a new understanding of reality for the situation of current religious conflicts in Burma. As the articles evolve along the process, I hope we are likely to be more convinced that realizing the mind-set of Burmese people is more important than appreciating our seeing of  ‘democratic’ institutional reforms which, of course, can also drive my nation into the endless spiral of brutality and war in the coming future.

Sen’s original work:

For example, the “creeping Shariah-ization of Indonesia” which the Indonesian Muslim scholar Syafi’i Anwar has described with much alarm, not only is a development of religious practice, but involves the spread of a particularly pugnacious social and political perspective in a traditionally tolerant ― and richly multicultural ― country9. A similar thing can be said about a number of other countries, including Malaysia, which have experienced a rapid promotion of a confrontational culture in the name of Islam, despite their history of cultural diversity and political breadth. To resist political polarization, this foundational distinction has to be pressed, since the exploitation of a religious (in this case, Islamic) identity is such a big part of organized conflicts of this kind10.

My thoughts on Burma’s contemporary situation:

Similarly, the aims of 969 campaigns are not purely religious. What we need to see is this similar particular aim of 969 to develop an aggressive cultural perspective out of our long history of multicultural and richly tolerant Burma.

The Burmese Man of 20th century is widely acknowledged as Aung San Su Kyi, the Lady. However, the late prominent Burmese historian, Dr Than Tun, would not agree to this acknowledgement and he instead nominated Ven. Janaka Biwonta of Mahagandhayone Monastery as the Greatest Burmese Guy of the past century. While the abbot who passed away in 1977 was little-known to the international media, native Burmese will hardly deny that his thoughts and writings on religion, society and politics have had more profound impacts on modern Burmese society than our Lady could have brought to Burmese people during her imprisoned years. His perspective on Burmese religious knowledge can demonstrate whether these 969 movements which emphasize the supremeness of the symbol, 969” can be determined as a religious way or not. One of the notes in his autobiography reads

“We Burmese are blind religious people. Buddha is present but the statues destroy his presence. Dharma (Buddha’s teaching) is present but scriptures and books destroy its presence. Sangha (Buddha’s disciples) are present but monks destroy their presence”.

For Ven. Janaka Biwonta, appreciating symbols is the false religious way for spiritual progress. Buddhist devout philosophers will also unanimously say no symbol can be claimed to authentically represent the Supreme merits of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, which are purely abstract ‘states’ ungraspable by any human being. Ironically, the leader monk of 969 movements, Wairathu, who claims himself to be the devout follower Janaka Biwonta encourages every Burmese Buddhist to worship the Buddhist Great Symbol “969” that his great admirer will certainly not approve. Of course, the Muslim hater monk’s great admirer would protest that Buddhist symbol fetish promoted by modern Buddhist monks obscures “the power of reasoning and curiosity”, that is one of six great attributes (tasks) of Dharma. All over and above, the symbol fetish has a definitely ill conceived idea of developing anti-Muslim hostility in Buddhist culture, which generally is regarded as a great religious tradition of peace.
We will also need to observe a big black hand behind Wairathu’s speaking on justification of his hate movements in response to what Indonesia and Malaysia have done for their Islamic religion’s progress. In fact, these movements are not done in response to these nations’ national actions but are mimicking the disgusting actions of some political organizations of these nations to exploit the religion for playing for opportunism in their political game of chess. The next point is how this recently released prisoner who is extremely deficient in formal modern education knows in-depth political phenomenon of these small countries. Even well educated Burmese, who master the English language, have to exert their great efforts for understanding such literary knowledge on political phenomenon of relatively unknown countries when even superficial political happenings of these nations are not so popularly presented on international media each and every day.
In summary, the 969 movement of Burma is a well-plotted act of a certain financially strong political organization to imitate the political chess games of Indonesia and Malaysia. Of course, the original strategic intention of people of this conceit behind is certainly not the same as that of this sectarian hatred development leader, Wairathu who claims to act in response to the Islamic threat.