In 2005, I earned an opportunity to take one semester course of political sciences in MIT. The following original mid-term paper fed with comments from the instructor (who is regarded as a genius by his American peers), could be read as a companion to The apology of Burmakin VII.
Western anthropologists who try to connect the Burmese Buddhist culture with the totalitarian rule of the country, are usually perplexed at why a country with the highest democratic values (as a matter of fact, they are also Buddhist values) such as egalitarianism, absence of either a discriminative caste system or racism, freedom of women, elastic social system and especially, individualism, have come to be subjugated to the longest military dictatorship in the world history with collective neurosis and medieval violence from both sides alike, its despotic regime and their oppressed people. Burma is a land of contradictions with its people overwhelmed by split personality, the inborn merit of Buddhism in one half and the acquired infested irrational brutal mentality deliberately created by its cultural system ruled by its unjust, arrogant rulers greatly aided by mystification of spoilt Buddhist priests in the other half.
When I began to point out the lack of critical thinking in our Burmese educational and social system, one of my friends, who was a well-learned writer living in Burma was shocked. "It is a shame Burmese literature have not a single book written on this subject", was his blurted murmur in frustration. This is the main reason why we Burmese think ignorance as strength, slavery as freedom and militarism as peace and always come under passiveness and impotency in our liberation from humiliated poverty. This is the armor of the tyrants that makes their depraved unfairness and imbecile indiscernible to us as we also come to tie together to be depraved and neurotic ourselves.
The stressed words in above passages, deliberately and humiliated are important in understanding the real nature of Burma and this paper. George Orwell once wrote, perhaps based on his five years experience of living in British Burma, "It is a world in which every word and thought is censored. Free speech in unthinkable. All other kinds of freedom are permitted. You are free to be a drunkard, coward, backbiter, a fornicator, but you are not free to think for yourself". It is not dangerous if somebody can realize his intoxication, trifling, meekness, libel, and immodesty of his desires. In fact, what got Siddhartha to wake up as Buddha was his strong discovery of evil in him the craving. The realization of the recurrent vicious mistakes in his raison d'etre for this carpenter of life homes made Siddhartha free from the slavery of all kinds of evils and emerged from his aged sloppiness as Buddha, the waken up One. Indeed, critical thinking is the legacy of our Teacher whereas, moral relativism, "the good will decides the real fate", deeply rooted in our Burmese culture and propagandized by unwise priests, was the irrational revolt against Buddhism. This distorted message of Buddhism was also the ruling unconscionable philosophy of the constitution justified by unscrupulous Burmese military despots. This unrestrained Burmese irrational character, perhaps the worst misunderstanding of Buddha's teaching, is also our irreversible road to poverty and slavery despite of luckiest merits of highest democratic values from our Buddhist legacy.
Question of the mid-term assignment
3. Select a policy in a country other than the United States with which you are familiar. Demonstrate how this country's political philosophy or institutional arrangements shape and influence policy structure and implementation- applying an analytical framework to those questions analogous to that used in the class.
The state's support of the Buddhist religion in Burma
A few years before he was arrested, the ousted Burmese Prime Minister, General Khin Nyunt, initiated a huge project for rebuilding of the Shwe Dagon Pagoda, the most sacred religious site in Burma. The government of Burma pledged their commitment and made a clarion call to the general public to help with their religious project. The rich and the poor alike, who indeed bred the same antipathy towards the unrestrained tyranny of the military regime, willingly donated large sums of money to this government led project.
Millions of dollars were spent in this effort but there were not so many people who felt that a secular government had no right to exercise its state power for the support of any particular religion. The general public opinion for the implementation of this Buddhist policy was that the people triumphed together with the government for a justified cause and highly moral reason. For a while, people forgot that this government they stood together in this project was an illegitimate de facto regime. Even the members of the elected party of the opposition, NLD (National League for Democracy) forgot their long-lasting smothering conflict with those tricky tyrants. Burma has been free from any dissent, disharmony and frustration for a moment with her people bonded with same federalist mentality in their coming together at deep spiritual level. The accomplishment of this rebuilding project of the Shwe Dagon Pagoda became a national triumph for the government, as well as for the opposition, and for the people.
In fact, when they overthrew the democratic civilian government in 1962, one of the critical claims from the military leaders who called themselves as revolutionaries, was that they revolted against the religious tyranny of their antecedent government, who had declared Buddhism as the state religion as the overthrown government had promised to people in their election campaign. The Revolutionary Council who crowned themselves as the saviors of the union, declared Burma as a secular state after their military coup. The irony was that the government's religious policy have been always in favor of Buddhism and the oppressed and the privileged alike came to help with the military whenever they pointed out some exquisite cause in the crusade Very interesting- given this strong commitment to Buddhism from so many what is the source of even a pro forma assertion of the state being purely "secular" of Buddhism.
Burma has never experienced a country of religious freedom in terms of Jeffersonian philosophy of freedom of mind. Perhaps, the Burmese Buddhist monks are one of the most arrogant religious classes on earth since the state has already spoilt them and granted the full legitimacy for their religious aristocracy. In fact, Buddhism itself is the most down-trodden religion, suffering from the mental tyranny of its priests. The members of other religious kinds could interpret and print their cannons as far as their freedom of conscience in connect with God may allow them but there was no Burmese Buddhist who was allowed to express the Buddha's authentic original words of liberty and tyranny.
When this author wrote a small booklet of Buddha's essential quotes in 1984, the ministry of religious affairs enforced the publisher of the book to omit all the words of freedom that are around 40 to 50 in count in a single booklet. In fact, the book was sponsored by a Bhutan Buddhist foundation and the president of the sponsor foundation steadfastly tried to bribe the officials of the ministry to preserve the sentences as original as this author had written. After persistent continuous struggles for more than one year, the ministry allowed the original sentences but this time they did mandate that we must drop off one word from the original writing. The single word to be dropped is tyranny. So the gov't wants to use Buddhism for support their rule- then why claim to be secular?
History never furnishes an example of a priest-ridden people holding a free civil government. The writer of the Virginia Statute of religious freedom believed nation building should be based on the separation of the church and the state. Liberty is not only the freedom from the physical tyranny of the government and but it also is the freedom of God-gifted human mind from the mental tyranny of the priests. Jefferson thought the ongoing fight of our people for liberty essentially involves rationalization of human mind to curb contamination from priests' irrational mystification. But, while the US is very committed to separation of church and state the UK has an established church and a democratic government.
Consistent with Jefferson's thought, Burma was a perfect example of the priests contributing their mental tyranny to enormously help with the physical tyranny of an undemocratic regime. However, Mr. Jefferson should be surprised at why Burmese were able to feel only the physical tyranny of more rational gun-men but they never felt mental tyranny of mystical saffron-robed guys and even soberly adored them. This is a good question that might help understand Burma As Helena said in A mid summer night's dream, "The more you beat me, the more I try to win your heart. Neglect me, lose me; I only ask you to treat me like your dog and let me follow you".
In effect, the mind of Burmese is enslaved by irrational priest craft as a priest-ridden country. Civic freedom is always a mid summer dream. However, the opposite is true and this is the case why Burmese, as seen from the angle of a naked man in nature as American founding fathers based their hypothesis of social contract, was happy to follow with Buddhism even if its corrupted tyrants mercilessly beat them. The missing piece from Mr. Jefferson's story, that Jefferson himself might not have expected but was sure to be glad to find it as his taste as a deist, is that the essential philosophy of Buddhism was based on the essential principles of liberty and equality of mankind. It may be the power of an absurd double think that a reader may forget everything from this essay. The political philosophy of Burmese, which was based on the spiritual philosophy of Buddhism, provided their mind to love liberty and equality more than any Asian national. Paradoxically it legitimized the triumph of different manifestations of tyranny to be agreeable and to live passively with it. A raven or a dove, a lover or a tyrant? This is not a dilemma but equally true flipsides of a coin for the Burmese bottom. The story of a tyrant is what began. interesting
A thousand years ago, the first Burmese empire of this largest nation with the wealthiest resources in South East Asia was built by a Tibeto-Burman king, Anawratha by crushing his rival feuds in this region. Before the reign of Anawratha, this region which was more or less sub-Indian in culture seemed to be mostly influenced by Mahayanist Sect of Northern Buddhism. Nobody exactly knows what sect of Mahayanist had been prevailing in this region; however, it was evident that the military government of Anawratha had strong hostility against the Mahayanist priests' influence over the state. Most probably, the pre-Anawratha age might be a bit similar to Samurais' age of Japan where Buddhist priests were mostly overwhelming in feudal lands of society. The crush upon the priests might be a similar stereotype with the rising modern Japanese government in dethroning the Samurai priests in their cause for building a modern nation. One record showed that 60,000 Buddhist priests were cruelly assassinated during this revolutionary time. What was the difference between the Eastern revolutionaries and the founding fathers of America? It was prudence with what founding fathers act for social revolution but the eastern despots didn't. The strength of the right judgment earned from critical rational thinking was seriously weak in these motivated and arrogant men of the East. They might prepare twenty four hours a day for their massive deployment skills of war but no Eastern heroic soul has ever imagined learning fifteen hours a day like Mr. Jefferson just for improvement of the spiritual knowledge.
Anawratha tried to vindicate his atrocious act by pointing the example of a pro-Buddhist king, Utayna' s prosecution of anti Buddhist priests in Buddha's enlightenment era, even citing that he was following the merit of Asoka, the greatest Indian Buddhist emperor , who fanned out Buddhism in many parts of the world. What he might never have noticed was that the Buddhist principle steadfastly upheld by King Asoka was religious tolerance with all kinds of religions. He seemed to be even more fearful of the tyranny of priests than Mr. Jefferson did but seemed to be smarter than Mr. Jefferson in not making frank opposition with all kinds of prevailing religions of his consolidated nation. After crushing a single so-called wrong Buddhism, he stopped. His triumph over the Southern part of Burma took a perfect opportunity by taking another sect of Buddhism as a national religion, namely Theravada that means the teaching of the elders. This time, Anawratha could safely claim his cause in assassination of numerous Buddhist priests, their followers and rebels because he could now be viewed as a person of merit born to serve the originality of Buddhism preserved by the Heavenly Elders. His arrogance and war could then be justified with a crusader's cause .Interesting- transforming a political persecution into a religious crusade- this was pretty common in Europe in the age of the "Wars of Religion" Maybe Anawratha's mind was calming down by finding his excludability as the search for the rational unity of mankind from Buddhism. In the post-bellum time, he built numerous dams for poor farmers saying "With my right hand, I will give you crops of paddy; with my left hand, I will wipe out tears from your eyes". Feudalism had been ended. The absolutism and state paternalism of the welfare for all emerged, but with a significant exception from the European countries. With the merit of Theravada tradition in Burmese history, there has been no claim of some animals that they are more equal than others.
The ruling passion of Anawratha, that most likely was his self-fulfilling prophecy of a tyrant, in his cause for the reign of Theravada for the rational harmony of mankind has been carried forward as the great spirit of the majority of Burmese. It is more or less similar to Hegelian philosophy of human evolution moving toward the greatest rational spirit, an illusion of empiricists as the critical realist Karl Popper rejected as irrationality. Nevertheless, the Burmese Great Spirit started from King Anawratha has been always a useful propaganda machine of numerous military tyrants to put people in collectivism in their hefty missionary history that they could never succeed so. The paradox is odd enough. Even if they uphold such kind of highest racial attitude, Burmese have no tradition of discriminating a person on their race and religious ground. Racism is regarded as the greatest problem to liberty struggles in America; religionism was also the problem of clashes of Christian sects during founding fathers' time. Those problems can never sow a seed in the rational mind of a Burmese Buddhist who identifies his ID with a Burmese Buddhist superego. This entails the country never have its social problems for its different religions and the vast diversity of races. Are there significant numbers of non-Buddhists in Burma? I know that there are number of non-Burmese, in the north. Is their discrimination or tensions around this? However, the institutional arrangements did as if these are the overwhelming problems in Burma. These institutional arrangements did exert their tyranny over all non-discriminatingly including Burmese Buddhists, perhaps the most suffering majority who suffered the most serious oppression.
Hayek in his boring and unsuccessful but very brilliant The Constitution of Liberty indicated a serious problem arisen from the sense of inner liberty. Stephen Covey in his best seller Seven habits of highly effective people ,a pro-inner liberty book arguing that even a Nazi prisoner who didn't know which day he would be prosecuted had complete happiness if he could be assured himself that nobody had the power to control his mind imagining as a bird for flying in the sky. This is the same problem of the Burmese liberty. When the essentials of Buddhism boldly asserted freedom as the inalienable promise of all human beings, Burmese never see freedom as the outside freedom contrary to the fact that Buddha was thinking freedom from both sides. Is this an argument that suggests that the spirituality of the Burmese makes them more willingness to accept worldly oppression? How far would you go on this? However, from the merit of Buddha's eminent struggle against the danger of discrimination of the impending caste system in India, Burmese benefited the complete denial of any ascriptive status in their tradition. See the question above India during the Buddha's enlightenment era was more or less a metaphor of the priest-ridden country exactly as Jefferson's thought experiment imagined. The priests had started to claim themselves as the representatives of the Brahmin (the same concept as Creator) since they were born from the God's head. All others else were born from the mouth, arms or feet, relatively unimportant parts of the Brahmin body so that all others else were lower and only the Brahmin class, the priest class was superior. This was the start of the journey of the corrupted Hinduism that Buddha seriously took his challenge. In his famous Vasettha Suttra, Buddha declared his philosophy by saying:
He who makes his living by serving his master(s) is a slave, not a Brahmin.
He who makes his living by stealing or robbing is a thief, not a Brahmin.
He who makes his living by holding the weapons is a soldier, not a Brahmin.
He who makes his living by governing the wealth and resources of the soil is a king, not a Brahmin.
He who makes his living by priestly craft is a ritualist, not a Brahmin.
Just by his ascriptive status of either heredity or inheritance, I don't call he is a Brahmin. Yet, he is still flinched from the dart of fear and is merely a coward.
He who doesn't have fear, who doesn't have a seizing (free from dogmatism, violence, arrogance), I call him a Brahmin".
No spiritual advantage could be claimed by just any ascriptive status: this is the foundation of Buddha's philosophy in his humanism philanthropy. In fact, in this cannon text, Buddha started his argument with the same Thomas Jefferson's statement but slightly different and more Darwinian words, "all men were born equal". "Vasettha, only animals, reptiles and fishes are different from each other. The genetic transcription matters in invertebrates and still evolving mammals because they rely on their difference in genetic transcription for survival advantage. For human, their genetic transcription has no difference and it doesn't matter for human survival. Unlike animals, human survival and liberty is based on reason. I assure you that there is no difference in all humans (crushing Brahmin priest's claim that they are different) and all humans are born equal with the same set of codons in their genetic code for their road to liberty".
This non-ascriptive equalness was benevolently brought to the Burmese tradition. The complete denial of ascriptive status was reflected in Burmese names which don't have a surname as the surname that is the indicator of heredity is not regarded as important. Very interesting- in the west surname may have grown around property and its transmission Burmese don't know who their grand-grand fathers were as they don't think it makes sense to remember them. As if the class has no meaning to Americans, the class struggle of communism is no sense for Burmese Buddhists as Buddhism already affirmed them that there is no difference of humans so there is no class. A bit of a jump- can't people have differences that are related to the means of production. Renters verse owners of farm land for example? Communism could never be a concern for this country even if the military government holds that they are the great fighters against communists and sometimes tend to say communism is a threat to the nation. They just say only sometimes for the defense of their legitimacy as federalists since they understand well that it doesn't make any sense for them and all others else for this country. No communist book was read by the population because the core terms are all meaningless such as "class clashes" and "proletariats' revolution". If there is no class, how come a class clash happens? If you never feel yourself as a bottom proletariat (as you are the same equal with anybody else in your liberty), how can a proletariat's revolution can happen? Even the most ardent communists who were driven away into the jungle by the current military regime didn't' understand for what they have been fighting for and what revolution is taking place.
The main argument of this essay was there was no connection of the political philosophy of Burmese society that was essentially based on Buddhism with its deliberate institutional arrangements. As mostly noticed, Burmese were driven out of any kind of external liberty but interestingly, the little known fact is that their inner liberty could enjoy happier than any miserably struggling creature for liberty on earth. The institutional arrangements of Burma are the products of the natural history of tyranny as tyranny always tries to overprotect itself and is ravenous in consolidating more and more power, so it corrupts more and more to be deviated from the Buddhist natural path of modesty and equality. For traditional Buddhism, the Buddhist church and the state were completely separated. Even when Buddha didn't deny accepting donations from the kings, he prescribed the rule that every monk has to walk from house to house for asking for the food, an evident counter defense mechanism to protect his monks to live with the public rather than the contamination from the state. This was a very important testament in Theravada tradition and in fact, it was also human laziness of monks to free-ride with the state so that they submit to become the compatriot tyrants. Almost all monks know they violate the rule by not begging food from the public but the circumstances made the modern monks violate Buddha's bureaucracy and act as they wish themselves to be.
The reason why people are always collaborating with the government for an eminent Buddhist cause was because Buddhism was the greatest symbol of their human honor for liberty. Good, back to the core question As a systemically created closed society, even though they do never experience the practical external liberty, their conscience and imagination for ultimate liberty can overtake any kind of unfinished liberty portrait on earth. The upholding of highest racial attitude was a super ego defense mechanism especially when every resource and opportunity for their external liberty is prohibited by the tyrants for many ages. The lack of education based on critical thinking is also a plus with this problem. All over and above, the state also helps with this kind of thinking as psychological solace of the oppressed and its probable help for collectivism. In fact, collectivism is almost an unpractical aim for the military for decades no matter they have tried hard in many ways to make it succeed. The reason again is Buddhism which is essentially individualistic and no submissiveness of a group's act. Ok Overly individualistic, moral relativism is another kind of problem overwhelming in Burma, that is restrained by the Buddhist teaching of Dharma which stresses the importance of prudence and overrule of not violating negative rights over the fulfilling and the claim of the entitlement for positive rights. Literally, Burma seems to be paradoxically more peaceful and more socially cohesive than any other authoritarian country for the inner liberty of Burmese has the same principles with the philosophy of founding fathers of America and recognition of the liberty of Americans, but with some more or less serious problems of irrational illusions from the lack of critical thinking based education. Without the development of a policy for implementation of critical thinking based education, as Jefferson imagined and also practically and disappointingly happened in Burma, mankind has to forever live under the mental tyranny of mystification from priests.
In brief, the Burmese approach to Buddhism is Washingtonian and as Washington could envision, they earn the moral merit with their favor to a particular religion, however, at the same time they suffer heavily the calculation from the Jeffersonian thought of the priest-ridden problems. An interesting question might be whether the Washingtonian approach can be hoped to be more successful by earning the merits and purge out its Jeffersonian demerits by adopting the Jeffersonian tool of critical thinking based public education. However, in principle, the Jeffersonian thought of the freedom of religion demands that any kind of church not depending on its merit or miracle needs to be separated from the state. As an ardent supporter to the abstract concept of the veil of ignorance rather than practical utilitarian methodology, I may prefer to the exclusive Jeffersonian approach rather than a Washingtonian method or mixed method even if these approaches have very high merits for the majority. Tyranny of the majority should always be the greatest concern for us.
A most interesting paper. Very educational. It might have been improved a bit if you had considered this intital issue more consistency and in depth- the support of the Temple crossing political lines while not erasing them.