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.

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