Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Burma Petitions


I wanted to offer a few personal reflections on events in Myanmar/Burma: more particularly to say something about the responses that are being encouraged. For the sake of brevity, and underlining that these are personal views, I’ll just make two points: one of the petitions had a sentence saying something like, ‘We pledge to hold you to account’ – well, I think that’s coercive. Fostering a retributive state of mind is to call on the power mode of being, the opposite of what the Buddha as the way to freedom from suffering. Of course, one might consider that, intentionally exercising power in horrible ways against unarmed people, the authorities are in fact setting up causes for their own suffering. To take any comfort from this view of others having suffering coming is not skilful! To say that I pledge to get my own back is still to threaten the use of power. However, the Amnesty International letter doesn’t fall into the trap of joining in trading with the regime’s power-based currency. You can find it at http://web.amnesty.org/pages/mmr-270907-action-eng

My other point also leads towards the Amnesty International website (as a starting-point). Am I the only one to be a bit uneasy with all this rallying to a Buddhist-linked cause? What about Darfur, China, Uganda? I would like to find that my practice leads me to stand with humans suffering horribly, whether they’re Buddhist or not. It just seems a bit tribal that Buddhists support Buddhists and don’t go on to highlight the range of horrible extremes of suffering around the globe about which we can pretty simply express our opinions. This has been a prompt to me to be more active in Amnesty letter-writing and not to flinch from the more disturbing aspects of the cruelty that Amnesty addresses. Hands-up, though: I could do more to get around to actually writing those letters, so am in no position to feel comfortable here.

What do others think?

Click on "Comments" below



  1. Thanks to Palaka for his thought provoking piece on the petitions for Burma. We had a similar discussion last week at our West Wight Sangha meeting and the majority broadly took a similar line to Palaka. So what follows, therefor, is very much my personal take on the issue.

    Palaka's first point re: the wording of petitions is perfectly valid. We should try to practice "Right (skillful) Speech" in all circumstances, including what we put our names to. Equally to withhold our compassion from the oppressor is unskillful. It would therefor seem that the "Buddhist" thing to do is to actually read what you're signing!

    As to unease with rallying to a Buddhist-linked cause, do we ignore it because we're Buddhists? Yes we should "stand with humans suffering horribly, whether they're Buddhist or not" and wherever they are. Personally I have signed many a petition and donated to many a charitable cause, as no doubt have other readers of this. The vast majority of these have had nothing to do with either Buddhists or "Buddhist Countries".

    Why then do we have to exclude Burma?

  2. Include Burma! Include all humans!

    My point here is that there’s potential for falling into the wrong view of identifying with the suffering of Buddhists more than with the suffering of other humans. We might feel that we have a sense of spiritual kinship - but that is to identify relatively superficially, something that, surely, we're seeking to move beyond, finding an experience of deeply-felt, natural connection with all that lives, unmediated by concepts of 'the same as me' or 'different from me'.

    However, as so often, this is 'work in progress'! For myself, and probably for some others, it'll be practical to contribute in only a tiny way to speaking out against the enormous suffering experienced as a result of basic human rights abuses. So, as an active step, I'd suggest that one possible way of contributing is via the Amnesy 'Act Now' site, http://www.amnesty.org/actnow/ so that we at least sense that we have some creative response to offer in the face of such terrible things affecting people's lives, in Burma and elsewhere.

    There are other human rights groups out there. Any suggestions?