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Daw Suu's Letter from Burma #50

Mainichi Daily News, Monday, November 25, 1996


Letter from Burma (No. 50) by Aung San Suu Kyi

	Those who have to face persistent political persecution become highly
politicized.  Our lives take on a rhythm different from those who, on waking
up in the morning do not need to wonder who might have been arrested during
the night and what further acts of blatant injustice might be committed
against our people later during the day.  Our antennae become highly
sensitive to vibrations barely noticed by those whose everyday existence is
removed from political struggle.  But still, our lives are not all politics,
we have our personal concerns, our intellectual and cultural interests and
our spiritual aspirations.  The spiritual dimension becomes particularly
important in a struggle in which deeply held convictions and strength of
mind are the chief weapons against armed repression.
	The majority of the people of Burma are Buddhists and it is traditional for
us to gather together on religious occasions to renew our spiritual strength
and our ties of friendship.  The National League for Democracy, like many
other organizations in the country, tries to observe major religious
festivals.  But it is not always easy.  The authorities accuse us of using
religion for political purposes, perhaps because this is what they
themselves are doing, or perhaps because they cannot recognize the
multidimensional nature of man as a social being.  Our right to freedom of
worship has become threatened by the desire of the authorities to curtail
the activities of our party.  This was made particularly obvious in a
supplication addressed by the Minister for Religious Affairs to the abbot
members of the State /sangha/ (community of Buddhist monks) organization on
Sept. 29, 1996.
	This supplication accused the NLD of infiltrating its party members into
various levels of the sangha with a view to creating misunderstandings
between the government and the sangha.  It also accused the NLD of
instructing its members to enter the religious order to promote the cause of
their party and to commit subversive acts.  (Somewhat baffling statement,
that one.  It is difficult to see how committing acts of subversion could
promote the cause of the NLD.)  Therefore sangha organizations had been
"instructed to contact and cooperate with the relevant state/division,
township and ward authorities and take protective measures against dangers
to religion."  In other words action should be taken to prevent members of
the NLD from entering the ranks of the sangha.
	It is customary for Burmese Buddhist boys to spend some time as novices in
a monastery that they might learn the basic tenets of Buddhism and bring
merit to their parents who are responsible for arranging their ordination.
In addition, many Burmese men when they have passed the age of 20 enter the
religious order again for varying periods of time as fully ordained monks.
The supplication of the Minister of Religious Affairs to the state sangha
organization seemed to be aimed at curtailing the right of members of the
NLD to pursue the traditional religious practice.  If the authorities truly
believe in the accusations leveled against our party in the supplication,
they must indeed be out of touch with reality.
	But amidst the morass of political repression, intimidation, officially
organized acts of anarchy and interference in our right of worship, we
gained a brief respite from worldly concerns in the celebration of
/kathina/.  This ceremony takes place after the end of the rainy season
retreat and lasts for one month, from the first day of the waning moon of
/Thadingyut/ (this day fell on Oct. 28 this year) until the full moon day of
/Tazaungdine/ (Nov. 25).  Participation in the kathina ceremony, of which
the major feature is the offering of new robes, relieves monks of the
disciplinary rules to some extent and therefore those donors who arrange the
ceremony gain merit.
	The NLD made an offering of kathina robes at the Panditarama Monastery this
year.  It was good to gather to perform a common act of merit.  It was good
to listen to the discourse of Sayadaw U Pandita, to ponder over his words of
wisdom and to reflect on the meaning of the ceremony.  We Burmese believe
that those who perform good deeds together will meet again through the cycle
of existence, bonded by shared merit.  It was good to think that if I am to
continue to tread the cycle of existence I shall be doing so in the company
of those who have proved to be the truest of friends and companions.  Many
of us attending the ceremony came together eight years ago to commit
ourselves to the cause of democracy and human rights and we have remained
together in the face of intense adversity.  There were also many missing
faces, the ones who had died, the ones who were in prison.  It was sad to
think of them.  But still, it was good to be able to take time off from the
political routine, to enjoy a small, precious spiritual respite.

* * * * * * * *

(This article is one of a yearlong series of letters.  The Japanese
translation appears in the Mainichi Shimbun the same day, or the previous
day in some areas.)