[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index
SLORC's Abuses of Buddhism Part II
- Subject: SLORC's Abuses of Buddhism Part II
- From: brelief@xxxxxxx
- Date: Wed, 12 Feb 1997 23:40:00
Pre-SLORC abuses of Buddhism
Suppression and manipulation of Buddhism did not begin with SLORC. Ne Win,
who assumed power in the military coup of 1962, recognized early that
Buddhism, because of its independent nature and because of Burmese monks'
traditional involvement in political affairs, was a grave threat to his
In 1965, when monks refused the government's attempt to gain control over
the Sangha at Hmawbi, Ne Win arrested more than seven hundred monks. Some
of these were shamefully abused and imprisoned.
In the demonstrations which erupted in Rangoon when the military blocked a
proper funeral for U Thant (Secretary-General of the United Nations) in
1974, several monks were bayonetted and shot, and six hundred more arrested.
In 1976, Ne Win launched a media campaign against Ven. U La Ba, a brave and
persistent critic of the military government. The trumped-up charges,
including murder and cannibalism, were obviously meant to shock the populace
and to defame the Sangha.
In 1978, many more monks and novices were arrested, disrobed, and
imprisoned. Some were even sent as porters to the front line of the civil
war. Valuable monasteries were closed and their property seized by the
government. That same year, Ven. U Nayaka, a senior and respected monk,
died in jail after being brutally tortured.
Throughout Ne Win's rule, military propaganda became increasingly strident,
relentlessly lauding the military and claiming that soldiers sacrificed
everything for the country while monks were shameless parasites.
Monks in the forefront of the 1988 democracy movement
In 1988, monks, advocating non-violence and peaceful protest, were again at
the forefront of the massive demonstrations for democracy . According to
authoritative estimates, more than 10,000 people, including 600 monks, were
killed by the army during August and September. In many cases, soldiers
stripped dead monks of their robes and secretly disposed of the bodies.
Following the coup by Gen. Saw Maung on September 18, when SLORC was
established, hundreds of monks fled to the jungle along the borders.
Any monk who had been involved in the demonstrations, but who remained in
Burma, was subject to surveillance, harassment, and arrest. A young monk in
Mandalay, Ven. U Koweinda was arrested in June 1989 and sentenced to 10
years in prison. In 1990, his sentence was extended to 15 years because he
was suspected of being the leader of a riot which had broken out in Mandalay
Prison. At some point he was transferred to Katha Prison in Sagaing
Division. (The SLORC often moves prisoners around like this to prevent
their being traced.) All Burma Young Monks' Union, an association of monks
who have fled Burma, has confirmed that Ven. U Koweinda died there in
October 1994. Since he was only in his thirties, it is suspected that he
died from torture or maltreatment.
In July 1989, a senior monk in Mandalay, Ven. U Kawainda, who had been one
of the leading advocates for human rights in 1988, was also arrested. SLORC
accused him of being a member of the Burmese Communist Party, but he
persistently denied the accusation. On September 9, 1991, BBC reported
that this monk had been tortured to death.
On July 6, 1989, the army committed the unprecedented desecration of
setting up barricades on the platform of sacred Shwedagon Pagoda and
searching all pilgrims. In an incident provoked by the soldiers, eleven
monks and seventeen students were killed. Subsequently, the pagoda was
closed for five days.
More monks punished for overturning the bowl
In SLORC's repression following the monks' boycott in 1990, one of those
arrested was Ven. U Thu Mingala. This highly respected monk, abbot of one
of the monasteries at Kaba Aye in Rangoon, is one of only five monks in
modern Burma to have memorized the entire Buddhist canon. After his
arrest, he was harshly treated and sent into internal exile in Kachin State.
Although he was not allowed to wear his monk's robes during his
imprisonment, he continued to observe vinaya as far as possible. When he
was finally released and returned to Rangoon in 1995, he resumed wearing his
robes with no loss of seniority.
Another senior monk, Ven. Jotika, a professor at the Sangha University in
Rangoon, who was more than 70 years old, was also arrested after the
boycott. Although he was suffering from intestinal cancer, he was denied
medical treatment and shackled to his bed, where he died in December 1992.
We cannot estimate how many other monks and novices have been similarly
arrested, disrobed, imprisoned, or tortured.
New controls on monasteries and pagodas
The military government in Burma has shown a marked lack of respect toward
Buddhist monasteries when considering any urban development. In 1987, there
were many cases where monastery property was confiscated without any
compensation to make way for other projects. The Moulmein Monastery, near
the Rangoon railway station, was confiscated to build a school. The
Seinyaungkyi Monastery, near Shwedagon Pagoda, was confiscated to build a
government office. About twenty other monasteries in Rangoon were
confiscated to build the Thowanna Stadium. In 1989, several temples near
Kyeikkassen Pagoda were confiscated to build a hospital. The abbot of one
of these monasteries, Wiluwon Monastery, was forced to flee to the Thai
border in l990 and is now taking shelter in a foreign country.
In Burma, monasteries and pagodas are administered by boards of trustees.
Their responsibility is to maintain the facilities, handle finances, and
carry out projects in the name of the patron monks. Traditionally, this has
been task of pious, highly respected men from the local community.
Beginning in about 1986 and rapidly increasing under SLORC, trustees have
been appointed from the ranks of retired military officers, many of whom
appear ignorant of proper monastery etiquette and awkward in a religious
setting. Under this new system of trusteeship, there has been not only a
marked decrease in religious activities but also much less accounting for
the donations from generous Burmese believers. Some pagodas have begun
charging foreigners an entrance fee in hard foreign currency. One can be
sure that such "donations" are not being used for "upkeep," but are instead
lining some green pockets.
While Burmese are not yet being charged entrance fees to Shwedagon,
trustees of the pagoda recently refused a senior member of NLD access to the
pagoda platform. On January 18, 1997, acting on information from SLORC,
they prevented U Tin Oo from proceeding up the pagoda stairs, claiming he
wasn't going for "purely religious reasons."
The Tooth Relic and forced labor
For the past two years Burma has been the scene of an inauspicious
extravaganza. In 1994, the People's Republic of China lent SLORC a relic, a
tooth of the Buddha. This sacred relic, accompanied by a vast entourage
from Beijing, was displayed throughout Burma. Of course, there is no
accounting for the millions of kyats received in donations during the tour.
One irony is, of course, that the Communist Chinese are avowed, implacable
enemies of Buddhism, oppressors of their own Mahayana Buddhists, and
publicly committed to the destruction of Esoteric Buddhism in
Now SLORC is building a pagoda to enshrine a replica of the relic. Much of
the work is being done by forced and prison labor. One former convict has
reported that at first he and fellow Buddhist prisoners welcomed the
opportunity to make merit by laboring on the construction of this pagoda.
They quickly realized, however, how harsh the working conditions were.
Despite the hellish Mandalay heat, prison authorities did not allow the
workers any rest time. Labor on the pagoda continued seven days a week.
The prisoners' worksites were isolated from outsiders, especially foreign
tourists. Prisoners were forced to work, often in manacles, from 7:00 AM to
5:00 PM, with only a lunch break. Local people sympathized with them and
attempted to give them cheroots and food, but this was not allowed. If
prisoners were found communicating with outsiders, they were beaten.
In addition to prisoners, every household in Mandalay has had to provide
labor. Hundreds of ordinary citizens, including women, school children, and
the elderly, have been forced to work on this relic pagoda. These people
are brought by truck each morning and taken home just before the prisoners
are transported back to jail. Civilian workers have to bring their own
food and tools. This labor is entirely unpaid.
Furthermore, wealthy residents and business people of Mandalay have been
ordered to donate money for the pagoda. School children and civil servants
have been required to give monthly donations. Another irony is that people
are being forced to contribute toward a pagoda which is being built on
confiscated land by forced and unpaid labor.
Across the country, in Sittway, Arakan State, another notorious SLORC
project is being carried out in the name of the religion. Hundreds of
prisoners as well as local citizens are being made to work on the
construction of a Buddha Museum. Working conditions there are so extreme
that people are calling it Dhukka Museum or "Museum of Suffering," instead
of Buddha Museum. The Burmese military frequently argues that donating
labor is a traditional form of Buddhist merit-making that others cannot
understand or judge. They have repeatedly claimed that donations and labor
for the Tooth Relic Pagoda and other projects have been willingly given by
people across the country. There is, however, incontrovertible evidence
that these projects have caused great suffering to the people and that they
are forced, brutal, and detested.
SLORC's creation of a Buddhist army
SLORC has done incalculable harm to Buddhism through its own creature, the
Democratic Kayin Buddhist Army (DKBA). DKBA was formed in December 1994
with the help and support of SLORC. DKBA presented itself as an alternative
to the Karen National Union (KNU), and it initially attracted a significant
number of rank-and-file Karen soldiers who were tired of being ill-fed and
ill-supplied at the frontlines while KNU leaders in Manerplaw lived
relatively well. The soldiers were also frustrated at the lack of
opportunity for Buddhists in the Christian-led hierarchy of the KNU. Many
villagers initially supported the DKBA, listening to its promises of finally
breaking the cycle of civil war and SLORC retribution against their
villages. SLORC deceived the DKBA, however, by promising that if they
helped destroy the KNU, Karen State would be theirs.
Several monks are said to be "spiritual" leaders of this group. A monk
named U Thuzana has played a major role in attracting people to the DKBA and
actually gives orders to DKBA commanders. In an interview with The Nation,
one of his deputies, another monk named U Yanika stated, "Tons of the
weapons belonging to the KNU are hidden inside the refugee camps inside
Thailand. We want those weapons, and, if the Thai army cannot give them to
us, we will go and get them ourselves." He admitted that the raids would be
intended to force the refugees to return to Burma, and he threatened more
violence unless all the Karen refugees return to SLORC-controlled Burma soon.
How can these monks advocate violence and still be monks? According to the
vinaya, they cannot. The Buddhist Monastic Code is quite clear: "Should any
bhikkhu [monk] intentionally deprive a human being of life . . . , then he
is defeated and no more in communion."
To deprive a human being of life includes: killing by direct contact,
killing at a distance, killing by arranging something which will kill,
killing using magical knowledge, killing with supernatural power, and
commanding. Commanding means inciting another person to commit a murder. A
monk commits the same offense if he assists in a murder or a suicide, which
would include not only finding an assassin, but also procuring weapons for
the would-be murder or suicide.
DKBA soldiers have said that when they go to Myaing Gyi Ngu, DKBA
headquarters and U Thuzana's monastery, they are also required to "drink
the monk's medicine," vowing to be loyal and to fight the DKBA's enemies to
the death. Sometimes this is water that contains a bullet or knife-tip,
with the idea that should the vow be broken, that weapon will return to kill
the soldier himself.
The DKBA has the deplorable distinction of being the first army in history
that has dared call itself Buddhist. Buddhism, which preaches non-harming
of living beings, has never been spread by means of the sword. For Buddhism
there is no righteous anger, let alone a righteous war, so a Buddhist army
is a gross contradiction in terms.
After playing a key role in the fall of the KNU headquarters, the DKBA,
with monks as its leaders, has carried out a terrorist campaign against
Karen refugees. They have abducted both Buddhist and Christian Karens from
camps, forced Christians and animists to "convert" to Buddhism, burned
thousands of refugee houses, and harassed and threatened the 74,000 Karen
refugees on Thai soil. Thai border police, Thai tourists, ordinary Thai
farmers, and Karen refugees?Christian, Buddhist, and animist alike?have died
at the hands of the DKBA. In early 1996, a large DKBA force attacked a
Thai Karen Buddhist monastery at Mae U Su, north of Mae Sot near the paved
road which parallels the border. In the late night attack, the DKBA
soldiers shot and killed a Buddhist monk and two other people. Then they
ransacked the monastery before retreating across the Moei River into Burma.
At the end of January 1997, Burmese and DKBA forces entered Thailand to
attack three refugee camps, burning hundreds of homes and killing three
people. Many of the soldiers were speaking Burmese, not Karen. As of this
writing, that combined SLORC/DKBA threat continues. With thousands of
troops poised to move again against the helpless refugees, a major SLORC
offensive and further shelling is feared.
The bowl is still overturned
Pattam nikkujjana kamma is not a permanent condition. If the person who
has been ostracized by the act gives up that wrongdoing and returns to good
behavior, the Sangha should settle that kamma, by "righting the bowl." Once
the Sangha has righted the bowl, monks can again associate with that person,
receive almsfood, and accept his invitations and offerings.
In spite of the massive amount of carefully documented evidence of SLORC's
human rights violations which has been compiled and presented in reports by
the United Nations, the US State Department, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty
International, and other reliable observers, the military regime adamantly
denies any wrongdoing. Despite the great harm it has done to Buddhism,
SLORC has never approached the Sangha to beg forgiveness. On the contrary,
the regime continues arresting, torturing, and killing monks; confiscating
monasteries; creating dissension; and defaming the Triple Gem. SLORC has
never repented for carrying out its evil acts of religious oppression in the
very name of Buddhism.
Monks in Burma have paid a tremendous price for opposing the regime, for
trying to end the dictatorship, and for speaking the truth. Some have died.
Many have suffered imprisonment and torture. Those who could no longer
endure the situation inside have fled to Burma's borders. The All Burma
Young Monks' Union and the Overseas Mon Young Monks' Union are both active
on the Thai border. The former also has branches in Bangladesh and India.
A few monks have found safety in foreign countries, but because of the close
relations between SLORC and the Thai government, trying to practice the
religious life can also be very precarious for Burmese monks in Thailand. A
monk who has neither a Myanmar passport nor aThai monk's card can be
arrested and deported, despite his genuine eligibility for asylum as a
As evidenced by the number of young monks who joined the students in
demonstrations in Rangoon in December 1996, there are still many monks who
deplore the military dictatorship but are unable to protest. At this time,
their only prudent course of action may be silence and patience. The
alternative would be martyrdom.
Despite the appearance of calm in the country and of submission by the
Sangha which SLORC wants the world to believe, the Sangha's judgment in
overturning the bowl remains valid and just. The military regime is an
unrepentant outcast to be ostracized by Buddhist monks of all sects, to be
shunned and opposed by Buddhist laypersons, and to be condemned by all.
For SLORC, the almsbowl remains overturned.
Buddhist Relief Mission
Supporting the Buddha Sasana Worldwide
266-27 Ozuku-cho, Kashihara, Nara 634, Japan
Tel: (07442) 2-8236 ? Fax: (07442) 4-6254
Ken and Visakha Kawasaki, Directors