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Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds

Monks and Military in Myanmar

I’d like to present this image of Buddhist monks in Myanmar offering food to the military in the midst of their attempted coup of Myanmar’s democracy, and their violent crackdown on democracy protesters. It is very clear what these monks are doing in this photo: they are giving food to members of the military. What is not clear to me is the meaning of this gesture and its political implications. So I’d like to offer some thoughts I had about its ambiguous meaning and possible interpretations.

  1. The Monks are giving food to the Military because they believe that if they show kindness to these soldiers, they will be more reasonable and less violent towards others. By this gesture, the Monks are actually protecting the people.
  2. The Monks are giving food to the Military because they are supporting the soldiers and possibly the military regime. According to some reports, soldiers have been deliberately deprived of food by their superiors to make them more angry and violent. By this gesture, the Monks are showing concern for the hungry soldiers.
  3. The Monks are giving food to the Military because they believe that if they show kindness towards the Military, they will be less violent towards the Monks and leave the monasteries unharmed. By this gesture, the Monks are protecting themselves.

So which of these interpretations, if any, are true? Could they all be true? All false? How do we interpret the motives and behaviors of others? What stereotypes and biases do we bring to our interpretations of other’s behavior? 

I have to admit that I thought all three interpretations could be true, possibly all at once. There’s a strong faction of Monks in Myanmar that oppose the coup and support the democratic resistance. There have also been reports of Monks who support the military regime. The facile reaction would be “The Monks should be giving food to the people who are resisting the coup and fighting for democracy, not the military.” Yes, that’s righteous as well, but perhaps the reasons for showing kindness towards the soldiers are just as good and important.

4 comments on “Monks and Military in Myanmar

  1. garyhorvitz
    2021/03/08

    I wrote you a substantial response to this post. Why isn’t it here?

    • Shaun Bartone
      2021/03/08

      Gary: I apologize, but I looked at the ‘Comments’ section of the WP admin and I don’t see any comments that haven’t been published. This is the first comment that I have from you (or anyone) on this post. I don’t know what happened, but is it possible that it didn’t publish to this post? If you send me what you wrote I’ll publish it myself.

      • garyhorvitz
        2021/03/09

        Sent you an email.

      • Shaun Bartone
        2021/03/09

        This comment is from Gary Horvitz, sent to Engage by email. (Ed. I didn’t write it.)

        There are a number of possible responses to this post worth considering. First, we should realize the Buddhist clergy is under great pressure from both the junta to bless their enterprise and from the NLD supporters to publicly stand for Buddhist ethics.

        Second, in view of this pressure, monks offering food to soldiers might be considered a gesture of painstaking neutrality. Nevertheless, this message from renunciates is surely that renunciation works both ways. The monks are not merely collecting merit for themselves but declaring directly to soldiers that now is a time for restraint.

        Third, it surely cannot be lost to the Buddhist leadership that the junta is a ruthless band of violent thugs, bent on whatever destruction is necessary to maintain control–like Assad in Syria or Maduro in Venezuela. And surely the way the junta in neighboring Thailand is dealing with outspoken monks–hunting them down (even outside Thailand) and disappearing them, is not lost on the clergy in Myanmar.

        Finally, think medieval Europe or the Rohingya atrocities or the last 4 decades in the US. There will always be religious extremists whose ethical standards are remarkably plastic when personal power or proximity to power is at stake. So while there may be some who are willing to contort themselves for personal benefit, there will also be others who will remain completely silent and still others who will manage safe, but clear messages adhering to Buddhist values without inciting overt repression.

        And by the way, here’s an article that might interest you.

        GH.

        Gary Horvitz

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This entry was posted on 2021/03/07 by .

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I do Tai Chi with Paul Read, the Teapot Monk, @ 21st Century Tai Chi Academy https://www.21stcenturytaichi.com/academy/89szm

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