Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds
Editor: The following is an investigation into the ongoing political crisis and movement for democracy in Myanmar through the reportage of a blog, InsightMyanmar.org, written by an American Buddhist in Myanmar.
I don’t know the identity of all the owners of this blog and podcast. Their names are not published anywhere on the site that I can find. Joah McGee is listed as an author of the predecessor blog, BurmaDhamma.blogspot.com, and the guide to Buddhism in Burma, The Golden Path. I listened to the first podcast episode, introducing the podcast. It’s immediately apparent that the podcast host is an American Buddhist. He [unnamed, possibly Joah McGee]states that his goal for the podcast was to produce an audio companion to The Golden Path for foreign visitors and meditators interested in dhamma practice in Myanmar.
Joah has been publishing blogs on Buddhism in Myanmar since 2013. (The expulsion of the Rohingya by the Tatmadaw military began in 2012.) The podcast began on January 19, 2020, just before the start of the global coronavirus pandemic, although it was probably in preparation for many months before that.
InsightMyanmar.org early blog and podcast entries begin in 2020 with stories and conversations with Buddhist monks, mostly European or American and English-speaking, and their dhamma practice. It then turns to the immediate crisis of the pandemic, and then following the national elections and the military coup in February 2021, begins to cover the popular resistance to the violent regime of the Tatmadaw. The latest blog posts cover the ongoing democratic resistance in great detail.
My question about this blog, podcast, and especially the following post of May 6, 2021, is this: is the Civil Disobedience Movement in Myanmar pushing the religious Buddhists, particularly the Burmese Sangha, towards more radical political positions? If so, and there seems to be some evidence of this, how will that affect the Sangha and the practice of Buddhism in Burma?
[Blog author]: Myanmar is basically a Buddhist country, no matter who the leadership happens to be, so shouldn’t monks and meditators stay out of worldly affairs and just focus on their Dhamma practice, accepting without resistance whatever reality happens to manifest? This is the question I posed to Ashin Sarana, referencing that some meditators [who] are currently espousing these kinds of views, and wondering where he stood on it…U Sarana is also horrified to learn that some foreign practitioners buy into the argument that Buddhism can thrive no matter which ruler happens to be in power.
I believe that this is caused by lack of knowledge about history, because we need to understand the circumstances. So the idea that the military poses no threat to Buddhism, or that is basically that it is the same for the Buddhists whether there’s military or whether there’s democracy, is a very clear display of lack of knowledge about history, in Myanmar, and in other Buddhist countries as well. There’s a lot of historical knowledge that this person is missing. There are beautiful, detailed articles on 2007 revolution and 1988 revolution in Myanmar, and they contain very important details that show us why the military role is not appreciated.
[Blog author] Ashin Sarana is speaking out, and he’s prepared for the consequences. “I’m basically ready for everything,” the Czech monk tells us. “I’m ready that they will come and they will destroy property, I’m ready that they will arrest me, I’m ready that they will expel me.
Editor: The blog’s shift toward radical politics continues with this recent post of May 6, 2021, advocating for the Burmese to adopt a Buddhist Anarchism. It was written by an “American Buddhist Anarchist” who is not living in Burma, but its ideology is clearly supported by the blog authors.
So then the question is this: how can a person espouse Buddhist Anarchism and at the same time, espouse deep loyalty to the Buddhist Sangha, which is a religious hierarchy? That is a question that might have to be posed and answered in an upcoming Engage Dharma podcast.
The article itself is a lucid explication of Buddhist Anarchism, and worth reading to the end.
Today we received the following message and request to share this post, which we are doing. Enjoy!
I’ve really appreciated your coverage of the coup and revolutionary movement in Myanmar. I wrote this little essay in support from an anarchist perspective. If you like it, I’d appreciate you sharing it with your contacts who may also be interested, anarchist or not. Thanks for all the support you have been giving the movement. It is reaching people and helping build international support among meditators and engaged buddhist activists like myself.
To ensure that victory is achieved and peace is lasting, revolutionaries, especially those who are Buddhists, should consider these ideas.
Myanmar, also known as Burma: It is one of the world’s most devout Buddhist nations as well as one of the world’s most violent, home to the longest ongoing civil war in modern history. It is the birthplace of the modern insight meditation movement, which has planted roots all around the globe, spread the Dhamma and benefitted millions of lives at home and abroad. The insight meditation movement is itself a child of anti-colonial struggle, bringing true Dhamma to the people in order to protect the teachings in the face of Christian missionaries and British colonial influence. After winning independence from the colonizers and the military government multiple times, the people of Myanmar are once again fighting for dear life after the military coup which deposed the civilian government.
The current movement is winning. It is winning because it is very decentralized, leaderless and anti-authoritarian and employs a diversity of tactics to resisting the regime. The military can beat, kill, imprison and terrorize the people, but they cannot terrorize a leaderless , decentralized movement. The movement is also hard to destroy because it uses many tactics to meet its goals and supports itself. While the youth are risking their lives protesting in the streets, a massive movement of mutual aid, from trash collection to COVID relief to supporting government workers on strike, has taken form. Society is organizing itself in defense against the government’s terrorism, and it it is running things better than a corrupt government ruled by elites ever has or could.
Anarchism is a political philosophy which opposes domination and violence. Anarchists believe that the greatest sources of violence in the world are governments, with their militaries, police, prisons and discriminatory laws, and capitalism, which exploits, abuses and commodifies people, forcing them to work for a wage just to survive and giving the greatest benefits to those who work the least. The goal of anarchists is to bring about a liberated society through the process of social revolution. They advocate doing this by educating themselves and others to understand the situation they live in, imagining how to change it, and then organizing in social movements to challenge oppressive systems, so that they can be replaced with a more peaceful and just way of governing ourselves and making a living.
Buddhist anarchists are anarchists who believe that living according to anarchist values and advocating for anarchist goals is the best way to live according to the ethical prescriptions of the Buddha: to practice non-violence, generosity, compassion and right livelihood. Some buddhist anarchists may also pray or meditate both for their own liberation from suffering and for the liberation of all beings. Buddhist anarchists believe that complying with the unjust rules of society makes it almost impossible to follow the Buddha’s dhamma. Just to survive in this world we have to exploit, to cheat, to steal, to gain at someone else’s expense, and thus suffer the negative consequences of our actions. But Buddhist anarchists also believe that we can and must change the world so that every single person is free to work out his or her kamma and his or her liberation. Under the current system very few people have the time, the money or the education to lead an ethical life, much less pursue liberation. The world must be changed for the dhamma to live. We cannot put this off until a future life or force this responsibility on others. As the American Black Panther activist Assata Shakur once said, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Some demands of Buddhist Anarchists: