The human rights situation in Burma (Myanmar) took a decided turn for the worse in late October when the ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) arrested hundreds of monks and opposition leaders in an attempt to quell continued unrest. Reports from Rangoon (Yangon) on November 6 indicated the SLORC was obstructing the efforts of a United Nations-appointed investigator to examine the human rights situation in Burma.
Dissolution of Buddhist Organizations: On October 20, SLORC dissolved all monastic organizations except for nine sanctioned by the state, apparently in retaliation for the leading role taken by monks in the protests against military rule. The organizations dissolved included the Young Buddhist Monks organization, the Sangha Samaggi Organization and the Abbots Sangha Samagga Organization. On October 21, local military commanders were given “martial law judicial powers” to act against the illegal organizations.
From October 22 to 25, security forces raided several monasteries in Mandalay, including the Mahamuni, Mogaung, Htilin, Masoyein, New Masoyein, Sagu, Gwaygyo and Myataung monasteries. At least forty monks were believed to have been arrested in the initial raids and as many as three hundred since then.
U Khemasara, the abbot of the Mahamuni Monastery, who was identified as a leader of a movement to boycott religious services for military personnel and their families, was among those arrested and is still believed to be in custody.
Burma’s Jungle Monastery: Building Hope in a Dark Time
According to a report issued by the All Burma Young Monk’s Union (ABYMU), “80 percent of Burmese monks have been moving for human rights and democracy with the oppressed people of Burma since 1988.” Approximately three hundred monks have left their monasteries and are living in the jungle on the Thai-Burma border with the thousands of students who fled certain death by the military for uncertain survival on the frontier. Monks and students alike suffer from malaria, malnutrition and military attack, but they are determined to stay until the military is toppled and a democratic Burma can be created.
I spoke with several of the ABYMU monks in Bangkok in February, at an International Network of Engaged Buddhists conference. They have asked for our financial help in constructing a monastery in the jungle, where they can live, practice, teach, ordain novices and carry on their traditional Buddhism. The monks feel that many of the students and ethnics living along the border will study and ordain in the monastery, which will be a place of refuge, safety and education in the hostile jungle environment.
The monks estimate that $2000 will suffice for a building to house 30–40 ordained and funds beyond that can build individual practice huts (kutis). It is my hope that we in the western Theravadan sangha can raise this money for our fellow practitioners in Burma, whose exemplary lives are so worthy of our support. Funds for the monastery will be carefully administered by the Santi Pracha Dhamma Institute in Bangkok; 100 percent of the money collected will be directly channeled to the building project. Tax-deductible checks may be made out to: Karuna Center.
Companion articles in this issue of Inquiring Mind:
Journey into Terror, by Alan Clements
Burma: Tragedy in a Forgotten Land, by Paula Green