Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Monks as Agents of Change

So far as the tradition in the Buddhism is concerned, worldly affairs are beyond the concern of the monks. Instead, achieving the purity of life and spiritual happiness become a life time dedication for these holy men. Once a Buddhist decides to choose a life as a monk, he/she has to relinquish his/her worldly desires and surrenders his/her life for the sake of spiritual happiness.

Recent phenomena, however, seem to have shown a departure from this tradition. Recent incidents of worldly affair involving these holy men described the better half of a monk's life. In Myanmar, they marched down the streets of Myanmar's major cities to demand the restoration of democracy and justice there. The endless suffering of the Myanmar people at the hands of the military junta has transported the monks beyond their spiritual lives.

Similarly, the latest incident in Tibet seemed to echo the previous monk-inspired social agitation in Myanmar. The Tibetan monks marched down the street of Lasha, the capital of Tibet, in a peaceful demonstration to demand freedom and abolition of injustices there. The Chinese iron rule in Tibet has made the Tibetans suffer. The Tibetans have been facing grave injustices from the decade long Chinese occupation.

But why did these monks rebel and go against the Buddhist tradition of non-interference on worldly affairs?

The answer to the question might come from the fact that monks are also human, like the rest of the population. They are integral part of the society, the most respected one in a Buddhist society. Even though the life of a monk is dedicated solely to the non-worldly affairs and the attainment of spiritual happiness but being in the highest order in the society, the monks are responsible for keeping the balance of life in the society. Thus, the presence of any form of injustice which obstructs the balance of life in a society cannot be tolerated and should be banished. The decision by the monks to choose the path of agitation through peaceful demonstrations should not be construed as a departure from their tradition of non-interference on worldly affairs. Instead, it is their responsibility to fight against injustices as an implementation of Buddha's teachings.

In Myanmar, the monks could no longer tolerate the injustices suffered by the Myanmar people. Their rights as the citizens of the State have been robbed and curtailed by the military junta that long has been controlling the small, natural resource rich nation in Southeast Asia. Thus, it was time for the monks to fight against this injustice and peacefully march down the street to assert moral pressure to the authority. They hoped that their peaceful march would turn into noise that could be heard by the authority and injustice in Myanmar can be abolished.

The latest incident involving the Buddhist monks in Tibet bore similarity to the one in Myanmar. The Tibetan monks could no longer tolerate the control of the Chinese government there. The Tibetan people have been robbed from their basic rights. Acceding to the data from London School of Economic, the double digit annual economic growth in Tibet fails to improve the socio-economic condition of the Tibetans. The minority Han community in Tibet are the one who benefits the most from it while the majority of the Tibetans are living in poverty. 40 percent of them are illiterate and only 15 percent Tibetans are educated, the lowest in China (60 percent). The Tibetan people must thus fight for their freedom and the monks led the way.

Not all the initiatives by these holy men, however, resulted in positive change. In Myanmar, the junta responded the demonstration with force and violent response. They arrested the monks and threatened these holy men not to repeat the act or face severe consequences. The demand for change went into deaf ears and injustice prevails.

Similarly, the demand for greater autonomy in Tibet that long has been advocated by Dalai Lama has so far not yielded any positive result. Tibet is still under the iron control of the Chinese government and the Tibetans are still suffering from injustice, both socially and economically.

It is important to note here, however, that in both Myanmar and Tibet the Buddhist monks have played important role in advocating change and fighting against injustices in their society. Even though their valiant efforts have not yet yield any visible change but they have played a role as agents of change. And better change is arriving, sooner rather than later.