Burma and Buddhists of the World Unite

New blog, new city and our first entry! Its been a long week with many closing shifts at X cafe where I work-- which really just means a lot of banal (and anal) cleaning, washing, stocking and boring tedious stuff like that. One good thing is that I don't have to deal w the customers when I am out back manhandling the dishes. Its exhausting to have to smile and be all polite when all I can think about in my mind is: Get Out!! Its closing time!!!

On a happier note, I've been spending some time this week researching
for an article on what's happening in Burma these days and its brought me into contact w some interesting Asian folks in Seattle. What's going on in Burma now is pretty horrendous. The military junta which has been in power for the last 40 plus years have been cracking down on the mass protests with brute military force: guns, beatings, torture and allegedly, even cremation of people who are still alive!! These are desperate measures to repress the mass protests, which seem to be partly spontaneous but also tied to an underground revolutionary organization consisting of the leaders of the "1988 generation," where a similar crackdown and massacre occurred to suppress popular uprisings. The monks in Burma who had joined in solidarity with the lay protesters have also gotten the beat-down. An absolute no-no for a Buddhist country like Burma, where even the most vile and powerful of leaders have to pay respects and provide alms for the monastic order as a way of establishing some form of legitimacy. Its inspiring to see monks stand in solidarity with political movements and brings to mind the Buddhist resistance movement in Vietnam in the 70s, where monks like Thich Naht Hanh broke with the more conservative and state-aligned national Buddhist church, and organized mass protests on the streets against the US invasion. He even wrote a manual for young Buddhist activists, teaching them how to meditate and maintain love and compassion, while protesting uncompromisingly against injustice. Really, fighting against oppression, doing what needs to be done at the present moment IS a practice of Zen mindfulness and "no-thinking" mind of being present always. Unfortunately, this tradition has been lost in the warm and fuzziness of the predominantly white and liberal American Buddhism who are happy only to see Buddhism as only an individual practice, always peaceful and non-threatening to the social order.

This image of protesters in Thailand, also another Buddhist country, made my day:

M made a really important insight a few days ago when I was raving about the potential for an international Buddhist solidarity movement. He pointed out the different ways in which Islam and Buddhism are perceived in terms of non-violence. To quote his email, he says "When there are popular street demonstrations in Palestine or Xinjiang they are not perceived as nonviolent but as a precursor or counterpart to armed struggle or "terrorism" , whereas resistance in Tibet and Burma is portrayed as nonviolent even when it actually is connected to revolutionary organizations and armed struggle." Whatever happened to the interfaith solidarity movement of the 70s? Thich Naht Hanh, the Vietnamese monk whom I refer to above, was an anti-Zionist who spoke out against the Zionist rabbi establishment when he was invited to Jerusalem for interfaith dialogs in the late 60s. He spoke openly of the hypocrisy of Zionist rabbis supporting the Vietnamese resistance movement while condoning the repression of Palestinians. I am not a Buddhist philosopher or historian, but there is something fishy going on in the way Buddhism is taken up in the US, in popular imagination, if it is merely portrayed as a non-violent alternative to the "violence of Islam." Yes, yet another way that Asians are portrayed as a "model minority" serving to support white supremacist beating down of other people of color!

My visit to the Burmese monastery down at Kent, WA was really interesting. Thanks to Tin, a Burmese student whom I met at University of Washington, when I went to show support for a Free Burma rally some students were organizing, I was able to communicate with the folks I met there. There were several young ethnic Karen children, an ethnic minority that has been suppressed by the predominantly ethnic Burmese military government. They had just arrived in town with their parents who had been living in the Mela refugee camp, located along the Thai-Burmese border, for eighteen years! It seems like as part of their "initiation" into a new life, the young kids were becoming monks for a short period of time, a practice that is quite common in Theravada Buddhism practiced in continental Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Cambodia and Burma. These young monks were so cute, climbing trees and making a ruckus when I bet they were supposed to be meditating!

The wide consensus of the US as the harbinger of benevolence and democracy has been dominant in the whole "Burma question." Bush, and Clinton before, have been supporting economic sanctions in Burma since 1997 and Bush has recently been pushing the UN for more internationally recognized economic sanctions and condemnation of the junta, especially w China, Russia and the EU. Not that these are bad things in and of themselves cos these capitalists don't have a conscience anyway, but then the fact that it's the same US that is in Iraq fomenting civil war, is trying to push for human rights in Burma is kinda a ridiculous notion. I will bet that the nationalist cynics back in Southeast Asia and China will be pointing out that the US intervention is a way of "one-upping" China, or more broadly, the rise of Asia, by posing itself as a more "human rights," "benevolent," "ethical" alternative to the Chinese economic giant that deals with dirty ol Burmese military junta. Pulling the wool over everyone's eyes, the US has made everyone believe that it doesn't reap any money off of the Burmese people's suffering. But really, Chevron (where Condi Rice once sat as a Board member) and Halliburton (Cheney's baby) have been shaking hands with the same evil Burmese military bigshots for a long time. The 1997 economic sanctions that Clinton passed only applied to new US companies which intend to enter Burma, not the ones that already there. I'm sure all sorts of conspiracy-theories can be spun from this, but I'll just leave it as the US's media gimmick for now.

peacing out for the night,

No comments: