January 14, 2008


Monk's words stir the spirit of Myanmar's resistance: Cloaked in allegory and drawing on history, his lectures give Buddhists hope after a bloody crackdown by generals. (Paul Watson, 1/14/08, Los Angeles Times)

In one of his most talked-about lectures, Buddhist monk Ashin Nyanissara tells the legend of a king who ruled more than 2,500 years ago. The king believed that spitting on a hermit brought him good fortune.

At first, it worked like a charm, but before long his realm was annihilated under a rain of fire, spears and knives.

Today's audiences easily find the hidden message: The assault by Myanmar's military government on monks leading protests last fall looks like a modern version of the ancient monarch's abuse. And they hope the ruling generals will suffer the same fate. [...]

The stern-faced Nyanissara, a 70-year-old monk in owlish glasses and a maroon robe, is able to stare down generals with chests full of medals by stepping carefully through the minefield that makes free speech lethal here.

Shielding himself with allegory, he crisscrosses the country giving lectures that draw on history and legend to remind people that rotten regimes have fallen before. As the generals try to crush the last remnants of resistance, he is cautiously keeping the fire alive.

But he knows it isn't the first time in 45 years of military rule that the government has attacked monks who challenged its absolute authority. In at least four previous crackdowns, dating back to 1965, the military rounded up thousands of monks, killing some, defrocking others, while closing monasteries and seizing property.

Each time, the brutal repression outraged many people, but in the end they felt powerless to do anything about it, the crises passed, and the generals continued to oppress with an iron fist.

It's the nature of any government's leaders to "strongly test their political power. They don't want to lose it," he said in a recent interview at the International Buddhist Academy, which he founded in this riverside town whose forested hills the faithful believe Buddha walked on his path to enlightenment.

"But in any faith, when politics and religion come into competition, religious leaders always defeat anything. Religion is the leader. Jesus Christ was killed, but which was more powerful? Religion or politics?"


Posted by Orrin Judd at January 14, 2008 8:57 AM
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