Burma

Burma is in the news today because of a huge problem with hundreds of thousands of refugees in the border area of western Rakhine state (Arakan) and neighbouring Bangladesh. Hardly anyone knows about the far more reaching process of Reconciliation the country is in, after fifty years of military regime. This is an attempt to change the course of history comparable to South Africa after the Apartheid regime.

News reporting is fully dominated by mainstream media like Reuter, CNN, New York Times, BBC and Al Jazeera, and the English newspaper The Guardian. Opinions of United Nations (update June 2019: UN made huge mistakes in dealing with Myanmar, plus inaccuracies in this report by Derek Tonkin), European Union and human rights (‘the new religion of the West‘) NGO’s like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Fortify Rights and MSF are generally being reproduced totally uncritically. I’m also totally not impressed by Western ‘Dhamma magazines’ – such as Tricycle and Lion’s Roar – about this case. I might call it typically lazy thinking.

State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi speaks of an iceberg of disinformation. Mainstream media at most look at the top of the iceberg, and totally forget that the most important part of an iceberg is the unseen part. This is called delusion or stupidity by the Buddha.

In Burma itself there is a totally different vision on the issue, which goes back until about two hundred years. British colonial era until 1948 and fifty years of isolation during military regime from 1962 have not been conductive for the facts to become common knowledge in the West. Problems did not start since the people of Burma do have smartphones and did show up on Facebook.

Aung San Suu Kyi in her speech of September 19 2017 (here the transcript) on ‘National Reconciliation and Peace’ makes an appeal to the rest of the world to broaden their knowledge about it. Remarkably enough she explicitly mentions the need of generosity and courage to do so. As a practising buddhist she will most probably refer to attachment to opinions in this respect.

Do not denounce too easily. A recent example (October 2019): theatre group members in jail because of satire (The Irrawaddy).

I am pretty sure someone like Geert Wilders in the Netherlands when in Burma would have been long time imprisoned (as was the case with ‘ultra nationalist’ – actually fugitive – monk U Wirathu), instead of being demonised as right wing, populist or you name it, and being forced to live in strong custody. So in today’s Western Europe opinions that are not mainstream tend to be judged in a so to speak more subtle way. But is that a higher sense of civilization? Mind you: in today’s Western Europe there are terrorist attacks because of satire (cartoons for instance).

I have a clear impression in Burma it is the relationship between law and morality that is different from that in the West. In other words: morality is much more integrated in the law system. Is that good? Is that bad? Or shall we let it be a fact. As Harold Fielding did remark in 1898:

“Their laws and their methods of enforcing the law were those of a very young people. But, notwithstanding this, there was a spirit in their laws different from and superior to ours.” (Harold Fielding Hall, The Soul of a People. 1898 p. 104 – see also here)

Of Burma’s 53 million inhabitants 89% do consider themselves buddhist. The teaching (Dhamma) of the Buddha has settled down itself within the minds of its people during more than 2000 years. They are harbouring the Dhamma as a precious treasure. The meaning of that can only be understood when someone did at least make a beginning with practicing it. (Otherwise one thinks too easily that all religions amount to the same thing.) Nowadays, in the 21th century, in Burma one is well aware of a certain decay, also in morality, as Sayadaw U Pandita remarked clearly. Fear will definitely not be helpful in that, but rather an energetic revival from within.

Apart from that there is a fear for islamization of the country which is incomprehensible for outsiders, (who just compare 89% Buddhists to 4% Muslims). However, buddhists all over the world do know very well that pre-eminently they are those who are considered by muslims as ‘infidels’ and ‘idol worshippers’. And that – to put it mildly – this is not something of which muslims tend to think lightly as something which they consider the buddhists’ own responsibility. Islam has a dramatic track record in how in the course of centuries it spread itself throughout Asia (e.g. Nalanda), and also in how it does not even stop short in mutual battling.

Aung San Suu Kyi

The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner has been strongly criticized by people who obviously need a hero who exclusively behaves according to their own ideas. However, being well versed – and experienced – in the teaching of the eight vicissitudes in the world, it seems to leave her cold wisely.

The Best Remedy

Sayadaw U Pandita’s (1921 – 2016) last advise to his country for reconciliation.

Rakhine (Arakan)

Rakhine or Arakan is the part of Burma where the ‘Rohingya’ conflict takes place. The situation is even more complicated because of animosity between Arakan and Burma.

Outsiders about Burma

Some non (or less) prejudiced journalists, diplomats and academics do speak out. Among others: Tony Waters, Derek Tonkin and Alan Clements.

Insight Myanmar Podcast

Longform interviews discussing the heart of Dhamma practice in Myanmar (Burma). We talk with monks, nuns, meditation teachers, yogis, meditators, pilgrims, authors, scholars, and more to learn about the range of Buddhist practice and life in the Golden Land.
The origins of the meditation and mindfulness movement that have swept the world can be traced back to 19th and 20th century Burma (Myanmar). And still today in the 21st century, the Buddha’s teachings of liberation animate a contemporary generation of Dhamma seekers in this small Southeast Asian country. In this podcast series, we engage in in-depth discussions with a wide range of practitioners — foreigners and local Burmese, lifelong monastics to lay practitioners, and including authors, scholars, meditators, teachers, pilgrims, and more — to highlight the depth and diversity of Buddhist practice to be found in the Golden Land and explore how the Dhamma has been put into practice by those seriously on the Path.

Myanmar or Burma?

In 1989 the then military junta introduced the name of Myanmar. On the authority of Thant Myint-U (see below his book The Hidden History of Burma) I do not follow this because of two reasons. At first, according to him, it is not a right claim that the name Myanmar incorporated all the country’s indigenous people, while, if I understand correcty, it is only for the Bama. The second reason is that, according to Mr. Thant, it would be as stupid for an Englishman to use the name Myanmar as it would be to give Germany the name Deutschland. So to me this would seem a kind of political correctness which no one in the world is really waiting for.

The corona-virus in Burma

December 1 in Burma there are 90.713 cases of covid-19, 1941 of them passed away.  Since August 21 the number of cases has increased rapidly, while the number until then was about 350 cases and 6 death.

‘On the Inside of a Military Dictatorship’

This documentary (2019) by Danish Karen Stokkendal Poulsen offers what it promises: an image of Burma from the inside. To the general public in the West and Arabia it is revealing a substantial part of the ‘iceberg of disinformation’ – as Aung San Suu Kyi uses to call it – in its mentioning not only the supposed genocide, but – quite in contrary with that, and against all odds – a process of reconciliation.

The Hidden History of Burma

written by Thant Myint-U (New York, 1966) historian and former UN-diplomat, since 2007 living in Yangon. The overview and insight offered by Thant Myint-U is extremely worthwhile, and differentiating from the general view in the West. He has for sure the best intentions with his country and people. It must be remarked however that he seemingly does not know the Dhamma (of nonviolence and reconciliation) from the inside.

The Soul of a People

This is the title of a book written in 1898 by Harold Fielding Hall, who during his service in the British occupying forces got very impressed by the Burmese people.

In 1934 George Orwell published Burmese Days, about a British colonial.

In 2002, 2012 and 2019 German Jan-Philipp Sendker writes three books about the people of Burma.

Burma’s Voices of Freedom: a study of Burma’s totalitarianism and the people’s resistance. Alan Clements’ interviews with revolutionaries, monks, religious leaders, journalists, film makers and social activists. (September 2020).