Friday, December 28, 2007

Prayer to be Reborn in Dewachen

While Buddhist Relief was preparing a blog posting about Aung San Suu Kyi, the news broke that Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan had been assassinated. We take a moment to pause from posting about Burmese issues today, to honor Bhutto for her courage to return to her home country of 160 million people, to possibly serve and represent them again.

This year, Pakistan and India both commemorated their 60th anniversary of independence from British rule. Burma will follow suit on January 4th, 2008. Pakistan was once neighbors with Burma until 1971, when the Eastern part of Pakistan became an independent nation, now known as Bangladesh.

The immediacy of the news and images of the last moments of Benazir Bhutto's life reached all four corners of the world, literally within a matter of minutes. The shocking incident is virtually happening in one's living room or in front of one's computer screen. How powerful a technology we have - to become immobilized and stunned. As a student of Buddhism, it occurred to this Buddhist Relief blogger that such an incident is also an opportunity to contemplate on: impermanence; the preciousness of a human rebirth; and, being of benefit to all sentient beings.

Several months ago, KPC's Spiritual Director Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo revealed a new melody for the traditional (Tibetan) "Prayer to be Reborn in Dewachen", which we wish to share with you. As Jetsunma describes it, it is "like a mother singing her children to sleep." It is a lullaby of compassion for those passing from this life.

Please feel free to download the prayer here and to share it widely. At the KPC temple in Maryland (USA), this prayer is played ongoingly in the Prayer Room - where the unbroken 24-hour Prayer Vigil of over 22 years - takes place. (For more information on the 24-hour Prayer Vigil or to sponsor prayers, click here).

With this blog posting, Buddhist Relief dedicates The Prayer to be Reborn in Dewachen to Benazir Bhutto, the others who were killed during the incident, and the suicide bomber.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

An Honorary Degree for the Burmese Monks

Last Friday, Masoeyein Sayadaw U Kovida accepted the honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters at the University of San Franciso, on behalf of the Burmese monks of Burma (see previous blog posting).

Here is a video link to the event:
MoeMaKa Media - မိုးမခ မီဒီယာ: Masoeyein Sayadaw's Speech at USF on behalf of Burmese Monks

The University of San Francisco is a Jesuit Catholic University, with a focus on "Educating minds and hearts to change the world." The University's press release on this event is posted below in its entirety, with the intention that these uplifting news reach people who live under repressive governments. Please share this blog posting widely, especially with Burmese Buddhist monks and nuns and the people of Burma.

USF Honors Burmese Buddhist Monks During Commencement

Expressing his heartfelt appreciation in accepting an honorary doctorate on behalf of the Buddhist monks of Burma, Sayadaw U Kovida said the University of San Francisco's Dec. 14 tribute was proof that people care about the suffering of the voiceless at the hands of brutal military regimes around the world.

In September, thousands of Burmese Buddhist monks demonstrated peacefully and nonviolently against their country's repressive military regime, prompting a brutal response from the government. During and after the demonstrations, according to international media, thousands of monks were arrested, and many were beaten and killed.

"This honor gives all of us inside and outside Burma much needed encouragement to carry on with conviction," said Sayadaw U Kovida at the commencement ceremony. He promised to relay to the Burmese monks the message of support from USF, which awarded them collectively with an honorary degree.

Sayadaw U Kovida, a distinguished exiled Burmese monk now living in a New York monastery, was himself imprisoned by the Burmese military dictatorship for his participation in the 1988 pro-democracy demonstrations against the government.

"We honor the monks of Burma to help keep the Burmese struggle for democracy in the minds and hearts of those of us who enjoy the freedoms they are struggling to achieve," said USF President Stephen A. Privett, S.J. before the ceremony "These are extraordinary, modern-day heroes and persons of faith committed to building a better world, even at the risk of arrest, beatings, and death. We celebrate and support their courageous, nonviolent demonstrations, their continuing struggle for a fair and representative government, and the selfless leadership that is giving an entire nation a taste of freedom. These are the kind of people we hope our graduates will be."

The monks exemplify USF's moral commitment to educate minds and hearts to change the world, according to the honorary degree citation. The citation also draws a comparison to the six Jesuits killed in El Salvador (along with their housekeeper and her daughter) 18 years ago for their outspoken criticisms of an equally repressive government.

"As we have honored our Jesuit brothers, this Jesuit university now honors the Burmese monks of Burma for their courage, compassion, and commitment to seeking to protect the human and democratic rights of the Burmese people in the face of a harshly brutal military dictatorship," the citation states. "The Buddhist monks of Burma serve as an inspiring role model for our students, and they embody the ideals that guide our educational efforts. The chant of 'Do-aye' ('It is our task'), a statement of determination heard on audio recordings from Burma during the protests, evokes the passion we hope will catalyze our students to accept their responsibility for righting the world's wrongs."

Sayadaw U Kovida's history of standing up against the military junta and being jailed for doing so made him an ideal representative of the monks being honored.

"I am thrilled and honored to accept this honorary degree on [their] behalf," Sayadaw U Kovida said during the ceremony. He recognized USF for its tradition of honoring those who work for peace and justice, including the Jesuits killed in El Salvador in 1989 and the Dalai Lama, who received an honorary doctorate from USF in 2003.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

If you're going to San Francisco ...

or even if you're not going to San Francisco ... Buddhist Relief wishes to share these upcoming events:

The Buddhist monks of Burma are to receive an honorary degree

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The University of San Francisco
will be hosting their winter graduation ceremonies this Friday, December 14th. Among three honorary degrees that the university will bestow, one of the degree recipients are the Buddhist monks of Burma. A representative of the monks, Sayadaw U Kovida, will accept the degree on behalf of the monks, who are being honored for their courage in rising up in peaceful protest against their country's oppressive military regime. According to the degree citation, their actions reflect the university's mission to educate leaders who will fashion a more humane and just world.

A Berkeley Benefit Event to Help the Burmese Monks and Nuns

When: Monday December 17, 2007, 7 - 9:30 p.m.

Where: Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian-Universalists Hall, 1924 Cedar Street (@Bonita), Berkeley, CA 94709

What: Burma's Struggle Continues: An Evening with a Burmese Monk Leader (former political prisoner) and "Burma: State of Fear (a film)"

According to the organizers, the evening's speaker is "Masoeyein Sayadaw, head of the International Burmese Monks Organization (Sassana Moli) founded after recent protests in Burma to help the monks and nuns of Burma as well as to save Buddhism from the destructive Burmese Junta. He is a well-known Buddhist teacher and author of 50 years in Burma. He was derobed and imprisoned in Burma for three years in 1990 for his monastery participating in the Monk’s boycott of the military. He has been actively advocating against the atrocities and destructions of monks, nuns and Buddhist institutions in Burma."

His speech will be followed by the film, and then a Q&A session with Stephen Talbot, the Editor of PBS' Frontline/WORLD Series.

(A pdf version of this event is available through this link).

Monday, December 10, 2007

Ban must go to Burma

Today, The Nation (Thailand) published an interesting editorial that we are posting in its entirety below. The New York Times also had an informative article - do you know that Mr. Gambari, the current UN envoy "follows a half-dozen other UN envoys over the past 17 years who have failed to moderate the behavior of the junta? As it has in the past when it faced international pressure, the junta has offered small gestures of compliance. But analysts say that whatever happens, the generals are not about to give real ground to the demands of the United Nations."

An Editorial from The Nation
Ban must go to Burma
An opportunity will be wasted if the UN secretary-general does not visit the rogue state while in the area

Published on December 10, 2007

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Bangkok yesterday for a three-day stay. Apart from meeting Thai luminaries and having an audience with His Majesty the King, he must take this opportunity to go to Burma and demonstrate his seriousness and interest in the situation there. He must show that the United Nations, which he leads, is following up on the developments there closely. If he does not go to Burma, this could be an opportunity lost.His visit to Bangkok also coincides with the release of a report by Human Rights Watch. It reveals the harsh reality facing the Burmese people and the lies perpetuated by the junta. According to the report, many more Burmese were killed and imprisoned in the violent crackdown on monks and protesters in September than the junta has admitted.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says that at least 20 were killed and thousands jailed. UN Human Rights Council special rapporteur Paulo Sergio Pinheiro put the number at 31 killed, 74 still missing and 650 in custody. The junta said that only 15 people were killed in the crackdown.

The HRW report, which was based on more than 100 interviews with eyewitnesses in Burma and Thailand, concluded that the junta's security forces shot into crowds using live ammunition and rubber bullets. They beat marchers and monks before dragging them onto trucks and throwing them in jail. In addition to the monks, many students and other civilians were killed, although without full and independent access to the country, it is impossible to determine the exact casualty figures.

One of the latest developments the report did not touch on was the increase in the number of arrests and torture of journalists and stringers working for foreign news organisations or news organisations set up by Burmese in exile. Over a dozen Burmese journalists are now behind bars. Several more are currently in hiding. Some journalists were exposed by the junta's militia and volunteers working for the Union of Solidarity and Development Association, and were taken into custody and tortured. These thugs continue to identify persons working for the pro-democracy movement and media organisations.

Therefore, it is imperative that Ban take up this matter with the junta. Since he is in Bangkok, it would not much time for him to travel to Burma. Any resistance on the part of the junta to his visit would be condemned. After all, the junta has pleged to cooperate with the UN, especially its special envoy for Burma, Ibrahim Gambari. The presence of Ban in Rangoon would boost the UN's role and make a strong impression internationally of the UN's seriousness and conviction in seeing this dialogue on national reconciliation proceed.

After a strong show of enthusiasm among members of the UN Security Council and an international outcry, the Burmese junta is buying time, hoping that the will of the international community would soon wane. Meanwhile, the junta is betting on its democratic process, known as the seven-point road map. But this process is not acceptable because the junta is determined to exclude opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from the constitution-drafting process. Current consultations, which started last month, continue to be limited and sluggish.

The UN process must be accelerated otherwise it will be stalled and would eventually play into the junta's hands as in the past. As always, the junta is trying to undermine Suu Kyi's role. In the beginning, the junta preferred to deal with pro-democracy students, who turned out to be more lethal and unyielding. Then the junta played the ethnic card against Suu Kyi, trying to drum up support from minority groups that struck cease-fire agreements with the government in exchange for agreeing to turn against her. So far, all of these attempts have proved ineffective. Rangoon is now looking for a way to woo millions of Burmese expatriates living around the world to return and help prop up the regime. It will be a hard sell.

Obviously, the junta is betting that playing the UN card is the best way for it to buy time at this juncture. China and Russia, its allies on the security council, continue to play the role of saviour, no matter what happens. Therefore, it is incumbent on Ban to change the current equation by throwing the UN's weight on the junta.

For another interesting piece published in The Nation, check this out here. This relates to Burmese Information Minister Kyaw Hsan's statement that the recent demonstrations were "trivial".


At the October Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing on Burma's Saffron Revolution, Senator Barbara Boxer concluded that "the (images of the demonstrations) will never go away". For all of us at Buddhist Relief, a display of irreverence towards the ordained (the Sangha) is never "trivial".

In a near future blog posting, we will include a photo essay on the Burmese people's outcry for democracy.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

"A priceless political gift in September"

Today's Washington Post covered the perspectives of opposition leaders in the border town of Mae Sot in Thailand. "The leaders here say they believe that the generals who run Burma gave them a priceless political gift in September by ordering soldiers to attack Buddhist monks. "We have to thank them for their stupidity," said Maung Maung, secretary general of the National Council of the Union of Burma, which is based in this hill town along the Thailand-Burma border and is the main umbrella group for exiled politicians and ethnic leaders."

To entire article is being posted on this blog, to facilitate access to it by anyone on the planet. Please do share the information widely.

Capitalizing on Burma's Autumn of Dissent
Opposition in Exile Urging More Protests, Even Armed Conflict

By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, December 4, 2007

MAE SOT, Thailand -- Desperate to maintain the momentum of their challenge to military rule in Burma, opposition leaders in this border town are working with networks of supporters to get monks to return to the streets in protest, to push foreign governments to impose tougher sanctions and to persuade ethnic militias to resume guerrilla attacks.

The leaders here say they believe that the generals who run Burma gave them a priceless political gift in September by ordering soldiers to attack Buddhist monks. "We have to thank them for their stupidity," said Maung Maung, secretary general of the National Council of the Union of Burma, which is based in this hill town along the Thailand - Burma border and is the main umbrella group for exiled politicians and ethnic leaders.

Images of soldiers clubbing barefoot monks in saffron robes focused world attention on Burma's often-ignored military dictatorship and prodded the generals to begin talking to Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace laureate and opposition leader whose party trounced them in a 1990 election and who is under house arrest in Rangoon. It also energized a nationwide cadre of angry monks, potent agents of grass-roots change in a Buddhist nation where the number of monks (about 400,000) rivals the number of soldiers.

Still, the generals' public relations gift loses value with each passing day, Burmese opposition figures say.

Without more "bone-breaking" pressure on the generals, talks with Suu Kyi will devolve into an empty delaying game, Maung Maung said. More than a dozen senior leaders of the opposition who were interviewed here, including longtime members of Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, echoed his comments.

To ratchet up pressure, opposition leaders said they are urging monks inside Burma to regroup and join in more mass protests with students and workers. They are pleading with Western countries to stiffen economic sanctions and to donate cash to support political activity inside Burma, which the generals call Myanmar.

Opposition leaders including several recently exiled supporters of Suu Kyi, a proponent of nonviolence, are also urging Burma's armed ethnic minorities to prepare for a unified guerrilla conflict against the government.

"Armed struggle has to be part of the pressure," said Khun Myint Tun, a longtime supporter of Suu Kyi and member of the Pao ethnic group. "Something needs to happen soon to take advantage of the September momentum."

Some of that momentum does seem to be slipping away.

The military continued last week to raid monasteries and arrest civilians, as it has since the late September crackdown on protesters. Suu Kyi remains under house arrest and is cut off from her supporters.China, Thailand and India have not substantially changed their economic dealings with the Burmese military, buying electricity, natural gas, oil and timber worth an estimated $2 billion a year.

Rangoon is said to be quiet and tense. Since the crackdown, sandbag bunkers have been built on many of its streets. Soldiers often stand around the bunkers, but it is now uncommon to see monks in the country's largest city, according to Shari Villarosa, charge d'affaires for the U.S. Embassy in Burma. "You can't overestimate the power of fear to keep things from happening," Villarosa said.

Here in Mae Sot, newly exiled monks, baby-faced army deserters and ethnic minorities rub shoulders with aging politicians who have been waiting for decades for something -- anything -- that would send the Burmese generals packing.

The September marches obviously fell short of that goal. But veterans of the opposition movement agree that the monks' protests revealed significant weaknesses in the intelligence arm of the military junta.

After the demonstrations, the military detained more than 3,000 people, holding many in makeshift detention centers. Individuals released from detention in recent weeks have described their interrogators as confused, inept and sometimes willing to accept bribes to release detainees. They often argued among themselves in front of detainees.

Diplomats and analysts have traced the breakdown of military intelligence to the abrupt dismissal in 2004 of Gen. Khin Nyunt, then prime minister and the longtime head of intelligence. His firing and arrest, on order of Senior Gen. Than Shwe, the head of state, coincided with the firing of thousands of intelligence officers. "The intelligence operation used to be very professional, all the way down to the lower ranks," said David Tharckabaw, a leader of the Karen National Union, which represents the Karen ethnic minority. "Now it has become amateurish."

The crackdown in September differed from previous episodes of military brutality inside Burma in that it was captured in photographs and on videos that were splashed around the world within hours.

This was no accident, according to opposition leaders here in Mae Sot. "We had about 200 people inside the country trained to take pictures with digital and video cameras," said Maung Maung, of the National Council. "We also trained them to transmit using satellite phones and Internet cafes. They were on the front lines when the demonstration started."

He said the opposition had learned a lesson in 1988, when the military killed hundreds of people in Rangoon in an attack on student demonstrators. Then, few images of the attacks reached the outside world. "We were not taking any chances this time," Maung Maung said.

Since the crackdown, though, many of the individuals who captured and transmitted images have been detained, gone into hiding or fled the country. An acute need has arisen for money to replenish the larder -- with trained people and equipment, Maung Maung said.

For years, the U.S. government has taken the lead among foreign governments in providing funding for this kind of training and equipment. Those funds are likely to increase substantially in the coming year, if pending legislation moves through Congress.

"We are not talking about guns," said Maung Maung. "We want money for sat phones, for digital cameras, for typewriters for the monks, for bicycles. We need it now." But there is plenty of talk here about guns. It is focused on 17 ethnic groups that since the 1990s have suspended armed conflict with the military.

The leaders of ethnic groups such as the Shan and the Wa have been allowed to trade timber, opium and other commodities. They keep their guns but do not fight. Thanks to these cease-fire deals, the generals have enjoyed a break from costly and unwinnable guerrilla wars in the mountains along the Burma - Thailand border. But deals with the generals have brought little economic or social benefit to the ethnic minorities, according to diplomats.

Now, leaders of several of the ethnic groups are talking with the leaders of Suu Kyi's exiled political party and other opposition leaders about resuming their conflicts -- as a way of pressuring the military to negotiate seriously with Suu Kyi. "Without this kind of pressure, the military regime does not move, and that is for sure," said Mahn Sha, secretary general of the Karen National Union. The Karen have refused to sign a cease-fire with the military.

In Burma, where about 90 percent of the population is Buddhist, monks have periodically played major political roles.

In the 1930s, they took part in protests against British colonial rule. They joined students in 1988 street demonstrations. But this September, according to opposition leaders here in Mae Sot, monks moved to center stage in determining Burma's future. They were attacked by the military in public and on camera, and those images have been widely disseminated inside Burma, on CDs and DVDs, according to Maung Maung. In the weeks since their marches were broken up and they were dispersed from monasteries, many of Burma's monks have refused to accept alms from members of the military or their families, according to opposition leaders, diplomats and two monks who recently fled the country.

In Burmese culture, giving food and gifts to monks is a primary way of accumulating merit for the next life.

Annoyed by the monks' refusal to accept their offerings, some military officers and their wives have threatened the monks and forced them to take food and other gifts, said Kowvida, 26, a monk who said he took part in the September marches and fled Rangoon in late October.

"In these cases, we accept unwillingly and then throw it away," Kowvida said. Asked if he believes more street protests by the monks are likely, Kowvida said he honestly does not know. But he said that with the passage of time anger is building, not ebbing.

"There is a fire of dissatisfaction," he said, "and I think it will explode sometime."

Sunday, December 2, 2007

After the Saffron Revolution - Public Hearing December 3rd

After the Saffron Revolution: Religion, Repression, and the U.S. Policy Options for Burma

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom will hold a public hearing to examine how religious freedom abuses perpetuated by the Burmese military contribute to violent repression of peaceful dissent, ongoing abuses against ethnic minorities, and regional instability. The hearing also will assess recent U.N. diplomatic efforts as well as U.S. policy options for bringing about democratic change in Burma.

The witnesses are:

* Paul Rush, F24 News, an eyewitness to the demonstrations and subsequent crackdown
* Ashin Nayaka, Columbia University, an exiled Burmese monk and Buddhist scholar
* Aung Din, US Campaign on Burma
* Chris Lewa, Arakan Project
* Salai Bawi Lian, Chin Human Rights Organization
* Michael Green, Center for Strategic and International Studies
* Jared Genser, Freedom Now


DATE: Monday, Dec. 3, 2007, 2:30-4:30 p.m.

Public Hearing

WHERE: Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2200, Washington, D.C.

Judith Ingram, Communications Director,
(202) 523-3240, ext. 127

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to monitor the status of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief abroad, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and related international instruments, and to give independent policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and the Congress.

Michael Cromartie, Chair • Preeta D. Bansal, Vice Chair • Richard D. Land, Vice Chair • Don Argue • Imam Talal Y. Eid • Felice D. Gaer • Leonard A. Leo • Elizabeth H. Prodromou • Nina Shea • Ambassador John V. Hanford III, Ex-Officio • Joseph R. Crapa, Executive Director

The above information is posted on the Commission's website. Click here.