The Day When Monks Were not Allowed to Visit Pagodas
I was free that day and went out to visit the Shwedagon Pagoda from the monastery where I stayed then in Thingangun township, Yangon. When I reached the Pagoda, I saw a surprising view in my life.
A group of men including the Pagoda trustee members and men with red arm bands were checking visiting monks whether we had our religious identity cards. If we had no identity card we were not allowed to visit the Pagoda. They were at the middle terrace of the Shwedagon deterring us with wire netting, but they allowed laymen to pass through. They treated us like criminals and terrorists. Myanmar society is based on mutual respect. There must be respect between monks and laymen. Their behavior was disrespectful to monks at the most important religious place, and it was the first time I had seen that in my life.
In my turn, they said to me,
‘Show your identity card.’
‘We are monks, sons of the Lord Buddha, not terrorists. You are doing the wrong thing deterring us to visit the Pagoda. I want to know why you are doing such thing. I can’t show my indentify card to you,’ I replied them.
‘If you can’t show it, then you are not allowed to pass,’ a man with red arm band said to me sharply.
‘Ok, if you are not allowed, I won’t proceed, but you should bear in mind that you manners are rude to us and our tradition,’ I said to them.
‘Bravo!’ roared the crowd of monks and men near me, and they clapped their hands.
There were about fifty monks gathering there then. One of the monks suggested,
‘We are not allowed to visit the Pagoda. Let’s go down to the eastern gate of the Pagoda and recite the Mitta Sutta there!’
‘Good idea!’ shouted the crowd there. We moved to the eastern entrance at the foot of the Shwedagon Pagoda where the Great Bronze Buddha Image existed, and recited the Mitta Sutta there.
‘Monks are not allowed to visit not only the Shwedagon Pagoda but also other ones,’ one of the monks said.
In the Buddhist country, monks were not allowed to visit pagodas. It was like burning the hearts of Buddhists with fire. Every man and woman on both side of the road spoke,
‘Monks are right and the government is wrong!’
While we were moving, they clapped their hands as a sign of supporting us. Men and women from shops at the eastern gate of the Shwedagon Pagoda offered us drinking water and cold drinks.
More monks joined us; more men and women also joined us. The crowd became bigger and bigger while moving on the road. Then monks’ demonstration started on 17th September at about two o’ clock in the afternoon.
Monks did not know with each other, but united and paid respect to each other. I was very delightful and active to feel the spirit of unity.
We bought Buddhist flags, flew them with poles and carried with us. We walked from the Shwedagon Pagoda to the Botahtaung Pagoda, crossing the downtown area and the eastern part of the city. We were reciting the Mitta Sutta along the road. Monks and students joined and the crowd became bigger. I thought there were over 200 monks and 100 students in the crowd.
We tried to go onto the platforms of the Botahtaung Pagoda and the Sule Pagoda, but pagoda trustee members, men with red armbands blocked our ways. Monks had no chance to visit pagodas. I saw monks were sad for that. The scene of monks around pagodas with no chance to go onto the platforms was terrible.
Monks paid their homage to the pagoda on the road. We saw army trucks and some men taking photos of the crowd on the way. At about half past four in the evening the crowd parted and I returned my monastery.
After paying my homage to the Buddha, the chief monk of the monastery said to us,
‘I hear that you are involved in the demonstration today. Mind your own business.’
I went back to my room to listen to the radio. The news of monks’ protest spread in BBC, VOA, RFA news broadcasting.
I made a sigh after listening to the news at about ten at night. It was 17 September. The monks demanded an apology for Pakokku monks. Monks had demanded to:
1. Apologize to the Pakokku monks, by midnight of September 17
2. Reduce the prices of fuel oil and basic commodities
3. Unconditionally release Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners
4. Hold dialogue with the democratic political opposition representatives in order to begin a national reconciliation process.
Still, the authority made no response to our claim. Then we had no choice to go on strike according to our announcement. There was no way to appease with the authority if it did not accept to our demand.
Sudden rise of commodity prices followed the skyrocketing fuel price in the previous month. Monks could not help but seeing the situation of people facing a hard time. As a result, about six hundred monks made a protest, reciting Buddha’s Mitta Sutta on the streets in Sittwe and Pakokku townships.
I was shocked when I heard the news of USDA (Union Solidarity and Development Association) members beating monks, tying them at a lamppost.
The tension between monks and the government became intense. The monks claimed the government to apologize them for that event. I wished the problem ceased peacefully. The deadline to response was about to be due. The government was still stubborn to apologize. More than that, the government did not allow monks to visit pagodas.
The attitude of the government towards monks became worse and worse. The attitudes and behaviors of the authority were to attack the whole Buddhist religions. I was very remorseful seeing the decline of our religious.
Before I slept, I took a book from my bookshelf.
‘Ashin Htavara, Ashin Htavara,’
I heard the whispering sound, and turned around. U Khaymarsara, my friend, asked me,
‘Will you come along with us tomorrow?’
He did not reply me directly, but told me a long story of the government’s attack to the monks and the hard time of people in Myanmar. I was carefully listening to his story, seeing the sad faces of men and women everywhere in Myanmar.
‘Do you have a heart to take the donation of such people who are in deep trouble?’
I did not reply. I had a book that I had recently been reading about India. I had to go to India to attend the university soon. I asked myself, ‘if you are involved the demonstration tomorrow, how about the consequences? How do you think of your education? Then how to complain your great teacher monk’s wish on your education, who was supporting you from your native village?’
When I looked up to Ashin Khaymarsara and met with his eyes. We said nothing to each other, sinking in deep thought.
In my mind, I saw the images of people supporting to the marching monks along the streets of Yangon, offering drinking water.
‘Let none deceive another
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Should one cherish all living beings.
Radiating kindness over the entire world.’
Those were the sound of our monks, spreading from the streets of Yangon upwards. I was still seeing the images of people who were supporting to monks, their clapping sounds, their tear, their bitter experiences, and their unheard voices.
With Mitta, Buddha conquers everything. The most prominent conquering were eight folds. In time of difficulty, Mitta is the most efficient thing to conquer everything for monks.
‘I accept your claim. This must be our challenge to the government. No deal without the government’s apology! I shall follow you _ and the monks, and the people, and follow you tomorrow,’
I promised to my friend. He went back with a large smile.
Then, I stretched myself on my bed, putting the book beside and tension of my body and my mind released, so that I slept that night well. I spread loving-kindness to all beings that might as a monk.