is a dramatic sequence of paintings which a visitor often
finds hanging in pagoda walkways and monasteries throughout
Burma. The style of painting may vary from place to place,
but the allegorical scenes are always the same. Foreigners
might be puzzled by such things as tiny frogs swallowing
gigantic black snakes, huge blocks of solid stone floating
on the water while dry gourds sink to the bottom, people
holding an expensive golden basin for an ugly jackal to
piss into, and cows sucking milk from their own new-born
calves. Ordinary Burmese people have no problem explaining
their significance, however. The story on which these paintings
are based is Buddhist, but it is not exclusively Burmese.
When one understands the meaning, however, it becomes obvious
why the paintings have become so popular in contemporary
The story, called "Mahasupina Jataka,"
is one of the 550 stories in which Buddha related His past
lives during which, as the Bodhisatta, he perfected the
Ten Paramis or virtues requisite to achieving Buddhahood.
At various times the Bodhisatta was born as an animal (never
larger than an elephant nor smaller than a quail), as a
deity, or as a human being. Rather than being bloodless
morality tales, the Jatakas might be said to be the earthiest
part of the Buddhist canon. In these stories, the Bodhisatta
repeatedly displayed supreme patience, generosity, and wisdom,
but he also stole and even killed on some occasions. In
no instance, however, did the Bodhisatta ever tell a lie.
By his very aspiration to Buddhahood, he was in harmony
with the Truth, or Dhamma.
Jataka relates sixteen great dreams which Pasenadi, King of Kosala,
had one night. The king was so upset by these dreams that he summoned
his Brahmin advisors to interpret them and to prevent the evil
they seemed to portend. Predictably enough, the Brahmins forecast
disaster unless the king ordered a great sacrifice of living animals.
The Brahmanism of that day often involved bloody sacrifices, which
meant great feasting and increased wealth for the greedy brahmins.
However, before the brahmins were able to slit any creatures'
throats, Queen Mallika urged her husband to consult with the Buddha
and to learn the true significance of his dreams.
hearing the dreams, the Buddha reassured the king that he had
nothing to fear from them. The Buddha explained that these dreams
described a future time when rulers would be dishonest, avaricious,
and wicked. Since King Pasenadi himself had nothing to fear from
the dreams, there was no need to slaughter any animals. In this
instance, as in many others, Buddha prevented dreadful bloodshed
and taught the value of the non-harming of living beings..
of Mahasupina Jataka became popular in Burma after the 1962 military
coup by Gen. Ne Win. Huge painted panels, commissioned by pious
believers and hung in pagodas and temples where they can still
be seen today, are an expression of the frustration ordinary Burmese
Buddhists have felt about the cruel military dictatorship that
grinds them so hard. The similarity between the Buddha's description
of the future time and present situation in Burma is, to say the
least, striking. In discussing these paintings we can see that
what was true of Ne Win's regime is even more applicable to SLORC.
the third dream, in which full-grown cows knelt to suck
milk from their own new-born calves. The Buddha explained
that this foretold a time when age would no longer be respected.
At that time, old people, destitute and dependent, would
survive only by the favor and whim of their children, like
cows nursed by day-old calves.
Buddhism there has always been a strong tradition of respect
for age, but in Burma today, the military makes no allowance
for age when it comes to slave labor or porterage. Men as
old as 70 have been swept up and forced to work for the
army. How can SLORC soldiers treat civilian porters, especially
those older than themselves, so brutally? The answer lies
in the statement made by countless porters: "They just
didn't think of us as human beings." In SLORC's Officer
Training School, soldiers are indoctrinated to think of
porters as simple pack animals there to serve the military.
All officers use the same lines, almost word for word when
talking to the porters: "Medicine? This is not your
mother's house! You are not our relatives! It is your fate
to carry things like this." If any soldier should hesitate
to capture or beat porters, he will be asked, "Are
these people your fathers? Your brothers-in-law?"
taught us that we should respect all those older than ourselves
because there is no one who has not been our relative, at
some time during the samsaric past. Burmese soldiers are
indoctrinated, however, to believe that the Army is their
only true family, and that civilians are less than human.
On the front page of every issue of the military newspaper,
Doye Duha (Our Affairs), published every two days for distribution
to the armed forces, printed in bold letters is the slogan,
"The army is your only true parent. Don't listen to
outsiders; trust nobody but your own blood."
the eighth dream, the king saw a big pitcher outside a palace
gate, already full to the brim. Around it there were many
empty pitchers. From all directions came a steady stream
of people carrying on their heads pots of water which they
poured into the already full pitcher. The water from that
single central pitcher spilled over and soaked wastefully
into the sand. Still the people came and poured more and
more into the overflowing vessel. Not a single person even
glanced at the empty pitchers.
explained that when the world was in decline, the rulers
would be poorer, yet far more demanding than in normal times.
These rulers in their poverty and selfishness would force
the entire country to work exclusively for them. Laboring
only for their sovereign, the citizens would have to neglect
their own livelihood. For their rulers' sake the people
would be forced to surrender their own land, to plant sugar
cane, to make sugar mills, and to boil down molasses. Peasants
would harvest the crops and fill the rulers' storerooms
and warehouses to overflowing, but they would be unable
to even glance at their own empty barns and granaries at
home. Their forced labor would be like filling to overflowing
the full pitcher, heedless of their own empty ones.
conscription of civilians into compulsory labor duties for
the military is widespread in Burma today. The period of
service may last months, and in some cases even years, but
no pay is given. Even pregnant women, children, and the
elderly are regularly conscripted to work for SLORC. Typical
labor duties include the construction of roads, airfields,
army barracks, and railway lines in government controlled
areas, while in war zones civilians have been forced to
work as lookouts and as porters. The number of civilians
conscripted for such duties can be immense. On May 8, 1992,
Working People's Daily proudly reported that over 300,000
people had "contributed voluntary labor" on the
Aungban-Loikaw railway line alone.
military rulers have also wantonly expropriated land from
the people without compensation and have forcibly relocated
hundreds of thousands of citizens. The army has taken land,
established plantations for its own purposes, and then forced
people to work without pay on those plantations.
1994 U.S. Department of State Report Burma Human Rights
Practices, describes Burmese forced labor conditions as
"inhumane" and when coupled with the "forced
resettlement of civilians [accounted for] hundreds of deaths
due to disease, harsh treatment, and overwork."
makes the slave labor in Burma even more unpalatable is
SLORC's repeated claims that the people are happy to toil
for them and that it is a proud part of the country's Buddhist
heritage. The most unforgivable aspect of these abuses is
the use of Buddhism as a shield and an excuse. In an official
press release on December 14, 1992, the government stated
that Burma has a "tradition of labor" and that,
in a Buddhist country, the contribution of such labor is
a "noble deed."
the ninth dream, the king saw a deep pool with sloping banks
overgrown with lotuses. A variety of animals approached the
pool to drink, but strangely enough, while the deep water
in the middle was terribly muddy, the water at the edges,
despite all the thirsty creatures stirring it up, was clear
explained that when rulers grew increasingly corrupt, ruling
according to their own whim, they would never give justice
or make judgments according to what was right. Being greedy,
they would grow fat on bribes. Never showing mercy or compassion,
they would be fierce and cruel to their subjects. These
rulers would amass tremendous wealth by crushing their subjects
like stalks of sugarcane in a mill and by taxing them to
the last coin. Unable to endure the oppression, the citizens
would abandon their villages, towns, and cities and would
flee as refugees to the borders. The heart of the country
would be like a wilderness, while the remote areas along
the borders would be teeming with people. The country would
be just like the pool, muddy in the middle and clear at
a cursory look at the present situation shows how closely
this description fits Burma. Millions of Burmese have fled
to escape the military's oppression. Those refugees who have
managed cross the borders are but a few compared to those
who, displaced from their communities, have been unable to
reach the comparative safety of a second country. In addition
to these obvious refugees, there are also hundreds of thousands
of Burmese who, abandoning the country in despair or fear,
have sought to make a living elsewhere. Many of these are
well-educated and able, but they could not survive inside
the country because of the incompetence and cruelty of the
1989 and 1990 alone, the Burmese military forced more than
500,000 citizens to relocate from their own settled communities
and neighborhoods to satellite new towns. Such moves contradict
Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
which declares, "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary
interference with his privacy, family, home, or correspondence."
In one case alone, nearly 100,000 people were moved to the
new town of Hlaing Thayar near Rangoon. While conditions
varied, local health workers privately reported high fatality
levels at many of the new sites due to malaria and poor
continuing political and economic crisis is forcing ever
greater numbers of inhabitants to leave their homes. In
mid-1994 over 300,000 refugees, mostly ethnic minorities,
were officially recorded at camps in Thailand, Bangladesh,
India, and China. Unofficial estimates were over three times
that figure, meaning that over one million exiles and migrants
were subsisting precariously around Burma's troubled borders.
Those figures told only half the story because there were
also over one million internally displaced persons inside
Burma itself, including relocated villagers from the war-zones,
those forcibly resettled in recent SLORC development projects,
and refugees still trying to survive in the hills.
the tenth dream the king saw rice boiling endlessly in a
pot. The cooking continued in three stages which were sharply
delineated and separate from each other. One part of the
rice was sodden, another part was hard and raw, while the
third part was perfectly cooked.
explained that this dream also referred to a future time
when kings would be unrighteous. Following the king's example,
the entire kingdom, including nobles, brahmins, artisans,
merchants, and even farmers would become corrupt. Even the
winds blowing over the realm of such an unrighteous king
would be cruel and lawless. As the spirits of the skies
became disturbed, there would be a drought, but if rain
did fall, it would never fall uniformly and evenly throughout
the land. In some places a heavy downpour would damage crops,
while in other areas crops would wither from drought or
thrive with adequate rain. The crops, like the rice in the
pot, would have no uniform character. This can be interpreted
as referring to sharp divisions among the population between
the rich and the poor.
this dream quite literally, SLORC's greed has tragically
disturbed the spirits of the skies. Burma has been losing
more than 800,00 hectares of forests each year since 1988.
All of its teak reserves, once the largest and best maintained
in Asia, may be gone within five years. In Karen, Kayah,
Mon, Kachin, and Shan States, large areas have been stripped
of all forest growth. In the past several monsoon seasons
heavy flooding occurred for the first time in remote valleys
in both the Karen and Kachin States where some of the heaviest
logging had been taking place. In 1991, over 140 people
are known to have died from floods. Local villagers had
no doubt that uncontrolled forest destruction was to blame.
1962 when the nationalization of so many enterprises began,
the rich in Burma have been the military elite and their
families. Ne Win's reign was corruption itself, based as
it was on an ubiquitous secret military intelligence (MI)
network which intruded into the private lives of anyone
who might threaten him. Along with this spy network was
an overwhelming pursuit of private gain at the highest level
through smuggling, bribery and the black market. Those Ne
Win chose to run the country have never hesitated to line
their pockets, but he frequently exposed that corruption
in order to remove a potential rival. Ne Win is said to
have smuggled prize pearls through his own gem emporium
in Zurich, to hold bank accounts in Switzerland and extensive
property in Germany.
there have been much vaunted changes toward open-market
capitalism in Burma, but here, too, corruption is rife.
Burma's largest financial institution, the Union of Myanmar
Economic Holdings (UMEH), set up by SLORC in 1990, is totally
controlled by the military. Shares in UMEH are held by the
Ministry of Defense, Defense Service personnel, regimental
institutes, and senior ex-service men. Both its chairman
and managing director are senior SLORC officers. The military,
their friends, and their relations are also in positions
to benefit from mass resettlement programs, because all
land in Burma can be seized without any compensation. During
a government auction of mineral rights in Hpakhan in 1990,
for example, many indigenous Kachin jade miners were forced
by army-backed newcomers to abandon land which their families
had traditionally owned and worked. Likewise, the military
sold to Thai companies for tremendous sums the rights to
fish in the Andaman Sea. Subsequently, local Tavoyan, Karen,
and Mon fishermen were forbidden from entering their traditional
waters, and entire fishing villages faced starvation for
the first time.
December 1987 the United Nations granted Burma the status
of "Least Developed Country," but luxury hotels,
restaurants, discos, and department stores are springing
up like weeds in all the major cities. Burma's already grave
humanitarian crisis is rapidly worsening. UNICEF has called
it "Myanmar's Silent Emergency."
the rice in the pot, the divisions in Burma between the
rich and the poor, the military and the people, are sharply
and clearly delineated. The military elite and their families
have access to the best food, the best medical care, and
the best education in the country, while the rest of the
population must do with very little. In Burma there is only
one doctor for every 12,500 people, the inflation rate for
rice is 800 percent, three out of four children don't complete
primary school, 40 percent of the children under 3 suffer
from malnutrition, and only 2 percent of the people have
access to electricity. Half of the national budget is spent
on the military, which has doubled to 300,000 in only 6
years. By its corruption, SLORC has blighted the country.
the fifteenth dream a disgusting, vulgar crow was escorted
by a retinue of magnificent Mandarin ducks with shiny golden
explained that this dream foretold a time when weak and
incompetent rulers would themselves be cowards and fools.
Fearing revolution because of their stupid failures, they
would elevate their lowest servants, the uneducated riff-raff,
to nobility. Unable to support themselves, the real nobles
and the educated elite would have to dance attendance on
the upstarts, serving them as the regal Mandarin ducks had
to serve the crow.
Burma, the military rulers have granted all positions of
authority and responsibility, not according to qualifications
of education or merit, but simply according to loyalty.
The heads of all organizations and government departments,
as well as the members of all committees and trustee boards,
are military or retired military personnel. Few of these
men were educated at even the high school level. Furthermore,
they can be likened to crows, who are described as destructive,
reckless, greedy, gluttonous, rough, merciless, weak, noisy,
forgetful, and wasteful. The former elite, those with proper
education and qualifications, are forced to bow and scrape
before these parvenus.
the last of the sixteen dreams the king saw goats chasing
leopards and devouring them. Merely seeing a goat in the distance
was enough to make the leopards flee in terror and hide in
explained that this dream also would be fulfilled in a time
when rulers were unrighteous. The low-born would be raised
to important posts, while the truly noble would sink into
poverty and distress. Gaining power in the law courts, the
parvenus would claim the property of the impoverished old
nobility. When the true owners pleaded for their rights,
the rulers' minions would have them tortured and thrown
out, saying, "That will teach you! The king will hear
of your insolence, and we will have your hands and feet
chopped off!" Hearing this, the terrified nobles would
agree that black is white and that their property had never
been their own at all. After that, they would simply cower
at home in an agony of fear. At the same time, evil monks
would harass good, worthy monks, until the worthy ones fled
from the monasteries to the jungle. This oppression of those
truly noble by the low-born would be like the intimidation
of leopards by goats.
unmistakable climate of fear in Burma is apparent even to
official visitors like Prof. Yokota, UN Human Rights Expert,
who was carefully isolated from ordinary people. Some estimate
that as many as one out of every five people is connected
to military intelligence. With spies even inside the monasteries,
many monks have fled either to the border areas or to refuge
is perhaps this last dream which holds the greatest import
for Buddhists. Many Cambodians, also pious Buddhists, stated
that they could forgive the Khmer Rouge for having murdered
their families, but added, "How can we forgive them
for trying to destroy our Buddhism?" In Burma, the
action of the military against Buddhism and the Sangha is
certainly on a different scale, much slower, and less dramatic
but, nevertheless, extremely destructive.
military crackdown on the Sangha began soon after Ne Win's
coup. In 1962 he ordered all monks to join a national register,
but many refused. In 1965 there were mass protests against
the creation of a central All Buddha Sasana Sangha Organization,
and seven hundred monks, including senior monks, were arrested.
Some of these monks were harshly abused, disrobed, and imprisoned.
In 1974, when the military blocked a proper funeral for
U Thant, UN Secretary-General, six hundred members of the
Sangha were arrested, and several monks were bayonetted
and shot. The military junta continued to put pressure on
the Sangha and to issue defamatory statements through the
state-controlled media. There were numerous instances of
trumped-up charges being brought against senior monks. Some
were arrested, their monasteries closed, and their property
seized by the government. Government propaganda was relentless
in claiming that monks were shameless parasites, while soldiers
sacrificed everything for the country.
the brief democracy summer of 1988, monasteries quickly
broke free of the administrative shackles imposed by the
Ne Win regime. As respected community figures, monks were
elected to lead many of the Strike Committees that proliferated
across the country. Several monks were killed when troops
opened fire on crowds in demonstrations in Rangoon and Moulmein.
Of the more than 10,000 people killed during August and
September, at least 600 were members of the Sangha. In many
cases, soldiers were ordered to strip dead monks of their
robes and to dispose of the bodies secretly.
July 6, 1989, the army desecrated sacred Shwedagon Pagoda
by setting up barricades on the platform to search all pilgrims.
After they themselves behaved provocatively, soldiers killed
11 monks and 17 students and closed the pagoda for five
days. Also in July, Ven. U Kawainda, a senior monk in Mandalay
who had been one of the leading advocates for human rights
in 1988, was arrested. On September 9, 1991, BBC reported
that this monk had been tortured to death in prison.
mid-1990, as violence and oppression continued, as many
as 400 monks had arrived to take sanctuary in Thai monasteries
in Bangkok, while hundreds more sheltered in make-shift
monasteries along the Thai-Burma border.
Burma, public ceremonies involving monks have continued
to be closely watched. On May 17, 1990, for example, the
entire Pyitaingdaung Drum Band was arrested for illegally
playing songs supporting the NLD at an ordination ceremony
for a monk. In July of the same year, seven civilians were
reportedly sentenced to five years' hard labor by a Military
Tribunal for breaking Order 2.88, which bans gatherings
of more than five people, when they joined a peaceful monks'
protest outside Shwedagon Pagoda. The monks were demonstrating
because soldiers had refused some of them entry to a service
commemorating the anniversary of the Buddha's first sermon.
August 8, 1990, in commemoration of the second anniversary
of the democracy uprising, over 7,000 monks and novices
solemnly walked through the streets of Mandalay accepting
alms from the people. Soldiers confronted the monks and
opened fire, killing two monks and two students and wounding
seventeen others. One novice disappeared.
this massacre, the Monks' Union (Sangha Sammagi) of Mandalay,
led by Ven. U Yewata declared an act of the Sangha called
"overturning the bowl" (pattam nikkujjana kamma).
Recognizing that the army had committed at least one of
the eight kinds of wrongdoing against the Sangha, monks
formally decided to refuse alms from army members or their
families or to solemnize their funerals. This boycott spread
very quickly, and throughout Burma monks refused to attend
religious services organized by SLORC. Though the purpose
of the boycott was compassionate--to help the evil doers
atone for their deeds and forsake their evil ways, Saw Maung
and Mandalay Division Commander Tun Kyi refused to repent.
They declared that their actions were completely justified
and that they were not afraid of going to hell.
monks' boycott was the excuse for SLORC to instigate a massive
clampdown on the Sangha. Monasteries were surrounded by
armed troops. Electricity, water, and communication lines
were cut, and monks were prevented from going on their daily
alms rounds. After one week of blockade, armed troops entered
the monasteries and arrested the leaders. More than 350
monasteries were raided, and more than 3,000 monks and novices
were arrested. Twenty monasteries were seized and nationalized.
These mass arrests were swiftly followed on October 31,
1990, by a SLORC declaration that there would be only one
monks' organization in Burma with nine legally-approved
sects. Any monk trying to set up a new Buddhist group would
be subject to up to three years in jail.
is even more reprehensible is that these evil acts against
the Buddha Sasana have been carried out in the very name
of Buddhism. The miliary leaders have proclaimed that they
are actually trying to protect and purify Buddhism in Burma.
At the same time they are arresting, torturing and exiling
senior monks, they are making a big show of offering color
TV's and other fancy items to monks who either collaborate
in their evil designs or who simply cannot refuse.
is not difficult, however, to see through the transparent
ruse of the military. Their actions have consistently shown
that they are not Buddhists.
is the foundation of all Buddhist practice. The minimum
moral practice for laymen is the five precepts; abstaining
from killing any living being, abstaining from stealing,
abstaining from unlawful sexual intercourse, abstaining
from lying, and abstaining from the use of intoxicants that
cloud the mind.
Burma these fundamental moral principles are systematically
and explicitly violated by the military leaders in the way
they govern the entire country. In February 1995, Prof.
Yozo Yokota told the UN Human Rights Commission that the
conduct of the Burmese military must be brought "into
line with accepted international human rights and humanitarian
standards so that they do not arbitrarily kill, rape, confiscate
property, force persons into acts of labor or porterage,
relocate them, or otherwise treat persons without respect
for their dignity as human beings." In his 1993 report,
he wrote, "forced relocation and forced portering has
led to a systematic pattern of torture (including rape),
cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, disappearance or
arbitrary execution of Muslim and other Rakhine ethnic minorities
by the Myanmar authorities." In his 1994 report, he
wrote that among other "atrocities," rape was
"being committed consistently and on a wide scale by
the soldiers of the Myanmar Army against innocent villagers
(particularly those belonging to ethnic minorities)."
Buddhism teaches tolerance toward other religions, the leaders
of SLORC have attempted to use the religion to subdue or
to eradicate some of the ethnic minorities. In Chin State
SLORC is using various tactics to subvert Christianity,
which is the dominant religion there. Young Burman soldiers
who are stationed there are promised promotions if they
marry Christian girls. Chin Christian missionaries are prevented
from moving from one section of the state to another. Last
year, when SLORC offered free education to Chin youth who
agreed to study in Rangoon, several Christian families sent
their children to the capital. A few months later they learned
that all the children were staying at Kaba Aye monastery.
The boys had had their heads shaved and had been ordained
as Buddhist novices, but the girls had so far successfully
refused. SLORC refused to let the children return and even
to allow members of the Chin community in Rangoon to meet
them. When representatives from Chin State finally met the
children, they all begged to be taken home, but SLORC refused
permission. Such forcible conversion is totally in conflict
with the Teaching of the Buddha. The Dhamma is ehipassiko
(inviting one to come and see for himself); and coercion
to become Buddhist is a contradiction in terms.
late 1994 and early 1995 SLORC launched a massive offensive
against the strongholds of the Karen National Union (KNU).
The government claimed that it was not directly responsible
for the attacks, but that they were organized and carried
out by a group of Buddhist Karen, Democratic Karen Buddhist
Army (DKBA), who were rebelling against the Christian leadership
of the KNU. There is overwhelming evidence that the DKBA
is entirely controlled by SLORC. The monasteries supporting
the movement were set up and supported by SLORC. Those very
monasteries were used as weapons caches. What is even more
contemptible is that SLORC would have the world believe
that there could ever be a Buddhist "army." Here
too SLORC is using Buddhism to further its own evil goals,
and in the process weakening the very foundations of the
Buddha Sasana. No war has ever been fought in the name of
Buddhism, and it is unthinkable that the advice of the Sangha
would ever promote anything but peace and prosperity, both
at home and abroad. The DKBA with its SLORC companions are
a band of outlaws, threatening Christians and animists with
violence, kidnaping helpless refugees, robbing them of rice
and jewelry, and wantonly killing any who stand in their
way. Since monks neither use nor advocate violence , SLORC's
propaganda about DKBA is nothing but demeaning lies. The
Sangha has but one message for any ruler: "Never in
this world does hatred cease by hatred: it ceases only by
love. This is the Law Eternal."
Buddha clearly taught that a government must uphold the
moral and spiritual law. Being the means to enlightenment,
Buddhism demands that a Buddhist state recognize that the
true goal of life is to attain Nibbana, and that it has
the duty of providing for all its citizens a political and
social organization within which both monks and lay people
can live in accordance with Dhamma. Not a single page of
Buddhist history is lit with the flame of inquisitional
fires, darkened with smoke of heretic cities ablaze, nor
red with the blood of guiltless victims of religious hatred.
Buddhism wields only the Sword of Wisdom and recognizes
only one enemy, Ignorance. The evils that we see in Burma
are explained by the greed, hatred, and delusion of the
military rulers. It is no wonder that the Burmese people
see their country in the sixteen great dreams of King Pasenadi.
The greatest sin of these rulers, however, is that they
work their wickedness under a pretense of piety.
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