It's one thing to watch a video of the saffron revolution, but something else to hear a first-person account of the events of September from the perspective of a bright young monk.
Transcribing this interview last night, the words of U Sandawara carried me away, as if in a dream, to a far away time and place; to the world of a Burmese monk.
The Angry Bull
This is how U Sandawara described the protests as they were getting underway:
We gathered in Shwe Maw Dow Pagoda in Pegu Division -- a ten minute walk from our temple.The situation soon deteriorated:
We recited the meta-sutta (the surtra of loving-kindness). In the beginning, we were a small group. We all walked around the back part of the pagoda, and then went through the town.
Along the way, to expand our group we called out to people: "Come and join us!" We reminded them of our demands to t he government to reduce prices, to end the people's suffering. "Why can't you join us? Don't just look. Join! Only by standing shoulder-to-shoulder can we can send a message that things have to change."
Ordinary people along the side of the road began distributing water to the monks. Others went out from the crowd to fetch water for the monks.Teargas, deadly beatings
It was then that the USDA troops appeared. A big broad soldier approached. In his left hand he held a shield, in his right hand a baton. He didn't look like a Buddhist. He looked like a bull, an angry bull. His nostrils flared like a fighting bull about to charge me.
I saw this soldier lift his baton to strike the monk walking beside me. I put my hand out so as to cut the force of the blow. The stick struck my hand, badly bruising it. The stick was hard and heavy -- not the bamboo kind -- but hardwood.
After that, the monk behind tried to pull the soldier away. But the soldier stuck him, smashing his forehead. We heard a loud "Crack!" sound. Blood everywhere. I took off my under-robe and tied it around his head to stop the bleeding. . .
Of the events of the following dayU Sandawara said:
The next day the streets were full of soldiers. This time, they didn't allow the protesters to go into the small-side streets alongside the main road. People were crowded on the main street.Night on the rice-paddies
Soldiers threw tear gas bombs into the crowd and this caused chaos. The USDA and the riot police -- they came into the crowd to beat up monks and people together. Some were not killed by bullets. They were killed by beating.
Though this was discouraging, still we marched. Still we called out to the townsfolk, "If you too are from Pegu Division, join with us!"
A lot of people came out and joined with the group.
The soldiers beat people; they shot tear gas. They pulled people into trucks and drove them away.
For U Sandawara these days were a big blur. He is fuzzy on the dates. The monastery raid he describes here may have occurred as early as the night of September 25 (The night when many Rangoon monasteries where first raided).
We heard shots fired into the air by USDA troops. We knew a raid of our monastery was now underway.The three old abbots
The aged, the old monks and very young novice couldn't run away. Actually those monks hadn't even joined the protest, but they suffered terribly. They were beaten up and taken away. There was not enough time for us to wake them up.
The troops broke everything. They decapitated Buddha statues. Then they took all the monks' property: our alms bowls, even the monks' clothes, our robes.
Next day, we thought that we dare not return to our monastery. So we hid inside the city quarters with the townsfolk.
Again we heard guns fired in the air. Soldiers stormed the quarters and raided homes. Soldiers everwhere.
Someone had informed on us. There had been a spy among the townfolk. Fortunately, the people we stayed with were able to hide us well.
Once the soldiers had gone we ran far away from the city. At the outskirts of town we walked out across some rice fields. Out there, there was no place to lie down and sleep. It was muddy. Some stood, others tried to sit on the narrow dirt ridge that separated two flooded paddy fields.
U Sandawara made his way to a rural village monastery. His description of the hide-out speaks to the desperate poverty one encounters in rural Burma.
When I left Rangoon I separated with these friends. I didn't know where the others were. I was in this village by myself.The struggle has just begun
Some people invited us to stay in a remote village monestary, where only a few monks were staying But the monastery was so far away from the village.
There were five other monks -- novices actually, as they were all under twenty -- from Rangoon hiding in that poor town monastery with me.
And we had a new problem: a lack of robes, alms bowls. Not able to collect alms ourselves, we had to stay hidden in the monastery. We waited for offerings of food to be delivered to us by the poor villagers.
The abbots of the monastery -- there were three old abbots -- they didn't have enough knowledge about Buddhism. They ordained at a very old age so in their lives they had not had the opportunity to study. They had tried to be monks in a physical sense; they tried to meditate, and otherwise be good monks. So when we arrived, the old abbots were hopeful that some monks had finally arrived who could instruct villagers and themselves in the teachings of Buddha.
In the third an final post based on the four monks interview, U Sandawara discusses the monks' plans with Jotman.
Photo: Burmese monks U Sandawara and U Visida by Jotman.