Friday, January 4, 2008

A New Year's Resolution inspired by Burma's monks

Some of the most inspiring scenes of 2007 show a red sea of people filling the streets of Burma's major cities; peaceful holy men taking on a brutal military regime. But if such visuals were awe inspiring, the sounds coming from the streets were unbelievable.

The march had a soundtrack. It's a point that comes up at least once in each of the Jotman interviews. The interviewee describes an episode during the protests, and says:
". . . then we chanted the Metta Sutta."
Maung, Burmese activist, had this to say about it:
Someone ordered the soldiers to shoot the "fake monks." How did these people (protesting monks) become the fake monks? To think these fake monks recited the Meta Sutta! That’s absurd. It’s in Pali, and only the real monks know Pali.
But what of the significance of the Metta Sutta? That's not the only sutra a monk knows by heart. They could have chanted the words of any of a hundred ancient Pali texts they would have memorized.

Literally, metta means "unconditional loving kindness." The monks swarming the streets of Mandalay or Rangoon, chanting the metta sutta, reminded everyone around them that the protest was far more than an act defiance; it presented an opportunity for monks -- and townsfolk who joined them in protest -- to put the ethic of loving kindness into practice. To a large extent this was implicit in the fact that the street protests were a "selfless" activity directed towards improving the welfare of others; but the chanting of the metta sutta encouraged everyone to fill their hearts and minds with positivity and to project love -- even towards soldiers and police.

Ghandi exemplified this ideal in India half a century ago. The chanting of the metta sutta in 2007 was a distinctly Burmese manifestation of non-violent resistance.

Here is a very lovely musical rendition of the metta sutta with English subtitles.* Teachers in the Burmese tradition have discussed the practice of metta (here, here). Finally, for those interested in a new way to put metta into practice in 2008, check out this meditation course.
* Hat-tip Jeg, who has a collection of "Burmese inspirationals." Jeg has also posted a translation of the Metta Sutta.
Photo: by Jotman.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Jotman for the hat tip... I owe you a coffee, let's make it green tea for Burmese New Year's, in Burma of course... chau4now


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