Sunday, September 30, 2007

Overturned bowls

In today's Dharma talk, our priest's topic was "giving," and he began by describing the importance of the symbolism of the Burmese/Myanmar monks marching with their begging bowls overturned. This is an act which violates their core tenets of faith, that they should live by receiving alms. I was more curious when I got home, and I did a little InterWeb research in which I found this letter to the Buddhist Channel by Visakha Kawasaki of Sri Lanka. Here's a relevant quote:
Precisely because the Burmese military rulers have violently mistreated innocent members of the Sangha, monks in Burma have looked to the vinaya for an appropriate remedy.

That is pattam nikkujjana kamma or "overturning the bowl" against the military. This refusal to accept alms should be understood as a stern rebuke to a lay person guilty of one or more of eight offenses. These eight are: striving for that which is not gain, striving for that which is not benefit, acting against a monastery, vilifying and making insidious comparisons about monks, inciting dissension among monks, defaming the Buddha, defaming the Dhamma, and defaming the Sangha. If a lay person acts in any of these ways, he should be ostracized with the Sangha refusing all contact. This is not a joking matter nor is it being frivolously resorted to in Burma today.

In 1990 the monks of Mandalay declared pattam nikkujjana kamma after the army opened fire on a dignified procession of 7,000 monks walking to receive alms in commemoration of the second anniversary of the August 8th democracy uprising. On that occasion two monks and two students were killed outright, seventeen others were wounded, and one novice disappeared.

After the massacre, a boycott was declared in a ritual performed by more than 5000 monks. After that Sangha act, monks didn’t accept offerings from the military, which tried to break the boycott by offering cooked meals at various intersections in Mandalay which were untouched.

If a lay person harms the Sangha, the Sangha should shun him by not accepting religious offerings, not performing religious ceremonies, not going to them and not giving religious sermons to them. According to vinaya, offenders can be boycotted until they make an apology.

The purpose of overturning the bowl is a compassionate one, viz. to help evildoers repent their deeds, to forsake their wrong ways, and to return to the true path. In 1990 the military rulers rejected the correction. Since then conditions in Burma have gotten worse for the people and the Sangha. Burma’s prisons hold many monks as political prisoners.

In the villages and towns, people know that their monks suffer with them.

Now, these monks have been barricaded in their monasteries. Because they traditionally live by begging alms daily, they have no stockpiles or even simple storage of food. How long before they starve?