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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 September 2007, 12:57 GMT 13:57 UK
Viewpoint: Love over fear in Burma
Monks on protest march in Burma

Vishvapani, a member of the Western Buddhist Order in the UK, argues that the monks' protests in Burma show the principle of loving kindness in action, in this think-piece broadcast by BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

I spent last week on retreat, practising a traditional Buddhist meditation called the development of loving kindness.

Its aim is to foster intense friendliness for all beings, starting with oneself, then including a friend or teacher, someone for whom your feelings are neutral, an enemy and then everyone.

Doing this again and again and especially focussing in a kindly way on people to whom you feel hostile, stirs memories, regrets and resentments - and that has a transforming, purifying effect.

Vishvapani
You feel their weakness: the vulnerability of flesh when faced with batons, tear gas and guns
Vishvapani

It shakes up the whole of your emotional life and creates a space in which loving kindness can emerge.

I returned this week to the juddering television images of cinnamon-robed monks thronging Rangoon and Mandalay, and among their slogans I caught snatches of the same ancient verses by the Buddha that I'd been studying:

May all beings, weak or strong, large or small, seen or unseen, near or far, all be happy at heart.

But despite the monks' inspiring courage, I've shared the foreboding and then the anguish as Burmese troops have confronted them.

You feel their weakness: the vulnerability of flesh when faced with batons, tear gas and guns; the fragility of peace when confronted by power.

Reverence

The violence stirs memories of the massacres of Buddhist monks in Cambodia, Tibet and many other countries.

The monks are honouring the Buddha's words, teaching that loving kindness is also a call to action.

It's no surprise that for many years Burmese monks have stayed in their monasteries, cultivating inner virtues - and even now most do the same.

Throughout Buddhist history monks, have often sheltered behind ruling elites, sometimes tolerating dictators like the Burmese junta, in return for the social stability that enables them to continue their practice.

But a point comes when inner sensibilities demand to be expressed in action, and the monks are showing that they possess an alternative kind of power.

Because the Burmese revere the monks, the generals first felt constrained to respect them, and that reverence is prompted by the virtues the monks display.

Loving kindness doesn't mean you never get angry, but understanding how anger springs up when you feel threatened loosens its grip - that brings strength. It's not power that corrupts, wrote Aung San Suu Kyi, it's fear.

Whatever the outcome of the monks' revolt, their courage in stepping outside the monasteries to stand by ordinary people is a victory in itself.

The monks are honouring the Buddha's words, teaching that loving kindness is also a call to action. Just as a mother would risk her life for her child, her only child, so let one cultivate boundless love towards all beings.

This talk can be heard on the BBC Thought for the Day website



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