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– and how Buddhism deals with lay power
Mikael Gravers
17/3-11 draft
In September 2007, thousands of monks marched through the street in Burma’s major towns chanting the
Metta Sutta, one of Buddha’s most important discourses on loving kindness. When they walked and
chanted the overturned their rice bowls as a sign of not receiving alms from the military. This boycott of
donations (tabeit hmauk) is a powerful symbolic act rarely used as a collective political statement by
Buddhist monks. It was a clear political message to the brutal regime and a powerful attack on the
ontological security of the military personnel, particularly the ruling generals.
During interviews in Mae Sot, Thailand in 2010 and 2011 some of the exiled monks from the
2007 ‘Saffron Revolution’ explained how Buddhism, education and democracy are intertwined. They
combine the Buddhist core concepts metta (loving kindness) and karuna (compassion), the idea that
monk’s should help lay people who suffer from repression, with the power of education and morality as
prerequisites for developing democracy. They defined their strategy as ‘study power’: hpoùn acarya; acarya
means ‘teacher’ in Pali and is often used in the name of the monks. In this context it was translated ‘study’.
Hpoùn means merit or the power of religious merit in Buddhism (derived from Pali punna). A monk in
Burmese is called hpoùngyi – ‘great merit’ or ‘great glory’. But the word also signifies the power of a person
as a substantial personal merit, or moral capital based on karma. In other words, this kind of spiritual
power, or karmic power, is seen as a subjective substance and property. This is somewhat against the most
common definitions of power which emphasize the relational dimensions of power above/or combined
with the person’s abilities. However, in Burma the personal, karmic capability of power, the hpoùn, is
crucial for understanding the struggle between the military and the opposition and for the concept of
democracy in the Burmese context. The monks and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has used Buddhist concepts in
order to translate and transmit ideas of democracy, human rights and human security into a Burmese
cultural context.
The main focus in this paper is the struggle between the democracy movement(s) and the
military regime, which increasingly demonstrates totalitarian tendencies. I will argue that this struggle
partly can be considered a struggle for the control of subjectification, i.e. the formation of subjects, their
position, their rights and how they are morally judged, how they act and finally how they are subjected to
power. It is a struggle involving religious cosmological imaginary, as well as political ideas and ideologies in
local as well as in universal forms. Thus the focus of this paper is on the symbolic forms of power.
In this brief discussion of the role of Buddhism in Burma, I have to make generalizations. The use of
Buddhism and its concepts in the discourse on politics vary among monks and lay people. Thus, the
interpretations I give here may not be shared by all 3-400.000 monks or their lay followers. Buddhism is not
one coherent ‘religion’ in Burma (or Thailand). There are 9 ‘sects’ in the monastic community (sangha) and
there are individual opinions and interpretations. However, there is a common discourse and practice
within the opposition and another within the regime and its supporters, which I attempt to describe and
analyze in the following. Likewise, it is not possible here to make a detailed analysis of the regime and its
modes of operation, but only an indication of its practices.
The question of power and Buddhism
How can we analyze the combination of brutal executions of raw power and high moral perceptions in
Burma? And how can we understand the cognition of power and religion in this case?
I cannot here refer the entire discussion of power from Marx and Weber to Foucault and Bourdieu, and
many others. However, in order to give some direction to the ensuing analysis and discussion, I take
inspiration from Eric Wolf (1999) in his anthropological contribution to this long debate. He suggested four
modalities of power:
Power of potency (individual capabilities)
Power of interactions and transactions ( ability to apply ‘will to power’, cf. Weber)
Control of contexts, tactical and organizational powers (‘how to grab power’)
Structural powers – governance…. (‘how to maintain power’), capability to command social
The first dimension is important in Burma in discourses on power and as part of a common cultural
imaginary of how power works. All dimensions are of course at work and important. However the first is, as
said, the core in Burmese perceptions and related to the question of how the personal subject is defined
and ‘constructed’ within the regime’s ideology and in the opposition. Buddhism functions as a medium for
this process and enters all modalities. Hanna Arendt (1970:44-45) defined power as ‘the ability to act in
concert’ whereas the notion ‘strength’ apply to individual power and ‘authority’ to the power vested in
persons or offices. I think this classic distinction is still useful in combination with Wolf’s modalities. But
power has to be defined in specific contexts and conjunctures.
The military regime is dictatorial and brutal. But is it also a totalitarian regime? Perhaps not
in the form and scale compared to Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union. Yet, I will argue that the Burmese
junta acts in a totalitarian mode. They attempt to annihilate oppositional subjects in a way which Hanna
Arendt has described in her work on totalitarian rule. A comparison with Nazi Germany, Stalin’s USSR or
North Korea may distort an understanding of the specific process in Burma. However, some of the
mechanisms and functions of totalitarian repression are similar and universal: the negation and elimination
of the personal subject, legally, politically and morally; then eliminating his/her individual identity and
dignity through general surveillance and radical denial of personal freedoms before the final annihilation.
There is a breakdown of morality manifest in the erratic and widespread violence against all opponents
inside and outside the regime (see Arendt 1994:328; & 1976). The regime denies a person any judicial
protection and eliminated the moral person; they humiliate and destroy personal identity, as when monks
are disrobed in public during arrest; then they use torture, rape, hard labour, and other violent means
before killing those who oppose their power. Rape is used as a tactical means for ethnic cleansing and
displacement in the Karen State.
Violence, Hannah Arendt (1970) argues, often grows out of failed power and authority. The
generals know they are hated, and they fear for their lives. Further, such a rule try to distort the impression
of their acts in order to make reason their use of violence, as Arendt (1976:413) explains: “Systematic lying
to the whole world can be safely carried out only under the conditions of totalitarian rule, where the
fictitious quality of everyday reality makes propaganda largely superfluous.
In the process the Generals also apply tactical, organizational and structural means such as
widespread surveillance, confiscating property and moving people without warning or compensation,
shooting people at sight, just to mention a few means. Junta leader Than Shwe, Senior General and army
chief, managed to get two important laws approved before the new constitutions came into function: one
was a general amnesty for all acts by the State Peace and Development Council (the junta) before the
constitution of 2008, and a law of ‘unlimited special funds’ under the control of the army Commander in
Chief (Than Shwe). And finally Than Shwe announced the formation of a new State Supreme Council, not
written into the constitution. It has 18 members all leading generals, the president and ministers – the head
is Than Shwe, who is not state president, (The Irrawaddy 4 March, 2011). Than Shwe also secured valuable
state enterprises for his cronies by privatization before the constitution was implemented. The regime is
currently selling state property, including the historical building from the colonial era in Rangoon, to its
cronies. The regime favors a ‘predatory and drug capitalism’ based on arbitrary expropriations and
laundered money from drug trade. The cronies are clients and give their gifts in reciprocity of favours, for
example by taking the general’s wife on a shopping tour to Singapore and pay whatever the wives crave, or
they give huge donations for the weddings in the ruling families. Another relationship is the Buddhist
donations networks, which I will explain later.
Power in its totalitarian form permeates all levels of society – vertically and horizontally, i.e. the power
to organize and structure at all levels, the power to control physical force combined with ideological
interpellation and subjectification within the following domains:
1) Social Structure: All public and private institutions from the new parliament, all administrative and
judicial bodies… down to the individual household; all social relations and interactions are governed
by patron-client relationships of gifts and services (let saung) and la’ pe- la’ yú: giving and taking
bribes. In this process of governance all acts are explained as legal and necessary according to the
2) Social organization: Armed forces, political parties, mass organization, the Buddhist sangha, NGOs…
The tactical reason used here is forced participation under the control of the regime and its
ideology. Union Solidarity Development Association was the ‘mass organization’ of the regime with
forced membership for all public servants. In 2010 it was transformed to a ‘mass’ party and won
58% of the votes in the elections. 25% of the seats were reserved for military personnel, thus giving
the regime an absolute majority.
3) Ideology: Nationalism (in a primordial version); the army claims to be the only and historical
successful defender of national unity. The army fought the colonial power and keeps neocolonialists and their ‘axe handles and stooges’ (read: Aung San Suu Kyi, the BBC, USA) from taking
power. Further, the regime defines only one hegemonic national identity for Burma: Myanmar
nationality. The ethnic groups are defined as ‘the 135 Myanmar nationalities.’1 Thus, the ideology of
the regime also contains corporatist perspective, which does not allow deviation.2
Subjectification, the process of subject formation, is a kind of Meta process and result of the other
dimensions of power – the ultimate function of the totalitarian rule. There is no space for personal
liberties. The regime considers concepts of human rights and human security as alien cultural
notions, which are contradictory to Burmese culture and national tradition. Appeals to such rights
may be seen as illegal and as dissent and treason by the regime.
Burma has 24 ethnic groups. They all have subdivision and there are an estimated plus 100 languages and dialects.
See Mikael Gravers (ed.) (2007).
I have explained this more detailed in M. Gravers (1999).
Subjectivity is levelled and subsumed under a singular communitarian Myanmar identity – or the person is
killed. It is basically a corporate ideology which homogenizes individual interests, eliminates ethnic and
other differences and expects all to serve the state (regime). It categorizes opposition as deviating and thus
generating a fear of deviation and dissent. An example of the corporate logic is found in the new
constitution, article 304:” With approval of the national Defence and Security Council, the Defence Services
has the authority to administer the participation of the entire people in the security and defence of the
nation” (cited in The Irrawaddy, 21 December 2009). The army is the regime is the state.... and the other
way around.
Subjectification and the Buddhist notion of the enchanted subject
In Burma the subject formation is very much concerned with the moral person – not merely in the
normative sense but as an individual social agent.3 In this process Buddhism has a crucial part. Theravada
Buddhism in S.E. Asia propagates the idea of a non-self (anatta), i.e. the self is not a substance of the
person and cannot be transmitted via rebirth into the next existence. On the other hand, the moral person
is crucial in order to escape the cycles of rebirth (samsara) and thus escape from the sufferings of worldly
existence. The spiritual and moral liberation from suffering is limited to Buddhism saints (arahant) and the
Buddha (the enlightened person). However, it is goal for all Buddhist to accumulate a spiritual and moral
capital in order to reach this level in this existence or the following. Thus the self is both subject to suffering
and objects of its own liberation (ultimately nirvana) by performing meritorious acts such as meditation or
donations to monks. Moreover, enchanted subjects in the person of charismatic monks and knowing lay
persons, who possesses a special spiritual and moral capital, are necessary as a ‘field of merit’ and as
teachers. In this ‘field of merit’ lay people are allowed to obtain knowledge about the existence and its
ontological conditions. They can make to make merit in the form of donations to the temples or individual
monks. Such donations enhance a lay persons merit and karma (‘actions - result of actions’). A donation, on
the other hand, depends on intentions (cetana, ‘volition’). A donation merely given in order to accumulate
personal prestige and power may not enhance karma but brings material attachments and sufferings. The
donor thus may not accumulate merit. As explained above, merit is closely connected to a person’s status
and power. However, merit in Burma is not merely a question of spiritual and moral capital but of a
symbolic capital signifying the person’s authority (ana) or influence (awza). Both words mean ‘power’. The
first word refers to legitimate power – the second to a general influence in society. The actual ‘power’,
however, is determined by a person’s karmic powers (hpoùn) obtained in the cycles of rebirth. A ruler can
have secular power and hpoùn even if he is not considered an enchanted leader of a high moral standing,
as in the case of Than Shwe. Since he can sustain power his karma is not spent yet.
A moral and charismatic leader must possess a high level of moral virtue or perfection
(parami). The concept of parami is closely linked to hpoùn and is expressed in the attitudes and actions of
the person. It is important to notice, that merit karma is impermanent and changes during an existence
although the results of an enhancement or decline may only be known in the next existence.
In Buddhist cosmology there is an important distinction between lokya – the mundane
world, and lokuttara – the spiritual world. However, these two worlds depend on each other. The secular,
materially oriented world needs merit and knowledge provided by the spiritual domain; and lokuttara
needs material support from lay people. If both decline then Buddhism is in danger. If monks get too
See the debate on Mauss’s concept, le personell morale in M. Carrithers, S. Collins 6 S. Lukes (eds) 1985: The
Category of the Person. Anthropology, Philosophy, History. Cambridge U.P. the debate is too complex to be included
in this brief paper. See the articles by Charles Taylor, Mauss et. al. For a recent contribution see Alain Touraine (2007).
Al. This debates has traces back to the writings of William James and his radical individualism.
involved in the mundane world they may lose their spiritual and moral capital. On the other hand, monks
may provide moral leadership during crisis. Buddhist cosmology thus is very much concerned with the daily
conditions for lay people because the material and moral conditions are intertwined. Before 2007, Burmese
monks began to register an increase in old people who begged food after their last meal at noon or the
increase in poor children entering monastic school, and they concluded that the economic crisis and
ensuing humanitarian crisis was becoming a threat to Buddhist religious teaching (sasana). Buddhism in
danger became a strong argument for the demonstrations in 2007. At the same time, the act of
demonstrating and entering the political sphere of lokya can pollute the moral virtue of monks and the
monastic organization. This is the dilemma of modern engaged Buddhism and moral leadership, as we shall
see. In Burma there is a historical interface of frictions between the mundane and the supra mundane
worlds. These frictions signify important existential concerns of the Burmese.
Buddhist cosmology constitute an imaginary of the world (the universe), its origins, its forces and powers
and the necessary moral means (notions and personal acts) to cope with suffering, misfortune and
violence. In it classic form it predicted the coming of the next Buddha (Ariya Metteya) and of a righteous
and moral ruler (dhammaraja) preparing his arrival with the help of mythological King Indra and his angels
(devata). This imaginary is used by Aung San Suu Kyi and the young monks as a ‘text’ to translate and
envision the democratic freedom which are not existing in Burma, an imaginary very similar to the
millenarian (utopian) vision of the era of the coming Buddha. However, it also used by the regime in order
to legitimize its rule with a reference to the royal imaginary of a world conqueror and universal ruler
(cakkavatti) who precedes the righteous ruler and rule by the use of force. The forces depicted by the
Buddhist imaginary is a combination of divine powers and human capacities (moral capital) and constitute
an important ontological frame for Burmese as well as a medium for politics, as we shall see below.
The crucial question then is whether Buddhism possesses an immanent democratic essence, an
authoritarian set of ideas and concepts, or can be used to describe both, and thus open to interpretations.
Translating Buddhist concepts into democracy
‘Of the four Buddhist virtues conductive to the happiness of laymen, saddha, confidence in moral, spiritual,
and intellectual values, is the first.’ (Aung San Suu Kyi. 1991: p 178).4
Aung San Suu Kyi believes that the Burmese, who are not used to a Western discourse on democracy, turns
to Buddhism in their quest for democracy and moral leadership. She considers Buddhism to be liberal,
including free subjects who can realize truth by their own free will and help others (Ibid. 174). Thus, it can
use to criticize a despotic and immoral rule. Buddhist concepts of a moral leader are then translated into
universal notions of modern democratic leadership.
In Burma, leadership is often discussed with reference to a righteous ruler in Buddhism. He
rules according to the ten moral perfections of a righteous king (dasa-rajadhamma), some of which are
similar to the perfection of a Buddha: Liberality, morality, self-sacrifice, integrity, kindness, restrain and
austerity, non-anger, non-violence, tolerance, forbearance or non-obstruction (non-opposition against the
will of the people, in Aung San Suu Kyi’s version). 5 She writes that the leader who stops moral and social
chaos is a Mahasammata in Buddhism, ‘a ruler by universal consent’ with reference to a mythological king
(Ibid.169). The dhammaraja concept has been used by Aung San Suu Kyi in order to criticize the junta for
Aung San Suu Kyi is referring to the four streams of merit (punna-dhara) giving alm to moks with faith in Buddha’s
See also Tambiah (1976:49).
not following these perfections and not following the will of the people towards a more democratic society.
Moreover, it is the duty of a ruler to prevent moral decline and material decay. According to Aung San Suu
Kyi’s interpretation, the junta can be held responsible for: ‘ failure to recover that which has been lost,
omission to repair that which has been damaged, disregard for the need of a reasonable economy, and the
elevation to leadership of men without morality or learning.’ (Ibid. 169). The junta follow the wrong path
(agati) and creates greed (chanda), hatred (dosa), delusion (moha), and cowardice (bhaya); that, is the
opposite path of freedom. This is a clear sign of lack of a moral leadership.
Dhamma, the Buddhist ‘law’ (of existence) based on righteousness, virtue and non-violence
is as universal as the Human Right declaration of 1948, Daw Suu Kyi argues (Ibid. P.177). She quotes the
declaration, ‘ if a man is not to be compelled to have recourse ,as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny
and oppression, human rights should be protected by law’, a clear reference to the situation in Burma.
In Buddhist popular cosmology a world conqueror (cakkavatti), acting on behalf of King Indra, will cleanse
the world of its vices before the next Buddha arrives. Indra will use water for cleaning out anger, fire to
clean out lust and ignorance with wind. This imaginary is easily read into specific events, such as the
cyclone Nargis, or an earth quake. Prophecies (tabaung) are prevalent in Burma and easily spread as
rumours in a country where all information is strictly censured and reduced to what the general have to
There is another figure in the Burmese version of Buddhist cosmology: mìn laùng, a traditional rebel king, a
pretender or imminent king. The term mìn (‘king’) still has a connotation of ‘rebel’, ‘moral leader’. He may
also be considered a bodhisatta (a coming Buddha).7
If a ruler does not act according to the ten perfections he may encounter a mìn laùng. The term mìn
laùng was more common during the monarchy (until 1886). The notion was used for Aung San, Burma’s
national hero who was assassinated in 1947, who was also seen as a bodhisatta (Prager2003). This
combination is not use in such a direct way today, but in a more connotative mode. The notion mìn is now
signifying not a king, but a ‘god leader’, according to exiled monks interviewed in Mae Sot 2010, 2011.
However, the term still carry a connotation of a rebel. For example, one of the famous student leaders from
1988, now in jail, uses the nom du guerre Mín Ko Naing. ‘Conqueror of Kings’; One of the monks who
organized the ‘saffron revolution’ use the name Mìn Tung Nya: ‘King Zero’. Zero, he explained, is an
important and higher number rarely considered. It is also difficult to destroy or manipulate in Burmese
counter-magic (yadaya) based on numerology (see below p. 7-8). His name thus has connotations of a
moral leader who is not afraid of the ruling power. The leader of ‘Generation Wave’ (the young students)
use the name Mìn Yan Naing (meaning ‘winning over kings’ or ‘authority’s threats’), perhaps mimicking Mìn
Ko Naing from the 88-generation.8 This us of mìn could be a response to the rumour saying that Than Shwe
believes he is an incarnation of a famous Burmese King and named his new capital, Nay Pyi Daw (‘Royal
Abode’, or Royal City’) and has his residence referred to as Nan Daw (‘Palace’).9 His karmic power then
derives from his former existence. On the Parade ground in the new capital he erected four huge statues of
three famous kings, one who introduced Buddhism, one who conquered Siam (Thailand) and Alaunghpaya
who expanded Burma in 1750’s
Before the demonstrations and Aung San Suu Kyi’s speech in 1988, a tabaung predicted auspicious events: 8x2 +8x2:
8 august 1988.
On the concept of mìn laùng, see Michael Aung-Twin 1983.
Aung San and his thirty comrades had the same type of nom du guere, for example Bo Yan Naing: ‘Conqueror of
See The Irrawaddy, 27 January, 2011 (
Aung San Suu Kyi is practicing meditation in order to improve her knowledge of Buddhism. Meditation
is very popular in Burma, especially among women. One female informant, and participant in the Saffron
Revolution, who teach vipassana meditation using the internet, told me that by improving the moral self
one can contribute to counter the increasing immorality in Burma in the form of the four vices: greed, hate,
ect. as seen in corruption, extravagant spending, economic and social decline, drugs and prostitution, and
violence. It also neutralizes fear. Fear is often addressed by Aung San Suu Kyi as in her book Freedom from
Fear. Fear corrupts people:
”It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the
scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it” (Aung San Suu Kyi 1991: 80).
Daw Suu Kyi is here close to Hannah Arendt’s citation of Montesquieu: “Fear in tyranny is not only
subject’s fear, but the tyrant’s fear of his subjects as well.” (Arendt 1994:413).
In Buddhism on should respect a teacher, but one should also question his teachings. Likewise, one should
not fear a tyrannical ruler, not submit to the paranoia of a ruler. Here mindfulness and equanimity are
important notions. Buddhism defines the moral and knowing subject to be the best, or only, bulwark
against tyrannical rule. The question is, of course, if morally enchanted subjects constitute a sufficient kind
of empowerment against an increasingly totalitarian rule?
I this way, the discourse on power in Burma take its point of departure from the qualities of the person and
his moral capital and then analyse the actual power and its implementation in tactics, in organizations, in
the structuring of society at all levels by connecting specific acts to the morality of the person. It is very
much a struggle between persons and symbolic power. Daw Suu Kyi is seen as an enchanted leader with
her father’s perfections and a potential bodhisatta. When asked if she would become a female bodhisatta,
she replied: “Oh for goodness sake, I am nowhere near that state” – but not denying the possibility.
The generals and their Imaginary:
The regime openly mixes traditional Burmese supernaturalism such as astrology, numerology and countermagic (yadana) with Buddism in their ideology. For example, the draft constitutions was completed on the
9 February and published on the 9 April – the day of the referendum is not yet official. The move to new
capital, Naypyidaw (‘Royal City’), is said to have been initiated after an astrologer’s advice the 6 November
2005, at 6.37 AM, precisely, when trucks began moving inventory from ministries in Yangon. The advice
may have been based of a prophecy (tabaung) saying that Rangoon would be the scene of an uprising. 10
Likewise, rumours say that U Gambira, leader of the young monks, was sentenced to precisely 65 years
prison based on a superstitious calculation! It is said that General Than Shwe has the number 11 as his lucky
number and 6+5 =11 is then the numerological ‘rationality’ of the sentence. Later it was reduced to 63
years (6 +3=9). Astrology, numerology, amulets and various kinds of magic are widespread in Burma. They
formally belong to a non-Buddhist path (Lawkyi pyinnya – i.e. lokiya pañña) of ‘worldly knowledge’ and
opportunistic practices. Yet, many monks have this knowledge and use it. The generals are rumoured to use
such supernatural instruments in order to preserve power. When General Khin Nyunt, former 1. Secretary
in the junta and head of military Intelligence, was arrested in 2004 his astrologer Bodaw Than Hla was also
jailed for five years. The use a special kind of fate manipulation or averting misfortune called yadaya chae
is commonly said to be used by the generals. One kind of yadaya is used to manipulate Buddhist karma;
another kind is used to manipulate worldly events (see Keiko Tosa 2005). It works by copying a predicted
bad event and acts on the replica and eliminate it. General Ne Win, Burma’s dictator from 1962 to 1988,
See The Irrawaddy; Vol. 13,12, 2005, and Vol.14,10 2006.
was rumoured to have prevented an attempt to kill him by posing in front of a large mirror where he drew
his gun and shot his own image in the mirror – and former member of the junta, General Khin Nyunt, who
dressed as a woman in order to prevent Suu Kyi to take power. The generals are believed to be
extraordinarily well skilled in such manipulations and in spreading rumours which either disturb or confuse
people. Supernatural powers and rumours controls a population in a country where information is replaced
by propaganda and freedom of expression is denied. A totalitarian regime will eventually attempt to use a
cosmology and supernatural beliefs as part of its ideology and manipulate fear and hope, as in Burma.
However, this does not mean to state that the regime is merely operating on a superstitious logic. On the
contrary, it is very pragmatic in its strategies and its use of force. The move of the capital was primarily
strategic. Rangoon was difficult to control during the demonstrations in 1988 which paralysed the
governmental functions. The new capital is not so vulnerable in case of a seaborne invasion and closer to
trade and supply routes from China (see Maung Aung Myoe 2006). But modern strategic thinking does not
preclude the application of the royal imaginary and represent the move of the capital in accordance with
the rules of Buddhist cosmology and the mandala (galactic) rules in line with the kings who moved from
Ava to Amarapura and finally to Mandalay. The residence of the ‘world conqueror’ (cakkavatti) is also the
centre of spiritual activities, a centre of the cakkavatti/dhammaraja as well as of a bodhisatta in the
cosmology. Thus we need to probe further into the definitions of power based on cosmological notions.
After the suppression of the democratic movement between 1988 and 1991, when several
monks were killed, the regime spent huge sum on renovating pagodas. Among these was the most holy
shrine in Burma, the Shwe Dagon pagoda in Rangoon, containing Budhha relic, and where Aung San Suu Kyi
held her famous speech in 1988. The generals spent an estimated 440 million Kyats from public donations
on renovation of pagodas at that time. For Shwe Dagon they use 0,2 ton of gold and ½ ton og gemstones
for the pagoda spire. Shwe Dagon is a national symbol as well as a symbol of royal power. Building og
renovating pagodas not is not only an act of obtaining the highest form of merit but signify royal power.
Burmese kings used to hoist the pagoda spire (htì, ‘umbrella’) as a sign of his glorious power (hpoùn). The
generals are often seen hoisting the spire and the ritual easily translates into modern politic as a sign of
their karmic power and thus of a legitimate authority based on this power. The merit of the act is of course
disputed by the opposition and wide sections of the population, but since karma is also from previous
existences and since the generals are in total power, they must possess a karmic power.
The generals mimic royal rituals. Senior General Than Shwe and the junta recently
inaugurated the huge Uppatasanti pagoda (upadana: clinging; santi: ’peace’, or ‘the will to peace pagoda’)
in the new capital of Naipyidaw (‘Royal City’), probably a copy of the famous Shwe Dagon and nearly as
high. He and his family hoisted the golden pagoda final, or ‘umbrella’, the htìdaw , formerly a symbol of
royal power, surrounded by soldiers and officers in bullet proof vests. The inauguration took place after the
Saffron revolution, and It was noted that the monks attending the ceremony were kept well away from the
htì hoisting (The Irrawaddy 10 March, 2009). However, on that day senior monks who support the regime
were awarded new religious titles such as ‘Agga Maha Pandita as conferred by devout monarchs and
governments in the past’, according to the New Light of Myanmar (11 March 2009). Meanwhile, the
ancient Danok pagoda near Rangoon, where Than Shwe’s wife and officers’ families recently hoisted a
pagoda final, collapsed during renovation and killed at least 20 people, indeed a very inauspicious omen.
According to The Irrawaddy (1 June, 2009), workers saw a bright red light and heard a haunting voice when
it collapsed. Villagers believe it was a result of donations from a cruel donor. After the collapse, Than Shwe
and his family is said to have made flower offerings to the pagoda in order to ward of the bad omen.
Pagoda construction and this kind of ritual can be seen as the regimes attempt to counter the public
disenchantment with the rulers and their lack of metta (‘unbounded good will’, ‘loving kindness’) and
karuna (‘compassion’), as the monks and part of the urban population demonstrated in September 2007.
The regime has organized a display of a famous relic from China and made considerable
donations. Jordt (2007:103, 128) describes how the officers ask lay people and lower ranks to give them
money which they then donate to temples. The lay people and the lower ranks share the merit, but the
donor takes the highest reward of merit, and Jordt argue that we cannot judge all such donations as
insincere. Yet, they are seen as predatory acts by many Burmese and the merit produced is questioned.
People dare not refuse the request of the officers.
The generals thus confirmed that “co-opting the symbols of the nation and Buddhism have
become part of the SPDC regime’s strategy” (AAPP 2004:19). The junta also used the Mangala sutta and
Buddha discourse on a morally good person in order to instruct the population in national moral values,
‘making a nation of good citizens’ (See Jordt 2007:105;). In other words, the regime mixes nationalism and
Buddhism and use religion as a tool to rule, believing in the creation of a mangala (mingala in Burmese)
society, i.e. a prosperous nation. This and the killings have prompted many Burmese to question the
sincerity and cetana (intentions) of the generals in relation to their donations. Are they merely trying to
ward of the crisis and the threats to their power? Donations and merit making cannot be converted directly
to hpoùn and secular without a public recognition of intentions and moral perfections (parami). Thus, the
use of force, violence and totalitarian mechanisms escalates as more people protests against the rule.
The Saffron Revolution 2007: -enchanted subjects confronting totalitarian rule
The saffron revolution has its roots in the rebellion against Ne Win and the socialist rule in 1988-1990, and
the actions in September 2007 are actually a continuation of this struggle. The name ‘Saffron revolution’ is
probably invented by the media and many monks object to the word revolution since it carries a denotation
of violence. The active monks are mostly young and their leaders hold degrees from Buddhist Universities.
Especially the novices worshipped the leading monks and were eager to participate in the action. Some
elder monks participated but tended to be more cautious. Monks in leading positions did often support the
activist, but warned against the reprisals. They were concerned about the safety of the young activist
monks. Some avoided the younger leaders for fear of being identified with their activities. They worried
that monasteries would be closed and that they would be forced to disrobe. According to the young monks,
some elder monks were more concerned about their own safety than about Buddhism and monks entering
the secular domain, as I had thought. The monks in Sangha Committee and other positions appointed by
the regime are probably mostly supporters of the regime and directly against the activism. The young
leaders explained that Buddha urged to support the enlightenment of everyone, including one-self, the
family, and all living in the present existence. “Criticize your teachers, your parents – all what is wrong,”
said a monk from Burma in a dhamma talk in Mae Sot. He emphasized that this is not a political statement;
it is dhamma. Dhamma talks are now strictly controlled in Burma and many monks are not allowed to hold
talk or announce them. Interestingly, the young monks referred to the Kamala Sutta as their favourite sutta
in which The Buddha urge his disciples to criticize their parent, teachers and other authorities. (Buddha did
not follow his father advice and left his palace).
To kill is extremely negative merit, and to kill a monk is an act resulting in the most negative
merit. Than Shwe explained, that the monks who demonstrated were not only violating Sangha rules; they
were bogus monks, and it could not be an act of demerit to beat and kill them. In his view they were not
moral subjects but enemies. The exiled monks criticize Than Shwe and the generals for merely using
Buddhism to win support and legitimize their rule – ‘the generals and the military are a-dhamma, said one
monk, that is acting against dhamma: “Than Shwe will not even be accepted in hell”, – “but then the very
bad thing is that he will return” (from hell), he added, followed by a roaring laughter from the young
monks. However, some of the monks disagreed on the generals and said that their pagoda constructions
and other activities were not necessarily without religious merit (kutho); that is, we cannot say that all the
general’s intentions are wrong. Before turning to the events in 2007, it is relevant to briefly trace the recent
history of monk’s actions.
In 1988, monks participated in the demonstrations against Ne Win’s rule and the deep
economic crisis his rule had generated. The monks appealed to Ne Win to follow the ten rules of a
dhammaraja. Together with students they briefly took over administration of townships offices during the
growing anarchy. In Mandalay the Young Monks Organization maintained law and order. According to
Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP 2004:13-14) two monks were killed and fourteen
wounded during the demonstrations in 1990 in Mandalay organized by the Monk’s Union. AAPP estimates
that 600 monks had been killed in 1988. However, this figure is difficult to assess. In response, the young
monks called a pattam nikaujjana kamma – ‘the overturning of the rice bowl’ as a boycott (tabeit hmauk)
of military personnel by not accepting their donations and not performing rituals and ceremonies for them.
This act is normally only used against lay persons who have offended the Sangha or monks. Here it is used
as a rare collective and politically inspired act against rulers and their supporters. This act refers to the
Vinaya rule and the rules which regulate the relation between monks and lay people: Acting against a
monastery, vilifying and making insidious remarks about a monk, creating dissent among monks or
defaming Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha are offenses (parajika: ‘defeats’) which are met with the boycott
(AAPP 2004: 14; Aung Zaw 2007:28). The boycott can only be revoked after a ceremony of at least four
monks and the consent of all involved monks. This means that the boycott from 1990 in principle is still
effective since the generals have not apologized.
The boycott was effective in Mandalay where the local commander invited monks to a
ceremony, but none turned up (Aung Zaw 2007). The junta then decided to raid 130 monasteries, arrested
about 3000 monks in Madalay and 1600 in Rangoon (AAPP 2004:57). They forced many to disrobe after
arresting them. This is an act of offense against both monk and sangha since a monk can only be disrobed
by a superior monk, not by civil authorities. Many were jailed and put to hard labour or porter service for
the army. Some died in the camps, and the AAPP report describes the beatings, torture and humiliations of
the disrobed monks. They were not allowed to recite suttas (Buddha’s discourses) and were punished if
they did. The purpose is to annihilate the individual and create fear in the Sangha. As argued in the
introduction to this paper, such acts which continue to this day demonstrate how totalitarian values
dominate the present regime. The monks bitterly concluded that they were transformed from disciples of
Buddha into the subjects of mundane powers (AAPP 2004:12). However, the leader of the junta from 19891992, General Saw Maung accused the monks of breaking the vinaya rules and legitimized the junta’s acts
by referred to King Anawratha, the great purifier of Buddhism. The regime accused the monks of immoral
living (gambling sexual relations and rape). For many monks the regime made a clear defamation of the
Interestingly, monks interviewed in the AAPP report use the historical memory as
comparison and refer to the colonial resistance and the famous monks, U Ottama and U Wisara, who also
met opposition to their involvement in the nationalist movement agaist British rule, not only from the
British authorities but within the Sangha as in 1988-1990. The report mentions that some of the monks in
their speeches referred to the ten moral perfections of a dhammaraja as monks did when they advised the
monarch: “It had once been a moral obligation to teach kings when they tended towards injustice or
immoral deeds” (AAPP 2004:12). Thus, both military rulers and monks in opposition used the historical
memory and the royal imaginary in 1990 to legitimize their actions. As seen from Buddhist cosmology, the
ruler cannot put himself above the Dhamma and the monk; the ruler, on the other hand, must be a purifier
of the religion and the Sangha. The boycott was never called off in a ceremony and it was revoked again in
2003 after the arrest of 25 monks in Kyaukse. During a protest in Mandalay one monk was killed and 20
wounded. 300 novices involved in the boycott were arrested and jailed in 2004. It is important to
emphasize that there is continuity in the monk’s engagement from 1988 to the 2007 uprising. There are
signs, though, of a constant divide between elder and more conservative monks and younger activist
oriented monks – a divide reaching far back in history and discussed since the independence of Burma (See
Spiro 1970: 392-394). Abbots and monks in the state committees may either be more conservative or direct
supporters of the regime – or they share the feelings of the young monks, but know the risks and try to
protect their young disciples. In this way they illustrate the dilemma of engaged Buddhism.
The AAPP report (2004: 19) mentions that monks, who support the regime, in particular
those in the Sangha committee, receive huge donations: luxury cars, TV sets, satellite dishes, video players
and refrigerators. Money donation may reach 10 million Kyats for one monk. These monks are often
ridiculed by the young monks. Thus, there is a constant risk of not only violating the vinaya rules, but of
splitting the Sangha. One of the monks who was active during this period concluded ‘that there were many
problems between monks, rulers and kings, but things has never been so bad as they are now’ (AAPP
2004:67). Monks were no longer in a position to advice rulers, and their moral authority had been reduced
by the military rulers. Therefore, the young monks began to conspire and prepare new actions. They knew
from history, that it was difficult to organize monks from nine different sects and monastic traditions.
One of the leaders from Mandalay is Ashin Issariya alias Mìn Tung Nya: “King Zero” (36) and
co-founder of All Burma Monk’s Alliance together with U Gambira. He recalled how the monks organized
English and computers classes since 1988. Long before the events in 2007 they had established libraries
and these activities were covers for meetings and discussions about the situation. The libraries and classes
is a reaction against the regimes closure of universities and strict surveillance of education and students.
They began discussions on the formation of an all Burma monk’s organization out of the several local
organizations. Some information on this process has surfaced and is interesting in comparison with the
historical experience of monk’s organizations in the first half of the 20th century. The young monks travelled
and exchanged books and videos on non-violent resistance and political defiance movements in other
countries. They put up small stickers with a hand saying ‘Stop the military regime’! They used mobile
telephones and the internet to communicate and arrange secret meetings. In other words, it is a globally
inspired, modern protest movement as well as a traditional Buddhist response to political violence. They
had to be careful with the surveillance from the regime’s Special Branch which turned out to possess quite
accurate information on the movement before the events in 2007. The young leaders, such as U Gambira
(29), realized that a united leadership was crucial to coordinate future actions, and in September 2007 the
All Burma Monks Alliance (AMBA) was formed under a steering committee of 15 monks. The most
prominent among these were U Gambira (U Sandawbhatha) who was sentences 65 year in jail and is
seriously ill. The AMBA included the All Burma Young Monks Union, the Federation of All Burma Monks
Union (Madalay), Rangoon Young Monks Union and the Sangha Duta Council of Burma. The All Burma
Young Monks Union (Yahanpyu Aphwe) dates back to 1948. It was banned in 1964 and revived in Mandalay
1988. Mandalay (the last royal capital) is clearly an important centre. The regime banned all extra-Sangha
organizations in 1990. There may be more organizations than listed here and the whole endeavour seems
to have been the work of individual monks with a great enthusiasm. One monk, U Pyinya Zanta, who had
been in jail two times and advised U Gambira, says in his brief ‘Memoir of a Leading Saffron Monk’, that the
day AMBA was formed, the 9th September, was auspicious: numerically it lines up as 9-9-9 when 2 and 7
from the year are added and also when all numbers 9+9+9=27 are added including the sum of 27; 2+7+9”
(Mizzima News 2 January 2009)– an exemplary numerological assessment.
The young monks told me how they were inspired by U Ottama and U Visara (the last died in
colonial prison) and the movements in the 1920s but also learned from monks involved in 1988, for
example U Thiloka, a Buddhist scholar who was jailed in 1988. The young monks worked closely with the
1988 students, Mìn Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi and others who began the demonstrations against the rise in fuel
prices 19 August and were arrested. The monks also collaborated with the Wave Generation – the young
students. Some of the organizers had contact with the NLD, but party members only joined the
demonstrations in the last days. As I understand it, some of the monks were afraid that the participation of
NLD and the students could provoke the military.
Over the years these concerned monks had discussed the increase in totalitarian repression
and the declining economy. They had observed the increasing decline in food donations from lay
population hit by the economic downturn. Many monks could not be supported. Children came in growing
numbers to the monastic schools, and poor people turned up at noon begging food from the monks when
they had finished their last meal. In September 2007 monks from Pakokku demonstrated against peoples
sufferings. The monks were severely beaten up by police and refused to receive donations from military
personnel and their families. Some of the donations were thrown out in the streets and later taken away by
soldiers (Kyi Wai 2008:10). This event provoked the young monks and strengthened the determination to
create a strong national leadership, although the Pakokku monks could not be included since they were
already under strict surveillance. On 9 September, the young monks issued an ultimatum to the military
asking for an apology the boycott would continue. The ABMA decided to use the slogan: ‘For peace on
Earth and in Burma” and to recite the Metta Sutta at full moon and full waning moon, as in Buddhist
tradition. And the date of the renewed boycott refusing alms from military and their families was 18
September: 9+9+9. The day after the monks marched to the Shwe Dagon Pagoda chanting the Metta Sutta.
The monks also began to place stickers with “Stop Violence”. The rest of the story is well known, although
we have no certain figures for how many monks were killed in September 2007. It is also uncertain if monks
in smaller town and villages were active. But informants from Hpa-an have told me they could follow the
demonstrations at satellite TV in the beginning. The modern communication means and courageous
journalist made it a global event. And the monks interviewed confirmed that monks from smaller rural
monasteries also joined.
The Maggin Monastery i Rangoon, a centre of the uprising and famous for its treatment of
HIV patients, was raided and closed. Monasteries have been closed and many are more or less empty;
many monks fled the country or withdrew to the countryside. As of August 2009 at least 237 monks and
some nuns are in jail and new arrests occur continuously. Meanwhile, leading monks continued to hold
critical dhamma talks in the tradition of the dhammakatikas of the 1920s and distributed lectures on DVD
until the authorities finally stopped the lectures and distribution. These lectures often used a story about
the mass murders Angulimala’s encounter with Buddha, who stopped him from killing his own mother and
Buddha in order to obtain finger number thousand for his collection, formed as a garland. Buddha
converted the murderer by demonstrating loving-kindness (metta): “May your anger ease. May your heart
and mind enjoy peace and serenity”, he said (Min Zin 2008). Metta is a foundational notions for all
perfections and thus for the ten duties of kings or any political regime. Metta and karuna (‘compassion’),
has now become the antidote to the military autocracy and is used as an active spiritual force against the
regime (Min Zin 2008).
Many monks had to disrobe and hide after the demonstrations. Kin Zero managed to hide
and moved around to smaller monasteries. But in 2008 eight young students from Generation Wave were
arrested and tortured and revealed King Zero’s name. They had joined his classes like many students and
novices, who greatly admired these young and learned monks. Zero then had to go into exile. The military
intelligence did not know his real name. But in 2008 some young students revealed his name under torture
and he escaped to Thailand. He and other monks have established a library named The Best Friends
Children Education Project in Mae Sot and Chiang Mai. The teach children of refugees – democracy and
Buddhism are an important elements in their instructions. The log has a dove and the words “Peace in
Recently the young monks announced a revival of the boycott and new actions if the
Generals do not apologise. Interestingly, Burmese monks outside Burma have formed the Sasana Moli or
the International Burmese Monks Organization (IBMO) in 2007 in support of their compatriots. The regime
has accused the IBMO of splitting the Sangha and consider it a part of the conspiracy between the
opposition and ‘foreign elements’.
In 2003 Min Zin (2008) wrote in the Irrawaddy that Burmese Buddhism had a tendency to
render people passive and complacent. People meditate and focus on obtaining merit in order to improve
the present and future existences of the samsara (cycles of life and death). Significantly, the article
concluded that the Sangha now poses both a moral and an organizational challenge to the military with
almost half a million monks equalling the size of the army. The sufferings among the people and the
brutality of the regime could not be ignored by the monks. The Sitagu Hsayadaw, one of the most
respected monks, explained after the cyclone when he organized relief: “Compassion is important, but it
doesn’t amount to much unless it is accompanied by action,” – and he added that meditation in a closed
room does not help those who suffer,” (Kyaw Zwa Moe 2008:10). Thus, the young monks left their supra
mundane world to engage in non-violent actions. They said that they not only acted in anger over the
treatment of their fellow monks in Pakokku, but because they thought that the regime was becoming
weakened and saw a chance in toppling military rule.
But how do some of the participants in the demonstrations 2007 reflect upon their role?
King Zero explained that monks have a moral responsibility to act and relieve the sufferings of lay people in
a situation where they continued to give alms despite their increased hardship: “We have to provide good
leadership in return for the donations. Good leadership is based on metta and karuna and on kamma”.
“Monks can act because they are not attached to the secular world” He also explained that in referring to
the desa rajadhamma (the ten perfections for a ruler) the Burmese understand what is meant by a morally
good leader. His power must be based on metta and kamma, that is must have hpoùn, which he translated
‘ moral power’. The authority of the monk is thus based on moral influence (awza). Acting as a dhammaraja
means that the leader is not an enemy of the people, he explained.
During the discussion one monk suddenly vented a bitter criticism against the ‘political monks’. He is
against the term ‘saffron revolution’ – it was not a revolution, “we chanted for peace”, he said. He had
perceived the purpose of the demonstrations to be reconciliation and to create a dialogue between the
military and the opposition, but not to start an uprising in order to topple the regime. It was not a political
demonstration but the spread of metta. He said that NLD and the military had to forget all disagreement
and unite for the country. And he was against NLD using their peacock banner. (The monks carried the
Buddhist flag with six colours symbolizing Budddha’s miracles in order to signal peace to the generals). This
monk led the demonstration of about 600 monks which reached the house of Aung San Suu Kyi. The police
even allowed the gate to open and Aung San Suu Kyi came out and said sadhu, sadhu (‘well done’ or’ good’,
like amen) after the chant of Metta Sutta. He tried further to negotiate with the police but they rejected his
request. He further accused ‘politicians’ and ‘political monks’ of provoking the violence from the regime.
His friends kindly replied that they all had to learn from this experience, but also defended their actions.
They all agreed that the communal chanting of Metta Sutta in 2007 changed Burma. The slogan during the
demonstrations was ‘Peoples Power’ – and not ‘democracy’ which is synonymous with the NLD and 1988.
King Zero defends that they strives to obtain ‘Peoples Power’ (i.e. = democracy) since the military was on
retreat, he explained and people had regained courage. “The system has to be changed by a morally god
leadership”, he concluded. The military cannot monopolize the interpretation of concept mìn and the royal
I think this discussion above again clearly demonstrates the dilemma of the monks entering
the secular domain and politics and the limits of moral and spiritual power against totalitarian use of
physical force. Subjectification is ruled by totalitarian means, by violence and by fear. There is a very limited
space for moral subjects and moral leadership.
Today about sixty monasteries are closed and many young monks are underground or in
exile. Control of travel of dhamma talks have increased and all monks are now registered with a special IDcard. The monks in Mae Sot told that some have returned from exile despite strong warning, and are now
jailed. The regime sent spying monks into Thailand and they contacted followers of the young monks and
denounce the teaching of these monks.
Buddhism as a political medium
Buddhism and its cosmological imaginary are neither democratic nor autocratic per se. I can conjure visions
of both types of rule and constitute an important medium of politics. In the case of Burma, the interesting
aspect is that the focus on the moral subject and his/her agency relates to a global trend placing morality
and politic less in the social but in persons, as discussed by Alain Touraine (2007). There is an appeal to the
personal subject as the principle of morality. Moreover the social and political is often conceived in
religious terms. In this sense, Buddhism addresses a global concern – if Touraine is right. Thus, the struggle
between the regime in Burma and the opposition can be seen a struggle of morality and formation of
personal subjects.
The regime suffers from a widespread paranoia; they fear their subjects and treat every
foreigner as a spy (cf. Arendt 1976:436). They aim at a total domination of all social distinctions and all
cultural categories – all identities. They eliminate all dissidents in labour camps or prisons, use forced
labour, forced relocation and take resources (land, food and other things) from the population whenever
they need them. They use ethnic cleansing in the ethnic minority states. They use Karen, Kayah and other
villagers as porters and mine sweepers for the military. Torture and rape is often used. All media are
strictly censured, these days against news about the Jasmine revolution in the Middle East. Moreover the
generals argue that Western democracy, human rights and human security concepts are not compatible
with Burmese culture and tradition. The influence of the civil society on power is drastically reduced since
In other words, the military junta demonstrates so many of the mechanism used by totalitarian regimes if
measured by the writings of Hannah Arendt. It can of course be discussed if the regime is a mere
dictatorship mimicking ‘oriental despotism’. However, I suggest it is totalitarian although different from the
historical examples. It may be a question of scales, but the regime display the four modalities and
dimensions of power outlined in the introduction: Social organization, structure, ideology and
subjectification. The subjectification process can perhaps be seen as the end result of the others. However
in my view it rules the structural and organizational dimensions of Burmese state and society. The regime
has subdued and eliminated any spontaneity in the population (Arendt 1976: 455), and it has isolated the
individuals. In this way they reduce the opposition and resistance. They rule by dividing the opposition.
There is now a ‘third force’ who criticizes Aung San Suu Kyi for not compromising and collaborating with the
regime. They won a few seats in the new parliament, which is more what Weber called prophetically
termed “führer demokratie” (plebiscite democracy), (Cavally 1987: 326). The regime terms it “discipline –
flourishing democracy” and uses it as a cover for a dictatorial rule. The regime’s ideology may seem to be
superficial and ridiculous, but it is taken literally by many since it produces a discursive logic which cannot
be disputed and appeals to peoples ontological fear: ‘Burma will lose its independence and be fragmented
if a federation is established’, for example. Factuality is never discussed and the regime has contempt for
facts. The economy is always developing, in their phrases. If the ideological premises manage to
interpellate people, then the rest of the logic rules (Arendt 1976:457).
The regimes ideology, including their interpretation of Buddhism, is seen as a natural law of supra-human
character. The Myanmar nation and lu myo (‘race’) must develop (corporately) according with its tradition
and united by the military since 1962 and dating back to the monarchy; this is almost a divine law. The
opposition represents a Hobbes scenario – a total and apocalyptic dissolution of Burma and are equal to
the same disruptive forces as the colonial powers, here Britain.
The regime represents a totalitarian imaginary of communitarian and corporate nation where the personal
subject is totally subjected under the military and its monopoly of power. The individual is isolated and
silenced (Arendt 1976:475) and can only survive by dissimulation which dominates inter-subjective
The monks, on the other hand, believed that the moral subject and moral leadership could
make a peaceful revolution, as in Weber’s words: “Charisma is the greatest revolutionary force”. (Max
Weber 1964: 363). What they may not have realized clearly was that they also interpellated fear by their
demonstration, not only among elder monks but in the military and in the population; a fear of violence
and destruction easily used by the regime for further suppression like a Hobbes-dilemma of either total
breakdown of order or return to the totalitarian order (Ferrara 2003). The regime maintained control by
the chaos created.
Buddhism did function as a means of opposition, but did also expose its own moral dilemmas
of non-secular values and non-violence, when the young monks entered the mundane world (lokya) in
2007. Its ideas of a righteous ruler can be translated into both an authoritarian rule as well as into
democracy as we have seen in to opposing editions of the same cosmological imaginary. They both speak of
freedoms: of the nation and of the personal subjects (liberal/disciplined); they both operate with
Buddhism’s notion of power and morality, but from absolutely different positions. They both have utopia
projects of a developed, modern Burma, but again from very different views.
By way of concluding, the Burma case illustrates what I suggested is a globalized trend of
focus on the personal subject and of looking to enchanted subjects, possessing a high moral capital, for
leadership and freedom: Aung San Suu Kyi, Dalai Lama – or Barack Obama, who was called a messiah in
newspapers before he was elected. The oppositional figure is a Than Shwe or a Gadaffi. But is may be wise
to remember that Hitler, Stalin and Mao, and even Gadaffi, used to be enchanted leaders before their fall.
In other words, karma may not last forever.
Cf Fink (2001);Skidmore (2003) ;Gravers (1999)
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