Monks' freedom may again be under attack by junta

Burma’s ruling military regime is planning yet again to tighten its controls on the country’s monks, and many are concerned that this is yet another strategy the junta is using to silence opposition. The junta and the government-controlled State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee have planned new rules meant to “improve monastic discipline and safeguard Buddhism,” which the state believes has been weakened by critics in Burma and abroad due to the monks’ role in the 2007 Saffron Revolution.

In 1980, Ne Win introduced a campaign under the motto “Purification of Sasana [religion],” and some believe that the junta intends to launch a similar campaign in 2010. In 1980, the junta tried to determine which monks were “fake and who were real Buddhist,” with “unrighteous” ideologies banned by force, including certain Buddhist sects and publications from influential monks. Some monks were accused of having relations with women and disrobed, and one monk, who was a critic of the regime, was even accused of murder and cannibalism. Monks were required to carry government-issued ID cards, and had to register in every state and division whenever they traveled. The State Sangha Maga Nayaka Committee also issued decrees which had to be obeyed by all the monks in the country; if a monk disobeyed, he would be expelled from his monastery and disrobed. These laws still apply today.

The Buddhism purification campaign of 1980 had a mixed response from the public, since some people believed that many monks were living in violation of the Vinaya (monastic discipline rules) and thus that the religion needed purification. However, the majority of people agreed that the campaign was a political strategy used by Ne Win to silence the monk’s opposition to his regime. With the ruling junta now posed to issue new laws controlling the activities of monks in Burma, people fear yet again that the regime will seek to silence and crush its opposition.

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