In Burma, there is no escape from politics – not even at the pagoda. Many Buddhist monks joined the protests of 1988, and hundreds were shot and killed by soldiers. Two years later, some 7,000 monks walked silently through the streets of Mandalay with their begging bowls, to collect alms in memory of those who had died in 1988. The peaceful remembrance ended in bloodshed as soldiers shot into the crowd, killing and wounding a number of monks. Afterwards, the sangha, or holy Buddhist order, launched a nationwide religious boycott of the regime by refusing to accept alms from military families or to oversee their weddings and funerals. The action is known as pattam nikkujana kamma – ‘the overturning of the alms bowl’. This passive protest reportedly upset members of the army, as it robbed them of any control over their spiritual destiny: at Buddhist funerals, monks are necessary to guide a person’s vulnerable soul into the next life. Soldiers raided over 100 monasteries, arresting more than 3,000 monks and novices. The sangha now operates under strict government control. All monks must be checked by the government before ordination, even those who take holy orders for only a few weeks or months, as many Buddhist men do. Traditional ceremonies require prior permission from local authorities. And informers, dressed in the brick-red robes of a Burmese monk, are rife within the sangha itself. Senior monks are coerced into toeing the party line with threats and bribes. Abbots, who often have influential moral power within the village, are ordered to keep villagers in check.
SOURCE: Secret Histories: Finding George Orwell in a Burmese Teashop, by Emma Larkin (John Murray, 2005), p. 84