the coup in Burma: when bad things happen to good Buddhists:

Updated On — 27th Sep, 2021


Although I try to not address too many political issues on this blog, for reasons I hope to make clear if you choose to read this post, the coup in Burma the morning of February 1 is worthy of some discussion. Please forgive me if the opinions expressed here come off as cheeky or disrespectful. I do mean well.

The current extraordinary interest in mindfulness, both as a systematic approach to meditation as well as an outlook on life, owes a significant debt to two ingenious, risk-taking meditation adepts during the middle of the last century. They opened the doors to the profound transformation mindfulness offers to all who would take a chance and sincerely practice. Doors which, before their innovations, were closed to regular folks like you and I.

They were both Burmese.

coup in Burma

During the early morning hours this past Monday, February 1, in the cover of darkness, the Burmese military executed an obviously well planned and smooth take over of the democratically elected Burmese government–another coup in Burma.

President Win Myint and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi (henceforth ASSK) were detained, along with ministers and their deputies and members of Parliament. Two days later, the military justified its detention of ASSK by charging her for the possession of illegally imported walkie talkies!

When I expressed my heartbreak and anger several folks responded by seemingly shrugging their shoulders, saying something like they lost interest in the whole Burma thing when ASSK fell from grace by her inaction and complicity in the Rohingya crisis.

This reaction frankly makes no sense.

A red herring

The ASSK issue seems like a red herring, distracting the focus from a catastrophic humanitarian and spiritual crisis, threatening the transmission of the profound wisdom teachings of the Buddha preserved in Burma to an anxious and suffering world.

Red herring?

Yeah, you know, the fallacy of diverting attention from the real issue by focusing instead on an issue having only a surface relevance to the first.

I would argue many reading about the coup in the news are participating in a massive collusion with ignorance.

I finally lost all respect for ASSK when she preposterously claimed in front of the International Criminal Court in the Hague that while “disproportionate force” was used against innocent Rohingya civilians, these were committed by a very small group of “bad apples” in the Burmese military.

Seriously? Is this some kind of grotesque wise-crack?

who is the bad apple here?

I would argue the bad apple here is ASSK herself.

Despite consoling words from more senior meditation teachers who have spent many years undergoing traditional, intensive meditation practice in Burma, I have next to zero confidence ASSK will change.

Maybe I am jaded from 26 years (and counting) working as a psychiatric nurse. I just don’t see it happening.

But my point is —ASSK is NOT the main point.

ASSK is the red herring that distracts us from the real heartbreak–the plight of a country filled to the brim with incredibly kind and dedicated Buddhists adhering to the threefold path of sila, samadhi and panna.

She is the bad apple, but as the Jackson 5 reminds us:

One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch …
Oooh, give it one more try before you give up on love

In trying to get my head around the situation so poignantly phrased a couple of days ago by Joah McGee on his Insight Myanamar website:

The country that brought some of the greatest meditation masters of the last century and is largely responsible for spreading the light of insight around the world through contemporary mindfulness and vipassana revolutions is now going back to face a scary darkness itself.

How can this be?

Kamma? well, it’s really complicated

Short of having the omniscience of a Buddha, we wordlings often struggle with the unfathomable working of kamma. But it’s not just about kamma, be it individual or somehow collective.

Mahasi Sayadaw explains there are five orders or processes (five niyama) which operate in the physical and mental realms, which are laws in themselves. Kamma only one of these five orders.

Rather than burst a blood vessel in my brain contemplating the above, let me share a story I find helpful.

I took the title of this post from Rabbi Harold Kushner’s wonderful book When Bad Things Happen to Good People in which he discusses the Biblical story of Job. God took everything from Job as a test of faith cooked up by Satan; maybe Mara in present context.

Satan covers him in painful boils. But Job hangs in there, suffering perhaps with what we could call a sort of mindfulness.

At the height of his pain Job famously declared:

“Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away.”

This is not just about ordinary suffering; it’s about letting go of our dearest attachments. The Buddha was very clear that attachment is the root of suffering.

This story is not so much about faith I think, but more about how our suffering is due to the letting go are not willing to do just yet.

The wisdom in this book can be summarized in this one line by Rabbi Kushner:

When we truly understand suffering and grief, our question will change from ‘why do we have this suffering’ to ‘what do we do with our pain so that it becomes meaningful and is not just pointless empty suffering?

As heirs to the pristine teachings from the Golden Land of Dhamma, let’s ask ourselves this same question.

May all beings be well, happy, and peaceful.

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About Tom Davidson-Marx

Former Buddhist monk, now father of two and full time registered nurse, my passion is sharing what I have learned from a life-long love, study and practice of the early Buddhist teachings. Thanks for reading.

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