by Hozan Alan Senauke
“Whatever they do to me, that’s between them and me; I can take it. What’s more important is what they are doing to the country.”— Aung San Suu Kyi, 1994
The images of Aung San Suu Kyi greeting thousands of supporters at the gates of her Rangoon compound bring me to tears. It is a great joy to see her smile and talk, wearing a beautiful flower in her hair and looking fit for the next moment of her life which is completely entwined with the future of Burma.
I know that thousands, millions of people in Burma and around the world have the same response. She has been confined to her ramshackle home under house arrest for the previous seven years and for fifteen of last twenty-one years total, with no opportunity to see her children, and little chance for engagement with society. Daw Suu has been, in one sense, an icon. But she is a living, breathing icon who will never allow herself to be an object. Aung San Suu Kyi has work to do.
For now it appears that her release is unconditional. Certainly that is Daw Suu’s firm determination. Burma’s SPDC junta and the new “government,” selected just days ago in a bogus election universally condemned by international advisers and governments around the world, may have very different intentions and conditions for her. Nonetheless, we pause to celebrate and shed tears of grief mingled with joy. Aung San Suu Kyi’s release creates a new opening for change — a gap in the apparently seamless wall of oppression through which freedom can emerge.
It is up to our worldwide community of conscience, hand in hand with Burma’s democracy activists, to use this opportunity and Daw Suu’s political skills to best advantage. There are still more than 2200 political prisoners in facing torture and long years in Burma’s prisons, including student leader Min Ko Naing, labor rights activist Su Su Nway, Saffron Revolution leader U Gambira, comedian/social critic Zargana, and many, many others. Among these political prisoners we have identified nearly 250 monks and nuns. We demand their immediate release.
There must be an honest and irreversible process of dialogue involving Aung San Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy, all the embattled ethnic groups, and the junta itself towards a clear goal of democracy and national reconciliation. Anything short of such deliberations is simply the continuation of the junta’s business as usual — the business of theft, fraud, impoverishment, and systematic violence. We cannot allow these policies to shadow the lives of our Burmese sisters and brothers.
Twenty-five hundred years ago Shakyamuni Buddha included these verses in the “Metta Sutta.”
Let no one deceive another
nor despise anyone anywhere.
Neither in anger nor hatred
should anyone wish harm to another.
Even as a mother would risk her own life
to protect her only child,
just so one should cultivate a boundless heart
towards all living beings.
These are verses, too, that Burma’s Saffron Revolution monks chanted when they took to the streets in September of 2007. Twenty-five hundred years after Buddha, three years after the monks’ doomed uprising, this teaching can still be our guide. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s way is the path of active nonviolence. Her purpose is to liberate her country and protect all beings, even the junta’s generals, from the folly and destruction of hatred. We can only pray that in her newly accomplished liberty she will succeed. And we must dedicate our own action and cooperation towards that noble end. Burma will be free!
Hozan Alan Senauke is founder of the Clear View Project and vice-abbot of Berkeley Zen Center. His latest book — The Bodhisattva’s Embrace: Dispatches From Engaged Buddhism’s Front Lines — is available from Clear View Press.
- US CAMPAIGN FOR BURMA for additional information about how you can help.
- Aung San Suu Kyi Freed (November 13, 2010)
- All eyes on Burma! Is Aung San Suu Kyi’s release nearing? (Featuring links to get you caught up) (November 12, 2010)