This fall marks the third anniversary of the Saffron Revolution in Burma. Although the revolution was not a success in the conventional sense, many monks, nuns, and Burmese people continue to hold hope for that country’s freedom and work toward that goal.
A few months after the Saffron Revolution, Alan Senauke and I had a chance to interview Sayadaw U Kovida, one of the most senior monks of Burma and one of the founders of Sasana Moli — the International Burmese Monks Organization. Sayadaw was 81 years old at the time we spoke with him; he died just a few months later. You can read the full interview here.
One of the questions I asked Sayadaw was, “Do you feel angry at the junta for all the harm they have caused the sasana and the Burmese people? How do you handle anger with your dharma practice?” His response:
At times I feel angry, just like other human beings. But being a son of Buddha, I follow what Buddha taught, and that means metta [loving kindness].
The reason something is happening is because of our bad karma in past lives. We should try to restrain our dosa [anger] by practicing metta instead. This doesn’t mean we are not angry, but every time there is anger, we try to relinquish it by practicing metta.
At first, I didn’t understand why I had to go to prison, because I thought that I had done good deeds all my life like teaching and building pagodas. Then I realized that because all human beings are born into samsara [rounds of rebirth], in some distant past we might have done something bad and this is just now showing up. So instead of forgetting that and getting angry, we can understand that this is what happened in our karma, and we go on with our lives. That was what helped me during those 22 months in prison. Otherwise I would have been angry and wouldn’t have survived for long. I taught for more than 50 years.
When I learn about my former students who are being murdered and sent to prison camps, I feel much anguish and pain, because they are related to me. If even people outside Burma, like the BPF members, feel a lot in their hearts, including anger, when they see what is happening in Burma, then you can imagine how the monks in Burma feel who have to directly face this. There is no way there will not be anger. The only thing is how to restrain anger and follow the teachings of Buddha.
Interesting. He certainly has had a lot of opportunity to become familiar with anger, rage, heartbreak. While I don’t subscribe to the doctrines of karma or multiple lifetimes, at least as I understand them, I agree that anger ought not to be given free rein, and am glad that he has found a way to experience it, explain it to himself, and alchemize it into something mindful and compassionate. I once heard a Christian singer-songwriter (Barry McGuire) say that Christians are shock absorbers. The image has stuck with me. Life can be shocking in its injustice and unfairness (“Why do I have to go to jail? I’ve been good…”). One of its basic struggles is to understand what should be passed along, or given back, and what must be absorbed. Like a shock absorber, or like turning anger at injustice into metta.