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(Video) Aung San Suu Kyi Receives the Congressional Medal

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Today, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was conferred with the U.S. Congress’s highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor. She was originally awarded this medal in 2008, but because she was then under house arrest in Burma, she could not receive it in person until today.

Calling it “one of the most moving days of my life,” Aung San Suu Kyi gave a beautiful speech to thank the people of America and the congressional representatives for standing by her and the cause of democracy for the Burmese people. With Secretary of State Hilary Clinton sitting next to her, she noted that some of the faces in the audience were ones that she saw while under house arrest.

Secretary Clinton told Suu Kyi, “It’s almost too delicious to believe, my friend, that you are here in the rotunda of our great Capitol, the centerpiece of our democracy, as an elected member of your parliament.”

For those of us who have witnessed the struggles of those in Burma over the past decades, this was indeed a moment to savor… and a reminder that change is possible.

A Big Day in Burma: Aung San Suu Kyi Elected to Parliament

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New York Times photo by Adam Ferguson

A brief interruption in our series on The Protest Chaplains to mark a milestone in Burma (Myanmar).

Today, April 1, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy, appears to have won a seat in Myanmar’s Parliament. This New York Times article does a good job of describing the elation that Suu Kyi’s supporters are feeling, and how this event may mark a turning point in that country’s long period of oppressive military rule.

There is a long way still to go, however. As this eyewitness account from Burma by Hozan Alan Senuake notes, many political prisoners continue to be held and the military junta is effectively holding on to power by keeping the vast majority of seats in Parliament for their cronies.

Even so, today’s election results seem to mark a significant shift, perhaps reflecting the pressure that the junta has felt internally and as well as from economic sanctions imposed by other countries.

As Alan writes at the end of his post:

The conversation [with the Burmese monk] was just beginning, but simply to meet and talk is a radical act.  As I was paying my respects to the monks, preparing to leave, one said quietly: “In the last twenty years we didn’t have such opportunities.  We couldn’t speak with foreigners.”

The opportunity for dialogue — all kinds of dialogue — is an encouraging sign.  But it is not enough.  Real change in Burma, or anywhere is a matter of access to resources, mutual accountability, and the power for people to determine the course of their own lives. When war has ended in Burma, when all the prisoners are free, when there are reasonable laws that apply to everyone — then we can start to celebrate.  Not yet.

To learn more about how you can support the struggle for a truly free Burma, visit any of these links:


2011: The Year in Engaged Buddhism

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Day 31 at Occupy Wall Street (photo by David Shankbone)

Last December, I published a round-up of highlights from the year in socially engaged Buddhism. Here I continue that tradition and take a look back at 2011. As always, I welcome reader comments about important events or trends that I’ve missed. The Jizo Chronicles is always a much better blog when it’s co-created with my readers!

  • Early in the year, issues of gender, power, and sexual relations in the dharma world were very much in the spotlight. In August, 2010, The New York Times published a story about the sexual improprieties of Zen teacher Eido Shimano. This set off a volley of letters and articles from within the Buddhist community that continued into January 2011, including this one from Roshi Joan Halifax.  Just a few weeks later, the same issue arose with Genpo Merzel and over the summer, within a Chicago Theravadin temple as well. Clearly, this topic is very much alive for all of us and needs to continue to be addressed in an open and constructive way in our sanghas. (By the way, one little-known resource for grappling with these matters is the book Safe Harbor: Guidelines, Process, and Resources for Ethics and Conduct in Buddhist Communities by Hozan Alan Senauke.)
  • In February and March, thousands of people congregated in the Wisconsin Statehouse in to protest the draconian budget cuts being proposed by Governor Walker. Among them were members of sanghas from Madison and other parts of the state, holding a space for equanimity and compassion. This uprising of “people power” and grassroots democracy foreshadowed the Occupy movement that would emerge in fall of 2011.
  • On March 11, the northern region of Japan was hit first by an earthquake with an 8.9 magnitude and then by a huge tsunami. The area was devastated by these dual natural disasters, and then came the worst news – waters from the tsunami had flooded nuclear reactors in Fukushima, triggering a nuclear meltdown. As always, the good folks from the Tzu Chi Foundation, a Buddhist-based relief organization, were on the ground offering assistance almost immediately. Buddhists from around the world contributed to help relieve the suffering, and Joanna Macy and Thich Nhat Hanh offered wise words.
  • Also in March, the Buddhist Council of the Midwest named Ven. Pannavati-Karuna as the winner of the “Women and Engaged Buddhism Prize.” Ven. Pannavati founded “My Space,” a nonprofit organization in North Carolina dedicated to providing a positive youth development program for homeless and at-risk youth.
  • Thai Buddhist activist Sulak Sivaraksa was the recipient of the 28th Niwano Peace Prize, awarded in Tokyo in May. The award was given “in recognition of his contribution to a new understanding of peace, democracy and development and to environmental preservation based on the core principles of his Buddhist faith.”
  • September 17 marked the beginning of Occupy Wall Street, which would soon explode into a global Occupy movement. Though voices from the Buddhist community were sparse in the first few weeks of the movement, by October more dharma practitioners were expressing solidarity with the spirit and values of Occupy. Tenzin Robert Thurman showed up at Zuccotti Park to talk about “a cool revolution,”  I penned this article with Roshi Joan Halifax which appeared in the Huffington Post, and Michael Stone and Ethan Nichtern organized Buddhist teachers and practitioners to sign onto this letter of support.
  • Another highlight of October was the bi-annual International Network of Engaged Buddhists conference, held this year in Bodh Gaya, India. The theme was “The Future of Buddhism: From Personal Awakening to Global Transformation,” and speakers included Anchalee Kurutach, Alan Senauke, Mangesh Dahiwale, Roshi Joan Halifax, Jeyanthy Siva, and Sulak Sivaraksa. 
  • Throughout 2011, an important background story was Aung San Suu Kyi’s increasing involvement in the political scene of Burma (Myanmar). Since her release from house arrest in November, 2010, Suu Kyi has taken part in numerous dialogues about the situation in her country, both with Burmese officials and with international journalists and diplomats (including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton). For some commentary on this development and the current conditions in Burma, see Hozan Alan Senauke’s piece, “Burma Back at the Crossroads.”

In my own life, I’ve loved continuing to work closely with Roshi Joan Halifax on co-directing Upaya’s Buddhist Chaplaincy Training Program, which I think of as a bodhisattva academy. This was a landmark year in which the Association of Professional Chaplains recognized our program as the equivalent of 42 graduate credits. I’ve been taking the program myself as student these past two years, am currently writing my thesis on the Protest Chaplains of the Occupy Movement, and if all goes well I will be ordained as a lay chaplain next March.

Because of my increased investment of time at Upaya this year, I’ll be posting less original material on the Jizo Chronicles in 2012. However, I will continue with my interview series here, as well as keeping the Calendar of Events updated. You can find more of my reporting on socially engaged Buddhism by looking over at Upaya’s blog.

And I’d love it if you’d check out my Liberated Life Project site and subscribe to it if you feel moved.  That’s where most of my original writing is going these days. I think of it as a “no-self, no-improvement” blog, in true dharma fashion : )

May all beings be happy, safe, and free in 2012…


Happy Birthday, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi!

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Artwork by Shepard Fairey

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is 66 years old today. My guess is that the way she’d like us to celebrate is by renewing our commitment to democracy and human rights for all the citizens of Burma. You can find out more about how to do that at the Clear View Project and the Campaign for Burma.

Here is a quote from Aung San Suu Kyi (from “Please Use Your Liberty to Promote Ours,” published in the International Herald Tribune, 1997):

Those of us who decided to work for democracy in Burma made our choice in the conviction that the danger of standing up for basic human rights in a repressive society was preferable to the safety of a quiescent life in servitude.

Ours is a nonviolent movement that depends on faith in the human predilection for fair play and compassion.

Some would insist that man is primarily an economic animal interested only in his material well-being. This is too narrow a view of a species which has produced numberless brave men and women who are prepared to undergo relentless persecution to uphold deeply held beliefs and principles. It is my pride and inspiration that such men and women exist in my country today.

Video: Aung San Suu Kyi: At the Crossroads

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Okay, this looks like a real gem. Coming from Al Jazeera in partnership with the Democractic Voice of Burma, here is a roundtable with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The dialogue includes [text from Al Jazeera]:

  • Maung Zarni, a Burmese dissident and an academic research fellow at the London School of Economics. His first-hand knowledge of Burma allows him to share his insights of armed conflicts, resistance, and the Burmese military.
  • Mary Kaldor is professor and co-director of Gobal Governance. She has written extensively on global civil society, how ordinary people organise to change the way their countries and global institutions are run.
  • Timothy Garton Ash is a historian, political commentator and regular colomnist for the UK newspaper The Guardian. He is professor of European studies at Oxford University. His main interest is civil resistance and the role of Europe and the old West in an increasingly western world. In 2000, Aung San Suu Kyi invited Professor Garton Ash to Burma to speak to members of her party, the National League for Democracy, about transitions to democracies.


If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to visit my other website: The Liberated Life Project — a personal transformation blog with a social conscience.

Video: Aung San Suu Kyi

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Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was named as a “Top Global Thinker of 2010” by Foreign Policy magazine. In this video, she speaks from her heart about what she sees is needed in the world right now…

Apologies — the video feed from this site is not working well, so here is the link to the page with the video:

Quote of the Week: Aung San Suu Kyi

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The release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi continues to be the biggest story on the socially engaged Buddhist front this past week. To really get a sense of how important this is, you need only take a look at the front page of the Irrawaddy news magazine, Burma’s independent media voice. Articles this week include “Grandmothers Who Help Suu Kyi,” coverage of Daw Suu’s first visit with her son in more than ten years, and this disturbing story about the junta’s attempts to evict more than 80 HIV/AIDS patients after Suu Kyi visited their shelter in Rangoon last week.

But perhaps best of all was this interview between Daw Suu and Irrawaddy editor Aung Zaw (thanks to Lynette Monteiro of 108 ZenBooks for telling me about this). In response to a question about the possibility that she might meet with General Than Shwe (the leader of Burma’s military junta), Daw Suu said,

I am not sure if you have heard that Gandhi was very fond of a Christian hymn, even though he was a follower of Hinduism. The name of the song is “Lead, Kindly Light.” It says, “I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me.” Gandhi believed that, and so do I. I will do my best to walk, step by step. If I am on the right track, I will reach the right place. I don’t want to try to imagine something very distant. For me, hope is the desire to try. I believe I can only hope for something if I have tried to achieve it. I will continue to make an effort with this belief in mind.

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