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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.

Four Ways to Celebrate Aung San Suu Kyi’s Freedom

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NY Times/Soe Than Win/Agence France-Presse

“Please use your liberty to gain ours.”
Aung San Suu Kyi

As wonderful as it was to see Aung San Suu Kyi finally being released from house arrest this past weekend, let’s remember that there are still at least 2,200 other political prisoners in Burma. As Alan Senauke, founder of the Clear View Project, wrote in an article posted on Shambhala SunSpace,

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.

Time and again, Daw Suu made a choice to forgo her own freedom so that she could work toward the liberation of all her countrymen and women. (Did you know that when her husband, Michael Aris, was dying of cancer in 1999, she refused a chance to travel to Europe to visit him because she thought she might not be allowed back into Burma?)

The best way to celebrate Daw Suu and honor her legacy is for us to continue to act in this struggle for freedom and human rights in Burma.

Here are four things you can do to help:

1) Call for freedom for ALL of Burma’s prisoners of conscience

This page on Amnesty International’s website gives you a template for a letter to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), calling on them to exercise their influence and press Myanmar’s authorities to release all prisoners of conscience.

2) Write to the UN Secretary General

The Burma Campaign UK provides this online letter to call on United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to take the lead on Burma and renew efforts to pressure Burma’s generals to release all political prisoners.

3) Adopt a Monk

The intention of this project, sponsored by the Clear View Project, is to call attention to the false imprisonment of the monks and nuns in Burma. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners of Burma (AAPPB) reports that when the international community shines a light of attention on particular prisoners, their lot improves. When one prisoner’s life improves, hope is restored. By sending regular letters on behalf of the monk or nun that you “adopt” and also providing some funding to assist with their food and medicine, you can make a difference. Find out more about Adopt a Monk here.

4) Support Freedom of Press in Burma

The Irrawaddy News Magazine is one of the few journalism outposts that provides the real story from inside Burma. It is a nonprofit media group that needs grants and donations from international supporters in order to continue its work to be an independent media voice. You can learn more and donate here.

bodhisattvas in the trenches

by Maia Duerr
Buddhist monks praying for peace in Thailand, May 2010

This is the full first year that The Jizo Chronicles has been up and running, so it’s a good time to look back at what’s been going on in the world of socially engaged Buddhism in 2010. (To get an idea of what’s ahead for 2011, look at the Calendar of Events that we maintain here.)

It’s been quite a year, actually.

  • This was the year we lost Robert Aitken Roshi, fierce and dear Zen teacher, founder of the Diamond Sangha, and co-founder of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.
  • Mindfulness and meditation continue to find applications in all kinds of interesting realms, from technology (like the first-ever Wisdom 2.0 conference) and education. 84,000 dharma doors indeed.

In my own life, I continue to be blessed with being in such a close relationship with Roshi Joan Halifax and Upaya Zen Center, and Upaya’s chaplaincy program. I don’t have to go more than a few dozen steps from my front door to be able to sit in the beautiful zendo there, and to hear teachings from  Joanna Macy, Fleet Maull, Ouyporn Khuankaew, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Sharon Salzberg, Kaz Tanahashi, Norman Fischer, and Father John Dear (all visited Upaya this past year). I’ve also appreciated my long-distance dharma relationship with Shosan Victoria Austin of the San Francisco Zen Center and the sangha there.

My practice continues to deepen and I am ever more aware of the subtle power of the dharma to transform suffering into joy. As the old year comes to a close and the new one begins, I wish you and your loved ones great peace, great equanimity, and great compassion.

I’m sure I missed a lot in the above recounting. Please let me know your experience and memories of engaged dharma practice this past year… leave a comment below.


by Maia Duerr

The last “Quote of the Week” for the year is reserved for Robert Aitken Roshi, who passed away on August 5th of this year.

This one is short and very much to the point… may we let it support our practice in the coming year:

“Our practice is not to clear up the mystery.
It is to make the mystery clear.”



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.


Peace on Earth

December 25, 2010
by Maia Duerr

Peace on Earth and Good Will to All!


Art by Mayumi Oda, Upaya Zen Center Christmas Tree

Wishing you and your loved ones a blessed holiday season…

in kindness,



by Maia Duerr

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.

Quote of the Week: Int’l Burmese Monks Organization

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photo: Associated Press

“The Saffron Revolution was and is essentially not a struggle for political power.
It is a revolution of the spirit that aims at changing Burma from the inside out.
With loving-kindness, we intend to change the hearts and minds of Burma’s generals,
returning them to their inborn buddha nature.”

The International Burmese Monks Organization (Sasana Moli)

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Release: Video

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Two posts in one day… Jizo doesn’t do that very often! But there’s a very good reason today. Earlier, we posted the momentous news about Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s release from detention in Burma after 21 years of detention/arrest by the military junta that has ruled that country.

Here is some wonderful video footage of her being welcomed by crowds in Rangoon. No international journalists were allowed to cover this event, but a CNN correspondent was there to capture this moment and relay it to the CNN website. You’ll need to watch an ad first, but it’s worth it to get to this film footage.

UPDATE: See this amazing video from the BBC of the moment Aung San Suu Kyi was freed. Also watch this longer background video also from the BBC which provides a good summary of recent history in Burma that led to Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention and coverage of her life, including her decision to remain under house arrest in Burma rather than travel to see her dying husband. Incredible.

Aung San Suu Kyi: Free at Last!

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photo from New York Times/European Pressphoto

I am so happy to relay this news… news that many people thought might never come to pass:

After days of rumors, it’s now official: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the bodhisattva of Burma and Nobel Peace Prize winner, is now free after 21 years of detention and house arrest.

As the New York Times reported this morning, she was “greeted at the gate of her compound by thousands of jubilant supporters.” The article goes on to say:

She stood waving and smiling in a pink, long-sleeved shirt, as people cheered, chanted and sang the national anthem in a blur of camera flashes. She held a white handkerchief in one hand.

“Thank you for welcoming me like this,” she said, clutching the iron bars of her gate as she looked out at the cheering crowd. “We haven’t seen each other for so long, I have so much to tell you.”

She said she would speak again on Sunday at the headquarters of her now defunct political party, the National League for Democracy.

“We must unite!” she said. “If we are united, we can get what we want.”

There is much more to say about what happens in Burma next, of course, but in this moment, let us rejoice that this woman who has given so much of her life for the freedom of her brothers and sisters in Burma can now taste freedom herself.

Western Buddhist Teachers for a Free Burma

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The Clear View Project has taken the initiative to write a letter to President Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, calling their attention to the “election” in Burma later this week. More than 100 Western dharma teachers signed this letter, which is re-printed below.


1 November 2010
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave
Washington, DC  20500

Dear President Obama,

As you know, the upcoming elections in Burma, scheduled for November 7th cannot be legitimate without participation of the National League for Democracy (NLD). The NLD is boycotting this sham process because the Burmese military regime has designed electoral laws that insure that a rigged and non-representative election will transpire precluding the participation of Burma’s 2100 political prisoners and other democracy supporters.  As leaders in the western Buddhist community, we implore you to repudiate the results of this upcoming election.

We appreciate your Administration’s support for a Commission of Inquiry. We urge the U.S. government to exercise all diplomatic means to call the Burmese junta to account for allegations concerning Crimes against Humanity perpetrated against ethnic nationalities.

It is essential that the international community witness your clear and unwavering support for the freedom of the Burmese people at this pivotal time in their history.

We thank you in advance for your care and wisdom in responding to this urgent request and we look forward to your reply.

Respectfully submitted,

Jack Kornfield                                                 Sharon Salzberg

Tara Brach                                                       Tenzin Robert Thurman

Rev. Hozan Alan Senauke                               Lama Surya Das

Bhikkhu Bodhi                                                Jon Kabat-Zinn

Lama Palden

Robert Joshin Althouse
Rev. Susan Myoyu Anderson
Sally Armstrong
Carolyn Atkinson
Pascal Auclair
Martin Aylward
Rev. Zentatsu Richard Baker
Ezra Bayda
Mitra Bishop
Melissa Blacker
Bruce Seiryo Blackman
Joe Bobrow
Dae Bong Sunim
Tilmann Lhundrup Borghardt
Merle Boyd
Irene Bumbacher
Mitchell Cantor
Eugene Cash
Ven. David Chutiko
John Crook
Gaylon Ferguson
James Ford
Gil Fronsdal
John M. Gage
Michael Grady
Elizabeth Hamilton
Rev. Zenkei Blanche Hartman
Kip Ryodo Hawley
Taigen Henderson
Joan Hoeberichts
Amy Hollowell
Paul Jeffrey Hopkins
Zen Master Soeng Hyang
Mushim Ikeda-Nash
Rev. Keido Les Kaye
Sumi Kim
Liana Kornfield
Rev. Taigen Dan Leighton
Stanley Lombardo
Berry Magid
John Makransky
Genjo Marinello
Rev. Nicolee Jikyo McMahon
Rev. Wendy Egyoku Nakau
Ariya Nani
Ethan Nichtern
Wesley Nisker
Rev. Tonen O’Connor
Rev. Enkyo O’Hara
Peter O’Hearn
Rev. Joen Snyder O’Neal
Michael O’Sullivan
Ji Hyang Padma
Rev. Tony Patchell
Rev. Josho Pat Phelan
Rev. Dosho Port
Rev. Susan Jion Postal
Rev. Taihaku Priest
Dr. Christopher Queen
Jason Quinn
Rev. Densho Quintero
Sylvan Genko Rainwater
Rev. Zuiko Redding
Caitriona Reed
Julie Regan
Alison Reitz
Nicholas Ribush
Joan Rieck
Sharda Rogell
Judith Roitman
Sandra Roscoe
Rev. Daigaku Rumme
Rev. Seisen Saunders
Katharina Schmidt
Gina Sharpe
Tulku Sherdor
Jason Siff
Elihu Genmyo Smith
Tempel Smith
Ralph Steele
Abbot Myogen Steve Stucky
Rev. Heng Sure
Karma Leshe Tsomo
Fred Von Allmen
Alan Wallace
Rev. Jisho Warner
Arinna Weisman
Dr. Jan Willis
Diana Winston
Elizabeth A. Wood
Larry Yang
Shinzen Young

Quote of the Week: Aung San Suu Kyi

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Wrapping a week of remembering the people of Burma… here is a quote from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi:

I think by now I have made it fairly clear that I am not very happy with the word “hope.” I don’t believe in people just hoping. We work for what we want. I always say that one has no right to hope without  endeavor, so we work to try and bring about the situation that is necessary for the country, and we are confident that we will get to the negotiation table at one time or another. This is the way all such situations pan out– even with the most truculent dictator.


Guest Post: The Saffron Revolution: Lessons on a Conceptual-based Compassion

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I’m honored to feature a guest post by Lynette Genju Monteiro, author of the wonderful blog 108 Zen Books. Usually bios come at the end of articles, but in this case I’d like to give you her bio first so that you have some context for this piece.

Genju was born in Burma.  She and her family were accepted by Canada as “certified with identity” in 1965.  Because this was after the military takeover in 1963 and “nothing was happening” at that time in Burma, they have never fit into either category of refugee or immigrant.

Genju’s paternal grandmother was a cheroot-smoking, devout Buddhist who taught her that, especially when nothing is happening, it is a good thing to have a refuge.  When she received the Five Mindfulness Training from her dharma teacher Chân Hội, she ran home to tell her father she was finally a “refugee!”  When she received the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing, nothing happened again – pleasantly.

She is now a student of the Dharma staggering along the path via the Upaya Zen Center and the Upaya Chaplaincy Program.  She is also a shodo artist and lets her blog 108 Zen Books speak for her.


The Saffron Revolution: Lessons on a Conceptual-based Compassion

by Lynette Genju Monteiro

On September 26, 2007, the monastic community in Burma lead a formidable protest against the military rulers, creating what would be an iconic moment for the people of Burma.  Thousands of monks in their maroon and yellow robes marched through the streets of Rangoon and Mandalay holding aloft their alms bowls to signify their refusal to accept acts of generosity from the army.  They chanted the Metta Sutta to give voice to the suffering of all beings represented by the suffering of the people of Burma. This would become the Saffron Revolution – a spiritual strong-arming of a superstitious government who now could not buy their way out of the bad karma they had cultivated.

The monastic community inspired the people and garnered huge support globally. Unfortunately that support is likely to have tipped the balance of fear felt by the government from fear of a hell in the afterlife to a fear of being seen as weak in this one.  The army attacked leaving thousands dead and many monastics missing.  The video documentary Burma VJ captured powerful images of the marches in the streets, wide ribbons of maroon-robed monks walking resolutely into what they must have known would be a violent confrontation with the army.  Through the eyes of the videographers, we witnessed the dead and dying – lay and monastic – as well as the fear-ridden monks held captive in temples just before they disappeared.

The world watched helpless and enraged.  Politicians and well-known spiritual leaders spoke out.  The Dalai Lama announced solidarity with the monks and Thich Nhat Hanh instructed his monastics to wear their sanghati robes during a conference in California on mindfulness.  In the immediate aftermath of the Saffron Revolution, many organizations sprung into action.  There were Adopt a Monk programs, web-based posters, badges, and slogans, and numerous other ways to keep the momentum of the protest going as well as provide sanctuary for the monastic community.

On September 27th, I was interviewed by CBC Radio in six different sessions set to be released through the day.  The producer told me they wanted to get a feel of the spiritual implications of what the monks were trying to accomplish.  In a surreal moment, I watched myself rapidly Googling for updates as I waited for the next interviewer to call.  Much of the interviews were focused on the meaning of the protest but it was the last interviewer who asked the turning question:

CBC:  What happens next?  Do you have any hope that things will change for Burma?

A.    I have held hope for over 40 years.  I can’t imagine not holding to hope.  But what I hold hope for is a unified global movement that will change the conditions.

CBC:   But will it change?

A.   Everything changes.  There are two important tenets in Buddhism.  The first is impermanence.  This junta will come to an end.  Because all things are impermanent, it too is impermanent.  The second tenet is the interconnectedness of all things.  Technology is now such that the world can see into Burma and the Burmese people know that.  We now cannot turn our eyes away.  We must continue to keep looking so the junta knows they are being seen.  Through that interconnection of the global sangha and the people of Burma, change will come.

Three years later, I know many people have lost interest or have become discouraged by the apparent loss of momentum from the Saffron Revolution.  It should not be surprising yet we are challenged when we discover that passion too is impermanent.  Yet it is in that moment of realization that we have the opportunity to see that our passion fades because it is based in our conceptualizations.

The Saffron Revolution contained elements that heightened our experience of empathy.  The sights and sounds (and, for those close to the events, other senses) strongly activated our systems to respond with fear, compassion, and a desire to lessen the suffering of the monastics who had stepped into the battle zone.  But it was our minds that created the seeds of eventual disappointment by latching onto the idea that it was inconceivable for monastics to be brutalized.  Even practitioners who tended to be reserved about the role of the monastic community would speak to me in terms of how awful it was for peaceful (saintly, innocent) monks to be attacked.  Protests I attended fixed the conceptual mind on the sanctity of the Metta Sutta as the innocent violated.  Ultimately, once the pictures and sound bytes featuring the monastics faded, it became more difficult to sustain that passion for change.  It even became harder to remember that the violence and genocide was there before September 26, 2007, and continues to this day.  (For more information, the movie Total Denial made by the founders of EarthRights International and the inexhaustible work of Zoya Phan , author of Little Daughter, are powerful resources.)

This, I believe, is the enduring lesson of the Saffron Revolution.   If we focus on saving the monastics or preserving the right to chant the Metta Sutta, we miss the point: these are only conceptual pointers to what we are called to witness.  It takes events like the Saffron Revolution, the earthquake in Haiti, the tragedies in Rwanda or the very recent events in Ecuador to bring attention to the suffering of a people.  However, our conceptual mind is fickle.  For that reason, we cannot allow it to take charge and direct our compassionate action to an event-triggered suffering or a category of being who is suffering.

We must cultivate a deep vision to see under the drama into what is present and, therefore, what is needed.  The adult and child, human and animal, vegetation and earth – all can be contained in this vision with equanimity.  It is through this non-conceptual vision that we will experience our Interbeing and our inter-responsibility for Life itself.

May all life everywhere, in all times, without category be free from suffering.

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