Three reasons why Buddhist monks should not participate in power politics

Power politics involves voting, electing the representatives and canvassing.

Fact – 2008 Myanmar constitution barred Buddhist monks from voting in any election.*

Some people may argue that it is not fair to bar “members of religious orders” from voting because they are also citizen, I would like to give three reasons to support the barring.

 1. Monks are not taxpayers. The American revolution starts with “no taxation without representation” notion. It is fair to claim that people, who pay taxes, can make decisions by themselves for themselves that are going to affect their lives. However, it is not fair to claim representation or ability to elect a representative in the governing body or any structure of governing body by non-taxpayers. Monks, Sangha and religious institutions are mostly non-profit, therefore, non-taxable, in any countries. Simple solution for monks who want to partake in power politics is to become human. Pay your taxes, live your life like a human being, and as a result you should be able to choose who can govern you.

2. Ultimate goal for Buddhist monks is to attain enlightenment. Also, that should be the goal for every Buddhists. At least that is what I was told when I was learning about Abhidhamma Pitaka. If I am wrong, please correct me. If I am right about this goal, let me make this statement – monks have nothing to do with power politics. One of the monks (Venerable Mya Zayti monk at the convention of interfaith marriage prohibition law) recently threatened that he would make sure those parties and members of parliaments, who voted against ratifying the interfaith marriage prohibition law, would not be elected again in 2015. (lucky that voting in the Burmese parliaments is secret) This statement is at odd with every teachings of Buddha to have loving kindness for all people. For this reason, Buddhist monks should not participate in power politics.

3. Religious group’s direct influence on power politics will complicate the decision making process. There are many examples for this. The refusal of evolution theory, heliocentric model and contraception would portray how decision making could be complicated by the religious ideas. I have read so many similar claims made by religious leaders and books alike that this is the word of God or universal truth but not in scientific findings by scientists. Anyone can prove and disprove of any scientific findings but not with God’s words or Buddha’s teachings. Or at least, that is what religious people dispute. When you question a monk’s action or Buddha teaching or events in Buddha’s life, the usual answer you would get is that your earthling intelligence is not adequate to understand those immensely deep words or concepts or events. I wonder what happened to Kalama Sutta, in which Buddha suggested that “ when you yourselves know: “These things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,” enter on and abide in them”.

Of course, those are my normative values. Although some may resist direct influence from religions, it seems that indirect influence of religions are ingrained in our DNA. Even a world-renowned and respectable leader like Aung San Suu Kyi used Buddha teaching of “Dukkha”, which means “suffering” in Pali text, in her Nobel peace reception lecture. I am sure you will find many instances of religious inferences in political contexts such as “In God we trust”, “so help me God” , “All men are created equal”, etc. By looking at these examples, I come to conclude that monks can influence people indirectly through Buddha’s teachings although they might not be and should not be able to vote directly in the election. In my humble opinion, indirect way is wiser comparing to direct involvement in power politics for Buddhist monks. I may have to think deeper why I think that way and write more about it later. Any suggestions and comments are welcomed.


Additional information to clarify.  Aung San Suu Kyi’s nobel peace prize lecture, check at 19 minutes. *(chapter 9, election, number 392 (A), page 337)

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