A great article in Week in Review today.
The author does a great job explianing what the recent unrest in Burma says about the changing power dynamic between the monks the military and the junta
“Legitimacy in Burma is not about regime performance, it’s not about human rights like the West,” said Ingrid Jordt, a professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and an expert on Burmese Buddhism. “It is something that comes from the potency and karma bestowed by the monks. That’s why the sangha is so important to the government,” she said, referring to the Buddhist hierarchy and the spiritual status that its monks can convey. “They are actually the source of power.”
The junta has gone to great lengths to identify itself with Buddhism. Like their predecessors through the centuries, the generals have been busy building temples, supporting monasteries and carrying out religiously symbolic acts. In 1999, they regilded the spire of the Shwedagon Pagoda, which now glitters with 53 tons of gold and 4,341 diamonds on the crowning orb.
The gilding of the spire was a high-risk ploy for an unpopular regime, an act permitted only to kings and legitimate rulers. When the two-ton, seven-tier finial was added and the spire was complete, the nation held its breath, waiting for the earth to send a signal of disapproval through lightning or thunder or floods, Ms. Jordt said. But nature remained indifferent.
“Aung pyi!” the generals shouted. “We won!””
Political Buddhism at work ladies and gentlemen….