Burma and Buddhism by Aung San

During the present period of transition through which Burmans are passing, the most remarkable has been the perceptible results of reformative influences. The Youth of the land are fully alive to the situation and have not been slow in contributing their quota to the reconstruction of a greater Burma. They have realized that things ancient though hallowed by time and sanctioned by usage do not necessarily fit in with modern conditions. Young Burma in approaching its problems with a spirit of criticism, and trying to see things as they are. They have taught themselves to view things from a detached standpoint and find many an old tradition or custom which ought to be abandoned, or which ought to be retained and improved upon, or which ought to be maintained intact. Ad in other times and in other climes, there are those who cling to the past and view with alarm at any change and look upon with scorn any alteration in the old order of things: and there are those who are incessantly clamouring for change-quick and sudden. Between these extremes Buddhism paves the middle path.

Buddhism is claimed to be a scientific religion and why? Because it makes the criticism the criterion by which things may be judged. Buddha Himself asked the people on one occasion not to take His talents on trust; and in reply to the inhabitants of Kalamas as to how the truth of a thing must be judged, thus Buddha said:

“Do not believe in anything because you have heard it; do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down from many generations; do not believe in anything because it is rumoured and spoken by many; do not believe in anything because it is found written in your religious Books; do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. But after observation and analysis when it agrees with reason and is conductive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” (Buddhism in England. Jan-Feb. 1933)

Burma has been a Buddhist country for centuries; yet, from what one sees around him one is forced on one that is criticism – the vital essence of Buddhism is lacking. The Burmese people should drive a little deeper than they seem to be doing at present and not be content with mere superficial observation. Let us, for example, apply this crucial text of criticism on such things as pagoda festivals, phongyi-byans, the water festivals and the illumination festivals. Are these essential for the observance of the Buddhist religion? Time was when the ignorant, the infidel and the impious had to be induced to come to pagodas and to listen to the Law by such entertainments as please their fancy. But we are living in modern times and the question is, applying this text of criticism, where do these come in? the present scheme of things must shut out all that are unessential. Besides that things such as these tend to reduce our religion into a mass of mere form.

In the Ratana Sutta the hollowness of the forms and ceremonies in mentioned. Yet Buddhism, as we find it in Burma, remains only in form and so too the civilization. The spirit requisite for the growth of our civilization has died down. It is therefore the bounden duty of every true Burman to revive the spirit of criticism, inherent in Buddhism, and apply it to every problem affecting Burma. If Burma is to regain her freedom and prosperity, the feeling of uneasiness in eradicating the fetish tradition must be overcome and the ancient civilization of bricks must be displaced by the civilization of hewn stones.

Aung San

ဂႏၶေလာက (The World of Books), Vol. XXI, April, 1935, No.123, P. 132

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