How can a dedicated meditator maintain the five precepts when encountering armed soldiers with orders to abduct, rape, torture, or even kill? How should devoted lay supporters of the Saṅgha respond when much of their own monkhood remains silent even as their country is burning around them? What is the best way that practitioners outside of Myanmar can support the protest movement at this time? These are just a few of the moral quandaries put to the Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi, in an interview which he later admitted was “one of the toughest I’ve ever had.”
Many of the questions were sent in by Burmese Buddhist listeners, and concern real-life—and sometimes life-and-death—challenges, in the context of the military’s on-going terror campaign. They are questions from people desperately seeking spiritual answers that in many cases their own monkhood has unfortunately not been providing. Towards this end, Bhikkhu Bodhi emphasizes that his words “should be viewed as my personal opinions, and not authoritative dicta coming down from the high seat of authority, but my opinions, the way to resolve these very difficult ethical dilemmas.” He advocates adapting the spirit rather than the letter of the teachings to help us navigate our way through these serious challenges now facing Myanmar.
The discussion is wide-ranging. Other topics range from the way Buddhist monks can engage with this crisis skillfully and in accordance with the Vinaya, to how Buddhist communities can best protect themselves against the terror state while understanding the immutable laws of karma, to the Rohingya crisis and issues surrounding the integration of Burmese Muslims into society.
None of these have easy answers. This makes Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi’s willingness to wade into this morass all the more remarkable, at a time when many Buddhist leaders, especially those whose lineages trace back to Burma, carry on their teaching schedules while carefully avoiding these difficult questions. We thank Bhikkhu Bodhi for his moral courage in engaging on these challenging matters, and for the sensitivity and value of his words of wisdom.