Should Buddhist monks take part in political affairs?
U Kovida: Burma has a long history of monks being actively engaged in political affairs when it comes to the welfare of the people. Because everyday we eat food donated to us by the Burmese peoples, the majority are poor and oppressed. Sure, we Buddhist monks should not be attached to anything or anyone. But we did not live in total isolation. We monks remain in contact with the other members of the society. If someone perform any action, which disturbs the peace and harmony of the society, how can you have peace and harmony within yourself?
As you know, I am not politicians. I am not political partisans. We monks are not favoring one group or one side, or one party. We are not seeking power. We seek peace and freedom for our people and to relieve their suffering. You know, politics is not dirty; politics cannot be dirty, only politicians can be dirty. I think politics is very simple, only politicians are complex and complicated. I think politics is really about how we live together as human beings.
What is the relation between Buddhism and politics or democracy?
U Kovida: The teachings of the Buddha are known as Buddhism in western countries that is called Dhamma in pali language. His teachings are not only for a particular person or a particular group, but for everyone to follow in their daily life. So how can we separate politics from Dhamma? Can there be a truly democratic politics without Dhamma in the broad sense? I don't see them as separate. As I see is, we have never needed the Buddha's teaching more than now in the political area. Neglect of Buddha's teaching is one of the fundamental causes of problems. And religion and politics should not be used to cheat the people.
After Siddattha became a Buddha, he devoted his precious life to serving humanity without any personal motive whatsoever.
In the pacifist movement the Buddha was the great pioneer. The Buddha is a great benefactor of humanity. He not only taught non-violence and peace, he intervened personally in the field of battle, as the dispute between the Sakyas and Koliyas over the waters of the Rohini.
In the days of the Buddha, as today, there were rulers who governed their countries unjustly. The Buddha spoke of ten rules for kings. Of course the term "king" of old should be replaced today by the term "government". The Buddha had gone beyond all worldly affairs, but still gave advice on good government.
And the institution the Buddha established was the Sangha or monastic community, which functioned on largely democratic lines. Within this society, individuals were equal, whatever their social class or caste origins. The only slight difference in status depended on seniority of ordination. Individual freedom or enlightenment was achieved by individual practicing meditation. The Sangha or monastic community has the most democratic constitution. The Buddha also was only one of the Sanghas. At the most, he was like a Prime Minister among members of the Cabinet. He was never a dictator. Twice before he died, he was asked to appoint some one as the head of the Sanghas to control it. But each time he refused saying that the Dhamma or his teaching is the Supreme Commander of the Sangha. He refused to be a dictator and refused to appoint a dictator.
The Buddha's way is not to force people to do what they did not like to do although it was good for them. Therefore, Buddhism is a democratic movement that upholds democracy in religion, democracy in society, and democracy in politics. Even could be better to say that Buddha's teachings are more democratic than democratic system.