I know I’m a bit late to the party, but the situation in Burma has really crawled under my skin. The near-daily meting out of outrageous prison sentences after secret trials to lay and monastic leaders of 2007’s Saffron Revolution – monks Ashin Gambira and Ashin Kelasa just got 12 and 35 years respectively – has drawn a United Nations condemnation (h/t Tricycle Blog), for whatever that’s worth. Lord knows they’ve earned it, but man.
Update I: Ashin Ganbira just got another 15 years tacked onto his 12, and his case is apparently still open. Maybe the junta is gonna try to imprison him in future rebirths as well.
What does history show us? How can we effectively support a people struggling to emerge from such abominable oppression, especially when the 800 lb. gorilla in the room is China and its voracious appetite for Burma’s resources? I’m seriously asking. Online petitions seem such a futile and ridiculous gesture.
So how does this relate to the post title? Well, when I’m trying to wrap my head around something like Burma’s complex politics and culture, the first thing I do is gorge on information. Yesterday I was reading up on the history of Buddhism within Burma – it’s so much more profound than I realized and I’ll drop tidbits in here once in a while. But one passage I read yesterday just blew my mind. I was skimming through Roger Bischoff’s Buddhism in Myanmar: A Short History (pdf here) and my eyeballs popped when I read this on pp. 15-6:
“A tradition of Myanmar says that Tagaung [in northern Burma] was founded by Abhiraja, a prince of the Sakyans (the tribe of the Buddha), who had migrated to Upper Myanmar from Nepal in the ninth century BC. The city was subsequently conquered by the Chinese in approximately 600 BC, and Pagan and Prome were founded by refugees fleeing southward. In fact, some historians believe that, like the Myanmar [one of Burma’s major ethnic groups], the Sakyans were a Mongolian rather than an Indo-Aryan race, and that the Buddha’s clansmen were derived from Mongolian stock.”
What?! I never heard this before, and I’ve no idea who “some historians” are, but intend to find out. I know it’s a long shot, but if any of you can shed some light on this matter, please do so in the comments. I know my Mongolian friends would just love to claim the Buddha as one of their own!
Update II: I asked the same question over at E-Sangha, and got a very informative discussion rolling, that not only addresses the issue in a really fascinating way, but also veers off into tangents about cool subjects that folks like Don Croner love, such as Caucasian mummies in the Tarim Basin. Yow!