Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Spirituality comes too late to many national leaders

Tuesday, 28 August 2012 13:14 Myat Thu Pan

(Commentary) - Reading Chit Hlaing's reminiscence of his last meeting with Ne Win in 1995 is quite a revelation. What is most confounding is that Chit Hlaing realized the key to Ne Win’s failure as a ruler of Burma only after the nation had been left in utter ruins.

Spirituality came too late to Ne Win, the man who almost single handedly destroyed the nation.

Imagine what Burma would have been like if Ne Win had studied Buddhism and meditated prior to 1962. Would Burma have been entirely different from what it is now – a failed state – broken in so many ways and nearly at the bottom of the heap among the poorest nation in the world? The wonder of it all is mind-boggling.

It is hard to unravel history and to understand what motivated Ne Win to stage his coup. He told Chit Hlaing if he had understood annicca, dukka and annatta (impermanence, suffering and non-self), he would not have grabbed power then.

It may sound like an incredulous understatement to many Burmese and too unbelievable, but as Buddha pointed out humans are humans – a bundle of ignorance.

Power is extremely seductive, especially political power. Throughout human history, leaders who rose to tremendous heights often had drastic descents. From Caesar, Hitler, Mussolini, Pol Pot, to Ne Win, their descent was as spectacular as their ascent. They murdered, tortured and destroyed nations. But does everyone learn from these terrible mistakes?

But on the other end of the spectrum, we have had spiritually evolved political leaders such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Desmond Tu Tu and the Dalai Lama, who all offered the opposite virtues of compassion and wisdom. Their ability to overcome the chasms of political, and racial divides was legendary yet extremely difficult to emulate by other political leaders around the globe.

Burma has had its share of despotic rulers, but at present it’s fortunate to have President Thein Sein and his counterpart in the opposition, Suu Kyi, who both seem to use Buddhism, according to media reports.

Just before Suu Kyi was taken into custody in 1989, it was said she studied meditation. Then of course she had had many years to meditate under house arrest and to read. The same was true of the ‘88 student leaders. Min Ko Naing said that what kept him sane was studying Buddhism, humor and the knowledge that he was in jail because of his convictions for a free Burma.

One hopes that the lessons to be learned from the example of Ne Win will inspire the present generation of national leaders, both in the government, the opposition and all political forces to avoid serious mistakes.

It is very timely that Ne Win's confession is revealed at this time, after 50 years of ruination because of one man's folly and ignorance.

It is a stark reminder of how unbridled power grabbing can become an enormous impediment to building a nation.

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