Tuesday October 2, 2007
For several days I have felt as if I ought to write something about Burma, but at the same time I have not known what I could possibly add to the growing mountains of commentary on the continuing tragedy over there in South-East Asia. So perhaps, in such circumstances, it is best to say little.
One thing, however, has been going through my mind, and that is an essay I read by Aung San Suu Kyi several years ago in her book Freedom From Fear. There she breaks with Buddhist tradition to make the bold and, I think, insightful claim. Traditionally in Buddhism, there are said to be three roots of unskilful action: greed, hatred and delusion. “Monks,” the Buddha is reported as saying in the Mula Sutta “there are these three roots of what is unskilful. Which three? Greed is a root of what is unskilful, aversion is a root of what is unskilful, delusion is a root of what is unskilful.”
I do not have the passage to hand, but Aung San Suu Kyi’s essay goes one stage further to point out that these three roots in turn have a deeper root, and that root is fear. I may have written on this before here at think Buddha, but no matter: it is worth writing about again. Fear trembles beneath the most monstrous greed, the greatest of hatreds, the most tangled of delusions.
For me, this is a useful insight because whilst we feel comfortable condemning the greedy or the deluded or those that hate, we feel less comfortable condemning those who fear: it breaks up the crust of our moral righteousness to reveal the deeper, more richly human soil beneath. And as the soil breaks up we recognise that we, too, are fearful. “All tremble at violence,” the Dhammapada says, “all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.”
And as I have been watching events in Burma unfolding, I have been hoping alongside many others that out of the horror some good might eventually come. But I have also been wondering if perhaps the truly important political question – in Burma as well as everywhere else – is not that of how to counter greed, or hatred, or delusion, but how to counter the fear that trembles beneath it. I am grateful to Aung San Suu Kyi for this insight; and I look forward to a time when she may be able to contribute her considerable insight to the building of a Burma that has begun to free itself from the corrosive effects of fear.
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