Home > Local News > If you don’t own it [Preah Vihear temple], don’t get attached to it

If you don’t own it [Preah Vihear temple], don’t get attached to it

Let me be clear from the outset that
this is the “Buddhist” in me talking. Its hidden rival, who wants to
speak the extreme opposite regarding Thai-Cambodian territorial
tussles, is just lying in wait. Please know that, if this article makes
your patriotic blood boil.

Okay, the thing is, Buddhist
monks (albeit unorthodox ones) fighting for a country’s claims to
tracts of land have done my head in for days now. I have no problem
with lay people doing it, because they aren’t supposed to let go or be
content with whatever is left for them, or to forgive intruders or
enemies. I may be a lame Buddhist, but don’t people enter the monkhood
in order to steer away from whatever is motivating the Santi Asoke
disciples at the moment?

My main question is: Isn’t Buddhism based primarily on the idea that nothing “worldly” is permanent?

In
other words, Thais and Cambodians may well be wrestling over some
pieces of land that belonged to fish and shells a million years ago and
could be reclaimed by the sea sooner or later, or altered beyond
recognition by a mega-earthquake.

I mean,
if your objective is absolute detachment, what’s the point?
“Sovereignty” is more “worldly” than anything in my book, or one Prince
Siddhartha would not have left it all behind and we wouldn’t have had
Buddhism in the first place. In a “previous life” of his, we are always
told, he also gave everything away – not just worldly assets and
wealth, but also his children and wife.

This is not to say that
we should not fight for rights over land. (Probably more on that at a
later date when the patriot in me manages to summon enough sound
arguments.) I’m only saying that being attached to something that we
think we may own but actually may not, doesn’t seem like Buddhism.

Do
we own the land at the border? Maybe and maybe not. Is the “ownership”,
or even the land itself, permanent? No, absolutely not.

If the
Santi Asoke monks have been forced away from the Thai-Cambodian border
where they had lived a modest, peaceful life, this action might have
been understandable. But their “fight” has largely to do with
nationalism and symbolism, which are things that warriors die for,
rightly or wrongly.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but in Buddhism you
don’t even “own” yourself, let alone a piece of land that used to be a
heavy concentration of gas and will eventually return to that state. We
are taught to be aware of impermanence and to walk the middle path,
aren’t we?

I’m aware of “activist” monks fighting for freedom
and all that, and sometimes I understand why they want to do it. Maybe
it’s too difficult for those in Sri Lanka or Burma to keep on the
middle path.

Do the Santi Asoke monks have land to live on? Yes.
Do they have food? Yes. Water to drink? Yes. Air to breath? Yes. A
place to sleep and practice meditation? Yes. Does Buddhism tell them to
be content with that? I think so.

Santi Asoke refuses to worship
“symbols”, which is good. Their religious practices and perseverance
are said to be more stringent than mainstream Buddhist monks, which is
partly controversial but overall comprehensible. But which part of
Buddhism are they reciting to force a government to stake territorial
claims and probably risk a war in the process?

Without
“freedom”, man cannot be. Or so we have heard. But what is freedom,
anyway? The right to point to some plots of land and proclaim, “That is
mine”? In a political context, yes. From a real Buddhist perspective,
no.

The core of Buddhism is the quest to free oneself from
suffering. But what is “suffering” in the Buddhist context, anyway? Is
it the inability to lay claim to a plot of land that we don’t actually
need to set foot on? Or is it the pain of knowing somebody else is
claiming that land instead of us? Is it both?

What can Buddhism
say about the pain of knowing that your compatriots are suffering
because somebody else is laying claim to that piece of land? This could
be the real dilemma facing the Santi Asoke monks. How can you turn the
other way when fellow human beings are suffering?

In that case,
I guess any Buddhist monk will have two choices: either tell the
“sufferers” that their plight is justified because the land truly
belongs to them, or teach them that the suffering stems from being
attached to things they don’t really own.

The Nation
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Categories: Local News
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