By Alan Clements January 2004 Burma’s Nobel Peace Prize winning democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi offers us a great vision that places self-respect, human dignity, compassion and love above material considerations. A rare and remarkable interview You can’t separate people’s politics from their spiritual values If you have positive feelings towards others, they can’t frighten you Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi is, in the words of Vaclav Havel, one of the outstanding examples of the power of the powerless. She told me her own story in many conversations at her home in Rangoon. It was a journey into the soul of the struggle for freedom in this southeast Asian nation of 48 million people, many of whom, at this very moment, may be risking their lives to win the right to choose their destiny. Aung San Suu Kyi offered me, as she does to all, a great vision that places self-respect, human dignity, compassion and love above material considerations. Placed under house arrest, separated from her family for years at a time, she kept silent, and so grew into a living legend. Finally, once again speaking defiantly and acting boldly to unlock the prison doors of the SLORC (Burma’s State Law and Order Restoration Council) military dictatorship, she will not be stopped. This is the Aung San Suu Kyi I came to know—a dynamic woman with an unshakeable conviction, inseparable from her principles and sustained by a sense of justice and duty. She abhors hypocrisy, while admitting her own shortcomings. Her compassion is tangible. The one quality that I feel best defines her is sincerity, at the core of which is her conviction in self-improvement. Aung San Suu Kyi is a seeker, one who makes her life a vehicle for an awakening to deeper and deeper truths. She wears her spirituality quietly, unpretentiously, and with subtlety. She laughs freely and easily. Her words are so simple at times as to take you by surprise, yet spoken without equivocation. She is straightforward and direct, and is her own person in every sense. It was this aspect of our time together that I most appreciated: a woman enjoying her sovereignty and happiness while fighting for the independence of others. Many wish to label you in heroic terms. Even the Vanity Fair interview with you was entitled ‘Burma’s Saint Joan’. Good heavens, I hope not. You are referred to as a female bodhisattva, striving for perfection of wisdom, compassion and love—with the intention of assisting others attain freedom. Oh, for goodness sake, I’m nowhere near such a state. I would love to become a bodhisattva one day, if I thought I was capable of such heights. I have to say that I am one of those people who strive for self-improvement, but I’m not one who has made, or thought of myself as fit to make a bodhisattva vow. I do try to be good (laughs). This is the way my mother brought me up. She emphasised the goodness of good, so to speak. I’m not saying that I succeed all the time, but I do try. I have a terrible temper. I will say that I don’t get as angry now as I used to. Meditation helped a lot. But when I think somebody has been hypocritical or unjust, I have to confess I still get very angry. I don’t mind ignorance or sincere mistakes; but what makes me really angry is hypocrisy. So, I have to develop awareness. When I get really angry, I watch myself. And I say to myself, well, I’m angry; I’ve got to control this anger. And that brings it under control to a certain extent. What has most affected your growth as an individual? What I have learned in life is that it’s always your own wrongdoing that causes you the greatest suffering. It is never what other people do to you. My mother instilled in me that wrongdoing never pays, and my own experience has proved that to be true. Also, if you have positive feelings towards other people they can’t do anything to you—they can’t frighten you. I think if you stop loving other people then you really suffer. How would you characterise yourself as a person? Well, I see myself differently from how others see me. For example, all this business about my being so brave, I had never thought of myself as a particularly brave person. When people say: “How marvellous it is that you stuck out those years of detention,” my reaction is, “what’s all the fuss about?” Anybody can stick out house arrest. It’s those people who have had to stick out years in prison, in terrible conditions, that make you wonder how they did it. I see myself as a trier; I don’t give up. And I’m not talking about not giving up working for democracy. That too, but basically I don’t give up trying to be a better person. What does Buddhist meditation mean to you? It’s a form of spiritual cultivation—a spiritual education and a purifying process. Basically, it’s learning awareness. By being aware of whatever you’re doing, you learn to avoid impurities. The main reason I meditate is the satisfaction I derive from knowing that I am doing what I think I should do, that is, to try to develop awareness as a step towards understanding anicca (impermanence) as an experience. I have ordinary attitudes towards life. If I think there is something I should do in the name of justice or in the name of love, then I’ll do it. The motivation is its own reward. How has meditation been a process of self-discovery? I don’t know if it has been a process of self-discovery as much as one of spiritual strengthening. I was always taught to be honest with myself. Since I was quite young I had been in the habit of analysing my actions and feelings. So I haven’t really discovered anything new about myself. But meditation has helped strengthen me spiritually in order to follow the right path. For me, meditation is a way of life because what you do when you meditate is to learn to control your mind through developing awareness. This awareness carries on into everyday life. For me, that’s one of the most practical benefits of meditation—my sense of awareness has become heightened. I’m now much less inclined to do things carelessly and unconsciously. In Burma today the large portion of monks and nuns see spiritual freedom and socio-political freedom as separate. But in truth, dharma and politics are rooted in the same issue—freedom. Indeed, but this is not unique to Burma. I think some people find it embarrassing and impractical to think of the spiritual and political life as one. I do not see them as separate. In democracies there is always a drive to separate the spiritual from the secular, but it is not actually required to separate them. In many dictatorships, you’ll find that there is an official policy to keep politics and religion apart, in case, I suppose, it is used to upset the status quo. At the monastery in Vietnam of the first monk who immolated himself in 1963, I was told that his “immolation was not an act of suicide but of compassion; his way of drawing world attention to the staggering suffering of the Vietnamese people during the war”. That prompts me to ask you how engaged Buddhism could be more activated today, especially among the 1,000,000 monks and 500,000 nuns in Burma? Engaged Buddhism is active compassion or active metta. It’s not just sitting there saying: “I feel sorry for them.” It means doing something about the situation by bringing whatever relief you can to those who need it the most. Of course, ‘sending of loving kindness’ is very much part of our Burmese Buddhist training. But we have to do more to express our compassion. And there are so many ways of doing it. When the Buddha tried to stop two sides from fighting, he stood between them. They would have had to injure him before they could hurt each other. So he was defending both sides, as well as protecting others at the sacrifice of his own safety. In Burma today, many people are afraid to visit families of political prisoners in case they too are harassed. Now, you could show active compassion by offering families of political prisoners help and by surrounding them with love, compassion and moral support. That is what we are encouraging. How can this ‘active compassion’ express itself on the street, among those where “fear is a habit”? There is a direct link between love and fear. It reminds me of the Biblical quotation: “Perfect love casts out fear.” I’ve often thought that this is a very Buddhist attitude. ‘Perfect love’ should be metta, which is not selfish or attached. The Metta Sutta has the phrase, ‘like a mother caring for her only child’. That’s true metta. A mother’s courage to sacrifice herself comes from her love for her child. I think we need a lot more of this kind of love around the place. I was mugged earlier this year in a Paris subway station. It made me think of the magnitude of violence in the world. Love is often an ideal. You use the metaphor of a mother’s love that embraces even her child’s faults, but this ‘child’ is slitting the throats of his neighbours. I think you have not quite understood what I’ve been saying. We’ve got to make metta grow. We’ve got to make people see that love is a strong, positive force for the happiness of oneself, not just others. A journalist said to me: “When you speak to the people you talk a lot about religion, why?” I said: “Because politics is about people, and you can’t separate people from their spiritual values.” Some people might think it is idealistic or naïve to talk about metta in politics, but to me it makes a lot of practical good sense. I’ve always said to the NLD (National League for
Life Positive follows a stringent review publishing mechanism. Every review received undergoes -
Only after we're satisfied about the authenticity of a review is it allowed to go live on our website
All our healers and therapists undergo training and/or certification from authorized bodies before becoming professionals. They have a minimum professional experience of one year
All our healers and therapists are genuinely passionate about doing service. They do their very best to help seekers (patients) live better lives.
All payments made to our healers are secure up to the point wherein if any session is paid for, it will be honoured dutifully and delivered promptly
Every seekers (patients) details will always remain 100% confidential and will never be disclosed