Religion, The Sangha, and Politics by Aung San
October 3, 2011 Leave a comment
The problems that face humanity today are all of a closely woven fabric. Internationalism and nationalism, economics and politics, politics and sociology, sociology and culture, religion and ethics and culture, they form parts of a whole.
Politics, in its true sense, permeates life. But some of us still say that ‘politics’ is dirty. Is that correct? Of course not! It is not politics which is dirty, but only those who choose to dirty it. And what is politics ? Is it something which is high above, beyond the reach of the common man ? Is it the profession of the charlatans who used to roam the country, playing to the credulous imagination of the peoples, preying on their simple minds ? Or is politics some dangerous ground on which the wise must be wary to tread ? Is politics slogan-shouting alone, ‘race, religion, language,’ as we used to shout ?
The truth is that politics is neither high nor lowly, neither magic nor astrology nor alchemy. Nor is it any dangerous ground to tread on. It is not a matter of narrow nationalism either. It marches with events, and is in every way a part of our daily lives. It is us. Man is a political animal, as Aristotle said,k and politics is in our being and our work. The worker wants to earn higher wages and better conditions of life. The peasant wants to improve his land and his lot. The clerk and official wants more than the drudgery of office, they seek freedom from want and worry. The trader and the broker want fair opportunities for trading and business. For all these people, their striving for the better life, their persuit of happiness, is politics.
Politics then is not dirty. It is not dangerous. It is not mysterious magic. Some say that politcs is religion. That also is not true. Only the dirty politicians say that to confuse the people, to hide or cover up the real issues of life. Those who say religion is politics are opportunists, not genuine politicians.
Religion is a matter of individual conscience, while politics is social science. We must see to it that the individual enjoys his rights, including the right to freedom of religious belief and worship. We must draw a clear line between politics and religion, because the two are not one and the same thing. If we mix religion with politics, then we offend the spirit of religion itself. Politics is pure secular science.
Sociolgy has no quarrel with the basic concepts of religion such as love, truth and right living. But when, in the name of religion, using it as a cloak, unreason and exploitation, in justice and superstitution are upheld, then society will rise in protest. Even if some priests should make ominous prophesy, we must cry halt, and prevent them becoming laws unto themselves, from doing harm to society. This is no new doctrine invented by me. One of our greatest kings, Anawrahta, applied it with vigour , and the social surgery he performed stands out as a landmark in our history. History shows that there is such a thing as priestcraft, which is not sanctioned by religion. True, priestcraft would try to hang on to religion : examples are the contests and conflicts between Popes and the Emperors, between the Ari’s and King Anawrahta, and the instances, only too familiar to us, where the Flag had follow the Bible. All these remind us of the existence of such a thing as priestcraft, the bane of every religion, and also of society, through the ages.
But we must distinguish priestcraft from priesthood. Our disapproval of priestcraft does not extend to priesthood. On the contrary, we can clearly see how our priesthood has rendered service and leadership to our society. Our priests have taken on many social tasks, such as educating our young people, and the high standards of literacy that Burma has is due to a large extent to this service. Our priests have enriched our culture and our civilization, and generally helped our society in its march forward in history. For these great services, we owe a large debt of gratitude to our priests.
Buddhism is the religion of the great majority of our peoples, and I sincerely believe that it can become, if we can remove the ritual and get out its noble essence, the greatest philosophy in the world. I would, therefore, like to address a special appeal to the Buddhist priesthood. Reverend Sangha, you are the custodians of a great religion. Please purify it and give it to the world. Your message to the peoples, not only of Burma but of the world, is that of love and brotherhood. We hear, and shall heed the message, which is one that the world also needs to hear and heed increasingly these days. Reverend Sangha, you have large and noble functions to perform in spreading peace and love in Burma and the world. Those are your high functions and high politics. Please take the message to the peoples, set their minds free from fear, bigotry, ignorance and superstition ; teach them to build themselves a nobler, happier life. Those, and no less, are your tasks and your calling.
From the inaugural address at the AFPFL convention, January, 1945