The monks originally planned a 12-hour-long recitation, scheduled to start at 6 p.m. Wednesday, to mark the full moon day of the fifth month of the Burmese calendar, traditionally celebrated as “Metta Sutta Day” by Burmese Buddhists.
“We only intended to recite Buddhist sutras, including the Metta Sutta, to wish for all sentient beings to be peaceful and free from anxiety. But the authorities told us to call off our plans,” a monk from Yenangyaung told The Irrawaddy on Thursday.
Similar ceremonies are normally held throughout the country on this day. However, since a brutal crackdown on the monk-led protests of 2007, which featured marching monks reciting the Metta Sutta, most monasteries have been wary of publicly chanting the sutra.
“Banning chanting of the Buddhist sutras is a great insult to the Buddha, his teachings and his followers,” said Ashin Issariya, one of the leaders of the All Burma Monks Alliance (ABMA), the group that spearheaded the 2007 Saffron Revolution.
“There is no freedom of religion in Burma today,” he added, noting that banning large ceremonies also prevents people from making donations to monks—an important practice for Burmese Buddhists, who believe that providing monks with basic material requisites is the surest way to accumulate spiritual merit.
“The Buddha instructed monks to boycott any person who prevents donations to monks or obstructs the Dhamma,” he said. “I condemn this act by the authorities, and all other monks should also condemn it.”
According to Buddhist scripture, monks can boycott lay followers who violate religious principles by refusing to accept alms from them. This practice, known as “overturning the alms bowl,” is a powerful act of defiance, and one that has provoked a harsh response from Burmese authorities in the past.
Despite the ban on chanting the Metta Sutta at monasteries, on Wednesday the state-run New Light of Myanmar carried a commentary extolling its importance for practicing Buddhists.
“By chanting or reciting Metta Sutta, you send out to all sentient beings messages of your loving-kindness, compassion and goodwill. All who receive your good message reciprocate the same to you. You are immune from all dangers. You have no enemies, you have only friends,” wrote commentator Dr Khin Maung Nyunt.
Ashin Esika, a Burmese monk living in Sri Lanka, told The Irrawaddy: “I am greatly saddened to hear that the Burmese authorities prohibited monks from reciting the Buddha’s sutras. All monks and people need to unite and try their best to protect our religion. Moreover, all people under the sun must share kindness and compassion to uphold justice and peace in the world.”