Seventeen orange-robed Buddhist monks sat in a Fort Wayne temple Sunday, spiritually joining forces with a boycott that imperils the souls of Burmese government leaders.
The same day, tens of thousands across Burma took to the streets seeking change from the military dictatorship. At the heart of the protests are long columns of barefoot Buddhist monks.
Monks walk through the streets in Burma every morning gathering alms. The rice they eat comes from the hands of followers who, by helping the monks maintain humility through the act of begging, will themselves benefit, gaining merit, or karma, from the act.
Earlier this month, government attacks on protesting monks drew a strong reaction from temples across the country, as well as from the public.
“They never apologized to the monks. Never,” said the Venerable Kuthala, host of Sunday's ceremony at the Jetavan Temple on Sylvia Street.
As a result, monks in Burma will no longer accept alms from or preach to military government officials or their families. They will offer no spiritual support to those responsible for ruling Burma. This leaves members of the ruling class outside their religion.
The monks gathered at Sylvia Street joined in the boycott, chanting while photos of Burmese leaders sat in front of them on the floor.
In Burma, the boycott is not without risk. Hundreds of monks were killed along with other protesters in 1988. A boycott in 1990 landed hundreds of monks in jail.
“Just like 1988, the movement is getting bigger, so maybe they will shoot,” said Kuthala.
Before he was a monk, Kuthala took risks of his own as a democracy activist. He was arrested on Aug. 8, 1988, the day the military began to fire on protesters, leaving thousands dead. Released 18 days later, he fled to the jungles near Thailand, where he spent the next 14 years.
“I wanted to fight back,” he said, but he preferred a path away from violence. He became a monk in 1996. Sunday, he was doing what he could to continue the peaceful struggle for democracy in Burma.
“The monks are in daily touch with the people. They know what the people are feeling,” he said. “We can solve the political crisis with the people's movement.”