“Freedom from Fear”

In this article, Bro.Tan shares his thoughts on Aung San Suu Kyi’s first trip abroad in 24 years, and on his recent teaching tour to Burma. 

I was very happy and touched to see photographs of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi arriving in Bangkok yesterday.  Her ongoing visit to Thailand is her first trip abroad in nearly a quarter century!  She had refused to leave Burma formerly because the government might not permit her return.

For 15 years, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under ‘house-arrest’ under repressive conditions.  She was denied civil liberties, and oftentimes, even common courtesies.  Her late British husband, even when he was dying of cancer, was repeatedly denied a visa to visit her in Rangoon.  So were her children.  A lesser mortal would have buckled under such strains, but Aung San Suu Kyi is not a mere mortal.  She has strength of character, a steely determination, courage, and a great sense of purpose.  To maintain her sanity while being cooped up for so many years in a house, Daw Suu starts and ends her days with Buddhist prayers and meditation.  In fact, such rituals and daily practice are the source of her strength.

Burma was a great country.  It was a strong pillar that supported the growth and spread of Buddhism throughout Asia for a thousand years.  With a millennium of exposure to Buddhist culture, the Burmese people I truly admire as among the most honest, adaptable and friendly of any race.  In my prayers I always wish them (and of course Daw Suu, too) the courage, power and determination to bring about social improvements, despite living under tough conditions.  I pray that they never lose purpose, and hope, and faith.  With social developments, the day will come when Burma can again be a strong pillar to support the propagation of Buddha-Sasana world-wide.

Even though I was invited thrice in the past, I had refused to go to Burma as long as the regime there was autocratic and repressive.  But I had a change of heart brought about by the reforms currently happening in that country, especially with some degree of social freedom and civil liberties restored.  So this month, I finally had the honour and great pleasure of visiting Burma for the first time!  I had come to pray and meditate at the Shwedagon Pagoda, something I had always dreamt of doing since childhood.  My heart was gladdened beyond words, as I faithfully prostrated and begin reciting, “Namo Tassa Bhagavato…

I requested my kind Burmese hosts to take me to see Daw Suu’s house south of Inya Lake.  The barricades are gone; people and vehicles are allowed to freely pass the leafy University Avenue again.  We stopped for a while to soak in the atmosphere and reflect… And with a short prayer, off we drove.  A few kilometers north of her house is the Kabe Aye Pagoda, site of the Sixth Buddhist Sangayana in 1954-1956 commemorating the 2,500th Year of the Buddhist Era.  I visited the great hall where more than 2,000 erudite monks from the whole world spent 2 years reciting and recompiling the entire Tipitaka!  The hall seems well-maintained, and devotees stream in quietly every minute to bow in reverence to empty seats and sit in silent meditation.

I sat in a corner observing their serene countenance.  Decades of living under oppression and with much uncertainty have not diminished the grace, dignity and disposition of the Burmese people.  I suddenly recalled one of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s famous speech – “Freedom from Fear”.  Indeed, she was merely echoing the Buddha when she urged her countrymen to live courageously despite the presence of danger, and not in the absence of it.

How wonderfully said.  And for her and many other Buddhists, how wonderfully lived!