Thursday, September 27, 2007


Historically, monks were often represented as ascetic, religious beings who had retreated from the mundane world and had found following in Buddha’s teaching and the Dharma. One is also familiar with the Shaolin monks portrayed in Chinese films who stood up for justice and against evil regime.

This week, Myanmar monks staged a massive protest against the military government. This action was alike that of the Shaolin monks portrayed in movies who congregated and fought the evil regime using their strength and might. In the earlier case, the protest by Myanmar monks was a peaceful march, which gathered strength and elicited support from hundreds of citizens as the march proceeded. Unfortunately, despites several warnings by the government, the monks refused to surrender and disperse and yesterday, the Myanmar government commenced their crackdown on the monks, resulting in some bloodshed.

The role of monks seems to evolve over time and has taken on a new definition in this modern era. Strictly speaking, monks should be devoid of worldly affairs and seek to be enlighten and enlighten others. However, if the new dimensions of the role of monks include one of helping others and righting justice, to a certain extent, the monks, in this respect may also fulfill one of the tenets of Buddhism.

The Myanmar monks, protested against the perverted governance of the military regime, helping to fight for reforms, though this may be deemed as one of more extreme acts of fighting for worthy causes by monks.

In other places, ordinary monks continue to do charitable deeds by helping others though the form of such practices may change with time. Singaporeans will be familiar with Venerable Shi Ming Yi who scaled the heights, braved the chilling temperatures of ice and performed other amazing stunts in the annual Ren Chi Charity show. Being a modern monk, Venerable Shi has taken charity deeds to a different platform. He is also the Chairman of Ren Chi Hospital and manages the hospital, which is not a conventional role for monks. This trend of monks entering into professions and starting businesses and schools is not confined to Singapore, it has spread to many parts of the world.

In this era, the varied roles of monks, especially in developed and modern countries enable them to connect to an even wider mass and make their work more integrated with the society. As a result of a more open modern-day public role, the general public may also connect well with the monks and the teaching of the Buddha may spread to an even wider audience.

However, the image of monks may also be challenged in this time by some ‘bad apples’. In the recent few months, bogus monks have been sighted along places like Geylang who solicited for alms. Reports of some monks indulging in worldly sins, rich monks wearing Rolex watches and driving big Mercedes cars also continue to challenge the image of monks .

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