Buddhism and Relief in Myanmar: Reflections on Relief as a Practice of Dāna
In this chapter, we examine some ways in which Buddhists in Myanmar conceptualize, justify, and practice humanitarian relief.1 The most recent and striking example of this was after Cyclone Nargis hit the country in May 2008, an unprecedented natural disaster that left an estimated 140,000 individuals dead or missing and led to the largest ever relief effort in Myanmar. While Theravāda Buddhism provides a common framework, people may interpret the Buddha’s teachings differently with regard to contemporary practices of relief. Some interpretations suggest that a monk’s place is not in humanitarian operations, but rather in withdrawing from the material world since secular issues should be the concern of laypeople. This might be especially true in Myanmar at a time when the sangha (community of monks) faced severe repression from the government in the aftermath of the so-called Saffron Revolution of 2007. However, monks and laypeople more frequently draw on Buddhist beliefs and practices to justify and frame relief aid. The idea of dāna (donation/generosity, giving) is an important influence on their practices and understandings of relief.
KeywordsCivil Society Moral Standing Social Donation Relief Work Relief Operation
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