Thant Myint-U’s new book, ‘The Hidden History of Burma: Race, Capitalism and the Crisis of Democracy in the 21st Century’, unearths the deep, historical roots of Burma’s economic, social and political challenges.

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Aung San Suu Kyi addresses European Parliament in 2013 © EPP Group

Thant Myint-U’s new book, The Hidden History of Burma: Race, Capitalism and the Crisis of Democracy in the 21st Century, comes at a crossroads for Burma and the West. …

Many feel we will inevitably emerge from this pandemic into a fairer, more caring society. By analysing this myth, we can learn a lot about the problems of our age.

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Image: Yuri Samoilov

Back in March, Madonna released a video sharing her reflections on the Coronavirus pandemic. For some reason the video was filmed with her naked in a bathtub filled with rose petals. In a hushed tone with eyes downcast, she speaks to camera:

“That’s the thing about COVID-19. It doesn’t care about how rich you are, how famous you are, how funny you are, how smart you are, where you live, how old you are, what amazing stories you can tell.”

“It’s the great equaliser and what’s terrible about it is what’s great about it.”

I find Madonna’s take rather interesting. At first I assumed she filmed the video inside her $28 million USD home in Beverly Hills, but it appears she is self-isolating in her $9 million GBP, 18th century Moorish palace in Lisbon. Meanwhile in Bangladesh, there are fears about what a Coronavirus outbreak might look like for the more than 1 million Rohingya refugees huddled together in sprawling refugees camps. In case you’re not aware, those refugees were forced to flee Myanmar after coordinated attacks from the Burmese military that are regarded by many as crimes against humanity. …

Western Buddhists have been criticised for distorting centuries old traditions and doctrines. Is there a way that they could engage more respectfully?

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A collection of Buddhist sculptures in the British Museum. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Over the last few centuries the beliefs, practises and philosophies of Buddhism have slowly permeated the Western world. Settling on a precise point of origin can be difficult, but we know that the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer undertook serious study of Buddhism as early as 1815. The degree to which this influenced his philosophy is still the subject of debate, but his interest lives on in the work of Friedrich Nietzsche — perhaps the most important philosopher of the last few centuries — who described Buddhism as “a hundred times more realistic than Christianity”.

Westerners engaging with Buddhism need to be acutely aware of the problems of dislocating Eastern philosophies. When the worldviews of vastly different cultures collide — as in, say, Western scientific materialism and Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism — a great deal of translation, interpretation and omission takes place. This is in part because Tibetan Buddhism draws not only from Indian-Sanskrit texts, but also draws on aspects of Indian and Tibetan tantra, Tibetan traditional medicine, and the shamanic, pre-Buddhist traditions of Tibet. How can a lay person possibly grasp the depth and nuance of such a cultural inheritance? It has taken generations of scholarship to attempt this task, and yet the project remains in its infancy. …


Lachlan R. Dale

Lachlan is Sydney-based musician, writer and meditator. Buddhism / philosophy / literature.

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