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Grassroots excommunication

In an interesting twist to the showdown between Therevadan monks and Burma's military junta, some monks are reportedly refusing to accept food from members of the military or their families.

The significance of such an act might be lost on Westerners or non-Buddhists though, who are likely unaware that the daily gathering of alms is a cornerstone of the sangha (Buddhist community). Bhiksu (monks) are reliant on the food given to them by the laity, as their vows prohibit individual ownership of all but a few worldly goods. By joining the monastic community, bhiksu do not merely renounce worldly goods, but explicitly place their trust in the Three Jewels of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha -- they trust in the community to act with the compassion and generosity preached by Siddhartha Gautama. Conversely, by giving to the monks without expectation of thanks or recompense, the laity are provided a daily ritual through which to reaffirm their faith, and strengthen their ties to the over-arching community.

What, then, does it mean when a bhiksu refuses to accept alms from a member of Burma's military? Well, asides from the obvious consequence of taking food out of their own mouths, such a refusal effectively rejects members of the military from the folds of the sangha. To employ Christian terms, one might see the act as equivalent to being refused the Sacraments by the priesthood -- it is serious business. Even assuming that affected military personnel aren't shocked by the shunning, its likely that their families will find themselves unsettled and less than pleased.

Which begs the question: how long could Burma's generals hypothetically hold out in the face of the anger and humiliation of their wives and mothers?

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