I know little about the complex political situation in Myanmar and particularly the country’s painful relationship with their armed forces, the Tatmadaw who are accused of genocidal crimes against humanity, and utilizing weapons of torture, arson and rape as instruments of warfare.

But, I do know that world opinion has generally turned against the leader of the National League for Democracy in Myanamr. The once-revered first incumbent State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi is routinely reviled around the world for her unwillingness to speak out against her country’s military leaders.

Unlike me, however, Abhijit Dutta, author of the forthcoming book Myanmar in the World: Journeys through a Changing Burma, does know a lot about the painful political realities of Myanmar. And, when Abhijit Dutta looks at Aung San Suu Kyi, he does not see a compromised political leader who has sold her soul to her country’s military devils in order to maintain power. He sees a courageous

spiritual politician, a breed so rare we no longer know how to recognise it.

Certainly, no one can question that brutal injustice and violence has been and continues to be perpetrated against the Rohingya People by the Tatmadaw. The question that Dutta raises is what is the best most hopeful response in the face of these atrocities from within the confusing, troubled, and conflicted world that is Mayanmar today.

For Dutta, Aung San Suu Kyi is motivated, not by compromise but by the Buddhist conception of metta, which he describes as

the unbounded, unconditional loving-kindness for all fellow beings. Metta demands a breadth of compassion that is able to separate a person from their deeds. To see a murderer only as a murderer is to make forgiveness impossible. Without forgiveness, there can be no compassion, and the person remains outside the circle of metta. It is a profound conviction in the inherent goodness of people and a commitment to the power of love as an agent of social change.

Whatever the reality of Myanmar’s political situation may be, metta as Dutta describes it, offers a powerful and radically counter-cultural vision of political leadership.

According to Dutta, Suu Kyi inhabits a moral universe in which

courage is the freedom from fear, which she defines as the freedom from hostility, or the freedom from the need to hate.

In the current political climate, the temptation to demonize the opposition is almost overwhelming. The wrong seems so wrong; the injustice, dishonesty, and failures on the part of those with whom I disagree seem so blatant and so vicious. How could I do anything other than hate their actions and condemn their choices in the strongest terms possible?

Dutta argues that,

Suu Kyi’s moral courage is rooted in the conviction that hate and fear go hand in hand, that if you do not hate someone you cannot be frightened by them.

So, if I hope to participate in enabling a more just and gentle society, I need to search my own heart and be willing to ask myself difficult questions:

Can I participate in moving the human community in a truly life-giving direction when I harbour even the slightest vestige of anger and hatred in my heart?

If I am driven by fear will I be able to contribute to finding a way beyond the polarization and enemy-formation that are paralyzing our current political climate?

Without love, even for the person I identify as my enemy, will I be able to help create a more open and loving human community?

I am not sure that the Buddhists entirely invented the concept of metta. It seems to me that Jesus was pointing us towards just this understanding of how to deal with opponents when he instructed his followers to

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44).

When I “love” my enemy, I no longer have an enemy. I have a person who I see as a brother or a sister. A loved enemy is a person I respect and value as a human being, even if they seem to me to be a source of pain and violence in the world. If this is the spirit of Aung San Suu Kyi, it is no wonder the world is having a hard time embracing her challenging vision. The world had an equally hard time embracing this vision of love and gentleness when it encountered at work in Jesus.


Dutta’s article should be read in its entirety here: