2008 Power List: 23. The Badass Buddhists

Monks march through Yangon city centre as bystanders join in an anti-government demonstration September 24, 2007. Over ten thousand monks marched through the streets of Yangon on Sunday as tens of thousands of bystanders joined in, cheering them on with claps and prayers. REUTERS/Adrees Latif (MYANMAR)


Ages: Twenties and Thirties

It's a story out of a seventies martial-arts movie: Despotic leaders oppress the people and devout monks speak out; after the leaders' goons break up the protests, the monks rebel and the people rise up. When fist-pumping Buddhist monks inspired hundreds of thousands to defy Myanmar's military junta last year it was merely the prologue to a group of lamas' challenging China's rulers in a way not seen since Tiananmen Square in 1989. Thousands of paramilitary police were rushed into Tibet's capital, Lhasa, after local police shut down the monks' march on the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising. In the fierce clashes and crackdown that followed, 140 were killed and thousands jailed as crimson-robed monks threw rocks, charged police lines, and bombed a government building. Authorities later seized caches of guns, explosives, and knives from monasteries. Tibet's militant monks sent a clear message to Beijing's hard-liners: Push us around and you might get a little om upside your dome. As Samdhong Rinpoche, a high-ranking lama and the prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, announced, "Preaching is not enough. Monks must act to improve society, to remove evil." Yes, China may still control Tibet, but these young followers of the Buddha not only gave the ascendant superpower one heckuva black eye—they showed that beneath their sacred robes is a pair of big, brass ones.


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