Image by Damir Sagolj/Reuters via The Big Picture.
When I first saw the image above on The Big Picture a couple of weeks ago I was deeply disturbed. Without knowing more details about the exact circumstances the photo was taken in it is hard to know exactly why the monk has been restrained. However, the anguished expression on his face clearly shows that he is deeply suffering.
Of course this raises the question of if or how Buddhist monks should participate in mass protests and political movements. I think there are four possible circumstances in which the monks might have participated in the protests.
(1) The monks went to the protest hoping that their presence would have a calming effect and discourage immediate acts of violence.
(2) The monks went to the protest in support of greater democracy and justice and society. They were concerned about addressing issues of structural violence.
(3) The monks were caught by advancing troops and engaged in acts of self-defense to protect themselves and protesters.
(4) The monks were actively involved in the protests and this included joining other protesters in carrying out acts of violence.
Of these four possibilities I believe only the last is unacceptable behaviour for a monk. Others may disagree and say that monks should be apolitical and removed from society. However, standing by silently in the face of injustice is just supporting that injustice. It is the responsibility of monks to come out of the temple and work for a more democratic and just society. Although of course they should use nonviolent means that are in accordance with the Buddha Dharma and their monastic vows.
Sanitsuda Ekachai has written her own thoughts in the Bangkok Post. A quote follows.