Hpoun

   Sometimes hpon or pon, an important concept in Burmese social and political life that is frequently translated as "glory" but more accurately means the possession of powerbecause of the accumulation of merit (kutho) in past lives. Although a person with hpoun may act in violent or immoral ways, this is not seen as delegitimizing his power, since it has already been "earned" in previous existences. Thus, power, or the holding of it, is equivalent to authority. This concept supports a conservative, hierarchical society in which opposition to abuses of power rarely occurs. Ne Win's success in holding onto power from 1962 to 1988 despite economic stagnation, ethnic minority insurgency, and his regime's violations of human rights, was sometimes explained in terms of his possession of abundant hpoun. Males are said to possess special hpoun, which may be damaged if they find themselves in a subordinate position to a woman. In part, this explains the antipathy of the State Peace and Development Council to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
   Victory in battle, no matter how cruelly the defeated are treated, capture of sacred objects, such as the Maha Muni Image, or possession of sacred white elephants were traditionally viewed as signs of hpoun in rulers. Defeat, assassination, or some other calamity was a sign that the ruler's store of merit had been exhausted. Many observers see the hierarchy and inequality inherent in the concept of hpoun as a major obstacle to the development of democratic values in contemporary Burma. However, true members of the Sangha possess abundant hpoun (thus, they are known as hpoungyi or pongyi, "great glory") and dedicate themselves to a blameless spiritual life. Moreover, the ideal ruler, as defined by the Buddhist Ten Duties of the King, was expected to rule justly and compassionately, like the Indian Emperor Asoka (268-233 BCE).

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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