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Violence in the name of Buddha

Violence in the name of Buddha

Many Americans likely see Buddhism as a religion of peace, with the Dalai Lama as its public face.  But in a recent article, the Christian Century highlights the diversity of Buddhism and the existence of radical Buddhists who prefer violence and intimidation.

Christian critics of militant movements in Sri Lanka describe their enemies as the “Buddhist Taliban,” and the analogy is not farfetched. The hard edge of militancy is the powerful and aggressive Bodu Bala Sena organization.

Anyone familiar with Bud­dhist teachings of nonviolence and nonattachment might find a certain irony in the translated title of this movement, the “Buddhist Power Force,” or Buddhist Brigade. Monks also lead the xenophobic National Heritage Party, the JHU, which seeks laws prohibiting Christian conversions. In­spiring their campaign was the suicidal immolation by fire of a Buddhist monk in protest against Christian strength in the island, and the presence of missionaries. Beyond the conversion issue, militants de­mand the full integration of Buddhist principles into Sri Lankan law and public policy.

Buddhist persecution is if anything still uglier in Myan­mar, the former Burma. As in other nations, Bud­dhism here is intimately associated with ethnic identity and national loyalty, and at least some Buddhist clergy adopt the role of super­patriotic vigilantes. One very influential monk is Ashin Wirathu, an anti-Muslim dem­a­gogue who spreads his message through social media. Seem­ingly without irony, he describes himself as the Bur­mese bin Laden.

Read more on the situation in Myanmar here and here

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Marshall Scott

The Christian Century article is worth reading in full. The author notes a couple of things we need to keep in mind. First, this is not about Buddhism per se. It is about tribalism, and about the extremists who will act violently out of their tribalism against others. It is about human flaws shared by all communities (and the author notes our own Christian examples). The second is that we should seek to see clearly: to not romanticize or demonize the other community, but to see accurately both faults and gifts.

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