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Radical Activism in Buddhism

August 29, 2019

Radical activism in Buddhism is about the furthest thing one can comprehend given the precepts of the practice of Buddhism which serve as the system of morality and code of ethics for Buddhist lay people. There are five simple rules: abstain from killing living beings, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxication. Therefore, an image that comes to mind is making merit by offering alms to Buddhist monks at first light in the morning.
While another image is one of monks chanting mantras in the evening.
Recently, Hannah Beech published an article in The New York Times entitled Our Duty to Fight: The Rise of Militant Buddhism. We have commented in the past on the violence unleashed by Buddhist monks in Myanmar on the Muslim Rohingya causing more than 700,000 of them to flee to Bangladesh. The ethnic cleansing was sanitized by Buddhist monks and supported by the military of the country. The Buddhist monks of Sri Lanka have jumped into the movement by also attacking Muslims.
Some Buddhist monks seem to assert the five precepts of Buddhism while at the same time supporting the conflicting objective of defending the Buddhist state in whatever way is necessary. Theravada Buddhists represent massive majorities in the five countries where their faith is practiced-Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. On the other hand, their followers represent only seven percent of world-wide faithful and is unlikely to grow in absolute numbers in the future. 
Ashin Wirathu, who is shown below, has the appearance of a friendly Buddhist monk in Myanmar. On the other hand, he has rejected the nonviolent teachings which are the foundation of his faith. Dismissing the decision of the International Criminal Court, (I.C.C.), to pursue a case against Myanmar’s military for its persecution of the Rohingya, he stated “Only the military protects both our country and our religion.” Ashin told The New York Times “The day that the I.C.C. comes here is the day I hold a gun.” One would be surprised those thoughts exist behind that beguiling smile. Sitagu Sayadaw, another famous and highly regarded monk in Myanmar, once stated to the commander of Myanmar’s armed forces, “There are over 400,000 monks in Myanmar. If you need them, I will tell them to begin. It’s easy.” 
In Sri Lanka, similar expressions of hatred directed toward the Muslim faith are being expressed by respected Buddhist monks. In Gintota, Sri Lanka, the Buddhist abbot Sumedhananda Thero who is shown below, was ranting against the evils of Islam when a petrol bomb exploded within earshot. The abbot did not miss a beat and went on to say Muslims were violent and rapacious. When suicide bombers linked to the Islamic State blew up churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, Buddhist nationalists felt vindicated. 
A powerful Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka went on a hunger strike that resulted in the resignation of all nine Muslim ministers in the cabinet. The monk had suggested that Muslim politicians were complicit in the Easter Sunday attacks that killed more than 250 people. Innocent Muslim shopkeepers have been targeted by Buddhists. 
Clearly social media has been used to radicalize otherwise placid Buddhists with the tale below:
Once, great Buddhist empires dominated Asia. Then, beginning in the seventh century, Muslim invaders began tearing across the continent. Buddhist rulers in present-day Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia succumbed to Islam. The indignities continued into this century when, in 2001 the Taliban blew up the stature of Buddha at Bamiyan in Afghanistan. 
Nonetheless, foolish “Holy” wars should have ended in Medieval history but religion continues to ignite fear and combativeness among people who have no idea of the fundamental similarities of most major faiths. The precepts of Buddhism are quite similar to those most would recognize as being the foundation of their own particular faith since they share a common origin. 

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