Friday, June 21, 2013


It ought to be an oxymoron, but take a look at the front page story in today's New York Times. Buddhism is traditionally all about the Middle Path, rejecting the extremes. Yet here is the Burmese monk, Ashin Wirathu, who says of his country's Muslim minority: "You can be full of kindness and love, but you can't sleep next to a mad dog." "I call them troublemakers," he adds, "because they are troublemakers. I'm proud to be called a radical Buddhist."

Except for what I have read in newspapers about Myanmar over the years, I know little of the politics of what was once the more readily spellable Burma. I could not identify who started what, nor who is to blame for the current tensions... well, that's an understatement, for the open hostilities between Muslims and Buddhists in that country. But the situation there seems to me a microcosm of what is happening throughout the world: a growing intolerance of the other, and a growing propensity to resort to violence to resolve differences. 

Not even the most peaceable of Buddhists is required to be a doormat--a metaphor to which Thanissaro Bhikkhu returns when asked about such things. But who, here, is the mad dog? The NYT articles evokes the image of "rampaging Burmese Buddhists carrying swords" and reports that "Buddhist lynch mobs have killed more than 200 Muslims and forced more than 150,000 people, mostly Muslims, from their homes." It's hard to tell, from the article, what offense the Muslim community has committed against their Buddhist countrymen, other than simply being there. But there are perhaps other factors that condemn them as "mad dogs."

Appalled by the violence, the Dalai Lama recently urged Burmese Buddhists to "contemplate the face of the Buddha for guidance." It would not be a bad idea if we were all to slow down and contemplate the face of our great spiritual teachers. I'm sure they must all be weeping at the prospect of what we have been doing in their name.

1 comment:

Old Monk said...

“If there is any religion that could respond to the needs of modern science, it would be Buddhism.”