Tuesday, September 12, 2017


Being Buddhist--in name at least--tragically offers no immunity from the kind of atrocity for which we too often blame other religions. I watched a report on the situation in Myanmar on the BBC news last night and was appalled by the savage cruelty and inhumanity with which the Rohingya people are being treated in the country in which they have lived for centuries as a Muslim minority. And it seems that "Buddhist monks" are among the loudest voices in the strident call for oppression. It's not my kind of Buddhism.

It seems that, following a brief insurrection on the part of Rohingya militants, the entire population is now being subject to merciless persecution. Whole villages are being burned. Innocent civilians, fleeing the violence to find refuge in Bangladesh, are being pursued and mowed down with bullets even as they flee. Land mines are being laid along the border to kill and maim the refugees as they attempt to leave. I saw images of young children with legs and arms blown off. Of hospitals ill-equipped to even ease their pain. Of mothers who have lost their families in the chaos, and fathers powerless to protect them. It was a heart-wrenching spectacle.

It was also all too familiar--the dreadful spectacle of the "ethnic cleansing" that seems to infect our human species. America has done its share. Europe, too, over the centuries--and more recently than the Nazis. Africa, India... No matter how often we say "never again," we seem unable to put an end to it. Too often, the prejudice and hatred has religion at its core. Christians have practiced it. Muslims... and sadly, despite the wisdom of their original great teacher, Buddhists, too.

It's not the religions, of course, that are to blame. It's the human beings who embrace them, using religion as the pretext for their hatred--a hatred that originates part in aggressive territoriality and part in fear of otherness and others.  In the brave new world of the 21st century, our planet is no longer big enough to contain our quarreling species. Whole populations are on the move, in desperation, or are engaged in hideous acts of mutual mass slaughter.

Unless we find some way to access the fundamental goodness and compassion in men's hearts (I use the gender here advisedly) rather than the fear and greed that generate our hatred, the future for humanity is bleak indeed. If the terrible wars of the last century were unable to do it, what unimaginable, unbearable atrocity will suffice to make us change out hearts and minds? What great natural disaster, what global upheaval, what planetary shift?

Some days, the small, personal action seems inadequate to the suffering of the world. But the small, personal action is all that I can do.

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