The possible causes of Islamophobia in Burma

shwedagon-pagoda-monk-walk

On 21 August the Venerable Sitagu Sayadaw (Bhante Ashin Nyanissara) addressed the vising US commission on International Religious Freedom at the Sitagu International Buddhist Academy in Sagaing, Burma. Venerable Sitagu Sayadaw is one of the most prominent and revered Buddhist monks in Burma. After giving a personal reflection of the history of the various world religions, and commenting on how they have existed peacefully throughout history the Venerable Sitagu Sayadaw then gives his views on Islam. I have copied the entire speech here without my own comments. Many would regard this as hate speech. It must be stressed that these are the words of a very prominent Buddhist monk.

For those wishing to understand the reasons for religious conflict in Southeast Asia this speech could provide some strong clues.

There are six major Religions in the world today. Since Human beings came on Earth, people worshipped the Sun, the Moon and various deities. They also sought refuge in them on the basis of fear. It was called a primitive religion. Most of scholars stated that horror initiated the religions of those days. The Buddha also clearly said that the idea and concept of religions originated from fear. Therefore every religion has full responsibility for the removal of fear which is sticking on the mind of people. But, on the contrary, it is regrettable that a fearful religion and its followers emerged in the world. After the primitive religions there appeared Hinduism. And afterwards, Jainism also came out on the Land where Hinduism was being flourished. Forty years after the emergence of Jainism, there appeared Buddhism also. Buddhism appeared on the birth place of Hinduism and Jainism and peacefully coexisted with them for ages. There was no traceable history of bloodshed and conflict among them. Also there was no violence and quarrel even on the statement issued by the Hindus saying that the Buddha was an incarnation of God Vishnu. We had only oral and written arguments. Six hundred years after the Buddha, Jesus Christ appeared in the World. In the ten commandments of Christianity we find many similarities with Buddhism in the field of Morality and Noble practice. Christian missions tried to flourish their faith when they came to the East Asian countries such as India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Korea and Japan. The people of those countries were non-Christians. But, even after the arrival of Christianity also there was peaceful coexistence between Christians and non-Christians. No history of conflict can be traced to any side. Because all the Hindus, Janis and Christians are walking together on the common platform of their respective teachings, that is Morality, Loving-kindness and compassion. The religion, founded based on Loving-kindness and compassion, has no conflict and it does only social welfare services like Health, Education and other social infrastructures.

In Myanmar, many Christians converted to Buddhism in the past as well as at the present. They did it not because they were forced by the Buddhists. Similarly, many of Buddhists also converted to Christian faith. No single Christian threatened them to do so. They did it of their own free will. Every religion has and should have freedom of worship and freedom of belief. Look at the Crusade that prolonged about forty years. It was recorded in the history of the world.

We have to note that the beginning of conflict is aggressiveness and extremism either in the field of religion or that of politics. Today, in Iraq, the Islamic extremists are forcing ancient Zoroastrians to change their faith into Islam. They even threatened them to kill if their demand is not met. In Africa, a Muslim woman was given the death sentence just because she has converted to Christianity. Therefore, we, the East Asian Buddhist countries are living in constant daily fear of falling under the sword of the Islamic extremists. As we are lacking power and influence, we cannot compete against with the rapid growth of Islamic world.

There was a recorded history that in the thirteenth century A.D, a Muslim army marched from Turkey through India and destroyed Pala Buddhist dynasty and converted it into Islamic state. Pala Buddhist dynasty was none other than present Bangladesh. In the south of Philippine, the Islamic extremists revolted against the government for twenty years. Today, they established a Muslim state there. The Islamic extremists are holding weapons in the south of Thailand to make it a separate Muslim state.

Every religion, according to me, should perform its activities only for the good and welfare of the people. But, today, Islamic extremists are trying to establish Islamic states by waging war against non-Muslims. It is regrettable that they are performing the holy war (Jihad) on the name of God.

Myanmar regained its independence from British in 1948. They colonized Myanmar for nearly hundred years. Many Africans were imported as slaves when the United States of America was established. In the same way, the English rulers illegally imported labourers from India and Bangladesh to Myanmar for the hard labour during their rule.

There is also another bad consequence caused by English colonial rule. During hundred years of British rule, Burmese nationals were not formed as an army. But it was ridiculous that the English rulers administered Myanmar forming different groups of indigenous minorities as an army. When the British rulers went back to England, the minority groups revolted against the Burmese government. We cannot solve those problems until today. These are the natural sufferings faced by the colonial countries.

There is one more important thing that during the British colonial rule, many illegal immigrants from Bangladesh entered into the Rakhine state. In 1948-49, by the name of Mujtahid, those illegal immigrants revolted against Burmese army. Their intention was to establish separate Muslim state. Burmese army had to confront the Islamic Mujahidins. Today, they neither claim themselves as Bangalis nor claim Mujahidins. But, claiming themselves as Rohingars, they are trying to demand a separate home land. They also burned their houses by themselves as if it was done by Burmese Buddhists. We cannot compete with the Islamic world which is the second most powerful and wealthy. Islamic countries occupy the second largest portion even in the United Nations.

The mass media of today is also overwhelmed by the power of money. Most of mass communications such as radios and televisions are controlled by the Islamic world which has sound economy. As we are unable to fight against such a powerful media, the world is not ready either to believe or accept whatever we said. But, we were deafened by the loud explosion of the whole world when the Islamic world says something bad about Myanmar. It was the power of Islamic Medias that made the image and reputation of Myanmar bad. Therefore, we, as the Buddha taught, have determined to objectively care and protect our country and our nationality avoiding two extremes: favour and fear.

Honorable gentlemen – in conclusion, I would like to say that Myanmar is facing various problems and difficulties. Because it was under the colonial rule for nearly hundred years and even after the independence, it was fighting civil and communal war for nearly sixty years. Many organizations from abroad came to Myanmar with the intention of solving such problems. But, instead of solving it, we found that they sometimes made the situation worse and worse. Therefore I would like to request you to find a better solution for such problems. The next one, what I would like to say is that the Myanmar government is now trying to establish internal peace and stability with the intention of ceasing civil war and communal violence. At this crucial Juncture, some religious extremists are frustrating with provocative statements and actions. I would like to request you to give your hands in the process of solving problems and conflicts. A methodical approach is essential for the peace process. It is also necessary not to make things from bad to worse and more complicated. As devout Buddhists, we also promise that we are going to solve these problems without violence and we will do it firmly standing on the teaching of the Buddha, that is tolerance, forgiveness, serving society, sacrifice for others and rationality.

The entire speech is available here.

And in Burmese here.

The preliminary remarks by the United States Commission on Religious Freedom, following their 5 day visit to Burma is available to read.

Thanks to Dr. Maung Zarni who shared much of this material online.

Protest Against Thai Buddha Emoticons

Blasphemy

Although not usually thought to be part of Buddhist culture the notion of blasphemy in Buddhism is one that needs more attention. In recent years there has been various examples of this phenomenon, from swimsuits with images of the Buddha, to tattoos considered blasphemous in Burma and Sri Lanka and protests against perceived disrespect to the so-called ‘Buddhist flag‘.

The above image is from an online campaign against the Thai instant messaging app Line Thailand. The company which operates the app has been forced to remove a range of ‘stickers’ promoting the service. Emoticons depicting the Buddha in what were claimed to be ‘inappropriate’ poses, as seen in the image above, were used to promote the app. The emoticons were available to download for a small fee.

Led by the World Fellowship of Buddhist Youth, a petition was started on change.org and was supported by 40 Buddhist groups around the world.

 

The possible birthplace of the Buddha

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=avITg1WpsJ8

This from the BBC:

Inside ‘Buddha’s birthplace’ – the Maya Devi temple in Lumbini

Nepal plans to develop Lumbini, long identified as the birthplace of Lord Buddha, as a World Peace City.

A final master plan to turn the area in southern Nepal into a global hub for peace and a centre for Buddhist learning was unveiled recently.

The proposal by the Korean International Development Agency envisages an investment of nearly $800 million.

Many argue that despite various attempts to convert Lumbini as the “Mecca of Buddhists”, the area is still neglected and requires billions of dollars in investment.

The latest developments came months after archaeologists uncovered remains of what is believed to be the earliest ever Buddhist shrine within the main Maya Devi temple.

Many experts believe the discovery may settle the dispute over the birth date of Siddhartha Gautama, who became the Buddha.

 

Anbarasan Ethirajan was given rare permission to film inside the Maya Devi temple in Lumbini.

 It should be noted that there is still much debate about the validity of this site.

Khmer Krom Buddhist monks ask Cambodian parliament to demand apology from Vietnam

 

Cambodian monks

This is a picture of Buddhist monks from Vietnam’s Khmer Krom ethnic minority who live in Cambodia protesting outside the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh. Holding the so-called ‘Buddhist flag’ they are demanding an apology from the Vietnamese concerning recent statements about ownership of disputed territory.

As part of the protest there was a call on Cambodians to boycott Vietnamese goods. Reflecting other movements in Southeast Asia part of the protest raised concerns about ‘illegal immigration’, in this case from Vietnam.

Radio Free Asia report the history of the dispute:

‘France’s Cochinchina colony, which included the former provinces of Kampuchea Krom, was officially ceded to Vietnam in 1949, but had been under Vietnamese control since the mid-17th century.

One of the most important seaports of Kampuchea Krom, once called Prey Nokor, is now known as Ho Chi Minh City—the financial hub of Vietnam and one of the largest cities in Southeast Asia.

Since Hanoi took control, the Khmer Krom living in Vietnam—believed to number considerably more than one million and who are ethnically similar to most Cambodians—have increasingly faced social persecution and strict religious controls, according to rights groups.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch has said the Khmer Krom face serious restrictions of freedom of expression, assembly, association, information, and movement in Vietnam.

The Vietnamese government has banned Khmer Krom human rights publications and tightly controls the practice of Theravada Buddhism by the minority group, which sees the religion as a foundation of their distinct culture and ethnic identity.

On the other side of the border, the Khmer Krom who leave Vietnam for Cambodia remain one of the country’s “most disenfranchised groups,” Human Rights Watch said.

Because they are often perceived as Vietnamese by Cambodians, many Khmer Krom in Cambodia face social and economic discrimination.

They also face hurdles in legalizing their status in the country as authorities have failed to grant many Khmer Krom citizenship or residence rights despite promises to treat them as Cambodian citizens, according to Human Rights Watch.’

Man deported from Burma for having a tattoo of the Buddha

Tattoo

In a similar story to the British tourist deported from Sri Lanka in April a Canadian tourist has been deported from Burma after being pictured on Social Media with a tattoo of the Buddha on his leg.

The man was deported to Thailand on Sunday 3rd August. An official from the immigration Department commented: ‘We told him that the tattoos may cause unnecessary trouble.’

Other reports say he was counselled by the authorities who pointed out the offensiveness of the tattoo.

The fact that the Buddha was depicted on the leg seems to have caused particular offense. In most parts of Asia the lower part of the body is considered particularly inauspicious in a religious context.

There is a strong tradition of young men having tattoos in Burma but this is more to show their lack of fear and masculinity and no religious images would usually be used.

There were reports in July that tattoos of the map of Burma on the lower part of the body could earn a three year sentence in prison.

Update: More details have appeared here.

 

Muslim Organization Makes Offerings to Mandalay Buddhist Monks

Muslim.buddhist

As reported in The Irrawaddy  a Muslim group in Mandalay, the Muslim Social Welfare Group of Mandalay have made offerings, dāna, to around fifty Buddhist monks at Ma Soe Yein Monastery.

The traditional offering of food and robes was intended to promote understanding and harmony between Buddhists and Muslims in Mandalay where recent riots have caused distrust between the two groups.

Sein Win of the Muslim group in Mandalay commented:

We especially thank the monks who stand for all people, and we would like to bring back the social harmony between Buddhists and Muslims in Mandalay.

Thein Tan, of the Mandalay Peace Making Committee described the offering:

Neither Buddhists nor Muslims began the recent riot. An outside organization intentionally caused the incidents and everyone knows that. But we are uniting through an event like this in order to ensure that we don’t misunderstand each other.

 

The roots of intolerance and prejudice in Buddhism

monk-prayers

I had not intended for this article to appear again but some excellent and comprehensive editing by DVB’s Colin Hinshelwood have made the writing and ideas 100 percent clearer and better – and a different article in many ways.

Democratic Voice of Burma, 2nd August 2014

‘Violence related to Buddhism in Sri Lanka and Burma often leaves observers with a sense of bewilderment; many Buddhist practitioners have resorted to violent means in the name of what is essentially a peaceful religion. This contradiction is somewhat easier to understand when viewed from two angles – East and West.

For the Asian Buddhist, the idea that the teachings of the Buddha could ever lead to hostility is simply dismissed. Buddhism is airbrushed from the scenes of violence and in its place is left only a threat to the nation, a threat to the culture and a threat to the religion.

The Western observer tends to assume that those committing these acts are not ‘real’ Buddhists. The original teachings have mingled with culture to such an extent as to become unrecognisable – dig beneath the culture, to the text, and there the ‘real’ message of the Buddha will be found. For the West, Buddhism has to be separated from its cultural environment. This is out of necessity – for it is assumed that Buddhism is not a ‘religion’ at all. It is a pristine ‘other’, standing alone and somewhat aloof from the messiness of the masses.

For the Asian Buddhist, the West can never culturally understand Buddhism (the West is ‘foreign’ – modern and corrupt). Whereas for the Western Buddhist, it is precisely these cultural accretions that obscure the real teachings. The East is naïve and lacks sophistication. Both sides, East and West, seek authenticity in Buddhism.

Buddhism has portrayed itself, and been described by Western commentators, as the religion untainted by ‘religiousness’ (dogmatism, violence, fundamentalism). It is the religion of choice for the compassionate, modern individual. Many believe that Buddhism has a pure history in which misdemeanors, carnage, war and hostility has been committed by everyone — except the Buddhist. This is why the recent violence in Sri Lanka and Burma elicits such shock.

In seeking the origins of these hostilities, we shouldn’t turn to the core textual tradition, even though some Buddhist groups may refer to particular texts to support their own positions. In the fundamental ideas of the Pali Canon, or the early Sutras of the Mahāyāna tradition, the teachings of the Buddha are based on tolerance and compassion.

The roots of intolerance might be found in the reaction of one Buddhist group to another. For example, this sectarian attitude surfaced in the emergence of the Mahāyāna Buddhism. The Mahāyāna identified itself in opposition to what it termed ‘Hīnayāna’ Buddhist groups. Although Mahāyāna is often translated as ‘Great Vehicle’ and Hīnayāna as ‘Smaller Vehicle’ – the term ‘hīna’ actually means ‘inferior’, ‘low,’ ‘poor’, ‘miserable’, ‘vile’, or ‘contemptible’.

Evidence suggests that some Buddhist schools had uncompromising attitudes towards others. That intolerance was pronounced by the rise of Buddhism in the West (including the Asian ‘West’). There is an ongoing debate concerning which group is the most compassionate. The argument has been made that some Buddhist groups in Asia and elsewhere are using this ‘stick of compassion’ against Burmese Buddhists as a way of distancing the rest of the Buddhist world from the situation in Burma. Buddhist groups have long been vying for the claim of authenticity, an element of Buddhist history that could be at the heart of recent hostilities.

Even beyond disputes between differing factions of Buddhism, there is a broader sense of religious superiority. The notion of the superiority of Buddhism is often based upon a supposed scientific resemblance and methodology; Buddhism is better because it is viewed as scientific, rational. Because it is perceived as ‘better’, Buddhists go to war, discriminate against others, take Buddhism to be essential to national identity, and do things that we might find completely contrary to the Buddha’s teachings.

There is an historic pride in the fundamental goodness of the Dhamma which causes conflict and hostility. There are enough teachings in the Buddhist Canon that warn against these attitudes, but there are also many examples in Buddhist history where a strong sense of pride in one’s own tradition is supported. It is precisely where an attitude in which the most compassionate, the most Buddhist, the most traditional are valued – that intolerance in Buddhist culture comes into focus.’