Monks Not Behaving Politically in Cambodia

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My students and I do not participate in politics. They already have politicians, and what I am doing is following the Buddha’s advice.

These are the words of Meas Sokhorn head monk of a central Phnong Peng temple in Cambodia. They follow threats that two members of his monastic community, Manh Sokreal and Nob Vanny, will be disrobed for taking part in political activities. The two are said to have invited land protestors into the temple grounds. It raises important issues about monastic involvement in politics and the interpretation of an offense entailing expulsion (pārājika) from the Buddhist monastic community. It is not at all clear how political activity would fit into this category of actions.

This is the latest of a series of political involvement by Cambodian monks, as reported in The Phnong Peng Post:

Last month, armed police raided the Wat Neak Vorn pagoda in Tuol Kork district after some of its monks attended an opposition demonstration that descended into violence at Freedom Park, while a week ago more than 100 monks turned out to protest at Sansam Kosal pagoda in Meanchey district after a Khmer Krom monk who took part in recent protests outside the Vietnamese Embassy was called to a meeting with district religious authorities.

Ban Ki Moon Comments on Buddhist Extremism

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Ban Ki Moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, has commented upon Buddhist extremism in Sri Lanka and Burma. He stated that Buddhist groups in these countries are:

Being swept up by a rising tide of extremist sentiment against other groups…This betrays the peaceful teachings of the founder, Lord Buddha.

In commenting on the situation in Burma and conflict between the Buddhist majority and Muslim communities he argued that it threatens the transition to democracy:

The country’s leaders must speak out against divisive incitement…They must promote interfaith harmony. And they must stand against impunity for provocations and violence.

These are some of the strongest statements by a world leader about the situation in the two Buddhist countries.

He was speaking at 6th United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) forum in Bali, Indonesia.

The speech in full is the following:

Thank you for your strong commitment and participation in this very important initiative of the United Nations.

I am honoured to address this Sixth Global Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations under the leadership of President Yudhoyono and I thank President and the Government and people of Indonesia for their hospitality warm, welcome and the excellent success of this meeting.

This country, Indonesia, is home to a quarter of a billion people representing a thousand separate ethnic groups living wisely, harmoniously, side-by-side resolving all differences of opinion through dialogue. Therefore it is most fitting that this Alliance of Civilizations is taking place in this country, Indonesia.

I am inspired by Indonesia’s motto, “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika,” or “Unity in Diversity.” This is the main theme of the Alliance of Civilizations.

Our differences should not divide us – they should forge our collective prosperity and strength.

The United Nations was born from tragic experience and lessons we learned from the Second World War: that countries must join forces for peace. And we have learned that this is true not just for governments – but for all of our society.

Unity in diversity is more than a slogan – it is a way of life and it is the way to peace.

I see many disasters in today’s world.

The natural calamities are heart-breaking.

What is most saddening in many ways, these man-made tragedies are even worse.

Too many of our world’s worst crises are driven by those who exploit fear for power.

Too many societies are fracturing along cultural, religious or ethnic lines.

Wars begin in people’s minds – and the way to peace is also through people’s hearts.

The Alliance of Civilizations was created to reach the hearts and minds of people and build bridges to peace.

I applaud High Representative Ambassador Al-Nasser for working with many grassroots groups around the world.

Under his leadership, the Alliance is making a difference on the ground.

It is helping Pakistani university students take the lead in healing sectarian divisions.

It is supporting theatre by Kenyan citizens to prevent young people from joining terrorist movements.

It is encouraging Muslim-Christian volunteerism in Mindanao.

In Israel-Palestine, the Alliance works to join families from both sides who have lost loved ones in the conflict.  By having a dialogue with each other, they challenge their leaders to do the same.

We are all here to help the Alliance of Civilizations expand its valuable work of addressing the sources of conflict and planting new seeds of peace.  I welcome its commitment to promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue. These are essential tools to preventing and resolving conflicts.  I count on your support for efforts by the Alliance and by the entire United Nations system.

We have much work ahead of us across a landscape of tension.  Far too often, identities define boundaries that lead to fighting.

Intercommunal violence in the Central African Republic has displaced hundreds of thousands of people. Nearly half the country’s population – two and a half million people – need help to survive.

The newest member of the UN, South Sudan, gained independence with great hope. I myself participated in the independence ceremony. But a power struggle degenerated into ethnic violence that has killed thousands of civilians and [left] many millions of displaced people.

In Myanmar, polarization is threatening the democratic transition. The country’s leaders must speak out against divisive incitement. They must promote interfaith harmony. And they must stand against impunity for provocations and violence.

It is critical to resolve the issue of status and citizenship of the minority Muslim community in Rakhine State, commonly known as the Rohingyas.

I am alarmed by the rising level of attacks in Sri Lanka against religious minorities. The Government and faith leaders must respond and ensure the safety and security of all communities.

In both Myanmar and Sri Lanka, I am concerned that Buddhist communities are being swept up by a rising tide of extremist sentiment against other groups.

This betrays the peaceful teachings of the founder, Lord Buddha.

Calls to violence in the name of religions violate their true principles.

All major faiths value peace and tolerance.

The Quran clearly states that there should be no compulsion in the religion.

That is why I am especially outraged by the reports from Iraq of brutal killing of civilians by ISIL. Whole communities that had lived for generations in Northern Iraq are being forced to flee or face death just for their religious beliefs. We cannot allow communities to be threatened by atrocity crimes because of who they are, because of what they believe.

I welcome the recent open-ended ceasefire in the Middle East following 50 days of profound human suffering and widespread destruction. Any violations would be utterly irresponsible. Civilians on both sides – Palestinians and Israelis – need this chance to resume their lives without fear. A sustainable ceasefire is also essential to facilitate humanitarian relief and early recovery efforts for the suffering people in Gaza.

I remain hopeful that the extended ceasefire will open the way for a political process, which is the only way to achieve lasting peace. The parties must live up to their responsibilities to secure peace through mutual respect as well as an end to economic strangulation of Gaza and the nearly half century of occupation.  More suffering, siege conditions and military action will only hurt innocent civilians, empower extremists on all sides, and undermine the safety of our world.

In all cases and all regions, our response must aim at extremists as well as those who enable them with weapons and other forms of support.

Dangerous, divisive leaders are not only found in conflict zones.

In Europe, North America and elsewhere, we see cynical political exploitations of religious differences – and rising Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of hate speech.

In decades past, it might take weeks or months to get reports on atrocities. Today – because of the advancing state of professional media and citizen journalists – they are aired in real-time.

Our challenge is to act on the information we receive. My Rights Up Front initiative aims to mobilize the United Nations quickly in response to abuses.

The UN works around the clock and around the world to usher in a more peaceful future.

Our human rights experts document violations.

Our disarmament teams destroy deadly weapons.

Our peacekeepers patrol demilitarized zones.

I thank the United Nations staff for their dedication in dealing with the consequences of conflicts.

They know from experience that it is better to prevent problems than to fix them.

It is not enough to identify crimes, silence guns and separate warring parties. We must work to strengthen prevention and build the foundations of lasting peace.

Earlier this month at the United Nations, I had the opportunity of meeting a brave young girl, Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan. She was a very brave young teenager who survived a terrorist attack simply because she wanted to study. Now she has become a global champion of education.  

We met with some 500 young people at the United Nations in the General Assembly Hall together with the General Assembly President to mark 500 days until the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals. It was quite meaningful event marking the MDG deadline 500 days before.

Malala Yousafzai stressed that everyone is equal – and that everyone can be a peacemaker or human rights defender.

As she said: “We are all the same and everyone can make a difference.”

Let us make and renew our resolve to strengthen the Alliance of Civilization so it can do its job of resisting the forces of dehumanization and brutality – and strengthening the power of our common humanity. And let us work together on the basis of our principles of the United Nations Charter and the Alliance of Civilizations with this power. Let us work together to make this world better where everybody can live with human dignity.

Thank you very much.

 

 

Ledi Sayadaw’s Meditation Cave

A fascinating video has appeared on the always excellent Burma Dhamma. It is a recent film of the cave at Shwe Taung Oo Pagoda in Monywa where the very famous Ledi Sayadaw spent much of the period from 1900-1902 in solitary meditation. Ledi Sayadaw (1846-1923) is a vital part of the modern Burmese vipassanā (insight) meditation movement along with U Nārada (1868-1955) and Mahasi Sayadaw (1904-1982).

 

 

Aside from the isolation, the danger from wild animals at this time must of been a momentous fear to overcome. Anyone who has read Kamala Tiyavanich’s Forest Recollections: Wandering Monks in Twentieth-Century Thailand, which reports similar experiences from Thailand will be aware of the various dangers, human, animal and superhuman than threatened solitary meditators:

I stayed [in the forest] for two nights. The first night, nothing happened. The second night, at about one or two in the morning, a tiger came–which meant that I didn’t get any sleep the whole night. I sat in meditation, scared stiff, while the tiger walked around and around my umbrella tent (klot). My body felt all frozen and numb. I started chanting, and the words came out like running water. All the old chants I had forgotten now came back to me, thanks both to my fear and to my ability to keep my mind under control. I sat like this from 2 until 5 a.m., when the tiger finally left.

 

 

 

The possible causes of Islamophobia in Burma

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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

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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.’