Problems with the very idea of a Buddhist Nation and a Buddhist Race

buddha

One of the ways in which we may explore notions of nation, race and religion in the Buddhist context is in terms of ‘class’ (vara), and ‘caste’ (jāti). In the Vasala-sutta the Buddha clearly states that an outcaste is not an outcaste nor a Brahmin a Brahmin because of birth, but because of their actions and conduct. One’s birth is not important, how one acts is.

‘Whosoever is angry, harbors hatred, and is reluctant to speak well of others (discredits the good of others), perverted in views, deceitful — know him as an outcaste.’

(kodhano upanābhi ca pāpamakkhī ca yo naro,
vipannadi
ṭṭhi māyāvī taṃ jaññā vasalo iti)

[…]

‘Not by birth is one an outcaste; not by birth is one a brahmin. By action one becomes an outcaste, by action one becomes a brahmin.’

(na jaccā vasalo hoti na jaccā hoti brāhmaṇo,
kammanā vasalo hoti kammanā hoti brāhma
ṇo)

It seems to me that this is one approach that we might take when we seek in Buddhism answers to questions related to national and ethnic identity. It is part of the debate of what I have termed ethnocentric Buddhism and how it is shaped and critiqued in Buddhist culture.

In the following is a translation of the opinions of a Burmese Buddhist monk, Venerable Candima, relating to these questions, and using this approach as a Buddhist response to counter extreme views within the Burmese Buddhist Sangha. Such extreme views in the above example are clearly described as ‘perverted in views’ (vipanna-diṭṭhi). In fact, to be led astray in extreme views and opinions is a common theme throughout Buddhist history, and a major hindrance on the Buddhist path.

 

Nationalism and Buddhism

‘Nationalism and Buddhism are in fact totally different. For example, the Buddha and Devadatta are of the same Kshatriya (warrior or ‘royal’) class. But when the Buddha chose his two chief disciples he chose Ashin Moggallana and Ashin Sariputta who are both of the Brahmin class instead of Ashin Devadatta, who was of the same class and his cousin. The Lord Buddha never considered race and nationality important, he only considered the importance of the three virtues – ethical conduct, concentration and wisdom (sīla, samādhi, paññā)

There is no teaching (dhamma) of the Buddha in which he advises us to be proud about our race and nationality, or to cling to nationalistic ideas. Buddhism is for everyone living in the 31 planes of existence (bhūmi). In contrast, nationalism is only for one race or nationality. The two of them shouldn’t be mixed at all. There is no reason for the Buddha, who sees ultimate reality, to preach about these things or to preach about being attached to one’s race or religion. Such things are concerned with corrupt thoughts based on the ‘self’, ‘being’ and the ‘viewpoint of the individual’.

In Myanmar (Burma) there are lots of Venerable Monks in the Sangha who are learning and practicing the Dhamma. Even though these monks do not like all these things about extreme nationalism and disagree with the  Safeguarding National Identity Law, which has nothing to do with the Sangha. They are trying to not get involved in current issues.

Observing these monks who are putting all their effort and might into the Safeguarding National Identity Law is like seeing them making the original situation of an unstable Burma even worse. It does not help in any way by adding more conflict to destabilize a country already suffering from ethnic/civil war and poverty. In a way they are pushing Burma towards the deep hell of poverty and violence.

Indeed, the  Safeguarding National Identity Law must be serving and benefiting the power-grabbing military generals who only care about remaining in control.’

 

အမ်ိဳးသားေရး၀ါဒ နဲ႔ ဗုဒၶ၀ါဒ
***********************

အမ်ိဳးသားေရး၀ါဒ နဲ႔ ဗုဒၶ၀ါဒဟာ ေျဖာင့္ေျဖာင့္ႀကီး ဆန္႔က်င္ပါတယ္။ ဥပမာ – ေဂါတမဗုဒၶ နဲ႔ ရွင္ေဒ၀ဒတၱ တုုိ႔ဟာ သာကီဝင္မင္းမ်ိဳးမွ ဆင္းသက္လာသူမ်ား ျဖစ္ၾကပါတယ္။ ဒါေပမယ့္ ဗုုဒၶဘုုရားရွင္က အဂၢသာဝကႏွစ္ပါးကုုိ ေရြးခ်ယ္ရာမွာ ရွင္ေဒဝဒတ္ကုုိ မေရြးခ်ယ္ဘဲ ျဗဟၼဏအႏြယ္မွ လာတဲ့ ရွင္သာရိပုုတၱရာ နဲ႔ ရွင္ေမာဂၢလာန္ တုုိ႔ကုုိသာ ေရြးခ်ယ္ခဲ့ပါတယ္။ ျမတ္စြာဘုုရားရွင္ဟာ အမ်ိဳးအႏြယ္ကုုိ မၾကည့္ပါဘူး။ သီလ သမာဓိ ပညာ ဆုုိတဲ့ အရည္အခ်င္းကုုိသာ ၾကည့္ပါတယ္။

ျမတ္စြာဘုုရားရဲ႕ တရားေတာ္မွာ အမ်ိဳးမာန္၊ အမ်ိဳးစြဲ ထားဖို႔ ေဟာခဲ့တဲ့ တရား မပါဝင္ပါဘူး။ ဗုဒၶရဲ႕ ၀ါဒက (၃၁) ဘုုံမွာ ရွိၾကတဲ့ သတၱဝါအားလုုံးနဲ႔ သက္ဆိုင္ပါတယ္။ အမ်ိဳးသားေရး၀ါဒက လူမ်ိဳးတမ်ိဳးနဲ႔သာ သက္ဆိုင္ပါတယ္။ ဗုဒၶ၀ါဒ နဲ႔ အမ်ိဳးသားေရး၀ါဒကုုိ မေရာေထြးသင့္ပါဘူး။

ရုုပ္နာမ္ ပရမတ္ကုုိ ထြင္းေဖါက္ျမင္ေတာ္မူတဲ့ ဘုုရားရွင္အေနနဲ႔ အဝိဇၨာဖုုံးတဲ့ ပုုဂၢိဳလ္ သတၱဝါ ပညတ္အျမင္အေပၚ အေျခခံတဲ့ လူမ်ိဳးစြဲ ဘာသာစြဲကုုိ ေဟာရန္ အေၾကာင္းမရွိပါဘူး။

ျမန္မာႏုုိင္ငံမွာ ပရိယတ္နဲ႔ ပဋိပတ္အလုုပ္ကုုိသာ အားထုုတ္ေနေတာ္မူၾကတဲ့ ဆရာေတာ္ သံဃာေတာ္ မ်ားစြာ ရွိၾကပါတယ္။ ထုုိဆရာေတာ္ သံဃာေတာ္မ်ားဟာ ရဟန္းသဃာမ်ားနဲ႔ လားလားမွ် မသက္ဆုုိင္တဲ့ မ်ိဳးေစာင့္ဥပေဒကုုိ မႀကိဳက္ေပမယ့္ ရွဳတ္ရွဳတ္ရွက္ရွက္ ကိစၥေတြမွာ ဝင္မပါခ်င္တာေၾကာင့္သာ ကင္းကင္းရွင္းရွင္း ေနေတာ္မူၾကတာပါ။

မ်ိဳးေစာင့္ဥပေဒအတြက္ သဲသဲမဲမဲ ႀကိဳးပမ္းေနၾကတဲ့ ရဟန္းသံဃာ တခ်ိဳ႕ကုုိ ျမင္ရေတာ့ ႏူရာဝဲစြဲ လဲရာ သူခုုိးေထာင္း ဆုုိသလုုိ မၿငိမ္းခ်မ္းႏုုိင္တဲ့ ျမန္မာႏုုိင္ငံကုုိ ပုုိၿပီး မၿငိမ္းခ်မ္းေအာင္ ဆင္းရဲတြင္း နက္သထက္ နက္ေအာင္ တြန္းပုုိ႔ေနသလုုိပါပဲ။

မ်ိဳးေစာင့္ဥပေဒဆုုိတာ ထုုိင္ခုုံၿမဲေရး ပဓာနတရား လက္ကုုိင္ထားၾကတဲ့ စစ္ဝါဒီတစ္စုုအတြက္ေတာ့ အႀကိဳက္ေတြ႕မယ့္ ဥပေဒျဖစ္မွာ ေသခ်ာပါတယ္။

အရွင္စႏၵိမာ (မြန္စိန္ေတာရ)

 

 

Buddhist Monks against the Sangha led 969 movement

monks

In a short but optimistic article ‘Solution to Myanmar Violence Lies in Local Community, Experts Say’ Rachel Vandenbrink reports that there are movemnts within the Burmese Buddhist Sangha opposing the 969 movement.

Quoting the opinions of Susan Hayward, a program officer at the U.S. Institute of Peace, Vandenbrink writes:

Monks in Yangon, Bago, and Mandalay have been using Buddhist doctrine to challenge pro-969 movement monks and question their anti-Islamic messages within the tradition of monastic debate[…]

Others have been working with interfaith groups to mediate tensions between local Buddhist and Muslim communities, and have joined in campaigns against hate speech.

During riots in central Myanmar last year, some Buddhist monks reportedly opened their monasteries to shelter Muslims and staved off mobs coming to attack them.’

It will be interesting to see how this opposing movement uses Buddhist doctrines to counter racist and Islamophobic opinions, and which other Buddhist ideas are brought into play. In fact, what shape will a Sangha led counter movement to the popular 969 movemnt take? Any such movement must be seen to be supporting the nation, or at least, not to run counter to it. It must overcome tensions and fears, and, as is quite clear, put the Buddha’s ethical and philosophical teachings at the centre of its message. It will need to place ‘loving-kindness’ (metta) at its centre as opposed to the  ‘hatred’ (dosa) of the 969 movement.

 

Blasphemy and Tattoos of the Buddha

Buddha tattoo

The idea of blasphemy is not often associated with Buddhism. However there are reasons to believe that acts considered blasphemous are far more prevalent in Buddhism than is usually assumed. For example the ‘five heinous acts’ (pañcānantarya) that are considered to have ‘immediate karmic consequences’ (anantarika-kamma) could be understood to be blasphemous actions. The five are killing one’s mother or father, killing an Arahant (a Buddhist ‘saint’), wounding a Buddha, or causing a schism in the Sangha (the order of Buddhist monks and nuns).

In a story in The Guardian in the UK titled ‘Sri Lanka to deport British tourist over Buddha tattoo’ it is reported that the tourist was deported for having a tattoo of the Buddha on her arm. The tattoo on her right arm was spotted by immigration officials at the international airport in Colombo. The tourist was arrested, according to a police official for ‘hurting others’ religious feelings’.

There have been other cases similar to this in the past few years. One might consider outrage over the Buddha Bar, particularly in Jakarta.

In popular culture the notion of the Buddha as a figure of ultimate soteriological significance has been lost and obscured when considered merely as an image of spirituality or a fashion accessory.

The above picture shows the tattoo of the British tourist. The story has subsequently been reported elsewhere, including in The Independent with the headline ‘British tourist deported from Sri Lanka for having a Buddha tattoo’.

Little context or commentary is offered in the reporting of this story – one suspects an underlying narrative, one in which the Asian country is being dismissed as too dogmatic in its understanding of Buddhism, which the so-called liberal West avoids.

Burmese punk, anarchy, and protest against the 969 movement

punk.images

It has been widely reported, not least in articles I have published, that there is a growing racist element emerging in some aspects of Southeast Asian Buddhism.

However, there are also groups expressing a growing dismay with fundamentalist Buddhist groups.

One unusual outlet for this is the small punk scene within Rangoon, Burma.

One such band is Rebel Riot. With songs like ‘F*** Religious Wars and Rules’ and ‘Stop Racism, Against the 969, F*** Racist Monks’ (yes, they like the ‘f’ word, they  are punks), they are a protest movment found in the most unusual of places – and a healthy anarchic place at that.

 

Finally  a short documentary about them:

This is a small punk scene, but it does suggest that the 969 movment might only find a following among a small section of the  Burmese population and that other voices are emerging. The popular Burmese rapper, Kyaw Htut Swe expresses less punk like but similar sentiments in an attempt to promote the basic Buddhist idea of metta.

Buddhist fundamentalism, Buddhist modernism, ethnocentric Buddhism or ‘mad monks’?

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An excellent summary of the emergence of extremist Buddhist groups is by Kalana Senaratne  in an article titled ‘The ‘Mad Monk’ phenomenon: BBS as the underside of Sinhala-Buddhism’.

In a complex artcle describing aspects of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), the Buddhist Power Force, Kalana Senaratne makes some important points. The following descrption of the problematic nature of Buddhist political engagement is to me a point well made:

‘But the more fundamental reason for the emergence of Sinhala-Buddhism, as well as groups such as BBS, has to do with the inadequacy of the true Buddha-teaching for contemporary political engagement, especially in an identity-seeking, identity-promoting multi-ethnic and pluri-national political setting. In other words, the teachings of the Buddha woefully lack those elements with which you can zealously promote, protect, construct your own identities, your own political interests and prejudices, or engage in contesting those promoted by other ethnic and religious groups (more so, in the contemporary state-centric geopolitical framework). The Buddha-teaching is unhelpful in this political struggle: since that teaching is one which, inter alia, promotes as an ultimate goal the ceasing of greed, hatred and delusion, the realization of all identities as constructed identities; in other words, it is a teaching which helps you to expose the artificial and constructed character of all identities, for they are all without self, without an abiding and unchanging self or core. So from the Buddha, you don’t get a clear teaching on how to defend your state and its sovereignty, how to increase your own kind, how to protect Buddhism, how many times to pray during a day, etc. Even the very idea of ‘protecting Buddhism’ the way it is sought to be done today would be meaningless for the Buddha.’

The article also appears here.

Buddhist Studies Journals from H-Buddhism

aHead-Burmese-Mandalay-Teak-Wood-Buddha-Statue-914

A useful resource from the ever helpful Charles Muller over at H-Buddhism:

Journals Fully or Mainly Dedicated to Buddhism

 

Journals Containing a Significant Portion of Articles on Buddhism

Conference: Decades of State-sponsored Destruction of Myanmar’s Rohingya

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Not ‘directly’ related to Buddhist Studies, but an important conference:

‘Decades of State-sponsored Destruction  of Myanmar’s Rohingya’

Programme available here.

A LSE Public Event
co-sponsored by
LSE Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit
&
Burmese Rohingya Organization – United Kingdom

– See more at: http://www.maungzarni.net/2014/04/invitation-lse-conference-on-decades-of.html#sthash.ZWWPjR6N.dpuf

Dr Zarni
Co-conveners:
Dr Zarni, Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit, LSE & the Centre for Democracy and Elections, University of Malaya
Tun Khin, President, Burmese Rohingya Organization-UK (BROUK)

– See more at: http://www.maungzarni.net/2014/04/invitation-lse-conference-on-decades-of.html#sthash.y4QcDCFO.dpuf

Co-conveners:
Dr Zarni, Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit, LSE & the Centre for Democracy and Elections, University of Malaya
Tun Khin, President, Burmese Rohingya Organization-UK (BROUK)

– See more at: http://www.maungzarni.net/2014/04/invitation-lse-conference-on-decades-of.html#sthash.y4QcDCFO.dpuf

Co-conveners:
Dr Zarni, Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit, LSE & the Centre for Democracy and Elections, University of Malaya
Tun Khin, President, Burmese Rohingya Organization-UK (BROUK)

– See more at: http://www.maungzarni.net/2014/04/invitation-lse-conference-on-decades-of.html#sthash.y4QcDCFO.dpuf

Co-conveners:
Dr Zarni, Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit, LSE & the Centre for Democracy and Elections, University of Malaya
Tun Khin, President, Burmese Rohingya Organization-UK (BROUK)

– See more at: http://www.maungzarni.net/2014/04/invitation-lse-conference-on-decades-of.html#sthash.y4QcDCFO.dpuf

A LSE Public Event co-sponsored by LSE Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit & Burmese Rohingya Organization – United Kingdom

Co-conveners:
Dr Zarni, Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit, LSE & the Centre for Democracy and Elections, University of Malaya
Tun Khin, President, Burmese Rohingya Organization-UK (BROUK)