Hate speech, discrimination and unwholesome mental attitudes in Buddhism


There is the clear idea in Buddhism that certain mental attitudes should be encouraged. In the preaching by monastics to laypeople advice should be given about which states of mind are wholesome. These states of mind are a prerequisite for a Buddhist society to function upon Buddhist principles.


To put this in more straightforward terms, certain attitudes, such as discrimination, greed and hatred are condemned as leading to both destruction in this life and the next. Holding certain other mental attitudes is clearly described as being of great benefit. The mental attitude which proposes ‘actions have consequences’, acceptance of the law of karma, for example, is said to lead away from bodily, verbal and mental misconduct (M I 403, 06, 09). It is clear that an unwholesome action is one based upon greed, hatred and delusion, and a wholesome action on generosity, loving-kindness and wisdom. A wholesome action is one that will lead towards good wholesome bodily, verbal and mental conduct (Apaṇṇaka-sutta, I 403, 06, 09). The reason for this is the following:


‘Because those good recluses and Brahmins see in unwholesome states the danger, degradation, and defilement, and they see in wholesome states the blessing of renunciation, the aspect of cleansing (vodāna).’[1]


It is explained that ‘wholesome’ (kusala) states ‘cleanse’ (vodāna) ‘unwholesome’ (akusala) states. The texts often refer to the hindrances of ‘craving’ (taṇhā) and ‘ignorance’ (avijjā). The former is overcome by calm, the latter by insight. These hindrances appear to suggest a certain dynamic found within early Buddhism. There are not two hindrances, craving and ignorance, which are overcome by calm or insight. Wisdom (paññā) eradicates all defilements. The texts seem fully aware of these distinctions, but do not see it as a dichotomy. In dealing with the soteriological problem, the aim is to overcome dukkha. This is not seen as either a wholly cognitive or affective problem and, therefore, neither calm nor insight are sufficient alone.


An explanation of this is found in a passage in the Nettippakaraṇa (Nett 160) which states that the suttas dealing with ‘defilement by craving’ (taṇhā-saṃkilesa) can be demonstrated by ‘craving for sensual desire, craving for being, and craving for non-being’ (kāma-taṇhāya bhava-taṇhāya vibhava-taṇhāya) andby the net of craving (see the Taṇhājālinī-sutta at A II 211-13). Those dealing with ‘defilement by views’ (diṭṭhi-saṃkilesa) can be demonstrated by ‘annihilationism and eternalism’ (uccheda-sassatena), by whatever one ‘adheres to by means of view, namely “only this is true, anything else is wrong”’,[2] and by ‘the sixty-two types of views, i.e., delusion’s net’.[3]


Cleansing (vodāna) from craving can be demonstrated by calm,[4] cleansing from views can be demonstrated by insight.[5] It is the same term ‘cleansing’ (vodāna) that we find in the Apaṇṇaka-sutta. The aim of the Buddhist path, in some respects, is to cleanse the mind of defilements. The Nettippakaraṇa explains elsewhere that cleansing is of three kinds; the defilement of craving is ‘purified’ (visujjhati) by calm, and this is the concentration khandha (samādhi-kkhandha); the defilement of views is purified by insight, and this is the wisdom khandha (paññā-kkhandha); the defilement of misconduct is purified by good conduct, and this is the virtue khandha (sīla-kkhandha).[6]


Cleansing is extinction free from the ‘corruptions’ (āsavas).[7] Both calm and insight cleanse ‘craving’ (taṇhā) and ‘delusion’ (in this case given as ‘wrong-views’, micchādiṭṭhi). The point seems to be that ‘cleansing’ consists of ‘purification’ (visujjhati), by calm, insight and good conduct. These three purifications constitute the three ‘aggregates’ (khandhas) of ‘virtue’ (sīla), ‘concentration’ (samādhi) and ‘wisdom’ (paññā).


Action and knowledge work together – they produce what is wholesome. Some mental attitudes defile the mind and produce unwholesome actions (and an unwholesome society). Some mental attitudes cleanse the mind and produce wholesome actions (and a wholesome society). It seems odd that, in this context, any Buddhist preaching can promote hatred and discrimination as these attitudes are completely condemned by the Buddha in the Pali Canon.



[1] passanti hi te bhonto samaṇabrāhmaṇā akusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ ādīnavaṃ okāraṃ saṅkilesaṃ kusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ nekkhamme ānisaṃsaṃ vodānapakkhaṃ, M I 403, 406, 409.

[2] diṭṭhi-vasena abhinivisati idam eva saccaṃ mogham aññan ti, Nett 160.

[3] dvāsaṭṭhi diṭṭhi-gatāni moha-jālaṃ, Nett 112.

[4] taṇhā-vodāna-bhāgiyaṃ suttaṃ samathena niddisitabbaṃ, Nett 160.

[5] diṭṭhi-vodāna-bhāgiyaṃ suttaṃ vipassanāya niddisitabbaṃ, Nett 160.

[6] tayidaṃ vodānaṃ tividhaṃ: taṇhāsaṃkileso samathena visujjhati, so samatho samādhikkhandho. diṭṭhisaṃkileso vipassanāya visujjhati. sā vipassanā paññākkhandho. duccaritasaṃkileso sucaritena visujjhati, taṃ sucaritaṃ sīlakkhandho, Nett 96.

[7] parinibbanti anāsāvā ti idaṃ vodānaṃ, Nett 96; see also Nett 128.


‘Mabatha’ – The Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion – gathers pace



As reported in the Myanmar Times ‘Mabatha’ – The committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion – gathers pace. U Ayeit Paing, one of its executive committee members was quoted on a number of points countering opposition to the proposed law banning Buddhist women marrying men from other religions, primarily Muslims.

‘After the Mabatha was established and we had a connection to the whole country, we had problems to solve daily for those who are abused by other religions.’

The article states that:

‘At the press conference large posters presented claims that Buddhist women had been raped by men from other religions, some of them suffering abortions and a few dying afterwards.

The religious committee is also pushing for a law to be enacted that would prohibit a citizen changing faith and another that would enforce monogamy.’

The issue of fostering nationalist Buddhist sentiment seems clear from the rhetoric being used. One monk, U Parmaukkha is quoted to the effect that those who are not nationalist or Buddhist can vote in the upcoming elections, while nationalist Buddhist monks cannot.

‘The people who aren’t patriotic can vote in elections while patriotic people like us can’t. It’s unfair.’

Buddhism in Burma and Sri Lanka: Ethnocentric Buddhism

Another short interview by Dr David Webster of the University of Gloucestershire with myself, this time about Buddhism in modern Burma. It appears on the University of Gloucestershire’s Video Resources for Philosophy and Religion Students.

I have previously written about the phenomenon of Ethnocentric Buddhism:

‘“Ethnocentric Buddhism” is a term I have begun to use to describe a particular phenomenon in the history of Buddhism, although I suspect it is not a recent one. The term points to the notion that Buddhist identity is intrinsically linked to national identity. It also denotes the idea that other factors will be apparent in creating Buddhist and national identity in different Buddhist cultures. For example, in Thailand there is the idea of “nation, religion and monarch” (chat-sasana-phramahakasat) and in Burma “nation, language and religion” (amyo-barthar-tharthanar). In both of these examples the idea of the Buddhist religion (sasana/tharthanar) is linked to other factors in the formation of national and cultural identity. Further, in both cases the defence of one’s religion is linked to these other themes of national identity — to defend one is to defend the other.’



Proposed Interfaith Marriage Law in Burma

This is a short interview by Dr David Webster of the University of Gloucestershire with myself about the proposed interfaith marriage law in Burma. It appears on the University of Gloucestershire’s Video Resources for Philosophy and Religion Students.

I have written about this before. Then I suggested that:

‘The laws are being proposed on the premise that Buddhism is under threat from other religions. The ‘Interfaith Marriage Act’ is one of the ‘National Race and Religion Protection Bills’ that have been proposed by ‘Organisation for Protection of National Race and Religion’ (OPNRR), headed by Ashin Tilawka Biwuntha. It is clear from the context of the monastic debate that the monks wish to prohibit marriage between Buddhist womaen and Muslim men – it is then highly discriminatory with undertones of racism and Islamophobia.’


What is the ‘969 Movement’?

Philosophy & Religion Video Interviews

An interview by  Dr Dave Webster  of  Dr Paul Fuller , about the 969 Movement in Burma. 

Although thr 969 is led by Buddhist monks, their Anti-Islamic and Nationalist attitudes don’t represent all Burmese Buddhism. Dr Fuller explored this in a recent post on his blog HERE.

The 969 image.. The 969 image..

Wirathu on Time Magazine Cover Wirathu on Time Magazine Cover

If you want to see the words of the monk Wirathu: there is an English translation with the speech below:

There is also a good piece at the Buddhist Peace Fellowship site about Wirathu and the 969 : HERE

Religion, Philosophy & Ethics course at University of Gloucestershire.

See our blog at http://r-p-e.blogspot.co.uk/

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On Buddhist monks proposing ‘interfaith marriage laws’


There is some debate in Burma about proposed laws that would prohibit interfaith marriage. The laws have been proposed by members of the Burmese Buddhist Sangha. If passed, the laws would prohibit marriage between a Buddhist woman and a man of another faith, unless he ‘converts’ to Buddhism (I am not at all clear of how one ‘converts’ to Buddhism’).

The laws are being proposed on the premise that Buddhism is under threat from other religions. The ‘Interfaith Marriage Act’ is one of the ‘National Race and Religion Protection Bills’ that have been proposed by ‘Organisation for Protection of National Race and Religion’ (OPNRR), headed by Ashin Tilawka Biwuntha. It is clear from the context of the monastic debate that the monks wish to prohibit marriage between Buddhist women and Muslim men – it is then highly discriminatory with undertones of racism and Islamophobia.

There are a few obvious points that should be made about these proposed laws. Buddhism is a monastic tradition – it usually has little concern with secular affairs – and this historically most definitely includes marriage. It is commonplace in Buddhism to observe that there are no Buddhist marriage ceremonies. The monastics might in some ways ‘bless’ a couple after a secular marriage ceremony, and modern Buddhists might have replicated marriage ceremonies from other religions, but it can be stated quite categorically that the Buddhist monastic is not concerned with any type of marriage ceremony. It is this that makes the Burmese monastic debate such an odd phenomenon.

It needs to be stated that, traditionally, the Buddhist monastic is concerned with three things. First, the notion that all actions have consequences; that these actions are causing us to be reborn in an endless cycle of rebirths; and that, given the opportune conditions, the person should strive to end this cycle of rebirths which is pervaded by suffering. In short the monastic is concerned with Karma, Saṃsāra and Nibbāna.

What then is the concern of the monastic with laws prohibiting marriage between different religions? It seems to me that these are the questions that need to be asked by those protesting against the bills proposed by ‘Organisation for Protection of National Race and Religion’. It is reported that some of the monks are disagreeing with various organisations who dare opposed to the Interfaith Marriage Bill, calling overseas NGO’s ‘traitors‘ for their opposition. Clearly, this secular rhetoric is startling in that monastics are debating issues outside of their usual supramundane narrative of traditional Buddhist discourse. The mundane world (lokiya), of secular affairs has become disjointed and mixed with the supramundane world (lokuttara) of Buddhist preaching.


Is the idea that Buddhism has a political message ‘wishful thinking’?


In the study of Buddhism it has often been noted that the teachings do not point to the changing of the world, but to changing our perception of it – there is nothing wrong with the world but the way we perceive the world. The problem of ‘suffering’ (dukkha) is not ultimately to do with the world, but with the fact that people tend to grasp and become attached to all sorts of things. The world is seen with greed, hatred and delusion. This aspect of Buddhist teachings suggests that Buddhist doctrines should not be used to change the world, but to change the way we view the world.They should be used to lessen greed, hatred and delusion and, in so doing, solve the problem of dukkha. What is needed is a way of seeing that reduces and eradicates craving. I would like to consider these ideas and conclude with some comments on how this might affect our understanding of socially engaged Buddhism.

Let me use the Abhidhamma to explore these ideas. Throughout book three of the Dhammasaṅgaṇi, an evaluation is given of certain ways of apprehending the world. In the following I would like to focus upon one aspect of what I think the text is describing. Put simply this is that the world can be apprehended with or without craving. This aspect of Buddhist thought has been noted by Steven Collins, who has suggested that this reflects something of a dichotomising tendency within early Buddhism:


‘Anything with conceptual or experiential content was to be assimilated to the impersonal, non-valued side of the dichotomy; since in this sphere everything was dominated by desire and grasping, anything with content became potentially graspable. Against this stood the empty unconditioned nibbāna, susceptible neither to conceptualising nor grasping.’[1]


Buddhism is, at it were, concerened with different orders of seeing, between the graspable, and the ungraspable, between concepts and emptiness, beteen attachment and non-attachment, between craving and calmness. I would like to look at the Dhammasaṅgaṇi to see how it considers this apparent dichotomy. Book three of the Dhammasaṅgaṇi,the Nikkhepa-kaṇḍaṃ, begins with the following question:


‘Which ‘things’ (dhammas. I leave the term untranslated in the following) are wholesome?
The three roots of the wholesome:Absence of greed, hatred and delusion;The four ‘aggregates’ (khandhas)[2] of feeling, apperception, volitional formations and consciousness when they are associated with these roots;Actions of body, speech and mind when they come from these three roots.These are wholesome dhammas’.[3]


With reference to the khandhas, I take this to imply that, when they are seen in their true nature, i.e. as not-self, they are wholesome (this is sammā-diṭṭhi).


The next question asked is:


‘Which dhammas are unwholesome?
The three roots of the unwholesome:Greed, hatred and delusion;The defilements (kilesā) united with them;The four khandhas of feeling, apperception, volitional formations and consciousness when they are associated with these roots;Actions of body, speech and mind when they come from these three roots.These are unwholesome dhammas.’[4]


The Dhammasaṅgaṇi is clearly stating that the four mental khandhas are unwholesome when they are associated with ‘greed’, ‘hatred’ and ‘delusion’ (lobha, dosa, moha). [5] In this analysis it must be remembered that in the Nikāya and Abhidhamma analysis the term khandha is a neutral term, but the khandhas can become associated with (are indeed prone to), corruption. Primarily they are prone to give rise to the corruption of ‘wrong-view’ (micchā-diṭṭhi) which distorts the way things really are. Rupert Gethin has commented on the nature of the khandhas in the Nikāyas and Abhidhamma:


‘The term upādānakkhandha signifies the general way in which the khandhas are bound up with upādāna; the simple khandha, universally applicable, is used in the nikāyas and especially the Abhidhamma texts as a neutral term, allowing the specific aspects of, for example, upādāna’s relationship to the khandhas to be elaborated.’[6]


The Dhammasaṅgaṇi is using the khandhas in its explanation of two ways of apprehending the world, one ‘wholesome’ (kusala), and one ‘unwholesome’ (akusala). These ideas suggest that the text is attempting to explain two attitudes to the world found in the dichotomy suggested by Collins. The same reality is seen, but the one based on non-attachment is wholesome, and the other, based on attachment, giving rise to corruptions, is unwholesome.


One could state that in this particular understanding of the Buddha’s teachings the entire engaged Buddhism agenda appears fundamentally flawed. Socially engaged Buddhism begins with the premise that suffering is not only caused by mental reactions to external events, but that external events – social, political and economic, for example – can be the cause of suffering. For the engaged Buddhist suffering is not only psychological, to be overcome by such techniques as meditation, but finds its causes in a wide variety of factors. Political struggle, among other things, can then be used as a technique to overcome suffering. I’m not suggesting that either interpretation is correct. They appear to me to both be valid and to have support from different parts of the tradition. I would suggest that the teachings I am considering here offer a criticism, and one that perhaps needs to be addressed, of socially engaged Buddhism. As I have heard it suggested – to think that Buddhism has a political message is ‘wishful thinking’.



[1] Steven Collins, Selfless Persons, p. 113.

[2] I shall return to the use of four khandhas below.

[3] katame dhammā kusalā? tīṇi kusalamūlāni: alobho adoso amoho taṃsampayutto vedanākkhandho saññākkhandho saṃkhārakkhandho viññāṇakkhandho, taṃ samuṭṭhānaṃ kāyakammaṃ vacīkammaṃ manokammaṃ, ime dhammā kusalā, Dhs 180, :981. All references to the Dhs are given by page then paragraph numbers.

[4] katame dhammā akusalā? tīṇi akusalamūlāni: lobho doso moho, tadekaṭṭhā ca kilesā taṃsampayutto vedanākkhandho saññākkhandho saṃkhārakkhandho viññāṇakkhandho, taṃsamuṭṭhānaṃ kāyakammaṃ vacīkammaṃ manokammaṃ, ime dhammā akusalā, Dhs 180, :982.

[5] The text finally defines those dhammas that are indeterminate (avyākatā), which is not essential for the present discussion: katame dhammā avyākatā kusalākusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ vipākā kāmāvacarā rūpāvacarā arūpāvacarā apariyāpannā, vedanākkhandho saññākkhandho saṃkhārakkhandho viññāṇakkhandho, ye ca dhammā kiriyā n’ eva kusalā nākusalā na ca kammavipākā, sabbaṃ ca rūpaṃ, asaṃkhatā ca dhātu. ime dhammā avyākatā, Dhs 180, :983.

[6] Rupert Gethin, ‘The Five Khandhas: Their Treatment in the Nikāyas and Early Abhidhamma’, Journal of Indian Philosophy, 14 (1986), 35-53 (p. 39).