Off the Cushion: EPISODE #7: “When Does Ethnocentric Buddhism Become Buddhist Terror?”

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I had the pleasure in taking part in an episode of the excellent Rev. Danny Fisher’s ‘Off the Cushion’ series. Episode 7 is on the topic of “When Does Ethnocentric Buddhism Become Buddhist Terror?”

This week, as U.S. President Barack Obama prepares for his second visit to Burma, we look at the escalating violence against Rohingya Muslims by Burmese Buddhists in the country. Dr. Paul Fuller talks to us about his proposed term for understanding this phenomenon: “Ethnocentric Buddhism.” In addition, Myra Dahgaypaw, Campaigns Coordinator for the U.S. Campaign for Burma, pulls back the curtain on the much-discussed 969 Movement and its leader U Wirathu. Plus: United to End Genocide’s Director of Policy and Government Relations, Daniel P. Sullivan, tells us about the #JustSayTheirName campaign and how it might help stop this conflict.

A very big thank you for Danny for inviting me to contribute. I’m also very grateful for the opportunity to consider some of these ideas with Myra Dahgaypaw and Daniel P. Sullivan.

Speech by the Ven. Galagoda Atte Gnanasara Thero of the BBS

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The speech given last week at the Great Assembly in Sri Lanka by Ven. Galagoda Atte Gnanasara Thero, the leader of the Bodu Bala Sena has appeared online. This is the same assembly at which U Wirathu appeared, as is clear from the text of the speech. This is the meting that formed the basis of the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Bodu Bala Sena of Sri Lanka and 969 of Burma (pictured above).

It is translated by C. Wijeyawickrema. As he explains, it is not approved by the Bodu Bala Sena and in brackets appear his own interjections and explanations which I have left in the text below.

It appears here without comment here for those wishing to have access to these developments in South and Southeast Asian Buddhism.

‘Ven. Gnanasara message to the world

  1. We met the challenge and we are now challenging the challengers!

Within 2+ years we defeated all forces acting in collusion to kill us; these forces even played tricks to separate our president Ven. Kirama Wimalajothi from us; English media write such ugly, dirty, venomous things against us because unlike in the Islamic world, we do not ask for the heads of those who write such nasty unreasonable things.

  1. We do not get money from Norway or from any other organization. We are helped by dedicated people who appreciate and value our service.Young Sri Lankans working long hours in South Korea treated us like kings when we visited them for 6 days and collected money for us for this Conference. Good people are there, they are like Kalu Nika.

We know that some monks had no money for their bus fare and sold their Atapirikara to come to this Conference. We know some had to wake up at 3:00 in the morning to come here.

  1. We cleared, cleaned and sanitized the Sri Lankan jungle, a society gone wild and crazy. Our roots, bases of our Sinhala Buddhist civilization, are severely damaged or got severed during the past 66 years due to stupid acts of politicians.Party politics has been the bane of our country.
  2. We have now prepared the country for the intellectuals, the educated, to fulfil their part of the bargain. They should no longer try to sit on the fence or evade responsibility and their duty. It is sad and unfortunate that the Sinhalayas are so scared to talk about their rights.Prabhakaran fought for a country with only 12% Tamils, Muslims fight with only 6%. But the Sinhalayas are so timid despite being 71% of the population.
  3. It was the wish of Ven. Dharmapala to bring together Buddhist countries in Asia, and on his 150th anniversary, we fulfilled his wish by establishing links with Nepal, Myanmar, Ladak/Jammu Kashmir and the Dalai Lama.
  4. We will help the Hindu Assembly to save Tamils from people like Ryappu Joseph’s Christian Fundamentalism. That is our duty. In Deniyaya an entire Tamil village was converted to Islam. Is this not an Islamic invasion? Traditional Muslims appeal for our help as they are also threatened by the Arabic Jihadism.
  5. Those who attack us do not know what is meant by the name Bodu Bala Sena.Our leader is the Lord Buddha. Our Sena is male and female monks and male and female laity.  So BBS leader cannot be removed by any force on this earth.
  6. We are blamed for using harsh language. We are blamed for not preaching bana like in a temple. We found that so many senior monks are keeping quite or silent indulging in worldly pleasures, receiving favors from those in power. After making requests, appeals for two years we found that it was necessary to act aggressively (militantly). It is like the bell in a temple (or the bell tower Amish people use in their communities in America to signal harm). We had to ring it loud and long.  We are swimming upstream (Patisothagaami); loud screams are inevitable. We ought to strengthen the backbones of these sleeping Sinhalayas.
  7. We are joined by the Ravana Balakaaya and the Sinhala Ravaya. There were 108 unethical religious conversion units in 2004, now there are 400+ and growing. UNP has as its treasure, the leader of the Assembly of God, the voracious Christian Fundamentalist group priest, Erin Wickremaratne, appointed as a UNP list MP. He has over 400 such assembly huts. And UNP blames us for doing politics! In Talahena we found three such Christians erecting illegal churches, all three were employees of the American embassy in Colombo!

Nobody (such as Wijedasa Rajapaksa of UNP) talks about Erin’s Assembly or the Salvation Army.

  1. Sri Lankan governments, all Sri Lankan presidents, should be ashamed of what they have done.  Except two or three, Sinhala, Sinhala Buddhist, MPs are silent like frozen rocks. Executive presidency is used to grab power to thrive personally, to stay in power. If they are, the GOSL and the opposition parties, not willing to change, we must and we will change them all.  BBS warns Mahinda Rajapaksa, Ranil Wickremasinha and Kuara Dissanayaka, to change or get ready to be ousted.
  2. These politicians used Buddhist monks as if how people use an umbrella (thrown under the bed after the rain) or the stick used to clean teeth (this writer identifies it as the treatment given to a kind-hearted woman by politicians). Politicians are opportunists. They give some excuse and avoid the issue. They trick us saying wait until this election is over, wait until Geneva vote is over etc. etc.
  3. We now know for sure that Islam fundamentalism is a cancer. Some such people in Colombo sent two documents to Geneva. Even if a Sinhala man bumped on to a Muslim on the pavement, it is reported as discrimination in these books! How can GOSL allow such documents go to Geneva slandering Sinhala Buddhists?
  4. There is Islam expansion and there is Islam invasion/aggression. There are over 100 Islam organizations in Sri Lanka (there are only 23 Buddhist organizations). They get Sharia law introduced one piece at a time by laws passed in the parliament. Nobody knows and nobody is concerned. Who gave authority to Ajith Cabraal of the Central Bank to open up Sharia bank in the country?Except the Sampath Bank, 8 other bank groups have Sharia banks.

During the past 3 years over 3,000 Sinhala girls got converted to Islam by involuntary means. Muslim girls are not allowed to marry non-Muslims.

Shoora Councils and Ulema companies are in Arab countries to advise Arab rulers. Why we have them in Sri Lanka? ( Even a picture of Buddha not allowed in these Arab dictatorships.)

Are we not getting stabbed behind the back for our compassion and our tolerant behavior?

Our politicians have no backbone. But our monks who saved this country for 2,300 years have their backbones intact.

  1. We faced a total blackout from local media.  But we are lucky to have the new social media, the Face Book, e-mail and the Internet. Hundreds of thousands of younger people are listening to us and are with us.
  2. BBS has begun an ideological struggle. We left the Jataka Pota in the temple library and postponed our meditating towards Nirvana (this is Engaged Buddhism now spreading in the West). We created a fertile soil for the rejuvenation of our nation and it is time for dialog or debate.
  3. Politicians divided people to save their party and for their selfish gain. Nearly 27,000 soldiers did not sacrifice their lives to allow politicians to destroy this Sinhala Buddhist nation.
  4. In this country we do not have a D.S. Senanayaka or a Bandaranayaka Chinthanaya or Marx-Lenin thing (what has happened to that thing called the MahindaChinthanaya?). In this country we follow the Chinthanaya of the Lord Buddha.
  5. If politicians are allergic to the Sinhalaness we will remove them from the scene.If they are not willing to change we will topple them from their seats. We can bring one to sit and we can remove one from the seat. That was what monks did to King Mahasen when he demolished the Mahavihara and sowed aba seeds (Aba saranai!) King Mahasen had bad advisors (anti-Buddhist?) around him.
  6. A monk does not have to be carpenter to point out what is wrong with the chair the carpenter is making and ask for adjustments or even overhauling.

Politicians are getting cheated or deceived by Islamists Al Takiya rule. They perhaps do not know this. GOSL tricked us on the issue of Halal certification.

  1. We have to ask at least a university degree as minimum qualification to become an MP. If over 100 MPs do not have even GCE (OL) how can they be knowledgeable ministers or law makers? No wonder the country is in such a mess (crook-opportunist officers can play hell fooling them).

It is a crime that university students, monk students are on strike for months and rulers ignore them.  What a shame that after struggling in the university, one has to go to the criminal politician to get a job!

  1. We are saddened by the decision of Ven. Maduluvawe Sobhitha on the issue of a common candidate. We have just two questions for him. (1) Why do you think Executive Presidency (not the person) is the top most problem in this country? (2) Who are the people behind you promoting you to contest?Millions of dollars are allocated to destroy Jaathikavaadaya in this country. Is it not a case of a tree in a forest has to be used to destroy another tree in the forest! (Why is that Ms. Sisson is so supportive of your candidacy?).
  2. How come Muslim leaders in Sri Lanka want to stop a Buddhist monk visiting Sri Lanka? Who are they?  We ask these Muslim leaders to answer (as a group) our questions regarding some verses found in the Koran.  If they say they are for the Interfaith Conciliation then they must say if they accept or not the following verses. They are about destroying the infidel. These verses are 2: 193; 2: 216; 4:196; 5:33; and 9:5.

(This writer adds 9:123 to this list because some websites list 164 such bad verses.

O ye who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who are near to you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty (unto Him).
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا قَاتِلُوا الَّذِينَ يَلُونَكُمْ مِنَ الْكُفَّارِ وَلْيَجِدُوا فِيكُمْ غِلْظَةً ۚ وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الْمُتَّقِينَ

See more at: http://www.alim.org/library/quran/ayah/compare/9/123/qur%27anic-verses-do-increase-the-faith-of-the-believers#sthash.1MFgLJeS.dpuf

  1. Our plan to change this system of corrupt governance by green, blue and red parties is simple. The 5,000 monks assembled here will collect 1,000 supporters from each of the 5,000 temples and create a 5 million voter base. We add Hindu Tamils to this which will make it 6.5 million. There are 25,287 villages in this island and at least 12,000 temples registered.  Leaving out the Palli and Marakkala Nikayas we can easily have 5,000 temples. We will create a leader for this leaderless nation/country.
  2. Is it not so sad and pathetic that when people travel on newly built roads they do not think how good and easy for us to travel now or how grateful we are to our politicians for this meritorious work (work with foreign loans)? Instead what comes to their mind immediately is “I wonder how much money and commission they took out of this road project as bribes!”
  3. Bodu Bala Sena will create, “One country, One nation and One law for all.” Our draft plan for the resurrection of our country will be discussed with villagers by these 5,000 monks and other monks who will join with them when they return to their temples tonight

2:193

Fight them until there is no [more] fitnah and [until] worship is [acknowledged to be] for Allah. But if they cease, then there is to be no aggression except against the oppressors.

2:216

Fighting has been enjoined upon you while it is hateful to you. But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.

9:5

And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, let them [go] on their way. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.’

 

Memorandum of Understanding between the Bodu Bala Sena and the 969 movement

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The following statement has appeared of the Bodu Bala Sena website. It represents a very significant development in what I have termed ethnocentric Buddhism. I thank the friend who sent me the link and it is posted here in its entirety.

‘Memorandum of Understanding:  Bodu Bala Sena of Sri Lanka and 969 of Burma’

‘The Buddhist Society of the world has awoken to the ground realities of subtle incursions taking place  under the guise of secular, multicultural and other liberal notions that are directly impacting on the   Buddhist ethos and space. These incursions are being funded from overseas and have made its   impact globally and are subtly spreading into the local situations. Both the Bodu Bala Sena (of Sri   Lanka) and 969 movement (of Burma) in realizing the impeding dangers have felt that it must now   come forward to derive practical and meaningful ways to address these burning issues which cannot   be left for politicians to deal with. We feel that in the light of the same incursions taking place in the   Buddhist countries that remain it is now opportune a time for the Buddhists of the world to get together   and derive a national and international plan to address these issues without delay.  The key objective of this Memorandum of Understanding is to, first derive a strong declaration   among the two concerned Buddhist organizations, and possibly then Buddhist world and the   Buddhist community to ensure that what is left of Buddhism and Buddhists will not become victims of   extremism conversions and other elements that have contributed to the decline of Buddhism over the   years. The gathering of Buddhists in a worldwide commitment to seriously address these incursions   and together decide how to deal with the incursions at both local and international levels will enable   Buddhists and Buddhism to be saved so as to continue from generation to generation.

Parties of the agreement

Parties of the agreement: Bodu Bala Sena (Herein after referred as “BBS”) (presently as a Sri Lankan   Organization), and 969 of Burma.

Background & Rationale  

Both the BBS and 969 emerged as non-political Buddhist organizations to take up the cause of   Buddhists, in their respective countries. The endeavor of this memorandum of understanding is to   counter the growing incursions and challenges faced by the Buddhist society in both countries and   also in the south and Southeast Asian region, and the dangers of its long term consequences to the   country and heritage. Both parties will support each other efforts, while reaching the joined vision,   respecting the mission and the objectives of each party. At the same time, both parties will exercise   mutual efforts to strengthen each other.

Vision

We wish to make the entire south and Southeast Asian region a peaceful region devoid of all forms   of fundamentalist movements, extremisms and civil or international wars. In order to achieve the said   vision, both the BBS and Both parties aim to work in collaboration and partnership for the protection,   development, and betterment of Buddhists, Buddhist countries, Buddhist heritages and Buddhist   civilization.

Joined Objectives

We, the BBS and 969 consider this agreement as the preliminary declaration of a ‘Buddhist   international’. In order to achieve and perpetuate a “Buddhist international” that is devoid of all forms   of fundamentalist movements, extremisms and civil or international wars, both the BBS and 969   consider following three areas as key aspects of collaboration

  1. Networking and responding
  2. Raise our voice against all forms of political or religious movements that jeopardize Buddhist   principles, values and
  3. Networking of Buddhist intellectuals, academics, thinkers, and activists as well as Buddhist   organizations and institutions worldwide
  4. Ensure collective actions and necessary responses when aforesaid individuals or entities are   coming under the attacks anti-Buddhist forces, movements.
  5. Intervening to protect vulnerable Buddhist heritages, archeological sites worldwide
  6. Building individual and organizational
  7. Create opportunities to build working and operational relationships, experience sharing
  8. Ensure exchange of all forms of resources among the Buddhist entities and developing of
  9. Research to stabilize Buddhism
  10. To carry out researches on Buddhist philosophy and subsectors such as economic,
  11. To formulate longer-terms and comprehensive global research agenda to carry out critical   between Buddhist thinkers, researches and activists, as well as entities worldwide  both organizational and institutional capacities  social, educational, political derivatives of Buddhist civilization and culture.   and empirical researches in order to examine manifestations against Buddhist identities,   and illegal encroachments of Buddhist heritages

Duration, Amendments and Termination

This MoU is valid for five years, since the 30th duration can be altered. Further, this Memorandum of Understanding may be amended or altered at any time with the consent of both parties and shall be effected through exchange of notes between   the two parties. This MoU can be terminated by either party, respecting a reasonable explanation of   their inability to work in coalition.’

 

 

Video of U Wirathu in Sri Lanka

A YouTube recording of U Wirathu in Sri Lanka with introductions by leaders of the Bodu Bala Sena. At one point he is introduced, in English, as the ‘Burmese Buddhist terrorist leader’ (clearly as a joke). Not much can be heard of U Wirathu in Burmese as a Sinhala translation is given as he speaks.

And with clear Burmese:

 

U Wirathu: ‘There is a jihad against Buddhist monks’

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As reported by Al Jazeera the controversial Burmese Buddhist monk U Wirathu addressed 5000 monks and laymen in a packed sports stadium in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo on Sunday 28 September.

In his usual rhetoric he argued that Buddhists are being threatened by Muslims and he suggested a possible a union between the Sri Lankan Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), and the Burmese 969 movement:

To protect and defend the threatened Buddhist the world over, my 969 movement will join hands with the BBS…Buddhists are facing a serious threat today from jihadist groups…The patience of Buddhists is seen as a weakness. Buddhist temples have been destroyed. There is a jihad against Buddhist monks.

The wider issue being considered by the Sangha convention is the proposal to create a ‘Sinhala Buddhist State’ and Buddhist monks and Hindu representatives from several countries were due to take part.

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The roots of intolerance and prejudice in Buddhism

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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.’