American Academy of Religion: Conference Paper

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American Academy of Religion Conference: Atlanta, 21st November 2015

Buddhism Section and Buddhist Philosophy Group

Theme Dṛṣṭi: The Problems of Views and Beliefs in Buddhism

Paul Fuller, University of Cardiff, United Kingdom

Actions speak louder than words: The danger of attachment to views in the Pali Canon and engaged Buddhism

Abstract:

The notion of ‘view’ or ‘opinion’ (diṭṭhi) as an obstacle to ‘seeing things as they are’ (yathābhūtadassana) is a central concept in Buddhist thought. In the study of diṭṭhi there is a dilemma. Early Buddhist texts talk about it as ‘wrong’ (micchā) and ‘right’ (sammā). The aim of the path is the cultivation of ‘right-view’ (sammā-diṭṭhi) and the abandoning of ‘wrong-views’ (micchā-diṭṭhi). However, there is also a tradition of Buddhist thought that equates ‘right-view’ with ‘no-view’ at all. The aim of the Buddhist path is here seen as the overcoming of all views, even right-view. This paper will analyse the description of ‘views’ in the Pali Canon and consider how it impacts on engaged Buddhism. Using a discussion in the Pāṭali-sutta , I will suggest how the Buddhist who acts politically can only do so if his actions exhibit right-view itself.

 

Pilgrims, healers and wizards: Buddhism and religious practices in Burma and Thailand

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At the British Museum, London, from 2nd October 2014 – 11th January 2015:

Pilgrims, healers and wizards: Buddhism and religious practices in Burma and Thailand

Featuring objects from the 18th century to the present, this exhibition shows the variety of religious practices in Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand, and how Buddhism, spirit worship, divination and other activities interact.

Western views of Buddhism in the 19th and early 20th centuries presented it as an austere, monolithic religion focused on meditation and nirvana, the escape from the cycles of rebirth. In reality, practitioners in Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand have long sought to improve their lives through a fusion of overlapping activities such as spirit worship, divination, numerology and homage to the Buddha. People select these rituals according to their personal needs to cope with everyday life, to form individual spiritual pathways to felicitous rebirths or to strive for nirvana.

This exhibition draws on the strengths of the British Museum’s mainland Southeast Asian holdings, primarily Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand – countries that have a long history of interaction and share some fundamental religious beliefs and practices. Objects range from model stupas (Buddhist relic mounds), silver, banners, textiles and images of the Buddha to popular posters, glass paintings and mass-produced, stamped cloths with protective diagrams (yantra), reflecting the many outlets for religious expression. The show explores how the various beliefs, revealed in lively daily practices, comprise the main religious systems in the region.

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.

 

 

Man deported from Burma for having a tattoo of the Buddha

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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.

 

Sri Lankan Buddhist monk denounces the Dalai Lama

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As reported in Al Jazeera, Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara, secretary of the Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force)  has made some outspoken comments about the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama had recently urged Buddhists in Burma and Sri Lanka to end violence, particularly against Muslims.

‘Like Pope for Christians, he is considered as the leader for all Buddhists by the West. But we don’t accept him as the leader of the Buddhists…We see Dalai Lama is also a victim of the Muslim extremism…They (Muslim extremists) have fed misinformation and he has got wrong information.’

The Dalai Lama had recently said:

‘I urge the Buddhists in these countries to imagine an image of Buddha before they commit such a crime […] Buddha preaches love and compassion. If the Buddha is there, he will protect the Muslims whom the Buddhists are attacking.’

 

 

 

 

 

‘Fascists’ in saffron robes? The rise of Sri Lanka’s Buddhist ultra-nationalists

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An article appears on CNN by Tim Hume called ‘Fascists’ in saffron robes? The rise of Sri Lanka’s Buddhist ultra-nationalists. Using the same footage of hate speech I used previously of Bodu Bala Sena general secretary Ven. Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara the article observes:

‘Then, his arm raised and his voice rising to a shriek, he issues an explicit threat to Muslims, using a derogatory term for the minority.

To roars of approval, he vows that if any Muslim, were to lay a hand on a Sinhalese – let alone a monk – that would “be the end” of all of them.

What is striking about the clip, aside from the viciousness of the rhetoric, is that the firebrand behind the microphone is dressed in the saffron robes of a Buddhist monk.

He is Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara, the Buddhist holy man who is the general secretary and public face of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS, also known as Buddhist Power Force).

The ultra-nationalist Sinhalese Buddhist organization has emerged as a troubling presence on the Sri Lankan political landscape in recent years, and is blamed by many for inciting the deadly violence in Aluthgama.’

 

Buddhist monks caught riding on broomsticks

 

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As reported in the Bangkok Post two Buddhist monks were caught on camera over the weekend pretending to fly, and seemingly race (or play Quidditch in the style of Harry Potter), on broomsticks. It is reported that the monks were pictured during a break from sweeping the temple grounds. The picture has since gone viral.

There is not much to add to the image aside from the suggestion that some find their conduct to be inappropriate. Going through the 227 rules of the Pātimokkha  (which govern the monastic discipline of the monks) it is difficult to see which rule is being broken. However, 26 of the minor rules (the 75 sekhiya rules) do suggest moderation, decorum and etiquette in monastic behaviour. For example: ‘To behave decorously when going to inhabited areas'(susaṃvuto antaraghare gamissāmīti sikkhā karaṇīyā). I imagine it is a question of the decorum of flying on a broomstick.

The Phuket News has reported that the National Office of Buddhism in Thailand are investigating the antics of the monks in the picture. Its director, Nopparat Benjawattananan is quoted as saying that the monks in the picture ‘acted inappropriately and lack discipline. The organization will identify them. They deserve punishment.’

Director Nopparat Benjawattananan
Director Nopparat Benjawattananan