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.

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Protest Against Thai Buddha Emoticons

Blasphemy

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.

 

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)

 

 

The ‘Buddhist Flag’? Blasphemy and disrespect to Buddhism

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The Buddhist flag (sometimes called the sāsana flag) was designed by J.R. de Silva and Colonel Henry S. Olcott to mark the revival of Buddhism in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in 1880. One could say it is some ways an American invention. It was accepted as the International Buddhist Flag by the 1952 World Buddhist Congress. It is part of what scholars would term ‘Protestant Buddhism’ a complex movement that is both a ‘protest’ against (colonial) Christianity and a movement which adopts many features of Protestantism. The flag itself is an uncomfortable creation, if I can use these terms, involving many historical, political and religious ideas.

Often superimposed on the flag are the Burmese numbers ’969′ as part of Burmese nationalist ideas of nation and religion.

Last week there was some controversy when rumours spread that an American staff member at the NGO Malteser International was seen to have removed the flag from outside the offices of the the NGO in Sittwe, the capital of Arakan state. International aid offices were subsequently attacked, and many aid workers, many foreign, were evacuated for their own safety.

The act of taking down the flag was clearly seen as being disrespectful to the Buddhist religion. Rumours were quickly spread that foreign aid workers were using the flag as skirts or treated in other disrespectful ways. All these stories seem to be unfounded and members of Malteser International have spoken of the need, as humanitarian organisations not to display any religious or political symbols, and of the respect they have shown to the flag. It was taken down originally to avoid inciting sectarian tensions.

It seems clear that Buddhist nationalists have taken insult with any misuse of the Buddhist flag – the very touching of it now perceived as an insult. However, few know the history of the flag, its origins in Sri Lanka, and its ‘invention’ by Olcott.

One could ask what place blasphemy has in Buddhist thought, as the Burmese nationalists were clearly expressing sentiments close to the idea that by mistreating the Buddhist flag some notion of blasphemy was being committed against Buddhism.

The text usually quoted in this respect are the opening passages of the Brahmajāla-sutta. This text gives the classical Buddhist response to these ideas. I think the issues are far more complex than is often acknowledged. There may be a very real tension between the rational advice for a Buddhist to not show attachment to perceived offences, and the idea that disrespect towards Buddhist symbols are a very real threat to national and ethnic identity.

The passage worth quoted is the following:

‘If, bhikkhus, others speak in dispraise of me [the Buddha], or in dispraise of the Dhamma, or in dispraise of the Sangha, you should not give way to resentment, displeasure, or animosity against them in your heart. For if you were to become angry or upset in such a situation, you would only be creating an obstacle for yourselves[…]’

‘And if, bhikkhus, others speak in praise of me [the Buddha], or in praise of the Dhamma, or in praise of the Sangha, you should not give way to jubilation, joy, and exultation in your heart. For if you were to become jubilant, joyful, and exultant in such a situation, you would only be creating an obstacle for yourselves (Brahmajāla-sutta (D I, 1).

Some would say that these passages could be used to display the superiority of Buddhism over other religions – Buddhist should not take offence. Often, however, they need to be quoted back to those who perceive offences against Buddhism – the very one’s supposedly protecting these important ideas.

 

‘Should anyone speak disparagingly of me, the Dhamma or the Saṅgha you should not get angry, resentful or upset because of that. For if you did you would not be able recognize if what they said was true or not. Therefore, if others speak disparagingly of me, the Dhamma or the Saṅgha you should explain whatever is incorrect saying: “This is not correct, that is not true, we do not do this, that is not our way.”’ (D.I,1-3). Having said this he then added an interesting point: ‘Should anyone speak in praise of me, the Dhamma or the Saṅgha you should not get proud, puffed up or exultant because of that. For if you did that would become a hindrance to you. Therefore, if others speak in praise of me, the Dhamma or the Saṅgha you should simply acknowledge what is true as true saying: “This is correct, that is true, we do this, that is our way.”’ – See more at: http://www.buddhisma2z.com/content.php?id=40#sthash.kshiN2aY.dpuf
‘Should anyone speak disparagingly of me, the Dhamma or the Saṅgha you should not get angry, resentful or upset because of that. For if you did you would not be able recognize if what they said was true or not. Therefore, if others speak disparagingly of me, the Dhamma or the Saṅgha you should explain whatever is incorrect saying: “This is not correct, that is not true, we do not do this, that is not our way.”’ (D.I,1-3). Having said this he then added an interesting point: ‘Should anyone speak in praise of me, the Dhamma or the Saṅgha you should not get proud, puffed up or exultant because of that. For if you did that would become a hindrance to you. Therefore, if others speak in praise of me, the Dhamma or the Saṅgha you should simply acknowledge what is true as true saying: “This is correct, that is true, we do this, that is our way.”’ – See more at: http://www.buddhisma2z.com/content.php?id=40#sthash.kshiN2aY.dpuf
‘Should anyone speak disparagingly of me, the Dhamma or the Saṅgha you should not get angry, resentful or upset because of that. For if you did you would not be able recognize if what they said was true or not. Therefore, if others speak disparagingly of me, the Dhamma or the Saṅgha you should explain whatever is incorrect saying: “This is not correct, that is not true, we do not do this, that is not our way.”’ (D.I,1-3). Having said this he then added an interesting point: ‘Should anyone speak in praise of me, the Dhamma or the Saṅgha you should not get proud, puffed up or exultant because of that. For if you did that would become a hindrance to you. Therefore, if others speak in praise of me, the Dhamma or the Saṅgha you should simply acknowledge what is true as true saying: “This is correct, that is true, we do this, that is our way.”’ – See more at: http://www.buddhisma2z.com/content.php?id=40#sthash.kshiN2aY.dpuf