The possible causes of Islamophobia in Burma

shwedagon-pagoda-monk-walk

On 21 August the Venerable Sitagu Sayadaw (Bhante Ashin Nyanissara) addressed the vising US commission on International Religious Freedom at the Sitagu International Buddhist Academy in Sagaing, Burma. Venerable Sitagu Sayadaw is one of the most prominent and revered Buddhist monks in Burma. After giving a personal reflection of the history of the various world religions, and commenting on how they have existed peacefully throughout history the Venerable Sitagu Sayadaw then gives his views on Islam. I have copied the entire speech here without my own comments. Many would regard this as hate speech. It must be stressed that these are the words of a very prominent Buddhist monk.

For those wishing to understand the reasons for religious conflict in Southeast Asia this speech could provide some strong clues.

There are six major Religions in the world today. Since Human beings came on Earth, people worshipped the Sun, the Moon and various deities. They also sought refuge in them on the basis of fear. It was called a primitive religion. Most of scholars stated that horror initiated the religions of those days. The Buddha also clearly said that the idea and concept of religions originated from fear. Therefore every religion has full responsibility for the removal of fear which is sticking on the mind of people. But, on the contrary, it is regrettable that a fearful religion and its followers emerged in the world. After the primitive religions there appeared Hinduism. And afterwards, Jainism also came out on the Land where Hinduism was being flourished. Forty years after the emergence of Jainism, there appeared Buddhism also. Buddhism appeared on the birth place of Hinduism and Jainism and peacefully coexisted with them for ages. There was no traceable history of bloodshed and conflict among them. Also there was no violence and quarrel even on the statement issued by the Hindus saying that the Buddha was an incarnation of God Vishnu. We had only oral and written arguments. Six hundred years after the Buddha, Jesus Christ appeared in the World. In the ten commandments of Christianity we find many similarities with Buddhism in the field of Morality and Noble practice. Christian missions tried to flourish their faith when they came to the East Asian countries such as India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Korea and Japan. The people of those countries were non-Christians. But, even after the arrival of Christianity also there was peaceful coexistence between Christians and non-Christians. No history of conflict can be traced to any side. Because all the Hindus, Janis and Christians are walking together on the common platform of their respective teachings, that is Morality, Loving-kindness and compassion. The religion, founded based on Loving-kindness and compassion, has no conflict and it does only social welfare services like Health, Education and other social infrastructures.

In Myanmar, many Christians converted to Buddhism in the past as well as at the present. They did it not because they were forced by the Buddhists. Similarly, many of Buddhists also converted to Christian faith. No single Christian threatened them to do so. They did it of their own free will. Every religion has and should have freedom of worship and freedom of belief. Look at the Crusade that prolonged about forty years. It was recorded in the history of the world.

We have to note that the beginning of conflict is aggressiveness and extremism either in the field of religion or that of politics. Today, in Iraq, the Islamic extremists are forcing ancient Zoroastrians to change their faith into Islam. They even threatened them to kill if their demand is not met. In Africa, a Muslim woman was given the death sentence just because she has converted to Christianity. Therefore, we, the East Asian Buddhist countries are living in constant daily fear of falling under the sword of the Islamic extremists. As we are lacking power and influence, we cannot compete against with the rapid growth of Islamic world.

There was a recorded history that in the thirteenth century A.D, a Muslim army marched from Turkey through India and destroyed Pala Buddhist dynasty and converted it into Islamic state. Pala Buddhist dynasty was none other than present Bangladesh. In the south of Philippine, the Islamic extremists revolted against the government for twenty years. Today, they established a Muslim state there. The Islamic extremists are holding weapons in the south of Thailand to make it a separate Muslim state.

Every religion, according to me, should perform its activities only for the good and welfare of the people. But, today, Islamic extremists are trying to establish Islamic states by waging war against non-Muslims. It is regrettable that they are performing the holy war (Jihad) on the name of God.

Myanmar regained its independence from British in 1948. They colonized Myanmar for nearly hundred years. Many Africans were imported as slaves when the United States of America was established. In the same way, the English rulers illegally imported labourers from India and Bangladesh to Myanmar for the hard labour during their rule.

There is also another bad consequence caused by English colonial rule. During hundred years of British rule, Burmese nationals were not formed as an army. But it was ridiculous that the English rulers administered Myanmar forming different groups of indigenous minorities as an army. When the British rulers went back to England, the minority groups revolted against the Burmese government. We cannot solve those problems until today. These are the natural sufferings faced by the colonial countries.

There is one more important thing that during the British colonial rule, many illegal immigrants from Bangladesh entered into the Rakhine state. In 1948-49, by the name of Mujtahid, those illegal immigrants revolted against Burmese army. Their intention was to establish separate Muslim state. Burmese army had to confront the Islamic Mujahidins. Today, they neither claim themselves as Bangalis nor claim Mujahidins. But, claiming themselves as Rohingars, they are trying to demand a separate home land. They also burned their houses by themselves as if it was done by Burmese Buddhists. We cannot compete with the Islamic world which is the second most powerful and wealthy. Islamic countries occupy the second largest portion even in the United Nations.

The mass media of today is also overwhelmed by the power of money. Most of mass communications such as radios and televisions are controlled by the Islamic world which has sound economy. As we are unable to fight against such a powerful media, the world is not ready either to believe or accept whatever we said. But, we were deafened by the loud explosion of the whole world when the Islamic world says something bad about Myanmar. It was the power of Islamic Medias that made the image and reputation of Myanmar bad. Therefore, we, as the Buddha taught, have determined to objectively care and protect our country and our nationality avoiding two extremes: favour and fear.

Honorable gentlemen – in conclusion, I would like to say that Myanmar is facing various problems and difficulties. Because it was under the colonial rule for nearly hundred years and even after the independence, it was fighting civil and communal war for nearly sixty years. Many organizations from abroad came to Myanmar with the intention of solving such problems. But, instead of solving it, we found that they sometimes made the situation worse and worse. Therefore I would like to request you to find a better solution for such problems. The next one, what I would like to say is that the Myanmar government is now trying to establish internal peace and stability with the intention of ceasing civil war and communal violence. At this crucial Juncture, some religious extremists are frustrating with provocative statements and actions. I would like to request you to give your hands in the process of solving problems and conflicts. A methodical approach is essential for the peace process. It is also necessary not to make things from bad to worse and more complicated. As devout Buddhists, we also promise that we are going to solve these problems without violence and we will do it firmly standing on the teaching of the Buddha, that is tolerance, forgiveness, serving society, sacrifice for others and rationality.

The entire speech is available here.

And in Burmese here.

The preliminary remarks by the United States Commission on Religious Freedom, following their 5 day visit to Burma is available to read.

Thanks to Dr. Maung Zarni who shared much of this material online.

Early Religious Site in Burma to be Excavated

As reported in the DVB, ‘Religious Site could hail from ancient Pyu kingdom’ a site that could be 2000 years old is planning to be excavated by Archaeologists.

 

The site, in Ingapu Township, is thought to be the remains of an ancient city-state from the Pyu era.

‘The city states of Pyu existed from around the 2nd Century BC to the mid-11th Century, and stretched from Sri Kestra, near modern-day Pyay, up through central Burma as far north as Tagaung, which is about 200km north of Mandalay.

The Tibeto-Burman speaking Pyu people migrated from modern-day Yunnan into Burma and are the county’s earliest recorded inhabitants.’

This particular site is around 8 square miles and contains many Buddhist statues.

‘Twelve Pyu walled cities have been excavated in Burma so far. If the site in Ingapu is found to be from the Pyu era, then it could be one of the most ancient recorded settlements in the country.’

 

 

 

 

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

 

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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.’

 

 

Hate speech and ‘flower speech’

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The phenomenon of ‘hate speech’ has become synonymous with movements within the Burmese Buddhist Sangha in recent years. Embedded in the rhetoric of the 969 movement and its leader U Wirathu, negative speeches and propaganda aimed at minority groups have tainted the international image if Buddhism in Burma.

Of course, the notion of the purity of speech (vāc) within Indian religious history is very prominent. From the utterance of the sacred scriptures (the Vedas) in the form of mantras, and the precision of Sanskrit grammar to preserve the correct performance of the ritual, to the notion of ‘right-speech’ as part of the Noble Eightfold Path speech is both ontological and ethical. As four of the ‘ten unwholesome courses of action’ (dasa akusala-kammapathā) described as impure and to lead to an unhappy destination, they entail false speech, malicious speech, harsh speech, and gossip. Their opposites, the ‘ten wholesome courses of action (dasa kusala-kammapathā) entails the abandoning of false speech, malicious speech, harsh speech and gossip:

A new movement is growing in Burma called ‘The Flower Speech campaign’ (Panzagar) founded by Nay Phone Latt. The movement embodies many of the elements of the notion of the centrality of speech in Indians religions, and the prominent place that harmonious actions of speech are given on the Buddhist path. This centrality is often overlooked but it is worth considering the attention played to acts of body, speech and mind in Buddhism. Violent acts of the body and a depraved mental attitude are more easily understood, but acts of hatred in the form of speech, preaching, propaganda and education are also powerful tools in the destruction of society and the dismantling of Buddhist culture.

The slogan of the campaign, as described by Nay Phone Latt is ‘Let’s moderate our speech to prevent hatred between human beings’.

As he explains:

‘When we advocate for free speech, reducing hate speech is included. … Speech calling for hitting or killing someone is hate speech, and can spread hate among people and is a risk for society… It is the wrong use of freedom of speech. I am worried about that because it is not only spreading on social media but also by some writers and [Buddhist] monks who are spreading hate speech publicly.’

In the Pali Canon, purity of speech is described in the following terms:

Fourfold cleansing by speech (catubbidhaṃ vācāya soceyyaṃ)

Here someone, abandoning false speech, abstains from false speech; when summoned to a court, or to a meeting, or to his relatives’ presence, or to his guild, or to the royal family’s presence, and questioned as a witness thus: ‘So, good man, tell what you know,’ not knowing he says, ‘I do not know,’ or knowing he says, ‘I know’; not seeing, he says, ‘I do not see,’ or seeing, he says, ‘I see’; he does not in full awareness speak falsehood for his own ends, or for another’s ends, or for the sake of some trifling gain.[1]

Abandoning malicious speech, he abstains from malicious speech; he does not repeat elsewhere what he has heard here in order to divide [those people] from these, nor does he repeat to these people what he has heard elsewhere in order to divide [these people] from those; thus he is one who reunites those who are divided, a promoter of friendships, who enjoys concord, rejoices in concord, delights in concord, a speaker of words that promote concord.[2]

Abandoning harsh speech, he abstains from harsh speech; he speaks such words as are gentle, pleasing to the ear, and loveable, as go to the heart, are courteous, desired by many, and agreeable to many.[3]

Abandoning gossip, he abstains from gossip; he speaks at the right time, speaks what is fact, speaks what is beneficial, speaks on the dhamma and the discipline; at the right time he speaks such words as are worth recording, reasonable, moderate and advantageous.[4]

 

Notes

[1] idha gahapatayo ekacco musāvādaṃ pahāya musāvādā paṭivirato hoti: sabhāggato vā parisaggato vā ñātimajjhagato vā pūgamajjhagato vā rājakulamajjhagato vā abhinīto sakkhipuṭṭho:eh ambho purisa yaṃ jānāsi taṃ vadehī ti. so ajānaṃ vā āha na jānāmī ti, jānaṃ vā āha jānāmī ti, apassaṃ vā āha na passāmī ti, passaṃ vā āha passāmī ti. iti attahetu vā parahetu vā āmisakiñcikkhahetu vā na sampajānamusā bhāsitā hoti, A V 67.

[2] pisuṇaṃ vācaṃ pahāya pisuṇāya vācāya paṭivirato hoti: ito sutvā na amutra akkhātā imesaṃ bhedāya, amutra vā sutvā na imesaṃ akkhātā amūsaṃ bhedāya iti bhinnānaṃ vā sandhātā sahitānaṃ vā anuppadātā, samaggārāmo samaggarato samaggakaraṇiṃ vācaṃ bhāsitā hoti, A V 67.

[3] pharusaṃ vācaṃ pahāya pharusāya vācāya paṭivirato hoti: yā sā vācā nelā kaṇṇasukhā pemanīyā hadayaṅgamā porī bahujanakantā bahujanamanāpā tathārūpiṃ vācaṃ bhāsitā hoti, A V 67.

[4] samphappalāpaṃ pahāya samphappalāpā paṭivirato hoti: kālavādī bhūtavādī atthavādī dhammavādī vinayavādī, nidhānavatiṃ vācaṃ bhāsitā kālena sāpadesaṃ pariyantavatiṃ atthasaṃhitaṃ, A V 267.

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

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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

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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.