The internet is a neutral technological tool that has the potential to be as good as it its bad. Many people self-regulate and tread a ‘middle path’ of sorts, but others use the net to be abusive and spread extremist propaganda. In the case of the USA, much extremism passes as ‘freedom of thought’, ‘freedom of expression’, and ‘freedom of speech’. This complicates the matters, as the US does regulate certain expressions when it is considered politically profitable to do so, or when America’s national interest is at stake. For instance, armed, shaven head, white-skinned extremists espousing neo-fascist rhetoric is ‘freedom of speech’, but a Muslim cleric questioning America’s continued unconditional support of all the military and political actions of the State of Israel, constitutes a potential ‘terrorist’ threat to America’s security, etc.
This confusing scenario sends mixed messages to the people of the world. On Facebook there are representatives from virtually every nation on Earth. Of course, this observation does not imply that every one in the world has access to the internet – they most definitely do not, but rather that a certain social elite within each countries definitely does. As a Buddhist, I have noticed a disturbing trend emanating from Sri Lanka and Thailand. This trend involves monastic representatives from certain branches of the Theravada School, using Facebook to propagate a message of State nationalism entwined with Buddhism, as if the two distinct aspects were mutually compatible. It invariably includes an appeal to spread Buddhism through imperialism, and resorts to racist rhetoric to make its point. This type of thinking is the clearest demonstration that there is a definite association between certain types of Buddhist thinking, and racist nationalism, and that if unchecked through common sense and Buddhist wisdom, has the potential to spread into actual terrorist acts. In Sri Lanka, it is not uncommon for certain Buddhist monastics to openly support the war against Tamil Hindus and agree with their persecution and oppression. In Thailand and Burma, there has been much violence of late between members of the Buddhist majority, and certain ethnic minorities.
These events have occurred in predominantly Theravada Buddhist countries, and have led to an intellectual climate which feels comfortable enough to routinely express sentiments of Islamophobia – an expression that legitimises itself by masquerading as a manifestation of Buddhist wisdom, when in reality it is nothing more than the product of greed, hatred, and delusion. `This is tolerated at the moment in the International Community, as extremist Islam is viewed as the ideological and physical enemy of the Western Democracies, with little or no distinction being made between mainstream Islam and its more militant and violent expressions. Of course, from a Buddhist perspective, every individual and group is responsible for their own karma – and the religion of Islam, and Islamic groups are no exception to this. Negative actions generally incur negative responses in a cycle of delusion and degradation. Islam has a very poor perception in the non-Islamic mind because certain individuals professing to be Muslims have carried-out heinous acts. However, although this might be true, there is no difference in the mind of a Muslim, or that of a Buddhist or any other human being – all are subject to greed, hatred, and delusion until nirvana is realised and delusion ceases as a way of interacting with the world. There is no difference between any deluded thought or action – only a preference predicated upon a human ignorance that prefers ‘this delusion’ over ‘that delusion’.
Whatever the current existential situation (which moves in cycles), the Buddha taught very clearly that he can not be known through his physical appearance, and that to judge things purely upon their physical aspect is an act of pure delusion. This message runs through the core of all Buddhist sutras regardless of tradition, and has often served as the basis for the criticism of the Brahmanic Caste System which is based purely upon the notion that skin-colour dictates religious and social worth. Buddhists that routinely advocate imperialism, nationalism and racism are teaching what the Buddha referred to as ‘heretical’ viewpoints, and yet on the social media site of Facebook, members claiming to be ordained monastics are doing just this and in the process are undermining the actual message of correct Buddhism. This is the practice of Wrong Thought, Wrong, Speech, and Wrong Action, all countermanding the guiding tenants of the Noble Eightfold Path – a doctrine central to all Buddhism, but particularly so for the Theravada School that generally does not recognise the Mahayana or Vajrayana Schools.
Buddhists who advocate the development of delusion other that of wisdom are Buddhist in name only and are creating a hellish karma for themselves, a suffering that is magnified by the fact that the ignorance they create has been generated as an impersonation of the Dharma that has the potential to mislead countless beings into ever greater depths of suffering. The surface layer of obscuring delusion is not broken, but actually strengthened and reinforced by people who should know better. The reality is that matters of nationalism and race, being products of the unenlightened mind, are simply of no importance in the enlightened state. Allowing the Dharma to be sullied in this manner diminishes the teaching of the Buddha through misrepresentation and demonstrates that even the outer, cultural expressions of Buddhism found in otherwise Buddhist countries, can actually be used to spread delusion and suffering in the world, and assist the destruction of Buddhism itself. Buddhism in essence is thoroughlynon-racist in philosophical expression.