Not so long ago the unelected government of Myanmar (Burma) was using its armed security forces to attack, maim, and kill unarmed Buddhist monks as they peacefully protested against the military government’s running of the country. This rule had seen the general populace plunged into abject poverty, to such a degree that ordinary people had no left-over food to donate to the monks as they went about their daily meditative begging. These Theravada monks eat only that food which lay people have discarded or put aside and do not eat after mid-day. As the monk goes about the begging process, no discrimination is allowed to form in the mind – impartiality is very important in maintaining a peaceful and tranquil. However, at that time monks were walking through the neighbourhoods and routinely receiving no food in their bowls for days on end. The monks returned to their monasteries and continued the daily routine of meditation, sutra study and physical work, despite the continuous lack of sustenance. The situation deteriorated to such a point that monastic masters agreed that the monks should protest peacefully on the streets. One method of protest was to deny the high ranking officials and other important people from generating good karma, by refusing to take donations from them. When people donate to Buddhist monks it is believed that good karma is generated by the act itself, and the monk accepting the gift with an impartial mind – withholding this function amounted to preventing the government officials from generating good personal karma, whilst their policies in the country created bad karma for everyone else.
The military government responded with force and many monks were killed and wounded. What is interesting about this response is that it shows that the ruling elite did not really accept the Buddha’s teachings. If they did, they would have known that harming or killing a Buddhist monk attracts the worst kind of hellish karma, as does causing disunity in the Sangha – or community of monks. Such has been the paranoia in the minds of the ruling elite that when there was a rumoured birth of a white elephant in Myanmar, much resources were used in trying to find it and capture it, as the government feared the prophesy that such an occurrence ushers a new era of enlightened government. This demonstrates the cynical and self-serving nature of the Burmese government. It resides over a country whose religion is Buddhism, but which as an educated elite, it does actually believe in anymore. The government of Burma represents a secular movement in the country that is obsessed only with the accumulation of wealth and power, and nothing more. It maintains power by any expedient means that happens to be convenient.
Today it is true that Islamophobia has spread around the globe. This may be defined as an innate fear and hatred of everything associated with the religion of Islam. Part of this phenomenon has been generated by Western governments who have perceived a military or terrorist threat from forces associated with Islam, and which have carried-out foreign policies that reflect this fear. Another part of the justification for Islamophobia has arisen within Islam itself, as various armed movements using religious rhetoric associated with the Qur’an, have risen as if from nowhere and made extensive use of the internet to propagate their ideas and actions. Since the ending of the Cold War, the Soviet Union – as the perceived enemy of the West – has now been replaced with the fear Islamic terrorism. It is interesting to note in passing that this fear of everything ‘Islam’, does not extend to oil producing countries. Islamophobia is essentially a prejudice based upon a lack of knowledge. Every religion, including Christianity which is prominent in the West, contains movements within which advocate extreme or intolerant perspectives and positions. The difference is that ‘all’ Muslims are believed to be terrorists with no evidence, whereas, for instance, not all Christians are considered ‘intolerant’ simply because one sect or church advocates homophobia, racism or misogyny, etc.
Buddhism is predicated upon the observation that the human mind is essentially pure, but is corrupted by the obscuration of greed, hatred, and delusion. The Buddha advocated that greed, hatred, and delusion be uprooted through mind development techniques and behaviour modification. Despite the many sects or schools of Buddhism, the essential teaching does not go beyond this observation. Greed, hatred, and delusion are created in the mind from the moment a separate thought is generated that creates the delusion of duality. This duality is sustained by the force of volitional habit termed ‘karma’. In reality greed, hatred, and delusion are actually the single thought that creates duality. It is not possible to free the mind of just one of these attributes – if one is penetrated, all are penetrated with wisdom. A Buddhist monk or nun dedicates their life to the uprooting of delusion and the attainment of full enlightenment. There is no place in the Buddhist view of self-cultivation that allows the generation of greed, hatred, or delusion in any worldly circumstance. In countries such as Myanmar, the laity relies completely upon the Buddhist Sangha for their education and guidance with regard to self-cultivation. The Buddhist monks are respected without question, as the average lay person does not want to generate bad karma through disrespect. Poverty ensures that the Buddhist Sangha remains the primary source of education for ordinary people within the country.
There are a number of Buddhist monks from Myanmar and Thailand, who are advising the lay people in their communities to attack and kill their fellow citizens who happen to be Muslim. A recent BBC Radio Four documentary investigating this phenomenon found that it was a minority of high ranking Buddhist masters (in Myanmar) who were responsible for this behaviour, and that the majority of masters did not agree, or had no opinion. This demonstrates that theses rogue masters are behaving in an unBuddhist manner and not only creating hellish karma for themselves, but also causing hellish karma for all those who unthinkingly follow their delusion without question. Whatever the circumstances may or may not have been in the physical environment, it is completely unacceptable for Buddhist monastics to encourage others to generate ‘hatred’ in their minds – and it may be said that Buddhist Islamophobia is pure hatred. Considering the recent history of Burma there is a suspicion that the government is behind this recent outburst of Islamophobia, and may even be responsible for planting government officials pretending to be Buddhist monks. After all, if the Sangha is busy advocating and sustaining ethnic hatred and violence against an unpopular ethnic minority, then it is not making trouble with the unelected government.
Islamophobia in Buddhist countries is a matter that concerns all Buddhist around the world. It is a perversion of Buddhism the like of which has never been seen, and if it is not stopped through the use of wisdom, the karmic consequences for Buddhism in general could catastrophic. Although Buddhist Islamophobia has been responsible for the maiming and killing of hundreds or thousands, true Buddhists must respond as compassionate beings and not as hate filled monsters. This karma must be purified through meditation and acts of loving kindness toward other people, including of course Muslims. A hidden danger that is becoming ever more relevant is the use of the internet for this minority of Buddhist masters to spread their hatred far outside the boundaries of their respective countries. Social media sites like Facebook have become methods for propagating anti-Islamic propaganda from members whose profiles show clearly that they are Buddhist monks. Many of these ‘Buddhists’ post links to site demanding the banning of Islam without fully realising, (or not caring) that these sites are actually forums for White Supremacy movements, movements that routinely discriminate against Black and Asian people. Others post graphic photographs of dead or injured people claiming without evidence that these are the victims of Islamic violence – the other side of the situation is never presented or considered. This is not to say that certain individuals who are members of the Islamic faith do not commit terrible crimes, undoubtedly they do, but it is now equally true that a minority of Buddhist masters are contradicting the Buddha’s teaching and through hatred are causing the committing of equally heinous crimes. The enemy of Buddhists are not Muslims but rather the greed, hatred, and delusion that exist in the mind of each and every person. During the Buddha’s lifetime this kind of situation would have been dealt with through a sutra that rebuked the perpetuators of the hatred, and firmly explained how all beings can attain enlightenment through transcending greed, hatred, and delusion, and propagating compassion and loving kindness.