Visit our new website: worldnews.easybranches.com

Militant Buddhism is on the march in South East Asia – where did it come from?

  • Wed, 15 Nov 2017 09:11

EVEN ten years on, the first mental image that comes to mind with regard to Theravāda Buddhism is that of Burma’s Saffron Revolution of August-September 2007: thousands of Buddhist monks peacefully demonstrating in the streets of Yangon, Mandalay, Pakokku, Sittwe and other towns against the ruling military junta. These peaceful monks still exist, although many of them went into hiding, or fled abroad. But the Burmese monks in the headlines today are preaching violence instead of peace, and “firm action” instead of meditation.

It’s not just in Burma that this militant Buddhism is on the rise: it’s also surfacing in the other two leading Theravādin countries: Sri Lanka and Thailand. In all three countries, Buddhists make up the vast majority of the population: 70% in Sri Lanka, 88% in Myanmar, and 93% in Thailand. One could be excused for thinking that there is nothing to worry about: with such towering demographic majorities, Buddhists are surely to some extent safe and secure in their respective countries.

This is not how the militant monks see things. They are convinced that Buddhism is under siege, and in grave danger of being wiped out. To explain this, they point out that while Muslims or Hindu Tamils (in the case of Sri Lanka) are in the minority in these countries, they enjoy significant support from beyond their national borders.

SEE ALSO: Sri Lanka: Anti-Muslim attacks on the rise after Buddhist leader stokes tension

In Sri Lanka and Burma, the notion that a non-Buddhist minority is the vanguard of an imminent invasion is very strong indeed. It is believed that firm action has to be taken to prevent “them” from taking over Buddhist lands and eradicating Buddhism. Basically, the militant monks see their communities as targets of a relentless “holy war”, and see it as their duty, to respond in kind with their own variant of “holy war”.

Sri-Lanka-Buddhist

In this Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013 photo, Galagoda Atte Gnanasara, the 37-year-old Buddhist monk who founded the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) group, or Buddhist Power Force in 2012, speaks to the Associated Press at BBS office in Colombo, Sri Lanka. With a bloody civil war over and a cautious peace at hand, the group of hardline Buddhist monks is rallying Sri Lanka against what they say is a pernicious threat: Muslims. The saffron-swathed monks of BBS have amassed a huge following, drawing thousands of fist-pumping followers who rail against unseen enemies within the country’s small Muslim minority.Source: AP/Manish Swarup)

Justifying violence

The conviction that Buddhism is under threat also allows these leaders to justify the use of violence. Militant monks usually start their argumentation by pointing out that even the Buddha himself showed some understanding for the wars conducted by his benefactor King Pasenadi instead of condemning them. He did still warn him that “killing, you gain your killer, conquering, you gain the one who will conquer you” – the message being that violence begets violence. Even for the Buddha, then, nonviolence was not necessarily an absolute value – a point seized on by many of today’s militant monks. Although they readily concede that an offensive use of violence should never be allowed, they point out that peaceful and nonviolent Buddhist communities still have the right to defend themselves, especially if and when the survival of the religion as such is at stake.

This point of view is dated. As soon as Buddhist-majority states came into being, the monkhood had to find ways to justify violence, including war, especially that perpetrated by their virtuous sovereign against an opponent. Indeed it was by the monarch’s benevolence, and under the law and order he created, that the monastic order was able to survive.

An early example of such a justification comes from the Sinhalese Mahāvamsa (the Great Chronicle): After a battle against a Hindu-Tamil army, Buddhist King Dutugāmunu felt remorse for all the deaths he had caused, and asked senior monks for advice. They basically told him not to worry since he had caused the deaths of only one and a half persons – one who had just converted to Buddhism, and another who had been a Buddhist lay follower. All the rest had just been “unbelievers and men of evil life […], not more to be esteemed than beasts”.

SEE ALSO: Religious freedom another casualty of Southeast Asia’s regressive turn

2017-10-20T071615Z_126112944_RC1322BDAB20_RTRMADP_3_THAILAND-VEGETARIANFESTIVAL

Buddhist monks pray at a temple to mark the eve of the vegetarian festival in Bangkok’s Chinatown, Thailand, October 19, 2017. Picture taken October 19, 2017. Source: Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha

This notable verdict implies that killing is excusable as long as the intention behind it is in the defence of the religion. Not surprisingly, this quote still is used to condone the use of violence – most recently by the Sitagu Sayadaw, an esteemed Burmese monastic leader, in order to justify the current persecution of perceived enemies of both state and religion – in this case, the Rohingya.

Sanctioning the violent actions of one’s ruler or one’s government is one thing; actively inciting lay-followers to commit such acts in defence of the religion is something completely different. Compared to “preachers of hate” from Abrahamic religions, today’s militant monks have a difficult tightrope to walk, since incitement to murder constitutes one of Buddhism’s four disrobing offences (pārājikas) – offences resulting in the automatic expulsion from the monkhood. In September for example, a Thai monk was forced to disrobe because he had publicly demanded that for each monk killed in Thailand’s deep south, a mosque should be torched.

Most militant monks are therefore very careful in avoiding open calls to violence – instead, they attend mass rallies and demonstrations to stoke anti-Muslim sentiments and to preach “passive resistance” or “pro-Buddhist affirmative action”: not buying from Muslims, not selling to Muslims, not fraternising with Muslims, not allowing one’s children to marry Muslims. They leave it to their followers, especially those organised in pro-state vigilante groups or Buddhist militias, to draw the right conclusions.

SEE ALSO: Buddhists throw petrol bombs to stop Rohingya aid shipment

Wirathu-Time-Cover

Source: TIME

Although there is anecdotal evidence of armed monks actively taking part in violence, the majority of militant monks shy away from directly becoming involved: again, this would be a grave violation of the monastic code. Ashin Wirathu, a monk and leader of the Burmese anti-Muslim movement, describes this passive role very eloquently: “I am only warning people about Muslims. Consider it like if you had a dog, that would bark at strangers coming to your house – it is to warn you. I am like that dog. I bark.”

The rise of this strain of militant Theravāda Buddhism can be explained in ethnic, social and economic terms, but from the perspective of the militant monks themselves, it’s about religion. It’s not about the control of resources or worldly goods, but a defensive “holy war” or “Dhamma Yudhaya” in response to a perceived aggressive “jihad” against Buddhism that has been waged for centuries, from the destruction of the Buddhist library in Nalanda/Bihar at the end of the 12th century, to the destruction of the famous Bamiyan Buddhas in March 2001.

This somewhat simplistic reading of history, reminiscent of Samuel P. Huntington’s “clash of civilisations” thesis, reinforces the militant monks’ belief that now is the time not for peaceful meditation, but for firm action. The Buddha’s warning that violence begets violence seems to have fallen on deaf ears for the time being.

By Lecturer in Terrorism Studies, University of St Andrews. Originally published on The Conversation.

The post Militant Buddhism is on the march in South East Asia – where did it come from? appeared first on Asian Correspondent.

Asian Correspondent

Tags


Popular Science

Related Stories

World’s largest subway system goes cashless as Shanghai Metro adopts QR code
  • Thu, 18 Jan 2018 18:09

From this weekend, Shanghai metro users will no longer need to worry about leaving their public transport cards at home or losing them, or queuing for...

How This Man Went From Catfish To Godfather
  • Thu, 18 Jan 2018 16:52

During tonight's 'Catfish' episode, love hopeful Kim asked Matt if he would be her daughter's godfather. News

‘Crop Apartheid’: Malaysia lashes out after EU votes to ban palm oil biofuels
  • Thu, 18 Jan 2018 15:12

MALAYSIA’S government has lashed out at the EU Parliament on Thursday following a vote to ban palm oil biofuels from its renewable energy strate...

North, South Korea to march under unified flag
  • Thu, 18 Jan 2018 14:26

North and South Korean athletes will march together at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony under a unified flag in a diplomatic breakthrough followin...

Huawei founder says it’s ‘all hands on deck’ to fight on after US market snub
  • Thu, 18 Jan 2018 14:11

Ren Zhengfei, the founder of Chinese smartphone maker Huawei Technologies, has called on the company’s 180,000 employees to pick themselves up a...

North and South Korea to march under one flag at Winter Olympics
  • Thu, 18 Jan 2018 13:55

North and South Korea are to form their first joint Olympic team and march together at the opening ceremony, Seoul says. The two countries have announ...

JD.com to invest 20bn yuan to help revive China’s rust belt
  • Thu, 18 Jan 2018 13:10

Dominated by heavy industries such as machinery and mining that are long past their prime growth rates, China’s ailing northeast region has been...

North Korea crisis: South to continue talks with 'clear eyes'
  • Thu, 18 Jan 2018 12:55

This comes amid warnings Pyongyang might be playing for time to continue its nuclear arms activity. BBC News - Asia

Updated Jeep Cherokee Gets 2.0-liter Turbo from the Wrangler
  • Thu, 18 Jan 2018 12:54

The facelifted Jeep Chekoree made its public debut at the 2018 Detroit Auto Show with a brand-new front fascia that no longer looks like it’s su...

Head to the flower show at Lalbagh from this Friday
  • Thu, 18 Jan 2018 12:34

Lalbagh is gearing up for its Republic Day flower show, which will begin on Friday. The 10-day event will see 85 varieties of seasonal flowers, potted...

Southern Caribbean Cruises Set Sail from San Juan
  • Thu, 18 Jan 2018 12:25

Yesterday, the Disney Wonder set sail from San Juan, Puerto Rico, kicking off the first of three special Southern Caribbean voyages in January. Each o...

North, South Korea will march together under one flag
  • Thu, 18 Jan 2018 11:35

North and South Korean athletes will march together at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony under a unified flag representing the entire peninsula, So...


News Categories