Those who have lived in majority Buddhist countries know that being a follower of that religion does not make one more peaceful. But people in the west have this image of Buddhists as meditative and contemplative people who do not resort to violence. But the Buddhists in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Thailand seem determined to destroy that image and it looks like they are succeeding, as this NPR report suggests.
In the Western stereotype, Buddhists are meditating pacifists who strive to keep their distance from worldly passions. But last month, more than 40 people were killed in fighting between Buddhists and Muslims in the central Burmese town of Meiktila. Witnesses say some Buddhist monks joined in the violence, while others tried to stop it.
It seems like all it takes is a mere rumor of an insult to Buddhism to inflame passions.
This week also saw an escalation in violence in Sri Lanka with Buddhist mobs, sometimes led by monks, attacking mostly Muslim but also Christian places of worship, with the government not taking serious enough action to curb the violence and seemingly backing these groups. This follows earlier attacks and calls by a prominent Buddhist monk to “rise against the island’s Muslims”
Commenter steffp who lives in another Buddhist-majority country Thailand describes a similar situation arising there.
The justification by a Buddhist monk in Myanmar as to why he urges his followers to attack people of other religions is eerily similar to what some monks say in Sri Lanka too.
Wirathu acknowledges he’s a Buddhist nationalist. But he says he’s just defending his nation and his religion against attacks by outsiders.
“The Burmese race has been insulted,” he argues. “The Buddhist religion has been attacked, and our country has been trespassed. These are the origins of our nationalism.”
There is nothing more dangerous than a majority community feeling that they are the ones who are being somehow oppressed and victimized. Because majority religions tend to have state patronage, this feeling can cause them to lash out, knowing that the state will protect them and there will be little or no repercussions.