Militant Buddhist fundamentalists


Whenever I write about Buddhism in Sri Lanka and how militant Buddhists, including monks, have been leading the charge against minorities and even resorting to violence against them, western readers are often surprised. The image they have of Buddhism is that of a peaceful and contemplative religion. And they are right when it comes to the underlying philosophy of the religion.

But the real test of a religion is how they treat minority groups when their religion is the majority and the record for Buddhism is not something to be proud of. This report looks at the way that an intolerant and militant Buddhist nationalism is talking hold in Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Myanmar.

As we should be well aware by now, religious leaders have few scruples about using religion to gain wealth and power and those of majority religions in a country often foment animosity against minorities because that can be a powerful rallying cry, appealing to the base tribal instincts of people. People who say “This is a Christian/Jewish/Muslim/Buddhist/Hindu nation and all others are of lower status” can harness many followers and can then use that clout to cow political leaders into going along. Political leaders often seek to appease these groups by making them official religions and giving religious leaders various perks but this only seems to increase their appetite for greater power.

Americans don’t realize how lucky they are to have the Establishment Clause to prevent the creation of a preferred religion and those who seek to put a ‘Christian’ imprimatur on the country are playing with fire.

Comments

  1. Alverant says

    Yeah but for how long. There are some politicians out there who are publicly saying the Establishment Clause is just for christianity and there’s one presidential candidate who wants to amend the Constitution to establish christianity as the official state church.

  2. says

    Political leaders often seek to appease these groups by making them official religions and giving religious leaders various perks but this only seems to increase their appetite for greater power.

    I think that’s a somewhat simplistic view of the relationship between religious leaders and the state. The religious leaders offer the state a blanket ratification (‘divine imprimatur”) which serves the state as a simple way of establishing its authority. Additionally, religious leaders may give a powerful state excuses to expand and conquer – the ostensible justification for much empire-building is religious warfare. In return the state protects the religion’s leaders, allows them to do business and accrue modest power and wealth under its wing. By “modest” I mean ‘not exceeding that of the rulers but otherwise pretty lavish’ (Note what happens fairly consistently when religions’ wealth exceeds that of the state! It is a wise religious leader who would offer the king money in an emergency) So it’s a wonderful scam all around – unless you’re one of the common people, in which case you get screwed successively by both.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    from the linked article: … the Buddhist Power Force … the Burmese “bin Laden,” … a blashemy law to punish anyone who offends the faith. …

    Gautama wept.

  4. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    The image they have of Buddhism is that of a peaceful and contemplative religion. And they are right when it comes to the underlying philosophy of the religion.

    Given the way Buddhism emphasises the futility and meaninglessness of human existence it makes murder and brutality just as acceptable as a response to them as contemplation and pacifism.

  5. Alverant says

    Really sc? I’ve studied buddhism and I never saw anything “emphasizing the futility and meaninglessness of human existence”. Are you sure you’re not confusing it with another religion like christianity?

  6. says

    American buddhists have also edited out of their collective memories the religious holy wars in Tibet. There used to be red hat, black hat, blue hat, and yellow hat sects. Now, (I forget which) is the dominant one and the rest are mostly gone. Guess where they went? The chopper.

  7. Earl Dunbar says

    @sc – “Given the way Buddhism emphasises the futility and meaninglessness of human existence”

    No, it does not.

  8. readysf says

    Great point. We are fortunate the US has its establishment clause, and must fight to make sure it is not dislodged.

    Sometimes, culture becomes a religion, as with the French…but then that’s another story.

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