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.