AboutBuddhism.org tells readers that “Buddhism is a way of finding peace within oneself. It is a religion that helps us to find the happiness and contentment we seek. Buddhists develop inner peace, kindness and wisdom through their daily practice; and then share their experience with others bringing real benefit to this world. They try not to harm others and to live peacefully and gently, working towards the ultimate goal of pure and lasting happiness for all living beings.”
AboutBuddhism.org has nothing to say about the treatment of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
Why should AboutBuddhism.org have something to say on the matter? Buddhist religious leaders have been encouraging, and participating in, anti-Muslim riots in Myanmar. These riots have included physical assault, murder, and the destruction of Muslim homes, schools, businesses and mosques.
This week, angry Buddhist monks were seen in the riots, encouraging the rampage. The national government of Myanmar is compounding the impact of the attacks, passing anti-Islam laws. These include a recently re-activated statute that prohibits Muslim families from having more than two children, while Buddhist families are encouraged to have as many children as they wish.
It is alleged, but not yet confirmed, that the incident that triggered the current wave anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar was the burning of a Buddhist woman by a Muslim man who doused her in gasoline. No trial has taken place, and it is not yet even certain that the Muslim attacker even exists. However, even if the allegations about the burning are true, they are incomparable to the Buddhist violence. No one alleges that the alleged attacker is a Muslim religious leader.
Not all Buddhist leaders outside of Myanmar have been silent on the campaign of Buddhist violence there. The Dalai Lama has written a message urging Myanmar Buddhists to act peacefully. The American Buddhist magazines Tricycle and Shambala Sun have both published articles about the Buddhist violence.
However, what’s missing even from these discussions is a consideration of how the religious practice of Buddhism is responsible for the violence. Instead, the acknowledgements of the problems in Myanmar merely urge Buddhists there to be more Buddhist.
One statement, signed by a group of Buddhist leaders including Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama, asserts that Buddhism is the solution, rather than the problem, in Myanmar. It states, “We wish to reaffirm to the world and to support you in practicing the most fundamental Buddhist principles of non-harming, mutual respect and compassion. These fundamental principles taught by the Buddha are at the core of Buddhist practice: Buddhist teaching is based on the precepts of refraining from killing and causing harm. Buddhist teaching is based on compassion and mutual care. Buddhist teaching offers respect to all, regardless of class, caste, race or creed.” The statement seems to suppose that it’s not Buddhists, but “others”, who are responsible, stating to Myanmar’s Buddhists, “We are with you for courageously standing up for these Buddhist principles even when others would demonize or harm Muslims or other ethnic groups.” Who are these “others”?
A statement by the International Network of Engaged Buddhists also tries to shift the blame. They blame “the former military regime”, “British colonial occupation”, and “a scarcity of land and economic resources”, but never explicitly acknowledge that individual Buddhist religious leaders as well as Buddhist organizations in Myanmar have been leading the charge into violence. Instead, the International Network of Engaged Buddhists makes it seem that Buddhists have merely been stuck in an unhealthy cycle of violence “between communities”, in which “there has been violence and provocation on both sides”.
The fact is that the overwhelming majority of attacks in the religious violence in Myanmar have been by Buddhists, against Muslims. Rohingya Muslims have not been completely non-violent, but it is absurd for Buddhists around the world to continue to pretend that their religion does not hold the weight of responsibility for the bloodshed and destruction.