Ok, I can’t take it anymore. I have been seeing one article after another saying Buddhist are warmongers just like every other religion and that we should not be surprised in the least. The claim is that we shouldn’t be surprised because Buddhism is just another religion of course and all wars and conflict are caused by religion. Well last I checked Buddhist are people too, just like everyone else! Seeing that it is people who make up all religions I guess that should not be so much of a surprise that there are similarities between them. But I do not think causing war and conflict are among them.
Are people in general not flawed? Did the Buddha or leader of any other religious system ever claim that they were not? In fact it is the very fact that we are flawed that is the root of all religious systems. So is anyone really surprised that Buddhist do not always have control of their emotions or actions just like everyone else. Somehow we are supposed to believe that if the world was just full of atheist these horrible things would be not be happening. What is really astonishing is that anyone making these claims think that anything in this world is that simple. Shouldn’t we be looking for the true causes?
This all began when the western media’s focused its attention on the situation in Myanmar formally known as Burma. The focus of their attention is on the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in that country. Do these people deserve to be treated the way they have been by the Burmese, a predominantly Buddhist nation? Of course not! No human deserves to be treated in a sub-human way! Should anyone be attacked just because of their race or religion? No that is in fact against everything that the Buddha taught. So then why are the Burmese acting this way? Is their religion telling them to do so? Is Buddhism just a false religion like many of the authors of these articles claim that Christianity, Judaism, or Islam are? If only it was that simple.
The truth is that the Buddhist in Myanmar are human just like the Muslim Rohingya. Due to this they have the same flaws as everyone else in the world regardless of race or religion. You see that is the ONE thing that all people on this planet share, they are HUMAN! HUMANS do bad things! This is why most people become involved in religion in the first place, to TRY to become better HUMANS! Is being human an excuse for the atrocities that are happening in Myanmar? Is blaming religion a more valid excuse? No being human is not the excuse but it is a more precise reason. In order to understand what I am saying we have to look a little closer at what has happened in the past in Myanmar.
The Rohinya have been discriminated against in Burma for years. They had been told by the Burmese government that they are outsiders and that they do not belong being in the country at all. They did not have the same opportunities as ethnic Burmese for jobs and education. They had to live in areas were the living conditions are much worse than the ethnic Burmese. They were persecuted by the Burmese police and military. So they have plenty to be upset about right? Yes any group of people living in these conditions would be upset, ANGRY, and want retribution to those that imposed these conditions on them. They are human just like you and I and should not have to suffer like this. They HATED the people who they felt were responsible for their situation. Well here is where the human part comes in. They tried to protest their situation but as the minority that they are they didn’t have anyone representing them. The military controlled government had no sympathy for them. Their anger and frustration grew and they started to use extreme measures to correct this situation. I am sure many of you that live in the west have not even heard about the many bombings that were carried out by the Rohinya Muslims over the past several years. Well here in Asia these were often headline news events. The Rohingya bombed Buddhist temples and Burmese government buildings. Many civilian Burmese people were innocently killed in these attacks. Religious sites that are very important to Buddhist Burmese were destroyed. The Burmese people started to retaliate back and now the Rohingya were living in FEAR.
In southeast Asia it is almost impossible to separate the religion from the people. The Buddhist religion is so intertwined with the culture here that it simply cannot be separated from the people themselves. The Burmese who lost loved ones in the bombings or who saw ancient temples destroyed became ANGRY. They HATED the Rohingya who they felt did not belong in their country and were killing their family and friends. They were AFRAID to go to the temple to worship because a bomb might go off and they or their loved ones may be killed. Buddhist monks took to the streets and protested against the Rohingya. Mobs formed and they started attacking the Rohingya people in mass.
Burma has been under a military dictatorship since the sixties. The Burmese people themselves have been subject to a brutal dictatorship for years. They did not have basic freedoms themselves taken for granted in most western countries. In 1988, Aung San Suu Kyi began her battle for a return to democracy just like her father had started years before the military coup. She spent years in and out of prison being held by the military leaders who were running the country. In 2011 the military Junta was officially dissolved and Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won the first national election. But the problem is that military did not just release control to this new government and still have a lot of power in Myanmar’s politics. So even though figuratively there is an elected government in Myanmar its power is ever under the threat of another military coup.
The vast majority of the attacks on the Rohingya have been from the Burmese military. They have been very brutal and merciless. This is the same way the military dealt with the Burmese people after the coup in the sixties. Anyone who opposed them was shot or captured and tortured. Is it any surprise that these same people would treat the Rohingya any different? The Burmese military cannot be equated to the Burmese people.
The authors of these endless articles about this subject seem to be bent on proving that Buddhism is just another religion gone bad. With just the brief history that I have outlined above is that really a fair assessment? The western media by far has shown a totally one sided representation of what is happening in Myanmar in favor of the Rohingya. Am I saying that they shouldn’t be showing the terrible atrocities that are being perpetrated against these people? No not even close! They should show every evil act that is happening there. But that should also include the Burmese suffering as well which it clearly does not. Have you ever heard that it takes two to have an argument? Well that is the case and there are always two sides to every argument as well. But the truth is that no argument can justify what either of these side has done. But to understand you need to know what the sides are. If the media is going to tell the story they need to tell the whole story and not just the side that goes along with their agenda. What would you do if you were in the same situation as the Burmese people? What would you do if you were in the same situation as the Rohingya? I am betting that you would act in a very similar way as they are! When HUMANS become desperate they use desperate measures. We in the west like to look at these situations happening far away from our shores through our uninformed black and white lens. Then we are quick to make ignorant judgements about them.
The people writing these articles go on to say that the Tibetans carried out horrible acts against the Chinese failing to mention the murder, religious and ethnic cleansing carried out by the Chinese government. To convince the reader of Buddhism’s bloody past they also mention the Japanese Buddhist that were involved in WWII. They also fail to mention that Japan is predominantly a Buddhist country as well. So if Japan attacks anyone can you really call it a Buddhist war just on the basis of the religious make up of its population? The Japanese fought in WWII over an exaggerated nationalism and a feeling of racial superiority. It had nothing to do with trying to force the Buddhist religion on anyone.
I am not trying to justify any of the wrong doing by any Buddhist in any of these countries. If a Buddhist kills anyone other than in self-defense they are wrong, full stop! There are no reasons that excuse it. What I am trying to show is to what is happening in Myanmar or with Japan in WWII has absolutely nothing to do with Buddhism. To try to say that Buddhism somehow promotes or is responsible for these events is totally ludicrous. Religions of any type do not kill people, people kill people! Seeing the complexities involved can anyone say that what is being fought in Burma is being fought in the name of Buddhism?
What were the common words in describing both sides in my first few paragraphs? FEAR, ANGER, HATE! Are these Buddhist traits or religious traits in general? The people writing these articles want you to believe that they are. If you believe that if you had a country full of atheist that these things would not rear their ugly head you are living in LA LA Land! These are human traits plain and simple. Whenever you have FEAR you have HATRED. Whenever you have HATRED you have ANGER. Whenever you have all three regardless of who it is you will have violence.
The Rohingya were being discriminated against but whenever they decided that bombs were the answer they were WRONG! The Burmese people were afraid and angry that their loved ones were being killed and their religious sites were being destroyed but attacking the Rohingya without understanding their plight was WRONG! The Burmese military is WRONG for suppressing the rights of their own people and they are surly WRONG for committing what amounts to genocide on the Rohingya. Trying to just blame Aung San Suu Kyi is wrong. She has given more in her life time towards freedom and a democratic government than any of the people criticizing her. So she is in a very fragile situation an if she decides to stand against the military in reference to the Rohingya she may put the entire country back into bondage. A military coup will not help anyone including the Rohingya. If you were in her place what would you do?
What is the first precept in Buddhism, that killing is WRONG! Anyone that has even a rudimentary understanding of Buddhism knows that. The problems in Myanmar are complex and cannot be simplified into saying that Buddhism is bad. Killing, genocide, discrimination, hatred, anger are bad, no matter what the faith of the person perpetrating them. Understanding history is more than just an intellectual exercise. By the understanding of history as it truly is, in an unbiased impartial way we can learn what roots of these conflicts are. By this understanding we may find a true path to their solution. What is truly the solution of these conflicts? Understanding the reality of what causes them. What did the Buddha teach, just that! The fallacy of our small “self”.