For about a year now, there has been a violent clash in Myanmar between Buddhists and Muslims which has in recent months come to the proverbial boiling point. Buddhist Monks in Myanmar are taking up arms against the Muslim minority in response to acts of aggression against Buddhists, in Afghanistan and other places.
I have read that in the West we have a possibly skewed vision of what it is to be a Monk – that of the placid, serene, meditative Holy man. Or maybe this is not a skewed image. Maybe whoever wrote those words that I read had a skewed PR agenda in this matter.
A friend of mine who is a Buddhist monk says that as soon as they took up arms they revoke their right to call themselves Buddhist. I understand that Buddhism and particularly the monastic code presupposes a certain ethic of what Gandhi called Ahimsa, doing no harm. No lesser authority than the Dalai Lama Himself has condemned the violence in no uncertain terms. But I struggle with understanding this particular situation in Myanmar, because of my own understanding of dharma as a Hindu.
I understand that a couple of different things may be happening here, and because I don’t know the whole story, I would address them both:
1) The Buddhist group “969” has been accused of “racializing” the Muslims and has been compared to Neo-Nazis. They have been accused as not seeing themselves as aggressors but as defenders of Buddhist “purity”. Indeed, they have outright been accused of “ethnic cleansing” of Muslim villages in Myanmar.
There is no defending this, if such is the case.
2) The “Militant Buddhists” are acting out of a sense of duty to protect their own communities in response to previous attacks. But I also understand these as acts of “vengeance” which is quite “un-Buddhist” to be sure.
The socio-political issues at hand in this situation are vast. Too vast to cover in this post. And I do not wish to over-simplify. But I will say this. As a Hindu, though I don’t like that we sometimes find ourselves at war, dharma (different from the Buddhist understanding of the term) dictates that at times we must. Action is better than inaction, and dharma trumps the ahimsa. I am not sure that civil disobedience would be a good remedy for some of the tensions going on in Myanmar right now. It is always worth a try, but given the current political climate over there, I have a feeling it is beyond that point, and all attempts at peaceful solutions have been made.
At the same time, actions taken should never come out of a sense of vengeance, because vengeance is an extremely ego-driven reaction. The fact that it is a “reaction” at all indicates that it is an act which will inevitably deepen the grooves of samsara. Understanding dharma in the way that I do, I am dismayed because it seems that there is no way around this “deepening” from occurring, should this violence continue. So getting back to what my friend the Monk said about these actions effectively revoking the Monks’ status as Buddhists, I have to say I am not 100% sure. It depends on what is really going on in Myanmar, what really brought this on. The “rightness” of all action depends on intentions.
I would like to read thoughts on this particular matter, from Hindu and Buddhist (and any other, really) perspectives.
Aum, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti!