Monday, March 12, 2018

Buddhism: religion of peace?

No religion is inherently anything. Religions are as they are practiced, which makes violent Buddhism, like peaceful Islam, possible.

Hong Kong (AFP) - Buddhism may be touted in the West as an inherently peaceful philosophy, but a surge in violent rhetoric from small but increasingly influential groups of hardline monks in parts of Asia is upending the religion's tolerant image.

Buddhist mobs in Sri Lanka last week led anti-Muslim riots that left at least three dead and more than 200 Muslim-owned establishments in ruins, just the latest bout of communal violence there stoked by Buddhist nationalists.

In Myanmar, ultra-nationalist monks led by firebrand preacher Wirathu have poured vitriol on the country's small Muslim population, cheering a military crackdown forcing nearly 700,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh.

And in neighbouring Thailand, a prominent monk found himself in hot water for calling on followers to burn down mosques.

What has prompted this surge in aggressive rhetoric from followers of a faith that is so often equated, rightly or wrongly, with non-violence?

For many in the West, schooled in Buddhism via the beatniks, Hollywood, meditation classes, tropical holidays and inspirational Dalai Lama quotes, the visceral response of these monks can be a shock.

But Michael Jerryson, an expert on religion at Youngstown State University who has just completed a book exploring Buddhism and violence, says throughout history some Buddhists -- like any faith -- have used religion to justify violence.

"There's a common mindset, whether it's Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand... that Buddhism is somehow under threat," he said, describing the latest incarnation of violent Buddhist rhetoric.

"Each area has its own history, its own causes and instigators, but these instigators are also interlinked."

Take a guess what the "threat" is in some of these countries.

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