Saturday, July 19, 2014

Seeds of hatred, seeds of love

Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield trained as a monk in Burma 40 years ago; recently, he went back and observed first-hand the seemingly contradictory Buddhist campaign against Muslims there.
An ethnic Rakhine man holds homemade weapons as he walks in front of houses that were burnt during fighting between Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya.

In a week where violence and aggression dominated the news, it's worth reading his entire article, which delves into the interdependent causes of the violence: poverty, political insecurity, and fear of The Other.
Traveling across Burma recently, I encountered some of these monks who are drumming up hate and jingoistic fervor. They don’t want to talk about peace and have succeeded in sowing mistrust across much of the country. Under their influence, taxi drivers and shopkeepers from Rangoon to remote towns talk about their fear of a Muslim takeover and “the Buddha’s teaching” that sometimes violence is needed to protect the nation.
The most obvious cause is economic: the already poor and disempowered residents of the area fear an influx of immigrants who will take what little they have, even though some of the "immigrants" have lived there for many years and are their neighbors.

I witnessed firsthand the results of the spreading violence in the town of Lashio in northern Shan state, where this past year a mosque, businesses, and a Muslim orphanage were burned not far from the town’s most revered pagoda. While the local Buddhists I spoke to were friendly, they were also worried, and from their ranks came mobs who torched their Muslim neighbors.

How does this happen in a primarily Buddhist nation? Kornfield points to several factors:

-- The radical monks have linked Buddhadharma with nationalism, overriding the Buddha's message that hatred will never overcome hatred and replacing it with the idea that it's OK to kill some people.

-- "With the lifting of military dictatorship, simmering ethnic and religious tensions are being exploited by misguided monks, political groups, and the remnants of the dictatorship to gain power ... Radical monks play on the historical memory of Muslim expansion across Asia in formerly Buddhist cultures. Scare stories about Muslims raping Buddhist women and having huge families and overpopulating the land are widely disseminated."

--  Widespread ignorance of core Buddhist teachings -- like the precepts, which include the injunction against killing, speaking harshly, and lying. Buddhism in Burma is primarily devotional, Kornfield says, and Buddhists are taught to revere teachers, not question the teachings, their interpretation or application. Those who do are harassed.

Kornfield organized a group of "concerned Buddhist elders" to sign a letter published in Burmese newspapers urging the Burmese to reaffirm the Buddhist principles of non-harming, respect, and compassion.
We are with you for courageously standing up for these Buddhist principles even when others would demonize or harm Muslims or other ethnic groups. It is only through mutual respect, harmony, and tolerance that Myanmar can become a modern great nation benefiting all her people and a shining example to the world.
You can take the phrase about Myanmar out, and take that sentence as instruction on personal conduct from a teacher: It is only through mutual respect, harmony, and tolerance that we can be of benefit to others and a shining example to the world.

In a time when aggression and fear is rampant in the world, it's important to look at whether we cultivate our karmic seeds of aggression and fear or fertilize seeds of kindness and compassion. What is our experience of the world, and how do we transmit that to others?

May bodhicitta, precious and divine, arise where it has not yet come to be.
And where it has arisen, may it not decline but grow and flourish evermore.

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