This was the image I stumbled across as I was pondering what to write about today:
“The world is not only for Muslims.”
That was the focus of the person who posted this image, but I found his Islamophobic sentiment to be a whole lot less interesting than the way he chose to show it.
There’s any number of pictures out there that could convey the same sentiment, but he zeroed in on the one with men in saffron robes. Why?
“When even Buddhists don’t like you – you know you’ve ****ed up.”
Because they’re Buddhists, right?
Everyone knows Buddhists.
They’re the nice people with the shaved heads and bare feet. The ones with that perpetual look of serenity and profound wisdom. The ones who practically ooze peace and goodwill out of their chakras.
It’s the thing that Jack Kerouac and all the beatniks fell in love with. The thing that melded so beautifully with the hippies in the 60s. Love, altruism, placidity – that’s what Buddhism is, right?
Or maybe it isn’t.
That picture is of the Rohingya people, a Muslim minority in north-eastern Burma. Over the past few years the Rohingya people have been slaughtered and oppressed by Buddhist extremists in what has been one of the most repellent and shockingly under-reported ethnic cleansings in modern history. A “quiet genocide” perpetrated by adherents of the very belief system that receives so much unquestioned admiration in the West.
Let’s face it – we all know at least one insufferable **** who, in lieu of any specific religious conviction, would probably dub themselves “Buddhist”. Which isn’t to say that they’ll give up their minivan or morning Starbucks – just that they’re about being “peaceful” and “harmonious” to all things, so long as it doesn’t take too much effort.
More of the “get a dreamcatcher tattoo and share Facebook pictures of people meditating on the beach” than the “self immolate without flinching” type.
See that’s the thing. Buddhism has a plenty of evil crap that it never gets called out for, but it also gets exploited as a fashion statement far worse than any other religion out there. And no matter which way you slice it – that’s simply unfair.
Let’s get a few things straight:
Buddhism Can Mean A Ton Of Different Things
Much like Islam, Buddhism gets mistakenly (or I’d say “lazily”) painted as one cohesive group. That’s simply not the case. We’ve got Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism. Vajrayana Buddhism, with subsets of Zen Buddhism, Pureland Buddhism, Tian Tai, Nichiren, Yogacara, Nyingma, Kadampa, Dzogchen, Shugendo, The Rime Movement, and I’m just scratching the surface here.
Point is, it can be complicated, and it’s no more fair or accurate to paint Buddhists as one homogeneous group than it is to do the same to Christians. But for all of that…
Buddhism Absolutely Is A Religion
And I’ll grant that there’s a lot of folks who’d say otherwise – and not entirely without reason. The separation of philosophy and theology that happened in Europe never quite replicated itself in Asia, making the distinction between “Eastern religions” and “Eastern philosophies” a little bit tricky. And it doesn’t exactly help that some self-proclaimed adherents of these views themselves claim that “this is a practice, not a faith.”
And I’m not saying that’s bull****, but let me tell you why that’s bull****. Or better yet, let me show you.
That right there is Wat Phra Dhammakaya (more on that in a minute), a sprawling 1,000 acre temple in Thailand with “seating” room for scores of thousands of devotees (which the temple regularly receives). Now call me a cynical bastard, but I’d suggest that when you have an enormous mega-temple and a sterling silver Buddha statue it’s fair to say that you’ve crossed over from “practice” to “organized religion”. Which itself could raise an interesting theological debate, but not one we’ll be having here. Instead, let me tell you how…
Lots Of Buddhism Is ****ed Up
As I said earlier, there’s presently a “quiet” genocide happening in Burma, with the Muslim minority suffering displacement, murders, rape, and oppression on a massive scale.
This is not something new. Buddhism has a history of violence stretching back as far as its own inception, with targets including both religious rivals (see Jains, Muslims, and Christians) and ethnic minorities (see Tamils, Rohingya, and pretty much everyone ****ed over by Japan from 1931 to 1945). And that’s just the openly murderous stuff.
Buddhist monks and abbots are just as involved in corruption and political back-dealings as any other religion, and as I write this, Thai authorities are still conducting a massive search for Phra Dhammajayo, the founder of one of the most lavish temples in the country, an alleged embezzler, and a charismatic figure accused of “commercialising Buddhism”. Hell, even the tigers and monkeys I saw in Thai temples were heavily drugged and chained. Because life isn’t a ****ing Disney movie and animals don’t care if you follow the eightfold path or not.
In spite of the widespread love of the Dalai Lama, the man is – for all his charm – a theocrat. A random kid selected to be the supreme leader over a ton of folks who had no say in the matter. And don’t get me wrong here – Tibet absolute needs to be freed and the Chinese treatment of the state is atrocious and needs to be resisted. Just that the feudalistic theocracy that came before it was… well, a feudalistic theocracy.
I guess the point I’m trying to drive at here is:
It’s OK For Buddhism To Be ****ed Up
Sort of, anyways.
All these issues absolutely need to be challenged and confronted, just as with any other religion, and it’s about damn time people started opening up their minds to the possibility of their existence.
Buddhism does not exist for you to claim “When even Buddhists don’t like you, you know you’ve ****ed up.” Buddhism does not exist to provide you some demented litmus test for human behavior. Buddhism does not exist to add mystical depth to your yoga poses or meaning to your saccharine Facebook quotes. It is not a ****ing spiritual fashion statement.
Buddhism deserves better.
For all the railing I’ve been doing on the religion, Buddhism is an old, storied, and complex set of beliefs and perspectives. Many of which I vehemently disagree with but all of which deserve to addressed on their own merits.
And the victims of self-proclaimed Buddhists deserve better.
In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack, I wrote that “the attackers were Muslim” going on to say that “Regardless of what side you come down on, it must be understood that their motivation and their vehicle for their attack was Islam. They cited Koranic verse and historical precedent as their justification, and that needs to be addressed by Muslims and non-Muslims alike…”
That same reasoning needs to be applied here as well.
The perpetrators of the genocide in Burma are overwhelmingly Buddhist. Whether they were good Buddhists or bad Buddhists will need to be argued, but it cannot be denied that they are Buddhist, and pretending that Buddhists are somehow exempt or incapable of atrocities is to unconscionable.
Simply stated, Buddhists are not stuffed animals. They’re people.
All images retrieved via Tumblr and WordPress – fair use.