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Rioting Buddhists Clash With Muslims

A reader asks:

What is the Buddhist perspective on this

10 die as Buddhists, Muslims clash in Myanmar

My Response:

The world is a big place, and there are all sorts of situations. Sometimes these situations lead to violence. Nevertheless, you are right, these people aren’t acting in a particularly Buddhist fashion. Buddhists eschew violence in all forms.

So what’s going on here?

Just because someone identifies as a Buddhist (Or in the case of this article, we can say the say about Muslims) doesn’t mean that’s what they focus on to the exclusion of all else. Here in America, most people identify as some flavor of Christian. How many people who identify as Christians do things like steal, lie, cheat, judge, and other things that their own belief system condemns? Not all of them, but there definitely some. Believe me, Christians don’t have the monopoly on hypocrisy. Buddhism has its share as well, as do all the others.

Along the same lines, just because a person identifies as a Buddhist, that doesn’t instantly make them a devout monk. The vast majority of people in Eastern countries are born Buddhists, were raised to believe in the Buddhist traditions, and generally follow an appropriately Buddhist lifestyle there. But I repeat, they are not monks. They fight, go to war, cheat, steal, and do all the bad things people elsewhere do. It all depends on where their priorities lie.

Being Buddhist doesn’t preclude you from being human as well.

2 comments to Rioting Buddhists Clash With Muslims

  • I agree that rioting isn’t a very Buddhist activity, but I disagree that every violent act would be a form of hypocrisy in Buddhism. I read an article, several months ago, by the Dalai Lama that mentioned that self defense isn’t a bad karmic act as long as it comes from true necessity, such as a situation where more bad would ultimately come from not acting than it would from defending yourself or another. (Being a life long martial artist, I found this article doing some research for a paper I was writing). He gave the example of walking into a room and discovering a rape or a child being molested and explained that of course you would do what was necessary to end such a horrible act. I didn’t bookmark the article, but the basic premise of it was that reality and our perfect ideals don’t often meet together. He gave the example of someone who is striving to be a vegetarian and yet not a single vegetarian or vegan has or ever will do that perfectly because there are always, at least trace amounts, parts of insects, cross contamination of animal products, or bacteria in our foods. The fact that we do our best to live up to our ideals are more important than absolute perfection in executing them. One can try to lead as peaceable life as much as possible, but one may encounter circumstances in their life where the more nobel thing to do is to take an action that one has strived to avoid. I’m vaguely familiar with what the mood is in Myanmar, and, while I don’t know the complete national or personal backstory that led to these riots, it’s possible (most likely unlikely, but possible) that these acts were the best response. I certainly agree that Christianity doesn’t have a monopoly on hypocrisy, but deviating from our ideals isn’t always hypocrisy either.

  • Matt

    Actually, from what I read here monks may have instigated some of the rioting, and that the problem lies in a lack of integrity within the Burmese Sangha. The journalist is a Myanmar native.