In religious violence, hate is the true enemy
We had the incredibly sad and disturbing news on Sunday that a series of bombs had been set off in Bodhgaya. The heart of Buddhism, where the Buddha was enlightened, and the destination for millions of Buddhist pilgrims, had been subjected to a terrorist attack.
It seems that there were around 11 bombs planted, of which four went off in the temple complex itself, five elsewhere, and two were defused. Five people, including two monks, were reportedly injured.
The blasts were, it seems, planted by a group called the Indian Mujahadeen, an Islamist group that is responding to the persecution of the Muslim Rohingya people in Myanmar. This is part of an extremely disturbing pattern of Muslim-Buddhist violence throughout virtually every major country in the region: Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and now India.
Recently I was in Canberra and I raised this issue repeatedly, both directly with Australia's Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, and with the Attorney-General's Human Rights Forum. I emphasised that the Australian religious community, both Buddhist and Muslim, wants peace, and we want our government to do everything it can to settle this dangerous situation before it spirals out of control.
The foreign minister told me that they strongly supported granting citizenship to the Rohingya and that he was planning a trip to Myanmar's Rakhine province next month to emphasise the issue. I just hope the government doesn't get so embroiled in its own problems that it forgets about the rest of the world.
In any case, this is one practical step that that we should all support: granting citizenship to the Rohingya. This is absolutely necessary, and an essential starting point. If this does not happen, the persecution in Myanmar will get worse, and the repercussions through the region will continue to escalate.
Of course, there is much more to be done. There is, and has been for some time, an insidious paranoia in the Buddhist community. There is always a tendency to look to conspiracies and blame the other: "It's the Tamils!"; "It's the Christians!"; "It's the women!"; "It's the West!"; "It's... [you can fill in the blanks here]." Now, the cry is: "It's the Muslims!"
All this comes from a sense of weakness, from a lack of confidence in the Buddhist world. Look at how the Buddha responded in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, when asked about Ajatasattu's chances of invading the Vajjians. As long as the Vajjians kept strong and unified, and lived well, they would not be overcome. Only by treachery and division would Ajatasatu succeed. And this is the message that the Buddha stated, quite explicitly and repeatedly: Buddhism is not threatened by forces from outside, but by weakness from within. When the Buddhist community stops paying attention to the Dhamma, stops living in the way taught by the Buddha, it will be easily overcome.
We need to begin our response, not by blaming others, but by asking ourselves: "How can we be stronger in the Dhamma?" The Buddhist world needs to begin some serious and long-overdue reforms. Here are a few urgent priorities:
- Provide a good education in actual dhamma (not traditional fairy stories) to all Buddhists;
- Sever the terrifying and toxic links between Buddhism and nationalism;
- Retire the sectarian, nationalist, and ossified leadership of the Sangha, and let the Sangha operate by consensus, according to the Vinaya;
- Toss out the ridiculous rituals and superstitions that serve only to perpetuate wrong view and obscure the Dhamma, and;
- Provide living examples of how dhamma creates and nourishes compassionate, wise, and peaceful people.
It's a crazy, scary world out there. As the saying goes, just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean they're not out to get you. Sometimes people actually do bad things, and sometimes they do bad things to Buddhists. The Tamil Tigers were evil, murderous thugs. But that doesn't mean that "Tamils" are like that.
Likewise, some Muslims are stupid, violent, dogmatically-crazed jerks, and we need to protect people from them. But that doesn't mean that "Muslims" are like that.
Look at the United States. After the 9/11 attacks, reason and compassion went out the window. I remember reading an interview, just after 9/11, with one of the al-Qaeda leaders. He said that they will just keep lighting fires. It's easy for them to light them, and hard for the US to put them out. They don't care how much they lose, or how long it takes. They will just keep lighting the fires until the US exhausts itself.
A decade later, and it's plain as day, this is exactly what is happening. And it's working. The very purpose for which the US is fighting, the beloved freedom and democratic rights, have been systematically eroded and jettisoned in an ever more deranged crusade, which has caused orders of magnitude more harm than even the 9/11 attacks themselves.
Don't, as Buddhists, make the same mistake. Remember the Buddha's words: hatred is never overcome by hatred, it is only ever overcome by love.
The more you think about and go over the harms and damages to Buddhism, the worse it will get. The thing to do, the only thing to do, is to love. To forgive. To move forward. To overcome all hatred, whether it is in the heart of a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Tamil, or an American. It is hatred that is the enemy, not Muslims.
Sujato Bhikkhu is an Australian-born Buddhist monk, dhamma and meditation teacher, founder and former abbot of Santi Forest monastery in Australia. He is also a scholar of early Buddhism.