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How Is It That Buddhist Monks Seem To Be Involved? I Thought They Were Into Peace And Compassion?

While Buddhism as a philosophical system is about universal loving kindness, accepting impermanence through a non-essentializable or solid ego, some of Myanmar’s Buddhism and Buddhist monks are contaminated with the country’s racist nationalism. Monks’ involvement in anti-Muslim deeds and words is more to do with racism and nationalism than with Buddhism as a spiritual philosophy. Even in Theravada Buddhism, no true monks/nuns or laymen/women can claim to be both nationalist or patriotic as well as defenders of a path that seeks liberation from suffering.

Historically, Myanmar’s military government has categorized university students and Buddhist monks as the two biggest threats to its power. Of the two, only Buddhist monks remain a strong social force as was evidenced by the so-called Saffron Revolution of 2007 during which the entire Buddhist Order rose up against the military government. Since then, the military has pursued a pre-emptive strategy of infiliration and diversion. That is, the military’s propaganda departments including Religious Affairs has portrayed Islam and Muslims of Myanmar, including Rohingya Muslims, as the biggest existential threat to Burmese Buddhist way of life – in spite of the fact that Muslims in Myanmar make up for less than 5% of the total population, 80-85% of whom are Buddhists. In this way, some Buddhist monks and nuns are pre-occupied with what they come to see as ‘a threat from Islam to Buddhism and Burmese race’.

This Islamophobic movement is called the 969 Movement in Burma and is being led by the monk U Wirathu. A similar if less deadly movement in Sri Lanka is known as the 360 Movement.  Each one represents an alliance between elements in the military and the monastaries, many of which depend on the army for food.  In addition, the widespread practice of becoming a monk on a temporary basis means that many monks lack deep grounding in the inner dimensions of their spiritual traditions.

Reuters’s Pulitzer-prize winning investigative reports have documented the state’s instrumental role in manufacturing and popularizing anti-Muslim hatred in Myanmar.

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