Ask A Buddhist: What About Myanmar?

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I am reading a book about Theravada Buddhism and I find sentences about acting towards others with kindness and without discrimination, but before reading this I heard the interview with a Buddhist monk in Myanmar, who clearly sends a lot of discrimination and hatred in his words. I want to know why and how can he be an authority for thousands of others with such violence and hate. Why he is not condemned or criticized? I find it all so contradicting from what I read in the book and what I see in real life with how many Buddhists behave in their every day habits.

Your confusion about the contradiction between Buddhist teachings and the behavior of Buddhist monks in Myanmar is understandable. Non-violence is a central tenet of all Buddha’s teachings, and the meditations to cultivate love and compassion for all beings are practiced in all schools of Buddhism.

The violence fomented by Buddhist monks against the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar is antithetical to those teachings. Buddhists worldwide are horrified and heartbroken by it.  Many Buddhist leaders have condemned these actions, but are helpless to stop it.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, has openly criticized the Buddhist action in Myanmar. Since 2012, he has personally urged Myanmar’s State Counsellor and fellow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to resolve the conflict. In the challenging time of 2017 he wrote, “I appeal to you and your fellow leaders to reach out to all sections of society to try to restore friendly relations throughout the population in a spirit of peace and reconciliation.” Sadly, his words seem to have had no effect.

Buddhism has no centralized governing body or leader with authority over Buddha’s followers. Buddhist leadership in Myanmar seems to be blinded by their own prejudices brought forward from their upbringing and the complicated history of their country.

There is a Buddhist voice in Myanmar that does not approve of this conflict and does not want to be involved in it. However, it seems the people with the loudest voices are dominating the discussion.

It sounds like the book you are reading on Theravada Buddhism accurately describes Buddha’s teachings. You may want to check out some of the links here to get a fuller picture of Buddhist views on the situation in Myanmar.

Thank you for asking this question. It’s an important one and needs to be discussed openly.

About Ven. Thubten Chonyi

Ven. Thubten Chonyi is a nun in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. She has studied with Sravasti Abbey founder and abbess Ven. Thubten Chodron since 1996. She received novice ordination at the Abbey in 2008 and full ordination in 2011 in Taiwan. Ven. Chonyi regularly teaches Buddhism and meditation at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane and other local locations.

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