Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Violent Buddhists

Sounds like an 80s downtown band, doesn't it?

We at the Egg have always marvelled at the public-relations coup which has caused Westerners to think of Buddhists as sinned against without ever sinning, uniquely peace-loving and non-violent in a way that adeherents of the world's other great religions somehow are not.

In fact, Buddhist history is as jam-packed with blood, betrayal and imperial ambition as the histories of Christianity, Islam, or Hinduism. (And don't get us started about those Zoroastrians!) I mean, these are the people who invented kung-fu. In a monastery, for crying out loud. If the Benedictines had invented boxing, all the Franciscan peace activists in the world wouldn't save Christianity's reputation.

So when a group of Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka attacks an orphanage run by the Dutch Reformed church, threatening to burn the staff alive if they don't abandon the place, it so flies in the face of popular mythology that many Westerners simply will not be able to absorb the words. But it happened, according to a recent report (click up top).

In another Sri Lanka story, a peace rally involving Christians, Hindus and Buddhists was turned into a fistfight by a "group of fiery pro-war Buddhist monks."

Maybe Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama should plan an intervention.


Professor Zero said...

Yes, the post title is great. I'd like to start a band with this name.

With all due respect to Buddhists (I'm unbaptized and sort of agnostic on the question of whether religion is, on balance, a good or a bad thing) ... one thing I have noticed about quite a few of the American converts to Buddhism I have met is that they have given up overt violence and are, instead, quite passive-aggressive and avoidant. This may just be my experience.

But don't get me wrong - I am as much for Buddhism as I am for any of the major religions.

Father Anonymous Bosch said...

I don't think it is only your experience.

As a native of psyhedelic 60s Woodstock, old Father A. has known many wonderful, kind, and often whip-smart Buddhists, from both Asia and America. But he's also come a cross a fair number of Western converts who are in oblivious, moon-eyed denial about the nitty-gritty of Buddhist history, up to and including the present.

This is natural among all converts, I suppose. To any religion. The new faith, for which one has often sacrificed a great deal, must represent an enormous leap forward, morally and spiritually, from the old one. Otherwise, why bother?

The problem -- as the Buddha would have been the first to say -- is that no matter what path we may be on, we're still (only) human.

Anonymous said...

it appears that major world religions endorse the use of violence as problem solving techniques.

Father Anonymous Bosch said...

It does appear that way, at least to those who don't participate in the religions directly.

To those of us who do participate, of course, the matter looks quite different. Awkwardly, we all think of our own religion as inherently peaceful, and suspect one another of militarist tendencies. (It is common these days to mock the claim that "Islam is peace," but I understand what the Muslims mean.)

In fact, most world religions contain within themselves both violent and non-violent traditions, often at odds with each other. And it may be tempting to dismiss the pacifists as minorities -- Quakers and Mennonites, for example. But who better represents mainstream Hinduism -- Gandhi or the Ayodhya arsonists? My money is on Gandhi.

Of course, Soviet Communism was a materialist philosophy, officially atheist and anti-religious, and it was involved in some of the most heinous violence of a heinous century. In other words, it is not merely religious people who solve problems through violence -- it is people.

Which is why some of us, at least, believe in Original Sin.