The New York Times reports that the group’s leader, Anshin Wirathu, says he’s proud to be called a “radical Buddhist.” When asked about the reported recent massacre of schoolchildren and others, he commented approvingly that “it was a show of strength. If we are weak, our land will become Muslim.” His followers now account for about half the monks in Myanmar.
Apparently this faction feels that Buddhism is under siege, in this majority Buddhist country, because Muslims have more children and are acquiring land and businesses. This is a grievance that stems from colonial days when Indian Muslims were brought in by the British as civil servants.
History is full of examples where religion has been used to foment hatred against the “other” and caused ongoing violence and even wars. Whether used as a tool by nationalist or sectarian leaders or whether religious leaders themselves felt aggrieved the result has been a perversion of religion’s message of peace and understanding.
For this to be perpetrated by Buddhists in a Buddhist country is beyond understanding. The Buddha dharma is centered on the oneness of all beings, unconditional love and compassion, nonviolence, and understanding that our perceptions are empty of intrinsic existence. In their anger, pride, jealousy, and ignorance, these monks show that they are filled with the Five Afflictions. They and their followers need to be healed, to be brought back to the Buddhist path.
All Buddhists everywhere should practice Tonglen for these tortured souls. But beyond such action, I believe that the presence of the Dalai Lama in Myanmar, speaking directly to the monks and the people, would have a beneficial effect.