In several Buddhist majority countries, a form of Buddhist nationalism is taking hold of the Buddhist majority population. In Sri Lanka, Buddhist nationalist have formed a group called BBS which attacks both Christians and Muslims in an attempt to protect the Buddhist heritage of Sri Lanka. For many people in the West, Buddhist nationalism is something foreign and unfamiliar. For Christians in some parts of Asia, it is the newest threat to their existence.
5/2/2014 Sri Lanka (Washington Post) – To many Americans, Buddhism is about attaining enlightenment, maybe even nirvana, through such peaceful methods as meditation and yoga.
But in some parts of Asia, a more assertive, strident and militant Buddhism is emerging. In three countries where Buddhism is the majority faith, a form of religious nationalism has taken hold:
* In Sri Lanka, where about 70 percent of the population is Theravada Buddhist, a group of monks formed the Bodu Bala Sena or the Buddhist Power Force in 2012 to “protect” the country’s Buddhist culture. The force, nicknamed BBS, carried out at least 241 attacks against Muslims and 61 attacks against Christians in 2013, according to the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress.
* In Myanmar, at least 300 Rohingya Muslims, whose ancestors were migrants from Bangladesh, have been killed and up to 300,000 displaced, according to Genocide Watch. Ashin Wirathu, a monk who describes himself as the Burmese “bin Laden,” is encouraging the violence by viewing the Rohingya presence as a Muslim “invasion.”
* And in Buddhist-majority Thailand, at least 5,000 people have died in Muslim-Buddhist violence in the country’s South. The country’s Knowing Buddha Foundation is not a violent group, but it advocates for a blashemy law to punish anyone who offends the faith. It wants Buddhism declared the state religion and portrays popular culture as a threat to believers.
Though fundamentalism is a term that has thus far been used mostly in relation to Christianity, Islam and Hinduism, some are beginning to use it to describe Buddhists as well.
Maung Zarni, an exiled Burmese who has written extensively on the ongoing violence in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, argues that there is no room for fundamentalism in Buddhism.
“No Buddhist can be nationalistic,” said Zarni, a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics. “There is no country for Buddhists. I mean, no such thing as ‘me,’ ‘my’ community, ‘my’ country, ‘my’ race or even ‘my’ faith.”
He views the demand for an anti-blasphemy law in Thailand also as a distortion of Buddhism, which doesn’t allow any “organization that polices or regulates the faithful’s behavior or inner thoughts.”
But Acharawadee Wongsakon, the Buddhist teacher who founded the Knowing Buddha Foundation, insists Buddhism needs legal protections and society must follow certain prescribed do’s and don’ts.