Why are “peaceful” Buddhists unleashing violence on Muslims in Myanmar?

It’s said that Hinduism is a rotten system and Buddhism is the way to fight all oppression. That Hinduism has abhorrent practices and doctrines is undeniable! But is Buddhism the answer as provided especially in the Dalit-Bahujan discourse?

Let’s have a look around us: two Buddhist majority countries have carried out massive violence against ethnic minorities in their nation states; Sri Lanka persecuted Tamil (Hindus mostly, I presume) and Myanmar has unleashed violence on Rohingya Muslims.

Recently, the Ladakh Buddhist Association, has threatened violence on an inter-religious marriage between a Buddhist and a Muslim; joining the fight against “Love Jihad”. My friends tell me that Muslims in Leh had to face an economic boycott till recently at the hands of Buddhists.

So when I got the chance to talk to a monk in a monastery in Leh I asked him about Ambedkar and his Navayana Buddhism which he had explicitly skipped while sketching the basic structure of Buddhism. He brushed it aside saying that’s a political and not a religious identity!

But when you quiz Bahujan friends; they say you don’t understand the “real” Buddhism. This is eerily similar to what conservative Muslims say about Islam and RSS people say about Hinduism – Sir, aap samajh hi nahin paa rahe ho; “asli” cheez kya hai!

In other words, their representation and articulation of their religion is authentic and not others; not the mainstream. That’s quite an inadequate and self serving explanation! There is no “real” Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam.

These alternative articulations at best are a bargaining tool – a bargain of a small public with a larger public – which threatens to destabilise the established dominant discourse.

All in all, these are good tools for political mobilisation but there’s no evidence to suggest that switching doctrinal anchors would solve these problems.

Also, we need to separate Buddha, Muhammad and Ram/Krishna etc from their respective religions. Religions organise people into communities around certain interpretation of doctrine or practices. They have a life of their own. When they become a sizeable majority within a polity; they all become indistinguishable.

That’s why the Buddha can preach non-violence but Buddhist majority countries can carry out genocides. Obviously, this is not to say that all religions are the same; different religious and normative frameworks and histories lend themselves to different polities and hence, ramifications.

What we need is a constant rational criticism of religious systems. Not contorted apologia.

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