Buddhism And Peace Essay

In arguing that Rohingya are illegal immigrants who promote an exclusivist and proselytizing religion that is bent on geographical and cultural conquest through conversion and marriage, some Buddhist leaders in Myanmar thus exploit the very same presumption of uniform tolerance and peacefulness that makes many Westerners uniquely surprised by Buddhist violence.

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Efforts to revive and preserve Buddhism against this supposed decline have driven many developments in Burmese Buddhism for at least two centuries.

One such movement was the Buddhist leader Ledi Sayadaw’s colonial-era program of teaching insight meditation to Buddhist laypeople, who had not traditionally engaged in the meditative and other practices typical only of monastics.

Most adherents of the world’s religions claim that their traditions place a premium on virtues like love, compassion and forgiveness, and that the state toward which they aim is one of universal peace.

History has shown us, however, that religious traditions are human affairs, and that no matter how noble they may be in their aspirations, they display a full range of both human virtues and human failings.

These and other such examples have, to be sure, often involved eloquent Buddhist critics of violence — but the fact remains that the histories of Buddhist societies are as checkered as most human history.

It is important to emphasize that the current violence against the Rohingya is not a straightforwardly “religious” matter.

In this period, Buddhist religious leaders, often living under colonial rule in the historically Buddhist countries of Asia, together with Western enthusiasts who eagerly sought their teachings, collectively produced a newly ecumenical form of Buddhism — one that often indifferently drew from the various Buddhist traditions of countries like China, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Japan and Thailand.

This modern form of Buddhism is distinguished by a novel emphasis on meditation and by a corresponding disregard for rituals, relics, rebirth and all the other peculiarly “religious” dimensions of history’s many Buddhist traditions.

Such policies reflected the extent to which colonial administrators typically interpreted all of the various cultural interactions in colonial Burma through the lens of “world religions.” According to this way of seeing things, relatively distinct and static religious traditions were defined in opposition to one another, with each one thought to infuse its communities of believers with distinctive characteristics.

One of the characteristics ascribed to “Buddhists,” according to this rubric, was that they are generally tolerant and pacifist.


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