Australian Buddhist alleges "discriminating" local laws and social outlook

by Paul Griffin, Lismore, Australia, The Buddhist Channel, Sept 18, 2010

In the context of the emerging social face of Buddhism in the West, it is important not to be naive about the reaction that occurs when Buddhist values come into contact with the secular mainstream.

As a Theravada Buddhist of long standing, I have experienced discrimination by both state and federal agencies in Australia. following initiation into the religion in 1991 at Bodhinyana Monastery, Perth, where I adopted the 8 precepts, I have continued to remain celibate.

From that time I made regular bi-annual trips to Sri Lanka and Thailand, staying at monasteries. On returning from a trip to Thailand in 2004, I was questioned by Customs as to my reasons for travel. Subsequently I have obtained the relevant Customs documents which show a report was made to the Australian Federal Police suggesting pedophilia.

The documents eventually conceded, however, that, "Overall, baggage contained a few bare essentials along with a significant quantity of Buddhist literature." and, "When viewed, internet web addresses sourced in passengers baggage are for several Buddhist societies....This supports information provided to Customs by passenger and his reason for travel."

Even when the evidence is overwhelming, ignorance of Buddhist practices by government agencies causes misunderstanding amounting to discrimination. The practices of celibacy, minimal living conditions and even the destinations of Sri lanka and Thailand were in my case, misunderstood and vilified.

More recently I have been involved in a civil legal case where a psychological report was prepared for the New South Wales Crown Solicitor by a Sydney psychologist. I requested a Buddhist psychologist, but was denied, an act of discrimination in itself.

The subsequent report implied Buddhist practice would contribute to criminal behavior, mentioning "rigidity of belief system" and describing the characteristics of "detachment" and "solitude" as a basis for criminal action..

Warning about this inability of Western psychology to tolerate any form of religious belief is sounded in the eminent philosopher Charles Taylor's award winning book "A Secular Age": "But a crucial feature of purely immanentist therapy is that the cure of these incapacities is held to involve- or even demand- our repudiation of, or at least distancing from, any aspirations to the transcendent, like religious faith." (Taylor's terminology of "immanent" and "transcendent" equates to the Buddhist "conventional" and "ultimate" realities respectively.)

Criticism of Buddhist practice by Western psychologists is paradoxical because the Cognitive Behavior Therapy widely used in the rehabilitation of criminals is an adulterated form of and has its origins in, the Buddhist path factors of "Right Effort" and "Right Mindfulness". At the time, I gave the psychologist copies of the relevant sections of the Pali Canon, however the report failed to give due value or recognition to Buddhist practice.

As a consequence of the psychological report, I am currently subject to ongoing police surveillance, including e-mail (this letter will probably be monitored) and restrictions on travel. I do have a conviction for a sexual offence which occurred in 1973, long before I became a Buddhist.

I have attempted to lodge complaints about both the federal and state discrimination with four rights offices in Australia, including the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board, however they cannot act on the matters.The ADB replied, "The Anti-Discrimination Board can only deal with complaints of discrimination relating to a person's religion when the religion in question is part of that person's ethnicity or race." The human rights legal structure in Australia is only at a preliminary stage.

These events should illustrate the primitive frontier conditions Buddhist practitioners face in Australia when their practice comes under the spotlight of mainstream government agencies and the particular needs they have in the social acceptance of their religion; these needs are obviously not translatable to the conditions enjoyed in Buddhist countries and an attempt to impose one scenario on the other, as has happened in the case of Ajahn Brahm's excommunication following the ordination of nuns, is mistaken cross-cultural interference.

Historically, Buddhism has always adapted to different cultures as exemplified by the difference in emphasis between Thai and Sri Lankan Buddhism: the Sri Lankan placing more emphasis on scholarship. Australian Buddhism will also have unique characteristics and the Australian love for the correct application of the law is apparent in Ajahn Brahm's to act according to original doctrine.

The move is appropriate in assisting the needs of Theravada practitioners in Australia with the religion in it's fledgling stage and such decisions can only be made by the Sangha and practitioners of the country in question, who know the culture and conditions from firsthand and often painful, experience.