Monk-Led Protests Show Buddhist Activism

By DENIS D. GRAY, AP, March 30, 2008

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Buddhist monks hurling rocks at Chinese in Tibet, or peacefully massing against Myanmar's military, can strike jarring notes.

<< Buddhist monks from Tibet gather for a candlelight vigil in downtown Taipie, Taiwan, Monday, March 17, 2008. Buddhism teaches kindness even towards one's bitterest enemy and has done so for more than 2,500 years. However occasional eruptions of violence have become increasingly common in Asia's Buddhist societies as they struggle against foreign dominations and oppressive regimes. (AP Photo/David Longstreath)

These scenes run counter to Buddhism's philosophy of shunning politics and embracing even bitter enemies — something the faith has adhered to, with some tumultuous exceptions, through its 2,500-year history.

But political activism and occasional eruptions of violence have become increasingly common in Asia's Buddhist societies as they variously struggle against foreign domination, oppressive regimes, social injustice and environmental destruction.

More monks and nuns are moving out of their monasteries and into slums and rice paddies — and sometimes into streets filled with tear gas and gunfire.

"In modern times, preaching is not enough. Monks must act to improve society, to remove evil," says Samdhong Rinpoche, prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile and a high-ranking lama.

"There is the responsibility of every individual, monks and lay people, to act for the betterment of society," he told The Associated Press in Dharmsala, India, discussing protests in Tibet this month that were initiated by monks.

In widespread protests over the past three weeks, crimson-robed monks — some charging helmeted troops and throwing rocks — have joined with ordinary citizens who unfurled Tibetan flags and demanded independence from China. Beijing's official death toll from the rioting in Lhasa is 22, but the exiled government of the Dalai Lama says 140 Tibetans were killed there and in Tibetan communities in western China.

Bloodshed also stained last fall's pro-democracy uprising in Myanmar, dubbed the "Saffron Revolution" after the color of the robes of monks who led nonviolent protests against the country's oppressive military regime.

In Thailand, followers of a Buddhist sect took part in street demonstrations which led to the ouster of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra two years ago.

In Sri Lanka, the ultra-nationalist Jathika Hela Urumaya party, led by monks, has pushed for using brute force against the country's Tamil rebels. In 1959 a monk assassinated a prime minister over a law giving some protection to the Tamil language.

Indeed, the activism reflects another side of Buddhist history. Despite the faith's image of passivity, an aggressive strain has long existed, especially in the Mahayana school of Buddhism, practiced in Japan, Korea, China and Tibet.

The sohei, monks in Japan, fought pitched battles with one another and with secular clans for over 600 years until around 1600. China's Shaolin Temple, a martial arts center to this day, was allowed to retain warrior monks from the 7th century by emperors who sometimes used them to put down rebellions and banditry.

The monk Saya San became a national hero in the 1930s in Myanmar — then Burma — by leading a revolt. The British colonials hanged him after fielding 12,000 troops to suppress his peasant army.

The self-immolation of monk Thich Quang Duc on a Saigon street became an iconic image of protest against the Vietnam War.

Before China's takeover of Tibet in 1959, warrior monks sometimes wielded more power — and weaponry — than the army. Lhasa's Sera monastery, a hotbed of the recent protests, was particularly noted for its elite fighters, the "Dob-Dobs," who in 1947 took part in a rebellion that took 300 lives.

"Use peaceful means where they are appropriate, but where they are not appropriate, do not hesitate to resort to more forceful means," said the previous, now deceased Dalai Lama when Tibet fought the Chinese in the 1930s.

Christopher Queen, an expert on Buddhism at Harvard University, says the new trend among some of the world's 350 million faithful is expanding from individual spiritual liberation to attacking problems such as poverty and environmental blight that affect whole communities or nations.

Sri Lanka's Sarvodaya Shramadana, or "Mundane Awakening," provides everything from safe drinking water to basic housing in more than 11,000 poor villages. And in India, Buddhist groups are fighting for the rights of "the untouchables," the lowest caste.

Global and loosely affiliated, originating at the grass roots rather than atop religious hierarchies and more muscular than meditative, this movement is widely known as Engaged Buddhism.

"Engaged Buddhists are looking at the social, economic, and political causes of human misery in the world and organizing to address them. The role of social service and activism is clearly growing in all parts of the Buddhist world," Queen said in an interview.

While not immune to spilling blood, Queen says "the Buddhist tradition is rightly known for the systematic practice of nonviolence." That leads scholars to doubt it will turn to terrorism or sustained violence other than occasional spontaneous outbursts. They note that Buddhism doesn't advocate killing heretics or otherwise spreading the faith by force.

Indeed, the Dalai Lama has decried the recent violence while supporting peoples' rights to peaceful protest. And Samdhong, the prime minister-in-exile, adds: "If (monks) want to fight, they have to disrobe and join the fighters."

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
NORBU!
(Neural Omniscient Robotic-Being for Buddhist Understanding)



For Malaysians who wants to donate in MYR, please use the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB
Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.


Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.



For Malaysians who wants to donate in MYR, please use the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB
Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv. Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/norbuchatbot. Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team


Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv


TOP