Unusual Story: Buddhist Radicalism

A Buddhist monk protest Islam. Credit: Foreign Policy

A Buddhist monk protests Islam. Credit: Foreign Policy

The rise of radical Buddhism is incongruous with the gentle, meditating, self effacing stereotypes that Westerners typically associate with Buddhism. In April 2013, NPR reported that Buddhist monks were involved in violence that claimed the lives of at least 40 people. The violence is a result of religious tension between Buddhists and Muslims.

The leader of the extreme Buddhist monks is Ashin Wirathu, sometimes called the “Burmese bin Laden” or “The Face of Buddhist Terror” according to TIME. He denies being directly involved in the violence directed at Muslims, but at the very least his extreme sermons have inspired riots and incited hatred.

July 2013 Cover of TIME Magazine

July 2013 Cover of TIME Magazine

He believes that Muslims have a “master plan” to take over the Burmese state. In order to stop this, Wirathu advocates a movement called 969. Buddhists must shop, sell property to, and marry other Buddhists. Brightly colored stickers have been distributed to Buddhist shops so they can distinguish themselves. It is eerily reminiscent to the days of the Holocaust.

As a result of this extremism, Myanmar monks are isolating themselves from other monks. It is a stark contrast to the 2007 Saffron Revolution during which thousands of Buddhist monks led a peaceful protest for democracy. It is unsettling to many monks from different nations as well because this divide is contradictory to the idea of Buddhism. Abbot Arriya Wuttha Bewuntha said, “This is not the way the Buddha taught. What the Buddha taught is that hatred is not good, because Buddha sees everyone as an equal being. The Buddha doesn’t see people through religion.”

Wirathu claims he is a Buddhist nationalist, but his words and actions suggest there is more to his beliefs.





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