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Lions Roar : September 2014
in northern Shan state, where this past year a mosque, busi- nesses, and a Muslim orphanage were burned not far from the town’s most revered pagoda. While the local Buddhists I spoke to were friendly, they were also worried, and from their ranks came mobs who torched their Muslim neighbors. Of the nearly half a million monks and nuns in Burma, those espousing hatred and supporting violence are a handful, less than one percent. But their message of fear and prejudice reso- nates because of several factors. First, the radical monks have successfully linked buddha- dharma with nationalism. Buddhism teaches the nobility of all, regardless of caste, race, or creed. But humans can misuse any- thing, including dharma, and these monks have become funda- mentalists who espouse prejudice in the name of dharma. With 40 percent of the Burmese population in 135 ethnic groups, three million Muslims, and a dozen simmering civil wars, the misguided monks tell Burmese Buddhists they need to fight against those who are different to maintain the nation. Second, since the recent transition to quasi-civilian rule, there is increased insecurity, predatory economic development, and political deception. On previous trips under the military regime, friends could have been imprisoned or tortured if I had been overheard speaking to them about Aung San Suu Kyi. Now pub- lic conversation is allowed, but there are still dangers for journal- ists and activists. With the lifting of military dictatorship, simmering ethnic and religious tensions are being exploited by misguided monks, political groups, and the remnants of the dictatorship to gain power. It is said that some of the worst monks may be Secret Service men who have taken robes and are deliberately stoking fears to turn people back to the military and away from Aung San Suu Kyi. Radical monks play on the historical memory of Muslim expansion across Asia in formerly Buddhist cultures. Scare stories about Muslims raping Buddhist women and having huge families and overpopulating the land are widely disseminated. Surprisingly, there is widespread ignorance in Burma of many core Buddhist teachings. Most of Buddhist practice in Burma is devotional. Prayers and offerings express a beautiful spirit of generosity and a belief in merit-making, karma, and rebirth. The elaborately decorated temples are regularly awash with joyful community sharing, chanting, and support for the monks. In this culture of devotion, the teachings of the noble truths and eightfold path, of nonviolence, mindfulness, meditation, and virtue, are not emphasized. And the Buddha’s admonition to see and think for yourself is lost entirely. The Burmese education system does not teach people to question authority. In a middle school class, ardent and shining-faced students told me how they always learned by rote and had not asked a single question in their school career. Added to this, fifty years of secret police and military oppression have left many Burmese fearful and easily misled. SHAMBHALA MOUNTAIN CENTER Presents AWAKE IN THE WORLD SHAMBHALAMOUNTAIN.ORG/AWAKE SHAMBHALAMOUNTAIN.ORG/AWAKE Join us October 19 for a 5-Day Journey A FREE ONLINE EVENT October 19 – 23, 2014 Groundbreaking dialogues with top thought leaders, social visionaries, and spiritual luminaries. Explore insights and practical tools for waking up to your full potential through relationships, work, and healthy living. SHAMBHALA SUN SepteMBer 2014 22