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Lions Roar : September 2018
in the darkness of racial violence: “We must recognize that the negative deed of the enemy does not represent all that the individual is. His evil deed does not rep- resent his whole being.” Burmese Buddhists are not our ene- mies. They are our brothers and sisters. We must meet them with nonviolence and with an intention to find peaceful resolution to the conflict. Finally, I would argue that when religion and the state collude, nothing good comes of it. Religion is necessarily distorted by the internal and external interests of the state and ethnic nation- alism. Conversely, activities of the state are warped by religious beliefs that come to be carved in stone. We see this in Myanmar. We have seen it in Japan’s Imperial Way Buddhism dur- ing World War II, and in Sri Lanka’s civil war between Buddhist Singhalese and Hindu Tamils. This is not endemic to Buddhism. Con- sider the Sunni–Shia conflict in Iraq or Protestant–Catholic divide in Northern Ireland. In each case, ancient fears, grievances, and ethnic dif- ferences tied to religion are resurrected and renewed with further atrocities. In many cases, there is a dominant narrative that designates one side, one group of coreligionists, as “people” and their opponents as less than human. Let me say it clearly: All people are chosen. Life is precious to each of us, a gift from God, Allah, or the buddhas. To quote Martin Luther King, Jr. once more: “We must learn to live together as broth- ers or perish together as fools.” ♦ Second, how do we see the kaleido- scopic diversity of modern Buddhism? Over the years, I’ve had to shed layers of idealization about Buddhism. I respect Buddhist monks, nuns, and teachers according their actions, rather than by their tradition or the clothes they wear. I value the many schools and lineages according to their actual conduct, rather than purported ties to an unknowable ancestral past. No one tradition embodies the whole of Buddhism, despite its claims. While nothing in the Buddha’s teach- ings sanctions violence and hatred, I hesitate to say that what is happening in Myanmar to Rohingyas and other ethnic groups—Kachin, Karen, Shan, et al.—is not Buddhism. I will just say it is not right. We must try to walk a narrow line of right or just, without falling into self-righteousness. While standing with our Rohingya sisters and brothers, I believe we have to be in dialogue with Burmese Buddhists, also as sisters and brothers. We need to listen to their fears and concerns, and understand the complexity of their trau- matic history, without turning a blind eye to their hostility to other religions and communities. Even if we fail again and again, I am reminded of Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, written with light began in 2012, with anti-Muslim out- breaks in Rakhine State and elsewhere throughout the country. Finally, in late August of 2017, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) launched local attacks against Myanmar police, military, and Hindu communities. This provided the rationale for a massive and vastly dis- proportionate response by the Myanmar military and local Rakhine Buddhists, leading to the current expulsions. The sheer scale of an innocent population’s resulting suffering is beyond comprehen- sion, unacceptable by any humanitarian or religious standards. The Rohingya people I met speak of “Buddhist terror,” an unholy alliance of the Myanmar army, monks, and Rakhine Bud- dhists. It is hard for many of us to get our minds around the conjunction of the words “Buddhist” and “terror.” Yet Myanmar’s leaders and Bud- dhist authorities have closed their eyes to the depredations of their coreligionists. Ultra- nationalist monks—many of them members of Ma Ba Tha, the “Association for Protec- tion of Race and Religion”— stand with the Myanmar mili- tary, often taking part in anti- Muslim violence themselves. Three points come to mind. First, that we—Buddhists, Muslims, all people— must do everything we can to protect the Rohingyas. Monsoon season has arrived and refugee camps are becoming a fluid field of disease-ridden mud. International NGOs and local relief organizations can- not cope with the emergency. Beyond relief, Rohingyas want to return to Myan- mar in safety. They want legal rights as citizens of Myanmar, and international justice for what they have suffered. These are all things that the wider Buddhist community can support with our voices, our resources, and hearts, heeding the bodhisattva vow to “save all sentient beings.” HOZAN ALAN SENAUKE is vice-abbot of Berkeley Zen Center and founder of the Clear View Project. To donate or sign an international letter supporting the Rohingya exiles, go to www.buddhisthumanitarianproject.org. Alan Senauke visited the refugee camps with an interfaith delegation. Rohingya children have been traumatized by dislocation and the violence they have witnessed and are prey to sexual abuse and human trafficking. LION’S ROAR | SEPTEMBER 2018 12 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE