English articles > The problem of fundamentalism and violence in religion
The problem of fundamentalism and violence in religion:
A Buddhist experience
Phra Paisal Visalo
“Fundamentalism” was first used by American Protestants almost a century ago to distinguish themselves from the “liberal”ones. However, it is now widely used to identify any militant groups or movements in any religion which are characterised by following traits:
-against democracy,pluralism, religious toleration, and free speech
Thai militant Buddhists
The militant Buddhist movement is grown out of the fear that Buddhism will be wiped out, or lose the outstanding status in Thailand. They are very worried by the following developments:
-the decline of monks leadership in all aspects
The violence in 3 southernmost provinces helps fuel the growth of militant Buddhism movement. In the past 3 years, many monks were killed, many temples were razed, whereas hundreds of Buddhists lost their lives. It is believed among the Buddhists that Muslims there want to wipe Buddhism out of these provinces where Muslim is the majority. Though this is the intention of the extreme Muslims who regard these provinces as formerly Islamic state, the majority Muslims still believe in the peaceful co-existence with Buddhists.
The prospective retreat of Buddhism, especially in the 3 southernmost provinces, has stimulated militant Buddhists to call for special measures to protect Buddhism. They repeatedly call for official recognition of Buddhism as state religion. Mass rally have been held for months during constitutional draft a few months ago. Rally are also used in protests against any media that portray monks in negative way. And now they are proposing the law that prohibited criticism against monks, Buddhist teachings, and the Buddha.
The most worrisome is the demand by militant Buddhist for heavy military suppression of unrest in the south. This approach is believed by militant Buddhist not only to protect lives of Buddhist laypeople and monks, but also to keep Buddhism alive there. But I am afraid that such aggressive military solution will exacerbate the violence, increase the hostility between Buddhists and Muslim, and put all people, including Buddhists, in more dangerous situations, not to mention the erosion of spirit of Buddhist teaching.
Sri Lanka militant Buddhists
In fact the issue that is the primary concern of the militant Buddhists is the dominance of Sinhala ethnicity. They want Sri Lanka to be the land of Sinhala, that upholds Sinhala language as official one, and regards religion of Sinhala,i.e. Buddhism, as the foremost one. For them, Sinhala and Buddhism are inseparable. The glory of Sinhala is the glory of Buddhism. What is good for Sinhala is also good for Buddhism. Such belief gives rise to the close connection between Sinhala nationalism and Buddhism. It has been shown throughout history that once nationalism and Buddhism stick together, Buddhism is likely to be used to support nationalism at its own cost.
This can be applied to Thailand where Thai ethnicity or Thai nationalism and Buddhism are closely related. To be Thai is to be Buddhist. This is the belief that is reinforced by Thai state for many decades. Buddhism is therefore used to support Thai state. It was previously used to justify the war by Thai government. And there is an attempt to use Buddhism in support of military action in the south.
Free from attachement to religion
As mentioned before, religion, as an identity, is used to reinforce
It should be noted that the extreme notion does not exist just among religious fundamentalists, but also the secularists including communists, neo-conservatives , or environmentalists. In numerous incidents, millions of people were killed by extreme secularists like Nazis, and communists. Some extreme environmentalists even declared recently that “everything is permitted”.
Buddhism can contribute to violence if the Buddhist attachment has gone extreme and nurtured conceit. It is therefore very important to be on guard against attachment to one’s own religion. The Buddha even warned his followers not to cling to his teaching since clinging can lead to suffering of oneself and others. He likened his teaching like the raft that we use to reach the shore. One we get ashore, we should leave the raft, not to carry it further. The following contemplative mindfulness of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing is a good reminder for Buddhists and all religious who care for peace:
“Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we
“Aware of the suffering created by attachment to views and wrong
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