Beginner's Heart

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Lately, with the Charlie Hebdo murders, and the massive French protests of extremist Muslims, there’s been a great deal of discussion of religious extremism. No single religion has a monopoly: there are many white Christians who advocate the genocide of other Christians, who happen to be black. As there are Christians & Muslims who call for the murder of the ‘others.’ As a Buddhist, it’s easy to say my people don’t do this.

Until they do.

Right now, in Sri Lanka, a Buddhist monk & leader is calling for the extermination — however he phrases it — of the minority of Muslims & Christians living in the country. The Bodu Bala Sena, a militant Buddhist group, champions the idea of Sri Lanka as a ‘Buddhist state,’ for the Sinhala people. Which means no Christians, Muslims, or other ethnicities. Cultural diversity, the BBS warn, means the death of Sinhalese Buddhism, and thus Sri Lanka.

Wow. How unBuddhist can you get?

So here I am, doing what I ask all other moderates of their own wisdom traditions to do: standing up against this very vocal, very WRONG group within my own tradition. No, of course I’m not Sri Lankan. But please note: this is NOT a political group. The BBS has taken the saffron robe of Buddha and wrapped themselves as securely within it as various neo-Fascist groups have done with the American flag. To be a patriot, for many Americans, is to be only white & evangelical Christian. Similiarly, to be Sri Lankan, for the BBS, is to be Buddhist and anti-cultural diversity. In other words, anti-Muslim & anti-Christian.

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This is NOT Buddhism as I’ve learned it. Nor as I would ever practice it. It’s a call for extremism, pure & simple: the stirring up of fear, the fanning of the flames of difference. It’s what I fled in Southern Christianity — the certainty that one religion is better than another. Because that’s NOT what I believe. Did I find Buddhism, or did it find me? Who knows? Suffice to say that a religious leader like the BBS is currently following (I’m not giving him free PR, even bad PR, by naming him — go look him up if you care) will never work for me.

But I want to be CERTAIN you know this, that the Buddhism of millions of Buddhists is explicitly against the ideas of ‘othering,’ of hate, of feeding hate until it turns to killing. The Buddha was, in every line of his teachings, a man of compassion, far more like the Dalai Lama than the BBS. Pope Francis is turning away from the idea of Christianity as the religion of the Crusaders, as well. And in Islam, Allah is known as ‘the compassionate, the merciful.’ NOT the murderous, as many many contemporary Muslims are right to remind us.

Let’s hear it for the only extreme religion I can handle: kindness. As in the Dalai Lama’s comment: my religion is kindness. Mine too, Your Holiness. And I’d like to be as extremely kind & compassionate as possible.



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