The Rohingya Crisis

It’s just a shot away:

“When they are being killed and forcibly transferred in a widespread or systematic manner, this could constitute ethnic cleansing and could amount to crimes against humanity.”

In fact it can be the precursor to all the egregious crimes — and I mean genocide.”

These are the words of Adama Dieng, the UN special advisor for the prevention of genocide. He is referring to the crisis in Burma (Myanmar), a humanitarian crisis that has recently worsened.

On August 25, the military began “clearance operations” in the Rakhine State.  Since that date it’s been estimated that some 370,000 Rohingya refugees have crossed over the border into Bangladesh. They have carried with them allegations of mass killings and burning of Rohingya villages by Buddhist vigilantes and Burmese soldiers.

Image: Rohingya refugees walk on the muddy path after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. (Reuters / Mohammad Ponir Hossain)

The Rohingya people, from Rakhine in Myanmar, are mostly Muslim and they are stateless. Despite the fact that they have been in Burma for centuries, the Buddhist majority refuses to recognize their citizenship. In 2013, the United Nations called the Rohingya “one of the most persecuted communities in the world.”

On Monday, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein called the situation in Myanmar “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Many of the accounts of violence are unverifiable because the Myanmar military will not let international journalists in the region where the violence is occurring. According to the BBC, Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s de-facto leader, claims that fake news is inflaming the outrage over Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya. She says it is “simply the tip of a huge iceberg of misinformation calculated to create a lot of problems between different communities and with the aim of promoting the interest of the terrorists.”

Up to now, Aung San Suu Kyi has been strangely silent about the Rohingya crisis.  And it is not clear to me who “the terrorists” are to her. To me, the terrorists are the Buddhists. Myanmar’s Buddhism is fueled by anger, hate, and Islamophobia.

Recent reports have surfaced of Rohingya insurgents attacking police posts, killing 12 officers, and 130 people, including women and children, massacred in a single village by soldiers and Buddhist vigilantes, but while there has been violence perpetrated by both sides, the lion’s share of responsibility for the killing and burning lies with the Buddhist majority and the military. The Buddhist side is led by a group known as the “969 Buddhist nationalist campaign.” 969 refers to a Buddhist tradition in which the Three Jewels or Tiratana is composed of 24 attributes (9 for the Buddha, 6 for Dhamma or the teachings, and 9 for the Sangha).  They rationalize persecution of the Rohingya by claiming they are protecting Buddhism from the evils of Islam.

Ms Suu Kyi, one of the most respected women in the world, has come under fire for her silence. Recently, Malala Yousafzai, 20, the women’s education activist who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in 2012 and who survived to become the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, called on her fellow laureate to condemn the “shameful” treatment of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. She said that “the world is waiting” for her to speak out.

We have been waiting.  Suu Kyi’s silence has been troubling. Yet, as the Washington Post noted on Sept. 6, “Defenders of Suu Kyi argue that she has to walk a delicate line with the Burmese military, which not so long ago was her jailer and remains backed by an increasingly vocal constituency of Buddhist nationalists.”

Friday, during an impromptu interview with reporters, the Dalai Lama said, “Those people who are harassing Muslims then they should remember Buddha helping, definitely helping those poor Muslims… Still, I feel that. Very sad. Very sad.”  He was referring to a statement he made in 2014 that if the Buddha was there, he would protect the Muslims from the Buddhists.

Several years ago, the Dalai Lama, during a meeting of Nobel Laureates, urged Ms Suu Kyi to curb the violence, and even more recently he wrote her a letter, again urging her to speak out and to resolve the crisis.

Silence is not always noble.

I’m still wondering where’s the outrage from the international Buddhist community.  We can’t allow anyone to use Buddha-dharma as a weapon of hate.  Speaking out is a responsibility that all Buddhists share.

And I still think a strong and repeated condemnation of the Myanmar Buddhists by international Buddhists would have some impact. It would be difficult for the Myanmar sangha to ignore such a response. Put the pressure on.

So, Buddhists can do more.  Out job is to raise awareness.  Buddhists need to talk more about it, blog more about it.  It is not the only crisis in the world by any means, but it is our crisis.  All Buddhists need to own it.  Not to pat myself on the back, but I’ve mentioned or dedicated an entire post to the crisis in Myanmar about 11 times between 2012 and 2015.  Even though I have been silent on the crisis for a while,  I have not given up disturbing the sounds of silence.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Share

Wavelessness

Zhao De wrote, “If water is still enough, everything is reflected clearly.  If mind is calm, then wisdom grows.”

A key goal in the practice of Buddhist meditation is to develop a calm mind.  We call the practice mindfulness but mindfulness is also a state of mind.  And calmness does not mean absolute stillness.  There is movement in calmness.  According to the T’ai Shang Ch’ing-ching Ching (“Cultivating Stillness”), a text attributed to Lao Tzu, “Movement is the foundation of stillness.”

Sometimes we engage in metaphor:  Still water is our mind.  The stillness of the water is disturbed when the wind blows and makes waves.  Waves are our sufferings.  The nature of water is stillness, while the nature of waves is movement.

When we gaze upon a calm sea, we see that the surface is tranquil, smooth, waveless.  Because there is no surface movement to distort the reflection, in still water we see a clear reflection of things as they are.  A calm mind reflects the world without distortion.  In addition, this mind does not try to seize and cling to everything it sees, and when there are waves, it is not smashed by their impact.

You know the theory:  If a person’s mind is profoundly still, he or she becomes aware of their true nature and the real aspect of things.  Like still water, when the mind is calm it sends back a clear image of the non-duality of the world, and we discover that a wave is not separate from water; it is water, in movement.  It’s a rather obvious conclusion but remember water and waves are metaphors.

In meditation practice, to develop this non-dual realization fully, we consider the mind to be water and sufferings as waves, and we meditate to become waveless.

Being present in the moment, mindfulness is wavelessness.

Being aware, of course, that movement is also present.

A certain sage from Texas maintains that “Still is still moving to me.”

Share

Butterflies Are Free

I remembered when I was a kid, I picked up a chrysalis and kept it in a jar until the butterfly started to come out.  So I broke open the cocoon to make it easier for the butterfly. When it finally came out, I noticed that it flew sort of feebly.  And then it died. Then I found out that it’s the struggle the butterfly makes trying to break through the cocoon that makes its wings strong.

Shepard Rifkin, Shepard, The Murderer Vine

The buddha nature that exists as wisdom-potential within our being is like a caterpillar.  When a caterpillar has completely grown, they form themselves into a pupa, also known as a chrysalis.  Within the chrysalis, the caterpillar undergoes an extraordinary transformation, called ‘metamorphosis.’  When metamorphosis is complete, a butterfly emerges, perhaps one with strong, beautiful wings.

Two elements are necessary for this process to be successful.  One is transformation.  The other is struggle.  In terms of Buddhism, a person who does not change cannot become a buddha.  A person who does not struggle, in the sense of making effort, cannot become a buddha.  Since we are talking about sentient beings and not insects, there is a third element that is crucial and that is the aspect of mind.

To ordinary persons, buddha potential, located within the mind, is obscured by illusion.  An ordinary person does not yet have the ability to see the true aspect of reality, much less his or her own enlightened nature.  However, a buddha sees through the veil of illusion and knows the world as it truly is.  And, a buddha recognizes that all living things are also buddhas, or potential buddhas.  A potential buddha must undergo some struggle and develop their their mind, in order to have strong wings and free themselves from illusion.

In the Anguttara Nikaya, the Buddha states:

“This mind is luminous, shining brightly, but colored by our delusions.  Ordinary people do not understand this, and so they do not develop the mind.  This mind is luminous, shining brightly, and free from delusion.  Noble wayfarers understand this well, so for them there is development of the mind.”

Development means effort, work, struggle.  In a religion like Christianity, “works” or good deeds can never win salvation.  Only faith in God, only through loving God.  Potential buddhas do not need to call upon supernatural beings and deities.  If a wayfarer trusts the potential within the mind and expends effort to develop that potential, then we call that person a realized buddha.  This, to my thinking, is the most potent form of empowerment.  We call it jiriki or “inner power.”

“Your destiny is shaped according to the combination of conditions pre-determined at birth and other factors that you are able to change through your own efforts.”

–Ryuho Okawa, The Essence of Buddha

Share

A Single Voice can Change the World

Toward the end of his life and career, Lenny Bruce, perhaps the most influential comedian of the 20th century, had been busted for obscenity so many times that dealing with the court cases became a full time job. It became an obsession. It was all Lenny could think about or talk about. It took over his act. During his performances, he’d go into long rants about his court battles. He’d read aloud from the trial transcripts. Watch the Lenny Bruce Performance Film and you’ll see. He was no longer “Dirty” Lenny and he wasn’t funny. He had become unhinged, unfit to be a comedian.

I had never watched a Trump rally until the other night. Just saw sound bites. I was curious, so I tuned in. Trump took the stage in Phoenix and began his long rant about his battles, his foes, his feuds. At one point, he read aloud from a transcript of his Charlottesville remarks. It was astounding. Unbelievable. It reminded me of Lenny. Trump is unhinged and unfit to be President.

During the 16 minute reading of his Charlottesville statements, Trump was interrupted by a protester, who was immediately led out of the arena by security.

“Don’t bother,” Trump said, as the crowd booed. “It’s just a single voice. And not a very powerful voice.”

Actually, a single voice can be very powerful. Just one voice can change the world. You probably already know this, but if you’ve forgotten, today I will remind you.

Galileo was just one voice. He said that the Earth and planets revolve around the Sun. He was tried by the Inquisition, forced to repudiate his view, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. In the beginning, Gandhi’s was but a single voice, and not a very powerful one physically, and yet that voice led his country to freedom through a non-violent revolution that still stands as a focal point for inspiration for all people. Rosa Parks was just one voice, and when she said “No” and refused to move to the back of the bus, she changed the world. Lenny Bruce was a single voice; his obscenity-laden performances were protests against a repressive society that censored free speech.

And Malala Yousafzai is a single voice. A human rights activist and an advocate for education for women,  the Taliban tried to silence her, murder her, but she survived. Her single voice inspires the world.

51 years ago, June 1966, during the height of apartheid, Robert F. Kennedy gave a speech in South Africa to the National Union of South African Students on the occasion of Cape Town University’s “Day of Reaffirmation of Academic and Human Freedom”.  Many have considered it Kennedy’s greatest speech:

“Each time man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

– Robert F. Kennedy

There is always a ripple when one person with courage stands up and raises a single voice in protest.

A voice that is always angry, that creates division, that is insincere, belittles others, spreads bigotry and hate, may seem powerful in the short run. However, history shows us that such voices are eventually silenced. Truth and justice are undefeated in the long run.

The power of a single voice is encouraging, emboldening. When we unite to make our voices heard, the resulting chorus becomes a potent and unbeatable force for change.

A single voice can inspire the world. A single voice can change the world.

– – – – – – – – – –

Phil Ochs had a rather smooth and engaging voice, yet there was a edge to it, provided by his sometimes stinging words.  He was a songwriter, a protest singer, an outlaw like Lenny, a revolutionary like Gandhi, a voice for peace like Malala Yousafzai.  His is a largely forgotten voice today, but listen to his songs and you’ll hear a voice that resonates with likable temerity and timeless truth.  An unsung singer, a single voice…

Share

PBS Mindfulness Goes Mainstream

A few nights ago, I watched a new PBS documentary Mindfulness Goes Mainstream.  The program explores the spreading mindfulness movement and the transformative power of mindfulness practice.  It features remarks from such people as singer Jewel, journalist Dan Harris, “mindfulness” pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn, Don Siegel,  Jack Kornfield, and clothing designer Eileen Fisher.

Viewers will learn about how many different sectors of our society are embracing mindfulness.  For instance, the NBA, NFL, corporate America, US Marine Corp, and law enforcement.  There’s also a nice summary about the scientific evidence behind mindfulness benefits.

The modern mindfulness movement has received criticism for being a diluted form of Buddhist meditation.  I am more or less in agreement with this, and yet, I find it hard to disparage the idea of so many diverse groups learning to calm their minds.  Police officers using mindfulness to resist anger and stress seems a very positive thing.   I am inclined to agree with Dan Harris who remarked, “I do believe that if you get a broad enough swath of people to do this it has the potential to change the way we are as a society.”

It did bother me that the program did not once mention the Buddha, Buddhism or dharma.  I feel that a sort of creative commons license applies to mindfulness and other aspects of the teachings – you are free to use any portion you like as long as you attribute it to Buddha-dharma.

And while I’m all in favor of corporate America getting mindful, I do wonder if the real purpose isn’t just to make more productive employees.  To me, they have some warped notions.  One person, Chade-meng Tan, former “Jolly Good Fellow” at Google, talked about mindfulness in corporate American and made the argument that compassion leads to better business.  He said, “The way to do that is align compassion with success and profit.”

Right.  Two values the Buddha routinely affirmed were success and profit.  So, here is one of the possible dangers of mindfulness sans Buddhism, distortion.  What is intended to dispel illusion because a creator of illusion.

Another problem I had with the program was that the filmmakers seemed to oversell the practice. Several time they tell viewers that mindfulness can change “every aspect of your life.”  And in as little as 2-8 weeks.  While studies have shown that short periods of exposure to mindfulness practice can produce neurobiological changes, improve concentration, reduce stress, and so on; to change every aspect of your life, to affect lasting change in how we think and feel and how we deal with persistent life tendencies, takes patience and a real commitment to the practice.

Mindfulness Goes Mainstream is the kind of show you’ll find on 20/20 or Dateline NBC.  It struck me as representative of the mindfulness craze itself.  Kind of lightweight.  However, to be fair, it was a lot of ground to cover in one hour.  Viewers would be better served if each segment of the show were a 30-60 minute episode.

Watch it if you’re looking for a pleasant way to kill some time.  You may be encouraged by some of the personal stories.  But if you’d like a more detailed and realistic explanation of mindfulness, you would be better off reading a book like Henepola Gunaratana’s Mindfulness in Plain English.  The first chapter of the book begins with these words:

“Meditation is not easy.  It takes time and it takes energy.  It also takes grit, determination and discipline.  It  requires  a  host  of  personal  qualities  which  we  normally  regard  as unpleasant  and  which  we  like  to  avoid  whenever  possible.  We can sum it all up in the American word ‘gumption’.  Meditation takes ‘gumption’.  It is certainly a great deal easier just to kick back and watch television.”

Share