Smatterings of Violence Followed by Polyphonic Interlude

burma-violenceIn the news:

Fresh sectarian violence broke out in north-western Burma Saturday when police refused to hand over a Muslim man accused of raping a Buddhist woman. Buddhist mobs burnt dozens of Muslim-owned houses and shops. The radical monk Wirathu, who calls himself the “Bin Laden of Buddhism,” claimed on his Facebook page that hundreds of people took part in the riot.

Last month, A Burmese court sentenced 25 Buddhists up to 15 years in prison for murder during a night of rioting, burning and killing in central Burma. A day earlier, a Muslim was handed a life sentence for murdering one of 43 people killed in March also in central Burma. In June, another Muslim man, 48-year-old Ne Win, whose attack on a Buddhist woman set off sectarian rioting in north-east Burma was sentenced to 26 years in prison.

Also last month, in Sri Lanka, a Buddhist mob attacked a mosque in Sri Lanka’s capital and at least 12 people were injured, the latest in Buddhist violence against Muslims there.

Violence and mob action on the part of Buddhists in Burma and Sri Lanka is reprehensible. I believe that Buddhists around the world who share this view could do a lot more to stem the tide of this violence by speaking out against it. The force of Buddhist public opinion could be a tremendous force for good. However, aside from a few token comments here and there, the world Buddhist community has remained largely silent.

In the United States, we don’t really have any sectarian violence, just the regular senseless kind: In Spencer, Oklahoma, a Buddhist monk, Weera Chulsuwan, 66, also known as “Tony the Monk,” was nearly beaten to death by two teenagers last Friday. Evidently the two youths thought Chulsuwan had money, unaware I guess that Buddhist monks are not known for carrying around large sums of dough. Chulsuwan received 15 blows to the head and face, and for over 24 hours was in and out of consciousness. In the moments following the attack, he managed to crawl several feet from his yard to his home and then had to charge his phone battery before he could call 911. He has been a monk for 30 years. The two teenagers were still at large.

Here’s something about about Tibet that is refreshingly non-violent. The UK’s Daily Mail reports that “The Rolling Stones were a huge hit when they headlined Glastonbury this summer, but an even older group were the festival’s surprise stars.” The reference is to the Gyuto Monks of Tibet who have been together for 600 years, and like the Stones, not always with the same line-up, although that may depend on your point of view about reincarnation. In any case, The Stones have only been around a mere 50 years.

gyuto-monksThe Gyuto Tantric Monastic University is a major tantric institution belonging to the Gelug tradition. Jetsun Kunga Dhondup, a disciple of the First Dalai Lama, founded the Gyuto Order in 1475. Nearly 1000 monks lived at the monastery in 1950 when Tibet was invaded by the Chinese army. In 1959, only some 60 or so were able to flee with the Dalai Lama to India.

Gyuto monks are known for their distinctive style of chanting, often referred as “overtone” but is actually polyphonic. An individual monk sings what sounds like an entire chord as opposed to a single note. A sold-out show at the Royal Albert Hall brought the monks worldwide fame in 1973. This was followed by a series of recordings by David Lewiston in 1974. Since then they’d made a number of recordings, and have toured often, once in America with the Grateful Dead.

I should also mention that these guys have really deep voices. Enjoy this short taste of the Gyuto Tantric Choir:

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