Ashin Wirathu -a Buddhist Monk from Mandalay is becoming popular lately because he is stoking hatred against Muslim (Rohingya Muslims) across Myanmar. His oppresive attitude likely contradicts the Buddhist virtue that says Buddhism tends as the way of life to overcome human problem in terms of the individual, solve that problem through withdrawal from society.
While the resurgence of “Engaged Buddhism” by Thich Nhat Hanh (b. 1926) – a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Monk enacted fourteen precepts which is in a nusthell enticing Buddhists to also proactively abolish economic and social issues like poverty, war or hatred, and discrimination. That is interesting to find out, is there any space in Buddhism teaching which can legitimize the violence performed by a Buddhist?.The focus in this writing is to see the core teachings of Buddhism which references are quoted from God is Not One (Prothero) and Understanding The Religions of the World (Deming).
The Four Noble Truths
Talking about crux teaching of Buddhism, it is very important to start from the four Noble Truths. The first noble truth is life marked by suffering – dukkha. The center of human problem is seemed as human inability to escape from the cycle of life, death and rebirth or called as Samsara. Even life also offers happiness, but there is nothing in this life eternal. Therefore in Buddhism, the goal or nirvana is when no more human existence or no reborn.
The second is dukkha has an origin or trishna. Deming (2015 : 67 ) described that trishna is one’s desire or thirst for things. The most obvious type of attachment was to physical things, more subtler type was attachment to to ideals and beliefs (for instance heroism and religion), and a still more subtle type- which was the crux of the Budhha’s concern- was attachment to one’s self.
The third is since trishna is desire to grasp something or cling to things which can cause suffering if the desire can not be accomplished, trishna can be eliminated. Probably, the nirvana concept is seemed discordant by outsider (particularly in Abrahamic religions, nirvana or heaven is described as a wonderful place where you can attain pleasures) because in Buddhism, nirvana is not a static place and the bliss can be achieved in this lifetime with no having desires than desire to nirvana. The last is, there is a path to achieve nirvana by undertaking the middle path (term by Prothero) or middle way (term by Demming) or known as the Eightfold Path.
One of variety techniques to achieve this goal is through meditation. In Buddhism, there are several ways of meditation namely by simply following your breath. In this process you can realize that even your breath is forever changing (inhaling and exhaling). Another popular Buddhist practice is Vippasana which is following your feelings or thoughts to observe both feelings and thoughts are also changing. One another technique is Metta or loving kindness or unconditional love. In this technique, you start to cultivating love to yourself then move on to cultivating love to your friends, ultimately to your foes. Intriguingly, this technique is aimed to raise consciousness in treating everyone equally (even someone you like or dislike).
By seeing this way, it can be said that the way to achieve nirvana is the way of tranquility. Through meditation, a Buddhist is taught to realize the concept of impermanence, compassion and how to control ego.
No Soul or No Self
Associated with the basic purpose of meditation namely to conquer the ego, in Buddhism is also known as No Soul or No Self concept. In short, Buddhism believes that what is commonly referred to as “I” or “You” is only a combination or Skandhas of 5 “aggregates” i.e matter, sensations, perceptions, thoughts and consciousness.
This concept is probably bewildering since the concept is in opposite with common sense of other religions that believe man soul does exist even before the body is created. In response to this, Buddha gave a simple analogy in explaining the complexity of the concept of no soul by asking questions, is the wheel a car? is the frame a car? so something is called a car if it has components that make up for instances wheels and the frame. So do humans, Prothero explained that “I” is a conventional designation for the coming together of this jangle hair, hands, ideas and emotions. Outside of such conventions, however, no essence of “me” is to be found.
In Mahayana Buddhism this concept is known as emptiness or sunyata. This teaching is attempt to reminding human being that it is nothing to have desire or to possess something. It is also way to tell the human being that he is nothing too. Therefore it is a misconception to think that “I” is unchanging and independent, this would lead to the notion of arrogance.
Seeing the explanation of how the core teachings of Buddhism, namely 4 Noble Truths and Eightfold path, the concept of nirvana and how to achieve it through meditation can be concluded that the teachings of Buddhism have no aggressive characteristic or repressive.
Even the concept of no soul or sunyata distinctly warns a Buddhist not to get lost in the understanding of self existence in order to avoid self arogance.In addition, Tibetan Lama in Deming (p.76) stated that man's ego is alarmed by such a merciless foe, and declares its alarm to be justifiable "fear of the void". This statement confirmed that Buddhism is a peaceful way of life that every human being can imitate to conquer the ego, to be humble and useful to others. Therefore I don’t see any space in Buddhism teaching to legitimate violence which committed by Ashin Wirathu. The title of religious violence in seeing Rohingya Crisis seems inappropriate.