Here’s a tough one, and I don’t really know how I should feel about it: The NY Times reports today that Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka are getting actively invovled in the war there between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. In fact, a political party led by Sri Lankan monks now holds nine seats in the Parliament.
Perhaps most troubling is this quote from the story:
“In Sri Lanka we have faced foreign invasions,” said the Venerable Athuraliye Rathana, the voluble monk who leads the party in Parliament. “We have been not just preaching. We have been fighting.”
I am far from being a Buddhist scholar, but even a novice should be able to see the conflict here. A monk who has taken a vow to spend a lifetime working to eliminate suffering from all sentient beings shouldn’t be “fighting” anyone or anything. This would seem to be in conflict with the most basic of Buddhist concepts: metta, or unconditional loving-kindness. This isn’t one of those optional or à la carte kinds of things, like maybe deciding to fast or give something up during Christian Lent; this is the basis for anything and everything that is Buddhist.
What makes this issue all the more difficult for me to understand is that I’ve never been in a situation where suicide bombings, mysterious kidnappings, random shootings and other acts of terrorism are routine, but that seems to be the case in Sri Lanka. But even then, under those intense circumstances, it doesn’t seem right that the Buddhist clergy would be advocating “fighting” or any kind of violence.
This Wikipedia entry on Jathika Hela Urumaya, the political party whose representatives in Parliament are bhikkhus, or ordained monks, demonstrates just how ugly the situation can get. According to the article, the party has introduced a law that would criminalize proselytism by foreign Christian fundamentalist groups.
Sounds an awful lot like the Taliban. Very, very sad.