Life in the predominantly Buddhist country of Sri Lanka….
While the three Abrahamic religions are famous for violence in the name of their God, we are often led to believe that Buddhists are universally pacifistic, in alignment with the Buddha’s teachings on nonviolence and goodwill toward all beings.
History, as Michael Parenti points out, does not quite conform with this view:
A glance at history reveals that Buddhist organizations have not been free of the violent pursuits so characteristic of religious groups. In Tibet, from the early seventeenth century well into the eighteenth, competing Buddhist sects engaged in armed hostilities and summary executions. In the twentieth century, in Thailand, Burma, Korea, Japan, and elsewhere, Buddhists clashed with each other and with nonBuddhists. In Sri Lanka, armed battles in the name of Buddhism are part of Sinhalese history.
Just a few years ago in South Korea, thousands of monks of the Chogye Buddhist order fought each other with fists, rocks, fire-bombs, and clubs, in pitched battles that went on for weeks. They were vying for control of the order, the largest in South Korea, with its annual budget of $9.2 million, its additional millions of dollars in property, and the privilege of appointing 1,700 monks to various duties. The brawls partly destroyed the main Buddhist sanctuaries and left dozens of monks injured, some seriously. The Korean public appeared to disdain both factions, feeling that no matter what side took control, “it would use worshippers’ donations for luxurious houses and expensive cars.”
But what of the Dalai Lama and the Tibet he presided over before the Chinese crackdown in 1959? It is widely held by many devout Buddhists that Old Tibet was a spiritually oriented kingdom free from the egotistical lifestyles, empty materialism, and corrupting vices that beset modern industrialized society. Western news media, travel books, novels, and Hollywood films have portrayed the Tibetan theocracy as a veritable Shangri-La.
The Dalai Lama himself stated that “the pervasive influence of Buddhism” in Tibet, “amid the wide open spaces of an unspoiled environment resulted in a society dedicated to peace and harmony. We enjoyed freedom and contentment.” A reading of Tibet’s history suggests a different picture. In the thirteenth century, Emperor Kublai Khan created the first Grand Lama, who was to preside over all the other lamas as might a pope over his bishops. Several centuries later, the Emperor of China sent an army into Tibet to support the Grand Lama, an ambitious 25-year-old man, who then gave himself the title of Dalai (Ocean) Lama, ruler of all Tibet. Here is quite a historical irony: the first Dalai Lama was installed by a Chinese army.
To elevate his authority beyond worldly challenge, the first Dalai Lama seized monasteries that did not belong to his sect, and is believed to have destroyed Buddhist writings that conflicted with his claim to divinity. The Dalai Lama who succeeded him pursued a sybaritic life, enjoying many mistresses, partying with friends, and acting in other ways deemed unfitting for an incarnate deity. For this he was done in by his priests. Within 170 years, despite their recognized status as gods, five Dalai Lamas were murdered by their high priests or other courtiers.
And it goes on from there.
I’m posting this as a reminder that, despite the profound teachings set forth by the Buddha some 2,300 years ago, all has not gone according to plan since then. We all want to believe the myths referred to in Parenti’s article, but we must acknowledge that humans are humans, and Buddhist humans are no less susceptible to unskillful living than are the rest of us.
I do think that the Buddha’s model for enlightened living is valid, and I continue to meditate according to his detailed instructions; if the world is going to change for the better, it will be due to individual practitioners bringing peaceful vibes into the collective energetic soup, and not because some Savior comes down from the heavens to impose His/Her Will upon all us sinners.
In the meantime, we’re better served not to blindly give our power away to a Buddhist institutional matrix that has, in many cases, become little more than an entrenched priesthood seeking self-proliferation at the expense of its founder’s actual teachings. We don’t need the priesthood in order to realize what the Buddha pointed toward — and, in fact, we’re probably much better off doing an end-around the priesthood.
[Cross-Posted at Spontaneous Arising….]