All the Dalai Lama wants for his birthday is peace in Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
Speaking from the India-governed town of Leh in Kashmir, last week the religious leader called for an end to hostility toward Muslims in Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
“I urge the Buddhists in these countries to imagine an image of Buddha before they commit such a crime,” he said during a ceremony called Kalachakra that conferred Buddhist enlightenment on his disciples. This event also commemorated his 79th birthday.
Hate Crimes on the Rise Between Buddhists and Muslims
Although hate crimes between the two religious groups have been increasing for years as Buddhist nationalism has grown stronger, a recent outbreak of violent events in Myanmar and Sri Lanka prompted this new appeal.
In Myanmar’s second-largest city, Mandalay, trouble erupted last week in the wake of a report that a Muslim man had raped a Buddhist woman. Ashin Wirathu, a Buddhist monk who heads a radical group called 969, posted news of this report on Facebook and called for a response. Before the dust settled, a mosque had been burned, four others had been vandalized with rocks, and two men were dead–one Buddhist and one Muslim. Some Muslims accuse the government of sympathy with the radicals, citing slow and inadequate police response times despite the fact that some violent acts happen within a few minutes of a police station.
Sri Lanka endured a similar violent event last month after a group ransacked a small Muslim community under direction from Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), an extremist Buddhist group. Buddhist extremists have been able to publicly issue hate speech against Muslims without fear of reprisals for years; however the recent event even drew criticism from the UN, the media, and moderate Buddhists who realize that failing to protect the Muslim community only contributes to division within Buddhist communities.
Radical Buddhist groups such as 969 and BBS incite their steadily increasing numbers of followers to rise up against perceived Muslim injustice. Although they only account for about 8% of the population of Sri Lanka, Muslims have historically held disproportionately powerful positions as merchants, as they dominate the textile and gem industries and account for 50% of small businesses in the country.
Violence Begets Violence
Whether or not the violence caused by these extremist Buddhist groups is a response, built up over decades of frustration, to other displays of aggression by the Muslim community, it still continues the cycle of violence. Historically, violence never ends in peace, only in subjugation and a disadvantaged group that bides its time until it can regain autonomy.
The Dalai Lama knows violence is not a response that honors the tenets of his religion. “Buddha preaches love and compassion,” he said. “If the Buddha is there, he will protect the Muslims whom the Buddhists are attacking.”