Is Angry Response Of Buddhists To Religious Conversions Justified?
By Mahendra De Silva –
A thief may harm a thief; an enemy may harm an enemy; but a wrongly directed mind can do oneself far greater harm. -Dhammapada Verse 42
Last week myself and millions of other viewers in internet watched with horror, a video showing Buddhist monks attacking a evangelical church in Hikkaduwa. It was quickly picked up by BBC and many international news agencies. It would have been a great propaganda tool for those who have a prejudice against Buddhism, human right activist and also for people genuinely wants to seek reforms in how Buddhism is practiced in Sri Lanka. The Video shows clearly the anger, hatred and rage in the attacking monks. Watching how these monks in robes instigate young boys and others to attack a religious place is one of the saddest moments. I can imagine ordinary people engage in this type of violence.
How can we justify learned monks who are disciples of Buddha with the purpose of carrying the message of peace, loving kindness, compassion, forgiveness ever think of engaging in this violence? In a democracy this type of hate crimes carries server punishments and people do the crime secretly. It is strange that in our country acts of serious crimes of this nature are carried out openly with the participation of many ordinary people and leading monks of the area.
I often wonder why Buddhists are so scared of new churches coming into the area or Buddhists converting to Christianity. Statistically numbers of Buddhists who have been converted to Christianity in recent years are far lower than the number Christians converting to Buddhism. Buddhists should know that despite Hindu Kings and European were controlling for many centuries in our history; still nearly 70% of the population is Buddhists. Today, they have a majority Buddhist government. Protection of Buddhism is enshrined in the constitution. They have even Buddhists extremists in the government. It is not the Buddhists but other minorities who should feel insecure in their own country for genuine reasons. This imaginary threat of insecurity of Buddhists in Sri Lanka could only be a paranoid as termed in psychology. Buddhism is not a religion that needs protection from invaders in the 21st Century. It is a science friendly philosophy which would appeal to intelligent human being of the modern society. Interest on Buddhism is growing fast in everywhere in the world.
How is Evangelical Church attracting people to their religion?
Evangelism is the preaching of the Christian Gospel about Jesus for the purpose of leading people into a personal relationship with God with the objective of converting them. They emphasise the importance of moral conduct and living with spirit of God. Some of the behavioural rules are – for example prohibiting the consumption of alcohol, participation in any form of gambling, and excessive entertainments such as dancing and movie-going etc. They also encourage developing loving kindness and sacrifices in the name of their God. People are continuously assured that that all their needs including healing from serious sickness could be done to the extent they have faith and living in accordance with God’s commands. I quote a passage from o ‘Psychology Today’, Quote From a scientific perspective, faith healing is unexplained, incomprehensible, and should not work. Yet it does work. The same is true of drug placebo effects, of course. Scientists recognize that there are placebo effects but have trouble accounting for them. Unquote
Some argue that it is wrong and unethical for Christian missionaries to use their power and wealth to convert vulnerable Buddhists to Christianity. However we should know that religious freedom and freedom of consciousness are some of the most accepted human rights in the world. Religion is something personal like choosing your own house, job or your partner. I do not believe anyone has a right to dictate that religion cannot be changed. If a person wants to change the religion even for material benefits, it is his choice. The advantage of living in developed country is that people respect privacy of other person, and they are least bothered whether neighbour is converted to a religion or why it had happened. In Christian dominated countries there are conversions regularly happening from Christianity to other religions including Buddhism. There is no big fuss over that. It is only in Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist countries they react emotionally for this conversion.
If Buddhists admit that they are scared of their people being converted to other religion that is a sign of lack of faith in own religion or they believe other religion is more powerful than theirs. If a Buddhist is being converted for monetary benefits that indicate he is not a real Buddhist who understands the teachings. For any religion having followers who does not practice the teachings correctly or does not understand the religion, is a liability.
Once I was living in Colombo closer to a very poor area near a canal. This area is notorious for violence, drugs and many more illegal activities. I remember some missionaries coming in and getting some families to work with them. They converted them to Christianity and some mornings I use to see a pleasant sight, nicely dressed boys from shanties, with books in hands being taken to a nearby church. No wonder Buddhists of the area were furious that these missionaries are converting “‘our kids” in to Christianity. I was thinking that if missionaries did not civilized them what would have happened to these kids and their families? I definitely prefer to have a good Christian as my neighbour than having an indiscipline person carrying a label “A Buddhist” in my neighbourhood. The best response to these conversions should be that Buddhist organizations coming forward to organise Buddhist missionaries to serve vulnerable people of the country. They could go to people living in extreme poverty and ignorance. to uplift their living standard and teach them the teachings of Buddha. Knowing the proper teachings will help anyone to face up challenges in life without seeking shelter in a different religion.
In Buddhism, Seela or Morality is the first step in the journey towards liberation. It is the same thing in most of the other religions too. For example if we take 10 Commandments in Christianity, a Buddhist would not have much difficulty in accepting at least following 6 precepts.
- Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving.
- Thou shalt not kill.
- Thou shalt not commit adultery.
- Thou shalt not steal.
- Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
- Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour
Any Buddhist who read Bible would find amazing similarities in Jesus advising followers with regard to giving up attachment for worldly pleasures and sacrifice and references for loving kindness and forgiveness.
In my view there is no meaning in carrying a label of a religion within us if we do not understand nor practice the teachings. Some people regard the religion only as an ornament to display outside. However if their religion is any way insulted they would react emotionally and take up arms to destroy the attacker, forgetting that the whole purpose of the religion is to discipline our minds and have peace compassion and forgiveness. The humanity is short of people with good moral conduct. It does not matter for which religion one belong to, but have good human qualities that person can be regarded as a Gentleman or Brahmin in Buddhist terms.. If someone changes his life by converting to a another religion and happy about it, a Buddhist who understands teachings would have empathy and wish him well, without resorting to anger and direct violence.
All beings fear death and they all fear the pain of a club. Think: how do they make you feel? Then do not kill and do not club; live peacefully with all beings and do not add to the violence of this world. Harm no one here and you will pass your next life in peace. ~ Buddha (from the Dhammapada)