Why are Buddhists in Myanmar killing Rohingya Muslims?

a refugee camp in bangladesh for rohingya muslims

Chakmakul, one of the camps together sheltering over 800,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, in July 2018 | Photo by Siegfried Modola / Alamy Stock Photo

The Buddha was clear that committing violence, even in thought, takes us off the path of practice he taught. Acts of violence simply do not square with his teachings on karma and non-harming. The first of the five precepts, Buddhism’s set of basic ethical commitments, is a commitment not to kill. And one of the factors of the noble eightfold path at the heart of Buddhist practice, “right resolve,” involves giving up thoughts of ill-will and cruelty.

Moreover, the Buddha rejected all forms of racism and insisted that human beings should be judged only on the basis of their behavior. If you pass a negative judgment on someone’s behavior, the practice of lovingkindness (metta) and the development of the “four sublime states” will allow you to view all beings with unlimited love, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity.

Thus, it would stand to reason that a group of people who call themselves Buddhists would never support racist rhetoric and violent persecution of another cultural or religious group. But that is exactly what has been taking place in Myanmar (formerly Burma), where the Buddhist Bamar majority has been carrying out a genocidal campaign against Rohingya Muslims as well as persecuting other minorities.  

But because groups identifying as Buddhist are made up of ordinary human beings, it is unfortunately not surprising that some are deluded enough that they twist the teachings to justify violence—even murder. This has happened over the centuries in most other major world religions as well. What has taken place in Myanmar is a cautionary tale for all of us.


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