Mark Hattaway’s Peoples of the Buddhist World profiles almost 250 Buddhist “people groups,” and touts itself as the “first ever book produced that profiles all the Buddhist peoples of the world.” Replete with hundreds of “superb full-color photographs” and 13 essays on aspects of Buddhism, the book offers an added bonus: It will help its readers “pray more effectively.”
Pray more effectively? That’s right, according to the promotional claim made by the Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF), the UK evangelical organization that published the book. OMF adds:
This book is a must for all Christians interested in the advance of God’s kingdom on the earth, and is sure to become a classic.
OMF has its roots in the 19th century, when James Hudson Taylor, founder of what was originally called the China Inland Mission (CIM), began evangelizing the Middle Kingdom in 1865. Peoples of the Buddhist World is designed to familiarize Christian evangelists with the culture and habits of the Buddhist peoples in order to better understand them and to help them see the light.
This doesn’t sit well with Bhikkhu K. Tanchangya, a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk. And he blames Buddhists worldwide for the missionaries’ success. While Christians provide sustenance, education and medical care for the “forgotten Buddhists,” Buddhist organizations, he says, do not. That, along with a misunderstanding of Buddhist teachings:
It is time for the progressive Buddhists to meditate on this.
Yes, these Buddhist communities are illiterate and poor. They are easy targets for evangelism. But they deserve education and material prosperity before they could think of religion. And evangelical missionaries are providing just that.
Why can’t the richest monks, richest temples and richest Buddhist organizations of the affluent world mobilize work teams to visit and look into the grievances of these forgotten fellow Buddhists? Why are we just shouting at others who are helping them when we chose not to act ourselves?
The Buddhist teachings of karma, rebirth, suffering, selflessness, and contentment have all been part and parcel of a deeper level of misunderstanding of Buddhism even among the most educated and affluent civilized Buddhists, and their misunderstanding has been a boon for the greedy missionaries to take advantage of these Buddhist teachings.
Maybe somebody is born poor because of his karma. And someone else out there is suffering and dying without proper hospice care. So what? He’s got lots more rebirths coming up next. Somebody is poor but wants to have a better life. So instead of providing skills and opportunities, they are asked to “practice contentment”. This is the unfortunate mentality of Buddhists towards those who are at the bottom rung of society.
No matter how openly they deny it, sadly this has been proved to be the case over and over again. Highly spiritual monks and committed practicing lay Buddhists tend to overlook the necessity of material development.
But what these people forget to realize is that there cannot be spirituality where there is widespread hunger and poverty; and healthy spirituality cannot exist where there is widespread illiteracy, ignorance and superstitions…
And this raises the extreme Buddhist need to establish cohesive, well-financed, dedicated and inspired international Buddhist organizations to safeguard the very existence of the peoples of the Buddhist world through active participation on field.
The monk also decries the unwillingness of the different Buddhist schools to work together—and Buddhist inertia: Peoples of the Buddhist World, he says, is a book Buddhists were “too lazy to write.”
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