Persecution and extremism

The videos recently posted on YouTube mocking the Islamic prophet appear to have been the catalyst for horrific violence throughout the Arab nations. Christopher Stevens, and three other American diplomats were killed in an attack on the US embassy in Benghazi on Tuesday. Although the amateur film “Innocence of Muslims” portrayal of the Islamic prophet is certainly ill conceived, and will undoubtedly be perceived as an insult from the West against Islam following years of questionable foreign policy by the US and their allies, why do people have to kill because of it?

I have been practicing meditation now for some time, and recently met with a local Zen buddhist. I am reminded of something that was said during my initial conversation with one of the practitioners – that religious teachings “are not doctrines to fight, kill or die for.”

A fundamental criteria by which spiritual teachings must be judged is the effect they have on people, society and environment. If a teaching that is supposed to promote peace and tolerance can so easily lead its supporters to behave violently in its name, then one must ask why this is so.

The extremists that carry out violence in the name of Islam share something with religious fanatics throughout history. They hold a common belief that:

1. the world is generally broken,
2. it was broken by non-believers,
3. only believers can save the world,
4. saving the world incurs persecution from non-believers,
5. persecution is a sign of correct practice, reinforcing 1, 2 & 3

Almost sounds like the psychology of a cult doesn’t it? That’s because it is the psychology of a cult. That’s not to label Islam as a cult – in commonly understanding Islam is no more cult-like than any of the monotheistic religions. However, watching the news on TV, there appear to be a lot of people who appear ready to kill for their faith right now. So again, one should consider what aspect of the teachings encourage this behaviour, or fail to negate it.

There is just no scope within the teachings of Buddhism for running around and killing in the name of the Buddha or the dharma (although the current behaviour of the Myanmar monks is clearly incongruous).

The five aspects of the persecution complex are not unique to Islamic extremists. While the Lotus Sutra certainly predicted that it would be met with hatred and jealousy in later years, this idea appears to have become dogmatised within Nichiren Buddhism. Indeed, persecution of practitioners is seen as a sign of correct practice, and is actively encouraged and celebrated, particularly within the SGI. Indeed, the 5 factors above are all promoted within the SGI, although perhaps not explicitly, it is undeniably the tacit understanding of members.

As Thich Nhat Hanh says, life is full of suffering, we should not have to add to it with our practice! We all experience suffering, regardless of our Buddhist path, and by and large any Buddhist practitioner should regard suffering as fuel for transformation and happiness. I use the word regard here because I think it is mistaken to actively avoid or welcome suffering in this way.

To believe we attract more suffering because of our practice is verging on magical thinking, and I fail to characterise this in any other way than egocentric. It presupposes that the ultimate reality treats you differently in some way based upon your faith – and whether this is explained through divine consciousness, or through an esoteric mechanism free of personality it is still impossible to explain without thinking about the practitioner and everyone else in a dualistic manner.



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