Buddhist Massacre in Chittagong

I hope the title got your attention! I’m not using the term “massacre” glibly. You can get an idea of the situation from a few of the news headlines I was able to pull from Google News:

  • Chittagong Hill Tracts: Massive Communal Attack on Jumma Villages (UNPO)
  • 15 hurt as ethnic violence continues in Bangladesh (Thaindian News)
  • Fresh violence erupts in Bangladesh tribal region (Reuters India)
  • New clashes in Bangladesh tribal area (AFP)
  • Army deployed in tense Bangladesh tribal region (BBC News)
  • Bangladesh Deploys Troops to Stop Ethnic Clashes (VOANews)
  • Bangladesh Reimposes Night-Time Curfew In Southeast Town (RTTNews)
  • Ethnic violence continues in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill tracts (The Times of India)
  • Beyond the fires in the hills (The Daily Star)
  • Human Rights Abuse against Indigenous People in Bangladesh (The Buddhist Channel)

The single post that I could find from the Buddhist blogosphere was on Ajahn Sujato’s blog, Bangladesh Buddhists under attack

Recent events in the Chittagong Hill Tracts deal with Bangladeshi Buddhists who by and large are not ethnically Bengali—although there are many Bengali Buddhists in Bangladesh too. Collectively called Jumma, these tribes are culturally and linguistically different, the plurality (if not majority) of whom are Buddhist. You can learn more about this situation at the links below. 

More on this later.

Oh Boy, David Loy

I just deleted a post on David Loy that was a pretty harsh vent, where I cast him as whiny and ineffectual. In his defense, he openly admits the disparity between his expectations and reality, and also has never claimed to be a man of action. David Loy is certainly doing his best to change the world for the better, and doing it the best way he knows how—through writing.

Via the Jizo Chronicles, I was pointed to a recent opinion by David Loy on Shambhala SunSpace. He has a very strong view that Buddhists have a unique role to play in the progressive movement. But I don’t see much unique substance to his argument beyond the following two points.

  • We should improve society and the world.
  • Buddhism gives us a unique way to do so.

I suppose the first point isn’t unique. He frames the Buddhist solution very broadly, in terms of general awareness. Because Buddhism is about moving beyond delusion, it provides the tools to better be aware of not just individual ills, but also social ills. He breaks down our social dilemmas in terms of greed, ill will and delusion, tying these defilements to various institutions. His rhetoric is clever, but I feel his words are utterly pointless beyond spurring people to action. How does a Buddhist perspective make change any different, be it easier, faster or more thorough than a Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or simply a non-religious perspective?

I’m all ears.

You can read more work by David Loy at Enlightenment Ward.

Bhikkhuni Legality

Ajahn Sujato blogs on the Thai legal claims surrounding bhikkhuni ordination.

While it is often said that bhikkhuni ordination is illegal or banned in Thailand, this claim rests on a very slender thread. There have been no formal pronouncements on the matter by the current Mahatherasamakhom, the governing body of Thai Buddhism, whose authority stems from the Sangha Act of 1962. Those seeking an ‘official’ position must fall back on a ruling issued in 1928.


The legal status of the ruling is obscure. No-one, so far as I know, has tried to test this in court. When Voramai Kabilsingh was accused before the Mahatherasamakhom in 1956, her ‘crime’ was allegedly imitating a bhikkhu(!), not the fact that she had ordained as a samaneri. She was excused because her preceptor was a member of the Mahatherasamakhom(!) The same monk, Phra Prommuni, was also the teacher of the current king when he was ordained(!) Phra Prommuni argued that her light-yellow robe was a different color to that of the bhikkhus, so she was excused(!)

As usual, he has gone out of his way to provide reference and context. Read it in full.

This Is Not A Schism

I was stunned to view the Buddhist Channel headline: “Ajahn Brahm excommunicated for performing Bhikkhuni Ordination in Australia.”

Then on Phra Noah Yuttadhammo’s blog, he writes: “An interesting topic, and indeed history in the making; new Bhikkhunis in Australia and a schism in the Thai forest sangha… I’m not sure which is of more significance.” What schism?

The Australian bhikkhuni ordination has generated some hard feelings in the many different corners of the Wat Nong Pa Pong lineage. There’s also quite a bit of hand-wringing on the sidelines. But use of the terms excommunication and schism constitute a reckless characterization of recent events.

These words embody very serious religious implications. While Ajahn Brahm (and the world) has been notified that he is now a persona non grata in the Wat Nong Pa Pong network, he has not been excommunicated. They neither formally disputed his status as a Theravada monk nor his authority to officiate and participate in religious ceremonies—they rather informed him that he is not welcome in their club. It’s not playing nice, but it’s not excommunication.

Phra Noah’s use of schism should likewise be avoided. Anyone raised on stories of Lord Buddha is well aware that schism is often a direct reference to the Bhagavan’s scriptural antagonist Devadatta. This word ought to be used with caution. The expulsion of Bodhinyana monastery from the WPP network is no more a schism than the suspension of a nation from the Commonwealth.

This post is not meant to trivialize current events. The bhikkhuni ordination and subsequent backlash are both significant and newsworthy events. But they shouldn’t be blown out of proportion.

The gravity of this situation is more political than religious. This fracas is very much a Buddhist issue, but we mustn’t confuse it as being a spiritual quarrel. I can expect more bitter words and much awkward silence to ensue. A formal schism of the Theravada sangha, however, is unlikely.

When Monks Go Bad… (Speak Up!)

The Phnom Penh Postreports that “Buddhist intellectuals and civil society groups have called on the government to address a recent outbreak of offences ranging from drunkenness to rape and a deadly beating all allegedly committed by monks.”

Tep Vong, supreme patriarch of Cambodia, said he was aware a monk had been charged with killing a nun earlier this week in Banteay Meanchey province and welcomed the legal action.

“I do not have any particular advice on the issue because Buddhism already takes a clear position against killing animals and human beings,” he said, adding that anyone who committed a crime should be brought before the courts. 

He also insisted that his adviser, Kiet Chan Thouch, chief monk of Wat Leu in Preah Sihanouk province, was not guilty of getting drunk and attacking fellow monks in his pagoda, as was recently alleged. 

“I already investigated [Kiet Chan Thouch’s] case, and the accusations against him are untrue,” he said. The supreme patriarch is now pursuing legal action against Kiet Chan Thouch’s accusers, who he said had deliberately set out to damage the man’s reputation.

previous post here cited a UPI article, which addresses this very case. It’s important to understand the context surrounding these episodes—not just regarding the near annihilation of the Khmer sangha in the late 70’s, but also regarding who exactly today’s saffron-robed perpetrators are. Erik W. Davis wrote a thoughtful piece on this topic at his (former) blog.Nevertheless, a little more enforcement of the Vinaya might be overdue.

Khmer Krom Buddhists

Here’s an issue very dear to my heart, but I’ve very few minutes to write about it. From my Buddhist Channel feed, I saw a link to an article about Khmer language classes at a village in Vietnam. (You can check out the source link here.) For those who know little about Vietnam and Vietnamese history, the Khmer Krom are one of the persecuted Buddhist minorities of Vietnam. The region of South Vietnam was originally part of the Khmer empire, which the Vietnamese began annexing piecemeal from around 1700. (For comparison, the Vietnamese colonization of South Vietnam is along roughly the same timeline as European colonization of North America.) Cambodians still refer to Ho Chi Minh City (Sài Gòn) by its Khmer name: Prey Nokor. Ethnic Khmers constitute a significant minority in Vietnam, but their historical claims to the land are completely glossed over. The Khmer Krom still speak Khmer and still maintain Theravada Khmer temples—but they also face significant cultural, economic and political repression as non-Vietnamese. I’ve obliquely referred to the situation of Khmer Krom a couple times before (as in this post). More on this after I get back. It’s a Kathina weekend!

An Opportunity to Lead

The Wall Street Journal hosts an opinion piece by Thich Chan Phap Dung on the situation of monks and nuns at Bat Nha monastery in Vietnam.

The government of Vietnam now must respond. Will it disband a peaceful Buddhist organization, or move to fully protect religious freedom as required by international covenants and treaties to which Vietnam is a party, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and as Vietnamese citizens demand? Vietnam is currently serving as president of the U.N. Security Council and chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2010. There is no better time to show the world its leadership on these important issues of human rights.

The monks and nuns still wish to return home to Bat Nha monastery. If this is not possible, the government, through its established Buddhist church, could at least reaffirm the monks’ and nuns’ legal right to practice together as a religious community at another location. These young monks and nuns want nothing more than to serve their country and humanity and are fine examples of the true beauty and determined spirit of the Vietnamese people.

Thay Dung provides some context on the situation that I hadn’t seen elsewhere (such as Hoang Hung’s petition, also in English). Hopefully this piece on the WSJ will spark enough interest to pressure Hanoi to finally fulfill its self-proclaimed commitments to religious freedom.

Bat Nha on the Wall Street Journal

A Wall Street Journal opinion suggests the US State Department add Vietnam to its “list of countries of particular concern for religious-rights violations.”

Hanoi was listed from 2004 to 2006, and then removed as a reward for limited liberalization. Vietnam remains the only country that has changed its laws explicitly to get itself removed from the roster. The government made it easier to register religious groups, dropped some egregious policies such as forcing believers to renounce their faith, and improved its relations with the Vatican.

The Bat Nha example exposes how prone to backsliding Hanoi is if it’s not forced to follow such early steps with further progress. Now is a good time to ratchet up the diplomatic pressure again.

In a coupleprevious posts, I linked to differing views on the Bat Nha situation—the whole back-and-forth can be found on the Buddhist Channel(see herehereherehere and here.)

Ready for the End

H.M. King Father Preah Norodom Sihanouk announces that he has little wish to live longer, but is not about to take his own life. (Translation below.)

Beijing, PRC, October 2, 2009.

My father, H.M. King Preah Suramarit, died at the age of 64 (diabetes). 1960.

His father-in-law, H.M. King Preah Monivong, had died at the age of 64 (died of grief in 1941—the grief of having lost Battambang, etc…—unjustly annexed by Thailand with the help of Japan).

My maternal great-grandfather, H.M. Preah Sisowath had the reputation of having lived a very long life; he died at the age of 83 (died of “old age”).

But I, who sincerely want to die as near in the future as possible, have “lived too long”: on October 31, 2009, I will be 87 years old.

This overly long longevity weighs on me like an unbearable weight.

Unaware of my mentality, an incalculable number of compatriots are wishing for me to live beyond 100 years. Some of these well-loved compatriots have gone so far as to wish me to live 300 years!!!

More out of courtesy and affection than out of hypocrisy, I thank these compatriots. But to be frank and stripped of hypocrisy, I would like to for all to know (Khmers and foreigners) that they bring me no pleasure when they wish me a long life. What I want is to die as soon as possible, without infringing on the teaching of the Noble Buddha which forbids suicide.


This story also appeared last week in Cambodge Soir and in the Straits Times.