Buddhism and Islam in Asia

With the Rohingya crisis continuing in Bangladesh and Myanmar this piece by Akhilesh Pillalamarri, from The Diplomat, October 29, 2017 is a useful analysis of the cultural and historic context of the confrontation of Islam with Buddhism in Asia.

Buddhism and Islam in Asia: A Long and Complicated History

Demography and history explain troubled attitudes toward Islam in Buddhist-majority Asian regions today.

New Delhi, India — A cursory glance at world news today may suggest that the fault-line where Buddhism and Islam meet in Asia is increasingly characterised by conflict between the two religions. Of course, in broadest sense, this is not true, as religions are made up of numerous individuals and leaders, who are generally of differing opinions.

Yet, there is an unusually high level of tension between Buddhists and Muslims in regions where the two groups share space, including Rakhine state in Myanmar, southern Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Ladakh, the eastern part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

At the root of this tension is the fear among Buddhists – not completely exaggerated – that Muslims will swamp them demographically. Many Buddhists also fear that their countries will lose their culture and become Muslim, as had been the case in many parts of modern day Central Asia, Xinjiang, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, which were majority Buddhist before the arrival of Islam in the 7th-11th centuries. Often, the arrival of Islam went hand-in-hand with the destruction of Buddhism.

When the Muslim Turkic Qarakhanids captured the Buddhist city of Khotan in Xinjiang in 1006 CE, one of their poets penned this verse: “We came down on them like a flood/We went out among their cities/We tore down the idol-temples/We shat on the Buddha’s head.” In the Islamic world, a destroyer of idols came to be known as a but-shikan, a destroyer of but, a corruption of the word Buddha, as Buddhism was prevalent in much of what became the eastern part of the Islamic world.

Unfortunately, this history, and demographics, have lead to great fear of Islam among Buddhists, which in turn has led to genocide in Myanmar, and violence in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Ladakh. If all Rohingya refugees were to be repatriated to Rakhine in Myanmar for example, they would outnumber the local Buddhist Rakhine people. And in Ladakh, the Buddhist proportion of Leh district fell from 81 to 66 percent over the past three decades (relative to Muslims and Hindus). In Ladakh as a whole, which also includes Kargil district, Buddhists are 51 percent of the population, and Muslims 49 percent, a fact of great concern to the region’s Buddhists.

Attitudes reported from Burmese Buddhists in a recent New York Times piece sum up views commonly held among both hardline monks and the lay-population of Myanmar. One monk said of the Rohingya: “They stole our land, our food and our water. We will never accept them back.” A Rakhine politician said: “All the Bengalis learn in their religious schools is to brutally kill and attack… It is impossible to live together in the future.” A local administrator elsewhere in Myanmar said, “Kalar [a derogatory term for Muslims in Myanmar] are not welcome here because they are violent and they multiply like crazy, with so many wives and children.”

Meanwhile, extremist elements in Myanmar, such as the 969 Movement, have pledged to work with Buddhist extremists elsewhere, such as in Sri Lanka, home to the Bodu Bala Sena, a Buddhist extremist organization that lead anti-Muslim riots in that country in 2014. Ladakh was recently the scene of communal tensions between Buddhists and Muslims after the marriage of a Muslim man and a Buddhist woman, something seen as threatening to the region’s demographics. A head lama from a local monastery said, “The Muslims are trying to finish us off,” also adding that Buddhist women ought to have many more children.

Buddhism was arguably the world’s largest religion a century ago, if one counts everyone who also followed Chinese folk religion, Shinto, Muism, and other East Asian religions. In the modern era, Buddhism has been particularly vulnerable, however, to both secularism and evangelism from other religions. According to a Pew survey, alone among the world’s major religions (including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Chinese folk religion), Buddhism and its adherents are projected to decline both in terms of raw numbers, and as a percentage of the world population. The world Buddhist population is projected to fall from 488 million to 486 million people, and from 7 percent to 5 percent of total share. Christianity and Islam are still growing; in particular, the latter will grow from around 23 percent of the global population to 30 percent by 2050. Put another way, there will be six times as many Muslims as Buddhists by then.

The nature of Buddhism may be related to the issue of the religion’s decline: there is a huge gap between the religion’s lay practitioners, who have adopted a set of customs associated somewhat with Buddhist mythology, and the monastic community, which follows the Buddha’s example. While there is an element of elite-popular division in all religions, in few other religions is the gap so stark. After all, the community, the sangha, founded by the Buddha himself was monastic.

State patronage was also important to the survival of the sangha, as in many Buddhist countries, monks beg, do not produce food, and do not engage in warfare. When a territory was conquered by non-Buddhist powers, or Buddhism was patronised less by certain rulers, the sangha inevitably declined and the lay people merged their folk customs into whatever other religions were dominant.

By the Middle Ages, after a thousand years of growth, Buddhism was sidelined as the elite religion throughout much of its former dominion, except in mainland Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka. Neo-Confucianism and Shinto prevailed in East Asia, partially due to state policies. In 845 CE, China’s Tang Dynasty launched the great anti-Buddhist persecution, stimulated in part by the fact that too many people were entering tax-free monasteries. Neo-Confucianism thereafter became the dominant philosophy among the elite in China; a similar process unfolded in Korea with the rise of the Joseon Dynasty in 1392, and in Japan, where the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1868) promoted Neo-Confucianism and Shinto at the expense of Buddhism, mostly for political reasons.

Buddhism also all but vanished in South Asia, as folk Buddhism was reabsorbed into Hinduism, with the Buddha being acknowledged as an avatar of the god Vishnu. Hinduism was simultaneously less dependent on state promotion for its survival, and more attuned with the ritual and political needs of kingship, as well as being more aligned with folk beliefs. The destruction of the great Buddhist university at Nalanda in 1193 by Muslim Turkic invaders sealed its fate. Throughout South Asia, after the establishment of Muslim dynasties, conversion to Islam occurred fastest in the heavily Buddhist regions of Afghanistan, Swat, Sindh, western Punjab, and eastern Bengal, compared to other areas where Hinduism was more prevalent.

This history informs Buddhist attitudes toward Islam, regardless of the actual doctrines of Buddhism, or Islam for that matter. History and demographics have created a sense of siege that is unlikely to be resolved soon. Unfortunately, ideas such as education, development, spreading awareness of family planning, or autonomous regions for Muslim minorities are taking a back seat to hysteria throughout numerous Buddhist-majority countries with Muslim-minorities.


End of the World, Missed it Again!

Now just as I didn’t detect much in the way of World Peace on World Peace Day I’m not seeing much Apocalypse on End of the World Day.

You may remember that a week ago I quoted American christian activist Scott Lively’s homophobic rant about marriage equality legislation in the U.S. triggering the end of the world. It is all meant to start on Yom Kippur which actually started at sunset yesterday (ends sunset today). This all comes from the Book of Revelation in the christian bible which describes how an all loving, omniscient, omnipotent deity tortures and kills the vast bulk of the people and creatures on Earth, or allows this to happen (he’s got form, remember the flood).

And then makes it all nice for the chosen few who survive.

Trouble is Scott’s not the first to come up with the “we’re all doomed” scenario. The list is a very long one but here are some selected highlights……………

The first one, only 30 odd years after christ’s death, is 66–70 CE and comes from Simon bar Giora, an Essene. The Essene sect of Jewish ascetics saw the Jewish revolt against the Romans in 66–70 as the final end-time battle before the arrival of the Messiah.

500 CE Hippolytus of Rome, Sextus Julius Africanus and Irenaeus. All three predicted Jesus would return in
the year 500. One prediction was based on the dimensions of Noah’s ark (obviously).

992–995 CE Various Christians predicted that the end was nigh as Good Friday coincided with the Feast of the Annunciation; this had long been believed to be the event that would bring forth the Antichrist, and thus the end-times, within 3 years.

Now for the obvious one, the first Millenium on January the 1st, 1000. The Millennium Apocalypse at the end of the Christian Millennium. Various Christian clerics predicted the end of the world on this date, including Pope Sylvester II. Riots occurred in Europe and pilgrims headed east to Jerusalem.

Here’s a good one. 1284, Pope Innocent III (d. 1216) predicted that the world would end 666 years after the rise of Islam.

1346–1351, lots of people, time of the Black Death, obvious. (still didn’t happen)_

1555. Pierre d’Ailly, around the year 1400, this French theologian wrote that 6845 years of human history had already passed, and the end of the world would be in the 7000th year.

A familiar name, Martin Luther predicted the end of the world would occur no later than 1600.

And again, Christopher Columbus predicted in his Book of Prophecies (1501), that the world would end during 1656.

1736 Cotton Mather’s third and final prediction for the end of the world.

1836 John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, foresaw the Millennium beginning this year. He wrote that Revelation 12:14 referred to the years 1058–1836, “when Christ should come”.

Charles Taze Russell predicted the return of Jesus to occur in 1874, and after this date reinterpreted theprediction to say that Jesus had indeed returned in invisible form.

Charles Taze Russell, “…the battle of the great day of God Almighty. The date of the close of that “battle” is definitely marked in Scripture as October 1914. It is already in progress, its beginning dating from October, 1874.”

International Bible Students Association. In 1918, Christendom would go down as a system to oblivion and be succeeded by revolutionary governments. God would “destroy the churches wholesale and the church members by the millions.” Church members would “perish by the sword of war, revolution and anarchy.” The dead would lie unburied. In 1920 all earthly governments would disappear, with worldwide anarchy prevailing.

1972 Herbert W. Armstrong. The second of three revised dates from Armstrong after his 1936 and 1943 predictions failed to come true.

1982 Pat Robertson. In late 1976 Robertson predicted that the end of the world would come in 1982.


Peter Olivi. This 13th-century theologian wrote that the Antichrist would come to power between 1300 and 1340, and the Last Judgement would take place around 2000.

Isaac Newton Newton predicted that Christ’s Millennium would begin in the year 2000 in his book Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St. John.

Ruth Montgomery. This self-described Christian psychic predicted the Earth’s axis would shift and the Antichrist would reveal himself in this year.

Edgar Cayce This psychic predicted the Second Coming would occur this year.

Sun Myung Moon The founder of the Unification Church predicted the Kingdom of Heaven would be established in this year.

Ed Dobson This pastor predicted the end would occur in his book The End: Why Jesus Could Return by A.D. 2000.

Lester Sumrall This minister predicted the end in his book I Predict 2000.

Jonathan Edwards This 18th-century preacher predicted that Christ’s thousand-year reign would begin in this year.

2013 Aug 23. Grigori Rasputin prophesied a storm where fire would destroy most life on land and Jesus Christ would come back to Earth to comfort those in distress.

What will actually happen……………..

The sun will slowly expand into a red giant, pushing the Earth farther out into space, but not far enough.

Our home planet will be snagged by the sun’s outer atmosphere, gradually plunging to its doom inside the fiery stellar furnace.

“The drag caused by this low-density gas is enough to cause the Earth to drift inwards, and finally to be captured and vaporized by the sun,” explains astronomer Robert Smith of the University of Sussex.

Previous projections had all figured that the Earth would avoid falling into the sun, even during our star’s red-giant phase.

The good news: This won’t happen for another 7.6 billion years.

The bad news: Life on Earth will end long before then.

In fact, we’ve only got a billion years left before the slowly expanding sun boils off the oceans and reduces our planet to an uninhabitable cinder.

Buddhist Monks Feed Poor Muslims During Ramadan

Now here’s a story you may have missed…………

While ISIS is calling for terrorist attacks to be carried out during Ramadan Dharmarajika, a Buddhist monastery in Bangladesh, is serving food to hundreds of poor Muslims during the holy month which this year runs from the 18th of June and ends on the evening of the 17th of July.

During Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim year, strict fasting is observed in daylight hours; Muslims break their fast at sunset, with a meal known as Iftar and this is what the Monks have been providing.

The monastery was established in 1949 and is home to more than 700 orphans who study at a free school it runs.