Applying Engaged Buddhism Concepts to the Situation in Bangladesh
Written by A Chakma Venerable Monk in Canada
“Engaged Buddhism refers to Buddhists who are seeking ways to apply the insights from meditation practice and dharma teachings to situations of social, political, environmental, and economic suffering and injustice.”- Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engaged_Buddhism, March 2015)
Some people suggest that Engaged Buddhism is a Western Buddhist concept, borrowed from Western cultural ideas of equality, human rights, charity and social activism. Although definitely gaining popularity in the West, when we read the article Buddhism and Politics by Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera, we can see that Engaged Buddhism has roots in the Cakkavatti, Sihananda Sutta, Kutadanta Sutta, Jataka (including Dasa Raja Dharma – The Buddha’s Rules for Good Governance), and Milinda Panha. Although it can be argued that the Buddha’s emphasis was on the individual’s path to enlightenment, in Buddhist Economics: A Middle Way for the Market Place (1994, Venerable Dhammapitaka), it is explained that the Buddha also recognized people require their basic needs to be met first. Therefore he taught never to teach dhamma to people who are hungry because their hunger must be satisfied first or it will be an obstacle to spiritual growth. Feeding the hungry can be seen as a simple but important act of Engaged Buddhism.
Another simple way to consider Engaged Buddhism is to apply the basic Five Precepts to both the societal level as well as the individual level. To understand how to apply the five precepts as social activism, we first need to look at the Buddha’s teaching of these precepts. Buddhism is the teaching of the nature of the Buddha. It is a very non-violence and fair concept among the world’s religions. In Pali: NAHI VERENE VERANI – Hatred never ceases through hatred. PARE CE NA VIJANANTI – Don’t look for others’ faults. SABBA TASANTI DANDASS A – All beings are afraid of punishment, SABBA BAYANTI MACCUNO – All beings are afraid of dying. These are some important teachings of the Buddha. It is the reason why the Buddhists are expected to be nonviolent. However, this does not mean Buddhists need to stay silent when we see injustice or to not act when we see social problems. We do need to make sure our political and social activism is done in ways that promote peace and loving kindness, but I believe Buddhism has an important role in social activism in our modern society.
The five basic training rules of Buddhism, known as the precepts, are observed by all practicing lay Buddhists. The precepts are often recited after chanting the Homage to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.
1. Panatipata veramani sikkapadam samadiyami
I refrain from killing
2. Adinnadana veramani sikkapadam samadiyami
I refrain from stealing
3. Kamesumiccacara veramani sikkapadam samadiyami
I refrain from sexual misconduct
4. Musavada veramani sikkapadam samadiyami
I refrain from lying
5. Surameraya majjapamadattana veramani sikkapadam samadiyami
I refrain from intoxicants
In Engaged Buddhism, the five precepts that are normally applied at the individual level, should also be considered at the social/governmental level. When we as Buddhists see corruption and injustice in governments and social, economic, political and environmental problems being ignored by society, Engaged Buddhists see it as our duty, not to just wish loving kindness and avoid from wrong individual behaviour as individuals but to also raise our voices in protest and use our resources to help those afflicted by these problems.
1. Panatipata veramani sikkapadam samadiyami – I refrain from killing
As human beings, we do not have the authority to kill other beings. The Buddha’s teaching firmly emphasizes that we need to refrain from killing. Sadly, killing is becoming a far to normal an act in present time in society. Every day, we hear about violence in society and people killing each other. It seem that people are forget their humanity. Parents forget their children. Children forget their parents. Now we see news stories that show some parents don’t think twice to kill their children. The news show that some children don’t think twice to kill their parents. The Buddha said “SABBA TASANTI DANDASSA” all beings are afraid of punishment. “SABBA BAYANTI MACCUNO” all beings are scared of dying. “ATTANAM UPAMAM KATWA” compare yourself. “NA HANEYYA NA GATEYA” and don’t kill others. People feel afraid of punishment and are afraid of dying so why are people try to kill others? It’s not right. Everybody is the same and loves their own life and desires to live well and be happy. So as human beings we should avoid killing beings.
In many places in the world this precept is broken on a society level. One example of this that I am personally familiar with is in the Chittagong Hill Tracks of Bangladesh where the military and the Bangali settlers kill Indigenous people. As Engaged Buddhists, we can look at situations like this one and consider carefully how we can advocate for those being killed. Taking action through supporting Human Rights Organizations, taking part in peaceful demonstrations, protests or participating in letter-writing campaigns to pressure the government are a few non-violent ways that Engaged Buddhists can support others suffering from those in power breaking this 1st precept.
2. Adinnadana veramani sikkapadam samadiyami – I refrain from stealing
The second precept has to do with stealing or taking that which is not freely given. The thieves think stealing is the best way to live well in society because they find it easier to steal from others than to work and earn the money honestly. As the greed of people and consumerism increase and become some of the world’s biggest issues, naturally, theft is continuing to increase in society as a means to satisfy the desire for more and more. However, the lives of people who steal will get worse due to cause and effect. If caught, the thief will be punished by the authorities, government or police, often they will receive no support from friends or family, no one will help him. Always living with fear of being caught and in fear of having things stolen from them, the thieves’ lives will be full of suffering and anxiety.
In addition to individual thieves, larger groups or governments can also use power and corruption to steal money, material things, resources, etc. from minorities and less powerful people. This causes large social problems because corruption and stealing through abuse of power hurts both the individuals as well as the whole social system. There becomes no faith in authority of police or military, no trust in the justice system or government officials and no security between neighbours. Everyone lives in fear of each other which leads to hatred and discrimination.
In my home country, the Bangali settlers steal indigenous peoples’ land in Chittagong Hill Tracts with the secret consent and encouragement of Bangladesh government officials, military and police. The settlers’ constant encroaching on indigenous-owned land is commonly called “land-grabbing” and many human rights organizations have reported on it. The issue is made worse by the fact that the authorities and the Bangladesh government support the Bengali settlers. When the Indigenous people attempt to defend their land, they get beaten, arrested or killed. The government signed the Chittagong Peace Accord in 1997 which was supposed to resolve land disputes but there has been very little done since then to implement the new laws. Now, the only hope is that other governments and people around the world will take notice of the issues and help to bring justice to the indigenous of the Chittagong Hill Tracts by pressuring the government of Bangladesh to implement the Peace Accord. As Engaged Buddhists, we can help people of the world learn about these issues, by talking about them, sharing articles on Facebook or even doing like I have done and writing a blog to share concerns about the horrible way the Bangladesh Government is dealing with the Chittagong Hill Tracts and abusing the rights of the indigenous people there.
3. Kamesumiccacara veramani sikkapadam samadiyami – I refrain from sexual misconduct
The third precept is refrain from sexual misconduct. “Sexual misconduct” can be understood as sexual behaviour that is harmful to self or others such as sexual harassment, infidelity, sexual abuse, sexual assault, prostitution, sexual coercion (using sex to manipulate), etc.. It is a common social problem in our society. In Buddhism, a healthy sexual relationship is between two consenting adults. Sexual misconduct can destroy lives by leading to the breaking up of families and divorce and, at its worst, can cause serious mental and physical harm.
Sexual misconduct is an issue in all societies as people who have power, whether from physical strength, or positions of authority can choose to misuse their power in this way. There are lots of incidents of powerful people in society using sexual misconduct as a weapon to control or destroy others. I have read in Human Rights reports and heard from many of my Chakma friends and my family that are so many incidents like this happening in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh government authorities and Bangali settlers are using their power on the indigenous women. The military use their uniform power on indigenous women and Bengali settlers uses the power given to them by the support of the Bangladesh government and authorities. They kidnap, rape and kill innocent Indigenous women often. It is not safe for Buddhist women and children to travel alone around Bangali settlers, even in daylight anywhere in Bangladesh. Women activists have been kidnapped, raped and murdered for speaking out about this abuse and oftentimes the perpetrators of these crimes go unpunished.
As Engaged Buddhists, we must stand up in support of all women who are treated this way, we know that it is wrong according to Buddha’s teachings and must do all that we can to stop it. Pressure needs to put on the Bangladesh government to bring justice and swift punishment to the abusers and encourage a safe system to report these crimes.
4. Musavada veramani sikkapadam samadiyami – I refrain from lying
Lying is the fourth of the five precepts. It is very important not to lie. In Buddha’s teaching, lying is not supposed to done by Buddhists. Similar to stealing, a liar will not be trusted, his or her reputation will be destroyed. Liars always live with fear of being caught in their lies and they have no peace in their minds because they must always remember their lies and will live with guilt. When the truth comes out, no one will trust them and no one will support them. Their friends will avoid them. Society will not accept them because they will be known as liars.
In my experience, the Bangladesh government is always lying to international organizations. The government is saying that there are no indigenous people in Bangladesh despite the fact that the tribal people meet the UN criteria to have the rights of Indigenous people and they mistreat Indigenous people in Bangladesh. There are so many mistreatment against the Chakma people such a military control, killing, burning houses, looting, destroying temples, kidnapping, torture, abuse of power, rape, harassment, land-grabs, discrimination, control of movement etc. The international organizations should stop giving aid to Bangladesh government as they are lying to the international organizations by saying that “tribal people” have equal rights to all other Bangladesh citizens and have protection through the Peace Treaty while actually not implementing this treaty and refusing to acknowledge Indigenous rights. As Engaged Buddhists, we need to raise awareness so that our governments and international organizations stop supporting this corruption through international aid.
5. Surameraya majjapamadattana veramani sikkapadam samadiyami – I refrain from intoxicants
The last precept is to refrain from intoxicants that can be addictive and cause loss of clarity of mind. In Buddha teachings, addiction and intoxication cause serious problems to individuals and in families. The Buddha said intoxicants such as alcohol and some drugs can also be medicine for the body but only small amounts should be used for short times. But if addicted on intoxicants, many domestic problems follow. The family will often become divided with much conflict and the family will not develop and eventually break down. Financial loss will cause children to lose the family lifestyle they had and affording education may be challenging. It also perpetuates poverty, unemployment and homelessness. They became hopeless people easily by abusing intoxicants.
In Chittagong Hill Tracts, it is easy for people to lose hope and turn to alcohol and drug abuse to avoid their feelings of fear and anxiety. Many families in my home village have problems with addictions due to hopelessness but addictions are also a problem within the Bangali population. Violence against Indigenous people also increases when Bangali settlers are intoxicated because greed, hatred, racism and intolerance become emboldened. Mindfulness meditation can be used to heal addictions. The Bangladesh government does not do anything to support programs that help mental health problems like addictions. The Buddhist people should be given resources by the government to develop mindfulness-based treatment programs. Increasing awareness of the problems and advocacy for treatment are ways that Engaged Buddhists can help in Bangladesh and elsewhere in the world as addictions are serious problem in all societies.
IMPORTANCE OF ENGAGED BUDDHISM:
As a Bangladesh Buddhist Monk, I escaped the dangers and persecution of Buddhists in my home country by seeking an education in Sri Lanka and Thailand and I am very thankful for that opportunity. However, even while living in relative safety in these Asian countries, I could not forget the suffering of my people. I took an active role in spreading the word about and protesting against the unfair treatment of our Buddhist brothers and sisters by the Bangladesh government and especially the Bangali settlers when I lived in both Sri Lanka and Thailand.
Now, having the opportunity to live in a safe and fair country like Canada, I feel a strong sense of duty to stop those people in Bangladesh who are attempting to assimilate and destroy the Buddhist Indigenous cultures in The Chittagong Hill Tracts region of Bangladesh. The government there has done everything in its power to take away the rights and the voices of my people so I believe we, as Buddhists with the privilege to live in a prosperous and peaceful Western country, have a duty to speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves.
CALL TO ACTION:
I encourage all Buddhists who are interested to be Engaged Buddhists to raise your voices with me. The Buddhist people of Bangladesh need us to encourage our governments to pressure the Bangladesh government to protect the Human Rights of Buddhists and other religious minorities. At the end of this article, I listed some websites for learning more about these problems and organizations that are working to change these injustices and need our support.
ENGAGED BUDDHISM RESOURCES:
International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) – “International and intercultural network of socially engaged Buddhists in 30 countries.” http://www.inebnetwork.org/
Association of Buddhists for the Environment (ABE) – “A network of Buddhist monks and nuns in Cambodia promoting environmental protection. “ http://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/organizations/association-of-buddhists-for-the-environment
“Tree Ordination in Thailand” in Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism, by Susan Darlington, eds. Stephanie Kaza and Kenneth Kraft (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2000): http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-ADM/susan.htm
Photo Credit:http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-31650591“Buddhist Monk Ordains Trees To Protect Them”
Buddhist Peace Fellowhip (BPF) – “Buddhist Peace Fellowship cultivates the conditions for peace, social justice, and environmental sustainability within our selves, our communities, and the world.” http://www.buddhistpeacefellowship.org/
Lion’s Roar – “Buddhist Wisdom for Our Time.” Online magazine: http://www.lionsroar.com/
Socially Engaged Buddhism by Philip Russell Brown. Article: http://www.buddhanetz.org/texte/brown.htm
The Fourteen Precepts of Engaged Buddhism by Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh (From the book Interbeing) http://viewonbuddhism.org/resources/14_precepts.html
ABOUT INDIGENOUS PEOPLES IN CHITTAGONG HILL TRACTS BANGLADESH:
Photo Credit: Author
Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission:
Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO):
Amnesty International Reports:
Photo Credit: Amnesty International http://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa13/005/2013/en/
Survival International: “The global movement for tribal peoples’ rights”:
Photo Credit: http://www.survivalinternational.org/tribes/jummas
Dhaka Tribune Newspaper Article: http://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/2015/feb/28/violence-and-land-grabbing-forced-210-indigenous-families-flee-country-2014
Kapaeeng Foundation: “A Human Rights Organisation for Indigenous Peoples of Bangladesh”: http://kapaeeng.org/