Monday, March 9, 2009

Prejudice and Suffering of Buddhism

I believe it to be readily acknowledged by many atheists and anti- theists that certain concessions are made (or have been made) for the religion of Buddhism so as to make it an exception to deserving rigorous assault. Perhaps this is justified in some respects. Certainly it is the Abrahamic faiths which currently stand at the forefront of mankind’s demise. It is also a quality of Buddhism to both be and not be a religion - burring the spiritual with the philosophical perspective. I hold little to none grudges towards the latter, but the former deserves my full attention. There are at least two customs of the spiritual version of Buddhism that begs and receives exploitation; that of prejudice and suffering, which are not all that unlike Christianity. After traveling through large concentration of Buddhists and experiencing first hand how Khmer, Laos, Vietnamese, and Thai people live, I have developed a new disrespect for the traditions of Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism.

As a quick preliminary, from what I've seen Buddhists are far more content and peaceful than those of the Abrahamic faiths. Whether or not this is related to the living conditions or the religion itself is an open question since Buddhism does not exist in non-impoverished locales. However, Muslims and Christians alike can also be found to be concentrated in impoverished areas and are far from content or peaceful. So perhaps there is something to say that Buddhism is a more benign religion, but I'll leave that as an unknown. I need not squabble over whether one or the other is a lesser evil if neither such evil need exist in the first place. I intend to show that Buddhism (pertaining from here on to the spiritual sects of Buddhism, not the philosophical) is indeed an evil.

One of the most common traits of all religions is prejudice, and there is no escape for Buddhism. Both Theravada and, up until recently, Mahayana Buddhism have been the propagators of sexism. Women are seen as inferior reincarnations of life forces and it is believed that only male humans (monks to be more precise) are capable of reaching nirvana. Women are taught, or rather told, to pray or hope that in the next life they will be male. The women cannot even be allowed to sit with or touch a male monk. This distinction directly results in not allowing women to become monks. Perhaps, one might say, that this is actually an advantage to the female species if I claim Buddhism is so horrible. But a Buddhist monastery is not the place of eunuchs like we see with Christianity. There are many perks to becoming a monk in the developing world, including: free education, free food, free time, and unquestioned free will to leave the monastery at any time.

For most males in S.E. Asia who attend a monastery, the objective is to receive an education for free in return for providing spiritual guidance to the commoner in the form of blessings. Basic subjects including the very valuable English language - valuable for tourism where the most money is made in these developing countries - are taught for free along with the Buddhist teachings. In any part of the world, education is a distinctive economic advantage, giving these males in SE Asia opportunities to escape their harsh farmer lifestyle. And from the farmers the monks receive free food. To a westerner that's merely pittance, but for the people of these countries, who work long backbreaking days in hot climates just so they can survive another day, it is a contribution indeed. Meanwhile, the monks sit and recite scripture indoors and occasionally sprinkle some water or go for walks to collect money from the villagers. Whether or not the monks or the villagers recognize this exploitation matters not. It is what it is, and it is no the females who benefit.

If the sexism began and ended in the monastery this would be nearly a moot point. But the relative laziness and sex superiority reach beyond the temples and is reflected in the lifestyles of the men and women. Similar to before the time of the feminist movement, while the men relax after a days work, the women, who have been performing the same (or more) hard labor of their husbands, are not relieved from their work by the setting of the sun. Child care, cooking, and home maintenance is their job. There are exceptions, many in fact, but in general and on average this is the dynamic. A guy from Holland I talked with who married a Khmer woman and had been working on a farm he owned for the past eight years near Battambang, Cambodia (one of the poorest in Cambodia) first echoed this sentiment to me. In all the SE Asia countries you'll only see male motorbike taxi drivers who can be found asleep most of the day. You'll also see a very high ratio (read quite nearly infinite) of male to female locals in restaurants eating food and enjoying a beer.

Whether these differences are an effect of culture or of religion it is again perhaps hard to say. But it is unquestionably being supported by the exclusion of females from monasteries and the teaching of female inferiority, not at all unlike Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I agree that sexism has lasted even in Western countries that are less religious and that perhaps there are life guidance benefits specific to Buddhism that could outweigh the sexism. However, there is a far more dangerous tenet of Buddhism that fails mankind - that is the idea of necessary suffering.

Again like the Abrahamic faiths, Buddhism teaches that each cycle of life through reincarnation is played out by karmic principles related to past live and the respective current life. Suffering is seen to be caused by wrongdoings performed during anytime in past lives and thus a necessary component of life to pay for their actions in order to eventually reach nirvana. Unlike the Abrahamic faiths, however, is the adherence to strict pacifism. Both Jesus and Gandhi are considered champions of pacifism, but both also justified violence in self defense, and certainly Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism can hardly be described as peaceful religions. All life is taught to be a precious thing in Buddhism since the mosquito you just squashed may have been a relative from the past. Though very few Buddhist followers actually practice vegetarianism and preservation of life, the monasteries do and it is something revered by the communities.

It can be quoted by great philosophers that until mankind treats animals well, mankind cannot treat itself well and perhaps this is a part of why Buddhists might be more peaceful than other religious zealots. However, the strength of the pacifist movement is derived from the coupling with the idea of necessary suffering. What better way to be a pacifist than to be convinced that your dire situation is necessary?

When Pol Pot (who attended a Christian school, by the way) and the Khmer Rouge took control of Phnom Penh, and thus Cambodia, the Khmer people were sent to work in communes led by vicious and scared cadres and were placed in living conditions which, in at least my opinion, were far worse than any concentration camp during the holocaust. The malnutrition and long hard labor, the clockwork killings, the Tuol Sleng prison where tens of thousands were tortured for months, the rapes, the disease, and most of all the unending fear make 1970's Cambodia a horror story (1/4 of Cambodia's population - 12 million - was killed off during the Khmer Rouge control). It's not hard to meet a Khmer who survived the Khmer Rouge to tell you a personal story of their family getting killed off and being tortured or underfed with a face of indefinable sorrow. Massive graves are still being unearthed with unidentifiable remains, many of which can be viewed in a stupa on-site. Bones of infants, children, adults, and the old can all be seen as grim reminders of their end by either being smashed against a rock and thrown into a cave, decapitated by a palm tree branch, or bludgeoned to death by an axe. These people suffered like no other. What's more astounding, though, is that there is no evidence of any uprisings by the Khmer people - that is no uprisings by any Buddhists groups of Khmer.

There were no shackles or jails that kept the vast majority of Khmer from uprising against their cadre. There was ample opportunity to rise up with farming tools in hand as a group and take their country from the hands of tyrants. The only thing holding them in check was fear... fear and Buddhism. So why didn't they revolt? According to a woman from on of the commune districts, the people accepted their situation due precisely because they thought they were supposed to be suffering for karmic reasons. For them, the Buddhists, if they could repay their past life actions by suffering so then they could be reincarnated as a more privileged human being. What a novel idea indeed!

But, says the cynic, and rightfully so, who's to say that a person of another faith or non-faith wouldn't do the same - that is wouldn't accept their situation as is by not revolting? A fair question and I can answer accordingly. There were two other religions that existed significantly in the country of Cambodia. There was a group of Muslims in the south east, known as the Chams, and the animists of the hill tribe people in the north east. Both of these groups, independent of each other, did in fact rise and revolt against the Khmer Rouge cadres of their respective districts. These are distinctly the only areas of evidenced revolt. You have to ask yourself why that is so. It is merely coincidence that those areas where the revolts took place were not Buddhist? Maybe because they were on the border? There were no revolts on the western border. It seems too simple to me to chalk this one up to coincidence when there is both reason and evidence to support the claim of a curse of dogma relating to the idea of necessary suffering, coupled with pacifism, which plagued the Buddhists in Khmer Rouge Cambodia. Pacifism is a novelty idea that, like most things, taken too far can be as dangerous as its opposite. Aristotle would agree.

As evidenced by history and the state of things in Buddhist areas, there seems to be enough reason to mark Buddhism as sufficiently dangerous for the anti-theist to take notice, especially with the additional mention of the fact that Buddhism supports all other religions. Let us not gloss over religions that appear peaceful, for behind every dogma lies enslavement.


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Anonymous said...

Are you not born to die? Is not everyone you love born to die? Is this not suffering?

Anonymous said...

I was taught that it was the Buddhist monks that could not touch a woman. Same as they cannot touch money, they cannot touch a woman. No holding hands, nothing.

Anonymous said...

Regarding pacifism, I agree with the conclusion that you reached. However, in the teachings of the Buddha, there is some indication that while one may not kill another, they are surely allowed to have a good fit and let their opinions be known (as opposed to suffering silently).

Wherever there is belief that one sect is more superior than another, or that one sect is entitled to something because of the culture they were born into, the seeds of discrimination and prejudice are sown. This is contrary to Buddha's teachings. I really wish religious leaders would stop with that nonsense. Wishes are free...

As for monks touching a woman, it is not to do with her being unclean or whatever. It's because touch may invoke desire... Isn't that why Muslim women wear burqa? At least in this case of the monk, the onus is on the male not to touch...

Oiddy Manning said...,32068,1243654446_1721792,00.html

Hopefully you can see this anti-theist. ( I can't convey context through wright well. But i mean it sincerely.)