This weekend in southeastern Bangladesh Buddhist homes and temples were robbed and destroyed on a huge scale. Newspaper reports vary, some say four Buddist temples were burnt down, others put the figure at eleven. Some reports say 15 homes were torched, others say forty. The fact is, they came under a sustained attack from a huge mob (the most common report is of 25,000 people) and were targetted specifically because of their religion.
When I first read this yesterday my initial reaction was one of grief and anger. Grief at the idea of Buddhists being forced from their homes, watching as they were robbed, and then being left homeless as their homes, and places of worship, were destroyed. The attackers even beheaded Buddha statues to complete the insult and harm. Anger followed close behind. My first anger was directed at those who carried out the attacks. My second wave of anger was directed against the western Buddhist blogoshere which completely and utterly ignored the attacks.
(A year or two ago a Christian pastor in the US suggested that Tiger Woods should convert to Christianity, the Buddhist blogs spent months condemning him. But Buddhist temples are burnt to the ground in Bangladesh and Buddha statues beheaded and the blogosphere is silent).
I was angry, sad, unsettled, and felt isolated and powerless. What could I do to help? What is the proper response. Thankfully, I knew enough to get off the Internet and onto my meditation block. Practice was difficult. My breathing was fast and every time I thought about it my heart rate would increase again. Eventually some peace came as I prayed. “Let there be comfort” I prayed, “let those who did this wake up”, “let those that suffer find strength”. Eventually it was one prayer only, again and again, “let there be peace”.
I’m still unsettled, I’m still angry. My prayer for peace brought some to me, but what does it do for those in Bangladesh? How does it help them? Is our Buddhism so self-centred that all we can do is sooth our own hearts while, effectively, ignoring the suffering in the world?
Well, Thich Nhat Hanh writes that “When you have enough of the energy of compassion and love in you, your heart grows big and you can embrace everything and everyone – even those you call your enemy. When you can look deeply into your ‘enemy’ and see that he is a victim of ideas, notions, and misinformation, of conditions in his own life and his culture and society, then you can remain calm, your heart remains open, and you will have a better chance to help him get in touch with his humanity, his innate Buddha nature, and transform the seeds of hatred and violence within.” (“Peaceful Action, Open Heart”, p. 192).
So, while not ignoring or suppressing my anger, but just siting with it, here is my prayer for Bangladesh. For all those that lost their homes and their temples, and all those who caused the destruction too. It is taken from “A Thouasand Hands of Compassion”.
May the bright eye of wisdom fill the universe with light
shining brightly, illuminating all.
May all beings
become one, become one
one with all Buddhas
one mind, one mind
one body, one body.
May all beings
escape from suffering
and become free.
Let there be peace. Let there be peace. Let there be peace.