Buddhist malfeasance: 3 years of hard labor in Myanmar for man who pulled the plug on speaker emitting loud Buddhist chants

October 7, 2016 • 8:30 am

Buddhism is always the religion held up as an exception to the bellicosity and oppressive nature of religion in general, and while that may be true, Buddhism by no means has a spotless history. In Myanmar (formerly Burma), for example, Buddhists have engaged in wholesale killing and displacement of the Muslim Rohingya. Such persecution also happens in Sri Lanka, and I’ve sometimes reported arrests for hurting Buddhist sentiments, as in the case of three people jailed for wearing an ad for a disco depicting Buddha wearing headphones.

Buddhists, then, occasionally play the “offense card,” and it’s pretty dire when they do. The latest incident, reported in yesterday’s New York Times, involves Klaas Haijtema, a 30-year-old Dutch tourist who, while visiting Myanmar, was staying at a Mandalay hostel near a Buddhist center. On the night of September 23, the center began broadcasting Buddhist chants over a loudspeaker, disturbing Haijtema’s sleep.

After asking the Buddhists to lower the volume (they probably didn’t understand him), he then pulled the plug on the amplifier. BIG mistake. He was arrested and sentenced to—get this—three years at hard labor for “causing a disturbance to an assembly engaged in religious worship.”

 As the NYT reports:

Mr. Haijtema wept after the prison sentence was announced. He was also fined the equivalent of $80 for violating the terms of his entry visa, which require visitors to obey Myanmar’s laws and customs. Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country, and Mandalay is a relatively conservative city.

Haijtema in custody. Photo: Agence France-Presse, Getty Images

There are reports, however, that the Buddhist center was itself violating the law by broadcasting over a loudspeaker without a permit. Perhaps Haijtema won’t have to break rocks for three years after all.

h/t: Florian

Dalai Lama promulgates the “no true Muslim” fallacy

September 18, 2016 • 1:37 pm

Here are a few of the Dalai Lama’s remarks to the Committee of Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, which he visited on Thursday. As you see, he claims that any religious person, not just Muslims, cannot be a “true believer” if they commit terrorism. This, of course, is a meaningless and tautological statement, like saying that no true cat would eat cucumbers.

Among religious leaders, Tenzin Gyatso is among the least offensive and most amiable. But he’s not immune to mouthing pious inanities like the above. Try telling the members of ISIS that they’re “not genuine Muslims”.

Gyatso is a long way from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, but one more thing bothers me about him. He’s characterized as science friendly, and he’s even said this:

“If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.”\

Yet, as far as I know, he believes not only in karma, which is a supernatural concept, but in reincarnation, part of the karma trope. Now we can’t really prove these “false”, but the evidence is against them, since if there were reincarnation the population of animals on the planet would be constant (unless, of course, microbes are silently disappearing as they wend their way to mammals).  But you can’t claim that the Dalai Lama is fully down with naturalism.


The Lancet removes image of the Buddha from its cover after protests of hurt feelings

July 2, 2015 • 12:00 pm

We all know that many Muslims go wild when Muhammad is depicted in unflattering ways, but I never would have expected that Buddhists would object to an image of the Buddha in a scientific journal—one shown in a flattering way. But such are the sensitivities of the faithful.

According to the site Retraction Watch, the British medical journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases has removed an image of the Buddha from its online cover because it offended the religious sensibilities of some Buddhists.

Here’s the original cover:


What was it meant to depict? As the journal itself explained after removing the cover:

The journal has received several emails making the same point as made by Arjuna Aluwihare.

The cover drawing is based on the Article on dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine failure associated with a triple mutant including kelch13 C580Y in Cambodia, by Spring and colleagues, which was published in the June, 2015, issue of The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

The drawing depicts a feature typical of Cambodia, a statue of the Buddha, with the statue contemplating a mosquito, the insect vector of the malaria parasite. No other interaction between the statue and the mosquito is intended or illustrated. The cover artist modelled the drawing on photographs of Cambodian Buddha statues that are freely available on the internet.

At the time of publication, we were not aware of any proscription against picturing statues of the Buddha. However, given the complaints received, the illustration was taken down from the journal’s website on May 22.

But, as noted above, several readers objected. One of them, Professor Arjuna Aluwihare of Sri Lanka, was even a Christian, and here’s his email:

I am a Christian living and working in Sri Lanka and was shocked to see that an image of the Buddha was used on the cover of the June issue of The Lancet Infectious Diseases. Generally, depiction of the Buddha statue is frowned upon in Sri Lanka unless in a Buddhist context. Thus your use as a cover illustration is not forbidden, but displays a lack of sense and sensibility, with which I have associated the Lancet journals in the past. This incident bears similarities to the French magazine Charlie Hebdo’s publication of images of the Prophet Muhammad, and the ridiculous and insulting competition held in Texas, USA, that encouraged people to draw anti-Islamic pictures.

That is, pardon my Spanish, caca de vaca.  It is not at all like the Charlie Hebdo images, which were meant to call attention to the problems of Islam. The mention of Pamela Geller’s competition is irrelevant and meant only to inflame, and the image of the Buddha above seems rather nice. (Of course, I’m not a Buddhist.) But it’s certainly not insulting.

When Retraction Watch contacted Aluwihare, he added this to explain why he was offended:

Here it may cause more issues because the mosquito (who should be killed) is there and Buddhists are supposed not to kill — even a snake who may kill a man! However, many Buddhists are nonvegetarian — very contradictory. In this picture apart from religious feelings it might lead to mercy on ‘mossies’! At least to add ‘the picture of the Buddha should not be used as an excuse for sparing mosquitoes — like the one also in the picture.’

More issues? Seriously? Perhaps one could interpret that as the Buddha pondering whether disease-carrying mosquitoes should be killed. The journal, however, claims that the statue is meant only to represent Cambodia, and I think that’s true. But there’s no implication that the Buddha would spare mosquitoes to kill people, as Aluwihare maintains. His complaint holds no water, and it saddens me that such an innocuous cover should be censored, especially one that can not be construed as intending any offense or mockery.

What did they replace it with? Here’s the extremely boring cover that now is on the journal’s website:



BBC hosts debate on whether and where the Dalai Lama will reincarnate

March 25, 2015 • 9:25 am

What the bloody hell is up with the BBC? Reader Steve (with the side comment “fookin idjits!”) called my attention to a discussion on the BBC News site in which four people debate whether and where the present Dalai Lama will reincarnate. That’s like the Beeb having a serious debate on whether Xenu stored preserved humans in volcanoes before blowing them up with hydrogen bombs, and whether Paul Haggis is still afflicted with thetans.

This is all because the present Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso—in exile in India—has affirmed that he will refuse to reincarnate in Tibet, and therefore may be the last Dalai Lama. In response, the Chinese government has insisted that the 15th and next Dalai Lama will indeed reincarnate in Tibet.

This is all hilarious stuff, but also shows that the common assertion that Gyatso is down with science is completely bogus.  He believes in reincarnation, for crying out loud!

Anyway, here are a few inadvertently rib-tickling excerpts from the BBC debate.

Chonpen Tsering: Reincarnation process must not be manipulated

Chonpen Tsering is the Dalai Lama’s representative in northern Europe.

“The lamas – the senior religious figures – are able to determine firstly whether they are reborn, and if they are going to be reborn, where they’ll be reborn.

“The present carnation, the present Dalai Lama, can decide. The rebirth is his choice.


Jia Xiudong: Dalai Lama is playing a political game

Jia Xiudong is senior research fellow at the China Institute of international studies in Beijing.

“I believe that the tradition will be maintained [and] the Dalai Lama will be reincarnated.

“There’s a role for the current Dalai Lama to play for the reincarnation, but I believe he should not exaggerate that role.

“For example, he just cannot stop the tradition individually.

“It is tradition passed from centuries ago.


Robert Barnett: China wants a ‘tame’ lama

Robert Barnett is director of the Modern Tibet Studies Programme at Columbia University in New York.

“I think we have to look at all of this as negotiating moves on both sides. So the Dalai Lama is making these speculative, philosophical statements about, ‘I might be coming back, I might not. I might come back as a woman.’

“This is his normal method as a Buddhist teacher of the kind that he is to make people think. But it’s also a negotiating move with the Chinese to expose them to the kind of ridicule that they’ve put themselves in now by claiming to be able to arbitrate on matters like religion and reincarnation.

“This Dalai Lama has been so effective as a religious leader, even more so than as a political leader, that there’s going to be huge force among his followers for him to come back. So it’s quite likely that it’s going to happen.”


Jamyang Norbu: Dalai Lama must reincarnate for the sake of Tibet’s future

Tibetan writer and activist Jamyang Norbu fell out of favour with the present Dalai Lama when he criticised his “softly softly” approach to China.

“He doesn’t have much of a choice. The lama’s reincarnating is a political institution.

“It’ll have to be the choice of the Tibetan government in exile and of the people.

“China will have their candidate up and running, and you can be 100% sure that they will.

“They’ll just pick some Tibetan kid who looks cute enough and they’ll put him up there and they’ll say, ‘This is the Dalai Lama.’

“If we don’t have our own candidate from the general Tibetan Buddhist world, then they win by proxy.


And my own addition:

Professor Ceiling Cat: This is all insane.

I’ve been to Tibet, and it’s sad to see the systematic dismantling of Tibetan culture by the Han Chinese. When I visited monasteries, monks would furtively ask me if I could give them a picture of the Dalai Lama (Gyatso), as those pictures are forbidden.

That said, if you know about the old Buddhist theocracy in Tibet, it was by no means a paradise. Further, Tibetan Buddhism is just as rife with superstition and delusion as any other faith. It is romanticized in the West, but that’s largely because the religion is being suppressed by the Chinese government.

One of those superstitions is reincarnation, and here it’s being used in a political chess game between Tibetan Buddists, the Dalai Lama, and the Chinese government. There is, of course, no way to prove that any child born, whether he be in Tibet, India, or elsewhere, is a reincarnated Dalai Lama, though Buddhists do have some “tests” (seeing, for instance, if a kid recognize objects belonging to the last Dalai Lama).

I can’t resolve this problem, but I can add two things. First, the Dalai Lama is given undue respect. He’s the Pope of Buddhism, and though he’s pretty friendly to science, still believes in superstitions like reincarnation and karma. But in general he does follow the physician’s dictum: “First do no harm.” Second, the BBC is crazy to host a debate like this. They can write an article about the fracas, and give the different opinions, but they needn’t have people taking reincarnation seriously. If they do, they could at least write a disclaimer: “Note: There is no reliable evidence for a human soul, nor for the fact that it can leave the body of a dead person and install itself into a child.”


Myanmar sentences 3 people to two years in prison for depicting Buddha with headphones

March 19, 2015 • 10:25 am

If anybody thinks that Buddhists are a lot less concerned about criticism of their faith than are members of other religions, think twice. Myanmar, for instance, is hard on its Muslim minority population: even one of my heroes, Ang San Suu Kyi, has been criticized for being indifferent to the welfare of those Muslims.

And now Myanmar has sentenced three people, a New Zealander and two Burmese (Myanmrians?) to two years in jail—for the horrible crime of insulting the Buddha! How did they do it? By advertising an event at a bar with a picture showing Buddha wearing headphones! As The New York Times reports:

A bar manager from New Zealand and two Burmese men were sentenced to two years in prison in Myanmar on Tuesday for posting an image online of the Buddha wearing headphones, an effort to promote an event.

The court in Yangon said the image denigrated Buddhism and was a violation of Myanmar’s religion act, which prohibits insulting, damaging or destroying religion. “It is clear the act of the bar offended the majority religion in the country,” said the judge, U Ye Lwin.

The image was posted in December on the Facebook page of the VGastro bar and restaurant in Yangon. After an outcry from hard-line Buddhist groups, the police arrested the restaurant’s general manager, Philip Blackwood, 32, of New Zealand, along with the bar owner, U Tun Thurein, 40, and the manager, U Htut Ko Ko Lwin, 26. The three have been held in Insein prison in Yangon.

Here’s the offending picture, now removed from Facebook. Horrible, isn’t it?


The offenders were forced to make a grovelling apology:

The three convicted men faced possible prison terms of as long as four years in connection with the image, which was posted on the bar’s Facebook page. The image was quickly removed, and the bar issued an apology, saying it had not intended to cause offense.

“Our ignorance is embarrassing for us, and we will attempt to correct it by learning more about Myanmar’s religions, culture and history, characteristics that make this such a rich and unique society,” the apology said.

That’s six years total out of three lives, all for putting headphones on the Buddha. What rot. Buddhists are supposed to be better than that.

This is an ex-monk (but Buddhists say he’s alive)

February 6, 2015 • 2:59 pm

Trigger warning: frozen Buddhist

This is an ex-monk. He has ceased to be. Bereft of life, he rests in peace. He has joined the choir invisible:


According to the BBC News, this monk’s body (his robes are beside him in the photo) was found frozen and preserved in Mongolia. There’s no telling how long he’s been dead, but the Mongolian climate probably freeze-dried the body, explaining the remarkable preservation.

The thing is, though, that some Buddhists think he’s alive!

But Dr Barry Kerzin, a physician to Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, told the Siberian Times that the monk was in a rare state of meditation called “tukdam”.

“If the meditator can continue to stay in this meditative state, he can become a Buddha,” Dr Kerzin said.

The monk was discovered after being stolen by a man hoping to sell him on the black market.

Mongolian police have arrested the culprit and the monk is now being guarded at the National Centre of Forensic Expertise.

The Siberian Times piece adds this:

Dr Barry Kerzin, a famous Buddhist monk and a physician to the Dalai Lama, said: ‘I had the privilege to take care of some meditators who were in a tukdam state.

‘If the person is able to remain in this state for more than three weeks – which rarely happens – his body gradually shrinks, and in the end all that remains from the person is his hair, nails, and clothes. Usually in this case, people who live next to the monk see a rainbow that glows in the sky for several days. This means that he has found a ‘rainbow body’. This is the highest state close to the state of Buddha’.

He added: ‘If the meditator can continue to stay in this meditative state, he can become a Buddha. Reaching such a high spiritual level the meditator will also help others, and all the people around will feel a deep sense of joy’.

Now perhaps you can be dead and still be in a “meditative state,” but I don’t know how that works, nor have I heard anything about that in my fragmentary readings about Buddhism.

Regardless, though, this nonsense shows that not all Buddhists are rationalists. Buddhism is often praised for not having the supernatural beliefs that cast doubt on other faiths, but even the Dalai Lama (often praised for being science-friendly) believes in reincarnation and karma—unevidenced spiritual doctrines.

In the meantime, although the doctor says that this monk is just resting and pining for the Potala, he is in fact a late monk, one who’s expired and gone to meet his maker. He’s a stiff.

UPDATE: I just received this email, which I won’t dignify with a reply save to say that here we have a fruitcake with extra brandy:

you cant leave anyone alone can you.you are absolutely sure that no form whatsoever of reincarnation takes  place what is it when a ray of sunlight hits a leaf you don’t know what 90 per cent of the universe is,but you arrogantly assure the unwashed what it isn’t.pure hubris



So much for peaceful Buddhists

June 24, 2013 • 6:33 am

We always think of Buddhism as a peaceful religion, but of course that’s belied by the violence that once raged in Sri Lanka, and the lesser-known and continuing enmity between the Buddhists and Muslims of Myanmar (Burma).  In that country Buddhists outnumber Muslims by about 25 to 1, and Muslims are the most common victims of religious violence. Predictably, they’re also the ones who get imprisoned most often.

Here’s one example of the kind of religiously-based stupidity that even a Buddhist-majority government can perpetrate. According to the New York Times, a trivial “offense” to Buddhism can reap a stiff prison sentence:

A court in Myanmar has found two Muslim women guilty of setting off a recent outbreak of sectarian violence, one of them by bumping into a Buddhist novice monk. Myint Thein of the pro-government National Unity Party, who attended their trial, said Wednesday that the two women in the central township of Okkan were convicted of “insulting religion.” Both were sentenced to two years in prison with hard labor. A police officer in Okkan, who did not want to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to the news media, confirmed the sentences.

. . . The two women’s trial was related to an April 30 episode in Okkan that culminated with Buddhist mobs destroying shops and homes in several villages. Myint Thein said the court heard that one of the women bumped into the monk as he was collecting alms and the other grabbed the monk by his shoulders. It is considered inappropriate in Buddhism for women to have any physical contact with monks.

Even if the Muslim women did that on purpose, it doesn’t merit two years of hard labor. (I shudder to think what “hard labor” means in Burma.) And none of this would have happened had there not been religion.

h/t: Diane G