For centuries, words like meditation, awakening, truth and nirvana have been regularly attributed to Buddhism, which is widely perceived as the world's most peaceful and harmonious religion.
However, figures like Ashin Wirathu, the man responsible for the genocide of Muslims in Myanmar, (Burma) are gradually corrupting the legacy of Siddharta Gautama – the enlightened one.
“In some parts of Asia, a more assertive, strident and militant Buddhism is emerging,” states a recent report by Religion News Service - a Washington-based news agency that focuses on worldwide ethics, spirituality and moral issues.
“In three countries where Buddhism is the majority faith, a form of religious nationalism has taken hold,” write contributors Anuradha Sharma and Vishal Arora.
In the light of recent events, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Myanmar (Burma) have been established as the hotbeds of “Buddhist fundamentalism” where religious minorities – especially Muslims – are being exterminated to extinction by hate-preachers and their followers.
“At least 5,000 people have died in Muslim-Buddhist violence in the country’s South,” states RNS.
A bloody insurgency by ethnic Malay Muslims has been underway since early 2004 in the southern provinces of Thailand, which ranks among the poorest areas of the country.
According to Professor Michael Jerryson of Eckerd College in Florida, who authored Buddhist Fury: Religion and Violence in Southern Thailand in 2011, the separatist movement led to the recruitment of Buddhists by the Thai army, who trained monks to become soldiers and “serve as hybrid servants of the state”.
Although there aren’t any violent anti-Muslim groups in Thailand, a fundamentalist organization Knowing Buddha Foundation advocates for a blasphemy law to punish anyone who offends Buddhism.
Bodu Bala Sena, or the Buddhist Power Force (BBS), is a notorious Buddhist nationalist monastic group based in Colombo, Sri Lanka – where the population comprises of 70 percent of Theravada Buddhists.
It was called “Sri Lanka's most powerful Buddhist organization" by TIME magazine in 2013.
Owing to its controversial ideologies and actions, the BBS has drawn much criticism from the country’s notable politicians, human rights advocates, and religious groups including other Buddhist clergy members.
It was formed by a group of monks in 2012 to “defend” and “protect” the country’s Buddhist culture. However, it later executed the characteristics of a militant organization.
At least 241 attacks against Muslims and 61 attacks against Christians were carried out by the BBS in 2013, according to the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress.
[Severely malnourished 25-day-old twins are held by her mother Norbagoun, a displaced Rohingya woman, in their house at the Dar Paing camp for internally displaced people in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar]
The country that gave rise to Buddhist extremism in its worst form in Asia, and the world in general, is Myanmar, where at least 300 Rohingya Muslims have been ruthlessly killed and up to 300,000 displaced, according to Genocide Watch.
Human Rights Watch reported that tens of thousands of the displaced people have been denied access to humanitarian aid and are unable to return home.
What’s worse, pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize winning human rights activist, Aung San SuuKyi, has remained silent over what can be called one of the most blatant human rights abuses in recent times.
Ashin Wirathu, a so-called “influential” monk, started a nationalist campaign called the “969 Movement” in Myanmar against Islam’s expansion in predominantly Buddhist Burma.
The hate-monger was recently labeled on the cover of TIME magazine as “The Face of Buddhist Terror.” Although the controversial edition was banned in Myanmar, Wirathu was less than concerned with what was published about him.
“I am proud to be called a radical Buddhist,” he was quoted as saying.