Marriage Fears

Ashin Mirathu, a prominent anti-Muslim Buddhist monk.

Ashin Wirathu, a prominent anti-Muslim monk, has been called by Time Magazine “The Face of Buddhist Terror.”

In her book Founders of Faith, Joan A. Price recounts the final moments in the life of Siddhartha Gautama, better known as the Buddha. Just before his death, it is told that the Buddha said to the people gathered around his deathbed, “Work out your own salvation with diligence.” This was his final message in a life spent seeking knowledge and espousing a message of nonviolence, tolerance, and living at peace with yourself and fellow human beings. This message was the core of the faith founded on his teachings, Buddhism.

But as often happens, the pure ideals of ancient faiths and philosophies don’t fit well with the complicated realities of the world. Such has been the case in the country of Burma (also known as Myanmar), where tensions between the population of Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims have escalated to violence. (Burmese peace icon Aung San Suu Kyi has been particularly criticized for her failure to speak or take action on this issue.)

Most recently, the conflict has taken a turn away from violence, but taken an equally insidious form: social control. Buddhist monks in Burma have drafted a law banning marriage between Buddhists and Muslims. Though Burma is in the process of transitioning to civilian control after decades of authoritarian military rule, this extreme measure is decidedly reminiscent of the heavy handed tactics favored by totalitarian regimes, not to mention that the notion of the state mandating people’s lives seems to be in contrast with the values of Buddhism. How can one follow the path of personal enlightenment if the state is dictating your path?

This news about restricting marriage comes at a time when Americans are in the midst of an unprecedented debate about marriage rights as well. The U.S. Supreme Court recently handed down a ruling allowing same-sex marriage in states that allowed it, and striking down a part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that denied federal benefits to same-sex couples.  Though these rulings didn’t fully legalize gay marriage (that still happens on a state by state basis), the ruling was still a major victory for gay rights activists and paves the way for same sex marriage.

This ruling has been justly celebrated (in contrast to a Supreme Court ruling that came just a day earlier, in which the court chose to largely cripple the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the consequences of which are yet to be seen), but many were angered by the Court’s decision. Like the monks in Burma, this group of activists sees a great danger to society if a certain type of marriage is allowed.

Why exactly? It’s tough to say. But it’s hard not to see a common and key motivating factor being fear; the fear that allowing certain types of marriage–between a Buddhist and a Muslim, between two people of the same sex, or as often used to be the case, between people of different races–will implicitly damage society, even if there is no evidence to support such fear. And this fear, unfortunately, often causes people to act out in ways that inspire fear and create oppression, ways that seem to violate the spirit of the faith and ideals these people are purporting to protect.

To learn more about the Buddha and the founding of the Buddhist faith, as well the founding of Christianity, Islam, and many other religions, check out World Religions and Beliefs: Founders of Faith by Joan A. Price (ISBN# 978-1-59935-147-6) from your local library, or purchase it from Morgan Reynolds Publishing.

-Josh Barrer,

Associate Editor

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Published in: on July 11, 2013 at 2:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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