Buddhism and Human Rights–Is This a Conflict?

We have heard more details recently about the ongoing war in isolated Burma [Myanmar]–especially this week in Seattle. Human rights reporter Mac McClelland was here, talking about her experiences living in Thailand by the Burmese border, an area swollen with refugee camps. She lived with Burmese dissidents, members of one of the ethnic groups targeted by Burmese government genocide, who risk their lives regularly by secretly crossing into Burma to document atrocities of the government’s ethnic-cleansing campaign.

Many of us have seen media images of Burmese Buddhist monks in peaceful protest against state violence. In neighboring Buddhist countries of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, and not far away in Sri Lanka, Buddhists living there must also be opposed to the state repression and violence so many of them have suffered, right? Don’t Buddhists renounce violence?

This Saturday morning at SAAM, the Saturday University lecture series presents “Buddhism and Human Rights in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia.” Biff Keyes (Professor Charles Keyes) will be challenging such assumptions, based on his research in these countries. He tells me that he will talk about different interpretations of Buddhism in Southeast Asia, including those of Buddhist political leaders whose actions seem contrary to what we think we know about Buddhism.

In the meantime, he shared one of his photos taken in Cambodia in 1987. This display on the “destruction of religion” was in a former extermination center that became a museum, at Tuol Sleng, Cambodia, 1987.

Photo: Charles Keyes, 1987

Photo: Charles Keyes, 1987

The lecture starts at 9:30 am on Saturday at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Visit SAM’s website for detail program and ticket info.

 Sarah Loudon, Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas

Thai Buddha; 7th-8th century; Grayish blue limestone; Thomas D. Stimson Memorial Collection and Hagop Kevorkian, 46.47