The Washington Times - May 29, 2008, 05:40PM

Usually you don’t hear a whiff of bad stuff about Buddhists, who number roughly 360 million worldwide. In fact, the Karmapa Lama, one of the most important spiritual leaders of Tibetan Buddhism, is in the United States now. Read about his visit. All of 22 years old, he may be the face of world Buddhism once the Dalai Lama passes from the scene.

And to page through the glossy pages of Tricycle magazine, one would think the religion is all kurta shirts, wrap pants, dharma matchmaking services and cool essays on the heart sutra and everyday nirvana.

I was then paging through a recent issue of Free Inquiry (I get lots and lots of religious publications) and came across an essay pro-war Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka. Buddhism is treated as a state religion in Sri Lanka where Buddhist extremists attack Christian churches, according to the State Department’s annual religious freedom report.

Not that Free Inquiry, which is a secular humanist publication, is all that concerned about Sri Lankan Christians. Crisis, a Catholic magazine, ran a piece in 2005, “Buddha’s Fist,” about militant Buddhists in Sri Lanka who are trying to pass a law banning all conversions from Buddhism to another religion. Christians - Protestant and Catholic alike - are routinely slandered and their churches closed.

Free Inquiry also made the point that pre-China-takeover Tibet was hardly a paradise; in fact it was a feudal theocratic state based on the work of thousands and thousands of serfs who, informed by Buddhist teachings on karma, were told they had to accept their imprisoned station in life as punishment for something they did in their past lives.

How would Chinese Buddhists, then, explain, the horrible circumstances of the May 12 earthquake in Sichuan? Did those who die simply have bad karma? Is karma, a basic Buddhist principle, innately cruel? If so, what does that make Buddhism?


Julia Duin, assistant national editor/religion, The Washington Times