Why are we surprised when Buddhists are violent?

Stepping Toes

Dan Arnold & Alicia Turner, New York Times, 5 March 2018

05stoneWeb-master768.jpg The Nya Thar Lyaung reclining Buddha is an important religious site in the Bago region of Myanmar. Credit, Frank Bienewald/LightRocket, via Getty Images

While history suggests it is naïve to be surprised that Buddhists are as capable of inhuman cruelty as anyone else, such astonishment is nevertheless widespread — a fact that partly reflects the distinctive history of modern Buddhism. By ‘modern Buddhism,’ we mean not simply Buddhism as it happens to exist in the contemporary world but rather the distinctive new form of Buddhism that emerged in the 19th and 20th centuries. In this period, Buddhist religious leaders, often living under colonial rule in the historically Buddhist countries of Asia, together with Western enthusiasts who eagerly sought their teachings, collectively produced a newly ecumenical form of Buddhism — one that often indifferently drew from the various…

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