CNN reports the Dalai Lama –the spiritual leader of Tibet — has urged his co-religionists in Sri Lanka and Myanmar to halt the sectarian violence that has pitted majority Buddhist populations against Muslim minorities.
The assumption behind this story is that the Dalai Lama is a person of consequence whose words will carry weight with Buddhists round the world. What he says matters, CNN reports.
But does it? And if it does matter, to whom does it matter?
The attacks on Muslims in Sri Lanka and Myanmar have had the approval of Buddhists leaders and in some cases mobs have been led by saffron-robe clad Buddhists monks. The report from CNN cleanly and clearly reports on the Dalai Lama’s call for peace, but it neglects to mention (or perhaps it assumes) that Buddhism is a monolith, a unified system of belief whose leaders are universally esteemed by its practitioners.
The bottom line: What the CNN team is doing in this story is projecting Christian assumptions about a church and hierarchy upon a non-Christian institution. These assumptions make the story intellectually accessible to a Western reader, but present the issue in a false light.
The article entitled “Dalai Lama to Myanmar, Sri Lanka Buddhists: Stop violence against Muslims” begins:
(CNN) – Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has made a renewed call for Buddhists in Myanmar and Sri Lanka to cease violence towards the countries’ Muslim minorities, in an address delivered on his 79th birthday. Speaking before tens of thousands of Buddhists, including Hollywood actor Richard Gere, the exiled Buddhist leader implored the faithful in the majority-Buddhist countries to refrain from such attacks.
“I urge the Buddhists in these countries to imagine an image of Buddha before they commit such a crime,” he said in the Indian town of Leh. “Buddha preaches love and compassion. If the Buddha is there, he will protect the Muslims whom the Buddhists are attacking.”
The article reports that “[r]ising Buddhist nationalism” in Sri Lanka and Mynamar “spearheaded by movements led by extremist monks” has led to communal violence in recent years. Details of the violence are given as are the Dalai Lama’s calls for peaceful coexistence between the faith communities.
And the story closes with an explanatory note that:
The Dalai Lama was speaking before the audience in Leh to confer Kalachakra, a process intended to empower tens of thousands of his Buddhist followers to reach enlightenment, his office said.