Ashin Wirathu, Luang Pu Nenkham, and Orthodox Theravada Buddhism

What is the relationship between Ashin Wirathu, Luang Pu Nenkham, and Orthodox Theravada Buddhism?

To what degree are these contrary to or in accordance with the Dhamma-Vinaya/Buddhism?

Some potentially relevant links:

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Clearly these are examples of what not to do and not to be when wearing the robes.
I hope everyone find a way to start a conversation which proves useful, friendly or conducive to peace.


Ashin Wirathu

I honestly don’t know enough about this monk bar what I’ve read in some rather untrustworthy publications such as the Guardian and the NYT. What has he done specifically?

I don’t know much about Luang Pu Nenkham, but Ashin Wirathu is generally considered deeply Islamophobic and has been accused by human rights activists of spurring anti-Muslim sentiments against the Rohingya and other Muslim peoples living within Myanmar.

I would argue that his speech goes profoundly against the Dhamma and the Vinaya, as he is often inciting others to commit violence, such as that which has lead to the deaths of many thousands of people. There have been instances of other Burmese monks doing similar things, particularly one who gave a speech in front of the Burmese army in which he suggested that killing non-Buddhists is ok because they are not completely human.

Vinaya wise, I think such language breaks the fourth pārājika as they are advocating for the death of other people through their dehumanization of them.

I don’t think I would call their behavior Orthodox Theravada Buddhism, as there are many monks and nuns who are conservative who are not violent. I would describe him more as a Buddhist Nationalist, one who believes he is protecting the sasana through the banishment of Islam from his country. This is a common sentiment in Sri Lanka as well and one which is Islamophobic and has no basis in reality.


I see. What has he said specifically? Obviously inciting violence is unacceptable behaviour.

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Looking into him a bit more I don’t see any direct calls for violence, but I do see a lapse into collectivist group-think. In other words forgetting the individual and only seeing the group that the individual belongs to, resulting in viewing all muslims in the same light. I can see how this can inflame the citizenry so, whilst not a direct violation, he is close to the line and a little too much on the hatred side it seems.

There are of course valid criticisms and concerns about Islam, IMO, but to go from that to “all muslims bad” is dumb and dangerous thinking. Personally I don’t have much time for Islam, very little at all really, but every Muslim is an individual who should be judged on their own merits. The same with everyone else, no matter their religion or political philosophy.

As for the Islamofication of Burma, if he is worried about that then he should instead push for a classical liberal state. This would ensure the protection of Buddhism there without lapsing into unwholesome behaviour IMO. Individualism is the secular answer here it seems rather than the blurred vision of collectivism.

To go back to the OP, I don’t see how this monk is in line with orthodox Theravada which is a noble, wise and infinitely compassionate religion.


Slightly off-topic, but also on-topic, it kind of irks me how some journalists have tried to use Ashin Wirathu to portray Buddhism as conducive to violence as any other religion. They’ve clearly never read The Simile of the Saw. The canonical texts are so consistently and clearly anti-violence, in ways that the Abrahamic religions are not.


Hmmmmm the first part of the Simile of the Saw sutta is a little ambivalent about violence, though…

6So even if someone strikes those nuns with fists, stones, rods, and swords in your presence, you should give up any desires or thoughts of the lay life. If that happens, you should train like this: ‘My mind will be unaffected. I will blurt out no bad words. I will remain full of compassion, with a heart of love and no secret hate.’ That’s how you should train.

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He appears to be suggesting renunciation and equipoise as a response to violence here. Give up desires and thoughts of lay life. Remain full of compassion with a heart of love and no secret hate.


This kind of response of exaggerated detatchment is often used by Buddhists as an excuse to not get involved in situations where violence and harm is occurring. I’ve heard this approach used on issues from domestic violence right up to state sponsored nationalistic brutality. Sure it’s not inciting violence per se, but neither is it condemning it, and instead it is actually allowing it to continue. Although the individual might “protect” their own mind it does little to benefit the people experiencing the effects of violence. Hardly can be pointed to as “anti-violence”?

I understand what you’re getting at here, but my point is that doctrine can be used to justify things either way, depending on what side people want it to represent, cherry picking ideas that suit their needs, which is what appears to happen when monks and religion “go bad”.

I don’t think it’s the journalists fault!

Edit: in other suttas, the Buddha uses graphically violent imagery. In the Kesi Sutta for example saying he kills people by ignoring them and not teaching them. A bad faith actor would use this kind of reference for their own nefarious ends, just as has happened with certain extracts of Islamic texts which are used to justify terrorism, and this is surely the type of approach being used by Buddhists, too.


Are you saying the teaching in the sutta is flawed?

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I see your point. Yeah, if I saw someone attacking a nun, I couldn’t just be calm and content about that. I’d have to kick their ass (sorry, Buddha).

Nope. But I wouldn’t quite put this apparent indifference to violence in the same category as the Book of Leviticus, which explicitly condones murder for sin.


Is that sort of action supported by the suttas?

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Probably not.


only line is statistics. These cases lacks of real interest despite media news. This is unavoidable in the Buddhist History when wars and serious conflicts arise. Statistically are unavoidable and also minoritary.

However, we know the mass-media is devoted to exploit the culture of the anecdote so the public can build an image according political or economic interest. Ideologically that monk can be placed like a nationalist or “right” monk strongly attached to his culture or nation. He can be placed at the other side of those “progressive” monks who are strongly attached to a globalist agenda.

From Buddha times there are monks who lack of enough disenchantment from the world. This is an unfavorable situation for a monk, although no news. Lay people is normal they become engaged in such issues although this is no normal neither good for monks.

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I’ve spent some time trying to understand the ways in which monks have been involved in anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar. I’ve read the international press with great alarm, read a couple of books, and have talked with a number of Burmese monks. (I am American, but my ordination and affiliation are Burmese, so it hits somewhat close to home for me.) I can say that most of the international reporting is simplistic and misleading. But the following might provide some perspective.

The scholar-monk Ashin Wirathu is known for his anti-Muslim rhetoric. A few years ago his face made the cover of Time Magazine’s Asian edition over the caption “The face of Buddhist Terror.” The impression one gets from the article therein by NYT’s Hannah Beech, and from other media, is that he promotes violence against Muslims and may be involved in organizing riots. This makes little sense, since he would know that if he inspires someone to actually kill someone he would have violated a disrobing precpet. I have never found anywhere, in spite of his clear bigotry, where he is actually quoted as advocating physical violence. He advocates the boycot of Muslim businesses, and legislation that restricts Muslim rights, and he does use rather infalmatory language, like calling Muslims “dogs.” However, I am not aware that he advocates any kind of “extremist” version of Buddhism. In fact, I read somewhere that he regarded his political activities as outside of the scope of Buddhism, but that (I paraphrase) “a country has to defend itself.”

In terms of the Burmese Sangha, Ashin Wirathu is quite marginalized. A very good acquaintance of mine, Ashin Osadha lived for many years in the same monastery with Wirathu when they were young monks, and describes him as not right mentally. He reports that he had actually suffered some kind of brain damage. He seems to relish the attention the international press gives him. Although he has a reputation as a Pali scholar and teaches at the Masoeyein monastery in Mandalay, a presigious monastic college, he has only about 30 disciples among 3000 students. I happened to visit this monastery in March, 2019 and was being shown around by a number of monks, when I happened to see a row of pictures of their 10 head teachers and was shocked to recognize Wirthu among them. I mentioned that I recognized him, and the local monks were all clearly embarrassed about him.

I’ve interogated Ashin Osadha on many occasions about the very real anti-Muslim sentiment in Myanmar and about the degree of monastic involvement. These are strong concerns of his. A well-known incident of Buddhist/Muslim violence occurred in a town called Meiktila in 2013 that left 40 people dead, mostly Muslims. U Osadha had devotees in Meiktila, some of whom ran a health clinic in which a number of Muslim Burmese worked. Upon hearing about the incident, he traveled to Meiktila to see how he could help, and took up residence in a monastery of which a disciple of his served as abbot. He reports that there were terribly violent mobs in the streets. A group of about forty to fifty Muslim men, chased by a Buddhist mob, entered the monastery grounds, at which point Osadha gave them refuge and barred the pursuing mob from entering, telling them that they would have to kill him first before he would let them harm any of the Muslims seeking protection. Osadha then phoned some friendly parties who brought food to the monastery and he hosted the frightened Muslims for some days until the danger was over. (The many cases like this tend not to appear in the international press.) I asked Osadha if monks participated in any of the violence (as reported in the press). He said he knows that some teenage novice monks have, who “had not yet learned to control their mind,” but knows of no fully ordained monks who ever have.


Thank you for sharing your experience :pray: :slightly_smiling_face: