Buddhist Fanaticism: I Rejected It

Sumeet-Grover-01

 

Sumeet Grover – TRANSCEND Media Service

 

Recently an article appeared on the Guardian UK where a former Christian, a Jew and a Muslim wrote about quitting religion because they realised they were made to cultivate false beliefs about themselves and others. My story is about quitting the largest Buddhist organisation in the UK to reject fanaticism and the insult of diversity.

 

It is a dark evening at the ascent of December in London. Dressed in a green kurta, a traditional top worn by Indian men, I am sitting in a Buddhist group, facing the altar as about five of us recite prayers in the same rhythm, a symbol of uniting the depths of our lives in the pursuit of discovering wisdom and meaning. I am the only Indian person in the room; everybody else reflects some geography of the world, just like the ethnic geography of London.

 

In his book Longing for Paradise, Mario Jacoby [1] writes:

 

“The longing for freedom from conflict, suffering and deprivation is an eternal human dream of great emotional power. It is the dream of total happiness, embodied in almost all cultures as the myth of Paradise.”

 

I am in the Buddhist group of the largest Buddhist movement called Soka Gakkai International United Kingdom (SGI-UK), the British affiliate of the SGI that works for peace, culture and education. The SGI also promotes a dialogue of civilisations and so does its UK affiliate. If you were to go to one of the meetings of this group, you would be impressed by the willingness of people to engage in self-reflection, discussions on transforming oneself and on dialogue. What kind of dialogue? They believe that dialogue can be used as a nonviolent tool to transform conflicts. So do I. Well, this is where many of my personal nonviolent beliefs find roots in.

 

I believe that religion is an attitude towards life. I believe the purpose of a religion or a philosophy is to liberate people from all that prevents us from leading a fulfilling life; similar to what Jacoby postulates.

 

December 4th was the last meeting I attended at the SGI-UK. How could I be Indian and sit in a room with people who, like others, have gone into the homes of Indian people to discuss religion and have insulted their cultural beliefs? Whilst asking this question, I also ask Indian members of this peace organisation: How can you allow people to enter your homes and let them insult your culture? How can you sit and attend these meetings as they ask you to give up your cultural identity? Why should any of us have to give up our cultural identity?

 

The answer I received from members and faith leaders in this organisation was that ‘there is one single truth’. As a humanistic and liberal thinker, how could I sit there and hear people quote Buddhist texts to prove that ‘Christians can never be happy’, Hindus are deluded with multiple gods, others can also not be happy because ‘Buddhism alone’ leads one to the greatest truth in life. Fanaticism could not be expressed more eloquently.

 

Months later, as I recall episodes of trying to engage in a dialogue with local faith-leaders and members in the SGI-UK that Indian people have the right to maintain their cultural beliefs of wanting to pursue different spiritual paths, I realise that my efforts failed. Promoting dialogue and engaging in dialogue are two different exercises. This is an organisation where they allow Indian people to join first and then ask them to give up their cultural beliefs, a humiliation. In my experience, some Indian people have quit, whereas others create a façade where they agree to all that is being asked of them, but in private practise their culture. Surely, issuing a letter with terms and conditions that people have to adopt a new identity would be an honest disclosure.

 

I gave up my membership of this peace organisation in a nonviolent protest against the insult of Indian people and against the insult of diversity. The last meeting I attended, I was told ‘believe like the English do [that is, no other belief or faith can lead to happiness], or quit this group’. I quit. Having lived in England for many years, it is my belief and experience that the British society is more liberal than the British affiliate of the SGI.

 

What then is the purpose of me reflecting upon the SGI-UK and the race-relations disaster I have experienced? It is to say that fanaticism doesn’t belong to a particular religion; every religion is vulnerable to it. Religious groups, therefore, must be open in acknowledging and repairing their faults. After all, to experience our limitations, to acknowledge our flaws and to experience the vast potential of our lives is what makes us human. As a closing remark, I quote Mario Jacoby [2] from his book Shame and the Origins of Self-esteem:

 

“So strong is the drive to discover the wisdom of the unconscious, to find fulfilment in life by surrendering to something greater and transpersonal – a need that traditional religions once satisfied – that various sects… hold a definite appeal.”

 

References:

[1] Jacoby, M. (1985) Longing for Paradise: Psychological Perspectives on an Archetype. Boston, Massachusetts: Sigo Press.

[2] Jacoby, M. (1994) Shame and the Origins of Self-Esteem: A Jungian Approach. London: Routledge.

 

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Sumeet Grover is the founder of Global Poetry, dedicated to creativity, human dignity, dialogue and global citizenship. He is a winner of the Portico Brotherton Open Poetry Prize 2014 and was shortlisted for the Jane Martin Poetry Prize in 2014 & 2015. He has authored two books of poetry:House Arrest & Disobedience (2015) and Change (2011). Grover is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and of the TRANSCEND Art & Peace Network.

 

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 6 June 2016.

 

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