In an effort to mitigate the suffering of Rohingya refugees fleeing from Myanmar into nearby Bangladesh, we are writing to enlist your help in our capacity as the Care-Taking Council of the Dharma Teachers ordained by Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh residing in North America.
Since 2012, Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh and our Council has been writing to lay and monastic leaders of Myanmar, asking them to look deeply in order to see and understand the basic humanity and rights of the Rohingya ethnic minority living in western Myanmar, who practice a form of Islam.
We and other Buddhist leaders wrote to the government of Myanmar in February of this year as well to ask that its military cease military operations against Rohingya refugees causing them to flee Myanmar into impoverished Bangladesh.
As you have probably learned from newspaper sources, notwithstanding its receipt of many such letters appealing for peace, Myanmar military operations increased sharply this summer, causing an estimated 500,000 Rohingya refugees to flee into one of the most remote and poverty-stricken areas in Bangladesh within a period of approximately 30 days, sometimes at the rate of 20,000 people each day, only to hide in forested hillsides.
Is what has been happening consistent with the Buddha’s teachings?
In the Discourse on Love, the Buddha taught: “Let no one do harm to anyone. Let no one put the life of anyone in danger. Let no one, out of anger or ill will, wish anyone any harm.”
And as you may recall, the Buddha was revolutionary for his time, insisting that the outcastes of India be loved, respected, and welcomed into his monastic order.
So, given the sudden and unprecedented scale of this tragedy, how can we work together as Buddhist practitioners to help?
We have consulted first-hand with Rohingya leaders just returned from Bangladesh with their graphic photographs of refugee suffering, who suggest the following in response to frequent questions:
1.) HOW TO DONATE FUNDS ON BEHALF OF THE REFUGEES. Thus far, the most evident assistance “on the ground” to the refugees is being provided by Doctors Without Borders. Although Doctors Without Borders does not accept “targeted” or “dedicated” contributions that limit the donations to one cause, the plight of the Rohingya is clearly a top priority and the Rohingya leaders we met recommend donations to Doctors Without Borders at this time.
2.) HOW TO HELP LESSEN THE ABILITY OF THE MYANMAR MILITARY TO CONTINUE ITS OPERATIONS. The U.S. Congress and the current Administration is considering the termination of military aid to Myanmar as a means to stop the oppression of this minority group. See ways to add your voice to this effort. Please act now! If you live in countries outside the U.S., consider ways you might engage your local or national officials in bringing pressure to bear on the Myanmar government.
3.) SEEK OUT THE ROHINGYA AND OFFER TO HELP. Some Buddhist groups have already identified Rohingya communities in their midst and have asked how they might be of help. Buddhist practitioners have started to help through modest food and clothing drives. Rohingya leaders also stress the need for volunteers to help with both English as a second language instruction and the education of children.
Also, the Rohingya need your help and the help of your friends at a time when the good reputation of Buddhism as a peaceful and compassionate force in the world is being tarnished by what’s happening. Please enlist the help of your friends on behalf of the Rohingya. At the same time, you might consider ways of offering a broader view of Buddhism than the impression people might be getting through the press. For example, you might talk with your friends and colleagues about the Rohingya situation, their need of help, and your understanding of Buddhist teachings, and write a letter to the editor of your local paper, or invite a journalist to lunch, or post this kind of information on Facebook or Twitter, and so on, on these subjects.
Time is of the essence given the sudden, unprecedented scale of refugees suffering. A more complete explanation of the background of this tragedy and of additional ways to help through political channels is attached.
Perhaps if we can help stabilize the refugee suffering, avenues for respectful dialogue with the government of Myanmar – which represents a people traditionally known for their gentle ways and devotion to Buddhism — may eventually begin and result in the peaceful return of the Rohingya to their original Villages with adequate means of livelihood and protection from harm.
Thank you for considering this request.
THE PLUM VILLAGE LINEAGE NORTH
AMERICAN DHARMA TEACHERS COUNCIL
By: Jack Lawlor, President
Current Care-Taking Council Membership: John Bell, Dennis Bohn, Chan Co, Fern Dorrestyn, Karen Hillsberg, Jack Lawlor, Brother Phap Man, Kenley Neufeld, Anh Huong Nguyen, Leslie Rawls, Chau Yoder, Brother Phap Vu