The Dalai Lama has implored Buddhist monks in Myanmar and Sri Lanka to put an end to a series of recent attacks on Muslims in their countries.
The Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader spoke Tuesday night about religious violence when asked questions following a speech he delivered to 15,000 people at the University of Maryland in the United States.
Myanmar, which was earlier known as Burma, has been wracked by sectarian violence that has killed hundreds and displaced more than 135,000 over the past year, while Sri Lankan Buddhist groups have recently attacked Muslim businesses.
“Killing people in the name of religion is really very sad, unthinkable, very sad,” the Nobel Peace laureate said. “Nowadays even Buddhists now involved, in Burma and Sri Lanka also. Buddhist monks … destroy Muslim mosques or Muslim families. Really very sad.”
He said that he sometimes counsels his fellow Buddhists: “When they develop some sort of negative emotions toward the Muslim community, then please think (of) the face of Buddha.”
If the Buddha is there, he will protect the Muslims, he said in a video of the speech posted on the university’s website.
The Dalai Lama is the head of the Tibetan school of Buddhism, while Buddhism in Myanmar and Sri Lanka is dominated by the separate Theravada branch, which does not answer to his authority.
The sectarian violence in Myanmar first flared in western Rakhine state nearly a year ago, when mobs of Buddhists armed with machetes razed thousands of Muslim homes, leaving hundreds dead and forcing 125,000 people to flee, mostly Muslims.
That violence has since spread into a campaign against the country’s Muslim community in other regions.
In March, at least 43 people were killed and 12,000 displaced in the central city of Meikhtila when Buddhist mobs rampaged through the town and police stood idly by. Most of the victims were Muslim.
Last week, one person was killed and nine others injured when Buddhists stormed a township about 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of the main city Yangon, ransacking mosques and burning several villages to the ground.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has accused authorities — including Buddhist monks, local politicians, government officials, and state security forces — of fomenting an organized campaign of “ethnic cleansing” against the Muslims in Rakhine state. The government has denied the charges.
Sri Lanka, which is dominated by a Buddhist majority, has also been hit by rising instances of hate speech against Muslims and attacks on Muslim-owned businesses.
Groups led by Buddhist monks have spread allegations that the small Muslim minority was dominating business there and trying to take over the country by increasing its birthrate and secretly sterilizing Buddhists.