By Julia Ramsey || Staff Writer
This semester, Interfaith Student Council is focusing on a different religion each week, with the goal of increasing religious literacy and highlighting the role faith plays in students’ lives. Through this project, the ISC hopes to expand students’ understanding of the religious diversity at Franklin & Marshall and provide an opportunity for students to learn about the backgrounds and practices of their fellow peers.
This week, the ISC is focusing on Buddhism and will be distributing flyers around campus with interesting facts about the religion! My student profile is Lin Phyu Sin (Betty), who is a sophomore here at F&M.
JR: How would you describe Buddhism to someone who’s never heard of it before?
LS: Buddhism is one of the main religions in Southeast Asia and said to have its origins in India. Buddhism has two major branches—Mahayana Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism. I practice the latter—Theravada Buddhism. Theravada Buddhism, as I perceive, is built up on non-violence, consideration, compassion and push for righteous manners, words and thoughts. Nirvana is the highest state a Buddhist can attain, and thus an ideal goal of Buddhists should set.
JR: What do you think is commonly misunderstood about your religion?
LS: I will not necessarily go into technical details such as Buddhism not having God—Buddha is not necessarily God—even though this might be one of misunderstandings about Buddhism. The core concept of Buddhism, which several Buddhists might find hard to acknowledge, is self-reliance. It is not Buddha but you who can steer your life. The particular aspect of Buddhism and potential misunderstandings I would to highlight is related to current religious conflicts particularly prevalent and controversial in my home country Myanmar (Burma). The reasons behind these conflicts might not be purely religion—as some political scientists have pointed out, politics is likely to be behind them. Anyhow, what is on the stage is some Buddhists committing violent actions on Islamic groups. Such actions of certain Buddhists somehow disgrace Buddhism and raise questions about “non-violence” of Buddhism. What I would like to clarify is that, while I do acknowledge that there are certain so-called Buddhists committing violence, they are a handful of people. Even though they use religious narratives as their motives, such violent actions do not align—in fact, even contradict—with core principles of Buddhism which favors and even emphasizes on nonviolence and tolerance. Thus, actions of a handful of so-called Buddhists or any other religion—be the actions good or bad—do not necessarily represent the whole religious community.
JR: What does being Buddhist mean to you?
LS: When I was young, I was a pretty religious person in terms of religious rituals—going to the monasteries, pagodas, paying homage to monks etc. Nonetheless, as I grow up, I am not as religious in the ritual aspect. Arguably, I become more selective in my commitment. Now, I appreciate more of theoretical aspects of Buddhism and adhere to particular Buddhist theories that, in my opinion, not only limit to the religion itself but speak to larger moral and ethical principles that contribute to public welfare. Religion is not necessarily the first thing that comes in my mind as I think about my identity—that, of course, depends on the time and circumstances of a situation. In any case, being a Buddhist thus means to me, as I have already mentioned, adhering to certain principles which, among others, include non-violence, empathy and consideration for others, and good—i.e. at least not being harmful to others—conduct in manners, words and thoughts. It might be hard to attribute all these values to religion because for me, my ethical/moral standards and religious standards do overlap occasionally.
Junior Julia Ramsey is a staff writer. Her email is email@example.com.