Definition of supremacist: relating to or advocating the supremacy of a particular group of people
Buddhist are proud because Buddha taught equality and inclusivity thousands of years ago. Scriptural records of how Buddha denounced the ancient caste system in India, is being hailed as exemplary in fights against brahmin Supremacy. Story of how a barber, Upali was made a senior of the Sakyan princes, when they become monks; was celebrated as proof that Buddha walk the talk.
Therefore, wouldn’t it be surprising if we find traces of supremacist in Buddhism?
In Buddhism, enlightened beings are considered superior. In that manner, enlightened man or woman is considered superior to others. Just like how the Buddha, Arhats and Bodhisattvas are considered superior beings, worthy of venerations and alms.
However, such supremacy does not result in suffering for the unenlightened beings. On the contrary, the Buddha, Arhats and Bodhisattva relief the unenlightened beings from sufferings.
An enlightened being does not have hatred and craving. Consequently, they do not cause sufferings to others. Respect and veneration of the enlightened being is completely voluntary, not forced down the throat. Buddha did not demand a better bed nor did he requested to be served privileged delicacy during his meal.
If we examine the biographies of enlightened beings, we discover that they lead a simple life. Their lifestyles create the least burden and inconvenience to others. Yet, their existence influenced and changed the society for the better.
Are there bad ignorant supremacist practices in Buddhism?
Ignorant supremacist refers to situations whereby a particular group of people are ignorantly made to be superior by merit of their race, gender, family, heritage, education, race etc In short, their superiority has nothing to do with enlightenment.
If one were to read scriptures in the Theravada traditions, one will be equipped with the knowledge to identify ignorant supremacist practice.
In the Assalayana Sutta, the Buddha clearly demonstrated that there is no wisdom in allowing a particular group of people to claim supremacy simply because of their birth heritage. In this particular context, the supremacy of the Brahmin caste is being challenged.
Here’s what I think is ignorant supremacist in Buddhism
Supremacy by birth
The Buddha taught that no one is born holy. (Example, the Brahmins in the Assalayana Sutta) Even in his lifetime as Prince Siddhartha, a Buddha is not being birthed. Enlightenment has to be attained. The Buddha also narrated various temptation, distractions and challenges that he had encountered and overcome in order to become The Buddha.
Therefore, when I first encountered Tibetan Buddhism and its system of Tulku (Reincarnated holy Buddhist), I was extremely sceptical.
In the ideal world, all Tulku(s) are gifted child. We wish they are great enlightened beings who reincarnate as human beings to SERVE THE UNENLIGHTENED, by leading ordinary people towards enlightenment. They would ideally be born with ancient knowledge and spiritual potential. Adverse to immoral conduct and be a good example to all.
The fundamental problem with this wish is that, we are just plain lazy to exercise our wisdom. Instead of forming our own conclusion after detail observation and examination, we prefer to rely on blind faith and believe that someone is born special or holy. It is not a very Buddhist way, seriously.
Instead of blind faith, I think there is more wisdom in following Buddha’s teaching. (check out the Assalayana Sutta) Buddha clearly taught us to examine the conduct of a person, to analyse their message (Kalama sutta), before concluding whether they are noble people worthy of respect and alms.
Supremacy by association
Like the mundane society, the unenlightened Buddhist world has its fair share of superciliousness arising from association with famous people. For example, when Master Guangqin was alive, many monks and nuns love to visit him and take pictures together with him. While some people have pure motivation; others may have ulterior motives. People with ulterior motives make use of their photographs to claim close association with Master Guangqin.
Why is association with Master Guangqin beneficial?
Weak minded lay Buddhist ignorantly believe a monk or nun to be superior; simply because of that association. Their rationale being; if a person is a disciple of Master Guangqin, that person must be good too. They failed to remember, even Buddha had a bad disciple named Devadatta.
Another form of supremacy by association is, association with famous temple.
Supremacy by education or knowledge
Foremost, we have to understand that knowledge is not enlightenment. Unfortunately, in Buddhism we also encounter the same snobbery associated with higher education. Those who have knowledge of many scriptures and buddhist philosophy are deemed superior.
Similarly, people with special privy to sacred mantra, spells and rituals are held in higher esteem and awe. (Something that the historical Buddha was against.)
Supremacy by gender
It is no secret that many ancient Buddhist text defined man as superior to woman. Modern people are doubtful that such scriptures are really teachings of Buddha. Assuming the logic of an enlightened mind is consistent, it is indeed dumbfounding to see the contradiction between a scripture such as the Assalayana Sutta and another scripture that pointedly states a woman is of inferior birth. Naturally, such scholastic pursuit will kick off an avalanche of doubt as to which scriptures are really Buddha Dharma.
Supremacy by age or seniority (years as a Buddhist)
In a facebook post, there was a video that were shared in mockery. In that video, 3 old monks were sitting at a round table, enjoying their lunch. Dressed in their finest monastic robe with expensive looking prayer beads hanging around their necks; they did look important and pompous. Behind each of them was a young lady dressed in traditional costume and carrying a palm leaf fan; manually fanning the monks while they ate and chatted.
What made that video funny and caused it to went viral; was the young girls making faces at the elderly monks behind their back and striking poses, pretending to hit them on the head with the fan. Obviously, the young girls were not happy with their task!
Supremacy by ranks and titles
Until today, I still cannot fathom the rationale of giving monks and nuns or lay person, fanciful titles and ranks. Instead of a focused goal to attain enlightenment, it becomes almost like a corporate ladder to climb. Perhaps we should blame the ancient Kings and Emperors for bestowing such titles. Shouldn’t we revisit this practice and seriously reconsider?
Supremacy by possessing sacred artifacts
The Buddha’s alms bowl, the cassock of the patriarch, the one and only clay amulet left behind by some holy master, sacred relics, special ceremonial hats and the list goes on. Across all Buddhist traditions!
Those who own such holy artifacts are deemed holier than others because these magical items will only seek out worthy owners. Come on! Seriously?
It isn’t surprising that in the long history of Buddhism, man and woman scheme and murder for their ownership. Those who own the holy article owns the donation box! I definitely don’t remember seeing this in the scriptures.
In the unenlightened world of Buddhism. Various types or classes of people are made superior to others. Without enlightenment or peerless good conduct to justify their supremacy, people invented religious supremacist practices that contradicts what Buddha taught.
Ignorant supremist practices harm Buddhism and encourages ignorance to spread. Hopefully, lay Buddhist can abstain from such practices and the monastic communities can lead by good examples.
May all be well and happy.