Our Sacred Responsibility

Statement to the
“Marrakech Declaration” Conference on
The Rights of Minorities in Muslim Lands
Morocco, 25 – 27 January 2016


Distinguished leaders and guests,

We are gathering at a time of rising hatred.

Our family – the human family – is being torn apart.

The fires of hatred are not only claiming the lives of thousands of people and driving millions from their homes. Hatred is poisoning minds and hearts around the world.

Read the full statement in Arabic or French

The values which it has taken our human family centuries to establish – centuries of hardship, oppression and mutual slaughter – the values that hold the key to our survival are under threat.

Now all of us are at risk. So are some of our most precious traditions and cultures.

I am a Buddhist. As a little boy I was taught that the message of the Buddha was compassion and the welfare of all beings.

But now, in South and Southeast Asia – where I work with others for peace – we see, in these sacred, ancient heartlands of Buddhism, the rise of extremism.

There are political, cultural and economic factors involved, but it is extremism in the name of Buddhism.

It is led by monks who have taken vows not to harm others.

Yet, they target other faiths and ethnic groups.

Their most vicious attacks are on Muslims.

Buddhist mobs have burnt mosques, attacked Muslim homes and businesses, and destroyed Muslim villages. Tens of thousands have been made homeless or fled to sea in atrocious conditions. There are reports of torture and rape.

This is being done by “my people”. I am here before you to bear witness to that dreadful truth. I bow to you with deep, deep regret.

People ask me: “How could Buddhists do this?”

“How does a religion of peace give birth to fanaticism, hate speech and terror?”

My heart fills with pain as I tell those who ask: “This is not Buddhism.” Just as your hearts must fill with unbearable pain when you tell people that the terror unleashed in the name of Islam is not Islam.

The deadly mixture of ignorance, fear and hatred is spreading worldwide like a virus.

Just as with the rise in attacks on Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Baha’is and people of other faiths, as well as racist and xenophobic attacks of all kinds – which violate the fundamental principles of co-existence – the poison of Islamophobia is also eating away at our societies.

It not only targets all Muslims, but its message of suspicion, exclusion and hatred threatens the very foundations of co-existence on which our global family is based.

The same week that I received your kind invitation to attend this historic gathering, a young man attempted to firebomb the mosque near my home in London.

We went there, people from all over our community, many nationalities, and people of all faiths and none. We joined our Muslim brothers and sisters in a heartfelt vigil. We wanted them to know that they are not alone. And we wanted the whole city – and indeed the whole world — to know that we will not let this global fire of hatred prevail.

Just as tens of thousands of people from all over the Muslim world went on social media within hours of the massacre in Paris to express their shock and tell the whole world these atrocities are “not in their name”.

Just as a thousand rabbis in the United States called on Congress to welcome refugees fleeing war and not repeat mistakes made during the holocaust.

We all know that we have to find a way out of this deadly cycle of demonization.

All who hold the world’s wisdom traditions and hold positions of leadership have a sacred responsibility in this hour of need.

Our responsibility is all the greater because at present the voices of hate, and those who resort to violence, have captured the headlines.

But there is a far greater truth, a far greater voice, and far greater numbers of the human family who know that hatred and violence are not the answer to the great challenges we face.

It is that greater truth and that greater voice we must proclaim.

Particularly at this perilous moment in history, it is also our sacred responsibility to do this in genuine companionship with each other. We must be living exemplars of co-existence.

I am aware that the Holy Quran itself states (in Chapter 49, verse 13): “O humanity, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another.” It is that profound knowing which we must manifest.

In this way we will hold, in trust, the future for all our peoples.

A future of meaningful co-existence for all peoples is what the nations of the world sought to express when they adopted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the General Assembly of the United Nations after the unprecedented horrors of the Second World War.

The words of that declaration ring as true today as they did then: “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

As I stood in the street outside our mosque, joining together with people of so many nationalities and faiths, I was reminded of the words of one of the world’s greatest religious leaders: Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

He was a monumental campaigner for freedom, justice and peace.

His own people had been enslaved. Their descendants were subjected to discrimination, violently attacked and murdered, their churches bombed and burnt.

He told his people – and their oppressors – that “along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate.”

In these dark times, his words are a beacon of light:

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Richard Reoch
Personal Envoy of the Sakyong of Shambhala
Chair of the International Working Group on Sri Lanka