Numerology Inspires Butchering Buddhists 1

In holy books, numbers are rarely considered to be utilitarian placemarkers. Religion has a way of making believers try to infuse numbers with meaning. Take the Quran (please). Its followers say that the perfection of the book is partly in the mathematical relationships that supposedly point to its divine origin. Like so:

The miracle of the Qur’an is a phenomenal mathematical relationship of the chapters, verses, words and the numbers in the holy Qur’an. For example the Qur’an has 114 chapters (19X6), The first verse 1:1 known as “Bism’allah” consists of 19 letters. The total number of verses in the Qur’an is 6346, or 19 x 334.The “Bism’allah” occurs in the Qur’an 114 times (19 x 6), despite its conspicuous absence from Chapter 9. The famous first revelation ( 96:1-5 ) consists of 19 words. This 19-worded first revelation consists of 76 letters, & 76 = 19 x 4.

Et cetera. Never mind that you can find such links in any text with an excessive amount of numbered order. The more chapters and subchapters and footnotes, the more “meaning” there is to infer from the voluminous mathematical connections you can make between those numbered parts. It’s both tedious and silly (to a language-loving rightbrainer like me, at least), but that’s never stopped people from doing it. Some Bible aficionados think that there’s something numerically revealing about their book too:

Dark and unwholesome things are associated with 13 or multiples of 13. Belial – the personification of evil has a numerical equivalent of 78 – 13 x 6. All the famines and epidemics have been somehow associated with the number 13.


Disappointingly, Buddhists play the same games — at least a lot of the ones in Myanmar do, the saintly ones who’ve been rampaging through Muslim neighborhoods to commit torture and murder and arson. Last month, in the Meiktila area alone, sectarian violence by nationalist Buddhists claimed some 40 Muslim lives and 800 buildings, and it displaced roughly 8,000 people. What caused the blood orgy? One part of the answer is a book. With numbers. From the Atlantic:

One number has become indelibly associated with these attacks — 969, a “grassroots” Buddhist nationalist movement that many claim is supported by elements within the military. While 969’s unofficial leaders claim that the movement is a non-violent response to a Buddhist society under strain from “foreign” influence, its rhetoric brings to mind the kind of language associated with the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century.

969 has its ideological roots in a book written in the late 1990s by U Kyaw Lwin, a functionary in the ministry of religious affairs, and its precepts are rooted in a traditional belief in numerology. Across South Asia, Muslims represent the phrase bismillah-ir-rahman-ir-rahim, or “In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate and Merciful,” with the number 786, and businesses display the number to indicate that they are Muslim-owned. 969’s proponents see this as evidence of a Muslim plot to conquer Burma in the 21st century, based on the implausible premise that 7 plus 8 plus 6 is equal to 21. The number 969 is intended be 786’s cosmological opposite, and represents the “three jewels:” the nine attributes of the Buddha, the six attributes of his teachings, and the nine attributes of the Sangha, or monastic order. …

The figure often identified as the de-facto leader of 969 is a monk named Ashin Wirathu [photo, front], who was jailed in 2003 for inciting religious conflict and released as part of a general amnesty in January 2012. The content of his sermons, distributed via DVDs he produces at his monastery in Mandalay, would not be out of place at the Nuremberg rallies.

When Westerners speak of Islam as the religion of peace, the phrase usually drips with sarcasm, and rightly so. But we tend to think of Buddhists as the real peace-bringers — non-violent and kind and humble. Considering the recent Myanmar spectacle of bloodthirsty saffron-robed Buddhist monks wielding knives and hunting down Muslims, that picture may need a little adjusting.


[image via BBC News]

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