Buddhism holds an exalted place in the half-informed Western mind. Whereas Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism are each associated, in addition to their thought, with a rich material culture and a defended territory, Buddhism, despite its great monuments and architectural tradition throughout the Far East, is somehow considered purer, more abstract, and almost dematerialized: the most peaceful, austere, and uncorrupted of faiths, even as it appeals to the deeply aesthetic among us. Hollywood stars seeking to find themselves—famously Richard Gere—become Buddhists, not, say, orthodox Jews.
Yet Buddhism, as Kandy demonstrates, is deeply materialistic and demands worship of solid objects, in a secure and sacred landscape that has required the protection of a military. There have been Buddhist military kingdoms—notably Kandy’s—just as there have been Christian and Islamic kingdoms of the sword. Buddhism can be, under the right circumstances, a blood-and-soil faith.
The second point is that "there is nothing crueler than a majority that feels itself a minority". Kaplan is referring to the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka. And this is why they feel that way:
The Sinhalese...see their historical destiny in preserving Theravada Buddhism from a Hindu revivalist assault, with southern India the source of these invasions. As they see it, they are a lonely people, with few ethnic compatriots anywhere, who have been pushed to their final sanctuary, the southern two-thirds of Sri Lanka, by the demographic immensity of majority-Hindu India. The history of the repeated European attacks on their sacred city, Kandy, the last independent bastion of the Sinhalese in that southern two-thirds of the island, has only accentuated the sense of loneliness.
The Sinhalese must, therefore, fight for every kilometer of their ethnic homeland, Bradman Weerakoon, an adviser to former Sri Lankan presidents and prime ministers, told me. As a result, like the Serbs in the former Yugoslavia, the Jews in Israel, and the Shiites in Iran, the Sinhalese are a demographic majority with a dangerous minority complex of persecution.
The Hindu Tamils, for their part, have been labeled a minority with a majority complex, owing to the triumph of Hinduism over Buddhism in southern India in the fifth and sixth centuries A.D., and the subsequent invasions from India’s south against the rich and thriving Buddhist city-state of Anuradhapura in north-central Sri Lanka. These invasions resulted in the creation, by the 14th century, of a Tamil kingdom that, in turn, helped lay the groundwork for Tamil majorities in the north and east of the island.
Sri Lanka’s post-independence experience, including its civil war between Sinhalese and Tamils, has borne out the worst fears of both communities. The Sinhalese have had to deal with a guerrilla insurgency every bit as vicious and suicidal as the better-known ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Tamils, for their part, have had to deal with coercion, discrimination, and the utter failure of Sinhalese government institutions to protect their communal rights. There is nothing crueler than a majority that feels itself a minority.
I have not read much about Sri Lanka, so I won't comment on whether this is a correct assessment. Readers are welcome to share their views. But the majority feeling like a minority -- that's a striking thought, isn't it? We see the same sentiment in other countries and regions.