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Militant Buddhism?

Should Buddhists shoot back?

by
Charlie Martin

Bio

June 23, 2013 - 3:00 pm
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Honestly, Buddhism puzzles the hell out of most people in the West. (Actually, it puzzles the hell out of people everywhere, but we’ll stick with the West for today.) When Shakyamuni Buddha (which is to say this guy Siddhartha that people talk so much about) was asked about any of the big questions religion is supposed to answer, his reply was “don’t bother your pretty little head about such things, sugar.”

Well, strictly, it was a little more formal than that, but that was the basic answer. There was an old ascetic, Vacchagotta, who came to the Buddha one day and started asking the big questions about the world, about life after death, whether the Universe was limited or infinite, and so on. Vacchagotta was from a different group, and he was trying to get Shakyamuni to engage in debate, and Shakyamuni wouldn’t do it. Vacchagotta would ask, and Buddha would just stay silent.

Finally, Vacchagotta asked Buddha “why won’t you answer?” and that question Shakamuni would answer. He told Vacchagotta that if he were to answer any of those questions one way or the other, then he would be siding with one side or the other in various big theological debates. From these debates, he said, arises disputes and arguments and contention and suffering. So he wasn’t going to answer at all.

Musashi_ts_pic

Musashi Miyamoto, Buddhist student. He killed upwards of 60 people.

Buddha was pretty cagey that way: when people tried to nail him down on big philosophical questions, he always came around to ask “is this helpful in ending suffering?” So there’s really no concept of sin in Buddhism, because there’s no concept of pure good and evil. Instead of Commandments, we’ve got the Precepts, which are just guidelines: do this, and you will tend to reduce suffering.

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All Comments   (42)
All Comments   (42)
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Think back to the old Kung Fu series -- Kwai Chang Cain did everything he could to avoid violence. He only responded in kind when there was no alternative left.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Charlie - not a bad or entirely unskillful explanation of some Buddhist concepts. I suggest you read the Letters of Nichiren to gain some clear, practical guidance from a 13th Century Japanese Buddhist monk on dealing with earthly matters. His guidance ondealing with everyday problems as well as deep spiritual issues will give you a more skillful understanding.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I side with the Buddha here and say that it's perfectly legitimate to fight back against Muslim violence (and no, I don't think Muslims are Evil). This is purely an historical and political matter, not a religious one.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment

I'll play the Buddha here and not answer. You tell me ...

=============================
Here's some books for your to-read list while you're in a reading mode:

"Zen at War" by Brian D. Victoria
"Zen War Stories" by Brian D. Victoria
In which those happy little arguments you make about "idiot compassion" were used to justify the Rape of Nanking, prisoner-of-war Death Camps, flouting of the Geneva Convention, abject perfidy and cooperation with genocide ...

"Buddhist Warfare" edited by Michael Jerryson and Mark Juergensmeyer
A collection of essays by leading historians of Buddhism. This book contains more on how those funny little arguments about "idiot compassion" have been used to promise Bodhisattva status to soldiers who managed to kill adversaries. The more you killed the higher you went up as a Buddha-to-be! The book's most shocking material is the studies of various sutras that justify killing with detailed reference to the Buddha’s central philosophical tenets. The book therefore presents a uniquely Buddhist “heart of darkness”.

"Buddhism and Violence" edited by Michael Zimmermann
Another collection of essays by leading historians of Buddhism. Of especially interest is the essay by Christoph Klein, "Evil Monks With Good Intentions? Remarks on Buddhist Monastic Violence and It's Doctrinal Background". This is important because it quotes Buddhist texts (most of them within the Mahayana Canon) which justify the murder of other people on the basis that those being killed have no real existence or oppose the Dharma … Guess they don't rate on the compassion scale ...

"Buddhism and Violence: Militarism and Buddhism in Modern Asia" edited by Vladimir Tikhonov and Torkel Brekke
Yet another collection of essays, this time focusing on violent Buddhist movements in the modern era. Although readers may know that Zen Buddhism was a eager supporter of the murderous Japanese Empire and its allies, more recent trends in Buddhism are covered herein as well. For example, after continueal incitement by local monks, on Dec 6, 2009 more than 1,000 Buddhists lugging clubs and swords savagely attacked a Catholic church in Crooswatta, Sri Lanka. As they fell on Father Lakshman, they shouted, "Cut him to pieces, kill him." I suppose this was simply that they had run out of "idiot compassion" for Catholics in their territory, and were innocently consigning this Catholic priest to "emptiness".

Penultimately, I recommend this volume compiled by the late Buddhist scholar, Tessa Bartholomeusz who sought to articulate a "just war theory" for Buddhists, especially in the light of the continuing atrocities perpetrated by Buddhists in Sri Lanka:

"In Defense of Dharma: Just-War Ideology in Buddhist Sri Lanka" by Tessa Bartholomeusz.
Interestingly, she draws on the Christian Just War theory developed by Mennonite theologian, Stanley Hauerwas to help her work up an appropriate Buddhist Just War theory.

Finally, my last recommendation for your to-read list is

"Unexpected Way: On Converting from Buddhism to Catholicism" by Paul Williams
Paul Williams is Professor of Indian and Tibetan Philosophy, Co-director of the Centre for Buddhist Studies, Head of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Bristol and the current President of the UK Association for Buddhist Studies. He has his head on straight with respect to both Buddhist and Catholic teachings … Worth a read.
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1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Dude, don't *make* me start listing the justifications of war that have been promoted by Christianity.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The list and your descriptions are... well, shocking, to say the very least. Guess that explains why the left seems to love Buddha and Marx/Rousseau. I'm wondering whether Buddha was basically the Asian equivalent of Marx? Either way, he's certainly no ally of God. Its thanks to them that Marxism/Communism was even insured a victory (that, as well as our brainless Democrat senators deciding, apparently out of spite or idiocy, to not allow for sending arms to the Vietnamese to help in stopping the North's Invasion).
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
> Buddha was pretty cagey that way: when people tried to nail him down on big philosophical questions, he always came around to ask “is this helpful in ending suffering?”

The unacknowledged philosophy, of course, outlined in the statement above, is that suffering should be avoided. But by acting as though it is not a philosophical statement, its proponent avoids having to defend it as we would expect of any (other) proposition.



1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Rather, it's an axiom. If you don't like his axioms, you're welcome to continue suffering.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Simply, I believe there are some things worth suffering for.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
And I believe you don't really read any of the explanations of what duhkha ("suffering") really means, but what the hell.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Well, I did read your article. But you didn't mention 'duhkha' in your article.

So I looked up 'duhkha' in Wikipedia (not because it's the best authority on the subject, but because it's accessible, convenient and I already assume results may vary). The final point (is that level 8) was talking about that form of suffering that we can characterize as a general uneasiness that is with us always.

And that's probably the point where Christianity and Buddhism diverge in their attitudes about suffering. After all, Christians teach many of the same things about suffering that Buddhists do -- at least, in terms of letting our appetites make us unhappy. Where Buddhists might say, "You're not seeing the reality," Christians might say, "It's the Lord's will," but the purpose is the same: don't sweat the small stuff, and it's all small stuff.

But it's not quite all small stuff, at least not in the Christian view.

> "All-pervasive suffering: a very subtle dissatisfaction that exists all the time; it arises as a reaction to the qualities of conditioned things (e.g. the impermanence of things)."

Here's where I think we get to the meat of the matter. The impermanence of things is a major source of unhappiness, no doubt. But with Christianity, the world and the things of the world wither and perish, but the word of the Lord abides forever. The suffering that people feel due to this cause has a remedy, even as food is a remedy for hunger. This suffering, in other words, exists for a reason. You can try to ignore it and talk yourself out of feeling it, or you can treat it as a hunger for which something really does exist to satisfy it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Not coincidentally, Buddha, who didn't believe in this special distinct other world, didn't agree.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
And by the way... I have no problem with Buddhists shooting back, theological or otherwise.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
He may not have, but of course that doesn't mean he didn't believe in other things that cannot objectively be proven -- the whole idea that there is a next life to be concerned about is certainly beyond objective proof.

And karma... how can you prove, exactly, that the things someone does will catch up with him? Joe Stalin died peacefully in his sleep. The notion that he was reincarnated as some form of scabies may be comforting, but it's as objectively unverifiable as Heaven and Hell.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
What did Stalin have to do to make sure he *did* die in his sleep? You want me to say he received the theologically appropriate punishment for his actions, well, try down the hall, Walter Hudson seems more comfortable with that stuff. But I've never read anything about Stalin that made me think he led a happy or peaceful life.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Regardless, my point still stands. Buddha may not have believed in the Christian take on the supernatural, but the idea of karma still demands faith as Paul defined it, the belief in things unseen... or as Dawkins might put, superstition.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Nonsense. Karma/vipaka is cause and effect. Does it require belief in the unseen to believe that if my cat pushes over a glass, it'll fall?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
No. It requires faith to believe that "wholesome actions result in happiness", or vice versa. It requires faith to believe, "Whatever karma I create, whether good or evil, that I shall inherit."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This comment demonstrates a massive failure in your ability to reason and argue. "Happiness" was not a goal of Buddha and thus your first statement is equally nonsensical and irrelevant in a discussion of Buddhism. Karma is not "good or evil" anymore than today's rain is. You're so far off-base that it might behoove you to try to understand the topic before you express your bias and ignorance again.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I'm amused by those who would say that Buddhism isn't a religion.

Whatever fills the "spiritual" eco-niche in the human conscious is that person's religion, to include all recognized religions as well as Buddhism, Environmentalism, and Marxism.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
" 'spiritual' eco-niche?" Seriously?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Religions aren't simply belief systems. They also require spiritual aspects, such as the concept of an afterlife, supernatural elements such as angels, demons, supernatural creatures that don't exist on this level of existence. Those aspects are the fine lines between a religion (a real one) and simply a philosophy. The fact that Marxism denies an afterlife, or supernatural aspects (heck, they'd kill anyone who'd even attempt to believe in religion or the supernatural), as stated by Karl Marx himself, automatically disqualifies it from being a religion. Buddhism is a bit in the gray area, but from what is being taught about it, its a bit closer to Marxism, and its supernatural aspects seem to be really dimmed down. To be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if in his actual life, Buddha was a sociopath.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
There is a good reason some people deny the existence of political religions, that is religions created by the "reasoning of man." That reason is that such religions are monstrous things like Nazism and Communism. But these political religions provide everything a true religion does: they provide a philosophical framework and rules for living, they create a hierarchy to boss people around (and a means of social advancement and power for the ambitious), they provide a Messiah or deity for the masses to worship (Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Obama), they even provide a kind of afterlife by creating songs, movies, statues or naming parks after those who die, or kill, in the name of the party.

Anyway, here is more.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_religion
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Couldn't agree more. I do not believe the thoughtful human mind is capable of thinking about human existence without forming a framework which takes on the framework of a religion whether it takes on the form of the spiritual religions like Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Islam, Greco-Roman Religion, or the Atheistic religions of Rousseau and Marx. But if you read the socialist literature of the generations that followed Marx and Lenin pursued their ideas and objectives, ultimately with complete futility, with the same religious zeal that possessed St. Paul, Martin Luther, Oliver Cromwell and Brigham Young. The mental commitment is a religious commitment regardless of whether the eschaton to be achieved will be in this world or another.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
You've got to be kidding me: That's an oxymoron. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and Obama do not have Terrakinesis, Pyrokinesis, telekinesis, aquakinesis, florakinesis, faunakinesis, aerokinesis, psychokinesis, electrokinesis, the ability to heal people with absolutely no technology at all, raising people from the dead, invulnerability, regeneration or the like (not to mention that very rarely do people have even one of these powers, never mind all of them). Jesus had claims to those things and had some demonstrability to those cases, at least, as did his father, as did the various mythological gods and creatures in Greek, Roman, Babylonian, Aztec, Mayan, Hindu, Egyptian, Incan, Pacific Islanders, and a lot of Asian countries. If I were to make a "political religion" worshiping me, all I can say is that I would make SURE I have those kinds of abilities (naturally, not with the aid of technology) before declaring myself a god, even doing a public demonstration of those abilities just ensure there aren't any non-believers in it. Heck, many of these guys died either violently or of natural causes. Even Kefka and the Joker, who pretty much got those powers unnaturally and ruined a large part of the world, at least had grounds for being considered gods or having created a religion due to having supernatural powers. And naming stuff after people =/= an afterlife. An afterlife is where they place some people's souls in one realm of existence, and other people's souls into another. I realize that Nazism and Communism are monstrous, but that's not the main reason why I'm denying that they are religions, its because they don't fit as a religion, period, because they are sorely lacking in those requirements. Those sorts of things I mentioned about supernatural powers (demonstrated supernatural powers, I mean), alongside an actual afterlife instead of simply giving names posthumously dedicated to various dead people are key ingredients to what constitutes a religion.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Religions aren't simply belief systems. They also require spiritual aspects, such as the concept of an afterlife, supernatural elements such as angels, demons, supernatural creatures that don't exist on this level of existence."

Sez who?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Says Christianity, says Judaism, says the Graeco-Roman religions, says the Babylonian religions, says the Egyptian religions, says Islam, says several Pacific-region religions, says several Native American religions, heck, says even Hinduism.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Okay, well, Buddhism talks about devas and bodhisattvas and dharma and samsara and sunyata and Buddha-nature and nirvana. Remind me what your point is again?

Don't you think that before speaking with such authority you might want to know something about Buddhism first?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Considering how I sat through a religion class that naturally did cover Buddhism among other things, yeah, I do have some knowledge on Buddhism. Like his allegedly confronting in meditation that dark man who actually murdered his own daughters when they failed to tempt him, tried to inflict violence without it even impacting him, and heck, even said no to his own reflection. I also have heard of the so-called four truths as well. Maybe you need to do more research on Buddhism, because I certainly know enough of it, especially the non-attachment stuff, to get an inkling that it might be closer to Marxism (and not in a good way).
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You know, considering that I've been a Buddhist for 46 or 47 years, spent time in a monastery, read and translate Buddhist texts in both Chinese and Sanskrit, and taught college Buddhism classes, that must have been some comparative religions class.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I ccommented recently -- I could defnitely see that you were schooled in Buddhism, but not that you were an actual practioner -- Mazel Tov. Good article and discussion in the comments.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"I do have some knowledge on Buddhism."

Fooled me.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You're defending the anti-Rohingya violence by calling it self-defense? The Buddhists were collectively punishing the entire Muslim population of the area for the actions of a few. It was mob violence, and most of those affected by the Buddhist-Muslim conflict in Myanmar have been Muslims. They've been attacked by both Buddhist civilians and the government of Myanmar.

Now, this is a true story (though some details may be slightly inaccurate due to my misremembering): A Coptic man and a Muslim man in Egypt were in a non-sectarian argument, a dispute over some property (I think it was wood, but I don't remember). Their argument became violent, and the Coptic man struck the Muslim man, unintentionally killing him. What ensued was anti-Christian violence that resulted in Coptic-owned residences and shops being burned down and two Christians being murdered. Was that self-defense on the part of the Muslim community, or was it just unbridled anti-Christian hatred and mob violence?

I don't usually defend Muslims (because they don't usually need to be defended, and because instances of supposed oppression of Muslims, incidental or not, is always justification given for terrorism and other evils), but at least in Myanmar, their situation is truly dire. Collective punishment against a vulnerable minority is not self-defense.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Am I defending it? Go back and re-read.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You treated the Buddhist violence as a legitimate response.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
No, I treated it as an *understandable* response and questioned whether it's kusala. Go back and give it another look.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Yeah, one of the things a lot of people don't understand about Buddhism, in addition to its having just as many divisions and sects as any other religion if not more, is that it's by no means necessarily pacifist. (It's also kind of iffy as a religion; for what little spiritualism it involves, one could just as easily classify it more as a philosophy.) The kind of peace it promotes is a distinctly impersonal detachment similar to stoicism.

As such, one thing Buddhists did in Japan during World War II was convince the kamikaze pilots that the self is a mere illusion and that in killing themselves they were therefore losing nothing. That's how those pilots could be entirely "peaceable" even while ramming their planes into American aircraft carriers, causing great injury and death: aside from the contention that the kamikazes were collectively defending Japan from America's attack, the Buddhists could also claim that selves of the American soldiers killed in those attacks were mere illusions and that they really had lost nothing either by dying. As for the severely injured, well, their lives were just another turn in the great cycle of reincarnation, so the damage done would eventually be undone when they were reincarnated. Buddhism is a lot of things, but being inherently non-violent is not one of them.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The whole thing with Buddhism and religion is on my list of upcoming columns. Brad Warner Sensei has a new book I want to review.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Given that in all cases, without exception, since the day the schizophrenic paedophile Mohammed first heard the voices in his head Islam has tended to increase suffering wherever it is found, resisting it is likely to decrease suffering in the long run, even if the resistance is violent and sanguinary. There does not seem to be a means of forming a stable accommodation with Islam; either it is at one's feet or at one's throat. Maybe this will change with time but it is by no means clear that sufficient time remains.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"since the day the schizophrenic paedophile Mohammed first heard the voices in his head"

Okay, class, pop quiz: kusala or akusala?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
A better question would be, "history or myth"?

There's good reason to question whether or not such a person as Mohammad even existed.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
No, that's a *differrent* question. Whether Mohammed or Jesus or Moses or Abraham existed doesn't change the effect the associated religions had on the world.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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