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BUDDHISM AND WAR

A LOOK AT HISTORY

War has been an integral part of Buddhist states from day one.

Unfortunately, Buddhist views of war have become deeply misunderstood by the modern West. In the West today there is a view of Buddhism that is the product of commercial marketing of Buddhism rather than a historical reality. A key factor in this is the Dalai Lama. We're not judging whether he is a good or bad man. We're saying that the kind of pacifism that he is advocating is the view of the Dalai Lama, not the history of Buddhism or even Buddhism in Tibet.

Now to understand the history of Buddhism, you need to look at the history of Buddhism. The first major ruler to adopt Buddhism was Emperor Ashoka in ancient India. Now most historians know very little about the leaders of ancient India. There is a lack of historical evidence. We know a lot about their ideas, but we don't know about them. The myth in the West is that Ashoka had a policy of pacifism, but this is rubbish. As we have pointed out in our Totalitarianism in Ancient India page, India's first Empire was a ruthless totalitarian state. Now Ashoka expanded that empire to its largest extent. We're told that after it reached a certain size that he adopted pacifistic policies. But this is not true. As the leader of a large and sophisticated empire in the ancient world, could he really afford to adopt 1960's flower power? No, he could not. In order to keep his empire in place, he needed to keep the system of ruthless control intact. Furthermore, there is evidence that Ashoka was intolerant of other religions and even called for the mass murder of the Jains for the crime of "disrespecting the Buddha." 18,000 Followers of Jainism were put to death under Ashoka's rule [1].

Now the next major Buddhist state was the Bactrian Greek Empire which conquered a good part of the older ancient Indian Empire. This again was a military state, not a bunch of pacifists. The next Buddhist state after that was the Kushan Empire. Again, another warrior state.

In the first millennium, Buddhism expanded into China and became a major part of Chinese ideology. Then it spread into Tibet. When the Mongols decided to choose a religion, they chose a variant of Tibetan Buddhism, which is why Tibetan Buddhism is in Mongolia today as well as Tibet. Now we know that no one, with a straight face, would suggest that Kublai Khan was some sort of pacifist.

 Then you also have a long history of warrior monks in China. You also have the philosophy of Chán, which later became the philosophy of Zen in Japan, which led to the development of the Samurai culture, which later became influential in World War II. The Japanese imperialists in World War II had a deep interest in Zen Buddhism. So all this shows that historically, Buddhism has not been explicitly a religion of pacifism, as many Westerners would like to believe.

THEOLOGICAL REALITIES

Now in talking about Buddhism, we will first say that it is difficult to definitively say what exactly Buddhism is and what it is not, because there are different versions and sects of Buddhism. The three major sects are Theravada (prominent in South Asia), Mahayana (prominent in East Asia), and Tibetan Buddhism. Buddhism in general encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs, and spiritual practices based on the teachings attributed to Gautama Buddha, with Nirvana as the goal of the Buddhist path. While Nirvana is a goal in many religious traditions (such as Hinduism and Jainism), in Buddhism Nirvana is described as the extinguishing of the fires that cause suffering. These fires are characterized as attachment, aversion and ignorance. The cessation of suffering, which is accomplished by letting go of desires and attachments, is described as the completion of peace.

Therefore, since the end of suffering is one of the main goals of Buddhism, many could say that Buddhism is "incapable of violence." In Buddhism, as well as other Eastern religions, there is a principle of non-violence called ahimsa, which literally means "not to strike."   And yet, it seems that the Buddha's teachings on non-violence were not interpreted to put into practice an "uncompromising pacifism" or anti-military stance. Many of the early Buddhist texts assumed that war would be a fact of life, and well skilled warriors are viewed as necessary in defensive warfare.[2] In Pali texts (a collection of Theravada scripture) injunctions to abstain from violence are aimed at the Sangha (which is the monastic community), not the whole community. And while the Pali texts portray the ideal king as peaceful, this king is flanked by an army nevertheless. In various Buddhist commentaries and traditions, defensive war - or violence to prevent violence - has been promoted as a Buddhist principle. One example is the story of the compassionate ship captain in the Mark Tatz’ Skill in Means Sutra. In this story, a compassionate captain kills a criminal who is about to kill 500 people on a boat. Even though the captain will suffer negative karma for the sin of murder, his action is hailed as virtuous, because he prevented the deaths of 500 by killing one. [3]. So in some readings and interpretations of Buddhist scripture, there is a concept of just, or compassionate killing.

Are we saying that all Buddhism is violent and that there are no peaceful teachings to be found? No. But we're saying that a lot of Buddhist history has been misinterpreted as"flower power" by the West. There is an idea that there were absolutely no Buddhist wars to be heard of, or that the Buddhist principles were never used by any culture to justify violence. But this is simply not true.

The reality of Buddhist history is much more nuanced, and much more violent, than many Westerners would like to believe. So below we present a view of Buddhist history that is often omitted from Western classrooms and text-books.


THE SHAOLIN MONKS

A 1,500 YEAR OLD FIGHTING TRADITION

The tradition of the warrior Buddhist monk in China is hundreds of years old. The most well known Buddhist warrior monks are the Shaolin monks.

The history of Shaolin monks began about 1500 years ago. The Shaolin Monastery is one of the most famous temples in China today, renown for its kung fu fighting monks. With amazing feats of strength, flexibility and pain-endurance, the Shaolin monks have created a world-wide reputation as Buddhist warriors. There are also plenty of examples throughout history where the Shaolin monks acted as a para-military force for different causes. For instance, in 618, the Shaolin monks fought on the side of a rebel official from the Sui Court, Li Shimin, who became the second Tang Emperor. In the mid-sixteenth century, they were called upon to fight Japanese pirates. Their order survived various pitfalls and setbacks - including China's "Cultural Revolution" starting in 1966, where monks were flogged through the streets, jailed, and their temples sacked. However, they survived this rocky period, and now the Shaolin monks are among the best known fighting monks on Earth. They put on martial arts displays at world capitals, and thousands of films have been made about their exploits. In fact, the 1982 film Shaolin Shi or "Shaolin Temple," was Jet Li's (Li Lianjie) debut film. The movie was based very loosely on the story of the monks' aid to Li Shimin, and became a huge smash hit in China. (Asian History)


MONGOL EMPIRE ADOPTS TIBETAN BUDDHISM

 

At its height in 1300, the Mongol Empire had conquered land stretching from Korea to Hungary. Historians regard Mongol raids and invasions as some of the deadliest conflicts in human history. Their empire established itself through a series of brutal conquests and invasions throughout Western Asia, Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Large areas were entirely depopulated. Almost all towns that resisted the Mongols were subject to complete destruction. The Mongol invasions induced population displacement on a scale previously unseen in history. In fact, so many people were killed that carbon levels plummeted and huge swaths of cultivated land returned to forest.

The success of Mongol tactics hinged on terror. They wanted their subjects to think that their army was larger than it actually was, so part of the way they accomplished this feat was via mass killing. Other famous terror tactics of the Mongols include that of a later Mongolian chieftain, Tamerlane. He built a pyramid of 90,000 human heads in front of the walls of Delhi, in order to convince the town to surrender during his Indian Campaign. Then another tactic of terror favored by the Mongols was to catapult severed human heads over city walls to frighten the inhabitants and spread disease in the city's confines. In fact, many Historians attribute the spread of the Bubonic plague through Asia and Europe to the Mongol conquests.

Now considering the violence we have just described above, many Westerners would be completely shocked to discover that Tibetan Buddhism was a religious practice highly supported by the Mongols. Especially during and after the rule of Khubilai Khan. Now we're not saying that all Mongols were Tibetan Buddhists. A variety of religions flourished under the Mongolian Empire - including Islam and Christianity. The Mongols also had their own ethnic, shamanic traditions.

However, it would be a mistake to ignore the influence that Tibetan Buddhism had on the Mongols. (Tibetan Buddhism, The Mongolian Religion).

MONGOL EMPEROR CREATES FIRST TIBETAN GRAND LAMA

The Mongols were tolerant of many religions, and were particularly captivated by Buddhism - specifically Tibetan Buddhism. They recruited a number of Tibetan monks to help them rule China and promote the interests of Buddhism. The most important of these monks was a man named 'Phags-pa.' He was so successful that he became one of Khubilai Khan's closest advisers (Khubilai Khan was the grandson of Genghis Khan, and in addition to being a Mongolian ruler, he was an Emperor of China). Khubilai Khan and Phags-pa met around 1254, and Khubilai was very impressed with the young monk. Within a short time, Khubilai became 'Phags-pa's patron and 'Phags-pa became Khubilai's religious confidante. Khubilai even offered Phags-pa the title of State Preceptor in 1260 and Imperial Preceptor in 1270. 

The Tibetan Buddhists had so much support from the Mongols, that Khubilai Khan even assisted them in their battle against the Daoists. Daoism was embroiled in a struggle with Buddhism at the time, that flared into a pitched battle with the actual monks of the two religions fighting one another. Khubilai Khan imposed severe limitations on the Daoists. He converted a considerable number of Daoist monasteries into Buddhist monasteries, some Daoist monks were defrocked, and some of the wealth and property of the Daoists was taken over by the Mongol state.

So why were the Tibetan Buddhists supported by the Mongols? Some historians say that the Tibetan faith was successful among the Mongols because of the similarities between their cultures. They had a mutual distance - geographically and culturally from the Chinese, both Mongolia and Tibet are high plateaus of Inner Asia, and their open steppes and cold, arid climate made both their people well-suited to nomadism. And some historians even say that it was easier for Mongols to mingle and associate with the semi-nomadic Tibetans, rather than the purely agricultural Chinese.

Centuries after the death of Khubilai Khan, Tibetan Buddhism gained further influence among the Mongols when Altan Khan, the king of the Tümed Mongols, first invited Sonam Gyatso, the head of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism to Mongolia in 1569. Gyatso did not accept the invitation the first time, but then accepted when he was invited again in 1578. Gyatso met with King Altan Khan at the site of Altan Khan's new capital, Koko Khotan (Hohhot), and Sonam Gyatso gave teachings to a huge crowd there. Then Sonam Gyatso publicly announced that he was a reincarnation of the monk Phags-pa who converted Khubila Khan, while Altan Khan was a reincarnation of Khubila Khan, and that they had come together again (in a new time period and incarnation) to cooperate in propagating the Buddhist religion. This claim was used by Altan Khan to legitimize the power of Mongolian nobility.

So if this is confusing, let us explain. Sonam Gyatso declared himself Dalai Lama, and then retroactively made his predecessors into the first and second Dalai Lamas, while declaring himself the third Dalai Lama. Sonam Gyatso then used his new title to seize monasteries that did not belong to his sect and destroy Buddhist writings that conflicted with his claim of divinity. The Dalai Lama who succeeded him enjoyed a hedonistic lifestyle, filled with many mistresses, parties, and other activities that did not seem fit for an incarnated deity.

Then the next Dalai Lama after him (the 5th one) began construction on the Potala Palace in 1645, a magnificent structure with 1,000 rooms and 14 stories. Here the Dalai Lamas lived in the veritable lap of luxury until 1959, when the 14th (and current) Dalai Lama fled to India during the Tibetan Uprising.

WARRIOR CULTURE IN TIBET

For hundreds of years, competing Tibetan Buddhist sects engaged in violent clashes. In 1660, the 5th Dalai Lama was faced with a rebellion in the Tsang province, the stronghold of the rival Kagyu sect with its high lama known as the Karmapa. The 5th Dalai Lama called for harsh retribution against the rebels, directing the Mongol army to obliterate the male and female lines, and the offspring too “like eggs smashed against rocks…. In short, annihilate any traces of them, even their names.” [4]

In 1792, many Kagyu monasteries were confiscated and their monks were forcibly converted to the Gelug sect (the Dalai Lama’s denomination). The Gelug school, known also as the “Yellow Hats,” showed little tolerance or willingness to mix their teachings with other Buddhist sects. In the words of one of their traditional prayers: “Praise to you, violent god of the Yellow Hat teachings/who reduces to particles of dust/ great beings, high officials and ordinary people/ who pollute and corrupt the Gelug doctrine.” [5] An eighteenth-century memoir of a Tibetan general depicts sectarian strife among Buddhists that is as brutal and bloody as any religious conflict might be. [6] (Friendly Feudalism: The Tibetan Myth)

So rather than being a picture of Shangri la, Tibetan history is not far different from that of the rivaling clashes among feudal lords in Europe. Much of the ideas of Tibetan pacifism derive from the current Dalai Lama.  Yet even he was involved in war.  Here he is with his CIA backed soldiers.


ZEN, BUSHIDO AND THE WARRIOR TRADITION IN JAPAN

samurai

Just as Tibetan Buddhism was influential to Tibetan and Mongol warriors, Zen Buddhism would also play a role in developing ideas of the Samurai warrior in Japan.

Japanese religion historically has been characterized by a mixture of Shinto and Buddhist beliefs. Shinto is an ethnic religion of the Japanese people. Buddhism was spread to Japan primarily through Korean and Chinese cultural influence. In the sixth century, the Korean king of Packche, anxious to establish relations with Japan, sent gifts and images of Buddha and copies of Buddhist texts, and from the sixth century onward, many Japanese people practiced both Shinto and Buddhism. Unlike in the West, many Asian religions are not exclusive, so they can be practiced simultaneously.

BUSHIDO - THE WAY OF THE WARRIOR

Zen Buddhism would later come to Japan in the 12th century. It is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that originated in China during the Tang dynasty, a school originally known as "Chán." It was strongly influenced by Taoism and developed as a distinguished Chinese style of Buddhism. Then from China it spread to Vietnam, Korea, and then to Japan - where it became known as "Zen Buddhism." Zen Buddhism (as well as Shinto practices) would later influence Bushido, the code of the Samurai warrior during the Feudal Period of Japanese history. Bushido, "the way of the warrior," was a stringent moral code.

In Bushido (1899), Nitobe wrote: "SOURCES OF BUSHIDO, of which I may begin with Buddhism. It furnished a sense of calm trust in Fate, a quiet submission to the inevitable, that stoic composure in sight of danger or calamity, that disdain of life and friendliness with death. A foremost teacher of swordsmanship, when he saw his pupil master the utmost of his art, told him, 'Beyond this my instruction must give way to Zen teaching.'" (Gutenberg)

The sword, as a Buddhist symbol for cutting through delusion, became an object of veneration in Bushido. Of the sword, Nitobe wrote, "BUSHIDO made the sword its emblem of power and prowess. When Mahomet proclaimed that 'the sword is the key of Heaven and of Hell," he only echoed a Japanese sentiment.'" (Sacred-Texts)

While the Zen Buddhist part of the teaching focused on cultivating a stillness of mind in the chaos of battle, the Shinto part emphasized a loyalty to sovereignty and filial piety. "What Buddhism failed to give, Shintoism offered in abundance. Such loyalty to the sovereign, such reverence for ancestral memory, and such filial piety as are not taught by any other creed, were inculcated by the Shinto doctrines." (Gutenberg)

THE BOOK OF FIVE RINGS

Around 1645, A Book of Five Rings was written by Miyamoto Mushashi. The five books refer to the idea that there are different elements in battle, just as there are different physical elements in life, as described by Buddhism, Shinto and Eastern religions. The idea of the four or five elements is popularized today in the Western study of Eastern religions. Yet what many Westerners may not know is that the fifth element is "void." The book of void is probably the most Zen influenced of the books. There is an emphasis on how one's consciousness and mind-set effect their skill in battle, and how clearing the mind - or making the mind empty - can help increase one's focus and clarity in the battle field.

While the age of the samurai warrior ended during the Meji period of modernization in Japan (1868-1912), many of these ideas would carry on into World War II to define ideas of nationalism and "just killing."


D.T. SUZUKI, THE WRITER AND TEACHER WHO BROUGHT BUDDHISM TO THE WEST

WAS AN ARDENT SUPPORTER OF WAR AND JAPANESE NATIONALISM

When many Westerners look at Japan during World War II, they think that this era was an aberration of Japanese history, and that ideas of Zen Buddhism historically promoted peace in the region. But the promotion of violence and national pride in World War II era Japan represent long term trends in Japan, the extension of Bushido and the warrior ethic of the samurai. In the same way that some Zen Buddhist ideas were used to develop a warrior code in Feudal Era Japan, these ideas were referenced once again by Japanese intellectuals and leaders to support the war effort in the 1930's and 40's.

What is interesting is that Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki, one of the chief intellectuals involved in bringing Buddhism to the west, was a fervent supporter of the war. It was only after World War II that he repudiated these ideas.

In the 19th and 20th century, Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki was a notorious Japanese author of books and essays on Buddhism, Zen and Shin. His works and teachings were instrumental in spreading interest in both Zen and Shin (and Far Eastern philosophy in general) to the West. Suzuki was also a prolific translator of Chinese, Japanese, and Sanskrit literature. Suzuki spent several lengthy stretches teaching and lecturing at Western universities, and devoted many years to a professorship at Otani University, a Japanese Buddhist school.

Suzuki presents a version of Zen that can be described as "detraditionalized and essentialized." This resemblance is not coincidental, since Suzuki was also influenced by Western esotericism,[7] and even joined the Theosophical Society.

In the text, "The Making of Buddhist Modernism," the author McMahan stated. "In his discussion of humanity and nature, Suzuki takes Zen literature out of its social, ritual, and ethical contexts and reframes it in terms of a language of metaphysics derived from German Romantic idealism, English Romanticism, and American Transcendentalism [8]."

Another author marked Suzuki's approach as "incomprehensible":

...D. T. Suzuki, whose most cherished methodology seems to have been to describe some aspect of Zen as beyond ordinary explanation, then offer a suitably incomprehensible story or two by way of illustration. Obviously, Suzuki's approach captured the imaginations of generations of readers. However, while this approach substantiated Suzuki's authority as one with insider access to the profound truths of the tradition, another result was to increase the confusion in reader's minds. To question such accounts was to admit one did not "get it", to distance oneself even further from the goal of achieving what Suzuki termed the "Zen enlightenment experience" [9].

SUZUKI'S NATIONALISM AND SUPPORT FOR WAR

Suzuki has been criticized for defending the Japanese war-efforts and nationalistic ideals.

In 1896 as the war with China began, Suzuki wrote, "religion should, first of all, seek to preserve the existence of the state."(Kyoto Journal). Suzuki used poetic language in praise of Japanese soldiers. "Our soldiers regard their own lives as being as light as goose feathers while their devotion to duty is as heavy as Mount Taishan (in China). Should they fall on the battlefields, they have no regrets." (The Asia-Pacific Journal). This metaphor of "goose feathers" would become a major point of military indoctrination. Recruits and the young kamikaze ("divine wind") pilots were taught that their individual lives were meaningless and had no weight. Only total devotion to the emperor would give their existence meaning. Suzuki also popularized the bushido concept of the "sword that gives life" that was used over and over again to rationalize killing [10].

Years later, this concept was also referenced by Japan's ambassador Kurusu Saburo at the signing of the Tripartite Pact in 1941, which brought the three Axis Powers together. Ambassador Saburo declared that "the pillar of Japan is to be found in Bushido," and referenced the sword that gives life [11].

Japan’s major war began in 1931 with the invasion of Manchuria. From the mid-1930's, Zen academics and abbots embarked on an intellectual campaign to justify the war. They taught that "compassionate war" was a Bodhisattva practice and was of great benefit to Japan’s enemies. In 1937, two Soto Zen scholars claimed that Japan was motivated by the highest ideals of Buddhism: "there is no choice but to wage compassionate wars which give life to both oneself and one's enemy. Through a compassionate war, warring nations are able to improve themselves and war is able to exterminate itself " [12] During this period, millions of Chinese were dying and cities were being decimated.

In 1937, D. T. Suzuki was finishing Zen and Japanese Culture, in which he wrote that Zen "treats life and death indifferently" and "is a religion that teaches us not to look backward once the course is decided." [13]. He wrote that Zen "has no special doctrine or philosophy. It is therefore extremely flexible in adapting itself to almost any philosophy and moral doctrine as long as its intuitive teaching is not interfered with." Zen can be "wedded to anarchism or fascism, communism or democracy.... or any political or economic dogmatism." [14].

SUZUKI'S SYMPATHY FOR HITLER AND ANTI-SEMITISM

The writer Brian Victoria delivered lectures in Germany in 2012 in which he revealed evidence of Suzuki's sympathy for the Nazi regime. "D.T. Suzuki left a record of his early view of the Nazi movement that was included in a series of articles published in the Japanese Buddhist newspaper, Chūgai Nippō, on October 3, 4, 6, 11, and 13, 1936."[15]

In this Suzuki expresses his agreement with Hitler's policies as explained to him by a relative living in Germany. "While they don't know much about politics, they have never enjoyed greater peace of mind than they have now. For this alone, they want to cheer Hitler on. This is what my relative told me. It is quite understandable, and I am in agreement with him." He also expresses agreement with Hitler's expulsion of the Jews from Germany. "Changing the topic to Hitler's expulsion of the Jews, it appears that in this, too, there are a lot of reasons for his actions. While it is a very cruel policy, when looked at from the point of view of the current and future happiness of the entire German people, it may be that, for a time, some sort of extreme action is necessary in order to preserve the nation."

Yet even after making these statements, Suzuki did express sympathy for individual Jews. "As regards individuals, this is truly a regrettable situation." [15]

SUZUKI ON THE NIHON PHILOSOPHY

The Nihonjinron-philosophy emphasizes the uniqueness of the Japanese. Suzuki attributes Japanese uniqueness to Zen. In his view, Zen embodies the ultimate essence of all philosophy and religion. He pictured Zen as a unique expression of Asian spirituality, which was considered to be superior to the western ways of thinking. [16]

Sharf criticizes this uniqueness-theses, as propagated by Suzuki: "The nihonjinron cultural exceptionalism polemic in Suzuki's work—the grotesque caricatures of 'East' versus 'West'—is no doubt the most egregiously inane manifestation of his nationalist leanings. [17]"

AFTERMATH OF WORLD WAR II

Yet in the aftermath of World War II, Suzuki completely changed his tune, and in 1963, he was even nominated for as Nobel Peace Prize.


VIOLENT BUDDHIST POLITICAL FORCES TODAY

So far, we have discussed aspects of Buddhist violence in the past, as well as some support for violence and war among Japanese Buddhists in World War II. However, is Buddhism all peace today - as many Westerners would agree? In the book Buddhist Warfare, authors Michael Jerryson and Mark Juergensmeyer would disagree.

THAILAND

In an article on religion-dispatches, Michael Jerryson discusses his encounters with Buddhist soldiers in Thailand.

In January 2004, violent attacks broke out in the southern provinces of Thailand, some of which were directed at Buddhist monks. These attacks renewed fears of Islamic separatism in the region. This southern region once known as the "The Islamic Sultanate of Patani" was annexed by Buddhist Thailand in 1902 as a buffer against British Malaya. Over the centuries, Malay Muslims have struggled to regain their political autonomy from Thailand. Whenever the central government was weak, southern Thai resistance flared. Since January 2004, the region has been under martial law. Violence is pervasive in the region; people live in constant fear. And now while Thailand is over 90 percent Buddhist, the three southernmost provinces are more than 85 percent Malay Muslim.

In the 1960's groups such as the Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO) and Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) engaged in armed resistance and then attempted to negotiate with the Thai government. These organizations opposed policies requiring Muslims to bow to Buddhist statues, take Thai surnames, and abandon their Malay heritage and language of Bahasa Melayu. The Malay Muslim organizations called for changes to these regional policies and asked for limited autonomy. While the Thai government capitulated to some of their requests, the changes did not last long. Malay Muslim ambassadors who sought to negotiate with the Thai government, such as the religious leader and scholar Hajji Sulong, went missing and were later found dead. It is through these experiences that the Malay Muslim community developed a deep distrust of the Thai government and its promise of negotiations. This perspective is shared by Thailand’s southern neighboring country Malaysia, which had tried to broker peace negotiations. (Lionsroar)

In the 2004 attacks, thousands died in sporadic bombing and random shootings. Writer Michael Jerryson states that he went to Thailand in order to see Buddhist peace making in action in response to the violent attacks in 2004. But once he arrived, he says that there wasn't very much peacemaking to be seen. "During my visits between 2006 and 2008, southern Thai monks shared the challenges of living in their fear-infested communities. All but a few concentrated on survival; peacemaking was the last thing on their minds." (religion-dispatches)

Since the 2004 attacks, the Thai government has militarized Buddhist temples, authorized clandestine military monks, and enforced brutal counterinsurgent directives and interrogation techniques (oftentimes on Buddhist temple grounds). So far, these actions have only worsened Muslim-Buddhist tensions.

Many other Buddhists in the region believe that military monks are essential to protecting Buddhism in southern Thailand, and that if Muslims drive the Buddhists out of southern Thailand, order and morality will be pushed out as well. (Lionsroar)

Religion in Thailand has also become a proxy for political conflict and corruption. The front runner for Supreme Patriarch (the head of the order of Buddhist monks in Thailand) is a 90-year-old abbot who is under investigation for a tax scam involving luxury cars. His competitor is a firebrand monk known for his part in street protests backed by the royalist military elite who helped usher in Thailand's junta back in 2014. This cleric says the government must honor a pledge to stamp out corruption. Thai Buddhist leaders battle over politics, sex and money scandals.

 

MYANMAR

Buddhist violence against Muslims (and some Christians) is also intensifying in Myanmar.

The ethnic Rohingyas are an ethnic Muslim minority in the mostly Buddhist country of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). They have been called the most persecuted people on Earth. They are unable to claim citizenship in Myanmar (where about 1.1m of them live in Rakhine). Things took a turn for the worse in 2012. Tensions were sparked by the rape and murder of a Rakhine woman by three Muslim men, and so about 200 people were killed as Rakhine mobs rampaged through Sittwe and other parts of Rakhine to drive the Rohingyas from their midst. Tens of thousands of Rohingyas were forced into camps, cut off from their livelihoods, and barred from schools and hospitals.

Researchers at the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI), a cross-disciplinary academic group, argue that some of this violence was organized. They spoke to Rakhine men who claimed they were bussed into Sittwe to attack Muslims, and were encouraged to bring knives. They were given free food for a day’s work. In the fervently anti-Muslim atmosphere of Myanmar, encouraged by both Buddhist monks and politicians concerned to defend their “race and religion” against the supposed Muslim threat, this is seen as "good politics." Professor Penny Green of the ISCI argues that the ethnic cleansing of 2012 was a stage in what she describes as the “process of genocide”. (The Economist).

Since 2012, the Rohingyas have been forced into squalid refugee camps after the local Buddhists turned on them. Human-rights groups warn that the situation in Rakhine is now so desperate that, in the words of the Simon-Skjodt Centre of America’s Holocaust Memorial Museum, which campaigns to prevent genocide, the Rohingyas are “at grave risk [of] additional mass atrocities and even genocide”. (The Economist). Many of these ethnic minorities have even been forced to do harsh physical labor without pay. Now hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas have fled to southern Bangladesh. And yet despite the violence, most of the Rohingyas have remained fairly peaceful, choosing flight over fight.

In Myanmar, a strong ultranationalist group is helping the country's ruling party to win votes by pushing anti-muslim laws. The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) used its parliamentary majority to push through anti-islamic laws with the belief that the Buddhist nationalist group, Ma Ba Tha would help them get votes. Formally known in English as the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion, Ma Ba Tha grew out of the “969” movement, also led by monks, which called for a ban on interfaith marriages and a boycott of Muslim businesses. (United Humanists).

Ironically, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese social democratic stateswoman who won a Nobel Prize for being a human rights activist, has turned a blind eye toward the suffering of Muslims in her own country. Aung San Suu Kyi's 'silence' on the Rohingya: Has 'The Lady' lost her voice?

SRI LANKA

A group called the Buddhist Power force (known as the B.B.S.) has also been known for violence against Muslims in Sri Lanka. Once the B.B.S. was a fringe element, but not any longer. A wave of populist chauvinism has engulfed the country and sidelined the Tamil and Muslim minorities that make up over a quarter of the population. The B.B.S. and its counterparts have incited mobs to demolish mosques. A June speech by the B.B.S. chief Galagodaththe Gnanasara triggered anti-Muslim rioting in Sri Lanka’s southern villages; thugs burned homes, four people were killed and at least 80 were injured. But instead of arresting Mr. Gnanasara, the president simply urged “all parties concerned to act in restraint.” Much of this started from the days of British Colonialism, where there were fears that Christian missionaries would dilute Sri Lankan identity. Monks led a Buddhist revival and a cultural movement for the dominance of the Sinhalese language over English. These efforts produced a Buddhist nationalism that persisted after independence in 1948 (Buddhism itself is accorded primacy in the Sri Lankan Constitution). And in the last decade, activism by Buddhist monks has grown more overt. And now by instruction or apathy, the police and army look away when hard-line monks incite violence and riots. While the B.B.S. is not the sole voice of Sri Lankan Buddhists, its recourse to violence has increasingly forced secular liberals and pacifist Buddhists into silence. (New York Times)


FURTHER READING MATERIAL

ONLINE READING MATERIAL

Bushido

A Book of Five Rings (PDF)

Hagakure: Book of the Samurai (PDF)

Whose Zen? Zen Nationalism Revisited (PDF)

 

BOOKS

Buddhist Warfare (Amazon)

The Origins of Religious Violence: An Asian Perspective (Amazon)

Zen at War (Amazon)

 

MODERN BUDDHIST VIOLENCE

Monks with Guns: Discovering Buddhist Violence (Religion Dispatches)

Thai Buddhist leaders battle over politics, sex and money scandals (RNS, 1-19-16)

Buddhist Monks in Burma Are Helping The Government Enact Anti-Muslim Laws (United Humanists, 11-3-15)

The Rise of Militant Monks (Lionsroar, 8-23-15)

Is Buddhist Militancy The Next Big Wave of Global Terrorism? (Fair Observer, 7-13-15)

Chatting with Myanmar’s Buddhist “Terrorist” | Religion Dispatches (Religion Dispatches, 2-17-15)

 

HISTORY OF BUDDHIST VIOLENCE

The Long and Strange History of Buddhist Violence (Modern Notion, 9-8-14)

“Ashoka the Great” was India’s first Religiously Fanatic Jehadi (Patheos, 12-10-11)

 

WORLD FUTURE FUND ARTICLES

Fascism in Japan

Fascism in China


FOOT NOTES

[1] John S. Strong (1989). The Legend of King Aśoka: A Study and Translation of the Aśokāvadāna. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. pp. 232–233. ISBN 978-81-208-0616-0. Retrieved 30 October2012.

[2] Bartholomeusz, p. 50.

[3] Mark Tatz’ Skill in Means Sutra, pp. 73-74

[4] Curren, Buddha's Not Smiling, 50.

[5] Stephen Bachelor, "Letting Daylight into Magic: The Life and Times of Dorje Shugden," Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, 7, Spring 1998. Bachelor discusses the sectarian fanaticism and doctrinal clashes that ill fit the Western portrait of Buddhism as a non-dogmatic and tolerant tradition.

[6] Dhoring Tenzin Paljor, Autobiography, cited in Curren, Buddha's Not Smiling, 8.

[7] Tweed, Thomas A. (2005), "American Occultism and Japanese Buddhism. Albert J. Edmunds, D. T. Suzuki, and Translocative History" (PDF), Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 32 (2): 249–281.

[8] McMahan, David (2008), The Making of Buddhist Modernism, Oxford: Oxford University Press

[9] McRae, John (2003), Seeing Through Zen. Encounter, Transformation, and Genealogy in Chinese Chan Buddhism, The University Press Group Ltd

[10] Suzuki. xvii. Selected Works of D.T. Suzuki, Volume I: Zen, Volume 1. University of California Press. 2014.

[11] Gier, Nicholas. pp. 193. The Origins of Religious Violence: An Asian Perspective. Lexington Books. 2014.

[12] Pennington, Brian. pp.84. Teaching Religion and Violence. OUP USA. 2012.

[13] Masao Abe, Steven Heine. pp. 223. Zen and Comparative Studies: Part Two of a Two-Volume Sequel to "Zen and Western Thought. University of Hawaii Press. 1997.

[14] Victoria, Brian. pp. 63. Zen War Stories. Routledge. 2012

[15] Lecture: Universität Hamburg 14.05.2012

[16] Sharf, Robert H. (August 1993), "The Zen of Japanese Nationalism", History of Religions 33 (1): 1–43, doi:10.1086/463354

[17] Sharf, Robert H. (1995), Whose Zen? Zen Nationalism Revisited (PDF)