Does Buddhism Maintain the Instincts for Warfare?


Warfare and peace

As Buddhists observe the most recent manifestations of the ache and struggling of warfare—in Ukraine, Yemen, and elsewhere—many search, as an expression of their religion, to assist the stricken and work towards peace. Little question quite a lot of Buddhists imagine that if solely extra had been to undertake the peaceable tenets of Buddhism, the world can be much less violent. Briefly, most Buddhists imagine that Buddhism comprises inside it the flexibility to deliver peace to the world, and nothing extra.

However does it?

In responding to this query, many Buddhists would instantly reply: “In fact it does! Simply take a look at the 5 precepts that every one Buddhists, of no matter custom, college or lineage, whether or not lay or cleric, are anticipated to abide by. The primary of them is a pledge to abstain from killing. How, then, may Buddhism be thought of something aside from a faith of peace?”

The historic actuality is that down by means of the ages there have been these figuring out as Buddhists who’ve engaged in violence and warfare, justifying their actions on the idea of their Buddhist religion. These Buddhists, be they nameless figures misplaced to historical past or recorded figures of affect and energy, have discovered what I name “violence-enabling mechanisms” inside Buddhism that permit them to justify their acts of violence. This means, even when it doesn’t show, that Buddhism does certainly maintain instincts for warfare.  

The common nature of violence-enabling mechanisms

Let me make it clear that I imagine “violence-enabling mechanisms” are to be present in all the world’s main religions. I outline violence-enabling mechanisms as: “quite a few malleable non secular doctrines and related praxis that, in sure conditions and circumstances, might be reconfigured or reworked into devices that no less than countenance, if not actively condone, the usage of violence. These doctrines and praxis are generally, however not solely, activated throughout instances of warfare.”

Nevertheless, I don’t declare these violence-enabling mechanisms are the trigger of violence and warfare. As an alternative, they’re invoked, sometimes by non secular leaders, to justify or sanction believers’ participation in violence and warfare. 

I might be the primary to confess that these doctrines and praxis are sometimes troublesome to establish as a result of, on the floor, they seem to have little or nothing to do with sanctioning violence. Which is to say that to claim that this or that doctrine has a violence-condoning “darkish facet” instantly provokes a powerful denial from many throughout the custom. These “defenders of the religion” usually level to the usual or non-violent interpretation of the doctrine or praxis in query to be able to deny its darkish facet.

In as a lot as I preserve that these violence-enabling mechanisms are common, I start with one instance of those mechanisms in Christianity, though I may give related examples from Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and so forth.

A Christian instance

Christians imagine that God has given them an everlasting soul. Furthermore, they’re sometimes promised entrance into heaven as their reward for having lived pious and righteous lives on Earth. On the floor, this instructing seems to haven’t any connection in any way to religiously sanctioned violence. That’s to say, how may these articles of religion presumably change into enabling mechanisms condoning the usage of violence?

The 17 July 2004 difficulty of the Cleveland Plain Seller carried an article about Sgt. Joseph Martin Garmback, who was killed through the US invasion of Iraq. It learn partly: “‘Joey beloved being a soldier. He was so self-sacrificing,’ stated the Rev. James R. McGonegal. ‘This man knew one thing about residing and dying, and giving his life for another person.’ Many dried their eyes when McGonegal assured them Garmback was going to a greater place, a safer place. ‘He’s protected at house, finally, at peace.’” Briefly, Rev. McGonegal supplied a assure that Sgt. Gamback, who “gave his life for another person” was now in heaven as a reward for his self-sacrificing participation within the invasion of Iraq.

This assertion is especially questionable in reference to Iraq as a result of, even on the time of the invasion, it was extensively identified that all the causes given for the invasion, together with Iraq’s reputed possession of weapons of mass destruction, had been falsehoods. Thus, whereas Iraq posed no risk to the US in any way, Gamback’s dying certified him for “everlasting life.” This extensively held perception amongst each troopers and their households serves to advertise wartime army service, on this case participation in what stays extensively considered an unlawful invasion if not a warfare crime.

This is just one instance of how Christian teachings can serve to not solely justify warfare however even the promise of entrance into heaven, thereby successfully turning it right into a psychological weapon. This isn’t dissimilar to the medieval popes that despatched Crusaders to Jerusalem and retake the Holy Land, guaranteeing their entry to paradise. Is it due to this fact conceivable that Buddhism could have doctrines and praxis that serve, no less than within the minds of some Buddhist laypeople and clerics, to justify killing?

Buddhist examples

My discipline of experience is Mahāyāna Buddhism in Japan, so my preliminary examples are taken from my analysis into fashionable Japanese Buddhism, particularly regarding World Warfare Two. Nonetheless, the latter a part of this text comprises many further examples revealing the connection of quite a few Buddhist doctrines and praxis to violence and warfare isn’t the protect of anyone Buddhist custom, college, sect, or nation. It’s, in actual fact, a pan-Buddhist phenomenon.

Buddhist statuary weaponized

In 1934, Rinzai Zen Grasp Yamamoto Gempō testified in protection of his lay disciple, Inoue Nisshō, who was on trial because the chief of a band of home terrorists. Zen Grasp Gempō stated: Though all Buddhist statuary manifests the spirit of Buddha, there are not any Buddhist statues, aside from these of Buddha Śākyamuni and Amida, who don’t grasp the sword. Even the guardian Bodhisattva Kṣitigarbha holds, in his manifestation as a victor in warfare, a spear in his hand. Thus Buddhism, which has as its basis the true perfection of humanity, has no selection however to chop down even good individuals within the occasion they search to destroy social concord.” (italics mine; Victoria 2020, 122)

The next imagery of Acala, because the wrathful manifestation of Kṣitigarbha, exhibit that Zen Grasp Gempō was appropriate:

Ācala-vidyā-rāja (J. Fudō Myō-ō) Immovable Knowledge King. Picture courtesy of the writer
Mañjuśrī (J. Monju): Bodhisattva of Supreme Knowledge. Picture courtesy of the writer
In Buddha’s Firm, by Richard A. Ruth. From

The quilt of Richard A. Ruth’s guide In Buddha’s Firm incorporates a Thai armored personnel service through the Vietnam Warfare. It demonstrates that even Śākyamuni Buddha can go to warfare—or no less than shield the Buddhist troopers preventing within the warfare.

Buddhist sutras weaponized

However what of Buddhist sutras, may additionally they function an enabling mechanism to advertise violence? One instance comes from the Nice Prayer Service that was solemnly held on the Sōtō Zen Monastery of Sōji-ji for seven days, starting on 1 September 1944. The monastery defined that the aim of its recitation as follows: “We reverently recited the sutras for the well being of His Majesty, the well-being of the Imperial lands, and the give up of the enemy international locations.” (italics mine; Victoria 2006, 141)

A second instance is supplied by Rinzai Zen Grasp Yamazaki Ekijū, who instructed his disciple, Imperial Military Lt. Col. Sugimoto Gorō, as follows: “You might be robust, and your unit is powerful. Thus I believe you’ll not worry a powerful enemy. . . . It’s best to recite the Coronary heart Sutra as soon as day-after-day. It will guarantee luck on the battlefield for the Imperial army.” (italics mine; Victoria 2006, 125)

To be extra correct, within the previous examples, it isn’t the sutras themselves which might be believed to have the ability to, amongst different advantages, trigger the give up of enemy international locations or win victory. As an alternative, it’s believed that the benefit generated by the recitation of the sutras might be directed by the reciters towards inflicting enemy international locations to give up. However this raises the query of whether or not the benefit derived from sutra recitation can legitimately be directed for the victory of 1’s nation over one other?

Karma weaponized

Chapter 28, the concluding chapter of the Lotus Sutra, states partly:

Common Worthy, in later ages if there are those that settle for, uphold, learn, and recite this sutra, such individuals will now not be grasping for or hooked up to clothes, bedding, foods and drinks, or different requirements of every day life. Their needs won’t be in useless, and on this current existence they’ll achieve the reward of excellent fortune. If there may be anybody who disparages or makes mild of them, saying, ‘You might be mere idiots! It’s ineffective to hold out these practices – ultimately they’ll achieve you nothing!’, then as punishment for his offense that individual will likely be born eyeless in existence after existence. . . .

If anybody sees an individual who accepts and upholds this sutra and tries to show the faults or evils of that individual, whether or not what he speaks is true or not, he’ll in his current existence be stricken with white leprosy. If anybody disparages or laughs at that individual, then in existence after existence he can have enamel which might be lacking or spaced far aside, ugly lips, a flat nostril, arms and toes which might be gnarled or deformed, and eyes which might be squinty. His physique can have a foul odor, with evil sores that run pus and blood, and he’ll endure from water within the stomach, shortness of breath, and different extreme and malignant diseases.

(The Lotus Sutra)

Within the first occasion, the understanding of karma offered on this sutra has lengthy been utilized in East Asia to justify variations in social and financial standing in addition to the presence of bodily and psychological infirmities. That’s to say, all of those variations are the karmic fruit of a person’s good and evil actions on this and former lives. Thus, these in poverty, or unable to see or hear, or who’re in any other case disabled have nobody in charge however themselves, for every thing that occurs to them is their very own fault. Amongst different issues, this has resulted in households hiding their handicapped youngsters away from public sight or worse, within the hope that your complete household won’t be considered tainted by the broader group.        

This understanding of “karmic retribution” was additionally part of all wartime Japanese Buddhist colleges. For instance, in 1902, previous to the Russo-Japanese Warfare, True Pure Land (Shin) Buddhist Chaplain Satō Gan’ei asserted: “Every little thing depends upon karma. There are those that, victorious in battle, return house robust and match solely to die quickly afterwards. Then again, there are those that are scheduled to enter the army but die earlier than they achieve this. Whether it is their karmic future, bullets won’t strike them, and they won’t die. Conversely, ought to or not it’s their karmic future, even when they aren’t within the army, they might nonetheless die from gunfire. Subsequently there may be undoubtedly no level in worrying about this. Or expressed in another way, even in the event you do fear about it, nothing will change.” ( Victoria 2003, 153)

Rebirth weaponized

Throughout World Warfare Two, Japanese Buddhist monks used the doctrine of rebirth to assuage the grief and anger of relations on the dying of family members. The Sōtō Zen scholar-priest Yamada Reirin wrote: “The true type of the heroic spirits [of the dead] is the nice karmic energy that has resulted from their loyalty, bravery, and the Aristocracy of character. This can’t disappear. . . . The physique and thoughts produced by this karmic energy can’t be aside from what has existed as much as the current. . . . The loyal, courageous, noble, and heroic spirits of these officers and males who’ve died shouting, ‘Could the emperor dwell for ten thousand years!’ will be reborn proper right here on this nation.” (italics mine; Victoria 2006, 132)

The True Pure Land (Shin) scholar-priest Ōsuga Shūdō wrote: “Reciting the identify of Amitābha Buddha makes it doable to march onto the battlefield agency within the perception that dying will deliver rebirth in paradise. Being ready for dying, one can struggle strenuously, understanding that it’s a simply struggle, a struggle using the compassionate thoughts of the Buddha, the struggle of a loyal topic. Really, what might be extra lucky than understanding that, must you die, a welcome awaits within the Pure Land of Amitābha Buddha?” (Victoria 2003, 199–200)

Yamada Reirin and Ōsuga Shūdō had been removed from the primary in Japan to weaponize the Buddhist instructing of rebirth. The well-known 14th century warrior Kusunoki Masashige is considered the embodiment of the samurai superb of loyalty. Though his forces had been enormously outnumbered, Kusunoki remained loyal to Emperor Go-Daigo to the tip. Previous to committing suicide, he stated: “[I vow to be] reborn seven instances over to punish the brigands [who rebelled against the emperor].” Throughout World Warfare Two, Kusunoki turned an inspiration to kamikaze pilots and others who noticed themselves as his non secular heirs in sacrificing themselves for the emperor. For instance, right here is the scarf of Kurokawa Fumio who piloted a miniature, kamikaze submarine on its a technique journey. The scarf reads: “[I pledge to be] reborn seven instances to repay my debt of gratitude to my nation.”

Picture courtesy of the writer

Skillful means (upāya) weaponized

The Upāya-Kauśalya Sūtra (Skillful Means Sutra) features a story about Śākyamuni Buddha when he was nonetheless a bodhisattva. On board a ship he captained, Śākyamuni discerns there’s a robber intent on killing all the passengers and decides to kill the robber, not just for the sake of the passengers but additionally to save lots of the robber from the karmic penalties of his horrendous act. The damaging karma from killing the robber ought to have accrued to Śākyamuni, however as he defined: “Good man, as a result of I used ingenuity out of nice compassion at the moment, I used to be in a position to keep away from the struggling of 100,000 kalpas of samsāra [the ordinary world of form and desire] and that depraved man was reborn in heaven, a superb airplane of existence, after dying.”

Within the Fifties and Sixties, the CIA armed Tibetan guerrillas to struggle the Chinese language army. The Dalai Lama defended the guerillas’ actions in a filmed BBC interview as follows: “It’s a fundamental Buddhist perception that if the motivation is sweet and the purpose is sweet, then the tactic, even apparently of a violent form, is permissible. However then, in our scenario, in our case, whether or not it was sensible or not, I believe that may be a massive query.” (italics mine; YouTube)

The Dalai Lama’s reference to the significance of excellent motives and objectives locations his thought squarely in accord with the previous sutra. Moreover, whether or not killing Chinese language troopers is “sensible or not” reduces the query to simply how “skillful” it’s to take action. At the least for the Dalai Lama, the principle forbidding killing is of no concern.

If these phrases appear incongruent with the favored picture of the Dalai Lama as a person of peace, he made almost the identical assertion in his congratulatory message to the UK’s army on the event of its Armed Forces Day of 21 June 2010. He wrote: “I’ve all the time admired those that are ready to behave within the protection of others for his or her braveness and willpower. The truth is, it could shock you to know that I believe that monks and troopers, sailors, and airmen have extra in frequent than at first meets the attention. . . . Naturally, there are some instances when we have to take what on the floor seems to be harsh or powerful motion, but when our motivation is sweet our motion is definitely non-violent in nature.” (italics mine; Buddhist Army Sangha) On the one hand, the Dalai Lama’s earlier emphasis on “good objectives” disappears however is changed with the assertion that the “powerful motion” troopers generally take is “really non-violent in nature,” albeit if “our motivation is sweet.”

It’s troublesome to not recall the outdated proverb: “The street to hell is paved with good intentions.” 

Compassion weaponized

In line with the Upāya-Kauśalya Sūtra, the Buddha killed the robber “out of nice compassion” for him. Equally, the Sanskrit Mahāparinirvāna Sūtra reveals how Śākyamuni Buddha killed a number of high-caste Brahmins in a earlier life to forestall them from slandering the Dharma. The compassion right here is alleged to have originated out of Śākyamuni’s want to save lots of the Brahmins from the karmic penalties of their slander.

Throughout World Warfare Two, Zen-trained Lt. Col. Sugimoto Gorō wrote: “The wars of the empire are sacred wars. They’re holy wars. They’re the follow of nice compassion.” (italics mine; Victoria 2006, 119) Two Sōtō Zen students added: “Have been the extent of knowledge of the world’s individuals to extend, the causes of warfare would disappear and warfare stop. Nevertheless, in an age when the scenario is such that it’s unimaginable for humanity to cease wars, there isn’t a selection however to wage compassionate wars which give life to each oneself and one’s enemy. By means of a compassionate warfare, the warring nations are in a position to enhance themselves, and warfare is ready to exterminate itself.” (Victoria 2006, 91)

Bodhisattva follow weaponized

In 1937, on the time of Japan’s full-scale invasion of China, Rinzai Zen scholar-priest Hitane Jōzan wrote: “Talking from the standpoint of the perfect consequence, it is a righteous and ethical warfare of self-sacrifice wherein we are going to rescue China from the risks of Communist takeover and financial slavery. We’ll assist the Chinese language dwell as true Orientals. It could due to this fact, I dare say, not be unreasonable to name this a sacred warfare incorporating the nice follow of a bodhisattva.” (my italics; Victoria 2006, 134)                                                                            

No-self weaponized

Step one in understanding how the doctrine of “no-self” (Jap: muga) might be weaponized is to recall the core Buddhist instructing of anātman. Composed of the damaging prefix an (no) plus ātman, this Sanskrit time period denies the existence of an everlasting, unchanging self or soul. It’s sometimes translated into English as no-self. It’s a corollary of the instructing of anitya (nothing everlasting). It results in the Mahāyāna understanding of the last word vacancy of all issues.

The seventeenth century Rinzai Zen Grasp Takuan wrote the next to his warrior patron: “The uplifted sword has no will of its personal, it’s all of vacancy. It is sort of a flash of lightning. The person who’s about to be struck down can be of vacancy, and so is the one who wields the sword. None of them are possessed of a thoughts that has any substantiality. As every of them is of vacancy and has no thoughts, the hanging man isn’t a person, the sword in his arms isn’t a sword, and the ‘I’ who’s about to be struck down is just like the splitting of the spring breeze in a flash of lightning.” (Victoria 2003, 26)

In March 1937, Ishihara Shummyō, a number one Sōtō Zen priest and spokesperson for the varsity stated: “Zen grasp Takuan taught that in essence Zen and Bushidō had been one. . . . I imagine that if one is known as upon to die, one shouldn’t be in the slightest degree agitated. Quite the opposite, one ought to be in a realm the place one thing known as ‘oneself’ doesn’t intrude even barely. Such a realm is not any totally different from that derived from the follow of Zen.” (Victoria 2006, 103)                                                                        

Imperial Military Main Ōkubo Kōichi responded: “The soldier should change into one together with his superior. He should really change into his superior. Equally, he should change into the order he receives. That’s to say, his self should disappear [italics mine]. Then he’ll advance when informed to advance. . . . Then again, ought to he imagine that he’s going to die and act accordingly, he will likely be unable to struggle effectively. What is important is that he have the ability to act freely and with out [mental] hindrance.” (Victoria 2006, 103)                                                                        

Lt. Col. Sugimoto Gorō wrote: “The explanation that Zen is vital for troopers is that every one Japanese, particularly troopers, should dwell within the spirit of the unity of sovereign and topics, eliminating their ego and eliminating their self. It’s precisely the awakening to the nothingness (Jap: mu) of Zen that’s the basic spirit of the unity between sovereign and topics. By means of my follow of Zen I’m ready to do away with my ego. In facilitating the accomplishment of this, Zen turns into, as it’s, the true spirit of the imperial army.” (italics mine; Victoria 2006, 124)

Sōtō Zen grasp Yasutani Haku’un defined: “Within the occasion one needs to exalt the Spirit of Japan, it’s crucial to make the most of Japanese Buddhism. The explanation for that is that so far as a nutrient for cultivation of the Spirit of Japan is worried, I imagine there may be completely nothing superior to Japanese Buddhism. . . . That’s to say, all of the particulars [of the Spirit of Japan] are taught by Japanese Buddhism, together with the good way of ‘no-self’ that consists of the basic obligation of ‘extinguishing the self to be able to serve the general public [good]’; the willpower to transcend life and dying to be able to reverently sacrifice oneself for one’s sovereign; the assumption in limitless life as represented within the oath to die seven instances over to repay [the debt of gratitude owed] one’s nation; reverently helping within the holy enterprise of bringing the eight corners of the world below one roof; and the valiant and devoted energy required for the development of the Pure Land on this Earth.” (italics mine; Victoria 2003, 70)

One of many Imperial Navy’s kamikaze pilots wrote his remaining piece of calligraphy as follows: “With full loyalty I selflessly repay the debt of gratitude I owe my nation.” Evidently, it was not solely the kamikaze pilots themselves who acknowledged the significance of selflessness, the well-known Sōto Zen scholar-priest Masunaga Reihō had this to say: “The supply of the spirit of the Particular Assault Forces (aka kamikaze) lies in the denial of the person self and the rebirth of the soul that takes upon itself the burden of historical past. From historical instances Zen has described this conversion of thoughts as the achievement of full enlightenment.” (italics mine; Victoria 2006, 139)

“With full loyalty I selflessly repay the debt of gratitude I owe my nation.”  Picture courtesy of the writer

In equating the selfless, suicidal spirit of the kamikaze pilots of the Particular Assault Forces with full enlightenment, Masunaga might be stated to have taken Zen Buddhism to the militaristic excessive.

Samādhi energy weaponized

In Buddhism, samādhi refers back to the concentrated frame of mind, that’s, the psychological “one pointedness” acquired by means of the follow of meditation. Previous to and through the Asia-Pacific Warfare, Japanese Zen leaders, together with D. T. Suzuki, usually wrote about this meditation-derived energy, emphasizing the effectiveness of samādhi-energy in battle. All of them agreed that the Zen follow of seated, cross-legged meditation (zazen), was the fountainhead of this energy, an influence as accessible to fashionable Japanese troopers because it had been to samurai warriors previously.

When Lt. Col. Sugimoto died on the battlefield in 1937, Rinzai Zen Grasp Yamazaki Ekijū wrote: “A grenade fragment hit him within the left shoulder. He appeared to have fallen down however then bought up once more. Though he was standing, one couldn’t hear his instructions. He was now not in a position to difficulty instructions with that husky voice of his. . . . But he was nonetheless standing, holding his sword in a single hand as a prop. . . . Previously it was thought of to be the true look of a Zen priest to move away whereas doing zazen. Those that had been fully and completely enlightened, nevertheless, may die calmly in a standing place. The explanation this was doable was as a consequence of samādhi energy.” (italics mine; Victoria 2006, 125–26)

Samādhi energy was even accessible to a Buddhist terrorist, Ōnuma Shō, who assassinated Japan’s former finance minister, Inoue Junnosuke, in February 1932. At his trial he acknowledged: “After beginning my follow of zazen I entered a state of samādhi the likes of which I had by no means skilled earlier than. I felt my spirit change into unified, actually unified, and after I opened my eyes from their half-closed meditative place I observed the smoke from the incense curling up and touching the ceiling. At this level it all of a sudden got here to me—I might have the ability to perform [the assassination] that night time.” (italics mine)

Protection of the Dharma weaponized

The Sanskrit Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra admonishes followers to guard the Dharma in any respect prices, even when it means utilizing weapons to take action and breaking the prohibition in opposition to taking life. Equally, the Gaṇḍavyūha Sūtra describes an Indian king named Anala who’s singled out for reward as a result of he’s stated to have made killing right into a divine service, to be able to reform individuals by means of punishment.

In reference to Sri Lanka’s not too long ago concluded bitter and prolonged civil warfare with its non-Buddhist Tamil minority, Priyath Liyanage described the scenario in Sri Lanka on the time: “It should be remembered that Sri Lankan Buddhists do strongly imagine they’ve an obligation to guard and uphold their religion and that tens of 1000’s of Buddhist monks have taken sacred vows to take action.” (Accord)

In a 2005 sermon to Sri Lankan troopers, Ven. Vimaladhajja included the next poem: “Dutugāmunu, the lord of males, fought a fantastic warfare [against Hindu Tamils]. He killed individuals to be able to save the [Buddhist] faith [italics mine]. He united the pure Sri Lanka and obtained consolation from that ultimately [of samsāra]” (Jerryson and Juergensmeyer 2010, 169). Dutugāmunu was a Buddhist king in what’s at this time Sri Lanka, who reigned from 161–137 BCE. He’s famend for having reunited the entire island by defeating and overthrowing Elara, a Hindu Tamil prince from the Indian Chola Kingdom who had invaded.

In 2012, the acute nationalist group Bodu Bala Sena (BBS/Buddhist Energy Drive) was fashioned in Sri Lanka. The BBS usually opposes pluralist and democratic ideologies, and criticizes non-extremist Buddhist monks for failing to take motion in opposition to the rise of Western religions inside Sri Lanka. On 17 February 2013, the BBS held a gathering in a suburb of Colombo attended by round 16,000 individuals, together with 1,300 monks. On the rally, the BBS common secretary Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara acknowledged: “It is a authorities created by Sinhala Buddhists, and it should stay Sinhala Buddhist. It is a Sinhala nation, Sinhala authorities. Democratic and pluralistic values are killing the Sinhala race.” He additionally informed the gang on the rally that they “should change into an unofficial civilian police pressure in opposition to Muslim extremism.” (Wikiwand) 

Not solely Sri Lankan Buddhists use Dutugāmunu’s victory over Hindu Tamils, as recorded within the non-canonical Sinhalese Mahāvamsa (Nice Chronicle), to justify killing. As not too long ago as November 2017, Sitagu Sayadaw, a senior monk in Myanmar identified for his charismatic management and follow of engaged Buddhism, commented on the remorse Dutugāmunu is alleged to have felt following his victory. In a sermon Sitagu gave to the officers of the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s army, he recalled that the Buddhist clerics who had accompanied Dutugāmunu into battle assured the king that he needn’t remorse the untold numbers killed. Why? As a result of in actuality, the king had slain solely one-and-a-half human beings. One of many slain was a Buddhist who had taken the three refugees however the different, the half, had solely taken the 5 precepts.

In line with the Mahāvamsa, the rest of the slain had been unbelievers and evil males who had been to be considered not more than beasts. Then again, the clerics claimed the king had introduced glory to the doctrine of the Buddha in manifold methods: “Don’t fear, King, it’s solely slightly little bit of sin. Regardless of that you simply killed tens of millions of individuals, they had been solely one-and-a-half actual human beings.” Sitagu recounted to the officers: “I’m not saying that monks from Sri Lanka stated that,” including: “Our troopers ought to bear that in thoughts and will serve within the army, I might urge.” (Frontier Myanmar)

Mara weaponized

As for Theravāda Buddhism in Thailand, in 1976 the Thai monk Kitti Wuttho claimed: “[Killing communists is not killing persons] as a result of whoever destroys the nation, the faith, or the monarchy, such bestial sorts are usually not full individuals. Thus we should intend to not kill individuals however to kill Mara [lit. Destruction]; that is the obligation of all Thai.” (Anderson 1998, 167) Comparable in spirit to the Mahāvamsa, figuring out Thai communists with Mara meant they had been now not thought of human beings and will due to this fact be killed with karmic immunity and with out breaking the Vinaya principle forbidding killing. Figuring out these exterior of 1’s religion as “lower than,” evil, and even non-human is without doubt one of the commonest violence-enabling mechanisms, present in all main religions.

Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara served because the Sri Lankan director common of the Civil Defence Drive through the civil warfare with the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam], headed by Prabhakaran. In Could 2009 Weerasekara, who holds a MA in Buddhist philosophy, defined the explanations for the Civil Defence Drive’s success as follows:

I believe one fundamental motive for this success is that we struggle this warfare as per Buddhist Philosophy. The Buddha has preached easy methods to defeat Mara within the following stanzas and we comply with precisely that:

Kumbupaman Kaya Miman Vidithwa
Nagaroopaman Chiththa Midan Tapethwa
Yodecha Maran Pagna Udena
Jithanwa Rakke Anusevanosiya 

Kumbupaman Kaya Miman Vidithwa, signifies that you need to consider your physique as a clay pot; there isn’t a worth within the physique. 

Nagaroopaman Chiththa Midan Tapethwa, you need to have your thoughts in a fortress, you shouldn’t permit your thoughts to deviate; focus your consideration. 

Yodecha Maran Pagna Udena you need to struggle the enemy with knowledge. 

Jithanwa Rakke you need to shield what you have got received and ‘Anusevanosiya’ means you need to by no means have any interval or a ceasefire.

That’s what Lord Buddha has stated about defeating Mara. As we speak our Mara is Prabhakaran. We have now fought this warfare with knowledge. One of many key elements for our success is that we fought it in accordance with the rules given by Buddha to defeat Mara.

(Enterprise As we speak On-line)

On the event of US Memorial Day in 2010, US Navy lieutenant and Buddhist chaplain Jeanette Yuinen Shin wrote: “This yr’s Vesak observance, the remembrance of Lord Buddha’s Delivery, Enlightenment, and Parinirvana happens carefully to our Memorial Day observance. On each events, it is a time for the remembrance of deeds that supplied for our Emancipation from struggling. The Buddha’s remaining victory over Mara, and our army veterans who gave the “final full measure” in order that we could have freedom at this time. Namo Amida Butsu.” (italics mine; Buddhist Army Sangha)

Because the above examples reveal, killing sanctioned within the identify of “protection of the Dharma” or “killing/defeating Mara” is at this time conflated with nationalism, thereby justifying the usage of violence on the a part of one’s nation, both internally in opposition to alleged home enemies or externally in opposition to international enemies. Within the case of multi-ethnic Buddhist nations, reminiscent of Sri Lanka and Myanmar, violence undertaken in opposition to a non-Buddhist minority can be justified as a crucial measure to defend the Dharma. Though it has been renamed, Myanmar’s MaBaTha (Affiliation for the Safety of Race and Faith) is a living proof. It’s led by monks who preserve they’re defending the Bamar Buddhist majority from the nation’s Rohingya and different Muslims.

Picture courtesy of the writer

MaBaTha was the successor to an earlier anti-Muslim group generally known as the 969 motion. In 2017, the MaBaTha modified its identify to the Buddha Dhamma Parahita Basis. Nevertheless, it’s nonetheless extensively referred to by its outdated identify, MaBaTha. Along with 969 and MaBaTha, numerous different monastic and lay organizations search to guard Buddhism from the alleged risks posed by Islam. South Asia Residents Internet provides extra detailed descriptions of those organizations and Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar normally.

The Buddhadharma weaponized

Regardless of the previous examples, it’s arduous to imagine that it might be doable for any Buddhist to show the Buddhadharma itself right into a weapon. But it was carried out however by D.T. Suzuki, the world-famous Buddhist scholar primarily liable for introducing Zen Buddhism to the West. In 1904, through the Russo-Japanese Warfare, Suzuki wrote an article in English titled “The Buddhist View of Warfare.” It learn partly:

Warfare is abominable, and there’s no denying it. However it’s only a section of the common battle that is happening and can go on, so long as one breath of vitality is left to an animate being. It’s absurdity itself to have perpetual peace and on the similar time to be having fun with the total vigor of life. We don’t imply to be merciless, neither can we want to be self-destructive. When our beliefs conflict, let there be no flinching, no backsliding, no undecidedness, however with no end in sight urgent onwards. In this sort of warfare there may be nothing private, egotistic, or particular person. It’s the holiest non secular warfare.

One factor most detestable and un-Buddhistic in warfare is its private factor. Egotistic hatred for an enemy is what makes a warfare most deplorable. However each pious Buddhist is aware of that there isn’t a such irreducible a factor as ego. Subsequently, as he steadily strikes onward and clears each impediment in the best way, he’s doing what has been ordained by an influence larger that himself; he’s merely instrumental. In him there isn’t a hatred, no anger, no ignorance, no prejudice. He has misplaced himself in preventing. . . . 

Allow us to then shuffle off the mortal coil each time it turns into crucial, and not elevate a grunting voice in opposition to the fates. From our mutilated, mangled, inert corpse will there be the wonderful ascension of one thing immaterial which leads eternally progressing humanity to its remaining purpose. Resting on this conviction, Buddhists carry the banner of Dharma over the useless and dying till they achieve remaining victory.

(emphasis mine; Suzuki 1904, 179-82)

Śākyamuni Buddha weaponized

If, as D. T. Suzuki demonstrated, it was doable to weaponize the Buddhadharma, then maybe it isn’t shocking that Śākyamuni Buddha himself may be weaponized. Not shocking, that’s, when the individual doing the weaponizing was D. T. Suzuki’s personal trainer, Rinzai Zen Grasp Shaku Sōen. It was Sōen who, in 1896, had licensed Suzuki’s preliminary enlightenment expertise, kenshō, as genuine. Later, reflecting on why he had change into a chaplain in Manchuria through the Russo-Japanese Warfare of 1904–5, Sōen wrote:

I needed to have my religion examined by going by means of the best horrors of life, however I additionally wished to encourage if I may our valiant troopers with the ennobling ideas of the Buddha, in order to allow them to die on the battlefield with the boldness that the duty wherein they’re engaged is nice and noble. I needed to persuade them of the reality that this warfare isn’t a mere slaughter of their fellow beings, however that they’re combating an evil, and that, on the similar time, corporal annihilation actually means a rebirth of [the soul], not in heaven, certainly, however right here amongst ourselves. I did my greatest to impress these concepts upon the troopers’ hearts.

(Shaku 1906, 203)

One is left to surprise which of the Buddha’s “ennobling ideas” allowed Japanese troopers, engaged in enlarging the Japanese Empire, “to die on the battlefield with the boldness that the duty wherein they’re engaged is nice and noble?”


These are only some examples demonstrating that Buddhism has a protracted historic and doctrinal connection to violence, regardless of the non-violent teachings of its founder. In Buddhism’s case, each praxis and such doctrines as karma, rebirth, skillful means, compassion, selflessness, and samādhi energy, every a core Buddhist instructing, have lengthy been used as “violence-enabling mechanisms” to justify violence and warfare.

One wish to assume that Buddhists, who imagine they’re ready by means of their follow to realize perception into “issues as they’re,” can be keen, as soon as they understood the character of the issue, to dedicate themselves to the troublesome activity of cleaning Buddhism of those deeply entrenched violence-enabling mechanisms. Nevertheless, till, and until, Buddhists individually and collectively say “No extra!” Buddhism will, like all the world’s different main religions, proceed to carry instincts for warfare, a faith of each peace and violence.


Anderson, Benedict. 1998.The Spectre of Comparisons: Nationalism, Southeast Asia, and the World. London: Verso.

Jerryson, Michael and Mark Juergensmeyer. 2010. Buddhist Warfare. Oxford: Oxford College Press.

Liyanage, Priyath. 1998. “Standard Buddhism, Politics & the Ethnic Downside,” in Accord, No. 4, August 1998. Accessed on 19 April 2022 at:

Shaku, Soyen and D. T. Suzuki. (trans.) 1906. Sermons of a Buddhist Abbot. Chicago: Open Court docket Press.

Suzuki, Daisetsu Teitarō. 1904. “The Buddhist View of Warfare” in The Gentle of Dharma, July, 1904, Vol. 4. No. 2, 179-182. Accessed on 3 Could 2022 at:

Victoria, Brian Daizen. 2020. Zen Terror in Prewar Japan: Portrait of an Murderer. Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield.

Victoria, Brian Daizen. 2006. Zen at Warfare, second ed. Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield.

Victoria, Brian Daizen. 2003. Zen Warfare Tales. London: RoutledgeCurzon Press.

Watson, Burton (trans.). 1993. The Lotus Sutra. New York: Columbia College Press. Accessed on 23 April 2022 at: http://nichiren.information/buddhism/lotussutra/textual content/chap28.html.  

See extra

Shielding the Harmless – Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara (Enterprise As we speak On-line)
Pt 1 CIA & Tibetan Buddhism – & the propaganda warfare in opposition to China – Opperation: “Shadow Tibet Circus” (YouTube)
The Dalai Lama’s Message to the Armed Forces (Buddhist Army Sangha)
Buddhist Army Sangha
The Mahavamsa
Tatmadaw, Sangha and authorities should work collectively, Sitagu Sayadaw says in sermon to officers (Frontier Myanmar)
Bodu Bala Sena (Wikiwand)
The Rise of MaBaTha – Excessive Buddhist Nationalism in Myanmar (South Asia Residents Internet)

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