Buddhism and violence


By ann summers

“All problems must be solved through dialogue, through talk. The use of violence is outdated, and never solves problems.”[61][62]

www.lionsroar.com/… Many Asian Buddhists may hold views that clash with Western visions of religious pluralism. For many Buddhists in Asia, the buddhadharma is not a “religion.” This distinction is exemplified in the reflections of Taiwanese immigrants to the United States, who have noted how they “became” Buddhist once they arrived. There was no identification for this in Taiwan. What is at stake from the perspective of many Asian Buddhists is not their religion but their basic identity and way of life. This difference between Western Buddhists’ and Asian Buddhists’ perspectives of the buddhadharma has become prominent in the current Burmese crisis.

I have written before on Buddhist Warfare, the text by Michael Jerryson and Mark Juergensmeyer on pre-emptive Buddhist violence. There are other paths to happiness that still appreciate a message against inequality and injustice.

The oncoming Trumpian regime will feature an up-tick in violence, state-sponsored in military and police actions, just and unjust, plus the randomness of micro-aggression-based violence, escalated by threats of firearms use. Death and destruction are inevitable, and their scale and scope should be seen in the context of ideological understanding that are more about faith than its institutions.

Mooby the Golden Calf is a fictional character featured in Kevin Smith’s films, comics and animated series—an indictment of McDonald’s, Mickey Mouse and Disney overall. In Dogma, the Angel of Death Loki explicitly links Mooby with the mammon-based implications of the Golden Calf in Exodus.

Resistance, whether civil disobedience or other actions will have passive-aggressive elements and bringing that effort into a harmonious direction will take considerable strategic and tactical planning if we are to survive one of the greatest capitalist challenges to democracy, one that however it is reliant on neoliberalism, also makes appeals to anti-capitalists in its demagoguery while remaining anti-democratic in its political economy of inequality.

Almost all Japanese Buddhist temples strongly supported Japan’s militarization.[159][160][161][162][163][164] These were heavily criticized by the Chinese Buddhists of the era who disputed the validity of the statements made by those Japanese Buddhists supporters of the war…

During the 1940s, “leaders of the Honmon Hokkeshu and Soka Kyoiku Gakkai were imprisoned for their defiance of wartime government religious policy, which mandated display of reverence for the state Shinto.”[168][169][170] Brian Daizen Victoria, a Buddhist priest in the Sōtō Zen sect, documented in his book Zen at War how Buddhist institutions justified Japanese militarism in official publications and cooperated with the Imperial Japanese Army in the Russo-Japanese War and World War II. In response to the book, several sects issued an apology for their wartime support of the government.[171][172]

It is in fact important to distinguish between for example, TrUmp’s Ur-fascist major domo, Steve Bannon who claims that he’s a Leninist, and the Dalai Lama, who makes clear that he is an anti-Leninist. The former has certainly made it clear that force, whether symbolic or non-symbolic, is part of our Trumpian future (as long as he gets the screen rights).

You said in 1993: “The economic system of Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability. Marxism is concerned with the distribution of wealth on an equal basis … as well as the fate of those who are underprivileged and in need, and [it] cares about the victims of minority-imposed exploitation. For those reasons, the system appeals to me, and it seems fair.”

You have suggested elsewhere also that you are a Marxist so far as Marxism’s focus on socioeconomic conditions is concerned. You have particularly emphasized the focus in Marxism on inequality and the ethical need to move toward an equal and just world.

Would you like to elaborate on this position of yours? Are you also suggesting that our present world order based on inequality and exploitation faces a spiritual crisis which Marxism (as also Tibetan Buddhism, albeit in their respective ways) holds the promise to attend to?


Dhar: Yes, I have a few; in addition to the questions we have posed to you already in writing. Perhaps you can begin by sharing your reflections on why you would say, “I am a Marxist.” Would you like to elaborate a little on this statement of yours?

Dalai Lama: First, I am a Buddhist; a practitioner of Buddha Dharma. Every day, you see, we pray for all sentient beings; we pray for all sentient beings on this planet so that all sentient beings are free from suffering; we hope all sentient beings have happiness; we pray for all sentient beings to be free from attachments, attachments causing bias. If you are serious about this, if one seriously practices these things, then one will have to think of the well-being of the billion human beings on this planet. Other beings, limitless number of other beings, like birds, fish, even earthworms, we have to think of their well-being as well. But you see we do not have a common language; we cannot communicate with them, so we can only pray. Now as human beings, we have languages of communication. We have a somewhat special apparatus: the human brain. This combination of language and brain—and I do not know for certain which should come first, which caused what—but the combination is supposed to, or at least, should be, the source of happiness.

But instead, this is causing more trouble, more violence. Now, when we think of the well-being of a billion beings not only in their next life but in this life … this very life should be a happy one, not the next one, then we have to take recourse to the Four Noble Truths. [The Four Noble Truths are:

  • the noble truth of suffering – Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering. [dukkha, in Pali],
  • the noble truth of the origin – It is this craving that leads to renewed existence, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there: that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for existence, craving for extermination of suffering,
  • the noble truth of the cessation – It is the remainder-less fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, nonreliance on it. and
  • the noble truth of the path that leads to the cessation of suffering and the origin of suffering.

One also has to think beyond the impermanent axis of happiness, i.e., happiness in worldly life. Impermanent happiness comes from money. The locus of impermanent happiness is in the economy, which is, however, necessary for happiness.

Happiness in the long run, however, comes from nirvana [“Nothing can give real happiness as can nirvana,” so said the Buddha].

The route to nirvana is in dharma, is in the Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path.

The Eightfold Path: that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.View all notes

But then even as a Buddhist practitioner you have to think about the economy, about the economic well-being of humanity. So, uh now, and of course I am not an economist, I do not know economics, but my general impression is that the Marxian understanding of the economy is premised on and lays emphasis on “equal distribution”—equal distribution as a moral principle.

Dhar: You’ve made a similar suggestion earlier also.

Dalai Lama: Yes! Capitalists think about profit, about only money. About gain. There is not much talk about equal distribution in capitalism. I always make this distinction between original Marxist ideology and capitalism.

I think, original Marxist ideology is very much related to/with a sense of altruism, a sense of concern for the well-being of the majority. At that time, in Marx’s time, Marx sees employees, farmers, workers being simply used by landlords, feudal lords, and capitalists. He sees the owner of the factory exploiting his workers.


I think Marx saw a lot of hardship. So he is seriously concerned with how to tackle the extreme forms of exploitation. And he saw how exploitation perpetuates a lot of suffering for working-class people. Marx takes up the cause of that proletariat, or the workers who are a majority, even native/colonized people.

So you see, Marx was right in expressing his concerns over their rights; worker’s rights, their well-being. So I invest much in Marxist ideology. I invest in order to generate courage in poor peasants and workers. In India, sometimes, Dalit subjects are using this religious word, karma … karma as destiny; “low caste” is as if due to karma, so nothing can be done about it; one has to accept and persevere. So you see, it is possible at that time, their religious leader or community leader could be invoking karma to support ruling-class ideology.

Karl Marx, on the other hand, develops some sort of conception of self-creation of change. Working-class people, their hands, their work, their labor, their consciousness is the key factor to change society. So this I feel is very much related with a core moral principle. At the same time, I always make it clear that I am totally against Leninism.



For example, there is no justification for the complex transformation of Myanmar which is simply like most of South and Southeast Asia in its path to democracy via an uneven history of postcolonial misadventures and class developments, one considered left-oriented and religious but now even more ethnic and familial in its Islamophobia.

Wednesday demonstration (Korean: 수요 집회), officially named Wednesday Demonstration … The weekly protest is held in the presence of surviving comfort women on every Wednesday at noon in front of the Embassy of Japan in Seoul www.google.com/…

Similarly Vietnam has a historical path that has gone from Catholic hegemony and French colonialism through socialist resistance against the West to Leninism with varying success, as though re-education ever works. In that case Buddhism persisted as well. The Japanese example of Buddhism as Shintoism is the most egregious form of rationalizing violence, continually confronted by revisionist historiography in the postwar period.


Michael Jerryson, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Ohio’s Youngstown State University and co-editor of the book Buddhist Warfare, said that “Buddhism differs in that the act of killing is less the focus than the ‘intention’ behind the killing” and “The first thing to remember is that people have a penchant for violence, it just so happens that every religion has people in it.”[35]

Gananath Obeyesekere, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University, said that “in the Buddhist doctrinal tradition… there is little evidence of intolerance, no justification for violence, no conception even of ‘just wars’ or ‘holy wars.’ … one can make an assertion that Buddhist doctrine is impossible to reconcile logically with an ideology of violence and intolerance”[21]

There is however in Buddhism a long tradition of self-inflicted violence and death, as a form of ascetics or protest,[1] as exemplified by the use of fires and burns to show determinations among Chinese monks or by the self-immolations of monks such as Thích Quảng Đức during the Vietnam war…

Michael Jerryson, author of several books heavily critical of Buddhism’s traditional peaceful perceptions, stated that, “The Burmese Buddhist monks may not have initiated the violence but they rode the wave and began to incite more. While the ideals of Buddhist canonical texts promote peace and pacifism, discrepancies between reality and precepts easily flourish in times of social, political and economic insecurity, such as Myanmar’s current transition to democracy.”[60]

However several Buddhist leaders including Thích Nhất Hạnh, Bhikkhu Bodhi, Shodo Harada and the Dalai Lama among others condemned the violence against Muslims in Myanmar and called for peace, supporting the practice of the fundamental Buddhist principles of non-harming, mutual respect and compassion.

The Dalai Lama said “Buddha always teaches us about forgiveness, tolerance, compassion. If from one corner of your mind, some emotion makes you want to hit, or want to kill, then please remember Buddha’s faith. We are followers of Buddha.” He said that “All problems must be solved through dialogue, through talk. The use of violence is outdated, and never solves problems.”[61][62]


All in all, Jerryson, Juergensmeyer and their co-authors have produced an extremely valuable, edifying collection which seriously challenges the images of “peacefulness” that Western Buddhists have tended to project onto the religion of their choice.

A reader feels persuaded to conclude, as Faure suggests in his “Afterthoughts,” that a religion which does not question the (inherently violent) hierarchies of power in the mundane world; which promotes interiorized violence in the form of ascetic practices; and which systematically discriminates against women and habitually demonizes outsiders and rivals, should, in fact, be expected to be violent.

What remains to be desired–from Jerryson, Juergensmeyer and their collaborators, as well as other specialists working in this field–is a broader and stronger contextualization of Buddhist violence as part and parcel of a more general tendency of practically all religions to be violent.


Religions are symbolic systems that organize the universe in such a way as to make themselves central and powerful–and closing the distance between “power” and “violence” is only a question of time, however “compassionate” the axiology of a given religion might originally have been. The present collection shows us very clearly the dangers inherent in privileging one religion–even a most “compassionate”-looking one–in relation to others.

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