Buddhism and violence
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Violence in Buddhism refers to acts of violence and aggression committed by Buddhists with religious, political, and socio-cultural motivations. Although among the least associated religious traditions with violence, there is a robust history of Buddhist-related self-flagellation, suicides, torture, and wars. Within the monastic traditions alone, there are over sixteen hundred years of Buddhist violence in Asia. There are ample doctrinal sources that provide Buddhists with a justification for violence such as the Mahayana Chinese version of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, Upayakaushalya Sutra, and the Kalachakra Tantra.
In Southeast Asia, Thailand has had several prominent virulent Buddhist monastic calls for violence. In the 1970s, Buddhist monks like Phra Kittiwuttho argued that killing Communists did not violate any of the Buddhist precepts (Jerryson 2011, 110). The militant side of Thai Buddhism became prominent again in 2004 when a Malay Muslim insurgency renewed in Thailand's deep south. Since January 2004, the Thai government has converted Buddhist monasteries into military outposts and commissioned Buddhist military monks and give support for Buddhist vigilante squads (Jerryson 2011, 114-141).
In 1930s Rangoon, nationalist monks stabbed four Europeans. Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), headed by a Buddhist monk U Thuzana, since 1992. In the recent years the monks, and the terrorist acts, are associated with the 969 Movement particularly in Myanmar and neighboring nations. "969" refers to numbers associated with the Buddha, his teachings and monkhood (also known as Bhikkhu). As of 2012, the "969" movement by monks had helped create anti-Islamic nationalist movements in the region, and have urged Myanmar Buddhists to boycott Muslim services and trades, resulting in persecution of Muslims in Burma and Buddhist mob calls for a Muslim extermination.
Buddhist violence in Myanmar are the ethnic terror attacks, particularly against the Rohingya people and other Muslims in the region. The terror attacks were motivated by Buddhist monks (the prominent among whom is Wirathu) with the creation of the 969 Movement. The violence reached prominence in June 2012 when more than 200 people were killed and around 100,000 were displaced. According to the Human Rights Watch report, the Burmese government and local authorities played a key role in the forcible displacement of more than 125,000 Rohingya and other Muslims in the region. The report further specifies the coordinated attacks of October 2012 that were carried out in different cities by Burmese officials, community leaders and Buddhist monks to terrorize and forcibly relocate the population. The violence of Meiktila, Lashio (2013) and Mandalay (2014) are the latest Buddhist violence in Burma.
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."
During the Sri Lankan Civil War (1983-2009), Buddhist monks urged the government to take aggressive stances against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Dr. Tessa Bartholomeusz, professor at the Department of Religion, of Florida State University writes in her book In Defense of Dharma: Just-War Ideology in Buddhist Sri Lanka that prominent Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka advocate a "just war ideology" against LTTE.
The beginning of "Buddhist violence" in Japan relates to long history of feuds amongst Buddhists. The Sōhei or "warrior monks" appeared during the Heian period, although the seeming contradiction in being a Buddhist "warrior monk" caused controversy even at the time. More directly linked is that the Ikkō-shū movement was considered an inspiration to Buddhists in the Ikkō-ikki rebellion. In Osaka they defended their temple with the slogan "The mercy of Buddha should be recompensed even by pounding flesh to pieces. One's obligation to the Teacher should be recompensed even by smashing bones to bits!"
In more modern times instances of Buddhist-inspired terrorism or militarism have occurred in Japan, such as the Ketsumeidan assassinations led by Nichiren Buddhist preacher Nissho Inoue. The Zen priest Brian Daizen Victoria documented in his book Zen at War how Buddhist institutions justified Japanese militarism in official publications and cooperated with the 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.
Aum Shinrikyo, the shinshūkyō that unleashed Sarin gas into the Tokyo subway and killed thirteen people, injuring fifty, drew upon Buddhist ideas and scriptures. Religious studies scholar Ian Reader notes how Aum "emphasized its use and command of esoteric and tantric Buddhist practices," published magazines called Mahayana and Vajrayana Sacca, and advocated Tibetan Buddhist ideas of the Bardo and phowa (1996, 16-17). The religious justification for Aum Shinrikyo's use of violence was connected to Buddhist rationalizations of taking the lives of "less spiritually advanced" beings, and that killing a person in danger of accumulating bad karma in this life was to save them in the next life, thereby advancing them toward salvation. While many discount Aum Shinrikyo's Buddhist characteristics and affiliation to Buddhism, scholars often refer to it as an off-shoot of Japanese Buddhism, and this was how the movement generally defined and saw itself. In a later work Ian Reader cautions that its self-definition as Buddhist might appear dubious to other Buddhists and that at its root Aum was a "charismatic religious movement" framed around an individual figure. He notes it had Hindu and Christian influences but that its primary focus was Buddhism.
One of the celebrated rituals in Tibetan Buddhism is the Tibetan monastic assassination in 841 of King Langdarma. According to the Chos 'byung me tog snying po the Tibetan king had supported Bon, the indigenous religion of Tibet, over Buddhism and reduced the political support of Buddhist monasteries. Later the differing schools of Tibetan Buddhism would occasionally fight each other, although mainly for political reasons, with sectarian disputes between the Kagyu and Gelug schools playing a role in a Tibetan civil war.
After the 2008 unrest in Tibet, the official stance of the Chinese government has been that the Dalai Lama helped to orchestrate the unrest and violence. A Chinese Ministry of Public Security spokesperson claimed searches of monasteries in the Tibetan capital had turned up a large cache of weapons, including 176 guns and 7,725 pounds of explosives.
- Ahimsa in Buddhism
- Buddhist ethics
- Islam and violence
- Criticism of Buddhism
- Religious violence
- Christianity and violence
- Terrorist Organizations by Ideology -- Religious
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- Dass, Niranjan (2006). Terrorism And Militancy In South Asia. M.D. Publications Pvt. Ltd.
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- "Why are Buddhist monks attacking Muslims?".
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- Analysis: How to reverse Buddhism’s radical turn in Southeast Asia?
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- Tibet Unconquered: An Epic Struggle for Freedom by Diane Wolff, pgs 76-79
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