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. Buddhism is generally seen as among the religious traditions least associated with violence,[1] but this is open to dispute. In the history of Buddhism there have been self-flagellation, suicides, torture, and wars justified or linked to it. Within the monastic traditions there are over sixteen hundred years of recorded incidents of violence in Asia that had a justification in some form of Buddhism.[2]

Teachings, interpretations, and practices[edit]

One of the Five Precepts of Buddhist ethics or śīla states, "I undertake the training rule to abstain from killing."[3] The Buddha reportedly stated, "Victory breeds hatred. The defeated live in pain. Happily the peaceful live giving up victory and defeat." These elements are used to indicate Buddhism is pacifistic and all violence done by Buddhists, even monks, is likely due to economic or political reasons.[4] Non-injury is indeed central to Buddhism. Nevertheless historically there are Buddhists, as individuals or in groups, who argue this still allows for a "least harm" principle that allows killing to avoid greater killing. The meaning of this varies among Buddhists who support the idea and does not always refer to issues of war. Nevertheless cases of it being used to justify war exist. Japanese Buddhist literature from World War II, as part of its support of the Japanese war effort, stated

In order to establish eternal peace in East Asia, arousing the great benevolence and compassion of Buddhism, we are sometimes accepting and sometimes forceful. We now have no choice but to exercise the benevolent forcefulness of “killing one in order that many may live” (issatsu tashō). This is something which Mahayana Buddhism approves of only with the greatest of seriousness....[5]

Chinese Buddhists of the era disputed the validity of similar statements made by those Japanese Buddhists who supported the war.[6] In more modern times Michael Jerryson has stated that "Buddhism differs in that the act of killing is less the focus than the 'intention' behind the killing" and that all peoples have a "penchant for violence" and Buddhists are no different.[7]

By region[edit]

South-East Asia[edit]


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).[8] 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).[8]


In 1930s Rangoon, nationalist monks stabbed four Europeans.[9] Myanmar had become a strong hold of Buddhist aggression and such acts are spurred by hardline monks.[10][11][12] The oldest militant organisation active in the region is Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), headed by a Buddhist monk U Thuzana, since 1992.[13] In the recent years the monks, and the terrorist acts, are associated with the 969 Movement particularly in Myanmar and neighboring nations.[14][15] "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.[14][16]

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.[17] The violence reached prominence in June 2012 when more than 200 people were killed and around 100,000 were displaced.[18][19] 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.[20] The violence of Meiktila, Lashio (2013) and Mandalay (2014) are the latest Buddhist violence in Burma.[21][22][23][24]

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."[25]

South Asia[edit]

Sri Lanka[edit]

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).[26] 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.[26]

A Buddhist group, Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), had expressed concerns about the growth of the Muslim economy in Sri Lanka and urged the fellow Buddhist to boycott such products manufactured and sold at Muslim retail chains. In response to the appeal in March 2013, a bhikkhu led a group of hundreds of Buddhists to confront a Muslim-owned retail chain in Colombo. The BBS had organized a moral unofficial police team to check the activities of Christian missionaries and Muslim influence in daily life.[15][27][28] A Buddhist mob also attacked a Colombo mosque in August 2013.[29]

2014 anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka were religious and ethnic riots in June 2014 in south-western Sri Lanka. Muslims and their property were attacked by Sinhalese Buddhists in the towns of Aluthgama, Beruwala and Dharga Town in Kalutara District. At least four people were killed and 80 injured.[30] Hundreds were made homeless following attacks on homes, shops, factories, mosques and a nursery.[31] 10,000 people were displaced by the riots.[32] The riots followed rallies by Bodu Bala Sena (BBS)[33]

East Asia[edit]


Kasumigaseki Station in Japan, one of the many stations affected during the attack by Aum Shinrikyo cult.

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.[34] 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!"[35]

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.[36] 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.[37]

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.[38] While many discount Aum Shinrikyo's Buddhist characteristics and affiliation to Buddhism, scholars often refer to it as an off-shoot of Japanese Buddhism,[39] and this was how the movement generally defined and saw itself.[40] 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.[41]

Central Asia[edit]


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.[42] 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.[43][44]

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.[45]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Buddhist Warfare by Michael Jerryson and Mark Juergensmeyer / Oxford University Press 2010, p.3 ISBN 978-0-19-539484-9
  2. ^ Buddhist Warfare by Michael Jerryson and Mark Juergensmeyer / Oxford University Press 2010, p.226 ISBN 978-0-19-539484-9
  3. ^ "Access to Insight: the Panca Sila (with Pali)". Retrieved 2011-03-14. 
  4. ^ "Buddhist Ethics". buddhanet. Retrieved December 6, 2013. 
  5. ^ Buddhist Perspectives on the Use of Force By Midshipman Second-class Tyson B. Meadors at Texas A&M University site
  6. ^ Xue Yu (14 October 2013). Buddhism, War, and Nationalism: Chinese Monks in the Struggle Against Japanese Aggression 1931-1945. Routledge. p. 208. ISBN 978-1-135-48732-4. 
  7. ^ CNN.com
  8. ^ a b Buddhist Fury: Religion and Violence in Southern Thailand by Michael Jerryson/ Oxford University Press 2011, ISBN 978-0199793242
  9. ^ "Why are Buddhist monks attacking Muslims?". BBC. 
  10. ^ Siddiqui, Habib (21 October 2012). "Letter from America: Buddhist Terrorism – no longer a myth". Asian Tribune. Retrieved 31 March 2013. 
  11. ^ Fuller, Thomas (5 November 2012). "Charity Says Threats Foil Medical Aid in Myanmar". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 April 2012. 
  12. ^ "Buddhists terrorists block aid to Burma Muslims". IRIB World Service. 7 November 2012. Retrieved 1 April 2013. 
  13. ^ "Terrorist Organization Profile:Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA)". The Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, the University of Maryland. 2013. Retrieved 1 April 2013. 
  14. ^ a b "Attacks approach Myanmar’s biggest cities". Gulf News. 30 March 2013. Retrieved 31 March 2013. 
  15. ^ a b "Of A Sustained Buddhist Extremism In Sri Lanka". Colombo Telegraph. 11 October 2012. Retrieved 31 March 2012. 
  16. ^ "Muslims vanish as Buddhist attacks approach Myanmar's biggest city". The Siasat Daily. 29 March 2013. Retrieved 31 March 2013. 
  17. ^ "Myanmar’s '969' crusade breeds anti-Muslim malice". GlobalPost. 27 March 2013. Retrieved 26 June 2013. 
  18. ^ "Buddhist monk uses racism and rumours to spread hatred in Burma". Theguardian. 2013-04-18. Retrieved 2013-05-30. 
  19. ^ "Myanmar govt targets 'neo-Nazi' Buddhist group". The Straits Times. 2013-04-08. Retrieved 2013-05-30. 
  20. ^ "All you can do is pray". Human Rights Watch. 2013-04-22. Retrieved 2013-05-30. 
  21. ^ "Massacre in Central Burma: Muslim Students Terrorized and Killed in Meiktila". Global Research. 2013-05-26. Retrieved 2013-05-30. 
  22. ^ "Fresh communal riots in Myanmar". Bangkok Post. 2013-03-25. Retrieved 2013-05-30. 
  23. ^ "Buddhist mobs spread fear among Myanmar's Muslims". Yahoo News. 2013-05-30. Retrieved 2013-05-30. 
  24. ^ "Is ‘nationalism’ solely to blame for Burma’s latest anti-Muslim violence?". Asian Correspondent. 2013-05-30. Retrieved 2013-05-30. 
  25. ^ Analysis: How to reverse Buddhism’s radical turn in Southeast Asia?
  26. ^ a b Bartholomeusz, Tessa (1999). "In Defense of Dharma: Just-War Ideology in Buddhist Sri Lanka" (PDF). Journal of Buddhist Ethics 6: 1–16. 
  27. ^ "Sri Lanka police stand by as Buddhist extremists attack Muslim-owned store". The Siasat Daily. 29 March 2013. Retrieved 31 March 2013. 
  28. ^ "Sri Lanka hardline group calls for halal boycott". BBC. 17 February 2013. Retrieved 31 April 2013.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  29. ^ "Sri Lanka Buddhist mob attacks Colombo mosque". BBC. 11 August 2013. Archived from the original on 15 August 2013. Retrieved 22 April 2015. 
  30. ^ "In Pictures: Sri Lanka hit by religious riots". Al Jazeera. 18 June 2014. Retrieved 22 April 2015. 
  31. ^ "Sri Lankan riots spark international concern". Gulf Times. 16 June 2014. Retrieved 22 April 2015. 
  32. ^ "The Human Tragedy Of Aluthgama". The Sunday Leader. Retrieved 22 April 2015. 
  33. ^ "Religious Riots Kill 3 Muslims in Sri Lanka". Voice of America. 16 June 2014. Retrieved 22 April 2015. 
  34. ^ D.Gort, Jensen, H. M. Vroom, Jerald ,Henry, Hendrick (2005). Probing The Depths Of Evil And Good: Multireligious Views and Case Studies. p. 165. 
  35. ^ Religion in Japanese History by Joseph M. Kitagawa, pgs 116-117
  36. ^ http://books.google.ie/books?id=7BW_RA-7AtQC&pg=PA89&dq=%22buddhist+terrorism%22&hl=en&sa=X&ei=ODBYUevwKsmAhQf18IDwDQ&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=%22buddhist%20terrorism%22&f=false
  37. ^ Zen at War (2nd ed.) by Brian Daizen Victoria, Rowman and Littlefield 2006, ISBN 0-7425-3926-1
  38. ^ http://www.cnas.org/files/documents/publications/CNAS_AumShinrikyo_SecondEdition_English.pdf
  39. ^ Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence by Mark Juergensmeyer, University of California Press 2003, p.103 ISBN 0-520-24011-1
  40. ^ Poisonous Cocktail: Aum Shinrikyo's Path to Violence by Ian Reader, NIAS Publications 1996, p.16 ISBN 87-87062-55-0
  41. ^ Religious Violence in Contemporary Japan by Ian Reader, pg 69
  42. ^ Buddhist Traditions and Violence by Michael Jerryson, Oxford University Press 2013, p.55 ISBN 978-0199759996
  43. ^ Tibet Unconquered: An Epic Struggle for Freedom by Diane Wolff, pgs 76-79
  44. ^ Tibet: A History by Sam Van Schaik, pgs 209-211
  45. ^ "China Steps Up Attacks, Brands Dalai Lama Supporters 'Scum of Buddhism'". Fox News. 2008-04-02. Retrieved 2010-08-11. 

Further reading[edit]