Buddhist Violence Doesn't Exist

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Buddhist Violence Doesn't Exist

Postby mettafuture » Wed Jun 05, 2013 9:07 pm

The headline of a Washington Post article reads, "Deep-seated prejudice, radical Buddhist monks fuel violence against Myanmar’s Muslims."

The anti-religious have tried to use this and similar stories to fuel the idea that Buddhism "has a violent side." But is this a fair assessment?

The Tipiṭaka, the oldest collection of Buddhist texts, takes a very clear and strong stance against any form of violence or hatred. Additionally, you won't find any discourses in the Tipitaka that condones violence or hatred. If a person intentionally and repeatedly inflicts harm on other sentient beings, that person cannot rightfully call themselves a Buddhist, let alone a monk.

Imagine this scenario: A group of "atheists" go out and say "We accept Jesus as our Lord and savior." Would it make sense to then conclude that "atheism" is a Christian philosophy? Of course not. Anyone can claim to be anything, but if their actions are not in tune with the philosophy they supposedly adhere to, those people cannot be used as a representation of that philosophy.

Most Buddhists see the violent "monks" in Myanmar in the same way most Christians see members of the Westboro Baptist Church. These thugs should not be used as examples of "Buddhist violence" because their behavior alone disqualifies them from being Buddhist, just as worshipping Satan would disqualify someone from being a Christian or a Muslim.

"Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal. There are those who do not realize that one day we all must die. But those who do realize this settle their quarrels."
-- Dhp I 5-6
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Re: Buddhist Violence Doesn't Exist

Postby cooran » Wed Jun 05, 2013 9:13 pm

Hello mettafuture,

I think they try to be Dhamma-followers - but are deluded on this matter (and perhaps other things).

All of us are deluded until we become enlightened.

Better to concentrate on our own thoughts and behaviour than to judge and discuss the behaviour of others.

With metta
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Re: Buddhist Violence Doesn't Exist

Postby mettafuture » Wed Jun 05, 2013 9:47 pm

cooran wrote:I think they try to be Dhamma-followers

The precepts are clear: No killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, or intoxicants. If someone killed a fly, stole a piece of candy, slapped someone on the butt, lied about why they were late for work, or drank a beer, and this person felt guilt afterwards, it would be fair to qualify their actions as a lapse in judgement. But if someone is willfully and repeatedly committing violent acts against others, it can't really be said that they're trying to be Buddhists.

but are deluded on this matter (and perhaps other things).

There's a difference between being deluded and doing something that blatantly goes against the teachings.

Better to concentrate on our own thoughts and behaviour than to judge and discuss the behaviour of others.

We shouldn't sit silently while the anti-religious use these stories to attack Buddhism as just another "bad religion."
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Re: Buddhist Violence Doesn't Exist

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Jun 05, 2013 10:48 pm

Greetings Mettafuture,

This may be a by-product of monasticism being regarded sometimes as an equivalent of a 'welfare state' in Asia.

Some people become bhikkhus because that's the only way they can see themselves receiving requisites, education and such.

To that extent, some may not have fully bought into the Dhamma (incl. non-violence) and are in it more for the worldly support.

Metta,
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Re: Buddhist Violence Doesn't Exist

Postby mettafuture » Wed Jun 05, 2013 11:39 pm

retrofuturist wrote:This may be a by-product of monasticism being regarded sometimes as an equivalent of a 'welfare state' in Asia.

Some people become bhikkhus because that's the only way they can see themselves receiving requisites, education and such.

To that extent, some may not have fully bought into the Dhamma (incl. non-violence) and are in it more for the worldly support.

This is a really unfortunately situation, and I have deep sympathy for everyone involved.
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Re: Buddhist Violence Doesn't Exist

Postby Dan74 » Thu Jun 06, 2013 12:06 am

The thing is we often act unskillfully and do not repent because we don't see it as unskillful. I suspect most of these monks, don't blatantly break the precepts but actually perceive themselves as guardians of the Dhamma.
_/|\_
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Re: Buddhist Violence Doesn't Exist

Postby Vern Stevens » Thu Jun 06, 2013 1:01 am

Members of all religions or philosophies have had to distance themselves from "radical" or "extreme" factions which allege or are believed to represent them. However, am I not supposed to look on to the actions of these people with compassion and empathy, recognizing that their actions are arising from their suffering however off course they may be? Of what benefit is it to me to judge their behavior? How does that help me with my practice? Why concern myself with "their bad" but "we" aren't? It sounds to me, a novice, like ego and division.
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Re: Buddhist Violence Doesn't Exist

Postby Lazy_eye » Thu Jun 06, 2013 1:32 am

The Buddha's disciples were forthright with each other. If a bhikkhu started saying things that were contrary to the Dhamma, other bhikkhus would tell him so and try to show him why. Bhikkhus who promote hatred and killing are misrepresenting the Dhamma. To say so plainly does not necessarily require us to be angry or rancorous or entertain bad mind states.

I can feel compassion for Venerable Wirathu, the monk who thinks "killing is forgivable" and that Muslims should be wiped out "like snakes". It must be very flattering to have a following and be a person of influence. It is gratifying to feel that one is a hero protecting one's people. From his interviews we can see he has found ways to rationalize the violence and he probably even believes his own distortions and lies. All this is very human, very predictable. I cannot be sure that in his position I would not also become corrupted in this way.

Nevertheless, his actions are harmful and contrary to the Dhamma, and I don't think it is somehow wrong or overly "judgmental" for a Buddhist to point this out. To use an analogy, if I logged on to this board and started claiming that the Buddha endorsed intoxicants as a tool for awakening, surely somebody would correct my interpretation.

If I'm out walking and happen to notice that a distracted pedestrian is about to cross into the path of an oncoming truck, should I just let the person get hit? Is that the more compassionate choice?
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Re: Buddhist Violence Doesn't Exist

Postby Vern Stevens » Thu Jun 06, 2013 2:10 am

Fair enough. Thanks. :anjali:
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Re: Buddhist Violence Doesn't Exist

Postby pegembara » Thu Jun 06, 2013 3:28 am

Lazy_eye wrote:The Buddha's disciples were forthright with each other. If a bhikkhu started saying things that were contrary to the Dhamma, other bhikkhus would tell him so and try to show him why. Bhikkhus who promote hatred and killing are misrepresenting the Dhamma. To say so plainly does not necessarily require us to be angry or rancorous or entertain bad mind states.

I can feel compassion for Venerable Wirathu, the monk who thinks "killing is forgivable" and that Muslims should be wiped out "like snakes". It must be very flattering to have a following and be a person of influence. It is gratifying to feel that one is a hero protecting one's people. From his interviews we can see he has found ways to rationalize the violence and he probably even believes his own distortions and lies. All this is very human, very predictable. I cannot be sure that in his position I would not also become corrupted in this way.

Nevertheless, his actions are harmful and contrary to the Dhamma, and I don't think it is somehow wrong or overly "judgmental" for a Buddhist to point this out. To use an analogy, if I logged on to this board and started claiming that the Buddha endorsed intoxicants as a tool for awakening, surely somebody would correct my interpretation.

If I'm out walking and happen to notice that a distracted pedestrian is about to cross into the path of an oncoming truck, should I just let the person get hit? Is that the more compassionate choice?


The only killing allowed by the Buddha is the killing of greed, hatred and delusion. If they are not following the teachings, those who do have to point out that Buddhism doesn't condone any violence. There is no such thing as militant Buddhists.

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Re: Buddhist Violence Doesn't Exist

Postby Doshin » Thu Jun 06, 2013 7:27 am

mettafuture wrote:
cooran wrote:I think they try to be Dhamma-followers

The precepts are clear: No killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, or intoxicants. If someone killed a fly, stole a piece of candy, slapped someone on the butt, lied about why they were late for work, or drank a beer, and this person felt guilt afterwards, it would be fair to qualify their actions as a lapse in judgement. But if someone is willfully and repeatedly committing violent acts against others, it can't really be said that they're trying to be Buddhists.


You do write "precepts", but I suspect that you think of them as commandments ? You are labelling others actions true/false, without considering the possibility of the truth being somewhere in between.

I consider the precepts as trainingsteps, things I commit myself to be better at, over time (the middle-path being one of my main tools). To me my first precept is "I promise to train, not to harm any living beings". No absolutes, just a promise to improve myself over time.

A bit like someone making a promise (to oneself), that I would like to run a marathon. That does not command one to be able to run any (shorter) distance at once, but it is a promise to train, with the goal being able to run a marathon, sometime in the future. When you train, you are on the right path, even before you are able to full-fill the goal.

mettafuture wrote:
but are deluded on this matter (and perhaps other things).

There's a difference between being deluded and doing something that blatantly goes against the teachings.


I cannot judge the persons in question, on their level of delusion. But I'm convinced that they are deluded to such a degree, that they honestly find it justifiable (at the moment). Or maybe it is me, that is deluded (though I seriously doubt it).

mettafuture wrote:
Better to concentrate on our own thoughts and behaviour than to judge and discuss the behaviour of others.

We shouldn't sit silently while the anti-religious use these stories to attack Buddhism as just another "bad religion."


Why ? Is it because it harms a label on the ego, as being a buddhist ?

_/\_
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Re: Buddhist Violence Doesn't Exist

Postby mettafuture » Thu Jun 06, 2013 8:18 am

Dan74 wrote:The thing is we often act unskillfully and do not repent because we don't see it as unskillful. I suspect most of these monks, don't blatantly break the precepts but actually perceive themselves as guardians of the Dhamma.

If that's the case, then they are deluded. Or they're just ignoring the teachings that speak against violence. Or they never took the Dhamma that seriously to begin with.

Vern Stevens wrote:However, am I not supposed to look on to the actions of these people with compassion and empathy, recognizing that their actions are arising from their suffering however off course they may be?

Of course not.

Doshin wrote:You do write "precepts", but I suspect that you think of them as commandments ?

No.

Doshin wrote:
mettafuture wrote:We shouldn't sit silently while the anti-religious use these stories to attack Buddhism as just another "bad religion."
Why ? Is it because it harms a label on the ego, as being a buddhist ?

Yes, that's it... We MUST protect our egos...
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Re: Buddhist Violence Doesn't Exist

Postby Sam Vara » Thu Jun 06, 2013 9:49 am

If a person intentionally and repeatedly inflicts harm on other sentient beings, that person cannot rightfully call themselves a Buddhist, let alone a monk.


You make some very sound and interesting points. People opposed to Buddhism (or religion in general) will often attempt to counter this claim by invoking the "No true Scotsman" idea which was popularised by the philosopher Anthony Flew: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman and http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/No_True_Scotsman Typically, the argument goes like this;
Person A: "Buddhism is just another violent religion that causes trouble in the world. Look at what these monks are doing!"
Person B: "But if they are doing that, then they are not Buddhists"
Person A: "That's the No True Scotsman fallacy, which is no defence. If they call themselves Buddhists, then they are Buddhists. Look, they are even in robes, and live in a monastery!"
Person B: "But if they are not keeping even the most basic of precepts, then they cannot be counted as Buddhists"
Person A: "Now you are just trying to pick and choose criteria which are favourable to you, to excuse your violent religion...etc...etc..."

This leads to an impasse, with both sides trying to claim owndership of the term "Buddhist". (There is a lot of weight on the side of those who are in favour of self-assignation to a particular group as being the defining characteristic of that group, which is a consequence of a western liberal tendency to allow people to speak for themselves, and call themselves what they will.) But there are at least two ways out of this impasse. One is - as you have done - to point out the exception outlined in Rationalwiki above:
Broadly speaking, the fallacy does not apply if there is a clear and well-understood definition of what membership in a group requires and it is that definition which is broken (e.g., "no honest man would lie like that!", "no Christian would worship Satan!" and so on).

Other examples would be the "vegetarian" who is OK about eating chicken and fish, and will eat meat if refusing it would offend their host, etc. They are indeed "no true vegetarian", regardless of what they call themselves, and if we allow that some things can over-ride self-definitions, then we can try to convince our opponent that the monks in question are "no true Buddhists". It's difficult, however, when rioters and killers are wearing saffron robes and are attempting to justify their actions in terms of accepted Dhamma!
Another approach is to be aware that the term "Buddhist" is merely a label or designation, which is applied to certain individuals according to socially-defined criteria. In reality, there are no "Buddhists". The Buddha himself had followers, but he didn't reify the label into anything. We just label certain people as Buddhists, and the dispute then becomes about which criteria are more important. I have no difficulty in saying "Yes, these particular 'Buddhists' - whatever that means - are killing and rioting. But they are not acting in accordance with the Dhamma". That, for me, would be the most important point.
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Re: Buddhist Violence Doesn't Exist

Postby Vern Stevens » Thu Jun 06, 2013 10:46 am

mettafuture wrote:
Vern Stevens wrote:However, am I not supposed to look on to the actions of these people with compassion and empathy, recognizing that their actions are arising from their suffering however off course they may be?

Of course not.


I'd like to clarify your answer as perhaps the wording of my question was confusing. Dropping the question form, I'd say that I should have compassion and empathy for the monks involved despite their unskillful actions. Does your response state that I should not?
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Re: Buddhist Violence Doesn't Exist

Postby Vern Stevens » Thu Jun 06, 2013 11:08 am

Sam Vara wrote:..."No true Scotsman"...


I'm not really arguing against your position here, but I would note from my perspective that Buddhism suffers from the same problem (to a lesser degree perhaps) that Christianity suffers from; a multitude of branches or denominations. The more a philosophy or religion is splintered into factions, the more difficult it is for some people to identify who is "truly" what; the waters get muddied. This is why I tend to avoid labeling myself, particularly since I'm so new to this study and practice. I'm less inclined to say "I'm a Buddhist" and more inclined to explain, "I study Buddhism and I attempt to practice its teachings as best as I understand them."

But it is the nature of things that some people will generalize and lump all Buddhists into the same category. A great many people don't even have a clue what Buddhism is, much less how to make reasonable distinctions between someone who is truly trying to practice the Dhamma and others who are acting unskillfully outside of the precepts. But yes, ultimately I agree with trying to un-muddy those waters as best we can when the opportunity arises.
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Re: Buddhist Violence Doesn't Exist

Postby Dan74 » Thu Jun 06, 2013 11:23 am

mettafuture wrote:
Dan74 wrote:The thing is we often act unskillfully and do not repent because we don't see it as unskillful. I suspect most of these monks, don't blatantly break the precepts but actually perceive themselves as guardians of the Dhamma.


If that's the case, then they are deluded.


Bingo!
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Re: Buddhist Violence Doesn't Exist

Postby Kamran » Thu Jun 06, 2013 4:04 pm

Buddhists have committed a lot of terrorism and other violence as well.
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Re: Buddhist Violence Doesn't Exist

Postby Kabouterke » Thu Jun 06, 2013 6:21 pm

Well, of course Buddhism has a violent side.

Nowadays, Buddhism is, whether directly or indirectly, one of the contributing factors in some of the world's major ethnic conflicts. It plays a direct role in forming the "cleavage lines," sharpening differences ethnic groups... For example, Sinhalese and the Tamils in Sri Lanka. One of the major factors that initially sparked the escalation of the conflict between the Buddhist majority and minority Muslim minorities, was the fact that Buddhism was used as a political tool to enforce the dominance of the Buddhist Bamar ethnic group. By enstating Buddhism as the only official state religion in Myanmar, you effectively negate the needs or demands of any other ethnic group that doesn't participate in that religion. There is also tons of rhetoric using Buddhism such as the duty of people to "protect the religion," etc.

Historically speaking, though, Buddhism has had a huge dose of violence and you could literally find hundreds of examples of Buddhist violence in history. You only have to think of the Sohei "warrior monks" of Heian Japan for a good example. These monks' primary function was to keep on the look out and charge out at anyone approaching their monastary from rival sects or political groups.

It's just a fact that Buddhism has a violent side. Buddhists, after all, are humans just like the members of any other religion. The religion clearly doesn't call for it, just as it's difficult to justify the Crusades with the Bible. Nowadays people speak of Buddhism as if it was the last religion on earth not have have become embroiled in politics, violence and war. But that's just looking at the world through rose colored glasses.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism_and_violence
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Re: Buddhist Violence Doesn't Exist

Postby Kabouterke » Thu Jun 06, 2013 6:36 pm

mettafuture wrote:The anti-religious have tried to use this and similar stories to fuel the idea that Buddhism "has a violent side." But is this a fair assessment?


Most Buddhists see the violent "monks" in Myanmar in the same way most Christians see members of the Westboro Baptist Church. These thugs should not be used as examples of "Buddhist violence" because their behavior alone disqualifies them from being Buddhist, just as worshipping Satan would disqualify someone from being a Christian or a Muslim.
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You're kind of asking two questions at once:
1. Does the religion outright call for violence?
&
2. Has the religion been used for a justification for violence?

We shouldn't confuse these two questions: #1 does not mean that #2 isn't possible.

Buddhism is not unique in the fact that it calls for non-violence. As I said in the post above, most people are aware that the New Testament speaks strongly against violence and presents a strong message of brotherly-love, compassion and acceptance.

That doesn't mean Christianity hasn't been used for some of the worst violence with world has ever seen in the past and the present. History and current world politics shows that Buddhism falls into the same category.
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Re: Buddhist Violence Doesn't Exist

Postby Coyote » Thu Jun 06, 2013 7:48 pm

Kabouterke wrote:
You're kind of asking two questions at once:
1. Does the religion outright call for violence?
&
2. Has the religion been used for a justification for violence?

We shouldn't confuse these two questions: #1 does not mean that #2 isn't possible.

Buddhism is not unique in the fact that it calls for non-violence. As I said in the post above, most people are aware that the New Testament speaks strongly against violence and presents a strong message of brotherly-love, compassion and acceptance.

That doesn't mean Christianity hasn't been used for some of the worst violence with world has ever seen in the past and the present. History and current world politics shows that Buddhism falls into the same category.



The difference is that there is no clear explicit teaching on non-violence from a Christian perspective other than in personal conflict, and "just war" justifications have been hanging around since the 3rd century or so. Can the same be said of Buddhism?
Thats not to say that the OPs statement is correct. Clearly there are people who identify as Buddhist who have committed violent acts motivated by Buddhism and justified them with Buddhism. That is enough in most people's eyes to be "Buddhist violence". Surely it is a matter of duty to ensure that violence does not become associated with the Dhamma (as opposed to "buddhism")?

Also: "Monks, even if bandits were to savagely sever you, limb by limb, with a double-handled saw, even then, whoever of you harbors ill will at heart would not be upholding my Teaching. "

Given that most of us, excluding Anagami's, would and do harbor ill-will against those who harm us, does that mean they are not "true Buddhists"? Clearly one can go against the teaching and consider themselves Buddhist. What is the standard exactly? If it is the 5 precepts, then would an alcoholic not be considered Buddhist? What about someone who lies occasionally? Steals a pen from work ect.?
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