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Buddhist-Christian Studies 20 (2000) 292-296

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Book Review

Subverting Hatred: The Challenge of Nonviolence in Religious Traditions

Subverting Hatred: The Challenge of Nonviolence in Religious Traditions. Edited by Daniel L. Smith-Christopher. Cambridge, MA: Boston Research Center for the Twenty-first Century, 1998. 177 pp.

This work raises the challenge of peacemaking to all religious traditions from within each of these traditions. Touching on primary texts, personalities, theologies, histories, and practices Subverting Hatred is a sampling of the rich religious resources for nonviolence. The eight primary chapters cover Jainism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism, Hinduism, indigenous traditions, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. There is a summary epilogue and each chapter has a bibliography. Subverting Hatred [End Page 292] ought to be read in religious study groups as well as in academic settings for the study of religion.

Editor Daniel Smith-Christopher teaches theological studies and directs the Peace Studies program at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles; he is also the author of The Religion of the Landless. In the introduction, Smith-Christopher sets out the intent of this collection. First, in the face of clear evidence that religious traditions "can be manipulated and used to justify all kinds of violence," it is vital to argue that religions are not inevitably "divisive and destructive" (p. 9). Second, the book presents the positive claim that it is "precisely the call to nonviolence that embodies one of the noblest values and sacred obligations of religion" (p. 10). Here, nonviolence means active peacemaking rather than merely refusal to engage in violence.

It was exciting to see a chapter devoted to Jainism, and have it be the first of the book. The author, Christopher Chapple, is professor of theological studies and director of Asian and Pacific Studies at Loyola Marymount University; among his publications is Nonviolence to Animals, Earth, and Self in Asian Traditions. Rooted in the deep strand of nonviolence it shares with Hinduism and Buddhism, Jainism powerfully advocates nonviolence. The earliest records of the religious impulse in the Indus Valley are also the earliest images most associated with nonviolence in these religious traditions. These cylinder seal impressions of figures seated in the yoga position surrounded by plants and animals can still evoke a sense of a calm and peace. Thus, in Indian traditions the connection of nonviolence to meditative practices is inseparable.

Jainism has arguably made nonviolence a central teaching for all adherents to a greater extent than other traditions. The earliest text of the Jain tradition, the Acaranga Sutra (fourth or fifth century B.C.E.) makes this clear: "'All breathing, existing, living, sentient creatures should not be slain, nor treated with violence, nor abused, nor tormented, nor driven away. This is the pure, unchangeable, eternal law." Further, the reason for this prohibition is also presented: the desire to harm arises from a false sense of self-interest, and violence ultimately comes back to harm us. Chapple then presents some striking historical examples of Jain scholarship and nonviolent action. In conclusion, though Jainism has focused upon individual spiritual liberation, Jains do not "disengage from worldly life" (p. 19), but act to promote violence reduction in society.

The author of the next chapter, Christopher Queen, is at Harvard and is co-editor of Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist Liberation Movements in Asia; his interest in the social dimensions of Buddhist nonviolence is reflected in this essay. He shows how the "Peace Wheel" of Buddhist nonviolence transforms the image of the wheel of the war chariot. As the Vedic tradition developed, it produced contrasts to the tradition of yogic nonviolence shared with Jainism. The sun-disk of Vishnu and chariot of Indra were associated with war, and their symbol was the chariot wheel. In contrast, Buddha turns the wheel "by peaceful means."

Queen suggests that while much of the attention in the West has focused upon the "inner peace" offered by Buddhist meditation, it is vital that we see the social [End Page 293] setting of Buddhist practice. To understand the Four Noble Truths a person must begin with the proper social relationships as directed in...