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DHARMA AND DESTRUCTION: BUDDHIST INSTITUTIONS AND VIOLENCE Christopher Ives Stonehill College Photographs ofgentle monks in saffron, the cottageindustry ofbooks on mindfulness, and the Dalai Lama's response to the Chinese invasion of Tibet have all helped portray Buddhism as the "religion of nonviolence." This representation ofBuddhism finds support in Buddhist texts, doctrines, and ritual practices, which often advocate ahimsa, nonharming or non-violence. The historical record, however, belies the portrayal of Buddhism as a "religion of nonviolence." By reinterpreting early doctrines of ahimsa, Buddhist thinkers have legitimated violence in particular situations, practitioners have committed acts of violence, and Buddhist institutions have lent support to other institutions—social, political, and governmental —engaged in violence. In this paper I will examine Buddhist perpetration andjustifications ofviolence,1 with particularfocus on Japan, arguing that, historically, Buddhists' desire for institutional security has taken precedence over total rejection of violence. 1 I have restricted my discussion to the killing of other human beings. I do not consider suicide andthe killing ofnon-human animals. For a discussion ofBuddhism, (self-)sacrifice, and suicide in relation to Girard's theory, see Charles D. Orzech, '"Provoked Suicide' and the Victim's Behavior." 152Christopher Ives Non-violence The doctrine of ahimsa figures prominently in early and Theravadan Buddhism. The first ofthe five moral precepts (panca silani) in Buddhism is ahimsa, and in the Dhammapada the historical Buddha purportedly states, All are afraid of the rod. Of death all are afraid. Having made oneself the example, One should neither slay nor cause to slay. (Ross 202) The Buddhaalso sketches the consequences ofhurting orharming (himsa): Who with a rod does hurt Beings who desire ease [of nibbana], While himself looking for ease— He, having departed, ease does not get. Theravadan monastic codes and practices, such as the uposatha biweekly confession of moral transgressions and recitation of the 227 rules in the Patimokkha (Skt. Pratimoksa), are closely tiedto ahimsa. One ofthe Patimokkha's four "offenses of defeat" (parajika dharmas), for which the punishment is immediate expulsion of the monk or nun from the order, is killing another human being (Prebish 11). Mahayana texts continue this exhortation against violence. For example, in the Dasabhimika-sutra we read that a Buddhist "must not hate any being and cannot kill a living creature even in thought."2 Early Buddhist texts include depictions ofthe ideal Buddhist king, the cakravartin-raja or "monarch who turns the wheel [of the Dharma],"3 as an exemplar of nonviolence. Contemporary Buddhist activist Sulak Sivaraksa expresses it, this king is a "an ideal ruler, a world-conquering monarch, who subdued the earth through righteousness rather than war" (Sulak 129), and whose ten main duties include striving for peace and ruling with nonviolent benevolence (129). For well over 2000 years 2 Cited in Har Dayal, The Bodhisattva Doctrine, p. 199; quoted by Kraft, 5. In much ofthe first section of this paper I am indebted to Ken Kraft's introduction to his volume. 3 The metaphor ofturning the wheel refers to the historical Buddha's teaching ofthe Dharma and the later propagation of it by others. Dharma and Deconstruction153 Buddhists have lifted up Indian king Ashoka (c. 272-236) as an instantiation of this ideal. The early Buddhist doctrine of ahimsa should not, however, be construed as compassionate altruism. Luis Gómez and other scholars have delineated how ahimsa at first did not express some sort of underlying altruistic concern for the well-being of others. Vegetarianism and other ways of avoiding himsa, harming or violence, derived from ancient Indian ritual taboos againstblood and otherbodily liquids (Gómez 36). Buddhists ethicized and psychologized earlier notions of physical pollution, and advocated abstention fromviolenceprimarily as ameans ofself-cultivation, as a way to keep the mind pure, like an unstained cloth (36). (Scholars have even argued that the positive expression oíahimsa, the practice ofdirecting metta (loving-kindness) to others, originally had as much or more to do with the spiritual benefits accrued by the person directing the metta as it did with the well-being of the person receiving it. Only later was ahimsa furtherreinterpreted as positive regard forothers, as seen in the bodhisattva ideal of Mahayana Buddhism. Violence in Buddhist History At numerous times over...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1930-1200
Print ISSN
1075-7201
Pages
pp. 151-174
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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