I stumbled on this article the other day on violence in Buddhism. I haven’t yet read the book, but I had something to say about Buddhists, Buddhist countries, and even Buddhist monks being engaged in violence.
First, let me say that there is no question at all that violence is absolutely verboten in the teachings of the Buddha. Even harming is against the 5 precepts, the basic ethical teachings. Killing or even encouraging someone else to kill for a monk means instant failure. Failure means that they are no longer a monk for life. There isn’t really a debate. The idea that Buddhism is a pacifist religion comes from the fact that it IS a pacifist religion.
Of course, it should come as a surprise to nobody that actual Buddhists don’t live up to the teachings of the Buddha. I fail quite regularly! A harsh word to my kids, a swatted mosquito, a glass of wine with dinner.
Violence against people is a different order of magnitude altogether. Here is a quote from book found in the article:
The Thai Theravada Buddhist monk, Kittivuddho, famously stated in 1976 that it was not a sin to kill a communist. Militant monks in Sri Lanka and Burma have been covered by international media. But much less is known about the role of ethnic Lao Buddhist monks in supporting militant violence directed against the communist Lao People’s Democratic Republic government and their Vietnamese allies since 1975.
Now, it also says, “I am unaware of any Lao monks who have directly participated in violent acts.” This is a worthwhile point.
So how should we respond to monks or any other Buddhist who promotes violence? I think the answer is repudiation. I oppose my government when we launch wars against other countries, and I oppose my Buddhist brothers when they promote violence.
But have a look at who the violence is again. Does our view change if they are promoting violence against communists? Against terrorists? What about against Nazis? Does that make the calculation more difficult? Would you have the courage to support pacifism in the face of Nazis?
If you take the precepts seriously, the answer has to be yes. What do you think?