[Buddha-l] Buddhist warfare

andy stroble at hawaii.edu
Sun Aug 1 04:54:13 MDT 2010

On Saturday 31 July 2010 10:47:35 pm L.S. Cousins wrote:
>   What is striking about Buddhist warfare as a volume is that there are
> only two contributions relating to modern Southern Buddhism and none at
> all relating to earlier pre-Mahāyāna and non-Mahāyāna Buddhism. I
> suspect that this is partly because it would be hard to find support
> among scholars in these areas, especially the latter, for the kind of
> thesis the volume is putting forward.
> I have already addressed the article on 'military monks' in southern
> Thailand by one of the editors of the volume. The second contribution is
> by Daniel W. Kent and concerns preaching by monks to soldiers fighting
> the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. Given the general tendency of the volume
> and some of the comments in discussion I expected more of the same. That
> is not what I found. This seemed a very fair and balanced account of
> what the monks actually had to say. I found it very interesting.

I concur. 

> Kent specifically studies monks 'who had a relationship with the army'.
> This seems to vary and in some cases amounts to the monk happening to
> live near an army camp. Even so, in the contemporary situation one might
> have expected it to represent a section of the Sangha more sympathetic
> to warlike activities. That is not what he found. "Of all the sermons
> that I attended, only one preacher told the soldiers directly that they
> should kill the enemy" (n.33). "Indeed, the vast majority of monks deny
> that Buddhism can ever condone war." (p.159) I found that rather
>  impressive.

I do seem to recall a work arguing for a just war doctrine in Sinhalese 
Buddhism, by Tessa Bartholomeusz.  Again, surprising not to find any of that 
in Kent's chapter. 

> Kent rightly focusses on the actual concerns of the soldiers and monks.
> I think he is correct to suppose that the Sinhalese do not usually have
> any kind of ideology of a 'just war'. The concern is much more about the
> nature of actions (kamma) and their results. His evidence rings true to
> me. He slightly misinterprets the situation in one respect, however. He
> asks a question about firing weapons in battle: "Of the twenty monks
> interviewed over the course of my research, eleven believed that firing
> a weapon on the battlefield produced negative karma, nine believed that
> it did not." (p.165) One in fact answered one way at one time and the
> opposite at another (n.24).
> The problem here is that the question is too vague in terms of kamma
> theory. I suspect that the monks in this case did not disagree. They
> simply had different ways of interpreting the question. Simply firing a
> weapon does not necessarily involve any negative kamma. If by negative
> kamma is meant serious negative kamma i.e. killing, then there has to be
> intention to kill and somebody has to be actually killed. So depending
> on how it is envisaged, one can answer differently.

I know too much about such things, though not personally.  After WWII, an 
American study by S.LA Marshall found that very few American soldiers actually 
took aim at the enemy when firing their weapons, something on the order of 
10%.  I believe that the conclusion was the the moral inhibition on taking a 
life, even at the cost of your own, was very strong.  But the reluctance to 
killing someone to save your comrade was much less, so the military moved to 
smaller units and the "buddy system" in order to make its soldiers more 
lethal. I always ask my students in my military ethics class whether this 
seems like a moral manipulation of soldiers' moral intuitions. 

And there is continuing research and indoctrination going on, as with Dave 
Grossman's  _On Killing_.  Of course, we should not be discussing such things 
on Buddha-l. 
> Sinhalese monks tend to be rather oblique in any criticisms they make
> and avoid saying anything directly offensive. This is rather un-American
> of them.
 Well, you are either with us or agin us, right?   The main problem is 
figuring out who this "us" is, especially if you subscribe to that doctrine of 


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