[Buddha-l] Buddhist warfare

L.S. Cousins selwyn at ntlworld.com
Sun Aug 1 16:28:55 MDT 2010

Turning now to the Mahāyāna, what seems most remarkable in this volume 
is the second contribution by Stephen Jenkins, entitled "Making Merit 
through Warfare and Torture According to the 
Ārya-Bodhisattva-gocara-upāyaviṣaya-vikurvaṇa-nirdeśa Sūtra". This seems 
an extraordinarily unfair way of presenting a text, or rather one 
chapter in a text, which is mainly concerned with attacking the severe 
punishments and realpolitik advocated in the brahmanical Arthaśāstra 

Still, the text does take a position which gives some legitimacy to 
warfare. I think that that is a position which is normative for Northern 
Buddhism, but at minimum contested for Eastern Buddhism. (Specialists in 
those areas may wish to correct me on this.) So what is remarkable is 
that Jenkins (partly following Zimmerman and Jamspal) clearly wants to 
see a very early date for this work. To be sure, he expresses some 
cautions but he does seem to come down on the side of a date around the 
time of Nāgārjuna.

If this is correct, then we would have a fairly sharp doctrinal divide 
between non-Mahāyāna Buddhism which does not generally legitimize 
warfare in its doctrinal texts and the Mahāyāna which would have adopted 
some such legitimization from its origins as a distinct Buddhist 
tradition. I don't believe that this is correct. So the dating of this 
sūtra becomes critical.

To be precise, we are talking about a single chapter in this Sūtra — the 
sixth chapter which concerns the political ethics of a king who follows 
dharma. Immediately then there is a problem. No Indian original for this 
Sūtra remains. (I will call it the AB Sūtra for brevity.) So the oldest 
complete source is the fifth century Chinese translation, but that omits 
precisely the chapter with which we are concerned. It is found in the 
seventh (?) century translation by Bodhiruci and the still later Tibetan 
translation. This might suggest a much later date.

So why is a very early date being suggested ? One reason is that 
portions of this sixth chapter are cited in the Sūtrasamuccaya trad. 
attributed to Nāgārjuna. That too is not extant in an Indic language. It 
is unlikely to be as old as the time of Nāgārjuna and as an anthology 
can easily have been added to. So far as I know, the oldest surviving 
Indic source which cites this text is the Śikṣāsamuccaya. That quotes 
from the sixth chapter under the name of the Āryasatyaka Parivartta. The 
Abhisamayālaṅkārāloka refers to the Lotus sūtra, "the 
Satyakasatyakīparivarta and so on". So the chapter was clearly known in 
India in later times, but may have existed as a separate text only later 
incorporated into the AB Sūtra.

Looking at this evidence, nothing convinces me that the relevant chapter 
in the form in which we have it is much older than the seventh century. 
I would then see it as a later development in Mahāyāna around the time 
of the rise of Tantra.

Lance Cousins

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