[Buddha-l] Dharmapala, redux

andy stroble at hawaii.edu
Tue Aug 3 18:53:57 MDT 2010

On Tuesday 03 August 2010 05:36:25 am JKirkpatrick wrote:
> Hi Andy.
> You seem to be in 'omnium gatherum' mode, since DeCaroli's book
> had little to do with Buddhism re: war/violence/military
> adventures.
Yup,  I was all over the place. 
> Seems to me that it belongs in a differrent
> discussion. I cited it just because somewhere along the line a
> brief discussion ensued about whether or not monks and or the
> Buddha "believed/had faith in" spirits. I think DeCaroli did a
> good job of showing that indeed monks and nuns (if not the
> Buddha) indeed venerated spirits as part of the local cultures. I
> liked that he brought in a lot of architectural evidence to
> bolster his points.

I was just surprised to find protectors of the Dharma in non-Mahayana 
Buddhism. And I think it does relate to the "forced-conversion" issue, though 
I am not sure what it implies at this point. 

> But my notice of the book wasn't meant to intervene in the
> discussion about militarism. No disagreement here I'd guess,
> about missionising religions taking local beliefs into account.
> However, in his case, DeCaroli seems to have concluded that the
> spirits (yakkhas especially) were not being taken into account
> from outside, but that they were there from the start, precluding
> the Buddhist enterprise and not viewed as aliens to be taken over
> (as for exanple is said to have happened in Tibet with Buddhist
> discourse taking over local 'demon' spirits as protectors).

The "taking over" part is what interested me. Faure, in his afterword to 
_Buddhist Warfare_, considers the myth of Vajrapani's conquest of Mahesvara 
and the pacification of Tibet by Padmasambhava and writes:

>> Imagery is obviously an important dimension that tends to be neglected by 
textual scholars, and it is just mentioned in passing by some of the authors 
in this volume. On the iconographic plane, if compassion is well expressed by 
serene images of meditating buddhas, conversely, the angry gods of Buddhism 
and Mongolia partake is a puzzling symbolic violence: does this symbolic 
violence mark a return of the repressed or an outlet for real violence, or is 
it its mirror image, indeed, its underlying cause? The question  must remain 
open.  (_Buddhist Warfare_ p216)

So what I am after is an exegesis of this "puzzling symbolic violence". 

> You wrote, "But what benefit does Buddhism offer to a secular
> regime?" I'd want to ask, what 'secular regime' are you referring
> to here? Back in the times of the Buddha, there was no such
> distinction as between sacred (theocratic) and secular regimes,
> along the lines these terms are used today.
Yes, of course.  This is my rather lame attempt to move from the mythical 
violence to actual, and to see what would happen in such a translation. 

James Andy Stroble, PhD
Lecturer in Philosophy
Department of Arts & Humanities
Leeward Community College
University of Hawaii

Adjunct Faculty 
Diplomatic and Military Studies
Hawaii Pacific University 


"The amount of violence at the disposal of any given country may soon not be a 
reliable indication of the country's strength or a reliable guarantee against 
destruction by a substantially smaller and weaker power."  --Hannah Arendt

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