[Buddha-l] Dharmapala, redux

Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at earthlink.net
Wed Aug 4 01:40:53 MDT 2010

Lance has provided a good summary and critique of the pieces in Buddhist 
Warfare related to Theravada. I agree with much of it, though perhaps with 
less of a tendency to look for ways to diminish or dismiss the writing. I 
suspected that Lance would be least put off by Kent's article due to its 
even-handedness, and he confirms that. I also suggestted that Jerryson's 
introduction expresses his own views, not those of the other contributors 
(not the best sort of introduction on that count, which should take better 
account of the content of the views expressed by the other authors), and 
thus shouldn't be used as a gauge for the volume as a whole. The other 
contributions do not parrot a Jerryson party-line (there is no such thing), 
and, since Jerryson neglects to draw out whatever unifying threads might be 
found linking the pieces in his introduction, the reader is left to do that 
on his/her own.

Since we have focused almost exclusively on the Theravada (and Pali) 
elements, it may be a helpful to list the full contents, lest our limited 
focus skewer impressions of the book as a whole.

Jerryson's introduction is followed by the first complete English 
translation of an essay titled "Buddhism and War" written by the late Paul 
Demieville in French in 1957. Its scope is primarily East Asia -- textual, 
historical, doctrinal, etc. -- with attention therefore primarily on 
Mahayana. This essay has been well known in certain scholarly circles (and 
discussed here on buddha-l back in the day when there were more than a small 
handful of scholars subscribed), It is a major work, roughly 42 pages in the 
English version. If you want documentation on monks engaged in military 
activities at various times and in various places, you can start here. He 
deals with many other issues as well, across a broad spectrum. Demieville, 
like most of the contributing authors, accepts that at a certain basic 
doctrinal and rhetorical level Buddhism extols and attempts to promote 
nonviolence. Nonetheless, as he documents, the reality has been otherwise.

In that, he sets one of the unifying threads in the book. Most authors 
believe Buddhism is essentially nonviolent, *except* where they happen to be 
looking. Those are the exceptions. The problem with that stance is that when 
the book is taken as a whole, the exceptions become the rule. Each author 
can take that stance only by not taking into account the other essays in the 
book, which are also suggesting that what they are dealing with is the 
exception, not the rule. The "rule," therefore, only seems to exist where no 
one is looking closely. (Note that Lance tends to take the opposite tact: 
Other Buddhists, and other times, texts, (such as Mahayana), etc., may have 
been involved in violence in varying degrees, he concedes, but not the Pali 
texts he looks at -- even when there for all to see -- and not by 
Theravadins per se. Where violence cannot be dismissed with a denial because 
too blatant, then the fallback position is to minimize the importance of 
that particular text, passage, or interpretation.)

This is followed by Stephen Jenkins' essay "Making Merit through Warfare 
According to the Ārya-Bodhisattva-gocara-upāyaviṣaya-vikurvaṇa-nirdeśa 
Sūtra". It devotes two paragraphs to the Vajrapani story we discussed on the 
list in some detail, but only as a segue into discussing the text itself. 
This is not an obscure text dug up by Jenkins for some rhetorical funny 
business, but an important text (cited by biggies like Nagarjuna and 
Santideva), translated and discussed in Chinese and Tibetan, and, as the 
following two essays demonstrate, with concrete consequences on the ground 
among Mongolians and Tibetans. Comparable impact in E. Asia remains 
something for further study. It has been the research subject for two major 
studies, one by Michael Zimmermann (who published on it in 2000 and 2006), 
and the other a dissertation by Lozang Jamspal (Columbia U., 1991). So the 
significance of this text, and this chapter in this text, has been 
recognized both in medieval and modern times by Buddhists and scholars.

While Lance tries to diminish the importance of this text (in fallback mode) 
with observations like it is only one chapter in a larger work, since this 
is precisely the chapter of that sutra that addresses the political 
questions and offers advice to rulers on warfare and punitive policies --  
and is cited in medieval discussions precisely in this regard -- its 
influence is not in doubt. From the doctrinal point of view -- and when 
considering Buddhism with the philosophical nuances and implications of its 
doctrines -- this essay is one of the most important in the book, since it 
not only spells out what sorts of violence are explicitly condoned and even 
encouraged, but provides the theoretical justifications that will echo for 
many centuries among Buddhists, who ground their violence in notions of 
"compassion" and "no self". "Protecting the Dharma" becomes the umbrella 
(Note that "protecting the Dhamma" is also the rationalization used by Sri 
Lankans and Thais, as cited in those essays).

Those two factors -- compassion and no self -- play a key role in the 
justifications cited in other essays as well, so this too is a unifying 
thread requiring serious reflection and consideration. (buddha-hellers might 
remember an exchange back in May 2007 between Richard and Joanna on how much 
better and Buddhistic it is to NOT be a vegan because some vegans are 
fanatical, and that is a sign of "self" -- perfect example of how the 
no-self argument runs. With the ethical result that one can feel morally 
superior to vegetarians and vegans by being someone for whom animals die in 
massive numbers; killing animals is secondary to one's self-image of being 
without a self, or having less self than those for whom animals are not 
killed. These were exactly the arguments encouraging Japanese Buddhists to 
go to war -- only one's own selfishness stands in the way of obedience to 
the Emperor, who himself is the embodied Buddhadharma that one is 
protecting.protecting the Buddhadharma).

Thus, when Joanna chides Andy by insisting that the yaksa stories are ONLY 
symbolic, and have no play in the historical world of actual human 
activities, she does so unaware that Buddhists unpacked the Vajrapani story 
in precisely that way, and that it was an important undergirding in the 
thinking, action, and rhetoric of the Mongols and Tibetans as the former 
installed the Gelugpas into power over the latter (with the assistance of 
the Chinese), as documented in the following two essays:

Derek Maher, "Sacralized Warfare: The Fifth Dalai Lama and the Discourse of 
Religious Violence"


Vesna Wallace, "Legalized Violence: Punitive Measures of Buddhist Khans in 

The Vajrapani story -- and its rhetoric -- as figura for forced conversions 
(and killing off nonbelievers) is documented in those two essays. One might 
think of these three essays (Maher, Wallace and Jenkins) as linked, 
displaying facets of the same story (with its roots in the Vajrapani story).

This is followed by Brian Victoria's "A Buddhological Critique of 
'Soldier-Zen' in Wartime Japan" in which Brian, who in his earlier books 
still clung to the notion that Buddhism is pacifistic, except where I am 
looking and in the Soto establishment into which I have been ordained, has 
in the meantime come to recognize that Soto acceptance and promotion of 
violence is not an aberration, but part of a long Buddhist history that 
extends far beyond Japan. His essay is the only truly polemical piece -- he 
is still trying to argue that what Japanese Buddhists did, thought, 
accepted, and promoted during WW2 was aberrant, but now he is doing so with 
less convinction. It is a fine piece for samples of the "protect the 
Dharma," "compassion" and "no self" arguments used to promote violence, with 
some nice illustrations.

Then Xue Yu's "Buddhists in China during the Korean War (1951-1953)," which 
documents (primarily using Chinese sources that would be unfamiliar to most 
in the West) how the monastics helped mobilize Buddhists and the populace at 
large to support and fight the war in Korea. He seems to be unaware that 
militant monks have a long tradition in China, and treats this mobilization 
as aberrant. His book (expensive!), _Buddhism, War, and Nationalism: Chinese 
Monks in the Struggle Against Japanese Aggression 1931-1945_ (Routledge, 
2005) seems to begin from a similar premise:

"This thesis examines the doctrinal grounds and different approaches to 
working out this 'new Buddhist tradition,' a startling contrast to the 
teachings of non-violence and compassion which have made Buddhism known as a 
religion of peace. In scores of articles as war approached in 1936-37, new 
monks searched and reinterpreted scripture, making controversial arguments 
for ideas like 'compassionate killing' which would justify participating in 
war." (Amazon blurb)

This is followed by Daniel Kent's piece on Preaching to the Sri Lankan army 
(discussed by Lance), and then Jerryson's piece on the soldier-monks in 
southern Thailand. I will post separately on Jerryson.

Andy, if you read Kent more carefully you'll see that he not only discusses 
Bartholomeusz's Just War book, he identifies the tradition it draws from, 
and critiques it, using a counterargument formulated by Rupert Gethin. What 
Kent wouldn't have known is that Bartholomeusz was drawn to the Just War 
theory because the Chair of the Religion Dept. at FSU (where she was), John 
Kelsay, at that time was writing his own book on Just War theory in Islam 
and it rubbed off on her.

Finally there is Bernard Faure's "afterthoughts" -- which does manage to 
mention some of the numerous germane topics and issues that were not 
included in the volume. That list could be extended (and will be by current 


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