[Buddha-l] Dharmapala, redux

L.S. Cousins selwyn at ntlworld.com
Wed Aug 4 05:34:11 MDT 2010

Dan Lusthaus wrote:

> 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.
That's because I see it as systematically exaggerating — not in all of 
the articles, but overall and particularly in the contributions of one 
of the editors. And the photograph on the front of the paperback is 
> 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.
I agree that the contributions do not parrot a party-line, but the 
volume is still pushing an agenda. And I rather suspect that the editors 
are responsible for some of the article/chapter titles. Even Kent's 
article is entitled "Onward Buddhist Soldiers. Preaching to the Sri 
Lankan Army". That must be intended to remind everybody of the Christian 
> 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.
His article is indeed well-known and scholarly, but not entirely fair. 
He is selecting over a very long period.
> 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.
I agree that this is the view of most scholars.
> 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.
No they don't. Vesna Wallace's article doesn't concern warfare at all. 
Xue Yu's concerns the difficult situation of Buddhists trying to survive 
under Communist rule and so tells us nothing about the views Buddhists 
would have put forward if free to speak their mind. Kent's article shows 
that most Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka are agreed that Buddhism does not 
support warfare. Similarly, even Jerryson's
> 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 --
I am hardly alone in holding that the Pali Canon does not justify or 
support warfare.
> and not by
> Theravadins per se.
Where on earth have I ever said that ?
> 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.)
Wouldn't it be better to answer my arguments instead of trying to 
discredit my position by ad hominem suggestions ?
> 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),
I don't believe it was known to Nāgārjuna.
> 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.
Does this mean that you don't know of any such impact ?
> 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.
I have not seen Jamspal's thesis, but I have read Zimmermann's very 
interesting 2000 paper. Jenkins claims that his article is synthesizing 
the contributions of Jamspal, Zimmermann and Lambert Schmithausen 
(1999), but it seems to me that he is misrepresenting them.
> 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,
  I don't think I made any such suggestion. The chapter is precisely 
omitted in the first Chinese translation. So either it is much later 
than Jenkins et al think or it was unacceptable to the fifth century 
Chinese translator (as Jenkins argues) . Either of these would support 
my views.

I don't think the text is unimportant. I do think it is later. I also 
think Jenkins and you are misrepresenting what it says. Zimmermann is 
much clearer.
> 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).

I am not sure why you call 'Protecting the Dharma' a rationalization. It 
seems a perfectly valid reason in itself.

> Thus, when Joanna chides Andy by insisting that the yaksa stories are 
> 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"
> and
> Vesna Wallace, "Legalized Violence: Punitive Measures of Buddhist 
> Khans in
> Mongolia."
> 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).
I cannot find even a mention of Vajrapāṇi in Vesna's article. Nor does 
she refer to the Ārya-Bodhisattva-gocara-upāyaviṣaya-vikurvaṇa-nirdeśa
Sūtra. Nor are either mentioned (on a quick look) in Maher's paper. Even 
Jenkins's paper has only a very brief mention.

No-one would deny the role of the bodhisattva Vajrapāṇi in Mahāyāna 
Buddhism. But he has only a minor role as a deity in some forms of 
non-Mahāyāna Buddhism and practically none in Southern Buddhism or the 
Pali Canon. It is not clear that the yakkha holding a vajira in the 
Majjhimanikāya has any relationship to the bodhisattva Vajrapāṇi. If it 
does, it is a very tenuous one.

A far more interesting discussion than any contained in this book is 
Lambert Schmithausen's "Aspects of the Buddhist attitude towards war" 
(in /Violence Denied/, edited by Jan Houben and Karel van Kooij, Brill, 
Leiden, 1999, pp. 45–67).

Interesting is his comment at the end: "It should, however, be kept in 
mind that in spite of all deviations the old principle that all 
violence, let alone killing and waging war, is bad, and especially unfit 
for monks, has never been totally forgotten." Even more interesting: 
"Finally, it should be pointed out that religious wars for the sake of 
spreading the Buddhist religion by force to non-Buddhist regions seem to 
have occurred very rarely, if at all."

Lance Cousins

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