Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Is Buddhism a Peaceful Religion?


“All men tremble at punishment, all men fear death; remembering that thou are like unto them, do not strike or slay.
All men tremble at punishment, all men love life: remembering that thou are like unto them, do not strike or slay.” –The Dhammapada

“When a warrior strives & exerts himself in battle, his mind is already seized, debased, & misdirected by the thought: 'May these beings be struck down or slaughtered or annihilated or destroyed. May they not exist.' If others then strike him down & slay while he is thus striving & exerting himself in battle, then with the breakup of the body, after death, he is reborn in the hell called the realm of those slain in battle. But if he holds such a view as this: 'When a warrior strives & exerts himself in battle, if others then strike him down & slay him while he is striving & exerting himself in battle, then with the breakup of the body, after death, he is reborn in the company of devas slain in battle,' that is his wrong view. Now, there are two destinations for a person with wrong view, I tell you: either hell or the animal womb."- Buddha (Samyutta Nikiya XL11 Pali Canon)

And then the Dalai Lama:

"Forgiveness doesn't mean forget what happened. … If something is serious and it is necessary to take counter-measures, you have to take counter-measures." –Dalai Lama

"It is difficult to deal with terrorism through non-violence.” –Dalai Lama

“Theoretically speaking, in order to achieve great benefit for a greater number of people, you can use a violent method. This is true in Vajrayana and Mahayana Buddhism and is one of the things that separate these schools from Theravada Buddhism.” –Dalai Lama

“There is a famous story about the five hundred merchants crossing the sea and the leader of the merchants realized that one of the wanted to kill all the people on the boat. So in order not only to save the people on the boat but also to save this man from committing the sin, the lead merchant took on the sin of killing the murderer before the action took place.” –Dalai Lama

“Yes. It’s a unique aspect of Mahayana Buddhism, even from ancient times. One reason that ancient Hinayana (Theravada) monks argued that Mahayana was not taught by Buddha was that in the Mahayana there are teachings that say that there could be occasions where even killing could be permitted.” –Dalai Lama from the book, The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama by Thomas Laird

Why are the Buddha’s teachings so different from the Dalai Lamas? But, I need to say first, that this isn’t just about the Dalai Lama or Tibetan Buddhism, but it does show degeneration in Buddhism in the Tibetan Buddhist sects, but this degeneration also takes place in other forms of Buddhism.

According to a 7th Century Chan text the, Treatise on Absolute Contemplation:

“Killing is evil only in the event that the killer fails to recognize his victim as empty and dream-like. On the contrary, if one no longer sees his opponent as a living being separate from emptiness, then he is free to kill him at will.”

These teachings came to be because Buddhism was actually hijacked by Confucianism and Taoism in ancient China. Dogen, a Japanese Zen Buddhist Master, observed this and said that Taoism and Confucianism were inferior to Buddhism. What few people know is that Lao-tzu instructed one of his would be students to “kill seven people, including the latter’s own mother and father.” Knowing this Dogen said:

“The Tathagate, for his part, based his teachings on the need for great compassion. Where, then, did Lao-tzu find the basis for his treacherous teachings?”

There is also the Mahayana Buddhist doctrine of “skillful/expedient means,” which allows teachers “to adapt their message to the needs and capacity of their audience.”

The story in the Lotus Sutra that is used as an example is that of the burning house, and of the child who would not come out, so the parents then lie to the child in order to get him to come out of the house as an act to save him. This was always meant to be used with compassion and wisdom, but this doctrine is not benign, because it has been used over the centuries by teachers to justify breaking the precepts, thereby causing harm to others. One example is how such teacher cut the finger off one of his disciples to teach him a lesson.

Then there in the book by the 5th Dalai Lama, Song of the Queen of Spring:  “while he does not explicitly employ the justification that particular acts of violence ought to be understood as beneficial and compassionate toward their target, he makes such arguments elsewhere in the text…Still, the main thrust of the language surrounding the khan is directed toward justifying his warfare by virtue of his identity as a righteous-warrior king, a man who is rhetorically connected to many of the post potent emblematic figures in the Indo-Tibetan symbolic universe.”

This above text is, “suggesting that highly advanced Buddhist yogins may be able to undertake acts of violence that serve salutary ends without themselves experiencing afflictive emotion.”  This was never Buddha’s teaching, but throughout history some Buddhist teachers have learned to justify war, especially in Asian countries where the sangha has to serve aggressive leaders.

The Zen school has also been deeply influence by the Mahayana belief that there are two levels of truth, conventional and ultimate. By placing emphasis on the ultimate conventional truth they have devalued human life to the point that it became worthless. Yet, while the self is “ultimately empty:” One has to take into account the fact that the pain and suffering is real, which is the conventional truth. But Zen leaders collapsed these teachings into one teaching, which was never intended by the Buddha, who always taught that compassion was most important.

So, while Buddha taught peace, the incorporation of the Mahayana texts changed Buddhism.  And while I would like to think that this did not affect the Theravada teachings, I learned this of the Theravada Thai Buddhist monks:

"Modern Thai and Sri Lankan monks rely on the Abhidhamma of the Pali Canon that emphasizes intention and claims that, if the killing is committed with the right state of mind (detachment or compassion), it entails no karmic consequence and therefore can be considered to be a wholesome act." (Buddhist Warfare page 214.)

So this makes killing a selfless act in that one is not killing out of hatred or anger but out of compassion for one’s fellow man. But I have a hard time believing that Buddha meant for “intention” to be used as a justification for killing others in battle, because, for one, he says to never slay another being. Then during his life, his actions were always consistent with what is stated in the Dhammapada. He always tried to prevent war, as in his successful action to prevent King Ajatasttu from attacking the Vajjians. Even when his own homeland was at stake, he did not mobilize his sangha to fight.

So is Buddhism peaceful? It certainly has that reputation. I believe the intentions of Buddha were peaceful and compassionate but since then the teachings have greatly taking a downward turn, and so now you have many teachers speaking about peace, but they are actually talking out of two sides of their mouths. 

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