Buddhist Warfare (2010) highlights connections between Buddhisms and violence

Military history is concerned among other things with links between violence and religion.

When I think of Christianity, I think of how that belief system was forced upon the inhabitants of Estonia by Crusader knights in the 1200s. Until that time, the inhabitants were adherents of shamanism.

Advances in technology of warfare played a key role in the Crusader conquest of Estonia. As Andres Kasekamp (2010) has noted, in the Crusader attacks on the Baltic states in the early 1200s, the Crusader’s advantage over native warriors derived from the professionalism of their warrior class and their superior military technology. The technology incuded the crossbow, the catapult, and the armoured knight on horseback, which Kasekamp describes as the equivalent of the tank in later warfare.

Cambridge Companion to Religious Studies (2012)

Among other studies, the relationship between Buddhisms and violence is addressed in Buddhist Warfare (2010) and in The Cambridge Companion to Religious Studies (2012).

A Chapter Description from the latter resource notes:

With the rise of religious fundamentalisms, religion has had rather bad press. Yet this feeling of suspicion has apparently not yet reached Buddhism, which is usually presented as a nonviolent teaching founded on compassion. This is in large part owing to the influence of such figures as the Dalai Lama and the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hahn, who are beloved by the media and who command large Western followings. It is also a result of the attempt among some scholars but more often among Western practitioners to differentiate Buddhism from other religions (and from religion in general) by claiming for it the title of “spirituality.” For that very reason, Western adherents of Buddhism see in it a teaching particularly needed for our time. Even when it is described as a religious phenomenon, Buddhism is considered to be the exception among the world religions. It is said to have had no crusades or holy wars, unlike Christianity or Islam. It is allegedly not attached to holy places, out of which it has expelled others, such as Judaism or militant Hinduism. Its name was not associated with an expansionist military ideology, such as Shinto.

The Sinhalese scholar Walpola Rahula is one of the Buddhist apologists who claim that there never was a “Buddhist war.” In a popular book entitled What the Buddha Taught, Rahula writes: “That spirit of tolerance and compassion has been one of the most highly regarded ideals of the Buddhist culture and civilization from the outset. This is why there is not one single example of persecution or one drop of blood shed either in the conversion of people to Buddhism or in the spread of Buddhism over its two thousand five hundred year history.”

Buddhist Warfare (2010)

A 2010 Journal of Global Buddhism review of Buddhist Warfare (2010) notes that the essays in the study “present and analyze a diverse and surprising (and sometimes horrifying) array of ‘individual and structural cases of prolonged Buddhist violence’ over time and space with the intention of ‘disrupting the social imaginary that holds Buddhist traditions to be exclusively pacifistic and exotic’ (p. 3).”

Chapter 4 in Buddhist Warfare (2010), entitled “Legalized Violence: Punitive Measures of Buddhist Khans in Mongolia,” highlights acts of violence by Buddhist khans, nobles and Buddhist monastics from the latter part of the sixteenth century until the first decades of the twentieth century. In a strategy that brings to mind the forced conversion of followers of Shamanism in the Baltic region during the 1200s, in Mongolia the acts of violence included “the forceful replacement of Shamanism with Buddhism as a state religion, engagement in Buddhist sectarian wars, the implementation of harsh penal systems, and so on” (p. 91).

Sri Lanka

Burma (Myanmar) and Sri Lanka come to mind as regions where occurrences of Buddhist violence have been documented. Buddhism Betrayed? Religion, politics, and violence in Sri Lanka (1992) offers an overview regarding this topic. A summary at the Toronto Public Library website notes: “This volume seeks to answer the question of how the Buddhist monks in today’s Sri Lanka – given Buddhism’s traditionally nonviolent philosophy – are able to participate in the fierce political violence of the Sinhalese against the Tamils.”

Politics of Sinhala Sangha: Venerable Walpola Rahula (2011)

An article, entitled “Politics of Sinhala Sangha: Venerable Walpola Rahula (2011),” in the October 2011 issue of the Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, highlights themes addressed in Buddhist Violence (2010).

Research related to Buddhist meditation

It is useful to keep in mind the ongoing research related to Tibetan Buddhist meditation. The results appear to be impressive and warrant close study.

An October 15, 2014 post at the Scientific American website refers to a an article in Volume 311, Issue 5, entitled: “Neuroscience Reveals the Secrets of Meditation’s Benefits: Contemplative practices that extend back thousands of years show a multitude of benefits for both body and mind.”


A June 16, 2014 New York Times video about Myanmar is entitled: “21st-Century Concentration Camps | Nicholas Kristof | The New York Times.”

A Jan. 2, 2015 New York Times article is entitled: “Sri Lanka’s Violent Buddhists.”

A May 27, 2015 Washington Post article is entitled: “The serene-looking Buddhist monk accused of inciting Burma’s sectarian violence.”

A January/February 2015 Foreign Affairs article is entitled: “How to Think Like Edmund Burke: Debating the Philosopher’s Complex Legacy.” The article is of interest because it underlines the fact that some topics do not readily lend themselves to ‘essentializing,’ but instead benefit from an in-depth, evidence-based analysis from a wide range of perspectives.

A July 24, 2015 article by Pankaj Mishra is entitled: “How to think about Islamic State: Islamic State is often called ‘medieval’ but is in fact very modern – a horrific expression of a widespread frustration with a globalised western model that promises freedom and prosperity to all, but fails to deliver.”

“In an irony of modern history, which stalks revolutions and revolts to this day,” in Pankaj Mishra’s take on things, “the search for a new moral community has constantly assumed unpredicted and vicious forms. But then the dislocations and traumas caused by industralisation and urbanisation accelerated the growth of ideologies of race and blood in even enlightened western Europe.”

I would say, by way of comment, that a journalistic take on things provides one form of analysis; my own preference is for the kind of evidence-based historical analysis demonstrated in Masters of the Universe (2012) and Extremely Violent Societies (2010).

Additional update

A March 6, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “René Girard’s theories still explain the violence all around us: French-born scholar spent his career trying to understand what what makes violence a chronic problem.”

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