Violence and diruption in Society


At 8.15 a.m. Japanese time, on August 6th 1945, a U.S. plane dropped a bomb named “Little Boy” over the center of the city of Hiroshima. The total number of people who were killed immediately and in the following months was probably close to 200,000. Some claim that this bomb and the one which fell on Nagasaki ended the war quickly and saved American and Japanese lives — a consequentialist theory to justify horrific violence against innocent civilians. Others say the newly developed weapons had to be tested as a matter of necessity.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki ushered in a new age. Humankind’s tendency towards conflict and violence can now wipe out the entire human habitat. The weapon used on Hiroshima had a destructive force of 12.5 kilotons; a contemporary cruise missile has the power of 200 kilotons. All war, violence and conflict at national and international levels in the last quarter of the twentieth century has thus taken on sinister proportions. It is not that human nature has changed but that the resources at our disposal have. No country is free from the threat of nuclear annihilation; no country is free from internal conflict and the barrel of the gun. It is against the urgency of this background that the teachings of Buddhism about violence must be studied and interpreted.

Excerpts such as the following have been extracted and used to sum up the Buddhist attitude to this issue:

All tremble at violence,
All fear death;
Comparing oneself with others
One should neither kill nor cause others to kill.

Dhp. v. 129

Victory breeds hatred,
The defeated live in pain.
Happily the peaceful live,
Giving up victory and defeat.

Dhp. v. 201

These verses would seem to indicate a clearly defined Buddhist perspective. Yet such text extraction can lead to misrepresentation if not undergirded with a strong supporting framework. Furthermore, if Buddhism has a message for a violent world, it must do more than condemn violence. It must be able to interpret its nature, its roots, its hold on the world and the possibilities for its transformation. It must dialogue with other philosophies and ideologies such as utilitarianism,[1] scientific socialism and the belief in a just or “holy” war. For instance, utilitarianism still lives among those who believe that violence can be justified if more people will benefit than will be hurt, and the consequentialist theory mentioned with reference to Hiroshima is similar to this. Then there are those who hold that certain forms of injustice and exploitation can only be destroyed through violence and that history will justify its legitimacy. The view that violent change is a historical inevitability is close to this. Buddhism must be able to comment on the stance which argues that if Hitler had been assassinated early in his career numerous deaths would have been avoided, or the claim that force is justified against a government which is using violence against its people under the pretext of law. If it cannot, it will stand accused of irrelevance.

In this study, I define violence as that which harms, debases, dehumanizes or brutalizes human beings, animals or the natural world; and the violent person, as one who causes harm in speech or action, either directly or indirectly, or whose mind is filled with such thoughts.[2] The approach will be scriptural, and the resource I use will be the Pali texts. The basic issue I investigate is what this resource says on the subject of violence. Identity is not assumed between the sixth century B.C. and the twentieth century A.D. Rather, the potential of the scriptures of any religion to provide guidelines for action and models for contemporary interpretation is recognized. Hence, the following specific questions will provide the framework for my study:

(1) What different forms of violence do the Buddhist texts show knowledge of?

(2) For what reasons do the texts condemn violence or call it into question?

(3) What do they see to be the roots of violence?

(4) Do the texts give any guidelines for the eradication of violence in the individual or in society?

1. The Forms of Violence 

The Buddha’s Awareness

The sermons of the Buddha, as they have been handed down to us, are replete with details about the contemporary realities of the times. They reveal much about the social contexts within which the Buddha moved and the faces of society with which he was familiar.

The Canki Sutta shows a brahman overlord insisting that the Buddha is equal to him in birth, riches and the knowledge of the Vedas. He continues:

Indeed, sirs, King Seniya Bimbisara of Magadha with his wife and children has gone to the recluse Gotama for refuge for life. Indeed, sirs, King Pasenadi of Kosala with his wife and children has gone to the recluse Gotama for refuge for life. Indeed, sirs, the brahman Pokkharasati with his wife and children has gone to the recluse Gotama for refuge for life.[3]

Important here is the reference to kings. The texts show clearly that the Buddha had an intimate knowledge of statecraft. Records of his conversations with Pasenadi and Bimbisara show him speaking in a language which those involved in government could understand. Pasenadi, for instance, comes through as a man torn between his duties as king, involving some degree of ruthlessness, and his concern for spiritual things. At one moment, he is seen preparing a sacrifice in which many animals are to be slaughtered and menials beaten and, at another, speaking seriously with the Buddha about the dangers of wealth, power and evil conduct.[4] What is significant is the level of knowledge shown by the Buddha about the pressures on a king such as Pasenadi. His use of similes and illustrations, for instance, appeals to Pasenadi’s experience, including the central concern of all rulers at that time — defense against aggression. At one point Pasenadi asks about the value of gifts and to whom a gift should be given for the gift to bear much fruit. The Buddha replies:

A gift bears much fruit if given to a virtuous person, not to a vicious person. As to that, sire, I also will ask you a question. Answer it as you think fit. What think you, sire? Suppose that you were at war, and that the contending armies were being mustered. And there were to arrive a noble youth, untrained, unskilled, unpracticed, undrilled, timid, trembling, affrighted, one who would run away — would you keep that man? Would such a man be any good to you?[5]

The Buddha thus uses similes from Pasenadi’s military world to indicate that virtue does not depend on birth but on qualities of character. In fact, in a number of texts, illustrations drawn from the context of the state, defense and martial arts can be found. Not only does the Buddha make use of military metaphors, but the texts show that he had extensive knowledge of the strategies of war, punishment and political patronage. The Mahadukkhakkhandha Sutta, for instance, uses graphic description to show that war and conflict spring from sensual desires:

And again, monks, when sense pleasures are the cause… having taken sword and shield, having girded on bow and quiver, both sides mass for battle and arrows are hurled and knives are hurled and swords are flashing. Those who wound with arrows and wound with knives and decapitate with their swords, these suffer dying then and pain like unto dying…

And again, monks, when sense pleasures are the cause… having taken sword and shield, having girded on bow and quiver, they leap on to the newly daubed ramparts, and arrows are hurled and knives are hurled and swords are flashing. Those who wound with arrows and wound with knives and pour boiling cow-dung over them and crush them with the portcullis and decapitate them with their swords, these suffer dying then and pain like unto dying.[6]

In the next part of the sutta, a variety of horrific punishments are described and a keen awareness of their nature is seen:

Kings, having arrested such a one, deal out various punishments: they lash him with whips and they lash him with canes and they lash him with rods, and they cut off his hand… his foot… his hand and foot… his ear… and they give him the “gruel-pot” punishment… the “shell-tonsure” punishment… “Rahu’s mouth”… the “fire-garland”… the “flaming hand”… etc.[7]

In another sermon handed down to us, two men are pointed out while the Buddha is talking to a headman, Pataliya. One of them is garlanded and well-groomed; the other is tightly bound, about to lose his head. We are told that the same deed has been committed by both. The difference is that the former has killed the foe of the king and has been rewarded for it, whilst the latter was the king’s enemy.[8] Hence it is stressed that the laws of the state are not impartial: they can mete out punishment or patronage according to the wish of the king and his cravings for revenge or security.

It cannot be argued that the Buddha was ignorant of the political realities of his day. He spurned frivolous talk about such things as affairs of state[9] but he was neither indifferent to them nor uninformed. On the contrary, his concern for the human predicament made him acutely aware of the potential for violence within the economic and political forces around him. The political milieu of rival republics and monarchies in northern India forms a backdrop to his teaching, whether the rivalries between the kingdoms of Kosala and Magadha or the struggles of the republics to maintain their traditions and their independence in the face of the rising monarchies.[10]

However, the violence attached to politics and statecraft forms one section only of the picture which emerges from the texts. Violence is detected in the brahmanical sacrificial system, in the austerities practiced by some wanderers, and in the climate of philosophical dispute among the many sramana groupings as well as in the area of social discrimination and the economic order.

Religion, to take this first, is seen as a cause of physical, verbal and mental violence. The violence inflicted through sacrifices is described thus:

Now at that time a great sacrifice was arranged to be held for the king, the Kosalan Pasenadi. Five hundred bulls, five hundred bullocks and as many heifers, goats and rams were led to the pillar to be sacrificed. And they that were slaves and menials and craftsmen, hectored about by blows and by fear, made the preparations with tearful faces weeping.[11]

In contrast, the sramana groupings within this period eschewed sacrifice. Denying the authority of the Vedas and a realm of gods to be manipulated, their emphasis was on renunciation, the gaining of insight and philosophical debate. Nevertheless, a form of violence was present. The austerities practiced by some of those who came to the Buddha were worse than any enemy might inflict as punishment. The Buddha himself confessed to having practiced them before his enlightenment. In the Maha-Saccaka[12] and the Maha-sihanada[13] Suttas there is vivid description of the excesses undertaken. Taken together, the two suttas cover the complete range of contemporary Indian practices, which included nakedness or the wearing of rags, tree-bark fiber, kusa grass, wood shavings or human hair; deprivation of food to the extent of existing on a single fruit or rice grain; self-mortification through lying on thorns or exposing the body to extremes of heat and cold; copying the habits of animals such as walking on all fours or eating similar food. It was the Buddha’s view that such practices were a form of violence, although undertaken in the name of religion and truth-seeking.[14]

Undertaken also in the name of truth were verbal battles between different groups of wanderers. The Buddha’s followers, in fact, were frequently at the receiving end of an aggressive campaign by other groups to ridicule their beliefs. The description of these incidents gives useful evidence of the prevailing atmosphere.[15] In the Udumbarika Sihanada Sutta, Nigrodha the Jain claims:

Why, householder, if the Samana Gotama were to come into this assembly, with a single question only could we settle him; yea, methinks we could roll him over like an empty pot.[16]

In the Kassapa Sihanada Sutta, the Buddha speaks out:

Now there are, Kassapa, certain recluses and brahmans who are clever, subtle, experienced in controversy, hair splitters, who go about, one would think, breaking into pieces by their wisdom the speculations of their adversaries.[17]

Violence of state and violence in the name of religion were two faces of the Buddha’s society. Violence within the economic order was another. The sixth century B.C. in India witnessed urbanization and commercial growth. Savatthi, Saketa, Kosambhi, Benares, Rajagaha and Champa would have been some of the most important centers known to the Buddha, who spent much time in urban environments. As Trevor Ling argues in his study, The Buddha,[18] the growth of these cities spawned individualism and competition in response to changing economic patterns and social dislocation. The potentially violent tensions generated are reflected in the Buddha’s teachings through such themes as the rightful gaining of wealth, the place of service and work,[19] correct duties towards employees, and the wise choosing of friends. For instance, a Samyutta Nikaya text contains a conversation between Rasiya the Headman and the Buddha. The Buddha speaks out against those who gain wealth by unlawful means, especially with violence.[20] Then, in the Sigalovada Sutta, the Buddha outlines rights and duties for the different social relationships in society.[21] An employer is advised to: assign work according to the strength of the employee; supply food and wages; tend workers in sickness; share with them unusual delicacies; grant them leave. The same sutta comments on friendship and says that four foes in the likeness of friends should be avoided: a rapacious person, a man of words not deeds, the flatterer and the fellow-waster.

The study of what the Early Buddhist texts say about violence must be seen against this background of political violence and social change. The empiricism of Early Buddhism also demands this — the Buddha’s appeal to what is observed in society as a basis for evaluating the truth of his teachings.[22]

The analysis of historical context calls into question whether any philosophy or thought system can have universal relevance. Since the human situation across the permutations of history is indeed subject to change, the issue is a valid one. Yet there is also a continuity in evolution such that parallels can be drawn between the forces at work in the sixth century B.C. and those operating in the latter part of the twentieth century. The sixth century B.C. is not identical to the twentieth but neither is it completely different. The teaching of Early Buddhism on violence, therefore, should not be used as if there were either identity or utter separateness. In each new context and historical period, there is a need for re-interpretation and re-evaluation. At this point, it is enough to stress that the texts reveal much about Indian society at the time of the Buddha and about the Buddha’s own breadth of awareness. It cannot be argued that he had no knowledge of the violence within his own society or that his words were divorced from the tensions around him. On the contrary, their import drew urgency from contemporary observable reality.

The Buddha’s Approach to Empirical Questions

Central to Buddhism’s approach to the analysis of social phenomena is the doctrine of paticca samuppada or dependent origination, which can be expressed thus:

When this is, that is; this arising, that arises.
When this is not, that is not; this ceasing, that ceases.

Imasmim sati idam hoti; imass’ uppada idam uppajjati.
Imasmim asati idam na hoti;imassa nirodha idamnirujjhati.

Events and tendencies within the material world are interpreted from the standpoint of causality. Phenomena are conditioned. Buddhism, therefore, calls for an analytical attitude in dealing with anything to do with human life, including the question of violence.[23]

One consequence which flows from this is that generalizations and statements based on categories of pure reason are suspect. Evidence can be drawn from the suttas to show that the Buddha insisted on making discriminations when presented with dogmatically held views. For instance, in the Subha Sutta, Subha comes out with the view that a householder is accomplishing the right path and one who has renounced is not. The Buddha replies: “On this point, brahman youth, I discriminate, on this point I do not speak definitely.” He stresses that both householder (gihin) and the one who has renounced (pabbajita) can be living wrongly; both can be living rightly. The deciding factor is not the label, but rightness of action, speech and thought.[24]

A similar approach can be seen in the Esukari Sutta where the Buddha speaks about service. In this case, the deciding factor as to whether a person should serve is whether the one who serves is better for the service in terms of such things as growing in moral habit and wisdom.[25] Then, when faced with the question of sacrifice by the brahman Ujjaya, there is again discrimination according to condition. Not every sacrifice is blameworthy. Where living creatures are not killed or where the sacrifice is an offering for the welfare of the family, there is no blame: “No, brahman, I do not praise every sacrifice. Yet, I would not withhold praise from every sacrifice.”[26] The deciding factor here is the presence of suffering for animals.

Paticca samuppada opposes the human tendency to generalize and encourages analysis on the basis of empirical data and moral values applied to these.[27] It criticizes standpoints which use inappropriate categories through insufficient observation and dogmatic statements about right and wrong which do not take empirically observed facts into account.

To understand Early Buddhism’s analysis of violence, this conditionality is important. When the Buddha speaks about the causes and the remedies of violence, his approach is dependent on the conditions prevalent in a particular situation. For instance, psychological factors are not emphasized when the Buddha is speaking to those in power about societal disruption; social and economic causes are stressed instead.[28] Yet, in other contexts, particularly when monks are addressed, it is the psychological factor which is given prominence.[29] In contrast again, with King Pasenadi, the Buddha does not condemn violence in defense of the realm but places it within the larger context of impermanence and death to encourage reflection.[30]

It is possible to hold together the above divergent emphases if we bear in mind the full implications of conditionality and the empiricism of Early Buddhism. We should not expect dogmatic, non-empirical generalizations. For instance, if craving (tanha) is to be posited as the root of much violence, it would not follow that every situation was conditioned by tanha in the same way or that the remedy in each situation would be identical. Likewise, it would not follow that what was incumbent on one type of person in one situation would be incumbent on all sections of society in all contexts.

2. Reasons for Buddhism’s Attitude to Violence 

Before looking more closely at what is said about the roots of violence, it is worth drawing out reasons given in the texts for the avoidance, questioning or non-espousal of violence. Interconnected frameworks emerge: nibbana as the goal of the spiritual life; the demands of metta and karuna (loving kindness and compassion); the need for peace, concord and harmony within society.

Since the ultimate goal of the spiritual path for the Buddhist is nibbana, attitudes towards violence must first be seen in relation to it. Nibbana is the ultimate eradication of dukkha. It is a possible goal within this life and, among other things, involves a complete de-toxification of the mind from greed, hatred and delusion, a revolution in the way the world is perceived, freedom from craving and liberation from the delusion of ego. The Therigatha or Songs of the Sisters contain some of the most moving testimonies to this reality; they are paeans of joy about liberation:

Mine is the ecstasy of freedom won
As Path merges in Fruit and Fruit in Path.
Holding to nought, I in Nibbana live,
This five-grouped being have I understood.
Cut from its root, all onward growth is stayed,
I too am stayed, victor on basis sure
Immovable. Rebirth comes never more.[31]

Nibbana and samsara are antithetical. One is the ceasing of the other. In the context of the goal of nibbana, actions, thoughts and words can be evaluated as to whether they build samsara or lead to nibbana: whether they are unskilled (akusala) or skilled (kusala). Indulgence in violence is normally deemed akusala. In other words, it cannot lead to the goal of nibbana. In the Ambalatthika-Rahulovada Sutta, the Buddha says to the Venerable Rahula:

If you, Rahula, are desirous of doing a deed with the body, you should reflect on the deed with the body, thus: “That deed which I am desirous of doing with the body is a deed of the body that might conduce to the harm of self and that might conduce to the harm of others and that might conduce to the harm of both; this deed of body is unskilled (akusala), its yield is anguish, its result is anguish.”[32]

Harm to others is central to what is unskilled. In the Sallekha Sutta advice is given to monks about the cleansing of the mind as the basis of spiritual progress. Foremost among the thoughts which have to be cleansed are those connected with harming and violence; both represent unskilled states which lead downwards:

Cunda, as every unskilled state leads downwards, as every skilled state leads upwards, even so, Cunda, does non-harming (avihimsa) come to be a higher state for an individual who is harmful, does restraint from onslaught on creatures come to be a higher state for the individual who makes onslaught on creatures.[33]

When the Buddha is in conversation with Bhaddiya, sarambha is added to lobha, dosa and moha (lust, hatred and delusion) as a defilement which flows from them. Sarambha can be translated as “accompanied by violence.” As the mind filled with lobha, dosa and moha is led to actions which are akusala, so is the mind filled with the violence which accompanies the triad. All lead to a person’s loss:

“Now what think you, Bhaddiya? When freedom from malice (adosa)… from delusion (amoha)… from violence (asarambha) that goes with these arises within oneself, does it arise to one’s profit or to one’s loss?” — “To one’s profit, sir.”[34]

The point of the above suttas is that violent action and violent thought, actions which harm and debase others and thoughts which contemplate the same, stand in the way of spiritual growth and the self-conquest which leads to the goal of existence. In this respect, indulging in violence is doing to oneself what an enemy would wish. It is a form of self-harming:

He who is exceedingly corrupt
like a maluva creeper strangling a sal tree
does to himself what an enemy would wish.

Dhp. v. 162

In contrast, abstaining from violence has personal benefit in the present and in the future. It is part of the training of mind and body which lays the foundation for spiritual progress.

The accusation has been made that the application of the terms kusala and akusala are oriented only towards an individualistic goal, making the motivation for abstention from violence a selfish one. But it can be argued that the distinction between altruism and egoism breaks down for anyone truly following the Noble Eightfold Path. There are also many textual references to the inherent importance of harmony, justice and compassion in society to balance those passages which seem to be solely individualistic. Harmony and justice are recognized as worthwhile in themselves as well as a prerequisite for the spiritual progress of society’s members. Hence, in society, violence is to be eschewed because it brings pain to beings with similar feelings to oneself:

All tremble at violence,
Life is dear to all.
Comparing others with oneself
One should neither kill nor cause others to kill.

Dhp. v. 130

On the level of personal analogy, men and women are to condemn violence. It is an analogy which demands metta (loving kindness) and karuna (compassion) of the human being.[35] They call on a frame of mind which cannot remain insensitive to suffering in others or untouched by the agony produced by violence. Non-violence, therefore, arises through the urge to prevent anguish in others:

Comparing oneself with others in such terms as “Just as I am so are they, just as they are so am I” (yatha aham tatha ete yatha ete tatha aham), one should neither kill nor cause others to kill.

Snp. v. 705

The Buddha, however, did not credit all people with this level of awareness. He is recorded as saying that shame and fear of blame protect the world, and if there were not these forces, the world would come to confusion and promiscuity.[36] Not all beings rally to the call for compassion on the grounds that others have like feelings to themselves or that harmony in society is necessary. Therefore, some texts invoke the concepts of heaven and hell, rewards and punishments, to control violence. Vivid pictures are drawn of the agonies of hell:

Brahman youth, here some woman or man is one who makes onslaught on creatures, is cruel, bloody-handed, intent on injuring and killing, and without mercy to living creatures. Because of that deed, accomplished thus, firmly held thus, he, at breaking up of the body after dying, arises in the sorrowful way, the bad bourn, the Downfall, the Niraya.[37]

Even so, monks, that anguish and dejection that man experiences while he is being stabbed with three hundred spears, compared with the anguish of Niraya Hell does not count, it does not amount even to an infinitesimal fraction of it, it cannot even be compared to it. Monks, the guardians of Niraya Hell subject him to what is called the fivefold pinion. They drive a red-hot iron stake through each hand and each foot and a red-hot iron stake through his breast. Thereat, he feels feelings that are painful, sharp and severe. But he does not do his time until he makes an end of that evil deed.[38]

Here, self-interest in terms of avoidance of future pain is appealed to as a reason to desist from violence. This emphasis can also be seen in the Petavatthu in which those fallen to the realm of the petas speak to those on the human level about the reasons for their suffering.[39] Falsehood, failing in the duties of wife or husband, stinginess and fraud are some of the actions mentioned. Story No. 32, however, speaks of a deerhunter who explains that he was “a ruthless man of bloody hands”: “Among harmless creatures, I, with wicked mind, walked about, very ruthless, ever finding delight in slaying others unrestrained,” he declares in verse three. His punishment is to be devoured by dogs during the daytime, the hours when he used to be involved in slaughter. He is able to teach the living that the First Precept should be kept and that it applies not only to the killing of human beings but also to animals. The deerhunter, therefore, is held up as an authoritative witness to what happens to violent individuals. His story is useful as a deterrent to socially disruptive elements and is confirmation of the importance Buddhism places on non-violence within the social fabric. The threat of future punishment is used to control potentially violent elements.

Two broad, interconnected areas, therefore, emerge in the reasons for the condemnation of violence within the Early Buddhist texts. Firstly, thoughts of violence and violent action are defilements and must be eradicated if nibbana is to be reached. In this light, nibbana is the highest ethical good. This stress alone, however, can lead to distortion if nibbana is seen as a metaphysical state above the empirical world and the path to it as divorced from society. Early Buddhism was rooted in the empirical. Violence was to be repudiated because it caused anguish to men and women and disruption in society. The human person was seen as precious. Harming a being who desired happiness and felt pain could rarely be right. If a society was to be established in which people could live without fear and with the freedom of mind to follow the Eightfold Path, violence had to be eschewed.

The question of political, defensive violence, however, must be mentioned here. Can violence be justified in a situation where the state needs to defend its citizens against external and internal threats? Is this a situation in which violence is not condemned? The texts suggest Buddhism would here insist on discrimination. The Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta gives this advice to the righteous king:

This, dear son, that you, leaning on the Dhamma, honoring, respecting and revering it, doing homage to it, hallowing it, being yourself a Dhamma-banner, a Dhamma-signal, having the Dhamma as your master, should provide the right watch, ward and protection for your own folk, for the army, for the nobles, for vassals and brahmans and householders, for town and country dwellers, for the religious world and for beasts and birds.[40]

This passage implies that the need for an army and consequently for the use of force in defense is accepted as a worldly necessity. But the picture which emerges is not glorification of the “just” war but an appeal for war and violence to be seen against a higher set of values.

Relevant perspectives on these political realities are seen in the Buddha’s advice to the Vajjians and to King Pasenadi. The Vajjians are faced with vicious aggression from King Ajatasattu, King of Magadha, who is bent on destroying them. The latter sends a brahman to the Buddha for advice and a prediction about how successful he will be in war. The very fact that he does so shows that he does not consider the Buddha either ill-informed or dismissive of such political conflicts. The reply he receives is significant. The Buddha does not refer directly to Ajatasattu but implies that the use of arms against a people who are morally pure and in concord would be fruitless. His words to Ajatasattu become words of advice to the Vajjians that they should meet together in concord and give respect to their elders, their ancient institutions, their traditions and their women. No mention is made of the Vajjian military strength; only of their moral strength. Moral strength is held up as defense against violence. Yet it is not denied but implicitly understood that the Vajjians would have to use force to repulse aggression, and also present is an implicit condemnation of Ajatasattu’s intentions.[41]

King Pasenadi is also seen in conflict with Ajatasattu, meeting force with force. At first, Ajatasattu is the aggressor and the victor. The reported response of the Buddha is significant:

Monks, the King of Magadha, Ajatasattu, son of the Vedehi Princess, is a friend to, an intimate of, mixed up with, whatever is evil. The Kosalan King Pasenadi is a friend to, an intimate of, mixed up with, whatever is good.[42]

Thus Pasenadi’s role as defender of the nation against aggression is accepted as necessary and praiseworthy. In the next battle, Pasenadi is the victor. Ajatasattu’s army is confiscated but Pasenadi is merciful enough to grant Ajatasattu his life. It is still Ajatasattu who is condemned. His fate is seen in kammic terms:

A man may spoil another just so far
As it may serve his ends, but when he’s spoiled
By others he, despoiled, spoils yet again.
So long as evil’s fruit is not matured
The fool does fancy: “Now’s the hour, the chance!”
But when the deed bears fruit, he fareth ill.
The slayer gets a slayer in his turn,
The conqueror gets one who conquers him,
The abuser wins abuse, the annoyer frets:
Thus by the evolution of the deed
A man who spoils is spoiled in his turn.[43]

In one respect, Pasenadi becomes an instrument of kamma for Ajatasattu. At another level, acceptance of political realities emerges. The king has a duty to protect his citizens from external threats of violence. Therefore, the advice given to a king or those with responsibility for government about reacting to the violence of others is fitted to the situation, a situation in which the use of violence may become a political necessity in a world governed by craving (tanha). Yet, even with affairs of state, war is placed in the perspective of a more important set of values. To Pasenadi, burdened by responsibility, the Buddha says:

Noble and brahman, commoner and serf,
None can evade and play the truant here:
The impending doom overwhelms one and all.
Here is no place for strife with elephants
Or chariots of war or infantry,
Nay, nor for war or woven spell or curse
Nor may finance avail to win the day.[44]

War is not presented as worthy of praise in itself. It is recognized that battle cannot take place without hatred and the wish to kill, in both the mind of aggressor and victim. A Samyutta Nikaya passage illustrates this. A fighting man comes to the Buddha and explains his belief that the warrior who is killed whilst fighting energetically in battle is reborn in the company of the Devas of Passionate Delight. The Buddha’s answer condemns this idea as perverted. A warrior is always led by the idea, “Let those beings be exterminated so that they may be never thought to have existed.”[45] Such a view can only lead downwards rather than to any heavenly world. The Buddha thus rejects any glorification of war, since there can be no glory when the mind is dominated by hate.

Another duty of the state is to punish. Punishment, although a harming of creatures and a cause of pain to them, is nevertheless seen as a social necessity because of the need to protect society from the greater violence which would flow from undeterred greed. Fear of punishment (dandabhaya) is described in vivid terms, with the mention of specific punishments. A man sees them and thinks: “If I were to do such deeds as those for which the rajahs seize a bandit, a miscreant, and so treat him… they would surely treat me in like manner.”[46] Important here is the fact that Early Buddhism would make discriminations about the question of punishment. As a deterrent, punishment has value. Meted out as an expression of hate, it is to be rejected. Inflicted where social justice is the requisite, it is also condemned, as seen in the Kutadanta Sutta, referred to in the next part.

3. The Roots of Violence 

The Attadanda Sutta of the Sutta Nipata is the voice of someone overcome by despair because of the violence he sees:

Fear results from resorting to violence — just look at how people quarrel and fight. But let me tell you now of the kind of dismay and terror that I have felt.

Seeing people struggling like fish, writhing in shallow water, with enmity against one another, I became afraid.

At one time, I had wanted to find some place where I could take shelter, but I never saw such a place. There is nothing in this world that is solid at base and not a part of it that is changeless.

I had seen them all trapped in mutual conflict and that is why I had felt so repelled. But then I noticed something buried deep in their hearts. It was — I could just make it out — a dart.[47]

The above is from a translation of the Sutta Nipata which attempts to preserve the spirit of the text rather than the letter. Here it is the spirit of dismay and fear leading to discovery which is of prime importance. The speaker detects a common root — the dart of craving (tanha) and greed (lobha) — a view directly in line with the Four Noble Truths. Violence arises because the right nourishment is present.

However, it has been pointed out earlier that differences may exist in the way in which tanha conditions situations of violence. On analysis, two broad and mutually interdependent areas emerge: (1) violence arising from an individual’s maladjustment, and (2) craving and violence arising from unsatisfactory social and environmental conditions, caused by the craving of others.

The latter can be taken first with reference to the following texts: The Kutadanta Sutta; the Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta; and certain Anguttara Nikaya passages. The first weaves a myth within a myth. The inner myth tells the story of a king, King Wide-Realm, whose land is wracked with discontent and crime such that people are afraid to walk in the streets for fear of violence.

The king’s solution is to hold a sacrifice for the nation and he goes to a holy man for advice. But the king is not given what he expects. The sage tells the king that fines, bonds and death for the wrongdoers would be self-defeating. Punishment is not the right path. On the contrary, it would increase the malady because the root causes remained untouched, in this instance, economic injustice and poverty. King Wide-Realm is advised to give food and seed corn to farmers, capital to traders and food to those in government service:

But perchance his majesty might think: “I’ll soon put a stop to these scoundrels’ game by degradation and banishment and fines and bonds and death.” But their license cannot be satisfactorily put a stop to so. The remnant left unpunished would still go on harassing the realm. Now there is one method to adopt to put a thorough end to this disorder. Whosoever there be in the king’s realm who devote themselves to keeping cattle and the farm, to them let his majesty give food and seed corn. Whosoever there be in the king’s realm who devote themselves to trade, to them let his majesty give capital. Whosoever there be in the king’s realm who devote themselves to government service, to them let his majesty give wages and food. Then those men, following each his own business, will no longer harass the realm; the king’s revenue will go up; the country will be quiet and at peace; and the populace pleased with one another and happy, dancing their children in their arms, will dwell with open doors.[48]

The above analysis recognizes that men and women can be pushed to violence if the prevailing conditions do not enable them to preserve their own lives without it. The instinct to survive is credited with enough strength to push people to struggle before they will sink into need. In such a situation, it follows that to press down the hand of the law will not be effective. In fact, it could encourage a growth in serious crime.

This is what happens in the Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta, another mythological story dealing with disruption in society. It has already been mentioned with reference to the duty of kingship. But there is one clause concerning his duty that has not yet been mentioned: “Throughout your kingdom let no wrongdoing prevail. And whosoever in your kingdom is poor, to him let wealth be given.”[49] The kings of the story who keep to this are blessed with peace. Yet a king eventually arises who neglects the giving of wealth to the poor. He is soon faced with a situation beyond his control. Poverty becomes rampant and this leads to theft, since people would rather steal than die. When the king realizes the cause, he starts by being lenient on the wrongdoer, by giving him the means to live. Such kindness too late leads others to see the only way to survive is turning to theft and receiving a royal handout in return. The king has given charity, not justice, and crime increases leading to a return to brutal punishments. The brutality of the punishments encourages the people to be more extreme in their own crime as they try to survive. Punishment here fails to deter because of the desperation of the people.

The sutta presents a disturbing picture of how a society can fall into utter confusion because of a lack of economic justice. The extremes reached are far greater than anything envisaged in the Kutadanta Sutta and they stem from the state’s blindness to the realities of poverty. Thus the sutta states in refrain after every deterioration:

Thus from goods not being bestowed on the destitute, poverty… stealing… violence… murder… lying… evil-speaking… immorality grew rife.

Theft and killing lead to false speech, jealousy, adultery, incest and perverted lust until:

Among such humans, brethren, there will arise a sword-period (satthantarakappa) of seven days during which they will look on each other as wild beasts; sharp swords will appear ready to their hands, and they thinking, “This is a wild beast, this is a wild beast,” will with their swords deprive each other of life.[50]

In the Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta, the nourishment of the violence is the state’s neglect of the poor. The whole myth illustrates the principle of paticca samuppada. Each state of degeneration is dependent on the state before it. An evolutionary process is seen. An inevitability seems to emerge, an inevitable movement towards bestiality. It is significant that the sutta does not concentrate on the psychological state of the people. The obsessive cravings which overtake them are traced back to the failure of the state rather than to failings in their own adjustment to reality. The root is the defilement in the state — the raga, dosa and moha in the king which afflict his perception of his duty.

An Anguttara Nikaya passage states this principle in simple and direct terms. If the king is righteous, his ministers will be righteous, the country will be righteous and the natural world will be a friend rather than an enemy. The opposite, of course, is also true and is placed first in the sutta:

At such time, monks, as rulers are unrighteous (adhammika), their ministers are unrighteous, brahmans and householders are also unrighteous…[51]

The above passages show that a change of heart is needed where violence exists but this change is needed in those who wield power in society. When a state is corrupt, the citizens become victims of the state and their own wish to survive and they are then led to actions they would never consider if they were free from want. There is an understanding that, besides those who do evil, there exists a category of people to whom wrong is done and whose reactions are conditioned by the original wrongdoing.

To pass now to the psychological roots of violence, another myth can be cited, the Aggañña Sutta. Like the Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta, it describes an evolutionary process which takes on its own momentum. The root of the process is significant — the craving of beings. The sutta explains, in myth form, the process by which undifferentiated beings come to earth from a World of Radiance to eat the earth’s savory crust, to the point where there is private property and the division of labor. One of its purposes is to challenge the static, non-evolutionary theory of a divinely ordained caste system but it is significant also because evolution is guided by the growth of craving and individualism. The whole sutta turns on the individual and his craving as the root of violence. It depicts a situation before state power is established. Craving first enters when the beings taste the crust of the earth:

Then, Vasettha, some being of greedy disposition said, “Lo now, what will this be?” and tasted the savory earth with his finger. He thus, tasting, became suffused with the savor, and craving (tanha) entered into him.[52]

The craving develops. The natural world evolves to accommodate the beings, becoming ever less easy to manage. The bodies of the beings become gross and individually differentiated into male and female, comely and unlovely. Jealousy and competition enter. The savory crust disappears. Vegetables and plant life evolve. An important point is reached when the beings establish boundaries around their individually owned rice plots. Individualism is therefore institutionally consolidated and the consequence is violence:

Now some being, Vasettha, of greedy disposition, watching over his plot, stole another plot and made use of it. They took him and, holding him fast, said, “Truly, good being, you have done evil in that, while watching your own plot, you have stolen another plot and made use of it. See, good being, that you do no such thing again.” “Aye, sirs,” he replied. And a second time he did so. And yet a third. And again they took him and admonished him. Some smote him with the hand, some with clods, some with sticks. With such a beginning, Vasettha, did stealing appear and censure and lying and punishment became known.[53]

The sutta illustrates that tanha coupled with individualism nourishes violence and conditions the necessity for state power to curb excesses. As such, its teaching is directly in the mainstream of Buddhist thought: craving and grasping lie at the root of negative and unwholesome states in society. However, more needs to be said about the causes and consequences of individualism.

The term “puthujjana” is used to describe the ordinary, average person:

Herein, monks, an uninstructed ordinary person, taking no account of the pure ones (ariyanam), unskilled in the Dhamma of the pure ones, untrained in the Dhamma of the pure ones, taking no account of the true men, unskilled in the Dhamma of the true men, untrained in the Dhamma of the true men, does not comprehend the things that should be wisely attended to, does not comprehend the things that should not be wisely attended to.[54]

The term “puthu” has two main meanings: “several, many, numerous,” on one hand, and “separate, individual,” on the other. The usual definition of puthujjana is “one of the many folk,” linking it with the first of the above-mentioned meanings. However, a case can be made for the second meaning also. In this analysis, the puthujjana is one who believes himself to be separate from the rest of humankind; one who believes he has a self to be protected, promoted and pampered. It is this assumption which leads to so much that is disruptive in society.

Violent tendencies link, at this point, with the defilement of moha (delusion): delusion in terms of a misunderstanding of anicca and anatta. The latter states that there is no abiding, unchanging substance within the human being. Men and women are verbs rather than nouns, causal processes rather than unchanging souls. Buddhism does not deny that there is a person, but it reformulates the definition of what constitutes a person to embrace continuity rather than static entity. As the sound of the lute cannot be found within the lute as it is taken apart, so the “I am” cannot be found in the human personality when it is dissected into the five khandhas.[55]

Much anger and violence stem from the felt need to defend what is seen to be one’s own or to grasp personal gain. It is a need which sees the gain of others as a threat to personal power and the rights of others as an attack on personal prestige. This is none other than the fault of the puthujjana, a failure to see the truth of anatta and the interdependence of all phenomena. It is this failure which leads to the self becoming the touchstone and measuring rule for every perception and judgment. It is the failure which leads to the urge to be violent in defense of needs and seeming rights. The Aggañña Sutta shows this ego illusion manifesting itself in the form of competitive individualism. That the ego illusion and tanha feed on one another is a theme found in many texts:

Monks, I will teach you the craving that ensnares, that floats along, that is far flung, that clings to one, by which this world is smothered, enveloped, tangled like a ball of thread, covered as with blight, twisted up like a grass rope, so that it does not pass beyond the Constant Round, the Downfall, the Way of Woe, the Ruin…

Monks, when there is the thought: “I am” — there come to be the thoughts: “I am in this world; I am thus; I am otherwise; I am not eternal; I am eternal; Should I be? Should I be in this world? Should I be thus? Should I be otherwise? May I become. May I become in this world. May I become thus. May I become otherwise. I shall become. I shall become otherwise.” These are the eighteen thoughts which are haunted by craving (tanhavicaritani) concerning the inner self (ajjhattikassa).[56]

One result of this interdependent feeding, the Buddhist texts assert, is disruption in society.

Another important area of study is the mechanism through which the “I” notion helps to generate unwholesome states. Buddhism sees a danger in the view of some schools of psychology that there is a creative use of the concept of self. In this respect, the Pali term “papañca,” commonly translated as proliferation, is important. The Madhupindika Sutta declares papañca to be the root of taking up weapons, and the defeat of papañca is the way to end such violence:

This is itself an end to the propensity to ignorance, this is itself an end of taking a weapon, of quarreling, contending, disputing, accusation, slander, lying speech.[57]

As the previous analysis in this paper points out, discrimination is central to the Buddhist approach and therefore generalizations such as the above need to be studied carefully. There is no doubt, however, that papañca is central to a Buddhist psychology of violence and to an understanding of the danger in the “I am” notion.

A study by Bhikkhu Nanananda, Concept and Reality, gives extensive coverage to the term “papañca”.[58] He puts forward the view that it is linked with the final stage of sense cognition and that it signifies a “a spreading out, a proliferation” in the realm of concepts, a tendency for the conceptual process to run riot and obscure the true reality of things. He makes much use of the above-quoted Madhupindika Sutta and quotes the following:

Visual consciousness, brethren, arises because of eye and visible forms; the meeting of the three is sensory impingement; because of sensory impingement arises feeling (vedana); what one feels, one perceives (sanjanati); what one perceives, one reasons about (vitakketi); what one reasons about, one turns into papañca (papañceti); what one turns into papañca, due to that papañca-sañña-sankha assail him in regard to visible forms cognizable by the eye belonging to the past, the future and the present.[59]

The same is said of the other senses.

Nanananda points out that a grammatical analysis of the above reveals that the process of perception involves deliberate activity up until papañceti. After this, deliberation vanishes. The subject becomes the object. The person who reasons conceptually becomes the victim of his own perceptions and thought constructions. So Nanananda writes:

Like the legendary resurrected tiger which devoured the magician who restored it to life out of its skeletal bones, the concepts and linguistic conventions overwhelm the worldling who evolved them. At the final and crucial stage of sense-perception, the concepts are, as it were, invested with an objective character.[60]

His analysis is of immense significance to the study of how certain negative and destructive tendencies can grow in society; how objective perception and reason can seem to fade before the force of what might be irrational and obsessive. He roots the cause in the nature of language in the minds of persons governed by tanha, mana and ditthi — craving, conceit (the tendency to measure oneself against others), and views — which in themselves flow from ego-consciousness. Papañca, according to this analysis, manifests itself through tanha, mana and ditthi. It underlies each of these qualities and breeds conflict in society.

To look at the process in more detail: The conventions of language enter near the beginning of the process of sense perception, at the point where feeling gives rise to mental activity and concepts. The mind, if unchecked, will attempt to place order on its feelings through language. This language immediately introduces the duality of subject and object, subject and feeling. The “I” enters with “I feel aversion” or “I feel attraction” or “I like this” or” I don’t like this.” This emphasis on the “I” is predetermined by the very nature of language and reinforces the strength of the feeling and the tendency for the person to identify completely with what is felt. What seems to happen after that is that language takes on a dynamism of its own. Concepts proliferate and leave the empirical behind, under the driving force of tanha, mana and ditthi. For instance, the observation, “I feel aversion” might lead to further thoughts such as:

I am right to feel aversion… Therefore, the object is inherently worthy of aversion… So, the object must threaten me and others… Therefore the objects must be got rid of… I cannot survive unless the object is annihilated from my sphere of vision and feeling… It is my duty to annihilate this for my sake and the sake of others.

Thus the entrance of “I” leads to the urge to protect the wishes of the ego and what is ego-based becomes a seemingly rational decision about duty. The above is a purely hypothetical progression, yet it is not an implausible one. It illustrates the way in which thought progresses further and further away from what is empirically observed. Speculation enters as the mind attempts to reason. Eventually, as the thought process develops further, what might appear to be reason cloaks obsession which, in turn, can make the person a victim of the apparent logic of language.

Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason[61] seems to adopt a similar point of view. He challenged the view that speculative metaphysics using the categories of pure reason could extend our knowledge of reality. He attacked particularly those theologians who believed that the existence of God could be proved through logic alone. There was, he claimed, an irresistible impulse of the mind towards seeking unification and synthesis which led to the illegitimate use of language. It is this which is particularly relevant to this study. For instance, he posited that the mind assumed an unconditional personal ego just because all representations were unified by the “I think” construction. It also assumed a concept of God because of the drive to find an unconditioned unity. Such concepts, Kant felt, arose through the impulse of the mind and passed beyond the legitimate purview of language. It passed beyond the perceptions which could add knowledge and were not based on truly empirical data. Therefore, they could not give statements with any factual reality.

Kant grasped that there was an irresistible impulse which led to concepts taking on an unwarranted life of their own. Buddhism says that these concepts can generate obsessions, victimize the person who believes he or she is thinking logically, and lead to disruption in society. What is lost in the process is the ability to see objectively and value the empirical through senses unclouded by craving, conceit and views, or by greed, hatred and delusion.

Papañca, fed and generated by tanha, is therefore central to the theme of violence in the thoughts and actions of human beings. Buddhism suggests that the human person can become the victim of obsessive actions, thoughts and inclinations. It holds that the drift towards violence within one person or within society, especially if a communal or cultural obsession has arisen, may become an inevitable causal process unless the inner mechanism is discovered. Related to this is the danger and motivating force of dogmatic and speculative views as one of the roots of violence — the ditthi, connected in the above analysis with papañca. In his advice to the Kalamas and to Bhaddiya, the Buddha said:

Be not mislead by report or tradition or hearsay. Be not misled by proficiency in the Collections, nor by mere logic or inference, nor after considering reasons, nor after reflection on or approval of some theory, nor because it fits becoming, nor by the thought: the recluse is revered by us.[62]

Here, logic and inference are deemed to be as dangerous as what is passed on by doubtful report and tradition. The same approach is seen in the Brahmajala Sutta[63] where a number of mistaken views, according to Buddhist analysis, are discussed. Tanha is seen as the root of these but logic and inference are also mentioned.

In the following, the question of conflict in relation to dogmatic views is more clearly expressed. The Buddha points out the danger of saying, “This is indeed the truth, all else is falsehood” (idam-eva saccam, mogham-aññam). For dispute is the result and: “If there is dispute, there is contention; if there is contention, there is trouble; if there is trouble there is vexation.”[64] Adhering dogmatically to views is a form of papañca, a particularly dangerous form. Several suttas in the Sutta Nipata take up this theme: the Pasura Sutta and the Kalahavivada Sutta,[65] for instance. The former speaks of the person who goes forth roaring, looking for a rival to contest with, filled with pride and arrogance over his theories. A battle-like situation is implied, an attitude closely allied to that which actually results in warfare and armed struggle. Contemporary struggles in the world give ample evidence to prove that war and struggle are caused by the conflict of ideas, ideologies and concepts. They show how powerful and charismatic a force ideas can be. Whether it is nationalism, ethnicity or religion, groups can be pushed towards violence in defense of them. Buddhist analysis points out that some ideologies which might appear logical could, in fact, be the fruit of papañca. Adherents may be convinced of their truth but they might have progressed far from analysis based on empirical data.

In the above analysis of the roots of violence, two broad areas have been studied: the external and the internal, the environmental and psychological. Yet the two are not separate. They interconnect and feed one another, just as external sense objects interconnect with the senses, giving rise to consciousness and psychological processes. If a people’s environment is unhealthy, corrupt or unjust, the seeds are sown for violent resistance, through the growth of motivating ideologies which take on a life of their own as they grip the minds of those who are being oppressed. If the environment is excessively competitive, consumer-oriented and materialistic, tanha will quickly arise, develop and expand into obsessive patterns of greed, taking over and dominating the perception of people who find themselves victims of craving rather than masters of their own perceptual processes. The step to violence is then small. If other elements are present, such as a group without access to the wealth visible in others, discrimination against minorities or racism, then the drive towards violence will be more rapid.

4. Can Violent Tendencies Be Eradicated? 

There is an optimism at the heart of Buddhism. The Four Noble Truths and paticca samuppada present a doctrine of hope because they affirm change and evolution. Men and women are not pawns of fate, chance or a capricious metaphysical being.[66] They can be makers of their own future. Applied to the issue of violence and disruption, this means that violence within the individual and in society is not intransigent, although the Buddhist texts make it quite clear that the obstacles to transformation are large.

Buddhism has no concept of a worldly utopia. Samsara is samsara, characterized by dukkha. Nibbana is a victory over samsara, not a destruction of samsara. The doctrine of anicca (impermanence), in fact, undermines any dream of a golden future or a straight road of development towards harmony and peace. Yet the worth of working for conditions for concord is never denied. The important questions which emerge are: How feasible is the lessening of violent tendencies in society? Can changes in the individual affect society as a whole? When there is violence inherent in the structures of society, what steps can be taken?

To take the possibility for change within the individual first, certain passages from the texts suggest that the Buddha had rather a low opinion of the puthujjana and his or her ability to change. Verse 174 of the Dhammapada reads:

Blind is the world
Few are those who clearly see.
As birds escape from a net
Few go to a blissful state.

His sermons show that he recognizes that reaching people set on material things with a new message is difficult because their perception and ability to hear has been conditioned by the pattern of their craving:

But this situation exists, Sunakkhatta, when some individual here may be set on the material things of this world (lokamisadhimutto), and the talk of the individual who is set on the material things of this world follows a pattern in accordance with which he reflects and ponders, and he associates with that man under whom he finds felicity; but when there is talk about imperturbability (ananja) he does not listen, does not lend an ear, does not rouse his mind to profound knowledge, and he does not associate with that man under whom he does not find felicity.[67]

A bad man, monks, is possessed of bad states of mind, he consorts with bad men, he thinks as do bad men, he advises as do bad men, he speaks as do bad men, he acts as do bad men, he has the views of bad men, he gives gifts as do bad men…

And how, monks, does a bad man act as do bad men? As to this monks, a bad man is one to make onslaught on creatures, to take what has not been given, to enjoy himself wrongly…[68]

In one passage, a prince, Prince Jayasena, is pictured in conversation with a novice monk who speaks about aloofness and one-pointedness of mind. On the evidence given, the prince declares such an achievement to be impossible. Confused, the novice goes to the Buddha, who says that such direct teaching could not possibly have been understood by one of such a lifestyle as the prince:

That Prince Jayasena, living as he does in the midst of sense pleasures, enjoying sense pleasures, being consumed by thoughts of sense pleasures, burning with the fever of sense pleasure, eager in the search of sense pleasures, should know or see or attain or realize that which can be known by renunciation, realized by renunciation — such a situation does not exist.[69]

The above passages might seem to imply the reverse of hope on the very same ground as hope was confirmed in the introduction to this section — paticca samuppada. If perception is conditioned by a person’s lifestyle, the friends he or she chooses, and greed for material objects, then appreciation of another set of values will not arise from that nourishment. Such an argument would seem to be realistic given the framework of conditionality. However, this realism must be balanced with instances in the texts where change does take place in the lives of individuals.

The case of Angulimala is one of the best known and most frequently quoted. Angulimala is a multiple murderer, the terror of Savatthi. He is described as having depopulated villages and districts through his urge to kill. The Angulimala Sutta describes the story.[70] The Buddha, ignoring the fear of the people, sets out by himself toward where Angulimala is said to be. Angulimala, on seeing him, decides to give him the same fate as others who had dared to walk the roads. However, at this point, the Buddha uses a technique which slaps Angulimala so hard that he gains sudden insight into the futility of the path he had been taking. The Buddha uses his psychic power to ensure that Angulimala cannot catch up with him, however much effort he applies. This opens up the opportunity for the question of walking and standing still to be raised. Angulimala is forced into the realization that his life has been a futile chase, a fretful searching, without peace or fulfillment. The tranquillity of the Buddha contrasts sharply with his own turbulence and the destructive state of his mind. The contrast makes him see the nature of his mind. A revolution — in its true sense of a complete turning around — takes place. Angulimala, the murderer, becomes a completely changed person. He asks the Buddha for ordination as a monk, and soon becomes an arahant, a saint.

Some interpretations have attempted to explain this in terms of a form of grace coming from the Buddha to the murderer. No doubt the person of the Buddha had a profound effect on the man. The sheer contrast between the states of mind and consequent physical appearance and bearing of the two would have shaped the event. Yet it is perhaps more helpful to think of Angulimala as being ready to change, ready to face what he was doing to his life. The Buddha’s words acted as a sudden jolt to shock him into realization and change. A similar transformation can be seen at the end of the Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta, mentioned earlier, when bestiality has overtaken society to the point that a reaction takes place. At the point when beings think of one another as wild beasts, some begin to think:

Let us not slay anyone; nor just let anyone slay us. Let us now, therefore, take ourselves to dens of grass, or dens in the jungle, or holes in trees, or river fastnesses, or mountain clefts and subsist on fruits and on roots of the jungle.[71]

The depth of barbarism causes a reversal, a disgust with the nourishment on which violent thoughts were feeding. Something new seems to enter but it is nevertheless part of the ongoing causal process. The important point is that there can be a stage at which the unwholesome is recognized as such by those who are perpetrating it. The process through which those who followed the Buddha saw the household life as a fetter, a state in which it was difficult to avoid greed, materialism and competitiveness, to a certain extent parallels this.[72]

That it is possible for people to change accords with human experience. It is also worth going back to the advice given to the novice who had tried to instruct Prince Jayasena.[73] The story does not end with the Buddha’s words about the impossibility of reaching the mind of the prince. An alternative method is stressed — gradual training. The Buddha explains that the prince might have understood if told that the process of understanding was gradual. The simile of the training of an elephant is used: At first, the elephant is brought from the forest into the open; he is addressed with kindly words and fed; then tasks are given to him, progressing from the simple to the more complex up to the point where the animal can endure blows of the sword and the din of war without flinching.

The stress on a gradual process of change and training, beginning with moral habit, stretches like a thread across the Buddhist texts. There is a firm belief that discipline, education and the taking of one step at a time can lead people from a state of relative ignorance to greater wisdom. The possibility of gradual change must be admitted alongside the sudden change of Angulimala. The two are complementary.

In the Kevaddha Sutta, Kevaddha, a young householder, comes to the Buddha and pleads with him to perform a mystic wonder.[74] The Buddha names three wonders of which he has knowledge: the mystic, the wonder of manifestation, and the wonder of education. The first two are to be feared and abhorred. It was the latter which was to be praised as the most worthy — the wonder of education. Change through a gradual process is, therefore, deemed possible but it is also recognized as something of a wonder, given the strength of craving and grasping.

Evidence that groups of both lay and ordained people were following the gradual training comes from the Maha-parinibbana Sutta. The sutta speaks of the fourfold society being a reality — the fourfold society as composed of monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen. Mara is seen to approach the Buddha, urging him to die because the task he had set himself earlier had been completed:

Now is the time for the Exalted One to pass away — even according to the word which the Exalted One spoke when he said, “I shall not die, O Evil One, until the brethren and the sisters of the Order and until the lay disciples of both sex shall have become true hearers, wise and well-trained, ready and learned, carrying the doctrine in their memory, masters of the lesser corollaries that follow from the larger doctrine, correct in life, walking according to the precepts — until they, having thus themselves learned the doctrine, shall be able to tell others of it, preach it, make it known, establish it, open it, minutely explain it and make it clear.”[75]

In the above description, both lay and ordained are described with the same adjectives. Lay people as well as ordained are credited with considerable knowledge. There are grounds of hope here, since the first stage of gradual training is morality, the foundation of which is the Five Precepts. All of these are linked with abstaining from different forms of violence: direct and indirect killing; theft; the exploitation of women; the violence connected with speech; violence to oneself through the use of drugs. The Early Buddhist texts are replete with exhortations to keep the precepts. Heaven and hell, bliss and torture, are held up and paeans of praise are given to those who follow them:

Faint is the fragrance of tagara and sandal
But the fragrance of the virtuous is excellent
Wafting even among the gods.

Dhp. v. 56.

There are examples, however, of lay people going beyond morality. Pessa, the son of an elephant trainer, claims:

And, revered sir, we householders too, dressed in white, from time to time dwell with our minds well applied to the four applications of mindfulness (catusu satipatthanesu).[76]

Pessa receives the recognition and praise of the Buddha for this. It is significant that mindfulness is crucial in halting the flow of mind, in halting papañca, as described earlier, and the violent thoughts which might consequently flow. The key to mindfulness is the development of the ability to stand aside, detached from what is happening to the body, to feeling, to thought processes and mental objects,[77] so that ever arising and passing movement, feelings and thoughts are carefully charted. It is an approach which recognizes both anicca and anatta: anicca because what is attended to is seen as an ever-changing process; anatta, because the elements of the process are not assumed to belong to the person and therefore are not clung to as unchanging truths. Mindfulness (satipatthana) in fact can stop the mind before obsessions based on tanha, mana and ditthi can grow.

Guarding the doors of the senses (indriya samvara) is one form of practice of mindfulness, frequently mentioned as the second step in the gradual training. The traditional way of describing this is:

Having seen a visible form with the eye, he is not entranced by the general appearance, he is not entranced by the detail. If he dwells with his organ of sight uncontrolled, covetousness and dejection, evil unskilled states of mind, might predominate. So he fares along controlling it, he guards the organ of sight, he achieves control over the organ of sight.[78]

The same is said of the other sense organs. A guard is placed at the point where contact between the sense and the sense object results in feeling (vedana). Knowledge of how the mind works is gained. Mindfulness is thus an antidote to papañca and stops the mechanism through which papañca develops. It demands effort and discipline. The texts show that such mind-culture is possible and suggest that it would lead to the lessening of violence as an expression of personal greed.

The example of the Sangha, the Order of Monks, must also be looked at. No compromises were made concerning violence when it came to the monk. The Sangha was intended to be a model of harmonious interpersonal relationships. It was to provide an alternative set of values to lay people, to present a pattern of sharing rather than of competitive individualism.[79] If the Sangha had been able to carry out successfully this role, a disturbing challenge would have been presented to the communities among which the monks walked.

The Kakacupama Sutta is one of the best examples of the extent to which violent retaliation was condemned for the monk. The key sentence, repeated many times, speaks of the attitude to be cultivated in the face of abuse or violence:

Neither will my mind become perverted, nor will I utter evil speech, but kindly and compassionate will I dwell with a mind of friendliness and devoid of hatred (mettacitto no dosantaro).

What is significant is the extent to which this is to be taken:

Monks, as low-down thieves might carve one limb from limb with a double-handed saw, yet even then whoever sets his mind at enmity, he, for this reason, is not a doer of my teaching. Herein, monks, you must train yourself: Neither will our minds become perverted… devoid of hatred.[80]

The Punnovada Sutta describes a monk who took this teaching to heart. He intends to travel to a district where the people are known to be hostile. The Buddha questions him about how he will deal with abuse and violence. Possibilities are mentioned, increasing each time in intensity from verbal abuse to loss of life. After each one, Punna responds by saying that he would be thankful that the abuse was not even more serious. When the Buddha finally mentions murder, he says:

If the people of Sunaparanta deprive me of life with a sharp knife, revered sir, it will be thus for me there; I will say, “There are disciples of the Lord who, disgusted by the body and the life-principle and ashamed of them, look about for a knife. I have come to this knife without having looked for it.”[81]

He is said to have made a thousand followers, suggesting that his attitude became a true inspiration to a people who were characterized by violence.

In contrast to the above, there are examples of monks presenting a harmful example to lay people. As the Sangha grew in number and in reputation, the initial enthusiasm of the first disciples became diffused. Evidence in suttas such as the Bhaddali Sutta, the Kakacupama Sutta, the Kitagiri Sutta and the Anumana Sutta[82] shows that there were forces of deterioration. Some monks were difficult to exhort; some were rebellious towards the rules; some were incapable of taking correction from others. In this way, their ability to provide an example to lay people would have been weakened. Yet it would be wrong to place too much emphasis on this weakness. Other suttas can be quoted to show what an impact the Buddha’s followers had on other groups of wanderers and even on kings.[83]

The important point here is that hope for change in the Early Buddhist texts also lies in the Sangha as example and educator. Lay people were encouraged to show devotion to the Sangha and to listen to its teaching. As outlined above, there is evidence that there was a body of lay people who were very serious in their striving to undertake the precepts and to train their mind so that tanha could be reduced. That change in the individual is possible is confirmed by a study of the early followers.

The above picture combines hope with realism. The obstacles mentioned at the beginning of the section must not be overlooked; the barriers to change are great. According to Buddhism the average person (puthujjana) will often need the threat of punishment, either in the present or in a future life, to be deterred from socially disruptive activities. It has also been pointed out that it is not enough to concentrate on the individual. A society is more than the sum of its individuals. Just as the human person is such because of the specific relationship between the five khandhas, so a society takes on its character because of the way in which its parts are organized through institutions, traditions and external influences.

The next question which must be looked at is how the individual can affect society as a whole or, more exactly, what the consequences are when a person follows the gradual training of Buddhism. As with the other questions raised, the method of this paper is to discover what the texts say, to uncover the guidelines or resources they provide for the analysis of contemporary issues.

In a previous section it was suggested that one of the causes of violence was the proliferation of concepts and ideas flowing from the perceptual process when governed by tanha, mana and ditthi. Is the answer, then, a retreat into silence and inaction away from all concepts? The evidence suggests not. The Buddha was quick to condemn any inference that he taught a doctrine of either inaction or apathy. One example will illustrate this. The Buddha is seen in conversation with a person called Potaliya. Potaliya declares that the most worthy person is the one who speaks neither in dispraise of what deserves not praise nor in praise of the praiseworthy. He advocates what would seem a complete withdrawal from judgment and a supreme detachment from the issues governing society. And the term Potaliya uses to describe the frame of mind he is talking about is upekkha — equanimity.

The Buddha, however, disagrees with him. Far better is the person of discrimination who speaks in dispraise of the unworthy and in praise of the praiseworthy, saying seasonably what is factual and the truth. In other words, he challenges the view that upekkha (equanimity) means the quality Potaliya advocates. The Buddha puts forward another quality:

Now, Potaliya, there are these four persons existing in the world… Of these four persons, Potaliya, he who speaks in dispraise of what deserves not praise and in praise of the praiseworthy, saying seasonably what is fact and true — he is the most admirable and rare. Why so? Because, Potaliya, his discrimination of proper occasions (kalaññuta) is admirable.[84]

The Buddha mentions the quality of kalaññuta, in place of the word used by Potaliya — upekkha. The translation given by the Pali Text Society is “discrimination of proper occasions.” The ability to discriminate and make objective evaluations, not indifference, is the consequence of curbing papañca. A certain silence of the mind is indicated but it is not the silence of apathy. The proliferation of concepts which is papañca results in an obscuring of the empirical, since this proliferation moves one further and further away from the empirical because of the linguistic edifice of “therefore” and “therein” erected on top of the initial emotion of like or aversion. Preventing the erection of this edifice on the foundation of tanha leads to a clearer perception of the empirical and to judgments and analyses being made with greater validity. The conclusions reached through papañca may seem to be analytical. They are not. Resisting papañca is not a moving away from analysis but a moving towards objective analysis unclouded by emotional responses. It is this kind of analysis which is so often lacking when there is violence and conflict in society.

When perceptions, judgments and consequent action are governed by the roots of papañca, there will be no objectivity but a danger that obsessions will grow. When papañca is allayed, what is good and bad, kusala and akusala, praiseworthy and blameworthy, will be more clearly visible. The injustices in society, for instance, will be more apparent. Judgments about those who are oppressed in society or about those who gain wealth illegally through violence and extortion will not be clouded either by the tendency to look down on those who suffer or the wish to gain patronage from the wealthy. What is wrong and what is right, what harms and what promotes happiness, will stand out untouched by personal wishes or personal greed.

This clarity of judgment can be seen in the words of the Buddha. In the Assalayana Sutta, the Aggañña Sutta and the Madhura Sutta the caste system is vigorously opposed.[85] The Esukari Sutta condemns the kind of service which becomes slavery.[86] Meaningless ritual is attacked in the Sigalovada Sutta.[87] Brahmanical excesses are uncovered in the Brahmajala Sutta, the Ambattha Sutta and the Tevijja Sutta.[88] The violence and shame of sacrifices is condemned in the Kutadanta Sutta.[89] These are not the only examples. The Buddha is revealed as a person who was unafraid to point out wrong when he saw it and to use uncompromising words. It is this kind of effective speech and action which should flow when tanha, mana and ditthi are reduced.

Abstention from the harmful or violent is not enough by itself. The texts stress that the active cultivation of the opposite is necessary. A replacement is needed as well as an annihilation. This is seen at lay level as well as among the ordained. For instance, in the Saleyyaka Sutta, addressed specifically to lay people, the two courses of faring by Dhamma and not-Dhamma are explained. Malevolence is explained by reference to the wish to kill:

He is malevolent in mind, corrupt in thought and purpose, and thinks: “Let these beings be killed or slaughtered or annihilated or destroyed or may they not exist at all.”[90]

Faring by Dhamma is explained in opposite terms and yet the effect is not merely a negation of or a restraining from not-Dhamma but the practice of positive virtue. So, the one who abandons slanderous speech becomes “a reconciler of those who are at variance and one who combines those who are friends.” The one who restrains himself from malevolent thought is the one who thinks: “Let those beings, friendly, peaceful, secure, happy, look after self.”[91] Similarly, during meditation, positive qualities are to be cultivated to replace the five hindrances. For instance:

Putting away ill-will and hatred (vyapadapadosa), he abides with heart free from enmity (avyapannacitta), benevolent and compassionate towards every living being (sabbe panabhutahitanukampi) and purifies his mind of malevolence.[92]

The Early Buddhist emphasis, therefore, indicates that the eradication of the tendencies which cause violence leads to greater realism, the growth of positive, wholesome qualities and more effective speech and action against what is unjust and exploitative. An important question, however, remains unanswered, the third question mentioned at the beginning of this section: When there is violence inherent in the structures of society as a whole, what steps can be taken?

In many societies, violence is institutionalized in structures which oppress certain sections of the people. Some would mention the caste system in India in this context, corrupt trading practices, or the forces which keep some groups of people poor. On the other hand, violence can flow from the monarchy or state, from internal terrorist groups or an outside threat. In these situations, violence is rarely lessened by changes in a few individuals, unless these individuals have considerable power. What strategies should be used to oppose such violence? Is there any situation where violence should be met with violence? Is there a different path for the lay person than for the monk? Is there a situation where it might be justifiable to overthrow the state? If so, could this lead to a changed society? If undeserved suffering occurs because of the greed of others, do the demands of compassion (karuna) ever involve what could be called violent resistance to the perpetrators? These are crucial questions in the light of current world tensions such as racial injustice, capitalistic monopolies, terrorism and fascism. The question here is whether any guidelines can be gained from the Buddhist texts themselves.

There is no doubt that the person who renounces the household life is called to abstain from violence completely. It is one of the hallmarks of the bhikkhu. Not to react in violent retaliation to abuse was part of the training of the disciple. Where there was state-instigated violence, the Early Buddhist position seems to have been that the Sangha could act as advisers to rulers and, in this capacity, could raise issues connected with righteous government, but it could not become involved in violent resistance. As for the lay follower of the Buddha, he or she undertakes to desist from harming others through the first precept. To break this intentionally is to risk serious kammic consequences. For the lay person, as for the monk, the approved line of action would seem to be advice and non-violent pressure or resistance towards those in a position to change violent structures.

A different set of responsibilities, however, is laid on the state itself. As previously discussed, rulers with the protection of their citizens at heart were inevitably drawn into conflict when threatened by aggression. The question can therefore be raised as to whether non-violence is an absolute value in Buddhism. For instance, is a father, as head and protector of the family, justified in using violence against a person forcefully entering his house with the intention to kill? Has an elder sister the duty to protect a younger brother if he is attacked violently, by using similar violence? Has a group of citizens the right to kill a dictator if, by doing so, they might save the lives of oppressed minorities to whom the citizens feel a duty? Should the terrorist gun be challenged with similar methods? These are areas where absolutes seem to break down. As a ruler might realize that some aggressor cannot be deterred by persuasion, so some citizens might feel that violence or injustice in society cannot be stopped merely by giving advice to those in power. That lay people should never initiate violence where there is harmony or use it against the innocent is very clear. That they should not attempt to protect those under their care if the only way of doing so is to use defensive violence is not so clear.

Guidelines about the consequences of violence, however, are laid down. The danger of violence, even if it is defensive, is that it will generate further violence. Non-hatred (avera) and loving kindness are the powers which halt it. Metta (loving kindness) is shown to have great power: it can turn away the poison of a snake or the charge of an elephant;[93] it can render burning ghee harmless.[94] The latter story concerns a wife, Uttara, who is married to an unbeliever. A courtesan, Sirima, is given to her husband so that Uttara can be released to attend on religious duties. A quarrel arises between the two women which ends in Sirima pouring boiling ghee over Uttara. As she prepares to do this, Uttara thinks: “My companion has done me a favor. The circle of the earth is too narrow, the world of the devas is too low, but the virtue of my compassion is great because by her help, I have become able to give alms and listen to Dhamma. If I am angry with her may this ghee burn me; if not, let it not burn me.” The ghee does not burn. Sirima tries again. Then the other women present attack Sirima and throw her to the ground. Uttara continues to show compassion by coming to her rescue, by preventing her from being hurt.

Responding to violence with metta and non-anger is deemed superior to any other path. Non-violent resistance is clearly the best path. Yet Buddhism cannot claim to be completely pacifistic. Absolutes of that kind cannot be found and perhaps should not be sought for in a teaching which spoke of the danger of claiming of a view, “this alone is truth, all else is falsehood.” The person who feels violence is justified to protect the lives of others has indeed to take the consequences into account. He has to remember that he is risking grave consequences for himself in that his actions will inevitably bear fruit. He or she has to be aware that there is a dynamism within hatred and violence when the causal chain has not had its nourishment removed. Such a person needs to evaluate motives in the knowledge that violent tendencies are rooted in the defilements of lobha, dosa and moha, and in the obsessions generated by papañca. Yet that person might still judge that the risks are worth facing to prevent a greater evil. Whether the assassination of Hitler would have prevented numerous innocent deaths is still an open question.

In conclusion, it can be said that Buddhism lays down a form of mental culture to lessen the mind’s tendency to veer towards violence. However, it is a culture which involves qualities of faith (saddha) and effort (vayama) that many in society are unable to cultivate. Therefore punishment either by the state or in an after-life is seen as a valid deterrent for extremes of violence. However, where violence flows directly and unjustifiably from the state or from other groups or institutions, questions are raised which are not dealt with directly by the texts. The drawing of conclusions is therefore fraught with difficulty. Yet these questions must be tackled if Buddhism is to provide guidelines in a violent world. What seems to emerge from the above analysis is that non-violence in the face of violence, although preferable for all and incumbent on the monk, is not a moral absolute in all circumstances.


It was claimed at the beginning that the advent of the nuclear bomb had issued in a new era of violence and that Buddhism should be able to address this development. The foregoing analysis started from a study of the Buddha’s awareness of violence in his own society and passed to questions concerning the condemnation of violence, the roots of violence, and the possibilities for its eradication or reduction. Each of these issues has relevance for the present age, although it has been pointed out that many conditions have changed between the sixth century B.C. and the twentieth century A.D.

One area in which difference can be seen is in the nature of warfare. In the Buddha’s time, professional armies were used to settle conflicts. Although civilians were no doubt killed as victorious armies took their plunder, it was the army itself which bore the brunt of the slaughter. Today the cost in civilian, animal and plant life in any future nuclear war is thinkable only in terms of the most horrific nightmare. The duty of the Cakkavatti King might be to defend his people. Yet no nuclear weapon can be used in defense. If it was, it would prove the Buddhist view that the use of violence leads to escalation. The slim, ever-shaky defense that nuclear weapons provide is MAD — Mutually Assured Destruction — an uneasy, computer-controlled peace feeding on fear and the willingness to annihilate millions in retaliation, if the other side dares to be the aggressor.

It would seem that, in nuclear weapons, man has created something out of his greed which now makes him victim. The analysis given earlier about the effects of papañca and the process of perception is relevant here. Some people might see the development of ever more sophisticated weapons of destruction as the result of objective, scientific probing into the nature of reality, in this case the use of the atom. An approach more in accordance with Buddhism would be to see the root as tanha, mana and ditthi: the craving for power over the material world and over other people; the wish to protect self and judge other groups as inferior; the clinging to one ideology whilst condemning all others. The result of tanha, mana and ditthi is papañca, the proliferation of ideas which turn the so-called perceiver into the victim of obsessions bearing little relation to the empirical. Nuclear and chemical weapons are horrific projections of the human mind. It has come to the point where they possess the mind rather than the mind the weapons. Humanity is now the victim.

Within this atmosphere, one may ask how effective change in the individual is and whether the few who work to conquer tanha, mana and ditthi can act as leaven within the whole. The obstacles are great today as they were in the Buddha’s time. The Buddha saw the puthujjana as a person hard to convince or change, given the strength of craving and views. Today, ideas have a charismatic force. Nationalism, ethnicity and religion, for instance, push groups towards violence. They form ego-feeding, identity-creating creeds which are hard to break down. In such situations, empirical evidence shows that some who try to show the alternative force of metta become the victims of violence, at least in the frame of their present life.

Two insights from the foregoing study are relevant here: the reaction which took place in the Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta and the interdependent nature of the environmental and the psychological. In the Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta, the truth that violence leads to greater violence and crime to ever-deepening bestiality eventually pierces the consciousness of some members of society as they see what is happening around them. Some realize that change is possible through a change in thought patterns. A reaction takes place after the trough of bestiality has been reached. Today, there are those who are “turning around,” who are realizing how destructive and bestial is the present and potential violence in the world. However, for just as long as the external environment remains tension-creating, the rise of violent tendencies will continue. Similar injustices exist today as are mentioned in the Kutadanta Sutta, but their scope has altered and widened to include relationships between blocks of countries as well as within countries. In most countries of the world, the poor are becoming poorer. Between countries, the richer nations are becoming richer at the expense of the poorer. The warning which the Buddhist texts give is that such conditions breed violence and that the arm of the law or the gun will not curb it. Only change at the level of the root causes will create more peaceful conditions. This is one of the gravest challenges which the world faces, since it points to a complete re-drawing of the world economic system. The formidable obstacle in the way of such change is tanha in those with power or economic might — for profit, influence and a luxurious lifestyle.

One reaction of the individual to the above tension is complete withdrawal into a life of inaction. This was evidently a temptation in the sixth century B.C. It has been a temptation across all religions throughout the centuries. The mistake is to confuse renunciation and inaction, detachment (viraga) and apathy. The life of renunciation aims at detachment from raga, dosa and moha, but the result should not be apathy but rather greater compassion (karuna) and loving kindness (metta). In the Samanamandika Sutta, a wanderer, Uggahamana, declares that the one who does no evil deed with his body, speaks no evil speech, intends no evil intention and leads no evil livelihood is the recluse who has obtained the most worthy end. The Buddha responds:

This being so carpenter, then according to the speech of Uggahamana a young baby boy lying on its back would be of abounding skill, of the highest skill, an unconquerable recluse, attained to the highest attainments.[95]

In contrast, the Buddha lays down the importance of developing wholesome qualities, not merely abstaining from what is unwholesome. The demands of the Eightfold Path are stressed, demands incumbent not only on the monk but on all followers:

As to this, carpenter, a monk is endowed with the perfect view of an adept, he is endowed with the perfect intention of an adept,… the perfect speech… the perfect action… the perfect mode of livelihood… the perfect endeavor… the perfect mindfulness… the perfect concentration… the perfect knowledge of an adept (sammananena), he is endowed with the perfect freedom of an adept.[96]

In a violent world, therefore, the duty of the Buddhist disciple is not inactive withdrawal or apathy but culture of the mind to root out personal defilements so that perception and judgment can be unbiased and objective; cultivation of positive qualities which will create harmony and peace; and, most important, a readiness to speak out and act against what is blameworthy and in praise of what is worthy of praise.



DN …. Digha Nikaya
MN …. Majjhima Nikaya
SN …. Samyutta Nikaya
AN …. Anguttara Nikaya
Dhp …. Dhammapada
Snp …. Sutta Nipata

Textual references have been taken from the Pali Text Society’s editions of the Nikayas. Unless specified otherwise, English translations have been taken from the PTS versions, though some have been slightly altered.


Utilitarianism is a philosophy which claims that the ultimate end of action should be the creation of human happiness. Actions should be judged according to whether they promote the greatest happiness of the greatest number. The most important exponent of this philosophy was the nineteenth century British thinker John Stuart Mill. One of the weaknesses of utilitarianism is that it can be used to justify the violation of minority rights.


Reference may be made to many texts which stress that encouraging others to do harm is blameworthy. AN ii,215, for instance, speaks of the unworthy man and the more unworthy man, the latter being one who encourages others to do harmful actions such as killing living beings.


MN 95/ii,167.


The Kosala Samyutta (Samyutta Nikaya, vol. 1) records the conversations which this king had with the Buddha. The examples mentioned have been taken from this section.


SN i,97.


MN 13/i,86-87.


MN 13/i,87.


SN iv,343.


In several suttas, the Buddha comes across groups of wanderers engaged in heated discussions about kings, robbers, armies, etc. (e.g., DN iii,37; MN ii,1). In contrast, the Buddha advised his disciples either to maintain noble silence or to speak about the Dhamma.


See Romila Thapar, A History of India (Pelican Books UK, 1966), chapter 3.


SN i,75.


MN 36/i,227ff.


MN 12/i,68ff.


At the end of the Buddha’s description of his austerities in the Maha-Saccaka Sutta he says: “And some recluses and brahmans are now experiencing feelings that are acute, painful, sharp, severe; but this is paramount, nor is there worse than this. But I, by this severe austerity, do not reach states of further men, the excellent knowledge and vision befitting the Ariyans. Could there be another way to awakening?” (MN i,246).


The Mahasakuludayi Sutta (MN 77/ii,1ff.) reflects contemporary realities when a town plays hosts to various groups of wanderers.


DN 25/iii,38.


DN 8/i,162.


Trevor Ling, The Buddha — Buddhist civilization in India and Ceylon (Penquin Books UK, 1973).


See Esukari Sutta, MN 96.


SN iv,330ff.


DN 31.


Reference can be made to the following: (a) AN i,188ff. The Buddha’s advice to the Kalamas. (b) AN ii,167ff. The Buddha advises the monks to scrutinize closely anything said to have come from his mouth. (c) Canki Sutta: MN 95/ii,170-71. The Buddha says that belief, reasoning and personal preference are not guarantees of truth. (d) Vimamsaka Sutta: MN 47. The Buddha urges his disciples to examine his own conduct before deciding whether he is an Enlightened One, and to investigate empirical evidence rather than accept things through blind faith.


The following texts provide fuller discussions about paticca samuppada: (a) Sammaditthi Sutta: MN 9. (b) Mahatanhasankhaya Sutta: MN 38. (c) Maha-nidana Sutta: DN 15.


MN 99/ii,197.


MN 96/ii,177ff.


AN ii,42.


Reference may be made to the following: (a) Assalayana Sutta: MN 93. (b) Madhura Sutta: MN 84. (c) AN ii,84. Here, four types of people are mentioned, two of whom are bound for light and two of whom are bound for darkness. Deeds, not birth, is the criterion for the divisions between the two sets.


For instance, the Kutadanta Sutta and the Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta, to be discussed below.


The Mahadukkhakkhandha Sutta (MN 13) is an example.


SN i,100ff.


Therigatha vv. 105-6 (Sona).


MN 61/i,415-16.


MN 8/i,44-45.


AN ii,191.


Metta and karuna, as two of the brahmaviharas, are mentioned at DN i,250-51, MN i,38, etc.


AN i,51.


MN 135/iii,303.


MN 129/iii,169-70. A similar approach is adopted in the Devaduta Sutta: MN 130/iii,178ff.


The Petavatthu is one of the books of the Khuddaka Nikaya. It contains 51 stories in four chapters, all concerning the petas, a class of ghost-like beings who have fallen from the human plane because of misdeeds done.


DN 26/iii,61.


DN 16/iii,72ff.


SN i,82.


SN i,83.


SN i,101.


SN iv,308.


AN ii,121ff.


Snp. vv. 935-38. Translation by H. Saddhatissa (Curzon Press, 1985).


DN 5/i,135.


DN 26/iii,61.


DN iii,73.


AN ii,74.


DN 27/iii,85.


DN iii,92.


MN 2/i,7. The description of the puthujjana is a stock passage recurring throughout the Canon.


See SN iv,195.


AN ii,211.


MN 18/i,109-10.


Bhikkhu Nanananda, Concept and Reality in Early Buddhist Thought (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1971).


MN 18/i,111-12.


Concept and Reality, p.6.


Immanuel Kant, 1724-1804. His major work, The Critique of Pure Reason, studies the place of a priori ideas in the formation of concepts and examines the role of reason and speculative metaphysics.


AN i,188; AN ii,190.


DN 1. See e.g., DN i,16: “In the fourth case, monks, some recluse or brahman is addicted to logic and reasoning. He gives utterance to the following conclusion of his own, beaten out by his argumentations and based on his sophistry…”


MN 74/i,497.


Snp. 824-34; Snp. 862-77.


AN ii,173ff. The Buddha here quotes three views which result in inaction: (i) that all feelings are due to previous kamma; (ii) that all feelings are due to a supreme deity; and (iii) that all feelings are without cause or condition.


MN 105/ii,253.


MN 110/iii,21-22.


MN 125/iii,129-30.


MN 86/ii,98ff.


DN 26/iii,73.


A stock passage found in many suttas (e.g., MN 51/i,344) extols the homeless life as the only way “to fare the holy life completely fulfilled, completely purified, polished like a conch shell.”


Dantabhumi Sutta: MN 125/iii,128ff.


DN 11/i,211.


DN 16/ii,104.


MN 51/i,340.


Body, feelings, thoughts and mental objects are the four foundations of mindfulness (see DN 22, MN 10).


MN 27/i,181, and elsewhere.


This point is developed in Trevor Ling, The Buddha.


MN 21/i,129.


MN 145/iii,269.


Respectively MN 65, MN 21, MN 70, MN 15.


The Mahasakuludayi Sutta (MN 77) and the Dhammacetiya Sutta (MN 89) describe the impact which the general concord of the Buddha’s followers had respectively on groups of wanderers at Rajagaha and on King Pasenadi.


AN ii,100.


Respectively MN 93, DN 27, MN 84.


MN 96.


DN 31/iii,181.


Respectively DN 1, DN 3, DN 11.


DN 5.


MN 41/i,287.


MN 41/i,288.


DN 2/i,71 and elsewhere.


See AN ii,71. A monk dies of snakebite, and the Buddha declares that if he had suffused the four royal families of snakes with a heart of metta, he would not have died. A story in the Cullavagga of the Vinaya Pitaka relates how the Buddha’s envious cousin, Devadatta, tried to kill him by releasing a notoriously ferocious elephant called Nalagiri at him in the streets of Rajagaha. The Buddha is said to have subdued it by exercising metta and karuna, so that the elephant lowered its trunk and stopped before the Buddha. Hiuen-Tsang refers to a stupa at the place where this is said to have happened.


Vimanavatthu, No. 15.


MN 78/ii,24.


MN 78/ii,29.

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©1990 Elizabeth J.

The Wheel Publication No. 392/393 (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1994). Transcribed from the print edition in 1994 under the auspices of the DharmaNet Dharma Book Transcription Project, with the kind permission of the Buddhist Publication Society.

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How to cite this document (one suggested style): “Violence and Disruption in Society: A Study of the Early Buddhist Texts”, by Elizabeth J. Harris. Access to Insight, June 7, 2010,

Editor’s note: Originally published in Dialogue, New Series Vo. XVII (1990) by The Ecumenical Institute for Study & Dialogue, 490/5 Havelock Road, Colombo 6, Sri Lanka. Reprinted in the Wheel series with the consent of the author and the original publisher

Nearly all the world’s greatest religious teachers have been peacemakers, and the Buddha was certainly one of these. Among the ethical precepts of his “Eightfold Path” was “Right Action,” which included avoiding all killing.

A legend is told of two kingdoms on the brink of battle. Each claimed the right to irrigate lands from a river flowing between. The Buddha asked the two kings, “What is the water worth?” “Very little,” was the reply. “And what is a life worth?” “It is priceless.” “Then why would you trade something priceless for something of little worth?”

According to tradition, the following tale was told by the Buddha himself to monks whose quarrel had reached the point of violence.

Once long ago, there arose a quarrel between two kings.

One king was the great Brahmadatta. His kingdom was large and rich, and his troops were many. The other king was Dighiti. His kingdom was small and poor, and his troops were few.

Brahmadatta told his generals, “We will march against Dighiti and conquer his kingdom. He will not be able to resist me.”

When Dighiti heard of the army’s advance, he told Deva, his queen, “Nothing we do can prevent Brahmadatta from seizing our country. For the sake of our people, it is best to avoid a battle. Let us flee from the kingdom tonight.”

Deva asked, “Where can we go?”

“We will go to Brahmadatta’s own capital city, Benares. It is large enough to hide in, and he will never search for us there.”

So they took their young son, Dighavu, and fled by night to Benares. There they lodged in a poor quarter of the city. King Dighiti disguised himself as a wandering holy man and each day begged enough coins and food for them all.

Time passed and the prince grew toward manhood. Then King Dighiti told his wife, “Truly is it said, we may forgive those who hurt us, but we never forgive those we hurt. If Brahmadatta finds us here, he will surely kill us all. It is best to send our son from the city.”

The queen said, “Let him go to my parents in the west. There he can learn the arts and sciences proper to his estate.” So they sent the prince away.

Now, it happened that the barber from the court of King Dighiti was at this time at work in the court of Brahmadatta. One day, the barber caught sight of Dighiti in the marketplace, begging in the guise of a holy man. Hoping for reward, he secretly followed Dighiti to his home, then reported to Brahmadatta.

Brahmadatta sent his men to arrest the family. Dighiti and Deva were brought before him.

“Where is your son?” demanded Brahmadatta.

“Beyond your reach,” replied Dighiti.

Brahmadatta turned to one of his generals. “Tie them up and cart them around the city for all to see and scorn. Then take them out the south gate and execute them by the sword. Allow no one to perform the funeral rites. Their bodies shall be prey to birds and beasts.”

Now, on that very day, Prince Dighavu had come back to Benares to visit his parents. As he passed through the marketplace, he saw soldiers on horse and on foot, and among them a cart, and tied up in the cart, his mother and his father. And he was powerless to help them.

King Dighiti saw the prince as well. Wishing to advise his son, yet mindful not to give him away, Dighiti called out as if to no one. And these were his words:

Be not shortsighted.
Be not longsighted.
Not by violence is violence ended.
Violence is ended by nonviolence.

As darkness fell, King Dighiti and Queen Deva were taken outside the city walls and executed by the sword. Their bodies were left on the ground, with a dozen soldiers standing guard.

Within the city, Prince Dighavu told himself, “First I will perform the funeral rites for my parents. Then I will find a way to avenge them.”

He bought strong wine in the marketplace and brought it to the guards. They took it gladly, and soon lay drunk and asleep.

Dighavu piled up wood, placed his parents’ bodies on top, then lit the funeral pyre. He pressed his palms together and walked three times around the flames.

At that moment, at the royal palace, Brahmadatta was strolling upon his roof terrace, puzzling over the words of King Dighiti that had been reported to him. Gazing far south, over the city wall, he spied the fire and the figure circling it.

“It must be Prince Dighavu,” he told himself. And a cold fear gripped his heart.

The prince, his duty complete, slipped quickly into the forest. For days he stayed there, hiding from Brahmadatta’s men while grieving for his parents.

At last, the danger and the tears had passed, and Dighavu entered the city once more. At the royal elephant stables, he took work as an apprentice.

And so it was one morning that Dighavu rose early, sat before the stables, and sang to greet the dawn. His voice drifted to the palace and to the balcony of King Brahmadatta, who had also risen early, wakened by a fearful dream.

“How lovely,” said the king. “I have need of such music to ease my mind.”

He sent for the singer, and Dighavu was brought before him.

“Sing for me,” said Brahmadatta, not knowing who the young man was.

Dighavu sang, and the king’s heart was gladdened. Then Brahmadatta told him, “Stay with me.”

And Dighavu answered, “As you wish, my lord.”

So Dighavu became the king’s attendant. And since the young man’s conduct was agreeable and his words pleasing, the king grew ever more fond of him, bestowing on him more and more responsibility and trust.

Then came a day when Brahmadatta desired to go hunting. And he told Dighavu, “Today you will drive my chariot.”

And Dighavu replied, “It is an honor, my lord.”

So Dighavu that day drove the chariot of the king. But as the hunters pursued their quarry, Dighavu cleverly took a path that led away. He brought the king far from the sight and hearing of the others.

At last Brahmadatta said, “I wish to stop and rest.”

Dighavu dismounted and sat cross-legged on the ground. And he told the king, “Come rest yourself, my lord.”

So the king laid his head in the cradle of Dighavu’s legs, and slept.

Dighavu gripped his sword and drew it slowly from its sheath. He pointed the blade at the throat of Brahmadatta. And then there came to him the words of his father.

Be not shortsighted.
Be not longsighted.
Not by violence is violence ended.
Violence is ended by nonviolence.

The sword of Dighavu trembled. He drew it slowly away and replaced it in its sheath.

Brahmadatta breathed heavily and opened wide his eyes and sat up in alarm.

“What is wrong, my lord?” asked Dighavu.

“It is a dream that often plagues me,” said the king. “I see Dighavu, the son of my enemies, coming at me with his sword to avenge his parents.”

Then Dighavu clutched the king’s hair, dragged his head back down, and drew his sword. “I am Dighavu, son of your enemies, and here am I to avenge my parents!”

“Have mercy, dear Dighavu! Grant me my life!”

“How can I grant your life?” replied Dighavu. “Truly is it said, we may forgive those who hurt us, but we never forgive those we hurt. You have killed my mother and my father, and would surely kill me too. So the life to be granted is mine!”

“Then grant me my life,” said Brahmadatta, “and I will grant you yours!”

So Dighavu released the king and put away his sword. And the two rose and clasped their hands and swore never again to seek the other’s harm.

Then Brahmadatta said, “I have often pondered your father’s final words. Tell me, Dighavu, what did he mean when he told you, ‘Be not shortsighted.’?”

“My father meant, ‘Do not be quick to spurn a gift of friendship.’”

“And what did he mean when he told you, ‘Be not longsighted.’?”

“My father meant, ‘Do not allow your hate to last too long.’”

“And what did he mean when he told you, ‘Not by violence is violence ended. Violence is ended by nonviolence.’?”

“My father meant this: You, my lord, have killed my parents and stolen their kingdom. If I were to kill you in revenge, your allies would kill me, and then my allies would kill them, and so on, with no end to violence. But now instead, you have granted my life and I have granted yours. So violence is at an end.”

Then the king marveled at the wisdom of Dighavu, who understood in full what his father said in brief.

Indeed, so great was Brahmadatta’s admiration and his gratitude, he soon restored to Dighavu the kingdom of his father. And as long as both kings lived, all quarrels between them were resolved in friendship and good will.

About the Story

The full story is found in the tenth chapter of the Mahavagga, an ancient Buddhist text concerned with monastic discipline. Pieces and summaries of the story are found in the Jataka, a collection of fables, and in the Dhammapadatthakatha, a commentary by Buddhaghosa on the Dhammapada.

Brahmadatta is a legendary king mentioned in many Buddhist tales. Dighiti and Dighavu seem to be characters created just for this story, since their names describe their conditions—Dighiti meaning “long-suffering” and Dighavu meaning “long-lived.” Dighiti’s queen, here called Deva, is unnamed in the sources.

I was first introduced to this tale in the late 1970s by Paul Carus’s The Gospel of the Buddha. Key references for my retelling included:

Vinaya Texts, Part 2, translated by T. W. Rhys Davids and Hermann Oldenberg, Oxford University, 1882 (Volume 17 of The Sacred Books of the East, edited by F. Max Muller), pp. 291–306 (from the Tenth Khandhaka of the Mahavagga).

The Jataka, or Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births, Volume 3, translated by H. T. Francis and R. A. Neil, edited by E. B. Cowell, Cambridge University, 1897, pp. 139–140 (#371) and 289–291 (#428).

Buddhist Legends (translation of Buddhaghosa’s Dhammapadatthakatha), translated by Eugene Watson Burlingame, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1921 (Volume 28 of the Harvard Oriental Series, edited by Charles Rockwell Lanman), pp. 176–177.

The Gospel of the Buddha, compiled and retold by Paul Carus, Open Court, Lasalle, Illinois, 1915, pp. 104–108 and the glossary.

The legend described in the introductory note comes from:

The Jataka, or Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births, Volume 5, translated by H. T. Francis, edited by E. B. Cowell, Cambridge University, 1897, pp. 219–220 (#536).

For help with this retelling, I would like to thank the many students, teachers, and librarians who took part in my Internet program Works in Progress during the first half of 1995. The comments I received were invaluable in guiding my revisions.

How to Say the Names

(General hint: If an h follows a d, pretend it isn’t there.)

Benares ~ ben-AR-ess
Brahmadatta ~ BRAH-ma-DAH-ta
Deva ~ DAY-va
Dighavu ~ dee-GAH-voo (hard g)
Dighiti ~ dee-GEE-tee (hard g)

Is Violence Justified in Theravãda Buddhism?
Mahinda Deegalle

Is there a place for violence in Theravãda Buddhism? This question is often raised when various recent events are examined in relation to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka and the genocide of 2-3 millions Khmers (mostly Buddhists) between 1975 and 1979 by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.1 Both Sri Lanka and Cambodia are primarily Theravãda Buddhist societies and in the last three decades both countries have witnessed a great deal of physical violence and abuse of human rights. While the violence in both countries can be attributed to various political problems, civil unrest, growth of communist thinking and fanatical armed groups, corrupted politicians and poor economic infrastructures, and at least in the case of Sri Lanka, ethnic prejudices stand as the preeminent cause for the turmoil and recent violent struggle.

As a Buddhist, can one justify any form of violence whether it is verbal or physical or whether violence is directed towards the destruction of Buddhists or non-Buddhists? Is there a Theravãda attitude towards violence? Either historically or socially, have Theravãda Buddhists advocated violence? Is there any evidence within Theravãda scriptures or practice advocating violence? How should a Theravãda Buddhist react in the face of violence in the modern world? Should he or she resort to violence? Or should he or she let others perpetuate violence on himself or herself? All these are practical questions when Buddhists and Buddhist practices come to face to face with real situations in the modern world. The purpose of this paper is to examine these questions in light of doctrinal discussions and recent events in Buddhist history in Theravãda Sri Lanka.

I will begin by addressing the three issues that Dr. Hans Ucko (World Council of Churches) had mentioned in his invitation letter on November 28, 2001 for Thinking Together II in Florida workshop on “Religion and Violence” which was held at Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, Florida, USA (8-12 February, 2002). For our reflections as a community of scholars and practitioners of interfaith dialogue, Dr. Ucko had identified following three issues—two are ‘universal’ affirmations with regard to the broad category of ‘religion’ and its relationship with ‘violence’ in the modern world, and the third is a question for us to explore whether there is any justifications of violence within each religious tradition that we belong to—: (i) “Every religion is against violence,” (ii) “We live in a world of violence,” and (iii) “Is there a place justifying violence in our religious traditions?” While I plan to address briefly all three issues mentioned above, my main purpose here, however, is exploring the last issue in relation to Buddhism in Sri Lanka: Is there a place justifying violence in Theravãda Buddhism? I will explore the place and justifications of violence as well as non-violence in relation to Theravãda Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

I will argue that Buddhism has discussed the relative value of the use of force2 as in the case of a single parent, whose only ambition is his or her child’s future welfare—molding the character of the child in making him or her a civilized citizen—would use a little force in disciplining a naughty child in the hope of achieving a higher and a noble goal. What I try to convey is that a certain degree of mental and physical pain is inevitable and allowed in achieving a satisfactory goal for the welfare of everyone in society at large. If one has the best interest of child’s growth, one has to take measures to ensure that the child grows in a conducive and positive environment. It does not mean necessarily that the parent should resort to corporeal punishment from the very beginning in order to discipline a child. But the child’s knowledge of the possibility of physical force, indeed, may prevent him or her from many misdeeds. However, for a well-behaved child, even verbal pressures would not be necessary. Nevertheless, whenever a parent has the best interest of the child’s welfare and takes a measure to discipline the child, the parent should keep in mind that one has to establish oneself first in what is proper3 before guiding the child to the proper action.

At the beginning, I should reiterate that there is no direct validation of violence either verbal or physical within Theravãda canonical scriptures. However, at least one post-canonical work—the Mahãvamsa of Mahãnãma, a Pãli chronicle of the fifth century CE—contains a controversial reference to physical violence at times of civil war and conflict in Sri Lanka which will be discussed in detail later. Here, however, notwithstanding that controversial issue, it is important to emphasize that whatever resort to violence in Theravãda communities is against the Theravãda norm prescribed by the Buddha. Violence cannot be used either as a path or goal because of the Buddhist conviction well expressed in the Dhammapada (v. 5) that ‘hatred is never ceased by hatred.’ As demonstrated in this paper, thus, it is hard to find even a little importance in violence even as a skill-in-means.

My argument is that both in theory and practice Theravãda Buddhism does not and should not profess violence since the basic tenets of Buddhism are completely against imposing pain on oneself or others. There is no room for violence in the doctrine. Whatever violence found in the so-called Buddhist societies is merely a deviation from the doctrine of the Buddha and a misinterpretation of Buddha’s valuable message or not leading one’s life in accordance with the Buddha’s teachings.

In this paper, I use three types of examples to illustrate Buddhist attitudes toward violence:
(1) The Pali Canon: this corpus is more authentic for Theravãda Buddhists than the following two resources mentioned below since they believe that it contains the word(s) of the Buddha (Buddhavacana) and his message of human liberation from suffering as can be seen through the lives and practices of his noble disciples. (2) The Pãli Chronicles written in Sri Lanka starting from the fourth century CE onwards are taken by scholars in reconstructing the history of Buddhism and the historical events of Sri Lanka. They are quasi-historical since they are monastic chronicles with strong ambition of highlighting sectarian conflicts among monastic fraternities and monastic achievements over other civil matters; as books of an influential literary corpus within Sri Lanka among Buddhists and outside Sri Lanka within the Western scholarship on Buddhism, they focus on the role of Buddhism, Buddhist institutions, and monastic fraternities and their relationships with the king and the State of Sri Lanka. It is rather ironic that they were composed in Pãli rather than in Sinhala, the vernacular language of the most inhabitants in modern Sri Lanka. As I will illustrate below, certain violent narratives in the Pãli chronicles raise crucial moral dilemmas in the reader whether s/he is a Buddhist or a non-Buddhist. The issues they have raised and focused on are practical and the solutions they have suggested are also utilitarian and contextual. And finally, (3) the Sinhala Medieval Literature which began to be composed from the thirteenth century CE onward for the consumption of Sinhala speakers, as a vast literary corpus, remains religious and Buddhist in nature rather than being nationalistic.

How do we Understand Violence?

The first question is what do we mean by violence? How should we define it? What are its boundaries? In particular, what does it mean in English? Is it something very vague? Its modern usage demonstrates that ‘violence’ as a term is used very broadly to include a wide range of negative human actions harmful to other living beings, living organisms, eco-systems and environment. While the aspect of physical assault can be taken as its primary meaning, it also includes minor violations such as verbal abuse. In texts, violence can be understood primarily as physical assault and killing.

First, let us examine the terms for violence in Indian religious contexts. The most common Indian term for violence was himsã; the absence of violence in one’s life was rendered in Indian religious contexts as ahimsã. Ahimsã as a technical term in religious vocabulary emerged with strong relationships with the notions of karma that Hindus, Buddhists and Jains held as dear.4 In all three traditions, ahimsã played a crucial role as a religious way of life. These two terms can be taken as the closest words for violence and non-violence, not only in Buddhism but also in all Indian religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. These pre-Buddhist concepts were widely used in Buddhist literature, in particular, in the Jãtakas. Some figurative narratives in this collection highlighted and professed the life of extreme non-violence (ahimsã). Historical Buddha’s previous life as the ascetic sãntivãdin, in particular, is extremely important in understanding the values attached to non-violence. The ideal, which emerges from these narratives, is an ideal of extreme patience and compassion. They can be used as an antidote for violence.

However, in modern Asian languages there does not seem to have one term for violence. For example, in Sinhala language, there does not seem to be one word for violence. In English-Sinhalese Dictionary, G.P. Malalasekere (1978:1018) translates ‘violence’ into Sinhala as ‘balãtkãraya’ (‘force,’5 p. 363)’ ‘sähäsikama,’ ‘adantãããama’ (‘assault,’ p. 49), ‘särakama’ (‘severity,’ p. 828), ‘ugratvaya’ (‘severeness,’ p. 828). These examples, which are attempts to convey various nuances of the English term ‘violence,’ show the difficulties involved in communicating its varied meanings. In addition, it demonstrates, at least in the context of Sinhala language, that the very notion of ‘violence’ in Sri Lankan society is ambiguous and convoluted. What does a Sinhala speaker mean by ‘violence’? Does it mean only physical assaults? What about verbal abuses and psychological pressures?

Cases for Violence—Interpretation of Duããhagãmani and the Reception of a Pervasive Myth in History of Sri Lanka

Though Pãli canonical texts do not contain explicit textual evidence to support violence or remarks to justify violence, certain genre of post-canonical literature, for example, one of the Pãli chronicles, the Mahãvamsa of Mahãnãma composed in Sri Lanka in the fifth CE, unfortunately contains a narrative which disturbs the pacifist image of Theravãda Buddhism. Though the intention of this particular monastic author, Mahãnãma, is open for debate, this isolated reference is problematic when placed within the early Buddhist Pãli canonical textual corpus. This pervasive narrative gives the impression that in certain circumstances when the ultimate end is noble, the use of certain degree of violence is not going to harm the Buddha’s doctrine of non-violence and pacifist path.

To examine justifications of political violence in Sri Lanka and the growth of nationalism, a careful study of the myth of the battle between King Duããhagãmani and King Elãra is essential. What Steven Kemper has rightly put as that: “The Past inhabits the present in a variety of ways—in practices, things and memory”6 demonstrates the implications of this myth on both Sinhala and Tamil communities in modern Sri Lanka.

The Mahãvamsa narrative discusses the war between King Duããhagãmani and King Elãra. While Duããhagãmani was a Sinhala in origin, a native of Sri Lanka, Elãra was a Dravidian and an invader. As the text records, in this complex ethnic battle, Duããhagãmani presented his war as a measure to protect Buddhism from the foreign rule of Elãra:

When the king Duããhagãmani had had a relic put into his spear he marched to Tissamahãrãma, and had shown favour to the brotherhood he said: ‘I will go on to the land on the further side of river to bring glory to the doctrine. Give us, that we may treat them with honour, bhikkhus who shall go on with us, since the sight of the bhikkhus is blessing and protection for us.’ (Mahãvamsa 25.1-4)

In this Mahãvamsa passage, the reference to “bring glory to the doctrine” can be taken as providing safety and protection to the Buddhist teachings, practices and institutions in Sri Lanka. “Brotherhood” refers to the Buddhist monastic community collectively known as the sangha. Having a company of bhikkhus (monks) with him while marching for war is perceived as an act of securing protection for Duããhagãmani himself at the time of war. However, the monks’ marching with troops is perceived by monks themselves “as a penance” (25.4). Placing a relic in the spear is an apotropaic action intended to ward off evil forces at times of troubles as believed in many pre-modern societies.

Nevertheless, the task at hand for Duããhagãmani was a rather difficult one since the text represents Elãra as a righteous king. In a dual battle, Duããhagãmani killed Elãra (25:67-70). After Elãra’s death, Duããhagãmani honoured him by cremating him and marking the place with a monument and instituting a worship there.

The remorse that Duããhagãmani had after the battle was quite severe and similar to the one that Emperor Asoka had after his battle in Kãlinga. Like in the case of Emperor Asoka, a transformation occurs, though not so dramatic, in the life of Duããhagãmani through the intervention of Buddhist monastic community. Their intervention in removing Duããhagãmani’s remorse can be seen as a ‘rehabilitation strategy’ for an evil king who had executed a lot of suffering in pursuing a battle. In this case, the rehabilitation strategy is used to direct the king to Buddhist works. Though the ‘rehabilitation’ of the king is a noble one, the justifications that the monks provided in consoling the king are controversial and problematic. They bear serious implications on the issue whether there are justifications of violence within Theravãda Buddhism.

The Mahãvamsa states (25:104) that the arahants in Piyangudipa knowing Duããhagãmani’s remorse sent a group of eight holy monks to comfort him; when Duããhagãmani confessed that he had slaughtered millions, what they said to Duããhagãmani to eliminate his remorse is highly problematic:

From this deed arises no hindrance in thy way to heaven. Only one and a half human beings have been slain here by thee, O lord of men. The one had come unto the (three) refuges, the other had taken on himself the five precepts. Unbelievers and men of evil life were the rest, not more to be esteemed than beasts. But as for thee, thou wilt bring glory to the doctrine of the Buddha in manifold ways; therefore cast away care from thy heart, O ruler of men! Thus exhorted by them the great king took comfort” (Mahãvamsa 25:109-112).

As this Mahãvamsa passage demonstrates, Duããhagãmani’s remorse is eliminated by telling him that killing ‘evil unbelievers’ carries no more weight than killing animals. As practitioners of ‘loving kindness’ (mettã), Buddhists have an obligation to protect all forms of life. It is important to note that not only human beings but killing even animals is not encouraged in Buddhism.7 When contrasted with canonical doctrines and early Buddhist practices, this fifth century chronicle position is rather controversial. This passage in the Mahãvamsa seems to suggest that certain forms of violence such as killings during war can be allowed in certain circumstances such as in the case of threats to the survival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka during the time of Duããhagãmani. However, it is hard to justify this Mahãvamsa position either through Buddhist practice or doctrinal standpoint as found in the Pãli canon of the Theravãda Buddhists.

However, a different and an alternative explanation of this ‘rehabilitation strategy’ is also possible. This unusual statement can be interpreted differently as an instance of skill-in-means. In the long run, it would not help the Buddhist monastic community keeping the victorious king in remorse or in a depressed condition. Rather than aggravating the conditions, as spiritual advisers, the monastic community should have made every effort to console the king. Up to that moment, whatever bad the king had committed became his own karma. The monastic community as a group could not change his past karma but as a community who believed in the free-will and individual effort, it was possible for them to direct and channel the king in a positive direction: their rehabilitation strategy was to identify that positive dimension, a sphere of potential growth and creativity. However, the unforeseen consequence of that strategy was a ‘gross calculation’ of the victims of war as “only one and a half human beings” and “unbelievers and men of evil.”

Nevertheless, this reductionistic explanation is problematic for Theravãda Buddhist teachings and traditions. Justifying that killing Tamils during the war is not a pãpa is a grave mistake even if it was used in the Mahãvamsa as a skill-in-means. Such violations of the tolerant sensibilities found within post-canonical Pãli chronicles cannot be justified or harmonized since Buddhist scriptures do not maintain that depending on one’s caste, race, or ethnic group the severity of one’s negative acts vary.

The complexity in the way in which this single, controversial myth is interpreted, perpetuated and received both as an inspiration and justification is well illustrated by a comment made in Ananda Wickremeratne’s recent work Buddhism and Ethnicity in Sri Lanka. Wickremeratne comments on the way a monastic member sees this pervasive myth and explains it as a historical document of self-righteousness:

According to another monk, it was King Duããhagamani who best exemplified the idea of self-imposed limits in the exercise of violence. The king gathered his forces to wage war against an enemy who had invaded the land, and threatened the secular order of things on which the very existence of Buddhism depended… ‘He prevails over the Tamil invaders and kills their leader, Elãra, in single combat. He honours the fallen foe and immediately stops his campaign, as he had achieved its purpose, waging a purely defensive war. He does not cross over to India to chastise the Tamils and refrains from wrecking vengeance on Tamils who were living in Sri Lanka, side by side with Sinhalese as its inhabitants.’8

It seems that the myth of Duããhagãmani and Elãra is reinterpreted not only by Sinhala communities in Sri Lanka but also by Tamil communities with different emphases. Tamil communities seem to have appropriated this myth in their own way by highlighting the role of the Dravidian King Elãra for their own nationalistic ends.9 These nationalist readings demonstrate the pervasive power of the myth in Sri Lankan society whether it is Sinhala or Tamil.

Cases against Violence

The overwhelming consensus among the scholars of Buddhism is that Buddhism is against violence. This scholarly consensus is not either a confessional view or an exaggeration of the real situations. The pacifist image of Buddhist teachings and historical practices of non-violent actions in Buddhist communities are very much supported by and grounded on Pãli canonical scriptures.

Presenting an emic view of the pacifist image of Buddhism, Venerable Dr. Walpola Rahula (1959:5), the renowned Buddhist scholar monk of Sri Lanka, has articulated well the Buddhist non-violent perspective in one of his early popular writings:

This spirit of tolerance and understanding has been from the beginning one of the most cherished ideals of Buddhist culture and civilization. That is why there is not a single example of persecution or the shedding of a drop of blood in converting people to Buddhism, or in its propagation during its long history of 2500 years. It spread peacefully all over the continent of Asia, having more than 500 million adherents today. Violence in any form, under any pretext whatsoever, is absolutely against the teachings of the Buddha.

Thus Rahula has clearly reiterated that violence has no place either within Buddhist teachings or cultural practices in Buddhist communities. He has highlighted that in the expansion of Buddhism from India to Sri Lanka, to southeast Asia to Burma and Thailand, to East Asia to China, Korea and Japan and to the north to Tibet and Central Asia, Buddhist monks and nuns embraced the principles of ‘tolerance’ towards pre-Buddhist religious practices and beliefs while injecting intellectual and spiritual resources to enrich and nourish whatever culture, civilization or ethnic group that Buddhism came to have an encounter.

Buddhist teachings maintain that under any circumstance, whether it is political, religious, cultural or ethnic, violence cannot be accepted or advocated in solving disputes between nations. All Buddhist traditions unanimously agree that war cannot be the solution to disputes and conflicts either. Even for achieving a religious goal, violence cannot be used and justified. A Buddhist cannot imagine a principle of ‘Just War.’ How can a ‘war’ become a ‘just’ one? How can the slaughter of human beings be justified as ‘morally right’? As P.D. Premasiri has convincingly asserted by examining early Buddhist standpoint that even in the case of solving social conflicts such as war, Buddhism “does not advocate violence under any circumstance.”10 When ‘insider’ perspectives are examined across Buddhist cultures and combined with doctrinal understandings, one can create a context in comprehending Buddhist abhorrence for violence and encouragement in seeking creative strategies for a non-violent path in overcoming violence.

Buddhist Commitment to the Teaching of Loving-kindness and Compassion in a Violent World

Several narratives in the Pãli canon illustrate that Buddha’s disciples adhered to the Buddha’s teaching of loving-kindness. The story of Venerable Punna,11 for example, demonstrates that Venerable Punna desired to live in a remote province called Sunãparanta which was notorious for cruelty and violence. When the Buddha questioned Punna how he would respond if the residents there revile, abuse and assault him, he replied that he would not show anger and ill-will towards them:
Punna, the people of Sunãparanta are fierce. If the people of Sunãparanta revile, how will it be for you there, Punna? If the people of Sunãparanta revile and abuse me I will say, ‘Goodly indeed are these people of Sunãparanta in that they do not strike me a blow with their hands. If the people of Sunãparanta deprive me of life with a sharp knife I will say, ‘There are disciples disgusted by the body look about for a knife I have come upon this very knife without having looked about for it.’12

This single narrative clearly demonstrates the tolerant attitude towards violence of an early disciple of the Buddha. In this narrative what attracts most is Punna’s deep commitment to non-violence and his practice of patience even in the case of loosing his own life.

Buddhist attitude towards violence stands out as an extreme non-violent position: a path leading to total abstention from engaging in violent activities. Even in the cases of extreme aggression and violence, Buddhism seems to advocate moral restraint and kindness towards those who commit the crimes. This is because of the belief that only an action based on loving-kindness (mettã) will in the long run generate a stable and a peaceful environment.

Several canonical and non-canonical sources elaborate the appreciation of a non-violent path. One of the Jãtaka narratives, for instance, illustrates the Buddhist standpoint towards violence and non-violence. It discusses the policies of two kings and their strategies in overcoming violence and other social problems. One king has a reactionary approach in which he “meets force with force, mildness with mildness, he wins over the good with good and conquers the evil with evil.” The other king has a completely different strategy of pacifist nature. In responding to social conflicts and other problems, rather than repeating violent actions, he “conquers wrath with kindness, evil with good, greed with charity and falsehood with truth.” His state policy seems to be based on the principles proposed in the following Dhamampada verse 223:

Hatred should be conquered by non-hatred. Unrighteousness should be conquered by righteousness. Miserliness should be conquered by generosity. A person who speaks untruth should be conquered by truth.

This latter king’s approach represents a Buddhist approach and a Buddhist solution in overcoming unhealthy social problems; its strength is love, kindness, charity, truth and forbearance. It is a virtuous approach in overcoming violence through a path of non-violence. Because of the wholesome aspects in the approach, the state policy of the latter king is considered to be superior to that of the former. This appreciation is based on the fundamental conviction that only a non-violent path will generate a long lasting solution for any violent situation.

During his lifetime, the Buddha himself faced both verbal and physical violence. As the Pãli canon records, some had verbally abused him; some others, like his cousin Devadatta, had even physically abused the Buddha attempting to kill him. This is not the whole story of the Buddha’s encounter with violence during his teaching career. In the Buddha’s own life, there were a few rare cases in which he himself had to intervene when some of his relatives waged war against each other over a petty dispute on sharing water. After considerable deliberation, the Buddha himself once intervened in the war between the Sãkyas and Koliyas on a dispute over the use of water taken from River Rohini. In that context, the Buddha had pointed out that human life is worthier than for what they were fighting for. It was because of the Buddha’s fundamental conviction that human life is intrinsically valuable than any other material or ideological thing. From the textual sources of the Pãli canon, it is clear that an appropriate method of conflict resolution is possible only through reconciliation of the parties involved.

According to Buddhist teachings, a viable solution to conflicts is less likely through the use of violent means. This is because the belief that violence breeds hatred is rooted in Buddhist doctrinal foundations. Thus victory achieved through violence is not a permanent solution to any conflict. As the Samyutta Nikãya puts it, “Victory arouses enmity and the defeated live in sorrow.”13 By causing pain to others, one cannot achieve happiness: one always has to think how one’s actions affect others around oneself. The Dhammapada verse 131 asserts that one’s happiness comes with the happiness of others:

Whoever, seeking one’s own happiness, harms with a rod other pleasure-loving beings, experiences no happiness hereafter.

The most outstanding and famous Buddhist pacifist attitude is found in the Dhammapada verse 5: “hatred is never ceased by hatred in this world.” From a Buddhist point of view, reconciliatory methods of conflict resolution are more useful than the coercive methods. As Buddhists, we are more encouraged to seek peaceful solutions for any conflict by abandoning force, intimidation and threats. In the short run, those who are involved in violent activities in the hope of liberating the masses might think that violent means be very effective, however, in the long run, only a peaceful solution will bring harmony to society at large.

This pacifist standpoint of the Dhammapada has been elaborated and extended in the thirteenth century Sinhala prose text, Dharmasãna Thera’s Saddharmaratnãvaliya (‘The Jewel Garland of the Good Doctrine’). Since this late medieval textual attitude is useful in understanding Sinhala world view, now let us look at the Saddharmaratnãvaliya’s positions towards hatred and its reaffirmation of the power of loving-kindness and compassion. The narrative of the Demonness Kãli illustrates several things: it demonstrates (1) Theravãda attitude towards violence and (2) the way, as a thirteenth century vernacular text, it still maintains the early Buddhist pacifist doctrine without recommending violence and completely ignoring the controversial position of the Pãli chronicles. The Saddharmaratnãvaliya maintains that hatred can be overcome only with compassion. This important narrative begins with a cliché:

As a bush fire burning out of control stops only when it reaches a vast body of water, so the rage of one who vows vengeance cannot be quelled except by the waters of compassion.14

Thus from a Buddhist point of view, anger and violence have to be met with its opposite, compassion. By meeting anger with anger, one adds fuel to fire. This crucial message is clearly expressed to a Buddhist audience in a very simple language. Its moral position is: “vengeance is an extremely vile sin. Therefore, give it up.”15 Following the canonical standpoint, it also reiterates that through violence one cannot overcome violence:

When your body is filthy with spit . . . you cannot clean it with that same spit . . . So when you abuse those who abuse and revile you, or kill or beat up those murderers who beat you . . . it is like adding fuel to fire; enmity on both sides never ceases. . . . hatred that burns on the fuel of justifications must be quenched with the water of compassion, not fed with the firewood of reasons and causes. Compassion is fundamentally right, free of malice, and is the source for all good actions. Good, founded on compassion, destroys evil and puts out the fire of enmity.16

This single narrative in the Saddharmaratnãvaliya clearly states the Buddhist position towards violence. Violence, no matter in what form it manifests, has to be met with non-violent measures. Solutions to conflicts should be found only through non-violent means. Violence cannot solve problems. Only non-violence brings peace.


This paper has explored whether violence is justified within Theravãda Buddhism. Through a close examination of three kinds of textual resources, it has come to a conclusion that as a Buddhist one cannot justify violence under any circumstance. Examining a pervasive myth used for violence, it has demonstrated that the position of the Pãli chronicle, the Mahãvamsa, is rather contradictory to the fundamental Buddhist teachings of the Pãli canon. In addition, with an examination of terminology related to ‘violence’ in Sinhala language, it has demonstrated that the corresponding terms used in Sinhala to communicate the multiple dimensions of violence are rather ambiguous and convoluted. This paper has demonstrated that a Buddhist cannot justify violence. The challenge for a modern Buddhist is to meditate on the Saddharmaratnãvaliya’s message that “the rage of one who vows vengeance cannot be quelled except by the waters of compassion.”


Chapple, Christopher Key. 1993. Nonviolence to Animals, Earth, and Self in Asian Traditions. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Dharmasãna Thera. 1991. Jewels of the Doctrine: Stories of the Saddharma Ratnãvaliya. Translated by Ranjini Obeyesekere. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Ebihara, May M., Carol A. Mortland, and Judy Ledgerwood (eds.). 1994. Cambodian Culture since 1975: Homeland and Exile. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Kemper, Steven. 1991. The Presence of the Past: Chronicles, Politics, and Culture in Sinhala Life. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Premasiri, P.D. 1985. “Treatment of Minorities in the Buddhist Doctrine.” Ethnic Studies Report 3 (2):57-71.

Rahula, Walpola. 1959. What the Buddha Taught. Bedford, London: Gordon Fraser.

Schmithausen, Lambert. 1999. “Aspects of the Buddhist Attitude towards War.” In Violence Defined: Violence, Non-violence and the Rationalization of Violence in South Asian Cultural History, eds. Jan E.M. Houben and Karel R. van Kooij, 45-67. Leiden: E.J. Brill.

Wickremeratne, Ananda. 1995. Buddhism and Ethnicity in Sri Lanka: A Historical Analysis. Delhi: Vikas.

Next article: Religion and Violence: A Protestant Christian Perspective – S. Wesley Ariarajah
Table of contents of this issue

Buddhism and War: Two Reviews

Original publication in: Journal of Military Ethics, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 252-255

Also see: [PDF Version] and article on “Virtue and Violence in Therāvada and Sri Lankan Buddhism,” Buddhist Roles in Peacemaking, ed. Chanju Mun and Ronald S. Green (Honolulu: Blue Pine Books, 2009), 199-233. [PDF]

I. Review of Brian Daizen Victoria, Zen War Stories (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003).

Brian Daizen Victoria’s work, which follows his earlier more systematic work Zen at War (1997), narrates and evaluates a number of the personalities and events that exemplify Zen Buddhism’s support of and complicity with the totalitarian military regime of Imperial Japan. The author, himself trained as a Soto Zen priest, provides a series of somewhat chilling stories, translations from war-time texts, and interviews with unapologetic survivors. This “case material” comes with an accompanying critical commentary. This provocative book will interest those concerned with the ideology and psychology of late Imperial Japan and the possible uses of Buddhism in justifying “holy war,” including political assassination, atrocities against civilians such as the Nanjing massacre, and suicide attacks. Zen War Stories should be greatly welcomed, since surprisingly little attention has been given to the political role of Zen Buddhists and lay Zen intellectuals—such as D.T. Suzuki and the philosophers of the Kyoto school—before and during the Second World War. It sheds a different light on a pacifist religion by showing how it can be employed to justify uncontrolled violence.

The author argues that violence is incompatible with Buddhism’s message of peace and compassion and pursues the weighty evidence of Zen’s failure to live accordingly. Victoria documents the support given by Zen Buddhists to the military regime, including masters who would later bring Zen to the west. He also shows the uses that the military intentionally made of Zen, such as modeling military life upon Zen monastic practices (from the organization of units down to mess-kits) and cultivating a philosophy which made Japanese indifferent to death and suffering—whether one’s own or others’. If a soldier did not care about his own life and was resigned to death, how much value could he see in the life of others?

These examples raise some significant questions: Given Buddhism’s declared commitment to non-violence and compassion, how could Japanese Buddhists justify an aggressive and offensive holy war against the west and the colonization (in the name of liberation) of Japan’s Asian neighbors? Given that the majority of Zen masters and practitioners did not passively tolerate Japanese policy but actively sought to legitimate it through Buddhism, is Zen—if not Buddhism itself—totalitarian? How is it that Zen—which is often seen as individualistic, irreverent, ironic, undogmatic, and questioning—was used to mold and inspire soldiers and citizens for total war?

Victoria contends that Zen’s antinomianism and amoral attitude, since enlightenment transcends good and evil in the Zen tradition, allows it to develop nonattachment in an ethically indifferent manner. This hardness to life and death made Zen the preferred form of Buddhism for the medieval Samurai. Combat and war were not contradictory to enlightenment but could become avenues to it if done responsively without attachment, desire, or hatred. According to Victoria, this image of the ideal warrior—popularized by D.T. Suzuki and later many martial arts films—played into the military’s program of “spiritual education” which cultivated a fanatical military spirit indifferent to the individual’s fate.

Japanese scholars maintained that Japanese Zen was the perfection of Buddhism, one that overcame the pacifism and weakness of Asia. This created the strange practice of sending Zen missions to Buddhist countries. It also promoted the idea of Japanese superiority over and “responsibility” for its Asian neighbors. The government sought to legitimate its exploitive occupation of East and Southeast Asia in part by appealing to Zen’s role in creating a “pan-Asian” Buddhism capable of resisting Western colonialism.

Victoria also examines how Buddhists helped war criminals evade capture and its role as consolation for many of the war criminals hung by the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. Since many of the figures and ideas remain the same, the legacy of wartime Zen—he argues—is still at work in the “corporate Zen” of the postwar period.

Although a valuable contribution, this book fails to take account of the Buddhist tradition of just-war thinking which Imperial Japan appealed to and misused in order to legitimate offensive war and occupation. The author is often in danger of conflating the varieties of Buddhism in his attempt to question Buddhism as such through its Zen incarnation. To reduce Buddhism to the Japanese Zen of the wartime period—which is actually a Shinto-Zen synthesis—would be to repeat the very claim that Zen is the “essence” of Buddhism. Recognizing the variety of Buddhist positions on war would indicate a more nuanced approach to the more ambiguous figures presented in this book, such as D.T. Suzuki and some of the Kyoto school. Being implicated in the Zeitgeist makes one to some degree responsible but it is not identical to active engagement for a totalitarian regime. The recognition of pluralism within Buddhism would be appropriate given the significant differences that exist between Japanese Zen and Chan in China, Korea, and Vietnam.

II. Review of  Tessa J. Bartholomeusz; In Defense of Dharma: Just-War Ideology in Buddhist Sri Lanka (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2002).

The thesis that you should cultivate compassion, respect, and reverence for all life does not seem promising for justifying war. The argument that it is better to suffer than to do harm is even less encouraging. Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike thus often assume that there is no legitimate Buddhist justification of war much less a Buddhist tradition of just-war theory. To use violence is to betray the Buddha’s teachings.

There are noticeable exceptions to the standard interpretation of the Buddha’s first precept demanding non-violence/non-harm (ahimsa). Theravada monks and laity have been implicated in persecution and violence in the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict and civil war between a series of democratically elected governments, supported by the mostly Buddhist Sinhalese, and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) terrorist organization based in the mostly non-Buddhist Tamil minority.

This provocative work explores the arguments for and against the justice of war in the Buddhist tradition of Sri Lanka. She comprehensively investigates the possible legitimation of violence in the Pali Canon (the foundational texts of Theravada Buddhism), in postcanonical narratives such as the Mahavamsa (which describe the Buddha’s legendary Sri Lankan visits and the victories of Buddhist warrior kings), and in contemporary discussions. This interdisciplinary work analyzes Buddhist ideas in relation to western just-war and ethical theory. She contends that Buddhism not only has a rigorous tradition of nonviolence and loving kindness but also a long history of thinking about war from which the assertion of the possible justice or the unfortunate necessity of war can emerge. Her thesis is that although Buddhism privileges non-violence, it can be used to justify war if certain conditions are met.

Emphasizing the diversity within Sri Lankan Buddhism, she examines three approaches to the question of war. First, she depicts a position which she calls Buddhist fundamentalism. This extreme view maintains that the war must conclude with the defeat of the LTTE and the restoration of a unified Sinhalese Buddhist Sri Lanka. The argument for a holy race war generally follows a three step legitimation of Anti-Tamil violence: (1) Sinhala and Buddhist identity constitute a unity that is radically distinct from the Dravidian Hindu Tamil interlopers from South India; (2) Sri Lanka is the island of dharma (dhammadwipa) ordained by the Buddha himself (by his three apocryphal visits) for Buddhism such that the whole island is the Buddha’s sacred relic and the loss of its unity would destroy this legacy; (3) the justice of a defensive war for dharma justifies the preservation of Sri Lanka in its unity as a majority Sinhalese Buddhist nation through military action against the Tamils, identified with the invading damila of the medieval epics, thus associating the present situation with past threats.

The second view argues for the justice of undertaking defensive military action against insurgencies, even if the insurgents have some legitimate grievances. The war is interpreted as the defense of the territorial integrity and peace of the nation, as a proper function of the modern secular state, and/or the defense of the nation’s endangered Buddhist identity. Appeals have been made to international law and its account of the justice and limits of war and to Buddhist principles.

There are a number of strategies used by Sri Lankans to answer the question of how Buddhism can justify war. Some stress the unfortunate necessity of military action despite its negative karmic consequences. Others, perhaps motivated by the need for a more inspirational message, suggest that righteous war (one with a morally legitimate goal and fought in an honorable fashion) has meritorious karmic consequences. The author argues that both strategies presuppose that the precept of nonviolence is a prima facie rather than an absolute duty. This means that nonviolence is one’s first duty but that it can be overridden under certain circumstances as a last resort.

Theravadin ethics is sometimes seen as placing absolute value on compassion and avoiding harm. Yet in practice, Sri Lankan Buddhists reason with a plurality of context-sensitive prima facie duties. The precept against violence is not absolute but can be overridden by more pressing obligations such as defense of one’s parents or the dharma itself. The Buddha’s account of skillful means suggests, according to this reading, the use of practical judgment or a sense of appropriateness in applying moral principles to any situation. Although the Buddha’s precepts are unconditional, conflicts between precepts require contextual reasoning that employs utilitarian (maximizing compassion and minimizing suffering) and virtue ethical (the effects actions have on one’s condition) considerations. Thus, Buddhist ethical reasoning is used to justify violence for the sake of nonviolence and the government’s “war for peace.” The justification of war accordingly requires the fulfillment of certain conditions which Bartholomeusz compares in detail with Christian and western just war criteria.

Finally, some Buddhists reject all violence as an impediment to nibbana and promote the peace process. They argue for the deontological status of Buddhist precepts and the emotional and karmic consequences of all action: violence no matter how righteous always produces more violence and warriors no matter how virtuous suffer the consequences of war. Thus, according to the Buddha, “Conquest begets enmity; the conquered live in misery; the peaceful live happily having renounced conquest and defeat” (Dhammapada, verse 201).

© 2003 Eric S. Nelson

Buddhism and the Environment

To live in harmony with nature is a crucial Buddhist practice.

Nick Wallis explains why.

When we look at the traditional Buddhist texts there seems to be very little direct reference to what would these days be called environmental or ecological ideas. As we imaginatively enter the world in which the Buddha lived and taught, the reason for this becomes clear. The picture that emerges is one of a culture that lived in far greater harmony with its environment, if sometimes at its mercy, and an ‘Environmental Movement’ simply wasn’t needed. The strong connection that people felt with nature is illustrated particularly in the story of the Buddha’s life, in which all the most significant events occur in the countryside and are associated with trees: his birth at Lumbini as his mother grasped the branch of a sal tree, his early experience of states of meditative absorption beneath the rose apple tree, his Enlightenment beneath the Bodhi-tree, and his Parinirvana (death) between twin sal trees. So in seeking to apply the Dharma to the area of the environment, we have to look for underlying principles that are appropriate to the very different world that we ourselves inhabit.

We don’t have to look very far. In the vision of universal interpenetration, one of the Mahayana flowers of the Buddha’s teaching of Conditioned Co-production (pratitya samutpada), we have a basic insight into our relationship with nature. This vision is exemplified in the simile of Indra’s Net: High above in heaven, on the roof of the palace of the god Indra, there hang innumerable jewels interlaced in a great network. As the light reflects off these multifaceted gems not only does each jewel reflect the whole cosmos, but also every other jewel in the net, including all the reflections from all the jewels, the reflections of the reflections, and their reflections.

In this beautiful vision we can begin to connect imaginatively with the mutual interdependence of all processes. Bringing this insight down to earth it becomes clear that by harming nature we are in fact harming ourselves. There are plenty of examples to demonstrate this in the current media: acid rain, the greenhouse effect, the ozone hole, radioactive contamination, to name but a few. These reactions of nature to our carelessness harm us not only physically but also psychologically, as we face the threat of our environment becoming increasingly inimical to healthy human life.

Restating this vision of interpenetration in a positive sense, to improve the quality of our lives we need to live in greater harmony with nature. This may sound like a simple truism, but in fact it is certainly not the way in which our culture approaches nature. In the modern materialist culture, no doubt strongly influenced by the traditional Christian view that God put nature there for people to use for their own purposes, we approach the environment from the viewpoint of resource management. In many cases with large industrial companies this is better termed resource mis-management, as the narrow-minded drive for profit means that huge amounts of toxic substances are pumped into our skies, rivers, and oceans, and scattered across the land where they become someone else’s problem’.

The ‘resource management’ approach leads us into difficulties on a more personal level though. In seeing ourselves as the ‘managers’, and therefore above nature, we can easily lose those very qualities which give us our humanity. This is particularly noticeable source. Whether it is the immeasurable brutality involved in the slaughter of animals to keep the kitchens of the world constantly supplied with meat, or the killing of the peaceful giants of the sea by wealthy countries such as Japan, these acts degrade the human race as a whole. The Buddhist position, on the other hand, emphasizes a harmonious interaction between ourselves and nature, neither passive nor attempting to dominate, and quite naturally leads us to consider the possibility of vegetarianism.

So this is the vision, but how do we put it into practice? Here we find Buddhist ethics come to our aid, with the basic principle of non-violence (ahimsa) or harmlessness. In the statement of the first precept, abstention from harming living beings, we can see how much of the industrial use of resources contravenes the principle; in chopping down a rain forest we destroy a habitat for other creatures and set up the conditions for top soil erosion, which in turn leads to floods and famine thereby incurring untold suffering on others. So to put this principle into practice we also need a high degree of awareness of the consequences of our actions-this is a prerequisite for any truly skilful action.

Often, the actions that we commit in relation to the environment also contravene the second precept, abstention from taking what is not given. This can happen in quite a crude sense or in a very subtle one. How many of us have, while wandering through a field of flowers, plucked some up-more than we needed-as if they belonged to us and without a thought that others will be deprived of the pleasure of appreciating them? The principle of non-violence should not be taken to mean that people should absolutely abandon their use of the earth’s resources for fear of harming any living beings whatsoever. After all, we are also part of nature, and need to maintain a healthy concern for our own welfare and that of fellow human beings. We need to use the resources available to free ourselves from the clutches of nature’s destructiveness: storms, floods, and famines. However, with the awareness of the consequences of our actions, we have a great responsibility to use the resources in as harm-free and useful a way as possible. As Sangharakshita has said, ‘Right use of nature is part of the spiritual life.’ This again leads us to consider the possibility of vegetarianism. At a rough estimate it takes ten times as much vegetable matter as it does to feed that person on a vegetarian diet. In a world with an ever increasing strain on the food supply the luxury of eating meat seems more and more unethical, quite apart from the slaughter of the animals involved.

If we can begin to deepen our relationship with nature through an understanding of interpenetration, and live more in harmony with our environment using the principle of non- violence, then a growing awareness of nature will begin to feed into our spiritual practice. Our ability to develop as individuals is closely bound up with the environment in which we live; harmonizing that environment will have a positive effect on our spiritual practice. After all, in the natural world we find many of the most inspiring symbols of our potential for development; the blue sky, the great ocean, the lofty mountain peaks. There are many examples of the fruits of inspiration that come from humankind’s experience of the beauty and splendour of nature, especially the wildest places. From the scientist to the mystic, individuals have found the mysteries and complexities of nature to be a source of insight and uplift. For this reason alone it is vital that at least some of our wild places remain.

We must beware of over-sentimentalizing nature though; the cycle of life in the natural world can be at times a very harsh one. Our technological development has to some extent freed us from this and a ‘back to nature’ movement will certainly not solve humanity’s problems. With so much at stake every little action counts. Hopefully enough people will wake up to the fact that we urgently need to change our attitudes to nature so that we and future generations may continue to be inspired by the process that is life on earth.

Compassionate violence?: on the ethical implications of tantric Buddhist ritual.


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Buddhism is often presented as a non-violent religion that highlights the virtue of universal compassion. However, it does not unequivocally reject the use of violence, and leaves open the possibility that violence may be committed under special circumstances special circumstances n. in criminal cases, particularly homicides, actions of the accused or the situation under which the crime was committed for which state statutes allow or require imposition of a more severe punishment.  by spiritually realized beings. This paper examines several apologetic defenses for the presence of violent imagery and rituals in tantric tan·tra
Any of a comparatively recent class of Hindu or Buddhist religious literature written in Sanskrit and concerned with powerful ritual acts of body, speech, and mind.  Buddhist literature Buddhist literature. During his lifetime the Buddha taught not in Vedic Sanskrit, which had become unintelligible to the people, but in his own NE Indian dialect; he also encouraged his monks to propagate his teachings in the vernacular. . It will demonstrate that several Buddhist commentators, in advancing the notion of “compassionate violence,” also advanced an ethical double standard insofar in·so·far
To such an extent.

Adv. 1. insofar – to the degree or extent that; “insofar as it can be ascertained, the horse lung is comparable to that of man”; “so far as it is reasonably practical he should practice  as they defended these violent actions as justifiable when performed by Buddhists, but condemned them when performed by non-Buddhists.


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Violence and Compassion in Mahayana Buddhism Mahayana Buddhism: see Buddhism.

Buddhism has typically been portrayed, by both insider advocates and outside observers, as a peaceful religion, one which condemns violence and seeks rather to cultivate, internally, states of mental calm and clarity, and externally, a compassionate mode of engagement with others. (1) This portrayal is supported by the fact that most Buddhist traditions emphasize the cultivation of compassion and loving-kindness as indispensable aids to spiritual development. Yet despite this important focus, violence has not been completely repudiated within many Buddhist schools of thought. Rather, it is left open as a possible mode of action, albeit an exceptional one, to be used by exceptional beings under exceptional circumstances. This caveat supported the development of an ethical double standard, (2) in which behavior that is normally condemned, especially when committed by members of other religious or ethnic groups, is portrayed as justifiable when committed by members of one’s own group. In this paper I will seek to examine this ethical tension as it arises in tantric Buddhist ritual literature, a genre that challenges Buddhist self-representation as peaceful and non-violent through its description of ritual procedures that are believed to yield violent results.

Buddhists generally condemn violent behavior, and uphold instead the virtues of loving-kindness (maitri) and compassion (karuna), which are powerful inclinations to augment the happiness and minimize the suffering of others, respectively, often at the expense of one’s own self-interest. The virtue of compassion was given a central role in Mahayana Buddhist soteriology so·te·ri·ol·o·gy
The theological doctrine of salvation as effected by Jesus.

[Greek st , as an indispensable aid to the achievement of Buddhahood. (3) On the popular level, the virtues of compassion and generosity were highlighted in narratives such as the Jataka tales The Jātaka Tales (Sanskrit जातक, and Pali) refer to a voluminous body of folklore-like literature concerning the previous births (jāti) of the Buddha. , which relate the Buddha’s past lives. These themes are dramatically illustrated in stories such as the Bodhisattva’s self-sacrifice to feed a hungry tiger family, or in the stories of King Sibi, who sacrificed his own eyes at the request of a beggar, as well as his own flesh to save the life of a pigeon. The importance of these stories is such that they stand at the beginning of Arya Sura’s Jataka collection (Khoroche 1989:5-17), and they were also illustrated on a number of Buddhist monuments. (4)

Mahayana Buddhists advocate universal compassion, which is nondiscriminatory and active in all contexts. This, naturally, reflects a distinctive worldview world·view
n. In both senses also called Weltanschauung.
1. The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world.

2. A collection of beliefs about life and the universe held by an individual or a group. . As Charles Taylor

Charlie and Chuck are common familiar or shortened forms for Charles.

Charles Taylor may refer to: Political figures

  • Charles G.

argued, moral reactions “seem to involve claims, implicit or explicit, about the nature and status of human beings … a moral reaction is an assent to, an affirmation of, a given ontology ontology: see metaphysics.


Theory of being as such. It was originally called “first philosophy” by Aristotle. In the 18th century Christian Wolff contrasted ontology, or general metaphysics, with special metaphysical theories  of the human” (Khoroche1989:5). Universal compassion, as understood by Mahayana Buddhist scholars such as Santideva, implies underlying beliefs about the nature of the self. In their view, ordinary individuals’ moral reactions are discriminatory, and as a consequence their compassion is limited in scope, typically restricted to friends and family. This is because they adhere to adhere to
verb 1. follow, keep, maintain, respect, observe, be true, fulfil, obey, heed, keep to, abide by, be loyal, mind, be constant, be faithful

2.  a limited view of the self as an isolated and independently existent entity. Universal compassion, on the other hand, arises from the realization of selflessness and interdependent origination. On the basis of this realization, the Bodhisattva bodhisattva (bō’dĭsät`wə) [Sanskrit,=enlightenment-being], in early Buddhism the term used to refer to the Buddha before he attained supreme enlightenment; more generally, any being destined for enlightenment or intent on , or person dedicated to the attainment of awakening, realizes the interdependence of all living beings, a realization that necessitates compassionate moral reactions in all contexts. (5)

Despite their emphasis on universal compassion, some Mahayana Buddhists did not, and do not, unequivocally rule out the practice of violent actions such as killing. (6) Several Mahayana scriptures permit killing under exceptional circumstances as an exercise in expedience ex·pe·di·ence

Noun 1. expedience – the quality of being suited to the end in view
expediency  or “skillful skill·ful
1. Possessing or exercising skill; expert. See Synonyms at proficient.

2. Characterized by, exhibiting, or requiring skill.  means.” For example, the Upayakausalya Sutra relates a famous episode in the past life of the Buddha. According to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

3. this scripture, the Buddha was previously a captain named “Greatly Compassionate,” Mahakarunika, (7) who was transporting five hundred merchants on a journey. He became aware that a notorious bandit bandit: see brigandage.  was planning to attack and kill the merchants. He realized that he had three possible courses of action, to, first, do nothing, and allow him to kill the merchants, which would be terrible for all involved. Secondly, he could warn the merchants, who would then preemptively kill the bandit. This would result in the merchants suffering the karmic consequences of killing. Thirdly, he could kill the bandit himself, and take the karmic burden onto himself, sparing both the bandit and the merchants. He chose the latter action. (8)

This story presents an ethical dilemma An ethical dilemma is a situation that will often involve an apparent conflict between moral imperatives, in which to obey one would result in transgressing another.

This is also called an ethical paradox , especially if one believes in karma and rebirth. It narrates an instance of “compassionate killing,” in which a spiritually advanced being, a Bodhisattva, engages in violence as a last resort. It makes very clear that his underlying motivation is not anger or hatred, but rather compassion for all involved. (9) This is plausible within the scope of Buddhist ethics The foundation of Buddhist ethics for laypeople is the Pancasila: no killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, or intoxicants. That is, in becoming a Buddhist–or affirming one’s commitment to Buddhism–a layperson is encouraged to vow to abstain from these negative actions, in , because Buddhists have long privileged intention as the key feature for ethically evaluating an action (Harvey 2000:52-58). The Buddhist focus on intention permits considerable ethical flexibility. This focus shifts emphasis away from outward adherence to rules of morality, and promotes the view that the individual is an ethical agent engaged in what Michel Foucault Michel Foucault (IPA pronunciation: [miˈʃɛl fuˈko]) (October 15, 1926 – June 25, 1984) was a French philosopher, historian and sociologist.  termed “ethical work,” in which one strives “not only … to bring one’s conduct into compliance with a given rule, but to attempt to transform oneself into the ethical subject of one’s behavior.” (10) As an agent who is a locus of a complex and ever changing social network, the Bodhisattva’s goal is to act so as to maximize benefit for all involved, but because these decisions to act are purely contextual, it is not possible to adequately formulate ethical rules that would apply to all situations.

Tantric Visions of Fierce Compassion

Mahayana Buddhists’ equivocal attitudes toward violence persisted, and were in fact greatly heightened in the tantras. This is partly due to the general philosophical continuity between early Mahayana thought and its later phase of development, which is tantric. (11) Tantric Buddhist thinkers advanced the proposal that Bodhisattvas, on account of their underlying compassionate orientation, are exempt from ordinary ethical norms. An extended defense of the seemingly unethical behavior of Bodhisattvas was undertaken in a work attributed to the eighth century Buddhist philosopher Santaraksita, the Tattvasiddhi. (12) In this work, he quotes from a number of sources to support the view that Bodhisattvas transcend conventional rules of morality. He claims that “As it is stated in all of the Yogatantras such as the Guhyendutilaka, ‘for the mind endowed with wisdom and expedience, there is nothing which should not be done’.” (13) Here, as in the Upayakausalya Sutra, the idea of expedience is advanced in defense of the transgression of conventional morality. Santaraksita continued his argument as follows:

Aryadeva explained that “From the perspective of bodhisattvas,

virtue and non-virtue are all conceptions.” Taken in terms of this,

they attain the distinctive fruit on account of the fact that these

are conceptual distinctions that result from distinguishing things

in terms of merit and demerit, which are conceptual constructs, and

also because they are distinctions made with regard to form, etc.

Thus this position must be admitted even by those who do not hold

it. (14)

This argument, that human ethical codes are conventional and hence lack any basis in ultimate reality, is, from the Mahayana Buddhist perspective, the strongest argument that can be mustered in defense of the position that a Bodhisattva must, when dictated by compassion, violate these rules, for compassion is the dominant moral value in Mahayana Buddhist ethics, which trumps all other considerations.

This debate was not entirely restricted to the realm of philosophical discourse, but had a serious impact on tantric Buddhist practice. For there is a significant body of tantric Buddhist literature that evokes violent imagery or describes violent ritual practices. These passages are problematic even within the tradition, for although Mahayana Buddhists saw violence as ethically justified in exceptional circumstances, Buddhists had a long history of resisting ritual violence, and Buddhist identity was in part defined vis-a-vis the Vedic ritual tradition that they rejected on these grounds (Gray 2005). Violence in tantric Buddhist ritual literature thus inspired fascinating commentarial responses. I will look at two genres of Buddhist ritual literature. First, I will explore the violent imagery found in Buddhist meditation Buddhist meditation encompasses a variety of meditation techniques that develop mindfulness, concentration, tranquility and insight. Core meditation techniques are preserved in ancient Buddhist texts and have proliferated and diversified through the millennia of teacher-student  manuals, with a particular focus on the commentarial treatment of this imagery. Secondly, I will examine the debates concerning the use of violence, in this case, ritual violence, centering on the abhicarahoma or fire sacrifice performed in order to kill one’s foe or foes.

My first example concerns the deity Heruka, a prominent tantric Buddhist deity. Like many other fierce tantric deities, his ferocity is mirrored in the myths of his violent origins. These accounts relate that he is a nirmanakaya emanation emanation, in philosophy
emanation (ĕmənā`shən) [Lat.,=flowing from], cosmological concept that explains the creation of the world by a series of radiations, or emanations, originating in the godhead.  of the cosmic Buddha Mahavajradhara, who manifested in the world in Saiva garb in order to subdue the Hindu deity Bhairava. This itself is portrayed as a paradigmatic See paradigm.  act of compassionate violence, for the Hindu deity and his followers are accused in the myths of being guilty of acts of violence. These accounts were almost certainly written in reaction to the Hindu myths in the Puranas that demonize de·mon·ize
tr.v. de·mon·ized, de·mon·iz·ing, de·mon·iz·es
1. To turn into or as if into a demon.

2. To possess by or as if by a demon.

3. Buddhists. These myths relate the descent of deities such as Visnu and Siva into the world to combat the pasandas or heretics, a loose category often applied to Buddhists (O’Flaherty 1983). The Buddhist myths, in turn, demonize the Hindu gods, portraying them as heretical he·ret·i·cal
1. Of or relating to heresy or heretics.

2. Characterized by, revealing, or approaching departure from established beliefs or standards.  on account of their alleged penchant for violence. Ironically, the “solution” to this problem is their violent subjugation Subjugation
Cushan-rishathaim Aram

king to whom God sold Israelites. [O.T.: Judges 3:8]


consigned to servitude in retribution for trickery. [O.T.: Joshua 9:22–27]

Ham Noah

curses him and progeny to servitude. [O. .

As these myths have been treated at length elsewhere (Davidson 1991; Gray 2007:40-54), I would like to turn to a justification for Heruka’s fierce persona authored by an important tantric Buddhist scholar, Buddhajnana. Active during the late eighth and early ninth centuries, he is the author of numerous works, and also the founder of an important school of tantric exegesis exegesis

Scholarly interpretation of religious texts, using linguistic, historical, and other methods. In Judaism and Christianity, it has been used extensively in the study of the Bible. Textual criticism tries to establish the accuracy of biblical texts.  (Davidson 2002:309-316). He composed two works on the fierce deity Heruka, a meditation manual (sadhana

For Sadhana the actress see: Sadhana (actress)

Sadhana (Sanskrit ) and an autocommentary on it. His Sriherukasadhana contains the following passage: “[Visualize] a vajra vajra

Five-pronged ritual object extensively employed in the ceremonies of Tibetan Buddhism. It is fashioned out of brass or bronze, the four prongs at each end curving around the central fifth to form a lotus-bud shape.  (15) generated from [the seed-syllable] hrih, which blazes like a destroying fire. From that the compassionate fierce one is born, the great terrifier (mahabhairava) bearing a skull garland.” (16) Buddhajnana comments on this as follows:

If ferocity (krodha) is a virtue that arises in the compassionate

mind, yet as it is a subsidiary affliction (upaklesa) classified

with anger, how can he be called the compassionate fierce one? It

is generated preceded by compassion, just as the son is of the

mother. Thus, it is prescribed as a method of anger which is an

effect proceeding from the cause which is compassion, and it is

like fire. As for the other, it arises from the cause of the “me”

and the “mine,” and it is an effect that manifests in having an

afflicted mind, in the manner of good and bad fortune. (17) It is on

account of this that it is said that he blazes like a destroying

fire, for he manifests the appearance of that. He is a terrifier

because he terrifies Mahadeva and so forth. Since he is unusually

terrifying he is great. (18)

Buddhajnana advanced what would become a very popular interpretation in tantric Buddhist circles. (19) Buddhist deities such as Heruka appear in fierce forms, but their ferocity is not believed to be a manifestation of mental afflictions such as anger. Rather, tantric Buddhists such as Buddhajnana claim that these deities’ ferocity is rooted in compassion, and hold that their fierce demeanor is an exercise in expedience. This accords with their emphasis on intention in ethically evaluating an action.

Evidently, tantric Buddhists either imagined or experienced themselves beset by hostile forces. They portrayed fierce deities, such as Heruka, as protectors of the Buddhist community against “demonic” forces, which often included Hindu gods and their devotees. They also devised ritual practices to protect themselves from these forces. These include the ubiquitous defensive rituals that accompany most major tantric ritual practices, such as the construction of a mandala mandala (mŭn`dələ), [Skt.,=circular, round] a concentric diagram having spiritual and ritual significance in Hindu and Buddhist Tantrism. . These rituals “purify” the ritual arena, and establish protective barriers designed to thwart the encroachment of hostile influences. (20) They also involve the invocation of protective deities, who are called upon to suppress and destroy the demons present with the ritual arena, and protect the soon-to-be consecrated space from reinvasion by them. As such, they are typically portrayed as fierce deities, as their presence implies violence, or at least the threat of violence.

Buddhaguhya’s argument is thus a defense of the violence or threat of violence posed by fierce deities such as Heruka. Perhaps due to the success of this argument, the vast majority of Tantric Buddhist commentators from the ninth century onward did not consider such ferocity to be worthy of commentary. There were, however, exceptions to this pattern. These include Atisa Dipankarajnana (982-1054 CE), a Bengali tantric Buddhist scholar who was active at Vikramasila monastery during the early eleventh century. He discussed this issue in his Abhisamayavibhanga, a commentary on an important Cakrasamvara meditation manual attributed to the great saint Luipa. (21)

Like many tantric meditation manuals, this text begins with a visualization of the mandala. The text instructs the meditator to visualize the rituals for the establishment of a mandala, including the rites of purification and pacification Pacification



sea god, stiller of storms on the ocean. [Norse Myth. . These rituals assuage as·suage
tr.v. as·suaged, as·suag·ing, as·suag·es
1. To make (something burdensome or painful) less intense or severe: assuage her grief. See Synonyms at relieve.

2. the threat posed by a hostile universe, in order to create a safe space for the manifestation of the ideal vision of the enlightened cosmos that the mandala represents. (22)

When the manual reaches the section dealing with the fierce protective deities and their elimination of the demons, Atisa makes a unique commentarial move. Although the other ten commentators on this text either do not comment on them, or merely describe their appearances, (23) Atisa reflects upon the ethical implications of these deities, whose role is to crush any interlopers INTERLOPERS. Persons who interrupt the trade of a company of merchants, by pursuing the same business with them in the same place, without lawful authority.  into the mandala’s sacred precincts. This strongly suggests that this text was written by Atisa, who was a subtle thinker deeply concerned about ethical issues, and troubled by the apparent breaches of ethical norms in the tantric praxis of his day. He begins with a quote from the Yoginisamcara Tantra Tantra (tŭn`trə), in both Hinduism and Buddhism, esoteric tradition of ritual and yoga known for elaborate use of mantra, or symbolic speech, and mandala, or symbolic diagrams; the importance of female deities, or Shakti; cremation-ground , a text on which Luipa’s sadhana is based: “Krodha Vijaya and so forth make effort for the sake of beings by the expedience of diverse disciplines, at the doors and in the quarters.” (24) In Atisa’s commentary we learn that the expression “expedience of diverse disciplines” is a euphemism for violent action, a euphemism that is quite ancient, because the concept of expediency was long offered as an apology for violence in Buddhist literature. What the guardians really do, Atisa informs us, is “plant their spikes in order to expel all of the demons, and utter om gha gha, etc. Then they beat them with mallets.” (25) He continues with the following justification for this behavior:

Thus, in order to separate and analyze them with the indestructible

characteristic and action of discerning wisdom (prajna), and also

isolate and burn them, there are, [respectively,] the vajra and

fierce fences, and the wall of fire. It is not that they strike out

of an upsurge of anger, however (AV fol. 188a).

Atisa also holds that anger is not the underlying motivation for the instances of violence imagined in or implied by Buddhist meditation and ritual. He then explores the reasoning underlying the claim that violence is acceptable under certain conditions. He wrote that “Thinking that conventionally there is no one injured nor an injurer is to revile [the doctrine of] cause and effect” (AV fol. 188a). Here he evokes and rejects the famous argument advanced in Hindu scriptures The following is a bibliography of Hindu scriptures and texts. Hinduism is based on “the accumulated treasury of spiritual laws discovered by different persons in different times.  such as the Katha Upanisad and the Bhagavad Gita The Bhagavad Gita (Sanskrit भगवद्‌ गीता  , that ultimately there is no killer or killed, because the true basis of the self, the atman atman

(Sanskrit: “breath” or “self”) Basic concept in Hindu philosophy, describing that eternal core of the personality that survives death and transmigrates to a new life or is released from the bonds of existence. , is indestructible in·de·struc·ti·ble
Impossible to destroy: indestructible furniture; indestructible faith.

[Late Latin ind . (26) But if Atisa rejects this argument in favor of justifiable violence, how does he legitimate such actions? Even the demons that haunt the periphery of the mandala are understood to be sentient sentient /sen·ti·ent/ (sen´she-ent) able to feel; sensitive.

1. Having sense perception; conscious.

2. Experiencing sensation or feeling.  beings by those who believe that they exist, and they are thus deserving of the universal compassion that Mahayana Buddhists advocate. He continues as follows:

Although there is no lack of causality conventionally, it is not,

however a matter of getting rid of them through the application of

actions motivated by anger, because conventionally one also has the

armor of love, etc., and, ultimately, knowledge of birthlessness.

Why is that? Conventionally all things are none other than mind

alone. Thus the very wavering astray of mind is Mara and the

demons. Furthermore, insofar as the mind wavers astray into the

path which leads to the wrong way, to just that extent can Mara

operate. So it is said. The very straying of mind from its medicine

is Mara and so forth (AV fol. 188a,b).

Atisa here invokes the Yogacara theory of the baselessness of imputations of independent existence to phenomenal reality in order to deny the external reality of the demons that are the targets of the ritual violence described in the text. This is an old defense, invoked, for example, in the seventh century Mahavairocana-abhisambodhi Tantra, which states: “Obstacles arise from your own mind, due to previous indulgence in avarice av·a·rice
Immoderate desire for wealth; cupidity.

[Middle English, from Old French, from Latin av . In order to destroy their cause I teach the spirit of awakening (bodhicitta)” (Hodge 2003, 153). This text then lists a number of violent rites for destroying demonic obstacles. This argument appears to be inconsistent; if demons do not truly exist, what need is there to insist that their destruction should be performed with a compassionate motivation? (27)

Atisa then turns to an examination of authoritative statements on this subject. He continues, arguing:

Now, it is well known to everyone that there is no one more

knowledgeable than the Buddha. Did he explain this in a tantra?

While this is so, there are no literally interpretable passages [to

this effect]. Thus it says in the Abhidhanottara [Tantra], “There

is no killing nor non-killing by those who have controlled their

minds. Yet those whose minds are bound kill one another.” And also

“Wearing the armor of love is the armor of the dharma of

compassion. Those who have the sword of wisdom eliminate the demons

of the afflictions. The wheel of authority (28) is the great

protection, and with the stake one succeeds without demonic

interference. With these rites of defense, awakening is bestowed

upon the adept, and he is caused to take up the authority of the

Lord, and wherever he abides is seen as being free of all demonic

interference.” One who is not like this, who has a wrong

understanding of that authority, who is headed toward lower modes

of existence through the actuality of evil actions, who is bound by

the noose of the afflictions, etc., cycling like a water-wheel, and

who lacks distinction–such a person is not a yogi who abides on

this path (AV fol. 188a,b).

Atisa finds solace in the formula propounded in the Abhidhanottara Tantra, namely that “killing” is a conventional phenomenon that the awakened transcend. However, he carefully accords this passage provisional rather than ultimate status, because he seems uncomfortable with the denial of ethical causality that such passages imply. This justifies violence by those who have controlled their minds, and are thus not motivated by the passions. Rather, they are motivated by the cool calculus of compassion, which calls for violence as a defensive strategy, that is, as a way of preventing evil doers from committing greater acts of violence. This denial of the reality of violence differs somewhat from the earlier Mahayana Buddhist view, in which the negative ethical impact of violence is not denied, but rather embraced as a manifestation of the Bodhisattva’s self-sacrifice.

Violent Ritual in the Tantras

The tantric Buddhist tendency to downplay the negative consequences of necessary acts of violence was rooted in the imperatives of praxis. Buddhists did not just abstractly debate the possible use of violence for defensive purposes. They actually created ritual techniques that were thought to effect the “pacification” or outright elimination of evildoers who threatened the teachings, institutions, and well being of Buddhists. The most infamous of these was the abhicara-homa, or the rite of fire sacrifice deployed for destructive purposes. The abhicara-homa is a subset of a larger class of homa rituals employing a sacrificial fire. This ritual is a modified Buddhist version of the archaic Indian homa rite that formed the cornerstone of the Vedic ritual system. (29)

This rite occurs in the early strata of esoteric Buddhist literature, such as the Mahavairocana-abhisambodhi Tantra. This text makes a brief reference to it, namely “When subduing hated foes, one should employ the fierce fire.” (30) This inspired the following commentary by Subhakarasimha and Yixing, writing during the early eight century in Chang-an, China: (31)

Regarding the fierce (krodha, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII])

[fire sacrifice], fire becomes the basis that gives

rise to things. This basis is the mind. It is said that

there are conditions that compel one to do hostile things

in order to subdue people. It is from within the mind that anger

arises. This anger is not like the anger of worldly people. It is

said that the true nature of anger manifests from a mind of great

compassion. Moreover, it is generated as an expedience in order to

subjugate evil teachings. (32)

These authors are not unusual in rooting this practice in compassion. Although the abhicara-homa is intended for the purpose of killing one’s foe or foes, it is to be employed as an expedience for the purpose of “subjugating evil teachings,” that is, eliminating those who propound To offer or propose. To form or put forward an item, plan, or idea for discussion and ultimate acceptance or rejection.

TO PROPOUND. To offer, to propose; as, the onus probandi in every case lies upon the party who propounds a will. 1 Curt. R. 637; 6 Eng. Eccl. R. 417.  them.

The performance of hostile rites was considered legitimate by some Indian Buddhists, such as Bhavyakirti, a scholar active during the early tenth century. He was an abbot of the Vikramasila monastery in Eastern India. (33) He makes this clear in his commentary on chapter thirty-one of Cakrasamvara Tantra, which describes a fierce homa rite for the purpose of subduing a rival kingdom, as follows:

Then the destruction of all, arising from the vajra, is held [to be

accomplished] with the great meat. It is the dreadful destroyer of

all the cruel ones. Should one thus perform without hesitation the

rites of eating, fire sacrifice (homa), and sacrificial offerings

(bali) with the meats of dogs and pigs, and also with [the meat of]

those [chickens] that have copper [colored] crests, everything

without exception will be achieved, and all kingdoms will be

subdued. (34)

The rite is thus doubly violent in both its end and means, because its performance requires the meat of several animals, including possibly a human being. (35) Bhavyakirti acknowledges the transgressive nature of this rite, but resolves it by claiming an ethical double standard, as follows:

Regarding dogs, etc., some claim that [killing] them, except in

cases where their appointed time [of death] has arrived, is to

undertake a great sin, that desire to perform this sinful action is

difficult to alleviate, and that these are cases of oneself

committing murder. The ten non-virtuous actions, (36) however, are

not necessarily downfalls for [those who have realized] the reality

of selflessness. Moreover, the Sri Guhyasamaja states “Bereft of

gnosis, they undertake the ten virtues and the paths of action.”

(37) And [someone] stated: “Enduring my own suffering, risking (38)

[myself] for the suffering of others, I proceed to the Avici

Hell.” (39) Being endowed with great compassion and having realized

the reality of selflessness, one will not fall even if one

practices the ten nonvirtues for the sake of beings. According to

Santaraksita, Bodhisattvas endowed with expedience and wisdom,

including those who are on the paths of the ten non-virtuous

actions, will achieve distinctive results. With regard to the

this distinctive group giving rise to distinctive

results, one cannot say that this is not the case, as these

[ethical] conventions all arise from mental distinctions. (40)

Furthermore, it is well known that if those who are not yogis

consume poison without understanding the reality of poison, they

experience the cause of death. But yogis who understand the reality

of poison rely on the excellent cause of alchemy and transform it

to ambrosia. What objection could there be to these ten non-virtues

giving rise to distinctive results for those who have a mentality

that unifies emptiness and compassion, who have no regard for their

own happiness, and who are extremely apprehensive about the

suffering of others? Rudra destroyed the Triple City, and the army

of Visnu demolished eighteen massive armies, (41) and even naked

[ascetics] destroy subtle life forms through a mere touch …

[There was also] a sage (rsi) whose mind burned with the fire of

wrath, who incinerated like wood the king’s army with the fire of

malediction. These heretics, because they kill, give rise to the

suffering of the hells and so forth. This is because their

non-virtue arises from previous tenacious attachment to the ‘me’

and the ‘mine.’ (42)

This is a fascinating example of what J. Z. Smith calls “rationalization,” an attempt to accommodate the discrepancy between Buddhists’ nonviolent self-identity and the violent elements present in their scriptures and rituals. (43) In his attempt to reconcile these, Bhavyakirti deploys both rational and mythic discourse. Like Santaraksita, he advances a double standard, allowing Bodhisattvas to engage in behavior that is otherwise prohibited. He also evokes the old idea that they do so as an act of compassionate self-sacrifice, even though willingly taking on the evil karma of violent actions might plunge them into the Avici hell, the lowest hell of “no respite” into which the worst sinners fall.

His apology then proceeds with a series of examples from Hindu mythology Hindu mythology is a term used largely by western scholarship for a large body of Indian literature that details the lives and times of legendary personalities, deities and divine incarnations on earth interspersed with often large sections of philosophical and ethical discourse.  in which deities or sages are portrayed as engaging in violence. He specifically refers to the myth of the destruction of the Triple City (tripurantaka), several versions of which were powerful anti-Buddhist polemics. (44) This, along with his reference to the myths of Visnu’s military exploits in several of his avataras, indicates that Bhavyakirti was familiar with this genre of Hindu mythic literature, which, just like the legend of Mahakarunika, could be interpreted as a justification for necessary violence. (45)

Moreover, his statement that “even naked [ascetics] destroy subtle life forms through a mere touch,” implying that violence is an inescapable element of worldly existence, evokes the argument propounded in chapter three of the Bhagavad Gita, namely, that action is intrinsic to all living beings, (46) but he goes further than the Gita, using this as a justification for violence. Yet Bhavyakirti condemns the violence allegedly performed by non-Buddhists, even as he defends the use of ritual violence by Buddhists. He thus evokes the ethical double standard in a highly sectarian manner, failing to observe that some Hindus might justify exemplary violence in the same way that he does. He justifies this by making the typical Buddhist claim that the practice of morality is necessarily rooted in a realization of selflessness, but this is a divisive claim that non-Buddhists would not accept. This reflects the contentious religious atmosphere in Northern India at this time, an atmosphere that was conditioned by the political divisiveness of this era. (47)

What were the historical consequences of this permissive attitude toward ritual violence? This ethically troubling position clearly hindered the dissemination of tantric Buddhism. Many Buddhists found texts that advocated violent rituals such as the abhicara-homa offensive or threatening. Only a fraction of the texts that contained these practices were successfully transmitted to East Asia East Asia

A region of Asia coextensive with the Far East.

East Asian adj. & n. , and those that were tend to be bowdlerized, with the offensive passages ambiguously translated or eliminated entirely. (48) There is also evidence suggesting that tantras containing violent rituals were selectively translated or censored in Tibet during the late eighth and early ninth centuries, when Indian Buddhist literature was being translated with imperial support. (49) Later, during the tenth and eleventh centuries, Tibetan rulers such as Lha Lama Yeshe-o (circa 959-1036 CE) and his descendents in Western Tibet attempted to control the translation and dissemination of the new influx of transgressive tantric texts. (50) Their efforts were ineffective, probably because they lacked hegemony within a politically fragmented Tibet. Moreover, their fears concerning the misuse of violent rituals were apparently justified. Chinese sources indicate that several centuries later, the Mongols employed Tibetan lamas for magical assistance in battle. This assistance entailed performing rites focusing on fierce deities such as Mahakala for the purpose of destroying enemies (Sperling 1994).

The Tibetans, however, were not unequivocal advocates of ritual violence. Although Lha Lama Yeshe-o could not regulate the dissemination of tantric texts and practices, he was so concerned about the ethical implications of these that he went to great lengths to bring Atisa to Tibet, largely on account of Atisa’s reputation as an ethically sophisticated Buddhist scholar. (51) Doing so in no way advanced a program of censorship–Atisa was an accomplished tantric practitioner, and aided in the translation of several texts, including the transgressive Abhidhanottara Tantra. But he was nonetheless concerned with the ethical implications of tantric practice, and this was a major influence on the thinking of his disciple, Dromton (1005-1064 CE), who founded the Kadampa school that highlighted the moral precepts. And although this school did not reject the study and practice of the tantras, it sought to regulate them. (52)

The legacy of the school that inherited the mantle of the Kadampa, the Geluk, whose name literally means “the virtuous system,” is somewhat mixed. The founder of the Geluk school, Tsongkhapa (1357-1419 CE), was famed for his efforts to reform Buddhist practice. Yet he was strangely unconcerned about the ritual violence described in the Tantras. For example, in commenting upon the abhicara-homa in the Cakrasamvara Tantra, he does not even attempt to defend such practices. He comments as follows:

Then, after the thirtieth chapter, I will explain the thirty-first,

that is, I will explain without deception the fire sacrifice,

arising with the vajra [accomplished] with the great meat, i.e.,

human meat, etc., which destroys the life force of all the cruel

ones. It is also explained that these [rites] are performed with

the gnosis that is inseparable from the vajra, that is, by the

concentration of the body of Vajradhara which is generated from

that. This human flesh fire sacrifice is described as the dreadful,

i.e., powerful, destroyer of the life force of all the cruel ones.

Is human flesh the sole requisite? In the same manner as human

flesh, the cruel ones are destroyed even if one offers fierce fire

sacrifices (homa) and sacrificial offerings (bali) to the deity

with the meats of dogs and pigs, and also with chickens that have

copper [colored] crests. However, here the power of human flesh is

greater. In order to undertake these three, (53) one is primarily

engaged in left-handed conduct. If in doing this one does so having

realized the natural clear light without consideration of whether

this is proper or not, one will attain all of the great powers

(mahasiddhi) such as the sword and so forth, and the state of

Buddhahood in which there are no remaining powers [to be attained],

and you will attain all kingdoms as a universal (cakravartin) or

regional (dikpala) monarch. It is also held that these fleshes are

not produced by killing them oneself. (54)

The juxtaposition of Bhavyakirti’s and Tsongkhapa’s commentaries on this same textual passage is striking. Although Bhavyakirti’s commentary is purely apologetic, Tsongkhapa appears completely unconcerned with the text’s ethical implications; his vision of tantric practice here seems quite amoral a·mor·al
1. Not admitting of moral distinctions or judgments; neither moral nor immoral.

2. Lacking moral sensibility; not caring about right and wrong. . If we take this commentary out of context, we would be forced to conclude that, for Tsongkhapa, Buddhahood might be attained through violence, rather than through compassion. But this would be an unfair conclusion, one that could only be supported by ignoring Tsongkhapa’s large body of work on ethical issues. (55)

His lack of concern here is understandable in light of the different social contexts in which these commentaries were written. Both Bhavyakirti and Tsongkhapa were influential figures in important Buddhist institutions. Tsongkhapa was a respected scholar and institution builder, while Bhavyakirti was an abbot of the important VikramaSila monastery. However, during the early tenth century when Bhavyakirti was active, the status of transgressive tantric texts such as the Cakrasamvara Tantra as authentic Buddhist scripture was a hotly debated issue, and significant numbers of Buddhists considered it heretical on account of its descriptions of ritual violence, as Bhavyakirti indicated elsewhere in his commentary (Gray 2005:66-67). His apologetic stance is thus understandable. However, by the time Tsongkhapa was writing in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries in Tibet, the authenticity of tantras such as this one was no longer contested.

Another factor was undoubtedly the institutionalization Institutionalization

The gradual domination of financial markets by institutional investors, as opposed to individual investors. This process has occurred throughout the industrialized world.  of tantric studies in Tibet. The treatise in which this commentary occurs, his Illumination of the Hidden Meaning, was not intended for public dissemination. Texts such as this were traditionally restricted to an elite audience of well-educated monks in the Geluk tradition. This implies that the ethical double standard was institutionalized in the Geluk school, which emphasizes conventional Mahayana ethics for the laity and lower clergy, and restricts the texts and practices that challenge this moral system to the higher clergy, who are presumed to possess the hermeneutical tools to properly understand them. (56) There is also some evidence suggesting that advanced monks are believed to be exempt from conventional moral precepts under certain exceptional circumstances, on account of their superior training. (57) But here we should also note the last line of his commentary. Tibetan Buddhists do not employ the flesh of living beings in any of the rituals that call for these, but use instead carefully constructed simulacra, usually elaborate bali or gtor-ma offering cakes that are designed to simulate these substances. (58) But insofar as these rites are performed, this does not mitigate their ethical impact, given the fact that their intended result is murder, which is ethically problematic given the Buddhist ethical focus on intention.

This paper has largely focused on a “high scholastic” genre of Indian and Tibetan commentarial literature. One might wonder whether these debates were purely theoretical, or if they actually reflect ethically complex situations faced by Buddhist practitioners. The historical record makes it clear that these debates were rooted in practice. Although there is a paucity of historical sources concerning Buddhism in India, (59) there is ample historical evidence indicating that destructive abhicara rites were performed by Tibetan lamas in support of defensive and offensive military campaigns. Seventeenth century Tibet was a rich period for the performance of violent rituals. This is undoubtedly due to the political instability of the period, which saw the King of Tsang in Western Tibet in conflict with the Mongol supporters of the Fifth Dalai Lama Dalai Lama (dä`lī lä`mə) [Tibetan,=oceanic teacher], title of the leader of Tibetan Buddhism. Believed like his predecessors to be the incarnation of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, 1935–, , based in Lhasa. Autobiographical and biographical sources indicate that the Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lozang Gyatso (1617-82 CE), deployed fierce rites to suppress the armies of the King of Tsang in 1641 CE (Ahmad 1999:261; Karmay 1988:4, 15). His efforts were opposed by Yolmo Tenzin Norbu (1598-1644 CE), who deployed abhicara rites against the Mongols in support of the King of Tsang (Bogin 2005:58-59, 232-233).

The practice of these destructive rites was not restricted to Tibet during the medieval period. Chinese rulers employed Tibetan lamas for their magical defensive services as late as the early twentieth century, during the Republican period (Tuttle 2005:79-81). The Geluk school of Tibetan Buddhism Tibetan Buddhism, form of Buddhism prevailing in the Tibet region of China, Bhutan, the state of Sikkim in India, Mongolia, and parts of Siberia and SW China. It has sometimes been called Lamaism, from the name of the Tibetan monks, the lamas [superior ones].  became embroiled during the late 1990s in a debate regarding the status of the “protector” deity Dorje Shukden, who has a fearsome reputation as a fierce deity who could be, and sometimes was, invoked in inter-sectarian disputes. The Dalai Lama recently prohibited the public practice of Dorje Shukden’s rites in Geluk monasteries. His supporters, however, have resorted to violence in an attempt to silence and intimidate the Dalai Lama and his supporters (Dreyfus 1998). Tibetans were not alone in seeking magical means to conflict resolution; destructive fire sacrifices were also deployed in medieval Japan as a method of dealing with military foes. (60)

I would like to conclude by noting an obvious point. Buddhists are not alone in struggling with the issue of the ethical implications of violence. Although some of the texts included herein did and still may seem repugnant REPUGNANT. That which is contrary to something else; a repugnant condition is one contrary to the contract itself; as, if I grant you a house and lot in fee, upon condition that you shall not aliens, the condition is repugnant and void. Bac. Ab. Conditions, L.  to some Buddhists, as disgraceful examples of a fall from the Buddhist ideal of universal compassion, they reflect attempts by Buddhists to navigate the complex and sometimes violent field of social practice. Tantric Buddhist ritual, in its violent manifestations, appears to be a response to a certain sense of discrepancy, namely the discrepancy between the hierarchical cosmos as imagined by tantric Buddhists, which naturally privileges the tantric Buddhist worldview, and the lived social world of these Buddhists, a context in which their world-view was challenged from both within and without. From a certain perspective, the history of religions is a history of the very human attempts to reconcile the high and sometimes contradictory dictates of religious ideals with the messy realities of political life. Tantric Buddhists sought to reconcile these spheres in a rather ingenious way, but like all attempts of this sort, it was not perfect, but problematic, due to the very fact that the ethical double standard that it creates implicitly supports a social hierarchy Social hierarchy

A fundamental aspect of social organization that is established by fighting or display behavior and results in a ranking of the animals in a group. , which, like all such hierarchies, was potentially hegemonic in practice.


D Derge (sde dge) Tibetan canon

To Tohoku catalogue of Derge canon

PTT (1) (Postal, Telegraph & Telephone) The governmental agency responsible for combined postal, telegraph and telephone services in many European countries.

(2) See push-to-talk.

PTT – Post, Telephone and Telegraph administration  Peking Tibetan Tripitaka

T Taisho Chinese Tripitaka


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(1.) This portrayal is common in popular literature on Buddhism. Some authors, such as the current Dalai Lama, have gone as far as to advance Buddhist ethics as a remedy for many of the contemporary world’s problems. See his Ethics for the New Millennium (1999).

(2.) I use the term “double standard” in the sense of “a rule, principle, judgment, etc., viewed as applying more strictly to one group of people, set of circumstances, etc., than to another” (The Oxford English Dictionary 1989:vol. 4, p. 973, col. 1). I will argue that several of the tantric Buddhist authors discussed below have propounded a double standard with respect to violence in precisely this sense, insofar as they argue that advanced Buddhist practitioners are exempt from the general Buddhist prohibition against violence.

(3.) For an overview of these virtues as understood and advanced by contemporary Buddhist traditions see King (2006).

(4.) For example, a number of jataka narratives, including the vyaghri and Sibi narratives, were illustrated in the Ajanta cave complex. For an excellent study of these illustrations and their connections to the narratives see Schlingloff (2000).

(5.) For an excellent overview of Santideva’s moral theory see Clayton (2006). For a discussion of the importance of the concepts of selflessness and/or emptiness, and interdependence in contemporary Buddhist ethical thought, see King (2006:12-27).

(6.) For examples of contemporary Buddhist leaders’ equivocal attitudes toward violence see King (2006:164-201). The possibility of “compassionate violence” was not accepted by all Buddhists; the early Buddhist tradition represented by Pali sources appears to have rejected the notion that an act of violence could be compassionate (Gethin 2004).

(7.) The name mahakarunika is a hypothetical reconstruction from the Tibetan snying rje chen po dang ldan pa (Sarvabuddhamaharahasya-upayakausalya-jnanottarabodhisattvaparip.ccha (To. 82, D dkon brtsegs vol. cha, fol. 60b).

(8.) For a translation of this passage see Tatz (1994:73-76).

(9.) For an analysis of this and related scriptural passages see Harvey (2000:135-138).

(10.) Foucault (1990:27). For an application of Foucault to Mahayana Buddhist ethical thought see Mrozik (2004).

(11.) “Tantric Buddhism,” also known as the vajrayana, is usually understood to be a branch of the Mahayana tradition. It is differentiated from the classical Mahayana by means of methodology. In traditional terms, it is the “way of mantra,” mantranaya, an esoteric system of praxis emphasizing complex systems of ritual and meditation. For a discussion of the continuities and discontinuities between the early Mahayana and its later tantric forms see Snellgrove (2002:117-134).

(12.) The Tattvasiddhi is an important but still unedited text that attempts to prove that tantric practice leads to the achievement of great bliss. It is attributed to Santaraksita, and an eighth century date does not seem out of the question; the text mentions by name a number of early tantras belonging to this era. Christian Lindter (1997:192-197) accepts this attribution, but Ernst Steinkellner (1999:355-359) has cast serious doubt upon it. Bhavyakirti, writing in the early tenth century, refers to this text and attributes it to Santaraksita, as noted below. This attribution is thus quite old.

(13.) My translation of the Tattvasiddhi, from the Tibetan translation (To. 3708, D rgyud ‘grel vol. tsu, 27b), and a Sanskrit manuscript (IASWR IASWR Institute for the Advancement of Social Work Research  ms. MBB MBB Men’s Basketball
MBB Master Black Belt (Six Sigma)
MBB Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm
MBB Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics (Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden)
MBB Make Before Break  II-248, 3a.4-5).

(14.) Tattvasiddhi, (D 29b, IASWR ms. MBB II-248, 5b.5-6a.2).

(15.) The term vajra, literally “thunderbolt” or “diamond,” here refers to a tantric Buddhist ritual scepter scepter

symbol of regal or imperial power and authority. [Western Culture: Misc.]

See : Authority


denotes fairness and righteousness. [Heraldry: Halberts, 37]

See : Justice  that symbolizes expedience (upaya). It is the weapon of choice of fierce deities.

(16.) My translation from Buddhajnana, Sriherukasadhana (To. 1857, D rgyud ‘grel vol. di, fol. 43a).

(17.) Buddhajnana’s text here reads sva sti dang a ri sha lta bu’o (45a). I read a ri sha as an attempt to transliterate arista arista (ä·riˑ·st , “ill-omen,” “bad luck,” “misfortune,” etc., which is the opposite of svasti. His point here may be that an afflicted mind, due to failure to apprehend causality, is obsessed with good and bad fortune, and experiences the ups and downs ups and downs
Alternating periods of good and bad fortune or spirits.

ups and downs
Noun, pl

alternating periods of good and bad luck or high and low spirits  of “fortune,” which is really, in the Buddhist view, the unanticipated and misunderstood effects of past actions.

(18.) Buddhajnana, Sriherukasadhanavrtti (To. 1858, D rgyud ‘grel vol. di, fol. 45a). Note that in my translations of commentaries, both here and below, the text that is being commented upon is displayed in bold lettering.

(19.) This is not to imply that Buddhajnana, writing in the late eighth or early ninth century, invented the notion of “compassionate anger.” As noted below, the idea is also present in an early eighth century commentary by Subhakarasimha and Yixing. This idea is a development of the early Mahayana concept of expedience (upaya).

(20.) These ritual procedures fall within the well-know satkarmini, the “six [classes of] ritual actions.” These include the Santika, pacification rituals designed to placate hostile or obstructive powers, and the abhicara, destructive rituals designed to eliminate enemies (Buhnemann 2000). Regarding the defensive nature of Santika rites see Goudriaan (1978:388). For a discussion of mandala rituals see Boord (1998).

(21.) That is, Luipa’s Sribhagavad-abhisamaya (To. 1427, D rgyud ‘grel vol. wa, 186b-193a).

(22.) For an idealized portrayal of the Buddhist mandala, see Tucci (1961).

(23.) The seven additional commentaries occur at To. 1465, 1492, 1498, 1509, 1510, 3795, and 3796. Three additional ones occur at PTT #4659, 4660, and 4661.

(24.) My translation of Yoginisa.cara Tantra 17.4c-5b, as edited in Pandey (1998:148). This text is quoted by Atisa in his Abhisamayavibhanga (AV) (To. 1490, D rgyud ‘grel vol zha, fol. 188a).

(25.) AV fol. 188a. Note that although it is the stakes that are being beaten, this operation is understood to kill the obstructive demons. For a description of a contemporary Tibetan version of this ritual operation see Kohn (2001:73-86).

(26.) See Katha Upanisad 2.18-20, edited and translated in Olivelle (1998:384-387). See also Bhagavad Gita 2.11-24, translated in Sargeant (1994:96-109).

(27.) Richard Kohn reported that a contemporary Tibetan practitioner of rituals of exorcism exorcism (ĕk`sôrsĭz’əm), ritual act of driving out evil demons or spirits from places, persons, or things in which they are thought to dwell. It occurs both in primitive societies and in the religions of sophisticated cultures.  of this type, Trulshik Rinpoche, defends this practice not by denying the reality of the demons, but by asserting his ability to transfer their spirits to the Buddhist paradises, which implies both a compassionate motivation and the extraordinary spiritual capacity of a Bodhisattva (2001:81-82).

(28.) The adhisthanacakra, also known as the samayacakra, is the outermost out·er·most
Most distant from the center or inside; outmost.


furthest from the centre or middle

Adj. 1. wheel in the Cakrasamvara mandala containing the fierce goddesses who guard the mandala’s periphery.

(29.) For an overview of Buddhist forms of the homa rite see Payne (1991). Regarding the destructive abhicara rites see Turstig (1985).

(30.) T.848.18.43a29: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII ASCII or American Standard Code for Information Interchange, a set of codes used to represent letters, numbers, a few symbols, and control characters. Originally designed for teletype operations, it has found wide application in computers. ]. Note that the Tibetan preserves a different reading, “The Fierce Fire is famed for all violent procedures.” (To. 494, rgyud ‘bum vol. tha, 227b: drag shul shul
n. Judaism
A synagogue.

[Yiddish, from Middle High German schuol, school, from Old High German scuola, from Latin scola; see school1.]  spyad pa thams cad la // khro bo’i me ni rab tu bsgrags).

(31.) Regarding Subhakarasimha ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) and his disciple Yixing ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), see Chou ([1945] 2006).

(32.) T.39.1796.782a.3-8. Many thanks to Dr. Nanxiu Qian for her assistance translating this passage.

(33.) Regarding the dating and vocation of Bhavyakirti, see Gray (2007:22).

(34.) My translation from my forthcoming edition of Cakrasamvara Tantra 31.1a-3b. For an annotated translation see Gray (2007:297). I am indebted to Dr. Alexis Sanderson for his assistance in translating this passage.

(35.) In this literature the term “great meat,” mahamamsa, is a euphemism for human flesh.

(36.) This is a traditional Buddhist list of sins, the first of which is killing.

(37.) Guhyasamaja Tantra 17.15: dasakusalan karmapathan kurvanti jnanavarjitah, ed. in Matsunaga (1978:97).

(38.) Here I read bsdar as bsdos.

(39.) Avici is the lowest hell in the Buddhist cosmology, into which fall the greatest sinners.

(40.) Bhavyakirti here summarizes Santaraksita’s argument in his Tattvasiddhi, which is translated above.

(41.) The Tibetan translation reads a kso hi, a transcription of aksauhini, an army consisting of 21,870 elephants, 21,870 chariots, 65,610 horse, and 109,350 foot soldiers. See Monier-Williams (2002:4 col. 1).

(42.) Bhavyakirti, Sricakrasamvarapanjika-suramanojna-nama (To. 1405, D rgyud ‘grel vol. ma, 29b-30a).

(43.) See J. Z. Smith, “The Bare Facts of Ritual,” in Smith (1982:53-65). See especially pp. 62-63.

(44.) Regarding this myth see O’Flaherty (1976:180-211).

(45.) Regarding the flexibility and contextual orientation of traditional Hindu ethics, see Crawford (2003:19-30).

(46.) See Bhagavad Gita 3.5, translated in Sargeant (1994:162).

(47.) Ronald Davidson argues that this was a major factor influencing the development of tantric Buddhism. See his Indian Esoteric Buddhism (2002), especially chapters 2-4.

(48.) See Charles Willemen’s comments on this in his The Chinese Hevajratantra (1983:27-32).

(49.) Bu-ston Rinpoche reported that the early kings were concerned about the transgressive elements in the Mahayoga tantras, and ordered that they could only be translated with royal permission. See Gray (2007:81-82). Leonard van der Kuijp has identified an instance of bowdlerization bowd·ler·ize
tr.v. bowd·ler·ized, bowd·ler·iz·ing, bowd·ler·iz·es
1. To expurgate (a book, for example) prudishly.

2. To modify, as by shortening or simplifying or by skewing the content in a certain manner.  in an early dynastic translation of one of the tantras (1992:116).

(50.) Regarding this see Samten Karmay’s “The Ordinance of Lha Bla-ma Ye-shes-‘od” (1980: 150-162), as well as his “An Open Letter by the Pho-brang Zhi-ba-‘od,” (1980:2-28).

(51.) Regarding the history of this invitation see Chattopadhyaya (1981:279-366).

(52.) This concern went so far that the Kadampa, in collecting and disseminating the works of their founder, Atisa, tended to downplay his tantric works and highlight his sutric and philosophical works. None of the former are contained in the “Key Texts” category translated by Richard Sherburne in his misnamed work, The Complete Works of Atisa (2000).

(53.) This refers to the three “rites of eating, fire sacrifice and sacrificial offerings,” which are mentioned in the root text.

(54.) My translation from Tsongkhapa’s bde mchog bsdus pa’i rgyud kyi rgya cher bshad pa sbas pa’i don kun gsal ba, in the rJe yab sras gsung ‘bum, bKra-shis Lhun-po edition (repr. Delhi: Ngawang Gelek Demo, 1980), vol. nya, 170a,b.

(55.) For example, he wrote extensively on these topics in his famous lam rim chen mo. See the three volume English translation of this work (Cutler 2000, 2002, 2004).

(56.) For an analysis of how tantric ritual reinforces a clergy-laity hierarchical distinction in contemporary Geluk Tibetan practice see Mills (2003:129-136).

(57.) For example, there appears to be some indications that certain exemplary monks were believed to be suitable for karmamudra sexual yogic practices, despite the fact that such practices would entail a violation of their monastic vows. See Mullin (1996:70-71, 249 n. 17).

(58.) These are typically composed of a mixture of roasted barley flour and butter. For the fierce rites, they are often dyed red, and shaped so as to simulate the body parts of a sacrificial animal or person. For descriptions and depictions of them see Kohn (2001:119-134).

(59.) Although I know of no historical evidence supporting the hypothesis that destructive abhicara rituals were employed by Indian Buddhists, aside from the very large number of Indian Buddhist texts that describe these rites, there is anecdotal evidence anecdotal evidence,
n information obtained from personal accounts, examples, and observations. Usually not considered scientifically valid but may indicate areas for further investigation and research.  suggesting this. For example, an account of the Indian master Atisa’s journey to Tibet, composed by his Tibetan student Dromton, suggests that Atisa was responsible for keeping the Turks at bay, presumably pre·sum·a·ble
That can be presumed or taken for granted; reasonable as a supposition: presumable causes of the disaster.  through the practice of rites for the “pacification” of enemies. The text thus implies that his departure to Tibet in 1040 CE opened the door to the Turkish invasion of Northern India, which began in earnest during the eleventh century. Regarding this see DeCleer (1997).

(60.) See Allan Grapard’s description of the Shijoko fire ritual (1999:539-541). See also Kleine (2006).

David B. Gray

Department of Religious Studies

Santa Clara University

Buddhism and Nonviolent Social Action

This is a talk given on May 14, 1988 at the Zen Temple, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

By Graeme MacQueen

I FIRST ENCOUNTERED BUDDHISM in a university course on world religions. Four emphases immediately drew me to Buddhism. First was the emphasis on suffering. We begin with the experience of our own suffering, and we work from there. I thought that was a good starting point.

Second was the emphasis on compassion. It isn’t just my own suffering that I am supposed to be concerned with, it is the suffering of others — all human beings, whatever race, culture, and society, and even nonhuman living beings. They too suffer, and to be fully alive is to be sensitive to this.

Third was the emphasis on awakening, or enlightenment, the idea that it is possible in this world to achieve a breakthrough into the nature of things, and that doing so will help us to overcome suffering. I discovered that there were Buddhists who undertook this quest for the truth seriously, even passionately.

Finally, what struck me was the down-to-earth, practical nature of Buddhism. I am in pain, you are in pain. Let’s not waste time theorizing; let’s do something about our suffering.

I became involved in Buddhism at two levels — academic and personal. The academic part took up more and more of my time, and I became a graduate student in Buddhist Studies at Harvard from 1971 to ’74. Most U.S. troops had been withdrawn from Vietnam at that point but there was still massive bombing by the Air Force. At Harvard there was an emphasis on dialogue with other religious traditions. I lived in the Center for the Study of World Religions, and we spent a lot of time dialoguing. There was a great deal of good in this, but in most of my dialogues, the war — which was historically significant, and fraught with suffering for millions of people — was hardly ever talked about, and never in a formal academic setting.

So here I am, studying Buddhist culture and Buddhist religion and Buddhist languages, and here are these millions of Buddhists being driven from their homes by bombs, being deafened by bombs, being burned alive by the very country in which I am staying, and we’re not talking about it. I began to consider the dialogue phony. The real dialogue was not a dialogue of words, but of bullets, a dialogue of metal.

Not only was the dialogue bothering me, but also the quest for truth, which supposedly we, as a university community, were there for. Ironically, Harvard’s motto is “veritas,” the Latin word for truth. A noble motto for a university. But why this silence about the war? Was Harvard’s truth too noble to be involved in tacky things like human beings being bombed by B-52s? Something was wrong with Harvard’s truth.

Maybe Harvard’s truth was actually being relayed on B52s to Southeast Asia. Maybe Harvard’s truth was that white male American culture and economic structures were what everyone must have, like it or not.

It isn’t as if Harvard had nothing to do with the war. Harvard gave the world Henry Kissinger. And there was Samuel Huntington, another great “scholar” from Harvard, who still has a high position there. Sam Huntington gave us the theory of forced-draft urbanization. This means that if you want to modernize and urbanize South Vietnam in a hurry, bomb the people out of their homes in the countryside. That would force them into overcrowded cities like Saigon, where they would become dependent on a foreign military power and foreign economic handouts. They would thus be unable to support the “Viet Cong,” the resistance operating in the countryside. People like Huntington legitimized massive terrorist activities by the U.S. Air Force.

And there was also Louis Fieser, who in 1942 as a Harvard prof gave the world the gift of napalm, for which as we all know, Buddhists in Southeast Asia are so grateful. An alternative view was bravely put forward, I later learned, by the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars, but I knew nothing of their existence while I was at Harvard.

As I reflected on these things, my discomfort increased with universities and with the North American study of Buddhism in general. When I came back to Canada in ’74, my country, despite its public image of purity and lofty ideals, was collaborating, and money was being made on the war. Within the university itself, there was the same silence about war. I began to see that major disease in the academic world — careerism, the notion that we’re here in life to build our “careers,” to achieve status, to progress through the ranks.

I came into the study of Buddhism with idealism, so the confrontation with careerism caused me pain. What happened to my questions about suffering, compassion, insight, and practical solutions to human problems — the things that had attracted me to Buddhism? Was I not playing a very different game? It seemed to me that the university had sold out. It was saying to the political authorities: We want to be comfortable, so go ahead and bomb these people. But don’t challenge tenure, don’t cut our budget. That would upset us.

Around 1980, I saw that my life was going nowhere. I was not interested in dedicating the rest of my existence to my career. Several events turned me in a different direction. At the beginning of the 1980s, this massive anti-nuclear movement began to ferment, touched off by the Reagan administration’s talk of theatre nuclear war in Europe. And Central America was on our minds. In 1980 came the Rio Sumpul massacre in El Salvador:

The first major massacre was at the Rio Sumpul on May 14th, when thousands of peasants fled to Honduras to escape an army operation. As they were crossing the river, they were attacked by helicopters, members of ORDEN, and troops. According to eyewitness testimony reported by Amnesty International and the Honduran clergy, women were tortured, nursing babies were thrown into the air for target practice, children were drowned by soldiers or decapitated or slashed to death with machetes, pieces of their bodies were thrown to dogs. Honduran soldiers drove survivors back into the hands of the Salvadoran forces. At least 600 unburied corpses were prey for dogs and buzzards while others were lost in the waters of the river, which was contaminated from the dead bodies; bodies of five children were found in a fish trap by a Honduran fisherman.

I read an account of that event that shattered my nonperception of suffering, my careerism, my silent collaboration. I knew that the U.S. was behind that action of the Salvardoran and Honduran armies. It was helping feed, clothe, train, and equip those soldiers. I didn’t yet understand that the massacre was a direct application of American strategy (with which Canada has generally collaborated) aimed at the exploitation of the region. But I knew that by not resisting, I was involved in violence. People were being killed by me.

Picture those peasants, quietly entering our room now and sitting, perhaps over there in those back seats. There’s an old man with a straw hat. A young woman with her child in this empty front seat. They are going to sit there quietly and listen to us. They are the ones who are questioning us about violence and nonviolence today. If our analyses and answers, our doctrines and sayings, our quotations from scripture, do not address their situation, we are not serious.

What do we do when we grasp the nature of structural violence and collaboration? After reading that account of Rio Sumpul, I tried to respond in a Buddhist way: to meditate, to sit down and do mindfulness practice, to try to be aware of the state of my own body and mind, to try to get some clarity.

Nice try. It didn’t work. I had to get up from where I sat, throw open the door, and run. I ran and ran until I was exhausted and couldn’t run anymore. It isn’t just that I was a terrible meditator. At that point, meditating wasn’t what I needed and it sure as hell wasn’t what those people in El Salvador needed. So I began groping for an appropriate response. It took some time.

In 1983, I found myself being thrown into a van, in handcuffs and shackles, with a couple of dozen other people for having blocked the entrance to a company that was constructing counter-insurgency training camps in Honduras.

I won’t romanticize civil disobedience. I won’t pretend that it stopped what was happening in Central America. But I think it was a lot more appropriate than anything I had done up to that point. It had an impact on public perceptions and on what certain companies and interest groups could get away with. The activities of the peace and justice movements of the 1980s did accomplish important things. I wasn’t just an individual, I was part of a social movement, which was enormous and which participated actively in history.

Furthermore, there was a kind of peace that I achieved that day, lying on the ground in my handcuffs in the November rain — a kind of communion with the spirits of the people killed at Rio Sumpul. I don’t think this was just self-indulgence or fantasy, though this is always a danger. I think I was starting to translate compassion into genuine solidarity with those who suffer. Compassion without active solidarity is barren. I was starting to get some integrity. Not that I was a saviour of the world, but I was beginning to put into practice my moral and spiritual values. That huge chasm between talk and action was beginning to be addressed in my life.

In Mahayana Buddhism, one of the great spiritual beings honored is Kuan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion. I came to feel that there is Kuan Yin in each one of us. We have to get in touch with Kuan Yin and feel what she calls us to do in the world. The 1980s for me were a process of getting in touch with Kuan Yin within myself.

I speak to you today as people who are interested in Buddhist spirituality. The form of Buddhism known to most of you is Mahayana, from which Zen springs. As you know, the bodhisattva is the central focus of Mahayana. A bodhisattva is a being whose ultimate aims are full enlightenment — that is, profound insight into the world, and the compassionate liberation of living beings. If those are your aims, then you are entering into the path of the bodhisattva. Buddhism, especially Mahayana Buddhism, is frankly idealistic. It appeals to deep yearnings within us.

So what does a bodhisattva in the United States or Canada do in 1988? Let me distinguish between the “smiling bodhisattva” and the “unsmiling bodhisattva.” These are my own terms. By “smiling bodhisattva” I mean someone who wants to achieve calmness, clarity — a practitioner of meditation and ritual. Someone who is not very interested in social action and who, when the issue arises, tends to emphasize cooperation. Someone who, when asked to give, gives; when asked to do, does. The smiling bodhisattva is emphasized in North American Buddhism. Such people are often judgmental toward those with agitated minds, who get angry, who rush about acting with their bodies, who protest, who don’t hang out in zendos and who may not have a clear mind.

On the one hand, it makes sense in a frantic and distracted culture to try to achieve calmness. We need it. The meditation tradition may contribute greatly to achieving a better world– not just through individual improvement but through social action. But that’s the subject of another talk, not this one.

Here’s a quotation from a Mahayana scripture. The passage is describing bodhisattvas: “Great compassion takes hold of them. With the heavenly eye they survey countless beings and what they see fills them with great agitation.”

Agitation! They’re not just sitting there calmly with all this suffering. It is in the nature of great compassion to sweep us along with other beings when they are being slaughtered. If we see the slaughter and never get agitated, I have serious questions about our compassion.

Agitated bodhisattvas are what I’m calling unsmiling bodhisattvas. They do not always have their act together, and are sometimes confused, even in despair. This is because their hearts have been torn open.

When it comes to social action, you’ll find the unsmiling bodhisattva present — and not always cooperative. The unsmiling bodhisattva tries not to cooperate with evil and, when asked by the forces of death to give, refuses. This unsmiling bodhisattva does not act with words only, but with the body, and puts his or her life on the line for living beings.

I’ll read from another Mahayana text — not so you’ll feel constrained by the “authority” of the scripture. I don’t believe in such authority, and there is plenty of skepticism about this use of scripture in the Buddhist tradition. But I want you to know that the resources for nonviolent praxis exist in this tradition. This text, from the fourth century of the Common Era, is called Bodhisattva Bhumi — “Stages in the Development of a Bodhisattva.” It’s a practical manual for Buddhists.

First quotation: “Bodhisattvas do not give themselves in service to others or in servitude to others if this will result in others being harmed or being deceived.” Have you given your selves in service to an imperialistic state? To a nuclear state? To a world economic order built on exploitation? To an order that deceives to cover the suffering it perpetrates?

Second quotation: “As to external objects, the bodhisattva does not offer harmful things such as poison, fire, weapons, and liquor to those who ask when their requests are for the purpose of harming themselves or others.” There’s a superficial way to understand this one. I can say, “I’m not supposed to offer weapons to people. Fine. I won’t hand a revolver to anybody. That’s easy.”

Yes, it’s easy. As a privileged, white North American I can get by without literally handing poison or weapons to people. But we know that this is a childish interpretation. Not giving weapons for harming others means having radical relations with the political authorities in our countries. What are we going to do when they ask for our taxes in order to go build more weapons? Are we going to pay up?

Finally, the third quotation: “And further, a bodhisattva does not offer others a thing belonging to someone else or whose ownership is uncertain.”

“Well,” you say, “that’s obvious. You can’t give something that doesn’t belong to you. That’s all the passage says.”

But aren’t we being asked to give away things that don’t belong to us? Aren’t we asked to give away the earth? Whole species? Whole ecosystems? The futures of our children and other people’s children? Do they belong to us? Can I give my child’s future to the leaders of my state to do with what they want? Can I give the earth to a multinational company? No, because these things don’t belong to me. So what do I do when they ask me to hand these over or to collaborate silently in the handing over of these things? I have to say no. I have to be an unsmiling bodhisattva.

To try to embody nonviolence means to act from the compassion that gives birth to solidarity, and to act from a careful perception of the way the world works. To be nonviolent it is not enough that I refrain from overt violent behavior.

It is fairly easy for us privileged North Americans to avoid overt violence, but it won’t do to feel pure and good because of this. It is the very nature of privilege to be able to avoid such acts if we wish, to be able to be “pure” in this sense. If I start to judge the poor and the oppressed, either in my own society (it is mainly the poor that fill up our prisons) or in Third World countries — If I say, “These folks are violent, I’d better go and teach them Gandhian principles or Buddhist principles,” I’m missing the point. It is precisely the poor who have overt violence shoved onto their backs, who suffer it and who are put in a position where they have to engage in it. By all means, let’s offer them what we have in teachings on nonviolence, but let’s not teach smug “niceness” and call it Buddhism. Our challenge is to remove the structural violence perpetrated by our societies and our “pure” strata.

Finally, I’d like to read a passage of Mahayana scripture that is concerned with what the bodhisattva is supposed to be.

“Bodhisattvas conceive the idea that all beings, whether men or women, are their parents and their children, and thus they go on the pilgrimage of the bodhisattva. They think this: As I myself want to be free from sufferings, so do all beings want to be free from sufferings. I must not abandon these beings.” And the question for us is: What does it mean in North America in 1988, not to abandon these beings?

Graeme MacQueen teaches Religious Studies and Peace Studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.


S. Huntington’s article, “The Bases of Accommodation,” Foreign Affairs, July 1968, 642-656. * The massacre description is from Noam Chomsky’s Turning the Tide (Montreal: Black Rose, 1987), p. 105. * Passages of the Bodhisattva Bhumi are from the 9th chapter, as translated by James Mullens in his McMaster Ph.D. thesis (in progress).* All other Buddhist quotations are from translations of Edward Conze, Selected Sayings from the Perfection of Wisdom (London: The Buddhist Society, 1955) and The Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines and its Verse Summary (Bolinas: Four Seasons , 1973).

What is Buddhist Perspective on War and Peace?
Written by Kerry Trembath
Saturday, 13 September 2008 01:45
This is the text of a talk given by to members of the Sathya Sai Organisation on 30 May 1999 by Kerry Trembath on behalf of the Buddhist Council of New South Wales. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Buddhist Council.


No doubt we would all agree that world peace is desirable. Yet we live in a world where war is considered by many to be a sometimes necessary evil. General opinion, supported by the media, tends to the view that the use of military force is at times justified. Every country maintains its own defence forces, ostensibly in order to protect itself and its interests.
Yet when conflicts break out, we find that both sides claim that they are acting only to protect their own interests, or that they are responding to aggression from the other side. It is often only with the perspective of time that we can look back and see how misguided these claims are. In times of war, ordinary people are fired by patriotic fervour to participate indirectly by supporting the war effort, or directly by taking up arms in order to kill or maim their fellow human beings. Committing acts of violence against others is condoned on the grounds that we have the right to protect ourselves, our property and our perceived national interests.
In recent times, we have also seen the increasing use of military force by nations on behalf of international organisations such as NATO against other nations. Aggressive interventions are carried out in the name of a higher ideal such as democracy or freedom, the right to self-determination, or even capitalism and free trade. Such actions frequently enjoy the support of many ordinary people who believe that the ends justify the means, that acts of violence can be justified if they bring about a better world.
Of course all the world’s major religions teach that it is wrong to kill, but these injunctions are frequently overlooked or ignored, even by religious leaders. In many countries, priests serve as members of the armed forces to provide chaplaincy services. Religious leaders provide blessings to the armed services, and lead prayers for victory. In extreme cases, religious leaders call on the government and the people to go to war, claiming divine authority and promising rewards in the afterlife to those who die in the conflict. These and other actions by so-called men of god tend to legitimise war and desensitise us to the moral and ethical imperatives taught by the very religions that they represent.
As far as I have been able to ascertain, there has never been a war that has been waged in the name of Buddhism. Of course, many Buddhist individuals have taken part in wars, and wars have been waged by countries that are nominally Buddhist. But these wars have been waged over territorial, economic or political disputes, not in the name of the religion itself, and the dictates of Buddhism have never been used to justify or rationalise a war.
Many of you would know the story of the great emperor Asoka, who in the 3rd century BC waged war for many years to gain dominion over most of the Indian sub-continent. After his final conquest of Kalinga, he gave up military conquest and followed a sustained policy of reconciliation and peace. The edicts of Asoka have survived in the stone inscriptions he had placed on pillars that were erected throughout his empire. In his 13th Rock Edict, Asoka frankly admitted that abuses of human dignity and violations of human rights are the natural outcomes of war. The emperor expressed his horror of war, and of the cruel and revengeful actions that otherwise decent human beings are led to take in times of war. He declared that he and his descendants would henceforth give up war and follow the law of virtue (Dhamma Vijaya) instead of territorial conquest (Dig Vijaya).

The Buddhist teachings on war

War cannot be vindicated by any of the teachings of the Buddha. This also applies to the use of violent means for whatever purpose, no matter how lofty the supposed ideal or principle at stake. Ordinary Buddhists undertake to follow Five Precepts in guiding their actions. The first of these is:

I take the precept to abstain from destroying living beings

The basic teachings of the Buddha are contained in the Four Noble Truths, which are concerned with the realisation that our objective in life is the pursuit of happiness through the elimination of the factors that create suffering. This applies universally, so contemplation of the Buddha’s basic teachings leads us to the understanding that everyone is in the pursuit of happiness.

In the Dhammapada, we find these famous verses:

Hatreds never cease through hatred in this world
Through love alone they cease
This is an eternal law (1).

There is a story in the Buddhist scriptures about a conflict between two clans over water rights. One of the two clans was the Sakyans, the clan into which the Buddha himself had been born, and the other their neighbours, the Kolyans. The dispute had escalated to the point where the armies of the two clans were drawn up in battle array facing each other across the disputed waterway. The Buddha arrived just in time to convince them that human life was more important than water rights, and persuaded them to settle their dispute in an amicable way (2).

The development of peace and social harmony

So what can we do to foster peace? Well, Buddhism advises that we should start with ourselves. In the of the Majjhima Nikaya, it is recorded that the Buddha addressed a monk called Cunda with the words:

It is not possible, Cunda, for one who is stuck in the mud to pull out another who is stuck in the mud. But Cunda, it is possible for one who is not himself stuck in the mud to pull out another who is stuck (3).

In the Sakkapanha Sutta of the Digha Nikaya, we have the record of the Buddha’s response to questions as to why people who enjoy living in peace nevertheless act in a way that leads to conflicts. In diagnosing the problem, the Buddha traced the immediate and secondary causes until he arrived at the final root cause, namely craving. According to the Buddha, craving or greed prevents us from pursuing our own best interests even when we clearly see the path leading to our own welfare. Common manifestations of craving are envy and avarice, which in turn are grounded in two more fundamental psychological conditions. Envy arises because we identify things as “I”, because we perpetually seek to establish a personal identity for ourselves internally and to project that identity outward for others to recognise and accept. Avarice arises because we appropriate, we attempt to carve out a territory for ourselves and to furnish that territory with possessions that will titillate our greed and sense of self-importance.

As conflict is rooted in envy and avarice, it follows that the path to non-conflict must be a course of relinquishment, of removing the constrictive thoughts and desires that pivot around the notions of “I” and “mine”, the drives to identify and to possess. The Buddha’s doctrine of no-soul (anatta) and his emphasis on the interconnectedness of all things can help us overcome our sense of a separate and uniquely important self. These insights expose the hollowness of the notions of “I” and “mine” that underlie envy and avarice. Although this is a daunting task, and although the final liberation may lie far away, the path leading to it is a gradual one, growing out of simpler, more basic steps that lie very close to our feet.

Buddhism advocates the cultivation of compassion (karuna) and loving-kindness (metta) towards all living beings. It teaches that it is possible to live a way of life which is to the benefit of oneself and of others.

It is only by developing his or her own mind to a state where peace and tranquillity are supreme that a person can expect to have any impact on the development of greater peace in the world around us. Social welfare in general, and the ability of individuals in society to help others, depend on the moral and spiritual development of the individuals in society.

Again in the Dhammapada, we learn that retaliation does not lead to peace:

He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me
In those who harbour such thoughts, hatred is not appeased (4).

In this verse, the Buddha advises us to bear the wrongs done to us by others. The Buddha’s constant advice to his followers is to not retaliate when provoked, but to practice patience and forbearance at all times. Some would argue that to return good for evil is impracticable. But everything the Buddha taught was based on his own experience. He advised us to in effect test the validity of his teachings by trying them out for ourselves, to learn the truth by our own direct experience.

Rather than asserting that some aspect of the Buddha’s teachings are impracticable, we need to make a genuine and sustained effort to apply the teachings in our daily life and then see for ourselves whether greater happiness and well-being follow, as the Buddha said they would. How often do react with anger when we perceive that a wrong has been done to us? How often do we in fact make a sincere effort to reflect, to exercise restraint before responding? Buddhism teaches that to establish peace and harmony in the world, all of us must first learn the way leading to the extinction of hatred, greed and delusion, the roots of all evil.

The Buddha’s teachings therefore are that war begins in the hearts of men, and that only in the hearts of men can real and lasting peace be established. Interestingly, this concept is now enshrined in the preamble to the United Nations Charter on Peace:

Since it is in the minds of men that wars begin, it is in the minds of men the ramparts of peace should be erected.

This statement echoes the very first verse of the Dhammapada:

Mind is the forerunner of all (evil) states. Mind is their chief; they are mind-made. If one speaks or acts with a wicked mind, suffering follows one, even as the wheel follows the hoof of the draught-ox (5).

There are many references in the earliest Buddhist texts to the futility of war. Again in the Dhammapada, we find this verse:

Victory breeds hatred.
The defeated live in pain.
Happily the peaceful live,
Giving up victory and defeat (Having set winning & losing aside) (6).

There are so many conflicts in the world today to which these verses could apply. Losing a conflict of course brings suffering, but so too does winning as it merely creates resentment and plans for revenge in the losing side. How often do we see the escalation of a dispute into open conflict through a series of tit-for-tat retaliations by each side?

Many politicians seem to believe that peace can be built merely on economic readjustments and external political changes. Generals seem to think that peace can be enforced by military action. Religious leaders seem to think that the way to peace is through prayers and rituals. But peace is the result of man’s harmony with his fellow beings and with his environment. This is not to say that economic readjustments should not be pursued. It is clear that a fairer distribution of the world’s wealth and resources, and the establishment of a minimum standard of human rights, education and health for every citizen of the world, would do a lot to bring about greater peace. But Buddhism teaches that these external adjustments will fail unless our craving, our greed for power and profit, is controlled.

According to the Buddha, there is no problem in human life that cannot be resolved with right understanding and right effort. Right understanding and right effort are two of the steps in what we call the Noble Eightfold Path, an interlocking set of virtues that are to be cultivated by all Buddhists.

Peace has to be cultivated in our minds through what Buddhists call right understanding or right thought (samma sankappa). This includes both thought and intention, and in particular refers to the thoughts that motivate our actions. In the Majjhima Nikaya, the Buddha described right thought in this way:

And what is right thought? The thought of giving up, the thought of love and the thought of helpfulness – this is called right thought (7).

So a principal component of right thought is love, or more exactly loving-kindness (metta), a boundless loving friendship that is extended to all beings, regardless of racial, ethnic, religious or territorial boundaries. In the most famous text on this subject, the Metta Sutta, we are shown how to radiate friendliness, even towards our enemies (8). In another sutta, the four Sublime Abodes (brahma vihara) are described (9). The first two of these are loving-kindness (metta) and compassion (karuna), and the other two are sympathetic joy (mudita) and equanimity (upekkha). Clearly, if we were all able to cultivate these qualities, we would have a world where peace, social harmony and equity would prevail.

The fifth factor in the Noble Eightfold Path is also highly relevant to our discussion, as it deals with right livelihood (samma ajiva). The Buddha taught that we should earn our living by harmless means. Those who follow the Buddhist path are advised to avoid five forms of occupation. In the Anguttara Nikaya, we find these words:

There are five trades that ought not to be practiced by a layman. What five? Trade in weapons, trade in human beings, trade in flesh, trade in intoxicants, and trade in poisons (10).

Buddhists therefore are advised to avoid occupations that are associated with loss of life or harm to other living beings, and this includes dealing in arms or any kind of chemical or biological weaponry.

In this context, it is worth mentioning that the Buddha rejected the idea that was prevalent in his time and which persists even to this day, that is that there are special places in heaven for men who die in war (11).


In summary, the core teachings of Buddhism in relation to war and peace are that:

  • The realisation of peace within oneself is a precondition for peace within the world at large, and is in fact a contributing cause to the growth of peace and social harmony
  • The principle of non-violence is the basic concept on which the ideal of peace is founded, as the use of violence is bound to provoke violence in return
  • The development of non-violent modes of thought and action is achieved through the cultivation of the virtues of loving-kindness, compassion, altruistic joy and equanimity
  • The roots of violence are greed (lobha), hatred (dosa) and ignorance (moha).
  • We will act in a less violent fashion if we can overcome our sense of a permanent and unique self, and if we can come to see the interconnectedness of all things
  • The realisation that all beings are in a state of suffering generates compassion, even towards enemies
  • The realisation that all beings are in pursuit of happiness generates patience, tolerance and forgiveness
  • The elimination of greed, hatred and delusion and the cultivation of their opposites, selflessness (alobha), compassion (adosa) and wisdom (amoha) brings release from suffering here and now, not just in some future life or afterlife.
  • The validity of the teachings can be tested in an empirical fashion, by anyone who can develop the right understanding and apply the right effort.

May we all succeed in finding the path to peace and happiness.


Ven Patagama Gnanarama, An Approach to Buddhist Social Philosophy, Ti-Sarana Buddhist Association, Singapore, 1996

Ven Dr K Sri Dhammananda, What Buddhists Believe, Buddhist Missionary Society, Kuala Lumpur, 1987

Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Problem of Conflict, Buddhist Publication Society Newsletter cover essay #13, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, 1989

Ven S Dhammika, All About Buddhism, Buddha Dhamma Mandala Society, Singapore, 1990


  1. Verse number 5 in the Twin Verses (Yamaka Vagga) of The Dhammapada, trans Ven. Narada Thera, Buddhist Missionary Society, Kuala Lumpur, 1978.
  1. MNA, Vol. II, p. 783.
  2. Majjhima Nikaya, Sallekha Sutta (No. 8).
  3. Dhammapada, op cit, Verse number 3 in the Twin Verses.
  4. Dhammapada, op cit, Verse number 1 in the Twin Verses.
  5. Dhammapada, op cit, Verse number 5 in the Sukkha Vagga (Happiness).
  6. Majjhima Nikaya III:251
  7. Sutta Nipata 151.
  8. Digha Nikaya Vol. III, p. 196 and p. 220.
  9. Anguttara Nikaya III:207
  10. Samyutta Nikaya Vol IV, 308 and 310
Last Updated on Saturday, 13 September 2008 01:50

Slow Violence in the Gulf of Mexico: A Buddhist Response

by Jill S. Schneiderman

The U.S. government and reporters have gone from calling the BP/Transocean calamity an accident to referring to it as an environmental crime. In my opinion, that’s an improvement in verbal accuracy but it misses an even larger and vastly important point. We are now witnessing in the Gulf of Mexico slow violence. Writer Rob Nixon coined the phrase, which he acknowledges as seemingly oxymoronic, to describe acts whose “lethal repercussions sprawl across space and time.”

Would anyone argue that the exploits of oil professionals in the Gulf haven’t caused deadly outcomes that continue to sprawl spatially and temporally? If the implications of the words Nixon uses to help us understand his concept were not utterly devastating, I’d relish their richness: “attritional calamities” with “deferred consequences and casualties;” “dispersed repercussions” that “pose formidable imaginative difficulties.” The explosion, fire, and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon was a small spectacle and only the initial phase of a protracted series of events with severe ramifications. I believe that Nixon would call the BP Earth Day Oil Catastrophe a “convoluted cataclysm”; it’s vivified by the tortuous patterns of unspectacular brick-colored sludge and oblique oily sheen not anywhere but everywhere. The crude oil coats birds, porpoises, redfish, marsh grasses, and people. It’s dispersed in the water column and currents, and sends fumes into the air.

It’s difficult not to be heartbroken. Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now, reported from coastal Louisiana the sentiments of people whose lives and livelihoods are wrecked.  When asked to talk about the damage, fifty-one year old Dean Blanchard, owner of the largest shrimp business in the area of Grand Isle responded, “It’s not the damage. It’s a way of life. They destroyed a way of life.” In the parking lot of his tattoo parlor Bobby Pitre displayed a sculpture of an adult and child, both wearing gas masks, holding a dead fish by the tail and a sign, “God help us all!” When talking to Goodman he said, “I don’t think there’s anything that man can do at this point to really prevent the spill from reaching us, reaching our marshes….we need a miracle, is what we really need, you know? That’s how I see it. It’s going to kill everything in our marshes, our whole way of life. It’s just going to kill us, you know?”

Devastated communities and environmental refugees, dead or injured living beings, and absolutely altered land, water, and air. We should recognize the BP Earth Day Oil Catastrophe as a bellwether of slow violence—brutality in the guise of slow-moving and spatially extensive environmental transformations that are out of sync with the nano-second attention spans of the 21st century. But what will enable us unflaggingly to confront slow violence?

In her memoir, Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience, Sharon Salzberg writes, “When we stand before a chasm of futility, it is first of all faith in this [the] larger perspective that enables us to go on.” Some might scoff at the idea that faith has any place as a healing quality, a refuge, during this calamity and in the future it foreshadows. But human beings must begin to live and act in accordance with the reality of connectedness famously articulated by John Muir: “When we try to pick out anything by itself we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe. ”

Salzberg advocates for an enduring faith in, among other things, the recurrent workings of nature. She reports after the U.S. bombed Hiroshima, panic erupted as rumors spread that grass, trees, and flowers would never again grow in the city. She writes:

“Had the disaster been of such proportions that the laws of nature had exploded with the bomb? As we know, even in the face of massive human intervention, the grass and trees and flowers did grow again in Hiroshima. Several people, describing their experience of that time, say that it was only once they learned that natural law was still intact that they had the faith to go on.”

Natural law still operates amidst the ineptitude and corruption in the Gulf of Mexico. Distributary channels on the Mississippi delta continue to carry sediment to the Gulf despite human efforts to channelize the flow of the river; tides and currents dole out the sediment to the sea; fine-grained particles settle to the seafloor. It’s the modern day continuation of processes that first formed the oil. The petroleum—“rock oil”—now gushing forth from the earth’s crust is a natural substance, albeit unleashed in an unnatural time frame. It formed from the remains of marine organisms interred in mud beneath the sea. Over millions of years, the mud compressed and heated to form the sedimentary rock, shale. In that process the contained organic matter broke down to form oil. In the record of rocks, like those that spew oil, I read rhythms of deep time and the renewal they imply.

James Hutton, the 18th century Scottish medical doctor and gentleman farmer, is considered the founder of geology and remembered as having likened the earth to a perpetually self-renewing machine.  But as essayist Loren Eiseley reminds us in The Firmament of Time, for his doctoral dissertation Hutton studied blood circulation. At the same time, the medieval idea persisted that Man reproduces in miniature the outside world. What has been called Hutton’s secret—the fact that as a physician he applied his biomedical perspective to the earth—allowed him to use an organismic analogy for the earth.  He conceived of the planet not simply as a machine but as a living organism with circulation and metabolism. In this way of seeing, it is possible to recognize dynamic qualities of the earth’s crust that facilitate decay and renewal.

As Sharon Salzberg advises, “with faith we can draw near to the truth of the present moment.” So, for the time being, as I follow the ongoing reports coming from coastal Louisiana, I’m clinging to my faith as a geoscientist that we and the Earth together can begin again.

Jill S. Schneiderman is Professor of Earth Science at Vassar College and a 2009 recipient of a Contemplative Practice Fellowship from the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. She is editor of and contributor to For the Rock Record: Geologists on Intelligent Design (University of California Press, 2009) and The Earth Around Us: Maintaining a Livable Planet (Westview Press, 2003). She also blogs on her own website,

Most Supporters of Buddhism and Jainism were from the Merchant Classes

As we saw in the last chapter it is evident from the story of King Ajatashatru that Buddhism received royal patronage right from its inception. Apart from the romanticised tale of King Ajatashatru and the courtesan Amrapali, the reason why kings like Ajatashatru, traders like Anathapindaka, Kosiyagotta and Mendaka, patronised Buddhism was that the new faith advocated principles that suited their way of life. Even Jainism, (which was contemporary of Buddhism) found ardent supporters among the landed nobility and the mercantile community. Many principles are common to Buddhism and Jainism. Both religions deny the authority of Vedas and disown Vedic rituals of animal sacrifice. This earned them the support of the mercantile and agrarian classes. Their concept of ahimsa and non-violence, directly benefited agricultural and pastoral activities both of which require conservation of animal (bovine) life. But with its excessive emphasis on non-violence, Jainism stood in the way of agriculturists whose activities require the killing of insects and pests. Nor did Mahavira’s ideas become entirely acceptable to the agrarian community due to its ban on the ownership of property in the form of land. Hence those who accepted Jainism were mostly those who were engaged in mercantile pursuits, traded in commodities and who hence confined themselves to financial transactions without owing any landed property. This is the possible explanation behind the predominance of Jains in ancient times (and even today) in trade and maritime pursuits.

India’s western coast had widespread trade contact with foreign countries since ancient times, therefore it is not surprlsing why a significant portion of the population there opted for Jainism. Even today the Jain community is concentrated in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Karnataka and many Jains are till today engaged mainly in trading and mercantile activities.

Buddhism and Jainism Adopted Favourable Attitudes Towards Trade

Both Buddhism and Jainism adopted an attitude favourable to trade and commerce. As contrasted with this, the early Vedic law books prescribe the mercantile and agrarian professions to the Vaishyas who were ranked after the Brahmins and Kshatriyas. Brahmins were allowed to undertake trading activities only during times of distress. A Hindu lawgiver, Baudhayana condemns voyaging by sea as a sinful practice. The Hindu dogmas that a voyage across the seas caused the person to lose his religion (dharma) and his caste were born out of this attitude. As against this, Buddhism encouraged sea voyages. As Buddha’s attitude towards trade was favourable he received generous gifts from the trading community for his Sangha (monastic order). It was natural for the trading community to turn to the new faiths as compared to the Vedic religion which looked down upon mercantile activities. It is not surprising that the first two followers of Buddha – Sariputta and Mogallana were two merchants passing through Bodh Gaya.

A Person had to pay off his Debts before joining the Buddhist Sangha

Signifiantly the Buddhist scriptures nowhere condemns the practise of usury (money-lending with interest). On the contrary they advocate the right to livelihood through mercantile activities. There seems to be an intimate relationship between the Buddhist order and the urban based Setthis who perhaps lent money on interest and were looked down upon in the Brahminical scriptures. Buddha himself enjoins that a person pay off his debt before joining the Buddhist Sangha and no debtor is allowed to join. Thus indirectly though by enjoining payment of debts, Buddhism supported usury which is a corollary of mercantile activities.

There seems to be an intimate relationship between the Buddhist order and the urban based Setthis who perhaps lent money on interest and were looked down upon in the Brahminical scriptures. Buddha himself enjoins that a person pay off his debt before joining the Buddhist Sangha and no debtor is allowed to join. (Seen here are coins some of which date back to the Buddha’s time.)

Other corollaries of mercantile activities also received support from Buddhism. For instance while the Brahminical law giver Apastamba prohibits the higher castes from taking food cooked at eating houses located on trade routes, the Buddhist texts apparently support this practice. Buddhism also placed emphasis on unlawful practices harmful to trade like robbery, deception and intimidation. At one place Buddha himself equates the food earned by unlawful means with the leavings of a Chandala. Thus Buddhism and Jainism which provided a creed that preached non-violence, forbade burglary and brigandage of property, timely payment of debts served the interests of the trading community.

Thus the emergence of Buddhism and Jainism at a particular Juncture of social development cannot be explained only as a pious humanistic revulsion against violent practices of animal sacrifice. They were a result of the friction between established social Practices and an emerging way of life whose requirements these practices violated. As Indian society passed from the hunting to the pastoral and to the agrarian stage, livestock which formerly was a usual item of diet became an essential means of production, whose preservation became an economic necessity. The propertied trading and agrarian community had much to gain from a creed that preached prohibition of the waste of productive resources through animal sacrifice as most of these animals and other items like graio milk, honey, etc., must have been taken by the priests from these trading and agrarian communities as a social obligation having religious sanction. This was the reason why Buddhism, Jainism and other similar doctrines could take root at one particular juncture of social development with ardent support from the agrarian and trading communities. Although the natural human instinctive revulsion against violence exists wherever violence which ls not essential for human survival is practiced. Nevertheless, with their prescriptions of non-violence, along with universal brotherhood, love, compassion and a general charitable attitude, these religions apart from serving the interests of merchants and traders also had a salutary effect on society in general. The following story of a bandit named Angulimala brings out this aspect.

The Conversion of the Bandit Angulimala

Angulimala was a dreaded dacoit who also lived during Buddha lifetime. He was a terror of traders and merchants travelling from one city to another. Angulimala’s activities had given him the notoriety of being a ruthless bandit who would suck his victims clean of all their money, jewellery, valuables and merchandise. Even their horses and bullocks would be taken away and those unfortunate victims who were unwise enough to resist Angulimala and his accomplices would be maimed and even done to death.

Traders formed big Groups of Caravans defended by Armed Troops to Protect Themselves from Angulimala

He had become such a terror that the very mention of his name brought a chill in the spine of many traders whose profession required them to travel from one city to another. Even a waft of rumour that Angulimala was lying in wait on any trade route brought about Ehe cancellation of caravan journeys of merchants. Many kings of the Gangetic valley had made attempts to capture the dacoit, but Angulimala had eluded all of them. As his notoriety spread merchants started getting more cautious and travelled only in big groups accompanied with a strong battalion of armed guards. This brought about a fall in Angulimala’s earnings and day by day he grew more desperate.

Angulimala Robs Buddha

One day during such despondency Angulimala and his gang of dacoits spied on a group of monks going though the forest. The monks were unarmed and seemed easy prey for Angulimala. But the only disappointing aspect was that they did not appear to have anything worthwhile to rob. Most of them were barefooted and apart from a single loincloth draped across their bodies, a walking stick and a begging bowl they had nothing else with them.

Angulimala suspected that they were either rich merchants who had come in the guise of monks to deceive him or were troops in disguise sent to apprehend his gang of dacoits. Out of caution Angulimala decided not to set upon them immediately but to watch their activities and then attack them if advisable. He tracked the group of monks throughout the day. Towards nightfall the monks settled down in one clearing in the forest and one of them, who was no other than Gautama Buddha himself started speaking before the group of monks.

The Deer Park where Buddha gave his first sermon. The Buddha used to say that the wealth we accumulate during our lives is not really our wealth, thus we have to leave it behind when we commence our eternal journey. A person’s real wealth are his acts of charity and service to others which are cherished by the beneficiaries even after the person is no more. Thus even after a bodily death, such a person remains alive in the memories of others.

Angulimala who was hiding within earshot, heard Buddha saying that the wealth we accumulate during our lives is not really our wealth, thus we have to leave it behind when we commence our eternal journey. A person’s real wealth are his acts of charity and service to others which are cherished by the beneficiaries even after the person is no more. Thus even after a bodily death, such a person remains alive in the memories of others. Thus a person who gives his material wealth to others becomes a really rich person and not one who aims at depriving others of wealth by cheating or robbery.

These words struck Angulimala as a block of ice to a roaring fire. For the first time Angulimala pondered introspectively on his acts. He not only decided to leave the monks alone but in the days to come he became increasingly remorseful while indulging in acts of brigandage. One day he decided that he had enough of the wretched robber’s life, he left his accomplices and started living the life of a secluded monk. He wanted to join Buddha’s Sangha (Monastic order) but wondered if he would be admitted into it due to his past activities One day he decided that he would leave his secluded abode and go to meet Buddha personally.

With this objective he entered the town of Shrtvasti in which Buddha was camping at that time. Angulimala was dressed like a monk and also looked like one, but he still was the same person who till a few days back was a feared bandit. Unfortunately for him, he was recognised by some residents of Shravasti who had been his victims once upon a time. His sudden appearance in the city filled the residents with fear, and looking at him dressed like a monk, made some feel that he had come with some new nefarious intention. Ultimately a group of merchants got together and with the help of some city ruffians caught hold of Angulimala and began mortally beating him up. They left a profusely bleeding Angulimala to die the same gory death which he himself had brought upon many others. Severely wounded, Angulimala managed to make his way to his master, Gautama Buddha, who we are told instantly recognised Angulimala and personally attended to Angulimala’s wounds.

But the wounds proved fatal. And although the touch of Buddha cleared Angulimala’s conscience; shortly after reaching Buddha’s camp Angulimala passed away and attained Nirvana.

This episode illustrated the widespread effect that the teachings of Buddha were having on people from literally all walks of life.

Vegetarianism and Non-Violence – Buddhist Influences on Hinduism

Through its effect on the thinking of the general population, the rise of Buddhism also dealt a severe jolt to the Vedic religion. Many practices which became characteristic of later Hinduism were a result of this jolt. The Hindu insistence on vegetarianism was the most important one.

In the post-vedic period, with agriculture becoming the main occupation, the continuing practice of slaughtering the much needed livestock in the Yagnas put a heavy strain on the agrarian economy. Thus a new ethic was needed to curb this practice. The emergence of Buddhism and Jainism fulfilled this need. (Seen here is the monolithic statue of Bahubali worshipped by the Jains)

As discussed in the chapter on the fire sacrifice of Yagna could have been a ritualisation of the cooking function of the tribal period of early Aryan society in which the yagna fireplace was the central fire (hearth) of the common tribal kitchen. (Refer Chapter on The Rise and fall of the Caste System, section on Brahmins -Those Baptised by Fire). That mostly meat must have been cooked (roasted) on the central fireplace of the Aryan tribe is evident as meat was the main item of food available and essential to conserve energy in those days of collective hunting. The logical corollary of this is that meat eating must have been associated with the original activity which later got ritualized in to the Yagna fire sacrifice in the post Vedic days when hunting was no longer the main occupation and its place was taken by pastoral and agricultural activities. But even after the Yagna had become a ritual in the Post Vedic times, the sacrificing of animals must have been an essential part of the Yagna ritual. even the eating of meat during a Yagna was an established practice in those days. This is borne out by the statement in the Manusmriti according to which “He who performs the Yagna but does not eat the sacrificial meat is condemned to be born as an animal whose meat he refuses to eat for 21 future rebirths.” But in the changed circumstances, with agriculture becoming the main occupation, the continuing practice of slaughtering the much needed livestock in the Yagnas put a heavy strain on the agrarian economy. Thus a new ethic was needed to curb this practice. The emergence of Buddhism and Jainism fulfilled this need.

The determined support which these new faiths received from society at large, but especially from the mercantile community which was the rising class of that age, gave these religions a strong social base . The Vedic religion had to change to adapt itself to the new material conditions, if it was to survive. The Mitakashara treatise by the law giver Vidnyaneshwara written after the practice of meat eating had fallen into disgrace, forbids the regular eating of flesh in Kaliyuga (dark age), but simultaneously concedes permission for meat eating during performance of the Yagna. This represents the ambivalent attitude of the later Vedic religion towards meat eating. Gradually came the taboo on meat eating, initially on those animals which were important for the agrarian economy – the cow and the bull, this was later made into a general ban on eating meat as well as fish and eggs. But an exception was made for milk and milk products. This process reached its climax with the deification of the cow (Gomata) and bull (Nandi). But such deification or at least glorification is not peculiar to Indian society alone, it had existed in many agrarian societies. It seems to have existed even in the pre-Aryan Indus culture as is brought out by the appearance of the bull on many Indus seals. But the acceptance in the Dharmashastras of an attitude prohibiting animal sacrifice and meat eating was inevitable for the Vedic religion if it was to stem the tide of the propertied merchant and agricultural classes towards Buddhism and Jainism. If the Vedic religion was to survive in a changing society, the support of the dominant classes had to be retained. And for which those practices which violated the interests of this class had to be dropped.

In place of the actual sacrifice of living creatures during the Yagna, what was now done was the symbolic breaking of a coconut and the offering of small figures of bulls and horses (Pista-Pashu) representing the animals that had formerly been sacrificed during a Yagna. Consumption of beef was replaced by the consumption of the five elements issuing from the cow, viz. the cowdung, cow’s urine, milk, curds and clarified butter mixed together in a liquid (slurry) called Pancha-Gavya. The constituents honey and sugar later replaced cowdung and cow’s urine! when vegetarianism was further refined, to give us the Panchamrita of today.

The acceptance of the Buddhist and Jaina doctrine of ahimsa by the Vedic religion with the continued the Yagna ritual characterised the later Hindu religion. The Yagna ritual in an altered version was a combination of convenience. This peculiar but convenient combination became characterized of later Hindu theology. So much so that today we have forgotten that the ideals of non-violence and vegetarianism came into being as a reaction against animal sacrifices of the early Hindu religion of the Vedic period.


Now we move on to examine a much vexed topic, that of Secularism and Religious Tolerance in India.

Family problems and Buddhist response

Submitted by BLAG.BIZ on Mon, 01/11/2010 – 21:52


The health and happiness of the family is essential to the he happiness of society. Despite material security and technological advances in many countries, individuals and families suffer from the lack of true communication and harmony, as well anger, violence, loneliness and despair. The papers in this address the powerful role Buddhist teaching and practice can be healing and transforming family problems at their root.

Most important are the Five Precepts or Mindfulness which provide us with crystal-clear guidelines for avoiding s and bringing peace and happiness not only to ourselves and our but also to our whole society. The first few papers address tin morality and ethical conduct as the very foundation of family which the structure of healthy family dynamics is built. Following papers address the specific challenges and joys of marriage and relationships, applying the Buddhist insight into non-attachment; impermanence and compassion to transform the common attachment and aversion into stable, loving partnership spiritual friends. The last several papers show how important Buddhist practices of mindfulness and compassion are to family and individual. Healing happens on many levels. As individuals we must heal the emotional blockages which can very often be a source of our physical ill-being. Deep listening and non-judgment well as developing our understanding of mental illness, is crucial; healing of families in turmoil due to mental illness. There is grief we need to experience and express for our deceased loved ones. Lastly, creating peace in our own lives and those of our families allows us to bring peace into the world.

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh opens the section with a dharma talk full of concrete suggestions for creating harmony and happiness in our families. In a vivid story about a lioness and her lost lion cub, he addresses the pain many of us experience when we are cut off from our roots, whether it is our blood family, spiritual family or culture. When we are disconnected from our roots, we can’t be happy. As immigrants in a new country and new culture, we can benefit from the treasures of our root culture as well as our new home but we should be discerning so that we can let go of the unwholesome elements from both cultures. In many families, immigrant or not, there is a painful breakdown in communication due to the way we lose ourselves in TV, the pressures of work and unending busyness. He urges us to take time for our loved ones and to sit down as a family to eat together often, lie reminds parents of the need for humility, and the courage to apologize in order to reconcile with their children.

He calls families to practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings together, which allows us to perform our everyday activities as an act of prayer. Like the Third Training on right sexual conduct – it is a prayer we need to pray together with our bodies and minds. With the protection of the Five Mindfulness Trainings, the family cannot break.

In each of their papers, Venerables Thich Nu Chan Due and Thich Nu Chan Dang Nghiem discuss each of the Five Mindfulness Trainings in greater detail, offering concrete practices that a family can apply to address conflicts and encourage positive elements in each family member. In order to love and understand we need lime for each other. We cannot be so busy. We have to come out of the clutches of our fast-paced society with the help of our community of practice, our sangha. We need to go in a different direction and not allow ourselves and our family to be swept away on the waves of consumerism, power and profit.

Venerable Bhikkhuni Thich Nu Hue Lien describes the painful situation of domestic violence in Vietnam : greater social awareness, education and skillful intervention to address the suffering of so many families caught in this trap, educational structures are needed to develop greater re and to advance further towards gender equality. Ethical practice is also at the root of healing the wound of violence in families.

Laura Lester Fournier gives a beautiful personal healing capacity of the Fifth Mindfulness Training Consumption. After receiving the Five Trainings, she gives up alcohol, though not an alcoholic herself, as a gift of protection for past and future generations. She writes,

“I had a profound opportunity to transform something my ancestors and potentially in my daughter. It was m] a light on something that could alter my daughter’s Although 1 only have a drink once or twice a month, something that I continued to reach for. I could dedicate my ancestors, my precious child, and all those alcoholism.

[Now] I can choose to celebrate and fill my champagne flute something nourishing and joyful, rather than something cause me more suffering. I have the opportunity to remind myself of ways that I can avoid becoming so stressed. Rather than false peace, I can embrace a true peace. A peace that to the next generation.”

Ven Dr. Surfhammo gives inspiring examples of Buddhist groups in Asia that are finding creative ways to water seeds in youth and to build stronger families and societies.

Gratia Meyer writes about the various causes of suffering in the individual and the family. She encourages away suffering but rather embraces it. Resisting suffering creates tension within a family, impeding communication, growth and change. Suffering can be a way out of affliction. The greater the insight into suffering, the more the suffering is cased. Once we arc able to look deeply at our own suffering, we are able to create space for happiness in oneself and simultaneously water the seeds of happiness in our family and friends and all sentient beings.

She writes that most levels of suffering arc based on ego. Individual egos joins together to form a family collective ego and together they establish rules within their household and within their community. As long as the ego is present, there still will be suffering. In order to release the ego, the individual must slay open and calm. Only insight and releasing our wrong perceptions through right view into reality diminishes suffering.

Continuing onto the specific focus on marriage, Dr. Manpreet Singh writes eloquently of the central role fear plays in obstructing happy, loving relationships. This fear stems greatly from over-idealized, exaggerated perceptions of love and marriage, as well us grasping and the expectation of permanence, that lead to illusions of our partner that can rarely be fulfilled. He writes that attachment, which leads us to try to control our beloved or the situation, is the antithesis of compassion. Awareness, recognizing what is happening in our minds, letting go and accepting the truth of impermanence and non-self is the only way to true love and freedom within our relationships.

Shantum Seth offers the concrete practices of the Five Awarenesses (five vows made by a couple at their wedding which form the foundation of their marriage bond) and Beginning Anew (the practice of expressing gratitude and skillfully healing conflicts) which have helped him in his own marriage and family.

Yulianti addresses the Buddhist perspective on reproduction and its contribution to population control as it emphasizes reproduction as a matter of choice rather than religious obligation.

With Hanh Wieland-Nguyen’s paper we move to the sub-topic of healing the family. Because illness is often a result о she stresses the importance of living in a healthy and strong spiritual community to maintain Right Thinking preventative medicine. She also points out the imports a daily practice of peace, with sitting meditation, release stress and create a higher quality of living.

Mahasamdhana Ceta offers a very personal and of his work in helping families move through the up illness through the practice of deep listening, n compassion. He argues that social isolation in large apparently declining state of mental health in developed countries.

“While I have abundant respect and gratitude to professionals, I myself am not a psychiatrist, doctor or nurse, therefore in my work I do not see patients and illness, and I see beings who suffer… And I smile. Sometimes I believe path is just that: to smile.”

Ian Prattis also reflects on the transformative role and simply being present with acceptance and con which allowed him to help his son, and his son’s difficult experience of drug addiction.

Peace needs to start with ourselves before any 1 be effective, states David Arond. Conflict within one’s family or between nations can be healed by living the Buddhist insight into impermanence, emptiness, and interdependent practicing stopping, deep listening, and loving speed

Only when we can breathe, walk and eat pea compassion, look and speak to others with loving bring peace to our world. Thus, the transformation с the basis for transformation of the world.

Battered family and resolution

Submitted by BLAG.BIZ on Sun, 05/09/2010 – 12:26


Bhikkhuni Dr. Thich Nir Hue Lien

Normally, getting married and building a family is everyone’s responsibility of individual and society. This is also a way of maintaining the world and its developing. The happiness of a married couple is one of the reasons of developing civilizing life. (Life is an interesting phenomenon –

After getting married, the couples’ life is much busier with their jobs, which is misviewed as the element of maintaining the happiness in the family. However, this leads to many conflicts affecting their lives, culture, morality, and society.

I. Reasons

1. The batter of the family could initiated by the first reason that is lack of spending time with each other, lack of being care for each other, and lack of understanding. Early in the morning, husband and wife have to rush to their work sites, and did not meet each other until night. Within one week, they only have one family dinner on Sunday. Worst than that, the government workers have to work through the weekend because it is the day of the movement activity.

– Women spend so much of time on caring their own beauties.
– Men, in the other hand, spend most of their time in sport games, leisure activities, and business meetings.

2. Drinking is another reason of causing damage in the family. Alcohol can cause ones losing their own temper. After work, many men go to the bar and get drunk before going home. – about alcoholism (in Russian).

3. Man has affair with other woman that causes them to become batter.

4. The inequality of woman in the society is originated from misviewing of man who is more important than woman. Many battered women’s living depends on their husbands. Even many women make lots of money but also got abuse by their husbands. This situation is caused by the concept that man is more powerful than woman.

5. Children who grow up in the abusive family consider battering as the normal way of solving interpersonal problems. A few boys have been taught that woman is not valuable to be respected, and these boys witness battering since being at early age that allows them to be more abusive.

6. Arranged marry from young age can lead to battering family. This is because in the poor family, daughter is considered a burden in the family. Therefore the daughter in the family is treated as an object of exchanging to maintain the family living once she gets married.

II. The Results of Battering

The battering in the family can cause many effects to woman especially their physical body injuries, permanent handicap, or even death, yet it affects their children’s mental and physical health. The following pity story is the real example.
Ms. Nga said:

Her husband is a knowledgeable person who has a high status in the society. After the sweet happy wedding, the happy days were over. She has to live in a humiliation. Her husband has forced her to quit her job, and stayed home to take care the family. She was not allowed to go outside except getting groceries. Ms Nga has lived patiently with unreasonable battering from her husband, so that the family could live in peace. Moreover, the husband would not get ashamed that might affect his status. Her knowledge was quite outdated because she was not allowed to read newspaper, and contact with many people. She tolerated to live in such environment for 19 years. One day, there was a conflict in her husband company, he went home and yelled at her. She said back, and her husband got crazy, locked the door, pulled her into the house and beat her up. She got beat up heavily, and got bleeding from her head, one end of her eye was teared, and her back bone was broken. Unable to tolerate the battering, she moved back to her own parents’ home and separated her husband for two years. After escaping the horrible life, she has to live with the physical sufferings of loosing ability to function. After the period of separation, she determined to divorce her husband. Even though she has handed in the application for divorce from the beginning of the years, but there was still no news. She did know what was the reason. (VnEpress).

In the reality, not only Ms Nga’s situation, but there are many others similar situations. Another example: ”

On June 24, 2007, Dat asked his wife to stay home for getting meal ready and taking care of their children. Because of their poor income, his wife, Hong did not follow his request; she went out in the morning and worked for the farm. At noon, after work, Dat went home and saw the mess in the house, was the children were crying. Therefore, he yelled at his wife. Hong knew her husband’s personality, and was scared of being beaten, she went to bed. In the early afternoon, Hong wanted to go to work again, but she was stopped by her husband. Therefore, two of them yelled at each other, and she climped up on bed. Dat took his bottle and bought some beer and two ice creams for the two children, one was 3, and other was 7. Even Hong saw her two children dripped the ice cream on their clothes, but she remained on bed and did not pay attention to them. Dat witnessed and angrily yelled; beat her constantly on her head, and her body. After that, he sat outside of the house and had the drink. Ten minutes later, he saw his wife did not move, he thought she was sleeping, so he came close to her and wanted to continue to yell at her, but he saw there was massive bleeding, and she did not response even he shake at her. He was frighten, so pulled her to the jackfruit tree and hung her by the head. He did this to cover up the truth from the police. After that, Dat clean up the blood on the bed and went over visiting the neighbor.”

When we mention to the new battering in Song Khe, Вас Giang: Husband is Dao, Van Nam forced his wife Ly, Thi Hoa undressed, locked her in the dog house, asked mother-in-law to come over to have a look. This is sign of declining in morality. The way of treating wife is no different from treating an animal.

There was another battering situation in one of the renting home closed to the Can Tho College of Art. Every time the husband got drunk, he started yelling at his wife. When he yelled, and his wife kept silent, he thought she devalued him, so he jumped in and beat her up. However, if she answered back, he said that she disrespect him, and she also got beat up. This happened so many times, and she could not tolerate the bating, she knocked on the neighbors’ door of asking to stay over. Many ladies understood her situation, but no one would allow her to stay because of scaring her husband’s craziness once he knew.

The above situations are the terrible circumstances that related to the human rights, ethic, and human lives. Yet, it carries bad effects to the next generations. Our children will repeat the same reactions of battering because they witnessed it at very young age. These influences will affect the developing society.

III. The Reason for Residue of Battering in the Family

1. Most of the women tend to tolerate the abuse because of their reputation. They concern that reporting to the police would lose their stands. Worst than that, their husband would be more abusive once they know about the report. These women therefore think that the best way of preserving their family is tolerating to the batter. Many reported battered families tend to have serious damages.

2. The careless of many organizations, social services and the delicate charging such as a warning, advising, educating, lead to poor solution in the abusive family. The investigation is performed unless the victim is physically hurt. Moreover, not all the victim can get physical examination because of lacking abilities to perform the examination in medical clinics.

IV. The Solutions of Society and Buddhism

The increasing of the battering in the family happens all over the world, and especially in many unhealthy groups of people. This is not only the problem of a country but it is also a problem of the world. This is the abnormality in society especially; the world aims the protection of human right, and equality.

In order to solve the abusive in the family, the ethic has to be pointed out as an important responsibility of individual member in the family. First, parents have the responsibility of performing ethic, and teach their children about the morality. Ethic and happiness is correlated. Everyone wish to be happy, so it is important to nurture their morality. The solution can be followed these steps.

1. Encouraging indivual’s voice is one of enhancing the solution. Some insolvable family problems of the victims can bring to the attention of the society, or social groups so they can help the victim.

2. Developing many family services centers so abused children and battered women can come for advising, cares, and helps.

3. Developing law of protecting women and children from abuse. Gathering media perform to build the civilized family. Encouraging the role models of glorifying, respectful, multiplicities the representative movement with the appropriate means and performances.

4. Multiplicating Buddha’s teaching.

Based on Buddhism, the methods of resolving the battered family can be performed through the change of people’s perception by transforming individual to become good ethic citizens.

– Realizing family is a sweet home of individual. Everyone should spend time on the meeting of family at least once a day,

– We trained the respectful manner. Practicing equality, eliminate the notion of viewing man is more important than woman. In society, the existence of men and woman is considered as one having two shoulders, right and left. They are both important parts of the body to carry out the same function. Therefore, Husband and wife should love each other, respect each other.
In Singaloka Sutta, Buddha also taught that husband has to love wife, back on time from work. Individual has to be loyal to spouse, and avoid creating any anyhting leading to jealousy. Wife should be allowed to buy clothes and household needs. It also mentioned wife to treat husband that is being nice and respectful. She has to wake up earlier than husband, be handy, ethically, and good in household works especially cooking, and sewing. She needs to look after husband’s belonging, not over spending, spending time with children to be respectful. She should also love the parents in law. These all will create the happy family.

Loving each other is also a foundation of developing happy family. Loving is reflected through caring, words, the way of treating, giving. Lacking of loving is the reason of creating conflict in the family. Without love, couple can be pleased each other, children cannot be happy, and family will be destroy, even though they live in such a full materialistic world, with high knowledge, status, and in good health. In other hand, even ones live in a poor family but know how to treat each other with respect, loving, giving, sharing, and then they will earn the happiness. Following story is a realistic example.

There is a poor family. These couples have one son. One day, the neighbor gave a pear to the wife. She then thought to her son who loves eating pear, but he had not eaten it for a long time. Therefore, she brought it to him, and he was very happy once receiving it. Before having a bite, he thought about his father who worked hardly in the farm. He rush to the farm land and gave it to his father. His father received it and wanted to eat it, but then he thought his wife who was so busy with household work for a whole day. He recalled her happy expression every time she received a gift from him. Therefore, he decided to give it to her. It is therefore returned back to the first hand.

In Buddhism, the five precepts of enhancing human ethic are the foundation of developing happy family and providing peace in society. The following are the five ethic guidelines that everyone should keep.

– Cease from killing is a way of showing respect lives; showing love and being protective to other beings’ lives which include own’s lives, family members’, and trying to stay away from destroying others’ lives. In order to Increase the concept of respect lives, we should not abuse other yet protect others by growing the seed of love. The harmful action to others is just making others suffer physically and mentally.

– Cease from stealing is second way of showing ethic. Stealing is antisocial action which leads to unhappiness to individual self, own family, and harmed to society. In order to develop the concept of protecting other’s belongings, we have to developing our understanding others. Sharing gifts in birthday party, ceremony, cultural festival are the ways of increasing loves.

– Cease from sexual misconduct ion can bring the happiness to individual’s family. One husband and one wife is the ideal concept of protecting couple and families from separation. This also contributes of protecting society from destruction. Now a day, many contagious illnesses such as HIV, AIDs, can kill many people and families. The contract of the marrying always inquires loyalty in loving in relationship. The appearance of the third person in a couple’s relationship, or even it is a thought could increase the stress to the couples. The concept of having affair is not a harmful issue can damage many families. If understanding the battering is a harmful action of hurting other physical body and feeling, the relationship of a couple can be protected. Therefore, happiness of the couple can be guaranteed and cared, and then the abusive family issues can be decreased.

– Any unkind language to our relatives can destroy any happiness of both parties. The lovable languages are only developing love in meeting; also create the comfort feelings toward each other. When practicing speaking lovable kind words, we feel others and relatives love us even more. This is also an integrating ethical practice. Therefore, we should not be untrue or even saying meaningless words to our love ones. We should not magnifying, coating an issue, because we understand that every issue is relative. We should not be a double ended sword. We have to understand each side has its own reasons; we should not mention any meaningless words which can damaged to our relatives and to our love ones.

– Alcohol can cause damages to family, the value of a person can be decreased and society can be damaged. Dunking alcohol is quite common in man hood in the East, in the West society, and all the societies globally in the future. Transforming the habit of drink should be applied to both sexes. When one is controlled by alcohol, mental and material can be objective. Losing control of mind and body would lead to addicted alcohol people losing knowledge and awareness of surrounding events. Therefore they then cannot care and provide love to their families. The ability to control own habits means to control own feelings and needs of the society.

The Five Regulations above are considered individual’s responsibility in behaving ethically, so everyone can build their own happy and joyful lives for individual, family, and society.

In order to develop and improve the ethic lives, and individual’s happiness, everyone should be encouraged to integrate Buddha’s teachings such as keeping 8 precepts in Uposatha day, practicing of the commandments, keeping precepts, concentration, and wisdom, etc. in their lives.

V. Conclusion

In a conclusion, ethical points mentioned above should be carried out in every family to ensure all the members in the family express love each other, understand others’ needs, and be giving. All of these are the picture of a happy family. Therefore, family wants to maintain the happiness for long period of times, expressing love is way to reconstruct individual’s ethic in the family. Developing the happy civilizing family in order to build a sweet home for individuals, is a health cell of the society and a healthy environment of developing humanity of individual, and for creating a source of human power to provide the services in developing and protecting countries in the world.

Translated by Thick Nu Thong Niem

Building mindfulness within the family

Submitted by BLAG.BIZ on Tue, 05/11/2010 – 11:14


Gratia L. Meyer

The goal of a family is to help each member change and grow together. The responsibility of each family member is to help all members diminish their suffering and increase their happiness. T ultimate destination of each individual is being in the moment, which constantly changing and impermanent, by being aware that one already there.

Within a family unit, it is not always the case that every member is walking in full awareness. Each family member is unique a; perceives suffering based on his/her own developmental level suffering. Children want to be acknowledged and praised for the accomplishments and feel much suffering when they perceive a lack recognition. Parents want to be honored, respected and generally a accepting of children growing and becoming viable adults but r necessarily in the direction the children want to take.

It is acknowledged that it is normal to change but the parer fear growth and as such experience much suffering. The children in turn feel the suffering of their parents and they too suffer. Change and increase suffering and suffering increases suffering.

There are three levels of suffering and Tinh Man, abbot Compassionate Dharma Cloud Monastery-Colorado, has added a 4th level (personal communication, 2008):

1. Suffering causes suffering
2. Suffering of change – individual always wants to be happy and does not want any change.
3. Suffering is all pervasive – it is universal
4. Suffering of no suffering – It is without ego. There is nothing to grasp. There is no self and therefore no reference point. There are no words, just stillness which allows space for total awareness, a state of all knowing. There is total peace and a state of continuing happiness.

Most individuals do not have the intent to create suffering for themselves and/or others. Often behaviors towards others are perceived as causing suffering, but these are things-in-themselves and are not really the source of suffering. The cause is really misperception or lack of understanding. By understanding the nature-of-things, we learn that action does not create suffering; it truly is the perception.
For example, a child who wants candy causes himself suffering and suffering for his parents. The parents are setting limits not because they want their child to suffer but rather so their child will not suffer the consequences of eating too much candy. On the other hand, a child is not neurodevelopmentally capable of perceiving that the restriction is for her greater good. Babies and toddlers have not developed the capacity to hypothesize and make future predictions. They need to be taught to trust the present moment and that their parents are acting in their best interest. If the family practices mindfulness, then their child is more likely to accept the “No” as not restrictive but rather expansive. On the other hand, if the family practices grasping and wanting, their child will not only demand more at the moment; but will continue to demand more and more. When a family can remove misperceptions, their suffering, individually and collectively, is diminished.

Based on neuroscience research and developmental psychology, I have identified six neuropsychodevelopmental levels of perceptions of suffering.

Level 1: Suffering is all encompassing

At this level of perception, it is difficult to differentiate between the suffering of oneself and the suffering of others. The individual perception of suffering is felt as being all over the body. When as “Where are you suffering?” the individual’s response will be “all с or “I don’t know,” meaning he cannot find words to express suffering. This individual’s perception of suffering comes from realm of physical needs. If he is hungry, cold, wet or in physical pain is suffering. At this level of perception, the individual is unable express an emotion to this suffering. At best, he can only point t< area on his body that is hurting.

This level of perception is best described as a relation between a baby and her mother. The relationship is an abs attachment in which the mother understands and knows her Ы needs. When she hears her baby crying, the mother knows that s hungry, or wet. As the mother and baby evolve together, the m< begins to differentiate between expressions of crying. She learn different cries for stomach ache, hunger and being wet.

Level 2: Suffering is felt through the facial, vocal and physical gestures of a significant person

This level of perception is an absolute attachment. The suffering is perceived as being caused by someone. The individual will look J expressions of another to determine if he is suffering. This level perception is best described as a relationship between a toddler an mother. When a toddler learns to walk and falls down, he often looks his mother for an expression of pain. If his mother is reassuring v comforting smile, the toddler is less likely to cry and will pull himself up and try again On the other hand, if the toddler looks at his m and she looks scared, the toddler is likely to start crying and roll into a fetal position.

The level of pain is measured by the response of another modulated by a caregiver or person of authority. If the individual i: by a caregiver that he has really caused much suffering, their individual believes that he is suffering a great deal.

This level of perception of suffering feels caused by another or an object and often leads to the mentality of being a slave or victim to a master or perpetrator. The slave needs the master and the master needs the slave. When asked: “Where are you suffering?” the individual will respond with: “You are the cause of my suffering.” The child feels that his parents are causing his suffering and the parents feel the child is the cause of their suffering, such as a feeling of entrapment.

The individual also can be enslaved by an addiction or craving. When this person feels suffering, he automatically blames it on the fact that he has not had a drink or needs an object in order to feel better. Suffering causes suffering.

Level 3: Suffering is caused by a significant person

The individual perceives suffering as all good or all bad. There are two ways in which a person can experience this “all or nothing” perception. In one way, the person perceives himself as being all good and cannot fully understand why bad things are happening to him. Since he perceives himself as all good and therefore not the cause of his suffering, he looks outside of himself for the cause. He tends to blame a family member or teacher for his feeling bad. In fact he will have a tendency to shun this family member or person of authority and manipulate all other members so that they will also perceive this member as being all bad.

In the opposite way, this perception is experienced by an individual who perceives himself as all bad and others as being all good. She often becomes jealous and sees that others have more than she and, therefore, she must be ail bad. With this level of perception, the individual still is unable to perceive that she might be the cause of her suffering. She believes that she is all bad but does not know how to correct the “bad behavior”. She looks to caregivers or teachers to show her the way. With very good intentions, authorities or leaders will give her the rules for change or the path to follow, to change her not-so-good inclinations. They truly are unaware that she perceives herself as “all bad” and therefore from that foundation of wrongdoing, she sees the journey as being daunting and unattainable.

The individual may have cravings of envy because she believes that she is a bad person, not because others perceive her as being a t person. She truly feels hopeless and views that it is her circumstances fate that caused her suffering.

Level 4: Suffering is felt by the rejection of a group affiliation

The individual perceives suffering as being caused by community not meeting his needs. The perception at this level is that he follows the rules, completes the initiation or rites and become; member in good standing, then the group should diminish his suffering The assumption is that the affiliation alleviates suffering. The individual perceives that his group is all good and thus identifies with that group i In addition, his identity is described as being a member of a group, am a parent, child, student, teacher, doctor, Buddhist…”, etc.

By being attached to a particular group, he views other groups as being all bad or the enemy. Often others will join a group based the recommendation of a close friend or family member who belongs the group. It is very common to generalize that if a person of h regard belongs to a particular group, then the group must be superior and the reverse is also true: it is assumed that bad groups or the enemy must have all “bad” members. Another perception is that all members a particular group collectively are suffering. For example, by being prisoner, he is suffering. Or by identifying as a prisoner, everyone knows how he is suffering. Finally, when people become members с group, they also accept the dress code, mannerism and doctrine. 1 example, an individual is given certain privileges based on membership card and when it is learned that the card is an illusion, privileges are removed.

An individual at this level spends a lot of energy belonging his group. If the individual feels any suffering, she looks toward group to alleviate the pain. If she feels dismissed or misunderstood, individual blames the group for not meeting her needs. She has expectation that by belonging, all members are given certain privilege that diminish suffering and they in turn have an obligation to diminish her suffering. She further believes that if she is suffering, all members are suffering.

When it is perceived that all members are not getting their needs met, they look for a leader within the group to guide them out of suffering. If the group leader does not alleviate the suffering of many, then the disgruntled members may leave the group and form a new affiliation. The new formed group in turn looks at the mother group as the enemy. In order to state a group is the enemy, the individual declares the community as harmful and even evil, based or. preconceived notions from his past, through ancestral stories or mi -perceptions. Through hateful eyes, he looks for negative and harmful gestures, statements or customs that reinforces his belief that the other community is the enemy.

Level 5: Suffering is based on human violation

Suffering is defined as the violation of human rights. Individuals and groups will work together for freedom to practice, freedom to speak and freedom to think. Usually human suffering is perceived as not only within the group of affiliation but also outside the group and outside of oneself. The individual perceives suffering as based on the violation of human rights individually and collectively.

An individual who is a member of the Buddhist temple can hear the suffering of all Tibetan Buddhist. A Christian or Jew can feel the suffering of Buddhists in exile in Tibet or Burma. Suffering is based on the persecution of a whole culture, sect or religion. Migrant workers, sweat shop seamstresses, farmers, laborers or slum dwellers collectively can be perceived as a group suffering within a culture. At this level of perception, individuals collectively see the suffering of others regardless of their beliefs, customs or mores.

This is the first level of perception at which an individual is aware that his action and speech can influence the outcome not only in his direct community but also within his country and world. He is comfortable with stepping outside of his community to do acts of kindness. This individual also is aware that he may or may not initially seek recognition for such acts of loving kindness but as he continues and completes his cause, he does expect some sort of praise and ongoing support.

This is the beginning where many groups participate diminishing human rights suffering. Maintaining individuality •< different ideals, people of many cultures can walk together for particular cause. And when the groups get together for a cause, they maintain their unique identity. Americans, Asians, Europeans, Americans, Middle Easterners and Africans collectively do not judge the fabric of a culture unless it has violated human rights. Then a cohesive group, people will want and often demand change political action, demonstrations and silent action. At this level people are aware that once freedom has been suppressed, suffering is created individually and collectively on the earth, among animals and human beings.

Level 6: Suffering is interrelated

This level of perception of suffering is based on an inter awareness that every thought, word and action can create or diminish suffering. This is the Realm of Suffering and Non-Suffering. Suffer and happiness intermingle. We continue to be aware t caring for all sentient beings, plants, earth and society diminish suffering. The individuals study and practice – bodhisattva of loving kindness – being careful of all of the things around oneself.

Knowing that everyone >and everything is interrelated, individual at this level of perception is aware that he must take care himself in order to be able to take care of others. In addition, he is aw that he needs to take care of himself before taking care of his family then culture and then the world. It is well known that Buddha first t( care of himself before he took care of his family. Looking deeply i his own suffering, Buddha was aware that his suffering was interrelation to his family’s suffering and interrelated to the suffering in others.

The levels are connected to each other

Level 1 through 6 are not based on a linear perception but rather on a circular one in which each level touches the level before and after. In addition aspects within a level provide the foundation for the next developmental level of perception. It is also important to note that Levels 1 and 6 are connected to each other. The difference between Levels 1 ai d 6 is that individuals who are functioning at Level 1 are not able to separate and differentiate. They are unaware of the cause of their suffering.

The six levels of perception of suffer ig inter-are. Looking deeply and being still, one can feel the suffering energy vibrating between and within each level. The levels of perception of suffering emphasize the necessity to have someone who can listen deeply to the one who is speaking deeply. It is important to not push away suffering but rather embrace it. If family members push away the elements of suffering, it creates tension and resistance within a family to communicate, to grow and change.

Suffering can be used as a way out of affliction. It is the way to penetrate darkness and to expose the light. Practicing mindfulness, families can learn that all beings are interrelated. The practice is now in the present moment. The greater the insight into suffering, the less there is of suffering.

The Four Noble Truths can be based on the developmental perception of suffering

A family who is functioning at Level 1 is not unable to say: “I am suffering and this is the cause of my suffering.” The best he can do is to say: “I am hurting all over.” The suffering is based on the perception of T. The family member who is hearing the overall suffering has the responsibility to help the-person move to the next level of perception ever so gently. The caregiver needs to ask: “Can you point to the area on your body where you are hurting?” The caregiver identifies the pain which creates separation by pulling the individual out of the bubble of pain. The caregiver then is responsible to gently help the person move from Level 1 to 2. If the movement is too fast, the tendency is to blame the caregiver for causing the pain. By being too fast, the individual will have a tendency to say: “Stop … you are causing my pain.”

The caregiver must listen deeply and not merge with the partner who is blaming her for his suffering. The caregiver must let go of li ego and realize that she is not the cause of his suffering. If she merge with the family member, they in turn collude together to find someone else in the family who has caused their pain, creating greater separation and suffering (Perception Level 3). The scenario is as follows: о family member is in a bubble of suffering, another member tries move that individual out of the bubble of pain. By doing so, she perceived as creating more suffering. She feels she is not the cause his suffering; so she joins the person who is suffering to find another family member to blame for their suffering. By identifying with 1 suffering, the two family members create deeper suffering and another family member is blamed for the original pain.

A parent can do things that are perceived as suffering by a ch and yet it is for the good of the child. For example a child with lack understanding sees his parents not providing adequate food because they only give him nutritious food rather than candy. He creates suffering himself and his parents. Once the perception is removed, the suffering removed.

Family members need to identify the emotions that are causes the suffering and be aware that the emotion exhibited may appropriate for that person. In order to break the cycle of blame, another family member or teacher outside of the family needs to help enmeshed family to look deeply at the cause of suffering (Percept: Level 4). The suffering is not directly caused by a family member 1 rather from grasping expectations, addictions, cravings, etc. This of requires a mindfulness practitioner who can skillfully help the family members to look deeply to the true cause of the original suffering does require the family to listen deeply and for the practitioner to see deeply. Most family members initially will be able to perceive suffering as based on human violation (Perception Level 5) and requires much practice to look even deeper to see that the seeds suffering are universal (Perception Level 6). A person needs deep insight and calmness to change misperception and to penetrate darkness in order to see the light. If he is feeling chaotic or hearing chatter in his mind, he will have difficulty clearly seeing the situation. Suffering is interrelated

Once we are able to look deeply at our own suffering, we are able to create space for happiness in oneself and simultaneously water the seeds of happiness in our family and friends and all sentient beings.

Like a hand, one side is light and the other side is dark. We can turn our hand one way or the other and we still have suffering.-We need the top of our hand and the bottom of our hand. We car not have one without the other and our fingers can be turned inward to penetrate the darkness.

All of the levels are based on the ego except for Level 6. Everyone has his own ego to deal with when relating to other family members. The goal is to diminish the grasping at a particular developmental perception. The individual ego joins together to form a family collective ego and together they establish rules within their household and within their community. As long as the ego is present, there still will be suffering. In order to release the ego, the individual must stay open and calm. It is the level of insight or perception of the individual that diminishes suffering.

The cause of our suffering comes from a neuropsychodevelopmental perception. Awareness is always there. We need to practice every day to be able to go deeply and to recognize the situation on a higher developmental level.

Five mindfulness trainings as the way out

Submitted by BLAG.BIZ on Tue, 01/12/2010 – 10:46


Bhiksuni Thich Chan Dang Nghiem (True Adornment with Non-Discrimination)

“Dear Thay,

Sometimes there are moments that I don’t want to live anymore. Then I feel like a bird locked up in a cage. How can I take care of that feeling?”

A child asked my teacher this question at a Question and Answer session with children on July 22nd, 2003. In the Discourse on the Middle Way1, the Buddha talked about Right View, and he described people with Right View like this: “They understand, for example, that suffering comes to be when conditions are favorable, and that it fades away when conditions are no longer favorable.” We must ask ourselves, which favorable conditions might have caused a child to feel such despair and helplessness? Which favorable conditions might have caused a home to become suffocating and unsafe? What has come to be?

Because society is sick, families are sick

In our time, child abuse, domestic violence, divorce, HIV infection, drug overdose and suicide take place daily. Families across the world suffer from these problems and more. These family problems simply reflect the collective consciousness of our society, where elements of competition, violence, anger, hatred, fear, discrimination, sexual promiscuity and excessive consumption are glamorized by the media and exercised by known public figures. When dangerous bacteria or viruses are circulated in the bloodstream, they can invade organs in the body, causing them severe and possible fatal infections. Similarly, when the mainstream society is full of stress, violence, rage, fear and exploitation, these elements penetrate our senses and our minds through everything we see, hear, and perceive. These poisons further corrode the ethical and moral values in our families and society.

The Five Mindfulness Trainings as the response

The family unit must be healed, so that the next generations may have a future. To this end, a collective awakening is essential and urgent. All peoples of the world need to be awakened to the Right View that there are favorable conditions for suffering; that we are all contributing to these conditions as well as suffering from them; and that we must transform our environment, so that the wholesome elements may flourish and the unwholesome elements are not fed daily. The Five Mindfulness Trainings, taught since the time of the Buddha, as seen in the “Discourse to the White-Clad Disciple” and revised by the Plum Village Sangha, have the capacity to address our present dilemma, offering the way out for the world. The Five Mindfulness Trainings reflect clearly the teachings of the Buddha ‘.and give concrete practices that are applicable to people of different ages, genders, cultures, and religions. In the Plum Village tradition, we also have the ‘Two Promises’ for children to practice.

The Five Mindfulness Trainings are the path that humanity may follow in order to rebuild our environment with awareness, beauty, and wholesomeness, thus reclaiming true peace and happiness in ourselves, our families, and our society.

The First Mindfulness Training: Protection of Life

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life.

The Second Mindfulness Training: Generosity

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to cultivating loving kindness and learning ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I will practice generosity by sharing my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in real need. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth.

The Third Mindfulness Training: Proper Sexual Conduct

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a long-term commitment. To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct.

The Fourth Mindfulness Training: Loving Speech and Deep Listening

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am determined to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope. I will not spread news that I do not know to be certain and will not criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break. I am determined to make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

The Fifth Mindfulness Training: Mindful Consumption

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in ту body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self transformation and for the transformation of society.

The First Promise’ to be practiced by children: “I vow to develop understanding, in order to live peacefully with people, animals, plants, and minerals.”

The ‘Second Promise’ to be practiced by children: I vow to develop my compassion, in order to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals.”

The practice of awakening

Before we examine the mindfulness trainings individually, we can first reflect upon them as a whole in the spirit of Buddhism and especially in the spirit of Mahayana teachings and practices.

‘Buddha’ means the one who is awake and aware. The phrase “Aware of the suffering caused by” at the beginning of each mindfulness training underlines this Buddha nature in each one of us. Indeed, mindfulness is the energy of all Buddhas, because it allows us to know what is going on in the present moment, what we should do, and what we should not do in response to the particular situation. Thus, mindfulness facilitates the collective awakening of the first two Noble Truths, propelling compassionate and effective actions. The term ‘mindfulness…2 B CONTINUED

The Noble Eightfold Path

1. Right View Wisdom
2. Right Intention
3. Right Speech Ethical Conduct
4. Right Action
5. Right Livelihood
6. Right Effort Mental Development
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Concentration

The Noble Eightfold Path describes the way to the end of suffering, as it was laid out by Siddhartha Gautama. It is a practical guideline to ethical and mental development with the goal of freeing the individual from attachments and delusions; and it finally leads to understanding the truth about all things. Together with the Four Noble Truths it constitutes the gist of Buddhism. Great emphasis is put on the practical aspect, because it is only through practice that one can attain a higher level of existence and finally reach Nirvana. The eight aspects of the path are not to be understood as a sequence of single steps, instead they are highly interdependent principles that have to be seen in relationship with each other.

1. Right View

Right view is the beginning and the end of the path, it simply means to see and to understand things as they really are and to realise the Four Noble Truth. As such, right view is the cognitive aspect of wisdom. It means to see things through, to grasp the impermanent and imperfect nature of worldly objects and ideas, and to understand the law of karma and karmic conditioning. Right view is not necessarily an intellectual capacity, just as wisdom is not just a matter of intelligence. Instead, right view is attained, sustained, and enhanced through all capacities of mind. It begins with the intuitive insight that all beings are subject to suffering and it ends with complete understanding of the true nature of all things. Since our view of the world forms our thoughts and our actions, right view yields right thoughts and right actions.

2. Right Intention

While right view refers to the cognitive aspect of wisdom, right intention refers to the volitional aspect, i.e. the kind of mental energy that controls our actions. Right intention can be described best as commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement. Buddha distinguishes three types of right intentions: 1. the intention of renunciation, which means resistance to the pull of desire, 2. the intention of good will, meaning resistance to feelings of anger and aversion, and 3. the intention of harmlessness, meaning not to think or act cruelly, violently, or aggressively, and to develop compassion.

3. Right Speech

Right speech is the first principle of ethical conduct in the eightfold path. Ethical conduct is viewed as a guideline to moral discipline, which supports the other principles of the path. This aspect is not self-sufficient, however, essential, because mental purification can only be achieved through the cultivation of ethical conduct. The importance of speech in the context of Buddhist ethics is obvious: words can break or save lives, make enemies or friends, start war or create peace. Buddha explained right speech as follows: 1. to abstain from false speech, especially not to tell deliberate lies and not to speak deceitfully, 2. to abstain from slanderous speech and not to use words maliciously against others, 3. to abstain from harsh words that offend or hurt others, and 4. to abstain from idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth. Positively phrased, this means to tell the truth, to speak friendly, warm, and gently and to talk only when necessary.

4. Right Action

The second ethical principle, right action, involves the body as natural means of expression, as it refers to deeds that involve bodily actions. Unwholesome actions lead to unsound states of mind, while wholesome actions lead to sound states of mind. Again, the principle is explained in terms of abstinence: right action means 1. to abstain from harming sentient beings, especially to abstain from taking life (including suicide) and doing harm intentionally or delinquently, 2. to abstain from taking what is not given, which includes stealing, robbery, fraud, deceitfulness, and dishonesty, and 3. to abstain from sexual misconduct. Positively formulated, right action means to act kindly and compassionately, to be honest, to respect the belongings of others, and to keep sexual relationships harmless to others. Further details regarding the concrete meaning of right action can be found in the Precepts.

5. Right Livelihood

Right livelihood means that one should earn one’s living in a righteous way and that wealth should be gained legally and peacefully. The Buddha mentions four specific activities that harm other beings and that one should avoid for this reason: 1. dealing in weapons, 2. dealing in living beings (including raising animals for slaughter as well as slave trade and prostitution), 3. working in meat production and butchery, and 4. selling intoxicants and poisons, such as alcohol and drugs. Furthermore any other occupation that would violate the principles of right speech and right action should be avoided.

6. Right Effort

Right effort can be seen as a prerequisite for the other principles of the path. Without effort, which is in itself an act of will, nothing can be achieved, whereas misguided effort distracts the mind from its task, and confusion will be the consequence. Mental energy is the force behind right effort; it can occur in either wholesome or unwholesome states. The same type of energy that fuels desire, envy, aggression, and violence can on the other side fuel self-discipline, honesty, benevolence, and kindness. Right effort is detailed in four types of endeavours that rank in ascending order of perfection: 1. to prevent the arising of unarisen unwholesome states, 2. to abandon unwholesome states that have already arisen, 3. to arouse wholesome states that have not yet arisen, and 4. to maintain and perfect wholesome states already arisen.

7. Right Mindfulness

Right mindfulness is the controlled and perfected faculty of cognition. It is the mental ability to see things as they are, with clear consciousness. Usually, the cognitive process begins with an impression induced by perception, or by a thought, but then it does not stay with the mere impression. Instead, we almost always conceptualise sense impressions and thoughts immediately. We interpret them and set them in relation to other thoughts and experiences, which naturally go beyond the facticity of the original impression. The mind then posits concepts, joins concepts into constructs, and weaves those constructs into complex interpretative schemes. All this happens only half consciously, and as a result we often see things obscured. Right mindfulness is anchored in clear perception and it penetrates impressions without getting carried away. Right mindfulness enables us to be aware of the process of conceptualisation in a way that we actively observe and control the way our thoughts go. Buddha accounted for this as the four foundations of mindfulness: 1. contemplation of the body, 2. contemplation of feeling (repulsive, attractive, or neutral), 3. contemplation of the state of mind, and 4. contemplation of the phenomena.

8. Right Concentration

The eighth principle of the path, right concentration, refers to the development of a mental force that occurs in natural consciousness, although at a relatively low level of intensity, namely concentration. Concentration in this context is described as one-pointedness of mind, meaning a state where all mental faculties are unified and directed onto one particular object. Right concentration for the purpose of the eightfold path means wholesome concentration, i.e. concentration on wholesome thoughts and actions. The Buddhist method of choice to develop right concentration is through the practice of meditation. The meditating mind focuses on a selected object. It first directs itself onto it, then sustains concentration, and finally intensifies concentration step by step. Through this practice it becomes natural to apply elevated levels concentration also in everyday situations.

Himsa was an American metalcore/melodic death metal band with deathcore influences hailing from Seattle, Washington. The name Himsa comes from the word Ahimsa, which in Sanskrit means “to abstain from causing harm”. Removal of the “A” gives the word opposite meaning. Himsa literally means ‘violence’ in Sanskrit, Hindi and other Indian languages like Gujarati, Marathi, Telugu and Tamil.


ham: Sanskrit word meaning the gross body or instrument of the soul. The soul is the doer and the gross body is the instrument. Ham also refers to the ego.

ham-ksha: the last two letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, representing the individual self and the supreme Self in the pituitary.

hamsa: the material perishable body is ham. The power by which we inhale through the nose is sa, which means one’s own soul.

Hanuman: the son of air and faithful servant of Lord Rama, in the form of a mighty monkey. According to mythology, he was a half-brother to Bhima.

Harishchandra: a king of ancient India who had vowed to remain truthful at all times. When faced with the rigorous challenge posed by sage Vishwamitra, the king sacrificed everything he had at the attar of truth, including his Kingdom, and even his life and son.

hatha yoga (Sanskrit word meaning “union (yoga) of the sun (ha) and moon (tha) [principles]”): a branch of yogic discipline, designed to regulate the energy in the body and mind.

heart-center: see dorsal center.

himsa (Sanskrit word meaning “harm”): maliciousness, injury.

homa (Sanskrit word meaning “offering”): a fire ceremony to achieve a specific aim.

hridaya: Sanskrit word meaning the heart.


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