Search This Blog


Buddhism in the News


Thursday, May 19, 2005

Buddhism and Violence

I promised a controversial post and well, here it is. It is kind of long only because I really want to try and present both sides for this discussion.

I can not think of anything more controversial in Buddhist circles then the issue of violence. The Buddha and our teachers preach against violence and to promote peace. This stance of non-violence was one of the things that attracted me to the path of the middle way.


Is there EVER a place for violence?
Such as defending yourself or are you to just let people kill you? The other example I have is in defending your country and defeating evil such as in defeating Hitler in World War II. Do you not have a right and obligation to stand up to forces that would threaten to destroy the world and the balance of the middle way that is found in the various forms of democracy in the world?

The current Dalai Lama said in a recent interview with Canadian Broadcast News for example that some violence may be necessary in the short term but that it should be a last resort:

Yes, in particular circumstances, under particular circumstances, yes, it could be justified. However, this is not the full answer for long run.

Hana Gartner: But this is extraordinary. The Dalai Lama said violence under certain circumstances you could see as justified?

Dalai Lama: Possible. Look, First World War, Second World War. I think Second World War, at least, although millions of people killed, suffer, immense, but really I was against war because war is some kind of legalized maximum violence. I'm always against. However, and like Second World War and Korean War, at least to protect the rest of the democratic civilization, and Korea, South Korea protected. As a result, more prosperity and democracy, freedom, these things. So sometimes... But then I think the difficult thing is when violence is started, eventually there's always a danger the situation become out of control, chain reaction, chain violence like Vietnam. All those same motivations, same strategy, same goal, but fail. Therefore, I always believe right from the beginning, must avoid violence.

Hana Gartner: But while you can concede that sometimes it's necessary, there are those in Tibet who believe there is justification that if you do not stand up, if you just are a pacifist, you empower the person who is oppressing you.

Dalai Lama: Individual case? For example, if mad dog coming, almost certain now bite you. Then if you say, non-violence, non-violence and compassion…

Hana Gartner: You get bitten!

Dalai Lama: That's kind of foolish! You have to take use of self-defence. But without harming, without serious harming another, I think that's the way I feel. If someone try to shoot on you, then there is no possibility to run away, then you have to hit back. Then possibly not on head, but leg or something like that. So that's not serious hit back, but more lenient way, more gentle way.

I found an excellent article on this issue by Roger Corless in which he said:

At the moment that the being is our enemy we may have no choice but to kill our former friend, but we will kill with regret and compassion for someone who has, as it were, become temporarily insane and does not recognize us.

However one of the Buddha's sermons says flat out that violence is wrong:

Even if thieves carve you limb from limb with a double-handed saw, if you make your mind hostile you are not following my teaching.
Kamcupamasutta, Majjhima-Nikkaya I ~ 28-29

The Buddha was quite clear in his renunciation of violence: "Victory creates hatred. Defeat creates suffering. The wise ones desire neither victory nor defeat... Anger creates anger... He who kills will be killed. He who wins will be defeated... Revenge can only be overcome by abandoning revenge... The wise seek neither victory nor defeat."

After waging many wars, Emperor Asoka was so moved by sayings such as these that he converted to Buddhism and became the model for later Buddhist kings. Buddhism retreated from India, China, Vietnam, and other countries rather than involve its believers in armed struggles to preserve itself. Again, this illustrates the strengths and the weaknesses of Buddhism.

**James's Comment:
So, I think that some violence is o.k. when self-defense is in danger but even then you should only go for the kill as the VERY last resort. Instead, shoot or go for the head. Rather, incapacitate the attacker by going for the legs or arms. I also gather from the Dalai Lama's comments that he suggests that violence is necessary when world democracy (or the very roots of Buddhism) is threatened such as during WWI, WWII. I think that "Right Action" sometimes means doing the difficult thing such as defending democracy in WWI and WWII via war. I believe though that war should be the very, VERY last resort and that this war in Iraq is an unjustified war in that regard. However, at the same time I recognize that advocating any violence is a like walking a thin, razor line. Also, hate, retaliation, revenge only continues the cycle of violence. The emphasis on non-violence in Buddhism seems to be at once a great strength and a great weakness at the same time. From the Buddhist point of view, the end result is less important than the way we work with it.


Let me leave you with these words from Vietnamese Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh:

Before the end of the Vietnam War, I asked Venerable Thich Nhah Hanh whether he would rather have peace under a communist regime that would mean the end of Buddhism or the victory of democratic Vietnam with the possibility of Buddhist revival, and he said that it was better to have peace at any price. He told me that preserving Buddhism does not mean that we should sacrifice people's lives in order to safeguard the Buddhist hierarchy, monasteries, or rituals. Even if Buddhism as such were extinguished, when human lives are preserved and when human dignity and freedom are cultivated toward peace and loving kindness, Buddhism can be reborn in the hearts of human beings.

**James: So my question to you is what do we do when faced with the choice of violence or death? Violence or the destruction of this world? Violence of the destruction of Buddhism?

-Peace to us all-

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Gareth said...

James, thank you for this thought provoking post. After reading a comment by Michael Grove in an article on Tuesday in The Times, that:

"The truth about that it is not morally wrong in itself. The real moral question is, do we allow the bad guys to profit from it"

I had the intention to compose a post exploring this very topic. My initial reaction was one opposed to this position, that violence is always wrong. But this was a gut reaction, and not my considered thoughts.

I'm not sure what my feelings are exactly on this - but expect to see a post in the next couple of days.

Best Wishes

Zen Unbound said...

I would have to count myself, generally, as a 'Violent Buddhist.' That is, I can contenence violence if in the broad overview it seems it makes possible the best, least-violent result. [Thus, I think a 'Violent Buddhist' finds the most-peaceful path in the longrun.]

Unhappily, it is extraordinarily hard to judge what path IS the least violent in the longrun.

For example, all Americans give Abraham Lincoln enormous credit for his leadership. But unbeknownst to him and his contemporaries is the seeming fact that slavery was going to be quickly outlaw in the world anyway -- so it may be that the Civil War was a terrible, terrible mistake. Perhaps what would have been best is if the South had been allowed to secede. [And then today, Bush would be president of the Confederacy, and Kerry would be president of the United States!]

Too, perhaps WWII could have gone much better. There were thousands of terrible decisions made, yet, since Hitler was routed and killed, we suppose things went rather well.

The problem is we don't has a parallel universe to test different scenarios! CERTAINLY, Bush's post-war leadership re Iraq has been a disaster, but mightened the ouster of Saddam have been a extraordinarily good thing [even if done for all the wrong reasons]? It is impossible to know for sure.

[Great Post, James -- as our others of your recent ones, in TBB and over in your other blog, GOI.]

Zen Unbound said...

Another thought...

Of course, we have police, as does every country. Policemen and -women are violent, at times, of course.

We would never suppose that a country could go without having a police force of some kind, so I think that TNH's "peace at any price" notion is unrealistic, if not silly wildeyed idealism.

There are actors in the world who will harm others. These harm-causing people and groups simply have to be resisted.

"James" said...


Great point on the police. We have to establish laws and police to enforce those laws or no-one would be free to practice the way. TNH is my teacher but I agree that his statement is wild-eyed idealism.

tamingthemind said...

I cannot say that violence is always wrong. I think we should be able to defend ourselves if someone is causing harm. Yes, I would try to choose the least harmful way to defend myself. But, in the moment, who know what could happen?

Great post.

isaiah said...

I believe in the truth found in the words of the Buddha and Thich Nhat Hanh. Remember, peace is the way and we must not resist evil. There is nothing ideological to be found in this whatsoever.

Action is neither violent or non violent- it simply is. One must do what one must do with the right heart. I believe here is where truth is to be found.

There is divine order in all things, including all actions. It is not everyone's duty or calling to understand this...but there is a sustaining grace which comes from surrendering our judgments for stillness.

Thanks you for your post James, and for the courage to be controversial.

"James" said...

Thank-you for you post Isaiah. I agree that action is different depending on the situation. I also believe that our reactions are determined by our karma.

Contemplative Activist said...

Wow - Thank you for this post.

I am also part of a community that practises pacifism (Quakers) - we have many Buddhists who join us as we often seem to have an affinity with each other.

Its a difficult issue. On one level, taking human life is abhorrent to me, no matter whose life it is.

But if it is the choice between my own life and the lives of those I love and the life of someone who would kill us, then is self-defense wrong? Complicated.

I like what Thich Nhat Hanh says here - killing to preserve our religions would kill them more than releasing them. True Buddhism or Quakerism or whatever would remain in our hearts and be reborn in our hearts.

Perhaps like the Dalai Lama, I can reluctantly accept that violent action is sometimes justified whilst stressing it is not a long term action - and that we should take care to ensure that situations do not escalate to that point.

I also think there is an important role for those who refuse to take up arms in any situation. Perhaps they are uniquely placed to work for peace, to provide a neutralised zone for mediation and reconciliation.

Wonderful thoughts here. Thank you.

Camila said...

i pose this as a serious radical question that i dont know how to answer and am not just trying to be ask about unreasonable extremes: What is it about certain things, like democracy or world justice or our individual human life, that we are attached to to the extent that we might make a judgment call that it is a situation of possible loss in which violence for preservation is justified? I believe most people in the United States would agree that "democracy is good" and "it's good that i am alive". THat attitude of self-preservation seems, ultimately, a recognition of personal need to control the situation to get a desired outcome. Even though we can all recognize our *preferences*, to what extent, within Buddhism, can we justify taking action to create those preferences?

Anonymous said...

hi, i feel the use of violence to protect religion, as it is in some Buddhist countries like Sri Lanka, is wrong. However, I find the use of violence to protect oneself, if used with the sole purpose of self protection, and not shaped by intention to hurt the other person as an end itself, acceptable. Of course, only when all other alternatives have been exhausted.

Bunny Boy said...

Thanks for a thought-provoking post. My wife and I have touched on this subject many times. We both lean more toward Thich Nhat Hanh (in general and on this issue in particular) than toward the Dalai Lama.

I think the real crux of the biscuit is what TNH calls "interdependent co-arising." I won't attempt to fully elucidate the concept here, But what's going on with violence, in my view, is that once an entity, be it an individual person or a government or a culture starts justifying it, they set a precedent.

All of our actions send ripples out into space-time and effect other beings. If you want to commit to compassion, that is sending out "positive vibrations," waves that are beneficial, rather than harmful, you have set yourself a daunting task, but one well worth the effort, in my opinion. That's the reason that I pledge myself to non-violence in a very strict sense: I don't mean just killing or injuring people, but include violent speech, that is, speech that contains the seed of harm.

When I ponder, what would the world be like if? . . . say there was a critical mass of people who made a firm commitment to non-violence, to simply refuse to participate in violent actions, then it is clear in my mind that benefit to all beings would increase and harm to all beings would decrease.

What if, on the other hand, those same people hedged their pledge the way the Dalai Lama does and continued to participate in violent action that was somehow "justified?" The outcome does not look as good, in the long run, IMHO.

What matters to me is not the question of is it "moral" to use violence to defend myself and my loved ones, but rather, what is the aggregate effect of such action? Every organism has the instinct of self-preservation, so in the DL's example of a rabid dog charging at you, I'm sure most of us would automatically spring into the fight-or-flight response and then deal with the consequences later. That is not a moral issue. So in my view, the dog attack is not analogous to a war, even if that war is an invasion of your home turf. It's more analagous to the soldier who's charging at you with a bayonet, and again, that's not a moral issue.

The decision about whether or not to participate in a war, to consciously take up arms and intentionally cause harm to others, is definintely a moral issue, and one that has stretched many a creed, not just Buddhism, to the breaking point.

We live in a culture that constantly justifies violence, and then uses moralistic window-dressing to get the people to accept it. The real reason underlying the violence, though, is greed. Whenever someone from the State Department talks of "strategic" issues, what they really mean is that we're going to take resources from others, and if we have to use violence to get them, we will. Moral issues are irrelevant. The Machiavellian appeasement of the quaint popular perception of morality is key, however. If enough people begin to see through the ruse, and refuse to participate in it, then it becomes impossible to pull off.

The standard objection to this is that our enemies are not going to pledge themselves to non-violence any time soon, so if we do we'll just be dominated. I think this is where TNH comes in. (and maybe even Viktor Frankl) If an aggressor tries to dominate people who refuse to participate, some of them will die. But if there are enough of them refusing to participate, they will stop the aggressor dead in its tracks.

The question is: how much is "enough?" I certainly don't know. Gandhi managed to pull it off a few times, I'd say. The only way to do it, though, is to be willing to fail utterly, to be willing to be destroyed with love and compassion in your heart rather than to go down fighting. Most people are not willing to lose everything, and so they cling to their existence and produce more suffering.

"James" said...

Bunny Boy:

Well thought out post. Thank-you for sharing it with us. And welcome to our little sangha here. Independent co-arising is a beautiful teaching and I try to remind myself of it often.

Violence is indeed a tricky, touchy subject. In all but some very, very rare cases I would NEVER use violence. I do, however, need to work more on not using harsh, judgmental language.

Anonymous said...

Using violence to preserve a religion or ideology is wrong at every level, and shouldn't even be the subject of debate among Buddhists, of all people! If using violence to preserve Buddhism is right, then it's a very short leap to say that it is also right to use violence to preserve Christianity, Democracy, or the purity of the Aryan Race.

Eliminating violence completely is impossible, but by maintaining a doctrine of absolute, without-exception nonviolence, you might manage to keep violence to a minimum.

"James" said...


I have to disagree with you on one point. Using violence to protect Democracy.

I do not think it is the middle way to just let a waring country kill off the majority of people on this planet.

If you wish to lay down your life that is fine but asking another to do the same is not your decision to make.

JP said...

First off, I'm not a Buddhist. I do share many ideals of Buddhism though, (of that which I have so far discovered, through the exploration that is life.)

I think the issue with defensive-violence of any level ever being acceptable comes down to the attachment the user of defensive-violence has to the situation.

The three basic tendencies which we all have - attachment (raga), aversion (dvesha), and confusion (moha), and their effects according to the law of karma play an important part in this.

My thought is that using violence as a form of defense is wrong if you let malice, hatred and negative emotion rise in your mind.
If you can keep the klesha/sandu out of your mind in a situation where you have no choice but to use defensive-violence, and don't let them into your mind after, the effects of violence upon the mind/psyche will be minimal.

Think of it like a computer following a program that tells it to delete a file.
- The computer does not think about the action, it just does it. Nor does the computer reflect on the action afterward.

Now transpose that across:
- The computer is the Buddhist;
- the program is the situation that calls for (last resort) defensive-violence;
- the deletion is the act of defensive-violence;
- and the file is the person/situation that requires the violence.


They call him James Ure said...


Very well said. I agree with what you said. I think it all comes down to intention. Right intention being one of the steps in the important "Eight Fold Path" of Buddhism.

Bangkokker said...

How do you explain the fact that some of the modern world's greatest violence and grossest human rights violations take place in Buddhist societies? Vietnam's bloody civil war; Cambodia, the largest genocide since World War II; Burma's military junta; Lao's cleansing of ethnic Hmongs. Even the kingdom of Bhutan has forced 1/5 of its population to live in exile, or face ethnic cleansing.

They're all Buddhist. Buddhism has done nothing more for peace than the next organized religion.

They call him James Ure said...

Bangkokker, this is a long comment but I really wanted to address this issue from a holistic approach which is what Buddhism teaches:

First, Thank-you for visiting my blog. I welcome you here with open arms and thank-you for your comment.

I think that most Buddhists (especially the monks--although Thai monks are getting rather militant as of late) in Buddhist dominated countries do not want war. However their governments often do not lead their country by Buddhist principles.

Part of the violence in Buddhist countries stems from abject poverty and extreme corruption in their governments who take advantage of the poor and under educated populace.

Additional reasons for such militancy in many of these "Buddhist" countries is due to a lack of eduction and necessary health care. A lot of the failures in regards to these important issues stems from that corruption.

Education is a major brick in the the foundation of peace. If people are not educated in the importance of peace and why it's important--as well as what Democracy is really about then they will often make terrible decisions in both their personal lives but as well as in their jobs and government positions.

As well as knowing that the Buddhist monasteries are not going to engage them in the political arena for the most part. Government officials take advantage of their peaceful nature.

This is the importance of embracing engaged Buddhism taught especially by Vietnamese Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Engaged Buddhism encourages involvement in the political process while still maintaining a path of peace. Engaged Buddhism, however, does not mean following it to engaging in violence.

And yet all of these important areas of life: education, health, a vibrant economy, etc. aren't a guarantee of peace and harmony unless one works to let go of greed for power and control.

Buddhism also teaches that critical aspect of peace involves understanding and engaging in interconnection. If we truly understand that we are all dependent upon each other then we are a lot less likely to cause others harm.

Another important concept to understand in Buddhism to help maintain balance and peace in society is that of love for others. If we build on our understanding of interconnection then we feel more love and acceptance toward those we previously saw as our inferiors.

This is because if we love ourselves then naturally we will want to love others because they are apart of us and our happiness depends upon that of others.

Then there is the importance of understanding that all beings want happiness and no one wants to suffer. This helps cultivate patience which is a trait the helps prevent violence and disharmony.

So just because there might be much violence in Buddhist dominated countries does not mean necessarily that those Buddhists agree with it.

I would submit that most violent and oppressive governments in Buddhist countries such as Myanmar is because of militant dictators that have eschewed the peaceful, accepting teachings of Buddhism long ago.

You are correct in saying that many Buddhist countries are not living in peace but I do not think that one can blame Buddhism for that. Buddhism does not preach hate or violence and if a monastery does do that then they have strayed from the Dharma severely.

Perhaps the most important issue to keep in mind is that peace should be first and fore most about peace in ones own heart. As long as one practices the Dharma then one will find the peace that perhaps is denied them from their government. Nothing can stop the power of inner stength.

One only need look at the strength of the Jews in the Nazi concentration camps. The Nazi's hoped that they could break the Jews from their religion but instead it only strengthened their resolve to maintain their faith.

From what I've researchedI can not find a war that was ever 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 rationalize a war.

Any Buddhist who wages war or engages in violence for violences sake is not following the Buddhist path--they have fallen astray.

Next I'd like to address the specific examples that you raised:

-The Vietnam War was not waged over Buddhism. It was waged by Communists who are not only non-Buddhists--they are non-religious altogether.

-The Cambodia genocide was not waged by sincere Buddhists, nor was it condoned by Buddhists.

-Burma's military junta was waged by a military that was certainly not following the peaceful Buddhist teachings. They took power because of greed, selfishness and disregard for human rights. None of which are taught or condoned by Buddhism.

-The Laos cleanings are most certainly not carried out by Buddhists--at least not Buddhists who actually follow the teachings of the Buddha. Anyone can call themselves "Buddhist" but to live as a Buddhist is to follow the teachings of the Buddha which means more then anything--non-violence.

-Bhutan's case is one of corrupted Buddhism. They are attached to a lust of power which is a form of attachment which Buddhism does NOT condone in the least. These actions are extreme examples of why duality is so poisonous.

Buddhism does not usually concern itself with where it ranks on the peace scale in relation to other religions--that is a form of attachment to the stroking's of the ego. The maintenance of peace amongst Buddhists is a personal experience--something that must be accomplished by each practioner alone.

One can not force fellow "Buddhists "to be "peaceful." In doing so one is engaging in a type of violence.
The Buddha emphasized personal experience in realizing peace and harmony because otherwise one is doing it for others and that is a peace that can never last.

Buddhism is not exempt from corruption and perversion of it's teachings and anyone who tells you otherwise is living in a thick cloud of delusion.

Living a certain way because you are "Buddhist" and that's what "Buddhists" do is wrong action and intention which will always lead to difficulty due to grasping and craving of the desire for "enlightenment" and "perfection."

It is called spiritual materialism.

I hope my reply helps frame the issues and examples that you raised.

Good questions and again thanks for visiting. I hope to hear more from you in the future. :)

I bow to you. _/I\_

alex said...

I see violence as a necessary evil as it where, I do not believe you can truly follow the teachings of the Buddha if you use violence or for that matter Christianity, Islam and many other religions whose teachings preach pacifism.

I am clearly not a Buddhist as I myself believe violence can be a good thing, as many will use violence to achieve there selfish needs, it is important to be able to stand your ground.

I believe violence can be used to disable and not destroy these beings, would you stop your child from hitting another child if you had to restrain your child? But it would definitely be most beneficial to inform your child of why you restrained them.

As for the self-defence argument, I was once told that true self defence is running away...

They call him James Ure said...


I do agree with you that in some cases violence is necessary. I do believe though that it should be the very, extreme last option available.

I do not believe in fighting a war just to protect Buddhism, however. If that war is waged mainly to protect the people at large and the model of democracy then perhaps is it o.k.

It is helps the greater good of more people then I think it is justifiable. Because sometimes not waging war causes even MORE suffering.

This is because if you simply surrender to an invading army you will see often end up being locked up into terrible camps where people are slowly killed.

Not to mention all the mass killings/genocide that would be very likely to happen.

So, yeah i believe that sometimes fighting a war is the last best option to help prevent even more suffering and loss of life.

monk thr33n0r said...

Great post. These types of issues are often avoided or denied by many Buddhists.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled across this blog as I was looking for information on violence and Buddhism. I have recently found a sincere interest in Buddhism. But as a police officer for a major U.S. city, this is a constant issue. I work in a terribly poor neighborhood, that is riddled with gang and other criminal activity. The issue of violence is always a pressing one with my job. I exert as much care as I can, and I have gotten very good at talking my way out of a violent confrontation, but sometimes this involves being untruthful or violent speech.

I don't know about wars and justifications, as I'm not the one deciding if we go to war or not. I do know about violence for self-defense (and the defense of others). This is something I see regularly. I have to agree that anyone advocating complete non-violence is advocating "silly, wild-eyed idealism". Clearly you can't have any kind of modern society without some kind of police force.

I'll be honest, it takes regular work on my part to not become callous to the violence. I am forced to use it so often, it could be very easy for my to let myself not be bothered by it.

And when I use violence, I do my best to use the least amount I can while keeping myself safe.

This isn't theoretical philosophy for me. This is my life.

They call him James Ure said...


First off, WELCOME!!! I'm glad that you found us here and hope to hear from you more in the future.

I really appreciate you comment and your unique position and experience around violence. I must admit that I'm no expert on police work but that being said I do have a few thoughts.

I do agree with you that it is naive to think that we can live in a world without police and an army of some kind.

That being said, I must compliment you are doing your best to resist violent thoughts and actions from overtaking your peace and happiness.

I also think it is great that when you do have to use force that you try to use the least amount possible.

The defensive tactics such as those found in martial arts are a great way to neutralize violent people while doing the least amount of harm to them. It sounds like you have learned similar tactics.

I congratulate you also in using communication as much as possible to settle disputes. I have found in my experience that many problems that arise amongst people stem from a lack of communication and compromise.

I am so glad that you commented on this post as you have a unique position regarding this matter. I would be interested to know more so if you feel like you'd like to share more of your experiences feel free to email me at:

One more thought, some might consider your line of work as "Wrong livelihood." However, I think that such a view point is misplaced and less skillful.

I firmly believe that police work can and is right livelihood because most of police work revolves around keeping the peace and protecting people. That is very Buddhist from my point of view.

That being said, I'm not a teacher but I firmly believe that Buddhist teachers would recognize the need for police work. While at the same time advocating the balance and consideration that you practice.

I have great respect for the safety that you all give to us. That is a very compassionate gift to the community. I also think that the way that you're going about your job is the most compassionate, thoughtful way of going about it.

I hope you don't feel and guilt about your job. I firmly believe that your work is about reducing the most amount of suffering possible. Some people need to be separated from the general population both for their own safety and that of the community.

Thank-you for your service. Peace be with you and may you always come home to your family without injury.

I bow to the Buddha within you...

new laptop battery said...

I'm usually not a fan of Gehry's work, but this is an exception. Using wood as a wrapper imitating structure is not only novel, but ties the space down through the use of a consistent, inviting, and non-distracting material palette. Perhaps Gehry is more suited to small-scale projects Laptop battery.

Anonymous said...

This is exactly the question Hindus have been asking Buddhists for centuries. Hinduism does not advocate violence to spread the religion. It asks to seek peace until the very last moment but if the other party does not appreciate peace than Hinduism gives you full right to engage in battle. This stance of complete non-violence is completely flawed as an ideology. One has to use both action and in action judiciously, without fear, favour or malice for the best results and avoid excessive loss of life in life.
One can be peaceful by not violently spreading one's ideology but one is not violent for trying to defend himself. Buddhism was a movement within Hinduism. It took the renunciation path advised to the retired people in Hinduism and proposed it as mainstream for everyone. This ideology though appealing is escapist and responsible for the downfall of Hindu civilisation. Buddhism is not a self sustaining religion but can only exist as a parasitic philosophy amongst some people in a country. In the Mahabharata, the Hindu epic, Lord Krishna speaks of peace with the Kauravas. Even just before battle he goes as an ambassador of peace and asks Duryodhana to forget war and give the Pandavas just five villages even though they were the rightful rulers but he refuses to part with even land equal to the tip of a needle. Thus a war ensues and the whole Kaurava clan is slain. The lesson is to learn from the epic to not be so arrogant and seek peace first, when possible. Moral ambiguity is not supported in Hinduism and all violence is not seen as morally equivalent and repugnant. A policeman may have to use force against a criminal to protect the innocent and an Army has to fight to defend a country. Buddhism may appeal to those in the west that have a sense of guilt because of their own Christian cultural History of aggression but to one in his right mind some violence can be used to do the greater good! The Abrahamic aggression against people who have not done any wrong to them at times is what puts off people their philosophy.

Handsome B. Wonderful said...


I agree with your position that sometimes violence is necessary. But for you to assume that all Buddhists are complete pacifists in every instance is a large assumption.

Of course Buddhism is self-sustaining. Look at it's rapid growth in both America, Europe and Australia.

And calling Buddhism a "parasitic philosophy" isn't the nicest thing to say--especially on a Buddhist website. I hope that you decide to use better language in the future.

I'm sure you would not appreciate me describing your beliefs in such a manner.

Riley Miracle said...

The following is the assumed situation

A man is going to murder my family this moment. I have the ability to stop the man in this moment, but doing so would end his life.

Chapter 1 the pairs

Buddha : My mind is the forerunner of my good states. My good states are made by my mind. If I act and speak with pure mind, affection will follow me.

Me : I am in charge of making my states good. Watching my family be murdered is not a good state. Living with the knowledge that I could have saved them, and did not, also is not a good state.

Buddha : Hate does not overcome hate, by love is hate appeased.

Me : I do not hate the man murdering my family. I love my family. I do not want him to die, but I would be the one killing my family by not stopping him. I would also be responsible for all of the future murders that man committed.

Buddha : Others do not realize that in this quarrel we all perish, I realize this therefore my quarrels are calmed.

Me : I would not shake, I would point with true intent and calmly murder the man.

Chapter 9 Evil

Buddha : One who harms the harmless, who are innocent and guilt free, upon that very fool the evil will recoil like fine dust thrown against the wind.

Me : The family is innocent and guilt free, the man is not innocent and is not guilt free. If I do not stop the man, I am not innocent, and I am not guilt free. What punishment did Buddha dictate for those who harm the harmful, and not innocent?

Chapter 10 Violence

Buddha : If I seek happiness while harming others, I will not find happiness.

Me : I do not save my family because I seek the Rapture of Nirvana? So I allow my family to be harmed because I seek happiness? Clearly, I will not find happiness.

Chapter 11 Old Age

Buddha : What is laughter and joy while my world burns, if I were shrouded in darkness I would seek light.

Me : So I am going to pursue the joyous rapture of Nirvana while my family is murdered. Nirvana is not a future goal, Nirvana is a now goal. The man is darkness, seek light by removing the darkness.

Chapter 14, Buddha

Buddha : To Cease from evil, to cultivate good

Me : My inaction allows evil to thrive, and ends the life of good people. By doing nothing, I am ceasing from good and cultivating evil.

Buddha : Not harming.

Me : Once again, I am harming by not saving. I have the power to save, therefore I also have the responsibility to save.

Buddha : Right Sight

Me : I am causing suffering by not saving good. Inaction in the face of evil does cultivate the evil.

Buddha : Right Intention

Me : I did not intend these circumstances. I intend to cultivate good and cease from evil.

Buddha : Right speech
Me : Not relevant here.

Buddha : Right Action

Me : This not only means the right use of action, this also means the right use of inaction. Cultivate good, do not cultivate evil with inaction. "Inaction is the best action in the face of evil" These are not Buddha's words.

Buddha : Right Livelihood
Me : Not relevant here.

Buddha : Right Effort

Me : Apply energy towards my own rapture while my family dies a horrible death. This does not sound like an appropriate use of energy.

Buddha : Right Mindfulness

Me : I realize my in-action is causing immense suffering now. My action would prevent immense suffering now. The man is not innocent, the family is innocent. The path is clear, I am powerful, I must protect the innocent from the not innocent when the situation is so crystal clear.

Buddha : Right Concentration

Me : I would focus on ending this mans ability to harm.

Chapter 15 Happiness

Buddha : Victory breeds hatred, the defeated live in pain. Happily I live in peace giving up victory and defeat.

Me : If I allow the man to be victorious I would breed hatred, my relatives would hate me for not stopping the man. I seriously think I would hate myself as well. If I allow the man to win, I would be defeated, I would live in pain, my relatives would live in pain. By killing the man I certainly was not victorious, this is not a battle I wanted, and murder of any kind was not a victorious outcome for one such as me.

Chapter 16 Affection

Buddha : I fulfill my duties.

Me : Protecting and serving is the duty of a human. If protecting and serving is not a human duty then whose duty is it? What other animal is as capable as a human for wisely ciphering complicated situations?

Chapter 18 Impurity

Buddha : Ignorance is the greatest taint

Me : Not knowing that inaction causes suffering, a great instance of ignorance.

Buddha : If I destroy life I will dig up my own root in this life.

Me : I am destroying life by not saving life when I have the chance. I am digging up my own root.


Now take this in the form of a muslim attempting to change my religion by force.

When I have knowledge the not innocent muslim is going to kill innocents, what ever his reason is, I would stop him.

What is the difference between,

1 Murder

2 Having power to stop murder, but not using the power.

I say, there is no difference.

I would stop him for all the same reasons I would stop a man trying to murder my family.

They call him James Ure said...


You make a lot of good points. On war though I think that we must be extra careful. I agree that WW2 for example was necessary but the Iraq war was a frivolous waste of resources--especially lives.

Riley Miracle said...

Thanks for making such a great blog.

War is a personal choice, however, very few get to make this personal choice for very many.

I am not sure it has ever been different from this.

here is a history of USA peace

As you can see, our government does not advocate peace.

If we were to all get together and protest the war in Iraq, and actually win, and get the war to end.

Our country would be at peace for at most a week or two. Our military establishment desires a war to be taking place so we can keep our sword sharp by the blood of an enemy.

The only way this would ever change is if the power structure were to be re-analyzed and the power of war taken from all three branches and given to the people of America. End the Republic, start The Democracy.

War should always be put to a vote, and every one who votes for the war should be put into active duty. Those who don't vote for war, do not have to pay for it, they do not have to pay with their taxes, time, or life.

What right do I have to send you to war? What right do you have to send me to war? So if I am able to climb the corrupt ladder of politics to the highest point, then I have the right to command people to war?

Our military has infinite power at starting war, our military's only weapon of peace is fear. Fear is a form of oppression, and the oppressed become stronger and they will rebel.

Our technological advantage is conditioned and is not eternal. As soon as our technological advantage is gone, watch as we become hypocritical pacifists.

If we the people do not get a grip on our government I feel our next conqueror will not be so merciful.

They call him James Ure said...


Yeah America has become a very aggressive country putting violence over diplomacy too many times. Especially during the last 8 years under Bush.

Ray said...

My understanding is that the right action will come up at the time needed. Nothing against this interesting discussion here, but trying to determine right action beforehand and developing a "moral" system regarding this question (and others) is conceptualizing reality.

Also, I would hesitate to take the Dalai Lama's word on the subject of violence as we know that in pre-Chinese Tibet punishment for serfs, such as beatings, whip lashing and amputation of arms, eyes and noses were daily fare. Similar to what happens every Friday in town squares in many Islamic states.

Papa Giorgio, M.A.T.S. said...


Does the idea of "violence" as a moral good or bad truly exist in the Buddhist mindset? What I mean is that according to a major school of Buddhism, isn't there a denial that distinctions exist in reality... that separate "selves" is really a false perception? Language is considered something the Buddhist must get beyond because it serves as a tool that creates and makes these apparently illusory distinctions more grounded, or rooted in "our" psyche. For instance, the statement that "all statements are empty of meaning," would almost be self refuting, because, that statement -- then -- would be meaningless. So how can one go from that teaching inherent to Buddhistic thought and say that self-defense (and using WWII as an example) is really meaningful. Isn't the Lama drawing distinction by assuming the reality of Aristotelian logic in his responses to questions? (He used at least three Laws of Logic [thus, drawing distinctions using Western principles]: The Law of Contradiction; the Law of Excluded Middle; and the Law of Identity.)



Papa Giorgio, M.A.T.S. said...


Sorry, I needed to post to check the email feature.


They call him James Ure said...


You're right that language is just a tool and in the end a useless one at that but It's important to be able run a blog. ;) That or teach people the particulars of the religion.

Its like a lamp needed to make your way through the dark until you reach the lighthouse (Enlightenment, Nirvana, etc.) Then of course the lamp is no longer useful unless you have taken the vow to teach others.

Which in my analogy is returning into the dark to bring your brothers and sisters along (via the lamp-i.e. language) to the lighthouse (enlightenment, Nirvana, etc.)

Papa Giorgio, M.A.T.S. said...


Then... if reality is ultimately characterless and distinctionless, then the distinction between being enlightened and unenlightened is ultimately an illusion and reality is ultimately unreal. Whom is doing the leading? Leading to what? These still are distinctions being made, that is: "between knowing you are enlightened and not knowing you are enlightened."

In the Diamond Sutra, ultimately, the Bodhisattva loves no one, since no one exists and the Bodhisattva knows this:

"All beings must I lead to Nirvana, into the Realm of Nirvana which leaves nothing behind; and yet, after beings have been led to Nirvana, no being at all has been led to Nirvana. And why? If in a Bodhisattva the notion of a 'being' should take place, he could not be called a 'Bodhi-being.' And likewise if the notion of a soul, or a person should take place in him."

So even the act of loving others, therefore, is inconsistent with what is taught in the Buddhistic worldview, because there is "no one to love."

This is shown quite well (this self-refuting aspect of Buddhism) in the book, The Lotus and the Cross: Jesus Talks with Buddha. A Book I recommend with love, from a worldview that can use the word love well.

One writer puts it thusly: "When human existence is blown out, nothing real disappears because life itself is an illusion. Nirvana is neither a re-absorption into an eternal Ultimate Reality, nor the annihilation of a self, because there is no self to annihilate. It is rather an annihilation of the illusion of an existing self. Nirvana is a state of supreme bliss and freedom without any subject left to experience it.


Papa Giorgio.


Papa Giorgio, M.A.T.S. said...


I haven't seen a response yet. Which is fitting... because whom would be responding to whom. Put another way, would their be one mind trying to actively convince the other mind that no minds exist at all?


nyingbulam said...

What an excellent post. These are the true questions that help generate a deeper thought
away from what our idealisms are to what our heart say. I am an ordained Buddhist Priest as well as a martial arts instructor. Over the years I have had many conversations, discussions and teachings about this topic. I try to sum it up as, what is the motivation behind the violence? I believe that there is compassionate violence and just plain violence, and there is a difference. As in the form of self defense the act of violence is based on compassion, the love and care fore of the person / thing you are defending. The act of violence motivated by greed, lust, jealousy and hatred for example are nothing more then sure violence. But there is a fine line between them. To enrage a person to the point that they strike back, and you defense from it; that is violence that has no basses on compassion. It is also true to extreme points of violence that go beyond the force needed to protect ones self or loved ones. It just becomes violence.

Rev. Nyingje Norbu. Sensei said...

The Buddha taught absolute non-violence for one purpose, i.e. to attain supreme enlightenment, a state beyond karma and karmic consequences. This is taught to be a non-dual state, devoid of a Doer, Action and a Receiver. Many wonderful names have been given to this state like Buddha Nature, Buddha Mind, Ordinary Mind, Emptiness Awareness, etc. etc. This is a state beyond suffering and confusion, physically and mentally, beyond thinking and thoughts.

Now, as long as people hold on to dualistic concepts of right and wrong, you and me, we and them, etc. etc. confusion and unclarity will be there.
On violence, base on dualistic concepts, the Buddha did not spoke much, accept of His re-account of one of His former lives, practicing as a Bodhisattva ship captain. Discovering someone was going to kill all the 500 merchants on board and after failing to talk the would-be-killer out of it, the ship captain killed the man while knowing fully well the consequences of a rebirth in the hell realm.
The Bodhisattva was fully aware of the karmic consequences of killing and accepted even the rebirth in hell to save the 500 merchants lives.

Of actions of body, speech and mind, from the darkest of dark of our ignorance to the lightest of light of supreme enlightenment, and the grey zones in between are infinite. Discussing whether violence is call for or not will always be a case to case matter, still there will always be someone else's ideology conflicting against ours, such is the nature of dualistic mind.

There will never be a definite end to double talk as long as double talk continues for all its worth.
H.H. Dalai Lamas contribution to the subject was based on dualistic moral and general benefits and so are many others advices from other famous spiritual Leaders. All these comments and advices are dwelling on the karmically tainted 'black and grey zones'. Basically they advice to take violence as the last resort or to do as little harm as possible, i.e. break a leg instead of a head, etc. etc. .... and all for the sake of producing as small as possible the karmic consequences. Better to have someone breaking our leg in the next life then to be reborn in hell as karmic result, is the principle.
The thing is, H.H.D.L. cannot go such details in public interviews and talk especially to non-Buddhist.

Bottomline is; The Buddha spoke for absolute non-violence for one purpose and one purpose only, i.e. for the sake of attaining supreme enlightenment, a state beyond karma and karmic consequences. Lastly, not forgetting that as one progresses along the Bodhisattva Bhumis, the realization of Emptiness will be actualized and from then onwards, performing violence or 'wrathful compassion' is get purer and purer, devoid of a Doer, Action and a Reciever. As long as violence and wrathful compassion is base dualistic concepts, there will be karmic consequences ranging from darkest of dark to grey zones and to lightest white. We have to be clear about that.
Until we have attain supreme enlightenment and perform non-dual wrathful compassion without karmic consequences, I wish all here good. ............ my 2 cent contribution to this often discussed subject. Thank you.

Journeying said...

"Types of violence[edit]

While the Jain ascetics observe absolute non-violence, so far as a Jain householder is concerned, the violence is categorised as follows:
1.Sankalpinī hiṃsā or intentional violence – Intentional violence knowingly done is the worst form of violence and is a transgression of the layperson's vow of non-violence. Examples of sankalpinī hiṃsā are killing for hunting, amusement or decoration, or butchering for food or sacrifice or killing or hurting out of enmity, malice or mischief. sankalpinī hiṃsā has to be totally renounced by a householder.[20]
2.Virodhinī hiṃsā or Self-defence – Virodhini hiṃsā is committed for self-defence of self, property, family or country against violent attackers, robbers, or dacoits. A householder tries to avoid hiṃsā at all cost, but in such cases it may be unavoidable and hence should be non-vindictive and kept to barest minimum.[20]
3.Āṛambhinī (Graharambhi) hiṃsā or domestic or household violence – This violence is unavoidably committed in the course of preparing food, household cleanliness, washing, construction of houses, wells, etc.[20]
4.Udyoginī hiṃsā or Occupational Violence – This violence is connected to occupational undertakings like agriculture, building and operating industries, etc.[20]
While sankalpinī hiṃsā has to be avoided at all costs, the other three types of hiṃsā although unavoidable in some cases, should not exceed the strict requirements of fulfilling the duties of a householder. Furthermore, they should not be influenced by passions like anger, greed, pride and deceit or they take the character of sanpalkinī hiṃsā.[20]"

ShareThis Option