Hat Tip to My Buddha is Pink
When I read Richard’s post on the book “Monks with Guns: Discovering Buddhist Violence” I felt a tinge of chest-beating coming on. I felt that urge…and was thinking one thing ~ “Christian Anti-Buddhist Propoganda”. Thats right! Filthy, dirty Christians besmirching the good name of Buddhism. Obviously still trying to gather some more souls for their Zombie Prince.
But then I relaxed and looked at the site (Religious Dispatches) that featured the book…
Since my initial realization in 2004, I began to look critically at my earlier perspective on Buddhism—one that shielded an extensive and historical dimension to Buddhist traditions: violence. Armed Buddhist monks in Thailand are not an exception to the rule; they are contemporary examples of a long historical precedence. For centuries monks have been at the helm, or armed in the ranks, of wars. How could this be the case? But more importantly, why did I (and many others) hold the belief that Buddhism=Peace (and that other religions, such as Islam, are more prone to violence)?
To assume that Buddhism is some sort of magic balm to spread over the world is a foolish notion but it is one that gets propagated. I recall having friends tell me that they aren’t calm enough to be Buddhist or “don’t want to lose their edge”. Articles write about how a friend become blissfully boring (I took offense at that story and explained to the writer that it was likely her friend was already boring before Buddhism) but I digress.
Buddhism does not equal peace any more than Islam equals peace or Christianity equals peace. Buddhism, Islam and Christianity are organized religions; religions that are tied up into national politics; religions that can be divisive, discriminitory and dangerous.
People equal peace. Doesn’t matter what the religion. Buddhism is just as dangerous as a state religion as any Christianity in the US, Islam in the Middle East and atheism in the Former Soviet Union.
It was then that I realized that I was a consumer of a very successful form of propaganda. Since the early 1900s, Buddhist monastic intellectuals such as Walpola Rahula, D. T. Suzuki, and Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, have labored to raise Western awareness of their cultures and traditions. In doing so, they presented specific aspects of their Buddhist traditions while leaving out others. These Buddhist monks were not alone in this portrayal of Buddhism. As Donald S. Lopez Jr. and others have poignantly shown, academics quickly followed suit, so that by the 1960s U.S popular culture no longer depicted Buddhist traditions as primitive, but as mystical.
I hate that word propaganda
(here: defined as Propaganda is a form of communication aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position. As opposed to impartially providing information, propaganda in its most basic sense, presents information primarily to influence an audience. Propaganda often presents facts selectively (thus possibly lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented. The desired result is a change of the attitude toward the subject in the target audience to further a political agenda.
To say that D.T Suzuki or any of those writers were actively utilizing propaganda to influence people seems a huge jump to me. The philosophical aspect of Buddhism was never glossed over and I am missing the political agenda that may have been at the heart of this nefarious plot. I do however see an idealization of the Asian mystique that people tend to attach to Buddhist practice. This mystical, transcendental aspect of Buddhism was quite the rage. The historical aspects of Buddhism and politics is anything but glossed over. Check any number of books about the history of Buddhism in Japan as well as in the West and you will see plenty of the negative aspects that the author of the book seemed to miss. The fact that he pointed out Donald S. Lopez Jr prove a bit since in his book, Modern Buddhism Lopez specifically takes talks from Shaku Soen about the nathionalistic martial aspects of Zen Buddhism. So I question whether this aspect of Buddhism is really hidden. (Check Here Here Here). It seems that it would be an academic (I spit that word…ptou!) to point out what is already obvious to any one not completely “blissed out”
~ That Buddhism is just as fucked up as every other religion.
Either way, I am looking forward to reviewing the book if the publisher sees so fit to send me a copy. I’m always down for a critical account of Organizational Buddhism but I am not dismissing the fact that it may just be a piece of bullshit sensationalism (like you know…a picture of a kid in amonks rode holding a toy gun).
Bloggers interested in review contact the following
Oxford University Press
198 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016 U.S.A.
Notes: To receive a review copy of a title, fax your request on official letterhead to the attention of the Publicity Department. In your request, please include your full name and address (the address where you would like the book sent) as well as the author, ISBN (if possible) and complete title of the book you plan to review.
Courtesy of @mujaku (AKA The Zennist) sent me this piece of info…
King Dutthagamini of Sri Lanka undertook a war to spread Buddhism after which, being successful, he was still grieved by the slaughter. The Arahants consoled him by saying that he had actually killed only one and a half people. One person was a full Buddhist, the other (the “half person”) had only kept the Five Precepts but had not taken refuge! [Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. XLVIII No. 3, 385]
See?! Who says that Organized Religion can’t destoy everything. In a religion that proports to be peaceful, once the Dharma gets in the hands of the State, it can become a weapon and dehumanizing.