Buddhist Monk + Gun = Awesome

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.
Phone: 212-726-6000
Fax: 212-726-6447
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.

Cheers,

John

Update!

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.

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28 thoughts on “Buddhist Monk + Gun = Awesome

  1. Fram what I can recall the zen buddhist movement was instrumental in the sumarai training. I think buddhist monks led and participated in the saffron revolution in Burma. To say that a religion is infallible is not accurate as we know the individual makes up the whole and the individuals are not perfect.

  2. In Shambhala Buddhism, there is an ‘army’ (for lack of a better word) of people called the Kasung who are charged with protection of the 3 jewels.

    “The motto of the Dorje Kasung is “Victory over War”. War represents the struggle with the three poisons identified by the Buddha: passion, aggression and ignorance. Victory is being willing to face these poisons and meet them head on with insight and loving kindness.”

    Kasung wear military-style uniforms which at first seemed very strange to my mindset of Buddhists as a bunch of happy hippies frolicing in the land of loving-kindness. It was once I saw them with a lack of dualistic thinking, that I was able to relinquish my resistance to their presence.

  3. I made my own response to this, and am looking forward to reading it. If they were looking to sell books, perhaps they stumbled upon something that stirs people up enough to go see what they are talking about.

  4. La-la-la I can’t hear your ill words over my holosync cd. I’m totally blissed out. There’s no way I could ever exhibit the gamut of my human tendancies cause I’m all like in a meditative state deeper than any Zen monk. I could be blissed out for days man!!!

    But on a serious note- do you think this is mostly a misconception on the part of non-Buddhists in the West?

    I think that Buddhism can do much for world peace, in the hands of people that want to use it for peace. World peace must start from within each individual, and Buddhism is an excellent “tool” for this transformation.

    But of course like any religion, people will use it for whatever purpose they fell they can justify.

    Cheers.

  5. i like your statement that “people=peace”. it really doesn’t have anything to do with religion. it’s more about ego setting up castles and trying to defend them. It could just as easily be a group of people totally dedicated and irrationally protective of the color Blue or socks or PB&J sammiches.

  6. @mike i’m all over it. gonna defend my right to eat PB&J sammiches whilst wearing blue socks. my weapon of choice…a snapple jar full of kyle’s pee.

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  8. @zenfant use your own pee, it’s cheaper as it’s Texas based, whilst Kyle’s pee would have be mailed all the way from Virginia. Blue socks rock. Can they have stripes? just want to make sure I’m in uniform when I visit your Castle, oh Lord of Nuts and Jam.

    @John That sounds like a great book. You know I might be writing a Buddhist Blog for a newspaper soon. Is that too establishment for you? Would you read it?

    • I would definately read it and link to it and promote it. I would be careful though, blogging close to home can be dangerous. I refused to do one here since the audience would be largely critical of anything that isn’t Buddhist. I’ve heard some horror stories…

      But, I would definately read it! “Too establishment” Blah!

      Cheers,

      John

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  10. The story of armed monks in southern Thailand, and the systematic human rights abuses carried out by the Thai – and nominally Buddhist – government needs to be told. Of course, the victims are Muslim – bad religion – and the perpetrators are Buddhist – good religion – so it doesn’t. The role of the Thai sangha in all this is murky but it’s well established that there are armed monks and temples have been converted into military encampments. That’s absolutely not “bullshit sensationalism”.

    In terms of propaganda, I rather doubt that the author of the original piece was suggesting that Suzuki or any of the others were consciously brewing up a fiction. Propaganda doesn’t need this. Simply choosing to tell certain stories and ignoring others serves a propaganda purpose. For example, stories of Thai Buddhism recount narratives of Ajahn Chah; they don’t recount narratives of Kittivudho or the Village Scouts.

    • My issue with how this is presented is two-fold. First, the martial history of Buddhism is fairly well documented as well of some of the less “enlightened” moments in Buddhist history. Even some of the authors listed discussed these points as well as several books on the history of Buddhism.

      As far as sensationalism ~ Judging from the staged picture, I think it is a possibility that this book is just that. However, I hope that he does tell an honest story, no matter how negative a picture it paints of Buddhist history.

      Either way, I am looking forward to this book. And hope that I get a chance to review it.

      Cheers,

      John

      • Hi John – Thanks for the response. I’m more interested in the story of violence in contemporary Buddhism than in historical research and I think this is certainly something which is obscure (or perhaps obscured) and hence my references to contemporary Thailand. On the other hand, this is no doubt much more a feature of pubic perceptions of religion than of scholarly research and, however good this book might be, I don’t think it’s going to affect deeply the Eastern-religions-pacific rule which the general public – in as much as it thinks about these things – uses to make these types of judgements. Regarding the picture, well, yes I agree it’s probably not the best but books and covers and judging and all that…and, after all, the book is (a) published by OUP and (b) priced at $99 so it’s hardly aiming for the Dan Brown market! Cheers.

        • Damn! $99 bucks…well, then the best option is that some loud and obnoxious bloggers get review copies and start speading the word!

          Dan Brown. Hah!

    • Hi Dan,

      No, there are victims on both sides.

      There are whole areas of the southern states where a process of religious cleansing has taken place with Buddhist families murdered and expelled by Radical Islamisists.

      Radical Muslims have targetted grandmothers, shot them for being the last remaining Buddhist in a village, they’ve ambushed Buddhist plantation workers returning from work, young volunteer Buddhist school teachers (teaching in places most fear to go) have been killed, and roadside beheadings by Jihadists are so common they hardly make the news.

      Monks on alms round need armed protection in these areas for fear of Islamic armed attacks.

      Sure, the government has made some mistakes in the past in dealing with this Jihad and have gone too far. But they were acting as the government, not as Buddhists.

      If you look at the thouands who have been killed over the past few years, the vast majority have been Buddhist.

      In fact, I’d say it is a real testament to the teachings of Lord Buddha and to the faith of the Buddhist people down there in the south, that the situation isn’t much worse than it might otherwise be.

      Marcus

  11. “No, there are victims on both sides.” Indeed there are so why make a post which talks of deaths only on one side? And why disconnect Buddhism from the actions but resolutely connect Islam? When you have soldier-monks and military camps inside temples you can’t claim that Buddhism is not an issue; motivations are complex on both sides but on both sides it’s clear that the religion-culture nexus plays a major part. As I’m sure you know, Thai and Buddhist are attributes which flow easily into one another; being Muslim is to put oneself at risk of stepping outside one’s character as a Thai. This is all part of the problem. And I have to say that it’s pretty disingenuous to characterise incidents like Tak Bai or the repeated claims of torture and extra-judicial killings carried out by Thai security forces as “mistakes”. If you make the same mistake year after year, it’s no longer a mistake. I’m not excusing the actions of violent separatists but that doesn’t require my excusing the actions of violent governments either, whatever their religious affiliations may be. And were I to do so, I’d run the serious risk of engaging in the worst kind of sectarian wagon-circling.

  12. “No, there are victims on both sides.” Indeed there are so why make a post which talks of deaths only on one side?

    Hi Dan,

    Because (a) it adds balance to your previous comments and (b) because the simple fact is that those who have suffered the most from the Jihad being waged in southern Thailand are Buddhists.

    I don’t have time to collect a load of links, I hope just two will be okay. I certainly don’t need to prove that ordinary Buddhists are the victims of Radical Islamic insurgency in Thailand, it’s surely common knoweldge?

    This year:
    http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jyrCb-G2Z2GIRWPTN26Z9Ya-JxlQ

    Jihadists target schools and monks:
    http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSBKK215488

    Again, I hardly think it is right to claim that the Thai government is acting in the name of Buddhism. Sadly, the Jihadists are acting in the name of Islam, but don’t represent a majority view of that religion.

    Marcus

  13. Oh, and no more comments from me on this one. Again and again I find myself drawn into these discussions and it really helps no one.

    The situation in Thailand is a tragedy (more killings and bombings than in Iraq by proportion of population) and nothing I can say here can possibly lessen the suffering of all those people (Buddhist and Muslim).

    So I’ll shut up now. Better to sit. Generate some loving-kindness to all. I pray that all my find peace.

    Marcus

  14. A couple of points.

    Thailand has a population of around 60 million, Iraq 30 million. There have been around 3500 fatalities – both Buddhist and Muslim – in southern Thailand in the last decade. There have been at least 100,000 deaths in Iraq over the same period. I don’t have any stats to show how the fatalities break down – in terms of religion – and as the Thai military have almost quite possibly been secretly executing Malays, it’s questionable how one would work out the score card.

    It’s by no means clear who suffers most from the insurgency. Don’t forget that the southern provinces were annexed by the Thais a century ago and the Malays haven’t been happy about it for the whole of the intervening hundred years. I’m not sure how the calculus of happiness works but I would be very careful about making claims such as yours.

    If you have the military – an arm of the Thai state – operating out of temples then de facto you have a Buddhist aspect to the conflict. Of course, the involvement is deeper than that (see, for example, the Queen’s speech calling for the Village Scouts to protect Thais/Buddhists and the extent to which the royal family enjoy support from the sangha.) As I said, because religion (Buddhism) in Thailand is wrapped so tightly around ideas of culture and nationhood, you are always going to run the risk of introducing religion into any conflict with minorities. I think it’s pretty obvious that this has happened in the south.

    My general point – despite what I’ve just written – was not to bring up the rights and wrongs of the southern insurgency, which is a pointless activity, but to point out that there is an untold story of violence within Thai Buddhism. I’m aware of this story because I live in Thailand and interact with the culture around me but if I still lived in England, however devout a Buddhist I might be, I would almost certainly remain ignorant of this and as a consequence, I might well feel that an article linking Buddhism to violence was wrong/misguided/offensive/etc. I’ve seen mention of the original article on a few Buddhist websites and the reaction seems to be the same – something along the lines of ‘how dare they?’ but, for me, it just doesn’t seem that shocking. And if it’s not that shocking to hear that there is a significant strand of Thai Buddhism which – at the very least – acquiesces to violence much more readily than is commonly assumed amongst Western Buddhists, then it doesn’t seem impossible that the same is true in other traditions. If we can have monks in Thailand saying that killing a Communist is no worse than killing a fish to feed a monk, or Thanom ordaining, or the extraordinary silence in the face of the government-backed execution of 3,000 suspected drug dealers, or a thousand other features of Thai Buddhism, well, the original book review doesn’t seem quite so interesting. What’s more interesting now is not the relatively unsurprising news that (yet another) religion has been put to uses for which it was never intended but that people take such offence at being told that this has happened.

    • To Both Dan and Marcus ~ Thank you for your conversation on this topic. You both bring up some valid points (the largest being that I need to bone up on the issues in Thailand) and some valuable insights.

      As I said, because religion (Buddhism) in Thailand is wrapped so tightly around ideas of culture and nationhood, you are always going to run the risk of introducing religion into any conflict with minorities.”

      I think we can all agree that any religion, when in bed with state politics, becomes dangerous. There are no exemptions to this rule.

      I’ve seen mention of the original article on a few Buddhist websites and the reaction seems to be the same – something along the lines of ‘how dare they?

      No so true. I spend plenty of time on Buddhist websites (probably too much) and most the reaction has been a positive interest in this book and topic with some small bit of trepidation concerning who the subject manner is framed.

      Cheers,

      John

  15. Hi Dan,

    Not continuing this topic…. just to say hi.

    I’m also English and live in Bangkok. I’ve been here for most of the last ten years, have a Thai family, and work for a Thai university. If we haven’t met already, it would be good to.

    Do you live in Bangkok? Did you go see Sayadaw U Jotika last night? I was sitting in the very back row of cushions just by the exit.

    And if you’ve been along to any of this year’s Buddhist Film Festival then you’ll definitely know me! If not, do come along and say hello.

    If you’re outside of Bangkok, then do keep an eye on the Littlebang site to see what might be going on Dharma-wise next time you are passing through:

    http://littlebang.wordpress.com/

    Ajahn Pasanno and Ajahn Amaro are speaking on the 21st if you can make it.

    All the best,

    Marcus

  16. Hi Marcus – I’m up in Lampang (out in the sticks!) and almost never come to Bangkok – it’s pretty much family visits only but that’s to Minburi so even then I rarely venture into the big city itself. I have a look at littlebang from time to time but for us country folk, there’s not much there. I’m also building a house at the moment – or will be when my back gets better, though don’t tell immigration – so that keeps me here. Still, if you’re ever up north…

    John & Marcus – There’s a paper at folk.uio.no/christoa/MARTE%20NILSEN%20PAPER%20.doc which you might be interested in. It goes into some detail – though not too much – on the history of the south, militarisation of Buddhism, and how Buddhism is involved in Thai conceptions of nationalism. It references the book which started all this so it could well be worth your looking at.

  17. Hi Dan & Marcus ~ Just saying that I appreciate the comments and the discussion you brought to this post. Very well done. I look forward to reviewing the links you provided and would always be welcome to any info you wish to provide about any Buddhist (favorable or not) topic. Feel free to email me (my address is located in the “Me” page).

    Cheers

    John

    “Sweep the Dust: Where Buddhist come together for date night” ~ lol

  18. Buddhism is just a tool.
    Man is highly fallible.
    Any tool can be misused.

    There are those who hide behind Buddhism (as any religion) and use it for manipulation and self gain.

    The tool should not be judged based on its misuse. One man may use his shovel to build an inspiring monument, while another uses his shovel to beat his enemies to death, dig their graves, and bury them. You can blame the shovel if you wish, but that’s just foolish.

    I value the article as a cautionary lesson for all. Don’t throw out your own good sense when you begin to practice. If your teacher has impure motives – you will not achieve your goals. Likewise, if you have impure motives – you will not achieve your goals.

    As a human – I am aware of my many flaws. I don’t expect my human teachers to be without flaws of their own. They are not gods. If I see a teacher experiencing weakness I feel complete freedom (actually an obligation) to draw it to their attention and assess how they address the situation. Their handling of the situation will often be sincere appreciation for the compassionate observation. If it is not, I simply do not relent until I am either clear as to the reasoning and am in agreement, or I clearly express that the situation has left me with a lack trust in their intentions and am unsatisfied with their explanations. Any teacher worth their salt will take the time. In theory, it is their lifes mission to aid your spiritual development. If they simply wish to deflect your sincere questioning. Well, you may wish to reassess this relationship.

    In truth, we’re not really very evolved. Some days I look around and all I can see are a bunch of scared monkeys all dressed up in various costumes grasping and posturing. On those days I find it simply amazing that there is a movement towards spirituality at all. I am so very impressed that were not just running around savagely raping and killing each other. We may not be enlightened, but were not total savages either. Were working towards betterment and that’s really impressive. I use the tool Buddhism to work towards that goal. But I am a flawed human and fail more often than I succeed. But I do not relent. I find the resolve to keep working towards greater clarity with every day. I find forgiveness for myself when I falter and move forward.

    A monkey in Buddhist robes acting as a savage – is a savage. Plain and simple. Do not let his costume fool you. He is not on the path or has faltered and is need of redirection. Do not let his example taint your view of all Buddhists. For the most part – my experiences thus far on this path has been a positive one.

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