Buddha's battle with Mara
Buddhism is generally associated with with non-violence. It forbids all forms of violence, even in extreme cases of self-defense., but in the history of Buddhism and Buddhist people acts of violence have been directed, promoted, or inspired by Buddhists. Violent actions and thoughts, inhibit spiritual growth and are deemed unskilled (akusala) and cannot lead to the goal of Nirvana. Buddha condemned killing or harming living beings and encouraged reflection or mindfulness (satipatthana) as right action (or conduct), therefore "the rightness or wrongness of an action centers around whether the action itself would bring about harm to self and/or others". [Source: Wikipedia]

According to the BBC: “ Buddhism is essentially a peaceful tradition. Non-violence is at the heart of Buddhist thinking and behaviour. The first of the five precepts that all Buddhists should follow is "Avoid killing, or harming any living thing." Nothing in Buddhist scripture gives any support to the use of violence as a way to resolve conflict. [Source: BBC |]

Michael Jerryson, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Ohio's Youngstown State University and co-editor of the book Buddhist Warfare, said that "Buddhism differs in that the act of killing is less the focus than the 'intention' behind the killing" and "The first thing to remember is that people have a penchant for violence, it just so happens that every religion has people in it."

Gananath Obeyesekere, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University, said that "in the Buddhist doctrinal tradition... there is little evidence of intolerance, no justification for violence, no conception even of 'just wars' or 'holy wars.' ... one can make an assertion that Buddhist doctrine is impossible to reconcile logically with an ideology of violence and intolerance"

Christian Caryl wrote in Foreign Policy: “The notion of Buddhism as an inherently pacifist religion has a strong element of Western oversimplification. Buddhist teaching has never prohibited believers from fighting in defense of a just cause. As the scholars Michael Jerryson and Mark Juergensmeyer show in their book Buddhist Warfare, Buddhists have participated in wars ever since their faith came into being. Militant monks have fought for Chinese rulers (and against them) for centuries. Japan's samurai warriors were ardent Buddhists, men who cited the Buddha's teachings on the impermanence of physical existence as a good argument for soldiering. [Source: Christian Caryl, Foreign Policy, April 23, 2013*]

“When the Dalai Lama urges his fellow Tibetans to maintain non-violence in their struggle against Chinese rule, his fans in the West tend to see this as a typically Buddhist attitude. But, as some astute observers have pointed out, the Dalai Lama's embrace of civil disobedience may owe as much to Gandhi and Martin Luther King as it does to his fellow believers. (Nor, intriguingly, did it stop His Holiness from approving the killing of Osama bin Laden, though he later qualified his position when it became clear that the al Qaeda leader was unarmed when he was shot.) Indeed, his religious authority hasn't been enough to prevent over 100 Tibetans from killing themselves as a protest against Chinese policy despite his injunctions against suicide. (Happily, in the wake of the Human Rights Watch report, he has been urging the monks in Burma to end the violence there.) *

“But doctrine is only part of the problem. All religions — Buddhism included — tend to create a powerful sense of collective identity among their followers. All of the great world religions emphasize the sanctity of human life, and strive to limit the use of violence to what's admissible in certain cases. But those careful distinctions tend to go out the window when a group of believers feels that its values are under threat.

Websites and Resources on Buddhism: Buddha Net buddhanet.net/e-learning/basic-guide ; Internet Sacred Texts Archive sacred-texts.com/bud/index ; Introduction to Buddhism webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/buddhaintro ; Early Buddhist texts, translations, and parallels, SuttaCentral suttacentral.net ; East Asian Buddhist Studies: A Reference Guide, UCLA web.archive.org ; View on Buddhism viewonbuddhism.org ; Tricycle: The Buddhist Review tricycle.org ; BBC - Religion: Buddhism bbc.co.uk/religion

Buddhism on Violence and War

Ashoka (ruled India from 268 to 232 BC) was a military leader as well as religious leader

According to the BBC: Many Buddhists have refused to take up arms under any circumstances, even knowing that they would be killed as a result. The Buddhist code that governs the life of monks permits them to defend themselves, but it forbids them to kill, even in self-defence. For Buddhist countries this poses the difficult dilemma of how to protect the rights and lives of their citizens without breaking the principle of nonviolence. The pure Buddhist attitude is shown in this story: A Vietnam veteran was overheard rebuking the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, about his unswerving dedication to non-violence. "You're a fool," said the veteran - "what if someone had wiped out all the Buddhists in the world and you were the last one left. Would you not try to kill the person who was trying to kill you, and in doing so save Buddhism?!" Thich Nhat Hanh answered patiently "It would be better to let him kill me. If there is any truth to Buddhism and the Dharma it will not disappear from the face of the earth, but will reappear when seekers of truth are ready to rediscover it. "In killing I would be betraying and abandoning the very teachings I would be seeking to preserve. So it would be better to let him kill me and remain true to the spirit of the Dharma." [Source: BBC ]

Right action or right conduct is the fourth aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path. It says that a Buddhist practitioner should train oneself to be morally upright in one's activities, not acting in ways that would be corrupt or bring harm to oneself or to others. According to Saccavibhanga Sutta: And what is right action? Abstaining from taking life, from stealing, and from illicit sex [or sexual misconduct]. This is called right action.” For the lay follower, the Cunda Kammaraputta Sutta says: “ And how is one made pure in three ways by bodily action? There is the case where a certain person, abandoning the taking of life, abstains from the taking of life. He dwells with his... knife laid down, scrupulous, merciful, compassionate for the welfare of all living beings. Abandoning the taking of what is not given, he abstains from taking what is not given. He does not take, in the manner of a thief, things in a village or a wilderness that belong to others and have not been given by them

Major General Ananda Weerasekera, a Sri Lankan general who became a monk, wrote: “Buddha's teachings are quite clear in regard to the extent to which 'love & compassion' should expand,. 'Sabbe satta bhavanthu sukhitatta', ie. 'May all beings be happy' Buddha not only condemned the destruction of living beings as higher seela, he also condemned the destruction of the plant life. Buddhism being a 'way of life' where plant animal and human lives are protected ,how does one explain the 'destruction and suffering caused by war.' [Source: Major General Ananda Weerasekera, Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com |=|]

“War is violence, killing, destruction, blood and pain. Has Buddha accepted these? According to Buddha, the causes of war being greed, aversion and delusion are deep rooted in human mind. The milestones of the path being seela, samadhi and panna make the human being realize the causes that contribute to warfare and for the need for the eradication of same. |=|

The Buddha said: “All tremble at violence, All fear death,
Comparing oneself with others
One Should neither kill nor cause others to Kill”
Hence any form of violence is not acceptable . He further says,
“Victory breeds hatred
The defeated live in pain,
Happily the peaceful live,
Giving up victory and defeat” — Dammapada
Victory and Defeat are two sides of the coin of War. It is clear in Buddhism, what breeds in war whether it is victory or defeat.

print depicts the Japanese Buddhist priest Nichiren saving the spirit of a cormorant fisherman

Refraining from Harming Living Things

The first of the Five Precepts is to abstain from taking life. "Life", according to Buddhism covers the entire spectrum of living beings, which the 'Karaneeya Mettha Sutta' says includes: 1) Tasa-Tava:- moving, unmoving; 2) Diga-long, Mahantha-large; 3) Majjima-medium; 4) Rassaka- short; 5) Anuka-minute, Thula- fat; 6) Ditta-that can be seen; 7) Additta-that cannot be seen; 8) Dure-which live far; 9) Avidure-which live near; 10) Bhuta-born; 11) Sambavesi- seeking birth. [Source: Major General Ananda Weerasekera, Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com ]

Buddhism beliefs in sanctity of life and non-violence have their origins in Hinduism and Jainism. See Hinduism and Jainism.

In the Ambalatthika-Rahulovada Sutta, the Buddha says to 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.

The member of Buddha's order ... should not intentionally destroy the life of any being, down even to a worm or an ant.—Mahavagga. [Source: “The Essence of Buddhism” Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, 1922, Project Gutenberg]

Nor [shall one] lay Upon the brow of innocent bound beasts One hair's weight of that answer all must give For all things done amiss or wrongfully. —Sir Edwin Arnold.

Whosoever ... harms living beings, ... and in whom there is no compassion for them, let us know such as a "base-born."—Vasala-sutta.

Living in the world, and doing no harm to aught that lives.—Fo-pen-hing-tsih-king.

Every variety of living creature I must ever defend from harm.—Ta-chwang-yan-king-lun.

Whether of the higher class of beings, as ... a perfect man, ... or of the lower class of beings, as a grasshopper or the smallest insect—in one word, whatever hath life thou shalt not kill.—Sha-mi-lu-i-yao-lio.

Buddhist Sources on Violence and War

The Buddha is quoted in the Dhammapada as saying, "All are afraid of the stick, all hold their lives dear. Putting oneself in another's place, one should not beat or kill others". The Sutta Nipata says "'As I am, so are these. As are these, so am I.' Drawing the parallel to yourself, neither kill nor get others to kill."

In one of his sermons, The Buddha said that one should love his enemy no matter how cruel he is: “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) According to the Dhammapada (lines 3-5): "Hatred will not cease by hatred, but by love alone. This is the ancient law."

Mauryan Empire created by Ashoka

Though a man with a sharp sword should cut one's body bit by bit, let not an angry thought ... arise, let the mouth speak no ill word.—Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king. [Source: “The Essence of Buddhism” Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, 1922, Project Gutenberg]

Them who became thy murderers, thou forgavest.—Lalita Vistara.

Conquer your foe by force, and you increase his enmity; conquer by love, and you reap no after-sorrow.—Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king.

Whether now any man kill with his own hand, or command any other to kill, or whether he only see with pleasure the act of killing—all is equally forbidden by this law.—Sha-mi-lu-i-yao-lio.

Persecutions and revilings, murders and numberless imprisonments, these hast thou suffered in thousands from the world, verily delighting in long-suffering.—Lalita Vistara.

Now many distinguished warriors thought: we who go (to war) and find our delight in fighting, do evil.... What shall we do that we may cease from evil and do good?—Mahavagga.

Therefore has this pious inscription been carved here (on the rock), to the end that posterity may not suppose that any further conquest ought to be made by them. Let them not hold that conquest by the sword is worthy the name of conquest; let them see in it only confusion and violence. Let them reckon as true conquests none save the triumphs of religion.—Rock Inscriptions of Asoka.

Buddhism and Justified Violence

According to the BBC: “Buddhism, like the other great faiths, has not always lived up to its principles - there are numerous examples of Buddhists engaging in violence and even war. In the 14th century Buddhist fighters led the uprising that evicted the Mongols from China in Japan, Buddhist monks trained Samurai warriors in meditation that made them better fighters In the twentieth century Japanese Zen masters wrote in support of Japan's wars of aggression. For example, Sawaki Kodo (1880–1965) wrote this in 1942: “It is just to punish those who disturb the public order. Whether one kills or does not kill, the precept forbidding killing [is preserved]. It is the precept forbidding killing that wields the sword. It is the precept that throws the bomb.” [Source: BBC |::|]

The view that non-violence is a dominate belief in Buddhism is a bit of a myth. Robert Thurman of Columbia University told the New York Times, "There is a Buddhist theory of war, of self-defense, and there is also a kind of theory of surgical violence. The optimal ideal thing is non-violence. But sometimes you have to do a little violence to prevent a larger violence. The Buddhist have thought about this are they are not simplistic."

Dalai Lama, here receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, carried a gun when he escaped from China-occupied Tibet, one monk said

There lots of examples of violence committed by Buddhist. Largely Buddhist Cambodia produced the Khmer Rouge. A miliary junta rules in Buddhist Burma. In Sri Lanka, Buddhists engaged in a civil war with Hindu Tamils that cost 50,000 lives and monks supported Sinhalese militia that murdered thousands of class enemies.

William Dalrymple of the Paris Review talked with an elderly Tibetan monk named Tashi Passang in Dharamsala who took up arms to defend Tibet when the Chinese invaded Tibet: When asked, can one be both a monk and a resistance fighter? Tashi said, “Once you have been a monk, it is very difficult to kill a man. But sometimes it can be your duty to do so. I knew that if I stayed in a monastery under the Chinese there was no point in being a monk. They wouldn't let me practice my religion. So, to protect the ways of the Lord Buddha, the Buddhist dharma, I decided to fight...Yes, nonviolence is the essence of the dharma. This is especially true for a monk. The most important thing is to love each and every sentient being. But when it comes to a greater cause, sometimes it can be your duty to give back your vows and to fight in order to protect the dharma." [Source: William Dalrymple, Paris Review, Spring 2010 ^^^]

“So your desire to protect the dharma ultimately led you to kill? “It was not that I wanted to murder individual Chinese soldiers. I certainly did not have bloodlust I took no pleasure in killing. But I knew that the Chinese soldiers were committing the most sinful of all crimes trying to destroy Buddhism. And I knew that in our scriptures it is written that it can be right to kill a person, as long as your intention is to stop that person from committing a serious sin. You can choose to take upon yourself the bad karma of a violent act in order to save that person from a much worse sin." ^^^

“In our scriptures there is a story about a man called Angulimala who had killed nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine people. He hung a finger from each corpse on a garland around his neck. He hoped the Buddha would be his thousandth victim. But on meeting the Lord he converted and became a monk. Many people opposed this, but the Lord Buddha insisted his repentance was genuine, and that he should be allowed to atone for his misdeeds. I think that if Angulimala could be forgiven, then maybe so could I." ^^^

Buddhism and the Martial Arts

stamp depicting a Shaolin fight

According to the BBC: “Buddhist monks have been leaders in developing various forms of martial arts. The Shaolin Order is perhaps the best known of these, famed for their fighting prowess. Martial arts would seem to be about as far from non-violence as you can get, but Buddhist forms of martial arts have very strict rules about how violence can be used. Most martial arts traditions have strong spiritual and philosophical elements, and insist on a responsible and minimalist attitude to violence. [Source: BBC |::|]

“The Shaolin teaching forbids the monk from ever being the aggressor, and instructs him to use only the minimum necessary defensive force. By becoming skilled in physical conflict the monk has a better understanding of violence and is able to use sophisticated techniques to avoid harm, ranging from simple parrying of clumsy blows to paralysing grips and knockout blows in the face of extreme violence - but always using only the amount of force needed to refuse the violence that is being offered to them.” |::|

One Buddhist scripture reads: In times of war
Give rise in yourself to the mind of compassion,
Helping living beings
Abandon the will to fight.

Buddhism and Political Pacifism and Violece

Buddhism a long tradition of self-inflicted violence and death, as a form of asceticism or protest. This is perhaps best illustrated by the use of fires and burns to show determinations among Chinese monks or by the self-immolations of monks during the Vietnam war. In Tibet, monks have carried a self-immolation campaign n recent years to protest Chinese oppression.

Christian Caryl wrote in Foreign Policy: “Of all the moral precepts instilled in Buddhist monks the promise not to kill comes first, and the principle of non-violence is arguably more central to Buddhism than any other major religion.” [Source: Christian Caryl, Foreign Policy, April 23, 2013]

Hannah Beech wrote in Time: “When Asia rose up against empire and oppression, Buddhist monks, with their moral command and plentiful numbers, led anticolonial movements. Some starved themselves for their cause, their sunken flesh and protruding ribs underlining their sacrifice for the laity. Perhaps most iconic is the image of Thich Quang Duc, a Vietnamese monk sitting in the lotus position, wrapped in flames, as he burned to death in Saigon while protesting the repressive South Vietnamese regime 50 years ago. In 2007, Buddhist monks led a foiled democratic uprising in Burma: images of columns of clerics bearing upturned alms bowls, marching peacefully in protest against the junta, earned sympathy around the world, if not from the soldiers who slaughtered them. [Source: Hannah Beech, Time June 20, 2013]

Ian Johnson wrote in the New York Review of Books: “People are often shocked that Buddhism could be central to the violence of Sri Lanka or Myanmar, or the more than a hundred self-immolations that took place in Tibet in the early 2010s — self-inflicted acts of political violence that confounded both the Chinese government and many onlookers in the West. For many, Buddhism is “a religion of peace” and its adaptation for political purposes, even to inspire violence, feels flat-out wrong.[Source: Ian Johnson, New York Review of Books, July 13, 2019]

Buddhist Sources on Non-Violence and Peace

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

In agreement with all men, and hurting nobody, ... he, as far as possible, does good to all.—Fo-pen-hing-tsih-king. [Source: “The Essence of Buddhism” Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, 1922, Project Gutenberg]

Doing no injury to any one, Dwell in the world full of love and kindness. —Questions of King Milinda.

Ministering to the worthy, doing harm to none, Always ready to render reverence to whom it is due. Loving righteousness and righteous conversation, Ever willing to hear what may profit another. —Fo-pen-hing-tsih-king.

Overcoming all enemies by the force (of his love).—Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king.

How great his pity and his love toward those who opposed his claims, neither rejoicing in their defeat, nor yet exulting in his own success!—Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king.

Thus he lives as a binder together of those who are divided, an encourager of those who are friends, a peace-maker, a lover of peace, impassioned for peace, a speaker of words that make for peace.—Tevijja-sutta.

Persist not in calling attention to a matter calculated to cause division.—Patimokkha.

Let us now unite in the practice of what is good, cherishing a gentle and sympathizing heart, and carefully cultivating good faith and righteousness.—Travels of Fa-hien.

Military Leaders and Buddhism

Major General Ananda Weerasekera, wrote: “Let us now deal with those having a direct involvement with War, The King or in today's context the Government and the soldier. Does Buddhism permit the State to build and foster an Army?. Can a good Buddhist be a soldier? and can he kill for the sake of the country? What about the 'Defence' of a country.? When a ruthless army invades a country, does Buddhism prohibit a Buddhist King to defend his country and his people? If Buddhism is a 'way of life,' is there any other way for a righteous king to battle against an invasion of an army? [Source: Major General Ananda Weerasekera, Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com |=|]

Prime Minister of Thailand presenting a robe to a monk during Kathina

“The Damma is a way of life based on Right Thought, Right Livelihood, Right Action etc. culminating in the supreme goal of Nibbana . However it is a gradual process of training and progressing on the path through one's long samsaric journey until one has fulfilled the necessery conditions and is ready to let go the cycle of birth decay and death. Hence, until then the King has to rule, the farmer has to farm, teacher has to teach, the trader has to trade and so on. But they are expected to do it the Buddhist way in order to help them progress on the path. |=|

“In 'chakkavatti- sihanada sutta' (The Lion's Roar on the Turning of Wheel) of the long discourses of the Buddha, Buddha justified the requirement of the king having an Army to provide guard, protection and security for different classes of people in the kingdom from internal and external threats. It refers to a Wheel Turning monarch named Dalhanemi, a righteous monarch of the law, conqueror of the four quarters who had established the security of his realm and was possessed of the seven treasures. He had more than 1000 sons who were heroes, of heroic stature, conquerors of the hostile army. Explaining the noble duties of a righteous king, Buddha also pointed out the advice given to the king in regard to his obligation to provide security for its people. The advisor tells the king " my son, yourself depending on the Dhamma, revering it, doing homage to it, and venerating it having the Dhamma as your badge and banner, acknowledging the Dhamma as your master, you should establish guard, ward and protection according to Dhamma for your own household, your troops in the Army, your nobles and vassals, for Brahmins and householders, town and countryfolk, ascetics and Brahmins, for beasts and birds. Let no crime prevail in your kingdom" |=|

“Explaining further the duties of a righteous king, Buddha states, "…Son, the people of your kingdom should from time to time come to you and consult you as to what is to be followed and what is not to be followed, what is wholesome and what not wholesome, and what action will in the long run lead to harm and sorrow, welfare and happiness. You should listen and tell them to avoid evil and to do what is good for the country. This sutta clearly indicates that Buddhism permits a king to have an army since a righteous king, who is also the commander of the army, knows, the righteous way to engage the army and to protect his people.” |=|

Buddha and Military Leaders

Major General Ananda Weerasekera, wrote: “'Seeha Senapathi Sutta' of Anguttara Nikaya-5 shows how, one of the army commanders named 'Seeha' went to Buddha to clarify certain doubts on the Dhamma and how the Buddha advised him without requesting him to resign from the Army or to disband the army. Having clarified his doubts on the Dhamma, Commander Seeha requested Buddha to accept him as a deciple of the Buddha. But Buddha instead of advising him to resign from the army advised thus: 'Seeha, it is proper for a popular person of your status to always think and examine when attending to affairs and making decisions ' Seeha, the commander became a sotapanna (stream enterer = first fruit of the Path) having listened to the Dhamma, but remained in the army as a commander. In this instance too one could see that Buddha did not advise Seeha against the Army or being a commander of an Army, but only advised to discharge his duties the proper way. [Source: Major General Ananda Weerasekera, Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com |=|]

King Ajasattu

“King Ajasattu, had a unsatiable desire to conquer other kingdoms. He even murdered his father for the throne and aided Devadatta who was plotting to kill the Buddha. Once Ajasattu having decided to conquer the kingdom of Vajjians sent his chief minister Vassakara to Buddha to find out Buddha's views about his decision to conquer the Vajjians. Ajasttu wanted to know whether he will gain victory, cunningly using Buddha's ability to predict the future with accuracy. |=|

“Once the usual complimentary greetings were exchanged, between the Buddha and Vassakara and the purpose of his visit was made known, Buddha turned to his chief attendant Venerable Ananda with praise of the Vajjians and their noble democratic confederacy. Buddha further inquired from Venerable Ananda whether the Vajjians are strictly following the conditions of Dhamma NOT leading to decline as taught to the Vajjians by Buddha to which Ven. Ananda replied 'yes'. |=|

“Then Buddha turned to venerable Ananda and declared thus, "As long as they would continue on these lines, taught them by Buddha earlier at Vasali, they cannot be defeated and not expected to decline but to prosper." The shrewd minister drew his own conclusion that the Licchavis of vajji state could not be conquered in battle at that moment, but if their unity and alliance is broken they could be defeated and ran back to his king with this news. In fact Ajasattu defeated vajjians not even three years after the Buddha's death purely by shrewdly creating disunity amongst the rulers of the Vajjians.” |=|

Numerous conclusions could be drawn from this story too. Buddha knew that both States did have strong armies and that they are needed for the protection of their people. Buddha did not advice minister Vassakara that the concept on 'Army' is against Buddhism and that he should advice the king not to declare war against Vajjis but to desolve the army. Buddha at this instance also brought up important lessons in 'state craft.' It helped the crafty minister to adopt a different strategy to invade Vajji State, by using psychological approach first and then the physical assault next. Further, by having a conversation with Venerable Ananda Buddha indicated to minister Vassakara that even though king Ajasasattu has a mighty strong army, and have conquered several states he will not be able to defeat Licchavis so long as they adhere to the said noble policies. It is also an indirect advice to king Ajatasattu that it is in order having an army but that army will not be able to conquer people with virtuous qualities. It was also an indication to Ajasattu that he too should be a righteous king with an army where no other king could defeat him, by adhering to the said policies which will not lead a society to decline. |=|

These policies are referred to as 'saptha aparihani dhamma' and they are as follows: 1) Having meetings and assemblies frequently. 2) Rulers assembling in harmony, conducting their affairs in harmony and dispersing in harmony. 3) Adhering to the accepted ancient noble traditions and not extirpating the accepted established norms and traditions by introducing new laws. Respecting the elders, worshiping them, consulting them, and believing that they must be listened to. 4) Respecting and protecting the women folk and not living with them forcibly or molesting them. 5) Paying respect to all internal and external places of worship, paying homage to those worthy of veneration and continue to make spiritual offerings traditionally done.” |=|

Buddha and the Soldiers Who Wanted to Become Monks

Major General Ananda Weerasekera, wrote: “Soldiering was accepted by the Buddha as a noble profession. The soldier was known as " Rajabhata." Buddha did not permit rajabata to become monks whilst in service as a soldier. Once Sidhartha Gauthama's father, king Suddhodana came to Buddha and complained, "Gauthama Buddha, my son, when you were the most suitable for the throne of a Sakvithi King, you left all of us and became a monk. Then you insulted me by begging for meals, walking house to house along the streets in my own town. The relatives laughed at me and they insulted me. Now you are trying to destroy my Army." "Why" the Buddha asked. " What has happened to your great Army, my father." Then the king answered," Can't you see, my soldiers are deserting the army one by one and joining your group as monks." "Why are they becoming monks, great king and why are they leaving the Army." Asked Buddha. "Can't you see" the king answered. "They know that when they become monks they get free food, free clothes, free accommodation and respected by all." [Source: Major General Ananda Weerasekera, Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com |=|]

“Buddha smiled and requested the king to go back to the Palace and said that he will settle the issue. Buddha then promulgated a law ( Vinaya ) for the monks to the effect that, No soldier could become a monk whilst in military service. This law is still valid to date. Accordingly even today unless a soldier is legally discharged from the army or unless a soldier retires legitimately, he is NOT ordained as a monk and will not be accepted into the order of monks. This ensures that soldiers do not desert the army even to join the Buddhist order. |=|

bowmen in reliefs at Borobudur

“Further in terms of the Vinaya ( the code of conduct for monks) monks permitted to visit the battle field but they were ordered to return before the sunset. Permission was also given to visit the injured relatives in the battlefield. Further whilst the expressly referred to five occupations as unrighteous Soldiering is not included amongst those. The Buddha once describing the qualities of a good monk, compared those to the essential qualities of a good king to be as follows: 1) Pure decent, 2) Great wealth, 3) Strong army, 4) Wise ministers, 5) Glory. |=|

“The Buddha in his wisdom did not expect a nation or the rulers to be lame ducks in the wake of an enemy invasion. However Buddha's expectations from one who is training to be an Arhant whether monk or layman are different and it should not be mistaken with the Buddha's expectations from the laity burdened with numerous worldly responsibilities. It is also because the Buddha in his wisdom did not expect every 'Buddhist' to opt for Arahantship nor to become an ascetic renouncing the worldly affairs. To the majority Buddhism is a way of life rather than a faith, philosophy, or a religion. |=|

“However it should be stressed that a soldier like all others is subject to the law of Kamma and will not escape the Kammic fruits of "taking the Life"of a sentient being (panatipatha) even though he may have had the overall noble intention of protecting his country and his people. While killing may be inevitable in a long and successful army career opportunities for merit too is unlimited for a disciplined and conscientious soldier.” |=|

Types of Soldiers

Major General Ananda Weerasekera, wrote:Once at the city of Savatti, Buddha describing five types of monks in comparison to the five types of soldiers in the world, (A.iii, duthiya yodhajeevupama sutta ) classified the soldiers as follows: 1) A soldier who enters the battle field armed with sword and shield, bow and arrows and who gets himself killed by the enemy during battle. This is the first type of soldier. 2) A soldier who enters the battle field bravely armed with sword and shield, bow and arrows but gets injured during battle and taken to his close relatives. But he dies on the way before he reaches his relatives. This is the second type of soldier. 3) Soldier who enters the battlefield bravely armed with sword and shield, bow and arrows, gets injured and having taken to his close relatives, receives medical treatment with care. But he dies with the same ailment although he was surrounded by relatives. This is the third type of soldier. 4) Soldier who enters the battlefield bravely armed with sword and shield, bow and arrows, gets injured and having taken to his close relatives, receives medical treatment with care. He recovers from the injury. This is the fourth type of soldier. 5) Soldier who enters the battlefield bravely armed with armourments destroys and defeats the enemy. Having won the battle he remains in the battlefront victoriously. This is the fifth type of soldier. [Source: Major General Ananda Weerasekera, Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com |=|]

“'In ' patama yodhajeevacupama sutta' Buddha explains five types of soldiers or warriors. Type 1) Tremble with fear, unsteady, afraid to get into the battlefield by seeing the dust and clouds created by fighting men, animals and vehicles. Type 2) Could withstand the dust and clouds. But tremble with fear, unsteady, afraid to get into the battlefield by seeing the Standards and Banners of the enemy. Type 3) Could withstand dust and clouds, the sight of the enemy Standards and Banners But tremble with fear, unsteady, afraid to get into the battlefield by hearing the frightening noises and the battle cries in the field. Type 4) could withstand dust and clouds, Standards and Banners of the enemy, the noises and the battle cries But Tremble with fear, unsteady, afraid to get into the battlefield by a small attack by the enemy. Type 5) could withstand dust and clouds, Standards and Banners of the enemy, the noises and the battle cries. He fights back and wins his battle. Having won, he victoriously enjoys the fruits seven days staying in the middle of the battlefield. |=|

several military dictators of Myanmar, such as Than Shwe (in office from 1992-2011) became monks after they retired

“When the Buddha recognized a strong army as an essential requirement of the king he was also aware that the Commander in Chief of the Army was also the king of the country and that a strong Army four main divisions, then known as 'the caturangani sena', consisting of Cavalry (horses), Elephant force, Armed vehicles and the Infantry, each having its own functions in battle. His knowledge of the battlefield is so evident for the similis frequently quoted by him from the battlefield. In Akkhama sutta of Anguttara Nikaya Buddha compares five weak qualities of elephants selected to go into battle with that of 5 weak qualities of monks proceeding through the battle of 'Liberation.' |=|

“In the Sutta the Buddha says, An elephant belonging to the 'caturangani sena' [four divisions of the Army of the ruler] will not be suitable if it get frightened, trembles, unable to control and withdraws: 1) merely by the sight of other elephants, horses, military vehicles and soldiers in the battle field; 2) merely by hearing noises and sounds of the battle cries of elephants, horses, infantry and worrier drums in the field; 3) merely by the body smell and the smell of urine etc of other majestic elephants in the battle field; and 4) merely for not getting its food and water for one day or few days in the battle field. From the above it is clear that contrary to the popular belief the Buddha has not rejected or prohibited soldiering as a profession or occupation and the right of a king or a government to have an army and to defend one's country and its people. In the contrary the Buddha has expressly recognized the necessity for a king to have an army and providing protection to the subjects of a country has been recognized as a prime duty of the king. |=|

“A disciplined soldier fights his enemy in accordance with the best of traditions and norms maintained by an army. He doesn't kill a defenseless person. A good soldier provides medical treatment to the injured enemy captured. He doesn't kill prisoners of war, children, women or the aged. A disciplined soldier destroys his enemy only when his or the lives of his comrades are in danger.” |=|

“Soldier is one who thrives for peace within because he is one who realizes the pain of his own wounds. He is one who sees the bloody destruction of war, the dead, the suffering etc. Hence his desire to bring peace to himself as well as to the others by ending the war as soon as possible. He not only suffers during the war but even after the war. The painful memories of the battles he fought linger in him making his aspire for true and lasting peace within and without. Hence the common phenomenon of transformation of brutal kings having an insatiable desire to conquer to incomparable and exemplary righteous kings such as Drarmasoka king of Mourian dynasty of India.” |=|

Buddhist Extremism and Intolerance

In 2012 and 2013, in parts of Asia, friction between Buddhists and Muslims resulted in the deaths of hundreds, mostly Muslims. Much of the violence was fanned by extremist Buddhist monks, who preach a dangerous form of religious chauvinism. Hannah Beech wrote in Time: Over the past year in Buddhist-majority Burma, scores, if not hundreds, have been killed in communal clashes, with Muslims suffering the most casualties. Burmese monks were seen goading on Buddhist mobs, while some suspect the authorities of having stoked the violence — a charge the country’s new quasi-civilian government denies. In Sri Lanka, where a conservative, pro-Buddhist government reigns, Buddhist nationalist groups are operating with apparent impunity, looting Muslim and Christian establishments and calling for restrictions to be placed on the 9% of the country that is Muslim. Meanwhile in Thailand’s deep south, where a Muslim insurgency has claimed some 5,000 lives since 2004, desperate Buddhist clerics are retreating into their temples with Thai soldiers at their side. Their fear is understandable. But the close relationship between temple and state is further dividing this already anxious region. [Source: Hannah Beech, Time June 20, 2013 ||||]

Myanmar's U Wirathu

“In the reckoning of religious extremism — Hindu nationalists, Muslim militants, fundamentalist Christians, ultra-Orthodox Jews — Buddhism has largely escaped trial. To much of the world, it is synonymous with nonviolence and loving kindness, concepts propagated by Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, 2,500 years ago. But like adherents of any religion, Buddhists and their holy men are not immune to politics and, on occasion, the lure of sectarian chauvinism...As the violence mounts, will Buddhists draw inspiration from their faith’s sutras of compassion and peace to counter religious chauvinism? Or will they succumb to the hate speech of radical monks.” ||||

Christian Caryl wrote in Foreign Policy: “Isn't Buddhism a religion that places respect for life and the embrace of peace at the very center of its worldview? The Buddha himself placed compassion at the root of his teachings.” But “it turns out, sadly, that some Buddhist monks don't see this as a binding ethical imperative. Monks have been prominent among those inciting the recent bloodshed.” [Source: Christian Caryl, Foreign Policy, April 23, 2013*]

“As the current crisis in Burma demonstrates, modern Buddhists are just as susceptible to identity politics as anyone else.” In March 2013, “police in Sri Lanka stood by as Buddhist monks led a mob that pillaged a Muslim-owned garment warehouse. Sri Lanka, which has been convulsed for years by a civil war between majority Buddhists and minority Tamils, is home to several hard-line Buddhist political movements, including something called the "Buddhist Strength Force," which has recently made a name for itself with vitriolic anti-Muslim rhetoric. "It is the monks who protect our country, religion, and race," said Sri Lankan Defense Minister Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in a recent speech — reinforcing suspicions that militant monks enjoy tacit government support. *

“The government in Thailand, meanwhile, has armed local Buddhist groups to counter a simmering Muslim insurgency in the south of the country. The militias, which are distinct from the regular army and the police, have the job of defending Buddhist communities against potential attacks — and perhaps deepening the sectarian dimension in that long-running conflict. *

“What all three of these countries have in common is an ominous trend in which governments and religious institutions are lending support to destructive sectarian forces. Muslims may well bear some of the responsibility for the killings in Burma, but the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that most of the violence was committed by far more numerous Buddhists who enjoyed crucial support from local officials and religious leaders." *

“None of this, of course, is to argue that Buddhists are uniquely evil. It's merely to point out that some of our idealized notions about the purity of Buddhism don't live up to real-world scrutiny. We shouldn't give Buddhist extremists a pass any more than we would their Muslim, Christian, or Jewish equivalents; otherwise we run the risk of becoming complicit in their crimes. Just because the conflicts they create are in far-away, exotic places is no excuse for complacency." *

Buddhism and Anti-Muslim Violence in Myanmar

In Myanmar, a Buddhist extremist faction known the 969 movement has endorsed anti-Muslim campaigns that have triggered widespread violence. Its leader, Shin Wirathu, says that even if Buddhism is far away the predominate religion in Myanmar it is still under threat. [Source: BBC, May 2010]

Christian Caryl wrote in Foreign Policy: “The man's body lies on a blanket striped in white and blue. He's wearing a dark brown tank top and a dark blue flowered sarong. Someone has tied his hands behind his back with rope. There are deep red gashes on his head and shoulders — some of them presumably the wounds that ended his life. The man in the photo is a Muslim. The people who killed him were almost certainly Buddhists. He was a victim in last fall's sectarian bloodshed in western Burma, which pitted members of the two religions against each other. The image comes from a new report by Human Rights Watch that carefully documents the violence that took some 200 lives and resulted in the forced displacement of some 125,000 people. The report argues persuasively that state institutions, including the police, often stood by while Buddhist rioters went after their Muslim neighbors — and in some cases may have even helped to organize the attacks. A mere 4 percent of Burma's population of Burma is Muslim, while well over 90 percent are Buddhists. Perhaps the fact that the government sided with the majority probably shouldn't have come as a surprise. [Source: Christian Caryl, Foreign Policy, April 23, 2013*]

Ironically, “Buddhist monks who set the rigorously non-violent tone of the massive anti-government demonstrations back in 2007. The chants of the saffron-robed protestors were powerfully moving: "May all beings living to the East be free; all beings in the universe be free, free from fear, free from all distress!" *

“U Wirathu, a monk at a prominent monastery who's made a name for himself lately as an apologist for anti-Muslim sentiment and the organizer of the "969" movement, which has been issuing stickers and signs emblazoned with that number (which has symbolic significance for Burmese Buddhists) to identify businesses that refuse to serve Muslims — exactly the kind of policy the monk is aiming to promote. He's said to have referred to himself as "the Buddhist Osama bin Laden." How can this sort of bigotry possibly be reconciled with the teachings of the Enlightened One? *

See Myanmar

Buddhist Hostility in Sri Lanka

Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka some have been accused of generating hostility towards other faiths and ethnic minorities.Charles Haviland of the BBC wrote: Upstairs in a small temple in the suburbs of Colombo “a burly monk in a bright orange robe holds forth - for this is one of the main offices of a hard-line Buddhist organisation, the Bodu Bala Sena or Buddhist Power Force (BBS)...The monk, Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero, talks of his Buddhism in terms of race. Most Buddhists here are ethnically Sinhalese, and Sinhalese make up three-quarters of the island's population. "This country belongs to the Sinhalese, and it is the Sinhalese who built up its civilisation, culture and settlements. The white people created all the problems," says Gnanasara Thero angrily. [Source: Charles Haviland, BBC News, Colombo, 30 May 2015 ^]

“He says the country was destroyed by the British colonialists, and its current problems are also the work of what he calls "outsiders". By that he means Tamils and Muslims. In fact, while a minority of the Tamils did indeed come from India as tea plantation workers, most of them, and most of the Muslims, are as Sri Lankan as the Sinhalese, with centuries-old roots here. "We are trying to... go back to the country of the Sinhalese," says Gnanasara Thero. "Until we correct this, we are going to fight." ^

“This firebrand strain of Buddhism is not new to Sri Lanka. A key Buddhist revivalist figure of the early 20th Century, Anagarika Dharmapala, was less than complimentary about non-Sinhalese people. He held that the "Aryan Sinhalese" had made the island into Paradise which was then destroyed by Christianity and polytheism. He targeted Muslims saying they had "by Shylockian methods" thrived at the expense of the "sons of the soil". And later, in 1959 Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike was assassinated by a Buddhist monk - the circumstances were murky but one contentious issue was the government's failure to do enough to ensure the rights of the Sinhala people. ^

“The long war against the Tamil Tigers - a violent rebel group purporting to speak for the Tamil minority - brought the hard-line Buddhists into their own once more. Portraying the war as a mission to protect the Sinhalese and Buddhism, in 2004 nine monks were elected to parliament on a nationalist platform. And it was from the monks' main party that Gnanasara Thero later broke away, in time forming the BBS. It is now the most prominent of several organisations sharing a similar ideology.^

“But can the BBS be called violent? "Whenever there is something wrong done by a Buddhist monk everything [is blamed on] us because of our popularity," says BBS spokesman Dilantha Withanage. "BBS is not a terror organisation, BBS is not promoting violence against anyone... but we are against certain things." He cites threats by Islamic State to declare the whole of Asia a Muslim realm.”“ ^

In January 2015, “Sri Lanka unexpectedly elected a new president, Maithripala Sirisena. He told me that "everybody knows" who gave rise to the BBS - implying that it was the administration of his predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa. The previous government was, at least, strongly supportive of the organisation. And the group thrived because the rule of law had broken down, according to the new minister for Buddhist affairs, Karu Jayasuriya. He has told me that the BBS will be reined in. On Tuesday, Gnanasara Thero was arrested for taking part in an unauthorised demonstration but later freed on bail. Thus far, the new government - which, like the old one, includes a strongly Buddhist nationalist party - seems timid about taking on the men in orange.”^

Targets of Buddhist Hostility in Sri Lanka

Charles Haviland of the BBC wrote: “ Muslims seem to be these nationalists' main target, along with evangelical Christians whom they accuse of deceitfully and cunningly converting people away from Buddhism. Time and again he and his colleague bracket the word "Muslim" together with the word "extremist". They are not the only Sinhalese who express discomfort at a visible rise in Muslim social conservatism in Sri Lanka. More women are covering up than before and in parts of the country Saudi-influenced Wahabi Muslims are jostling with more liberal ones. Yet there is no evidence of violent extremism among Sri Lankan Muslims. Rather, they have been at the receiving end of attacks from other parts of society. [Source: Charles Haviland, BBC News, Colombo, 30 May 2015 ^]

“Since 2012, the BBS has embraced direct action, following the example of other like-minded groups. It raided Muslim-owned slaughter-houses claiming, incorrectly, that they were breaking the law. Members demonstrated outside a law college alleging, again incorrectly, that exam results were being distorted in favour of Muslims....In the small town of Aluthgama” in June 2014, “three people died in clashes that started when the BBS and other Buddhist monks led an anti-Muslim rally in a Muslim area. At the time, I met Muslim families whose homes and shops had been burnt and utterly destroyed, and who were cowering in schools as temporary refugees. ^

“Moderate Buddhists have also been targeted by hard-line ones. Last year Rev Wathareka Vijitha Thero was abducted, rendered unconscious, tied up and forcibly circumcised - he says this was meant as a gesture of ridicule because he had worked for closer cooperation between Buddhists and Muslims. He believes Buddhist monks - he doesn't know who or whether they were aligned with any particular group - were responsible. In a separate case, a few weeks earlier, Vijitha Thero had held a news conference to highlight the grievances of the Muslim community - the gathering was broken up by the BBS. Gnanasara had hurled insults and threatened him: "If you are involved in this type of stupid treachery again, you will be taken and put in the Mahaweli River," he said.“The reference to the Mahaweli is significant - there was a left wing insurrection against the Sri Lankan government in 1989 - it's estimated 60,000 people disappeared and many dead bodies were dumped in the river.” ^

Terrorist Attacks at Holy Buddhist Sites in India

In July, 2013, a series of blasts occurred on grounds of the Mahabodhi Temple and the Karma temple in Bodh Gaya, the place in east India where it said The Buddha received enlightenment. Associated Press reported: “A series of blasts hit three Buddhist sites in eastern India, injuring at least two people. Senior police officer S.K. Bhardwaj said a gate at one of the two temples that was hit was badly damaged in Bodhgaya, a town 130 kilometres south of Patna, the capital of Bihar state. No other damage was reported to the Buddhist sites. Junior Home Minister R.P.N. Singh said that no one claimed responsibility for the explosions and that an investigation would be carried out to determine who was involved. [Source: Associated Press Posted: July 7, 2013]

“Four blasts took place on the grounds of the Mahabodhi Temple, or the Great Awakening Temple, Bhardwaj said. Another four explosions were reported at the nearby Karma temple and at a site with a 55-metre-tall Buddhist tower. Abhyanand, the director-general of state police, said the blasts ranged from low to high intensity. He also said police recovered two unexploded bombs, which were defused in the area. Abhyanand uses only one name. A Tibetan and a pilgrim from Myanmar received minor injuries in the blast at the Mahabodhi Temple and were taken to a hospital, Bhardwaj said, adding that a temple gate was badly damaged.

Another explosion damaged an empty tourist bus parked near the Mahabodhi Temple, he said. The temple is a UNESCO world heritage site where Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment. There were few people at the popular pilgrimage centres, which were targeted for the first time, Bhardwaj said. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh strongly condemned the blasts, saying "such attacks on religious places will never be tolerated." The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, also condemned the explosions. "It's very sad. It's a few individuals," he told reporters during a visit to the southern Indian state of Karnataka. The Buddhist sites attract a large number of pilgrims, especially from Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, but the main pilgrimage starts in September. Bhardwaj said there have been intelligence reports about the possibility of attacks on the sites, but he did not give any details.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons except Dalai Lama, dalailama.com; Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king book, Amazon; stamp, Nolls China websiye

Text Sources: East Asia History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu , “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org, Asia for Educators, Columbia University; Asia Society Museum “The Essence of Buddhism” Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, 1922, Project Gutenberg, Virtual Library Sri Lanka; “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World's Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures: Volume 5 East and Southeast Asia” edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1993); BBC, Wikipedia, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.