Wrong Grasping of the Dhamma

In light of recent events in Paris and around the world (not to mention the history of religious-inspired violence by various traditions since their inception), it is evident to me that the Buddha's advice in the Alagaddupama Sutta was not philosophical or theoretical, it was practical.

"In the same way, there is the case where some worthless men study the Dhamma... Having studied the Dhamma, they don't ascertain the meaning of those Dhammas with their discernment. Not having ascertained the meaning of those Dhammas with their discernment, they don't come to an agreement through pondering. They study the Dhamma both for attacking others and for defending themselves in debate. They don't reach the goal for which [people] study the Dhamma. Their wrong grasp of those Dhammas will lead to their long-term harm & suffering. Why is that? Because of the wrong-graspedness of the Dhammas."

Unfortunately, we go well past attacking others in debate and go full on into attacking others, with thought, word and deed - due to wrong grasping - which leads to the long term suffering of all.

Ignorance and the resultant extreme views, as the Buddha outlines in the Kaccayangotta Sutta are clearly at work here.

May we not fall into this trap.

Justin Williams's picture

Violent teachings

It is a very nice teaching you shared from the sutta - thank you. How exactly do you relate it to the recent attacks?
I think it is worth noticing that the Buddha's teachings were explicitly teaching non-violence, but that it would be wrong to assume that all religions teach like that. Specifically, Islam teaches violence. I know that it might not be fashionable to say that these days. However, it is not possible to defend a position other than that after reading the Quran. It is full of violence. Read for example the 9th chapter. Furthermore, Islam depends not only on the Quran but on the Hadith, the sayings and deeds of Muhammed, and these are filled with violence. They explicitly teach violence. If someone leaves Islam for example, such as converting to Buddhism, then they are to be killed. That is very clear in the hadith, and it is on that basis that 11 Islamic countries today have the death penalty for apostasy. That is not to mention the intolerance to non-Muslims in other forms, such as the hatred towards the Jews. Muhammed even cursed them on his deathbed. Perhaps from a Buddhist perspective that would give the result of being reborn in hell - having such negative thoughts towards others on ones deathbed.

Buddhism is really quite different when it comes to violence. For a quick comparison, see these Islamic teachings compared to the Buddha's teachings on what happens if you die in battle (jihad):

"So let those fight in the cause of Allah who sell the life of this world for the Hereafter. And he who fights in the cause of Allah and is killed or achieves victory - We will bestow upon him a great reward." (Quran 4:74 )

Die fighting, in Buddhist doctrine:
Someone came to the Buddha asking about this specific topic, and asked:
"I have heard that it has been passed down by the ancient teaching lineage of warriors that 'When a warrior strives & exerts himself in battle, if others then strike him down & slay him while he is striving & exerting himself in battle, then with the breakup of the body, after death, he is reborn in the company of devas [gods/inhabitant of the heavenly realms] slain in battle.' What does the Blessed One have to say about that?"
The Buddha finally answered him saying:

"When a warrior strives & exerts himself in battle, his mind is already seized, debased, & misdirected by the thought: 'May these beings be struck down or slaughtered or annihilated or destroyed. May they not exist.' If others then strike him down & slay him while he is thus striving & exerting himself in battle, then with the breakup of the body, after death, he is reborn in the hell called the realm of those slain in battle." (Yodhajiva Sutta, SN 42.3)

Gregory Hamilton Schmidt's picture

Context & Intent

Justin - thanks for your comment and much respect for stating that which it is not politically correct to state.

From my own perspective, my limited knowledge of Islam comes from the Sufi poet Bahauddin, who is so full of love for his god, nature and other people, that I assumed that the violence I'd heard about in the Quran was a later insertion for political reasons, or simply taken out of context.

In an initial review of the opening stanzas of Chapter 9, I can see the kind of violent language you refer to and it will certainly take me some time reading appropriate commentaries to be able to contextualize this myself.

With regard to my current understanding, just as I recognize the violence in the Old Testament (Sergion gives good examples below), I do not regard Christianity or Judaism as inherently violent (though its followers may have been violent in its name and looked to these scriptures as a source of authority), I tend to see these so called words of God and the faithful as products of a particular time, passed on and edited by worldly beings who may at time full of narrow views and ulterior motives that may obscure the good intentions and potentials of their prophets. Perhaps this is naive.

I also recognize that there are those that appear to be good Christians, who love their God and follow Jesus to the best of their ability, yet support or have supported war, torture, slavery, murder, etc. and somehow justified it for the greater good (examples like the Inquisition, the forced conversion of the inhabitants of the Americas, the Salem Witch Trials, the Klan, murders of abortion doctors, the recent attack at a Planned Parenthood, all come to mind as wrong grasping and wrong action).

Perhaps I'd be better served to turn my attention back to Buddhism, as the I'd like to understand how the violence in Burma can be justified given teachings like those you've quoted.

I believe there is also a history pf Buddhist-sponsored violence in Sri Lanka, more recently and historically in Tibet, between various factions and even directed against the indigenous Bon tradition, some of which Sergio refers to below.

Perhaps understanding how we can take a non-violent religion founded on the understanding of causality and justify violent acts, it may serve me to have sympathy, compassion and patience for those brought up believing in a tradition that, whether in a qualified sense or not, allows for violence and leads them to the same.


Justin Williams's picture

List of Killings Ordered or Supported by Muhammad

Hi Gregory,
Sufis can be very loving. Some of their doctrine is heretical in relation to Muhammad's Islam. Muhammed forbid music, for example. They also use many fabricated hadith which give a peaceful message. They may not be considered to represent the Islam which was taught by Muhammad, in a number of ways.

Regarding obscuring good intentions of prophets, here is a record from 8th century of what this god told his prophet:

Allah said, ‘A prophet must slaughter before collecting captives. A slaughtered enemy is driven from the land. Muhammad, you craved the desires of this world, its goods and the ransom captives would bring. But Allah desires killing them to manifest the religion.’

Here is a List of Killings Ordered or Supported by Muhammad:

For studying the Quran in many different translations, with links for commentaries, this website seems useful:

This site also gives many parallel translations:

Some articles about Muhammad here:

It may be possible that the idea of a prophet is quite separate from the idea, for example, of an enlightened person. According to Buddhist doctrine, the violent actions of prophets such as Muhammad, Moses and so on, are not at all what would be expected from any enlightened person. The teachings of Islam are simply incompatible with Buddhism.

As a side note, some say that Jesus came to change the Jewish religion, so that if anything in the older Jewish texts contradicts Jesus' message (such as the violent teachings), they have been abrogated by Jesus' teachings and should therefore not be followed.

Incidentally ,there also exists the concept of abrogation in the Quran, which is vital for understanding it. It is therefore necessary to understand the chronology of the Quran (as a book its chapters are not ordered chronologically). It starts out far more peaceful, before Muhammad moved to Medina and became a military leader.

Regarding violence being justified by Buddhist teachings, in general, it can't be. That is one of the big differences between Islam and Buddhism. Buddhism is explicitly non-violent. So the violence in Sri Lanka and Burma by monks simply can't be justified by using Buddhism. So we can just say they are violent people, who happen to be Buddhist. Since there is a doctrine of violence in the Islamic teachings, the Islamic doctrine itself can indeed be used to justify a variety of types of violence. If the violence fits the commands of god or the example of Muhammad, that doctrine and example can be used to justify the actions as correct Islamic actions.


everybody thinks as s-he sees fit.
Islamists as well say that "a few terrorists happen to be Muslims, but not all terrorists are Muslims and not all Muslims are terrorists".
Jesus hardly escapes this issue.
But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them--bring them here and kill them in front of me (Luke 19:27).
One of the lines of defense out of the embarrassment such direct, full quotations pose, is to disclaim the parable describes (alludes to, implies...) Jesus, father god or the like, as it's most often implied, but the literal, fictional character “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. ”( Luke 19:12). Possibly a carbon-copy of 1 Samuel 11:12:”The people then said to Samuel, "Who was it that asked, 'Shall Saul reign over us?' Bring these men to us and we will put them to death." ”.
In Buddhism, the doctrine of "skilled means" or "accommodated truths" can be (ab)used to justify violence.

As I suggested, perhaps, the problem lies at the rotten core of the miserable human condition...

The investigators used functional neuroimaging (fMRI) to study a sample of committed Democrats and Republicans during the three months prior to the U.S. Presidential election of 2004. The Democrats and Republicans were given a reasoning task in which they had to evaluate threatening information about their own candidate. During the task, the subjects underwent fMRI to see what parts of their brain were active. What the researchers found was striking. -...- Once partisans had come to completely biased conclusions -- essentially finding ways to ignore information that could not be rationally discounted -- not only did circuits that mediate negative emotions like sadness and disgust turn off, but subjects got a blast of activation in circuits involved in reward -- similar to what addicts receive when they get their fix, Westen explains. "None of the circuits involved in conscious reasoning were particularly engaged," says Westen. "Essentially, it appears as if partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want, and then they get massively reinforced for it, with the elimination of negative emotional states and activation of positive ones. -...- Behavioral data showed a pattern of emotionally biased reasoning: partisans denied obvious contradictions for their own candidate that they had no difficulty detecting in the opposing candidate. Importantly, in both their behavioral and neural responses, Republicans and Democrats did not differ in the way they responded to contradictions for the neutral control targets, such as Hanks, but Democrats responded to Kerry as Republicans responded to Bush. -...- "The result is that partisan beliefs are calcified, and the person can learn very little from new data," Westen says. " (Emory Study...2006:no page, emphasis added).


a mixed bag

Della Santina1 categorically disclaims Buddhism was ever cause of war, or violent in-fighting between Buddhist traditions. While it's always possible to tap dance around definitions, and to perform a comedy of innocence to deny -or affirm- anything, it is just fair to mention the points of contact between various Buddhist monks and various equivocal situations (support lent to Japanese imperialism; in-fighting in Sri Lanka, Burma, Tibet etc).

"The more detailed version apologized for helping to lend a religious purpose to invasions, colonization and the former empire's destruction of ''20 million precious lives.'' The self-critical account also described how Myoshin-ji members followed Japanese invaders across Asia, ''established branch headquarters and missions'' in conquered areas, even ''conducted fund-raising drives to purchase military aircraft.''

Two other Zen groups -- the Tenryu-ji temple and the Sanbo-kyodan foundation -- and several individual Zen leaders have also issued apologies after receiving Mrs. Buitendijk's letter for war-time complicity, which have appeared in Buddhist publications in Europe and the United States. -...- Mr. Victoria's research has revealed that the founder of Sanbo-kyodan, Mr. Kubota's longtime teacher, was an outspoken militarist and anti-Semite during the war years. His name was Hakuun Yasutani, and he was one of the most significant figures in advancing the popularity of Zen Buddhism in the United States in the 1960's.

In 1999, the New York-based magazine Tricycle published excerpts of a 1943 book that Mr. Victoria had unearthed in which Yasutani expressed his hatred of ''the scheming Jews.'' Actually, the Zen master probably knew few if any Jews, and Mr. Victoria believes he was using them as a stalking horse for liberalism. "

Regarding ALL Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Mormonism etc), the picture is equally grim.
As Buddha said
“hard to find are those beings who can claim to be mentally healthy for even a moment except for those [arhats] whose mental cankers are destroyed” (Gautama Buddha, Roga Sutta).

In the IX century BCE, conquering Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II rejoiced in making public the detailed torments he had inflicted upon rebels: innumerable people were flayed or burnt alive; limbs, noses and heads were cut off and so forth in order for the prodigious inventory to be put on public display around tree trunks or pillars as a warning.

This is not to deny that Christianity took a segment of the Graeco-Roman ideological gamut to unprecedented highs (or lows), much as other regimes did with other segments (NSDAP and the fixation with bloodlines; Khmer Rouge and the fixation with rusticity: enforced agricultural toil went on from 3 am to 11 pm). “An order twice inverted is an order restored, perhaps even strengthened as a result of the exercise”:
The LORD will go forth like a warrior -...-"I will lay waste the mountains and hills And wither all their vegetation; I will make the rivers into coastlands And dry up the ponds” (Isaiah 42:13-5).

Archetypal tricksters are ubiquitous in myth(ologie)s:
Divine deceit raises problematic theological questions. J. J. M. Roberts of Princeton Theological Seminary published an article entitled “Does God Lie?” (1988). His conclusion was: sometimes, yes. Following that lead, Nancy Bowen, a graduate student at that seminary completed a dissertation entitled “The Role of YHWH as Deceiver in True and False Prophecy (Old Testament)” (1994). She showed that Near Eastern texts from antiquity recognized the un-trustworthiness of the godsextnote in divine-human communication. The ancients realized that prophecy and divination were not always reliable. Bowen explicitly drew upon analyses of the trickster, and the abstract of her dissertation states that those ancient writings “share a view that YHWH acts as deceiver in a time of social and historical transition and that YHWH’s deception serves as a means to disrupt the present social situation in order to bring about a transformation of the social order.” (Hansen 2001:30).
Now, that trickster trait turns up in deities like Yahweh. Yahweh's a trickster. He lets people build a building, and then because it gets to be three stories high and he's afraid it's going to wreck heaven, he comes down and floods the world. That's a trickster stunt. That's a ridiculous act. We think it quite normal for a deity, while if a human being behaved that way we'd send him to a lunatic asylum. The trickster represents the deity coming through as the destroyer, the disrupter of programs. Yahweh is full of this kind of thing. (Campbell&Boa 1989:89).
Psychopaths are notorious for not answering the question posed them or for answering in a way that seems unresponsive to the question. (Hare 1993:139)
Moses talked to God “mouth to mouth” while Jesus claimed to be the son of God—testimonies that nowadays would certainly result in psychiatric admission. (Polimeni 2012:183).
God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19).
O daughter of Babylon -...-Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks! (Psalm 137:8-9).

In the Book Of Mormon, mythical pre-Hispanic civilizations in the Americas clash; millions are slaughtered:
He saw that there had been slain by the sword already nearly a two million of his people, and he began to sorrow in his heart; yea, there had been slain two millions of mighty men, and also their wives and their children. (Ether 15:2).


Tactile experience ought to act -so to speak- as model for psych

The inherently schizophrenic, bipolar human mind yearns for fantasies of blood baths, ultimate reckoning, dismemberment and the like, much as it alternatively yearns for oneness, tactile hugs and kisses. Exchange of emotional currency bridges between the two stages: the (social) sacrament of reconciliation. The entire mechanism is one of (morbid) co-dependency. Society also encourages (as W.K. Campbell argues) pervasive narcissism so that people on their schizogenic trips try to emulate another bunch of dysfunctional narcissists from popular culture (actors, TV or movie theater characters, politicians...).
People who -at one point in time- were bitter opponents busy desecrating one another's mystical bodies, are equally busy -at a later point in time- engaging in making amends, cuddling, brotherly embraces and reconciliatory kisses:”A experiência tátil seria, por assim dizer, modelo da experiência psíquica. -...- A ternura é, portanto, inicialmente tátil!” ( Tactile experience ought to act -so to speak- as model for psychical experience -...- tenderness is thus tactile to begin with)1.

As this writing contends, such bundles of emotional and sensory images are vehicles that can be adapted to all and sundry: the dewdrop merges into the sea. The experience above might be that of a sentimental soul watching a sunset alone; that of the moth merging with the flame as allegory of mystics merging with god; that of a rock concert attendee's; or that of any artificial kin member marching, sulking, loathing...
People are busy consecrating or desecrating bodies or corpses...They adoringly listen as 'the great man' bloviates. He's possibly tomorrow's mass-murdering tyrant or pathetic buffoon, whose dead body the masses shall tear apart in contempt:”These findings indicate that the boldness associated with psychopathy is an important but heretofore neglected predictor of presidential performance, and suggest that certain features of psychopathy are tied to successful interpersonal behavior. ”1