Buddhism and Violence

Dear All,

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Buddhism and Violence

Non – violence is at the heart of Buddhist thinking and behavior. The first of the five precepts that all Buddhists should follow is “ Avoid killing, or harming any living thing.” Buddhism is essentially a peaceful tradition. Nothing in Buddhist scriptures gives any support to the use of violence as a way to resolve conflicts.
In time of war, Give rise in yourself to the mind of compassion, Helping living beings, Abandon the will to fight. One of Buddha ‘s famous sermons puts this very clearly with a powerful example that stresses the need to love your enemy no matter how cruelly he treats you : “ 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-Nikaya I).
“ Hatred will not cease by hatred, but by love alone. This is an ancient law.”

Alejandro Cardeinte's picture

Buddhist attitude to terrorists

I really have a question that I didn't dare to ask for a long time about the attitude of the Buddhist to terrorists.

Ngung Chia Siew's picture

Should Buddhism allow righteous war and violent?

Non-violence has always been 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”. 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 (BBC, 2009).

The Dharma clearly states that violent actions and thoughts, actions which harm and debase others and thoughts which contemplate the same, stand in the way of spiritual growth and the self-conquest which leads to the goal of existence and they are normally 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 on whether the action itself would bring about harm to self and/or others". The right action or right conduct (samyak-karmānta / sammā-kammanta) is the fourth aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path and it said that the 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. As the mind filled with lobha, dosa and moha (lust, hatred and delusion) is led to actions which are akusala. Indulging in violence is a form of self-harming. Thus rejection of violence in society is recognized in Buddhism as a prerequisite for the spiritual progress of society's members, because violence brings pain to beings with similar feelings to oneself (Kalupahana, 1992; Brannigan, 2010; Harris, 1994).

In the 2500 years of Buddhism history, differences in the practice and interpretations of precepts have given rise to different Buddhism schools and sects. The precepts are practiced differently due to environment, culture and era. We therefore see the Mahayana emphasising more on vegetarianism and the Theravada focusing on less consumption (no meal after noon) when it comes the execution of compassionate (no killing) precept because of the different climate conditions each is facing (ReligiousFacts.com, 2016).

However, the insistence of not going to war had resulted in the decline of Buddhism in many parts of the world. For example, the invasion of India by Muslim Turks and Persians in 19th century spelled the end of Buddhism in India (Johnston, 2000) when Buddhist monasteries and its institutional structure were destroyed (Harvey, 2013).

History seems to be repeating itself now in Southern Thailand. Thailand's national census has shown that the number of Buddhists in the area had been gradually declining over the last two decades. For example, the Buddhist population in Narathiwat in 1990 was 20.5 per cent, 17.9 per cent in 2000, and 14 per cent in 2010. In Yala, it was 35.9 per cent in 1990, 31 per cent in 2000, and 23.3 per cent in 2010. In Pattani, it was 21.4 per cent in 1990, 19.2 per cent in 2000, and 15.5 per cent in 2010. The main reason being the struggle for independence by Malay nationalists against the Thai state which had resulted in the separatists directing their attacks on Buddhist monks and teachers (Wongcha-um, 2017).

In order to adapt, survive and stay relevant, there are however numerous examples of Buddhists engaging in war in order to protect and save Buddhism (BBC, 2009). For example:

(1) In the 14th century Buddhist fighters led the uprising that evicted the Mongols from China

(2) In Japan, Buddhist monks trained Samurai warriors in meditation that made them better fighters

(3) In the 20th century Japanese Zen masters wrote in support of Japan's wars of aggression - 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
(BBC, 2009)

Results have shown that Buddhist countries that insist on not breaking the principle of nonviolence is now no longer a Buddhist country e.g. India, Middle Asia, Indonesia. Buddhist countries that are still around have shown some form of actions to protect the rights, lives and faith of their citizen e.g. China, Myanmar, Bhutan and Thailand.

Of course, the pure Buddhist attitude remains “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 the invaders kill me and remain true to the spirit of the Dharma” (BBC, 2009).

Operationally, it is however not sure how this will work out in when one faces some form of violent but not amounting to war. For example, should police take down a shooter who is going around a shopping centre killing people at random? It will be hypocritical for a monk to say that he will not kill but expect the police to take down the aggressor quickly so that innocent lives are saved.

Buddhism, like the other great faiths, may therefore need to adopt to contemporary socio-ecology environment and make some adjustment to its principles. What is your view on this issue?


BBC, Reigions – War Web 3 Dec 2018 http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/buddhism/buddhistethics/war.shtml (2009)

Brannigan, M.C., Striking a Balance: A Primer in Traditional Asian Values, Rowman & Littlefield, U.S.A. (2010)

Champa, P., Sri Lanka stands at crossroads amid fears Buddhist-Muslim tensions will erupt in widespread violence Web 3 Dec 2018 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/sri-lanka-violence-state-of... (2018)

Doniger, W., Merriam-Webster's Encyclopaedia of World Religions. Merriam-Webster, Massachusetts (1999)

Harris, E.J., Violence and Disruption in Society A Study of early Buddhist Texts, Web 3 Dec 2018 https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/harris/wheel392.html (1994)

Harvey, P., An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices. Cambridge University Press, New York (2013)

Jerryson, M., Monks with guns Web 3 Dec 2018 https://aeon.co/essays/buddhism-can-be-as-violent-as-any-other-religion (2017)

Johnston, W.M., Encyclopaedia of Monasticism: A-L. Routledge, Michigan (2000)

Kalupahana, D.J., A History of Buddhist Philosophy: Continuities and Discontinuities, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu (1992)

Ratcliffe, R., Who are the Rohingya and what is happening in Myanmar? Web 3 Dec 2018 https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/sep/06/who-are-the-r... (2017)

ReligiousFacts.com, Buddhist Sects and Schools Web 3 Dec 2018 http://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/branches (2016)

Wongcha-um, P., In conflict-hit southern Thailand, Buddhist nationalism is on the rise, Web 3 Dec 2018 https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/in-conflict-hit-souther... (2017)

how protect buddhism faith in the globalization era?

It is interesting to read this post and see how the gap increase between west and east regarding this question of protecting culture, identity. Your post is really relevant and open the windows to a debate without immediately judge it or ignore it.

The perception of protect faith has been lost in western due to the globalization which is quite opposite in the east. There is still some countries or people who wants to preserve their culture and identity among the sea of globalism which have engulfed completely the western countries.

As you said in your post, most of the countries who didn't acted to preserve buddhism have seen a decline about the faith. And I agree about that, as you mention the facts are here. The question which immediately rise is how to preserve it? Which way? We know that buddhism does not advocate holy war. So what are the solution to preserve buddhism? The war means victory. Or this is a selfish desire to accomplish. However is it possible to resolve a conflict without victory? In each situation you mention in your post, there is one side which try to force the other side and bring the root of hate because they wanted to force others to accept a difference in an another cultural environment. So this kind of behaviour is quiet ignorant. Why not accept to be a minority with a fair right and live peaceful inside the country which host? When the minority have the desire to reverse the environment this is a kind of craving, so the root of the war start here. We cannot forget that Buddha condemns all sorts of war because the root for war is craving. So I think that instead of quick judgement, this is relevant to think about that as you mention in your post. And rise the question, can Buddhism can evolved from what has been said 2500 years ago and adapt to his era in order to preserved the buddhism faith in the world of globalization?

pick your buddhism

Buddhism exists in so many varieties that can cater to every taste without embracing another religion.

A phenomenon similar to Jesus being removed from the bulk of scriptural baggage -and related practices and austerities- in born-again/evangelical Christianity coalesced in earlier ages in Buddhism. Amitabha Buddha (Buddha of immeasurable radiance, whom some connect with pre-existing sun/fire worship1), and Pure Land Mahayana Buddhism appeared around the II century CE. (Japanese) Zen Buddhism (originating from Chinese Chan) expressly hails as a doctrinal transmission system that is separate from the scriptural tradition (=”gate-less approach”).

Amitabha was a post-card sized, non-judgmental sweet Buddha savior people could have a personal relationship with. He was removed from the bulk of Buddhist scriptural baggage. Devotees could anchor their hope of salvation in Amitabha's saving grace.

The same path of devotion removed from the bulk of scriptures and related practices and austerities had surfaced several centuries before the rise of Mahayana Buddhism: the Gita epitomized it, as Krishna (incarnation of almighty Vishnu) had (supposedly) revealed to Arjuna in a time before time.

Both Luther (the inventor of European Protestantism) and Shinran (XII-XIII century Japanese Buddhist monk) thought faith alone could save man (sola scriptura; sola fide; sola gratia; soli Deo gloria; solo Christo). Even noted theologian Karl Barth remarked such similarities. Both Buddhism and Protestantism may be broadly considered as theologies of personal motives:”Also Shinran reflected on the basic practice of recitation in the Pure Land school and gave it an interpretation which voided the egoistic elements by stressing gratitude”1. Japanese Buddhist founder Nichiren also praised faith as the ingredient without which even the Lotus Sutra or the Gohonzon (mandala) become useless in the pursuit of salvation.

As Protestants went by sola fide, soli Deo gloria and sola gratia (faith and grace alone; glory only to god), so did Shinran: the man who lives in faith is the Buddha; great faith is Buddha-nature, and gratitude is owed to Amida Buddha. Shinran -like Luther- broke existing traditions and started a lineage of married, meat-eating Buddhist monks devoted to Amitabha Buddha: the True Pure Land Sect (Jodo Shinshu). Shinran's legacy survives in the Monshu, or the founder's lineage still present to this day.

Nichiren also heralded a doctrine whereby what goes between man and the divine is the physical scroll -and the sacred text it contains- of the Lotus Sutra1, much as in ancient Judaism the Torah was/is what acts as transmission belt between the human and the divine.


Earl Hardie Karges's picture

Buddhism and War

The original post is so full of factual errors that I've tried to ignore it for a while now, not being sure whether it was even serious or not, to no avail. So here goes:

1) There was no Muslim invasion of India in the 19th century, and even if you're talking about the one that actually occurred in the 12th century, the conclusion that Muslims destroyed Buddhism in India is not warranted. I notice that Hinduism survived quite well, hint hint…

2) The idea that 'history is repeating itself in south Thailand' is even more absurd. Siam annexed Muslim Pattani by force in 1785, and that is where 6000 people have died in the last 15 years, not Bangkok, as they attempt to re-assert their independence.

3) India, 'Middle Asia', and Indonesia have never been 'Buddhist countries' to my knowledge, and I don't know why it should even matter.

Are we keeping score? Must a country identify with one religion or another? That sounds like the same football logic of the Muslim countries which many Buddhists detest. Isn't diversity a good thing? Isn't Buddhism for our personal liberation, first and foremost, not a political force, and certainly not violent? So, while I strongly disagree with the implications of the post, it got me thinking, so I came to a conclusion, for myself at least.

In brief, my idea is that renunciation is our ultimate weapon, i.e. non-cooperation with the powers of evil. Isn't that what Buddhists have always done? Maybe or maybe not, but I think that's the way it was at the beginning, and the way it is at its purest.

I could not care less about whether Buddhism actually controls any countries politically, though it's certainly nice to have a community nearby. What has happened in Myanmar in the name of Buddhism is reprehensible, and monks advocating such actions in Thailand have been de-frocked, as should certainly be the case. What we do as individuals is a decision for each and every one of us, but violence in the name of Buddhism should never occur.

Buddhism does not advocate warfare

In Buddhism, abstaining from killing is one of the five precepts and also one of the ten unwholesome actions. Thus, Buddhism does not advocate warfare. When there is war, innocent people will be killed. There will be vast devastation. If war doesn't stop, then the world/universe would be unsafe to live. Every moment people will be living in fear of being killed or harmed. Take for example, the reign of King Asoka during the Mauryan Dynasty. He was such a great king and conqueror but eventually after the Kalinga War, he regretted his actions as thousands of innocent people were killed because of his greed for fame (lobha) and delusion (moha). Later he became a good Buddhist king by sending missionaries to spread the Dharma to all parts of India, Sri Lanka, East Asia and Asia. It's because of his patronage to Buddhism, we are still able to learn the Dharma.
When there is war, hatred exists between leaders of the countries concerned. In Buddhism hatred cannot be reciprocated by hatred. It should be counteracted by 'metta'(loving-kindness). Then warfare will cease. For example, during the 1st World war ( 1914-1918) and the 2nd World War (1939 -1945), the wars ended through peaceful negotiations of leaders who were then willing to stop warfare. Therefore, by not advocating warfare, peace, harmony and political stability will prevail in the universe.

Sergio Leon Candia's picture

IMO, I think war and violence

IMO, I think war and violence should not be pursued and that the Buddha-Dhamma gives it´s perspective quite clearly over the texts.
We could also consider violence when use for self- defense or violent attitudes towards the environment.
Also, what t do with ignorance based violence? like a mis-informed carer giving toxic edibles to a child?
This is a very interesting topic.
Here in Chile we are having various violent demonstrating regarding gender issues, environmental protection and others.
It would be interesting to have a Dharmic perspective to spread.

best wishes!


There is an opportunistic element in A L L religions. Namely, the Meiji restoration in Japan that inaugurated imperial autocracy viewed Buddhism suspiciously and harbinged State Shintoism as a preferred religion for the horde in patriotic fusion.
Some of those Japanese Buddhists may have been true nationalists frothing at the mouth, whereas many were just going along to get along to avoid misbranding their religion as anti-national.

Constantine tried to steer the Hebrew heresy he had chosen as favorite; French Kings informally led the domestic Catholic hierarchy (gallicanisme); English Kings formally established a branch of Christianity under their control as supreme hierophants (Anglicanism); the Sultan of Brunei and the Saudi King also claim an exalted religious role. The NSDAP regime also brewed its own “version” of Christianity awaiting for neo-paganism to take over, complete with an “Aryan Jesus” etc.

All of which leads us to muse wistfully on how unheroic is the average man, even when he follows heroes. He simply loads them up with his own baggage; he follows them with reservations, with a dishonest heart. The noted psychoanalyst Paul Schilder had already observed that man goes into the hypnotic trance itself with reservations. -...-When people try for heroics from the position of willing slavishness there is nothing to admire; it is all so automatic, predictable, pathetic.(Becker 1973:136-7).

The wretched human condition is coterminous with tartuffery.
That's a sad fact of life.

Gregory Hamilton Schmidt's picture


Here is a recent article on the situation in Myanmar.

The paper is entitled "Contesting Buddhist Narrative" and has a stated aim of providing a "sociohistorical account of the current interreligious tensions in Myanmar," an analysis of "what lies 'behind'" the current narratives of groups like the 969 Movement and MaBaTha, followed by "counterarguments within a Theravada framework."