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9 commentsIn “Buddhists at war,” a recent piece for the Times Literary Supplement, Katherine Wharton reviews two books: Buddhist Warfare, a collection of essays on Buddhist violence edited by Michael K. Jerryson and Mark Juergensmeyer, and The Six Perfections, a treatise on Buddhist ethics by Dale S. Wright. In her review, Wharton reminds us that Buddhism, as much as any living expression of a world religion, can fall prey to human imperfections. Wharton highlights essays in Buddhist Warfare that examine topics like how the Buddhist teaching of no-self informed Japanese military training during the Asia-Pacific War and how a certain Mahayana text has been used to justify “compassionate torture.” While it is useful to study and remember these misunderstandings and misuses of Buddhist ideas, I hope that it’s not breaking news to anybody that religion is a human pursuit and therefore prone to human tendencies, such as violence. More »
3 commentsIn a recent blog entry, "Emptiness: Violent or Compassionate?", I highlighted a book review from the Times Literary Supplement by Katherine Wharton entitled "Buddhists at war." In her review, Wharton is critical of Dale Wright's new book, The Six Perfections. In the comments section of "Emptiness: Violent or Compassionate?" Wright responds to Wharton's critique and defends his position on karma. As Wright explains, it's not that we should drop the concept of karma altogether, but rather that we need to rework our understanding of karma so it's useful to us as a moral principle. Wright's response to "Buddhists at war": Katherine Wharton's review makes two important points. First, that Buddhist Warfare is a fine book and that it will help educate western Buddhists about the complexities of Buddhist history where many instances of evil are present. As western Buddhists become more knowledgeable about Buddhist history, it will be easier to recognize that all religions are human creations and that so far we have no model of a perfectly enlightened culture. Non-Buddhists resent the fact that Buddhism is often uncritically taken to be the perfect religion of peace and compassion, and, like Wharton, they are pleased when scholars focus their attention on the “dark side” of Buddhist history. This is understandable to me and I too would praise the book Buddhist Warfare. The second admirable point about Wharton's review is one that she makes in critique of my book, The Six Perfections. She claims that nothing can prevent Buddhist emptiness or any other teaching from being used to justify violence, and that the “curative value of interdependence” is often naively overestimated in Buddhism. On this point, she is surely right, although I find it hard to understand how a reading of my book could have suggested that I presume such a thing. As we all know from the political realm, some strong individualists take interdependence to be profoundly regrettable and no amount of meditation on that concept will lead them to compassion. Thieves concede interdependence too, and they are happy to recognize all the ways their professional success depends on others. What matters is what you do with the concept of interdependence. Beyond those two points of praise for Wharton's review, I'm stumped, even incredulous. I have been misunderstood before, but this sets a new standard. Let me just make two points. More »