Spaces in the Sky

Questioning conventional Buddhist practices, Stephen Batchelor grapples with the sometimes troubling virtue of nonviolence.Stephen Batchelor

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Part of the Tricycle 9/11 Special Section. View the complete series here.


In other historical situations, however, Buddhists have at times resorted to violence to resolve social and political conflicts. China was freed from Mongol rule in 1368 by an uprising spearheaded by Buddhist “freedom fighters” of the White Lotus Society, headed by a former monk who became first emperor of the Ming Dynasty. Brian Victoria has shown in his book Zen at War the extent to which Zen masters justified the imperial Japanese war effort in the name of Buddhist teachings. Although no harm was caused to others, the self-immolation of Buddhist monks to protest the Vietnam war was an act of violence against themselves. Yet given the 2,500-year history of Buddhism, such episodes have been mainly regional and fairly sporadic. The counter-rhetoric of nonviolence in the tradition is so pronounced that it is difficult to envisage a full-scale war or military crusade ever being launched in the Buddha’s name.

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