August 20, 2010

The Monk's Tale: A Paris Review interview

Earlier this year, William Dalrymple of the The Paris Review interviewed Tibetan monk Tashi Passang:

Can one be both a monk and a resistance fighter?

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.

Isn’t nonviolence an essential aspect of being a monk?

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.

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.

Read the interview at The Paris Review.

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Chana Dennis's picture

Nasty tongue. Maybe even nastier than mine. :) Nope no suggestions other than to lick the vomit, kind of like a dog, that returns to their own vomit, of which it sounds like you often do. Ha!
Whats your experience in this killing business? Where do you come off as being so aloof and wise? Do you just toss everything that is said into a pool of non-meaning? Answer these questions and maybe you have a chance of understanding how you really operate from within.
The subject is killing other human beings. You have avoided giving your thoughts on it. And probably still will. You just want to attack the person, and dismiss the subject. It isn't gonna work with me, been through it a hundred times.
At least you admit that the previous monk is "stuck". Good for you. I was just merely responding to the comment...."unless you walk in someone else's shoes", but i guess you didn't realize that.
Stay on subject, or you will melt into that vomit you mentioned.

steve har's picture

No assumptions about justification stories here.

Still wondering:

Do you have any recommendation what to do with “a former monk who has lost his mind”

Do you have any recommendation what to do do with a CO from which the government took 2 years of his life?

Aren't these 2 men stuck in dead justification stories of past suffering?

My question is there any road ahead for these two guys one with a lost mind, another still suffering the loss of 2 years of his life?

Consider the case of a drunk drowning in his own vomit.

Should we not just walk on by and let him sleep it off; then maybe write a post about it on a blog full of tisk-tisk about the vomit left on our shoes?

Chana Dennis's picture

Oh I have gotten very close to walking in this mans shoes. I was drafted during the Viet Nam police action . I became a Conscientious Objector. I saw the carnage of the war, and wasn't about to add to it. The government took two years of my life, and basically punished me for not wanting to kill other human beings. So there are alternatives, don't assume that because this ex monk kills other people that it is justified.
Everybody has shoes, and they should continue to be able to wear them. Once your dead you can't.

Chana Dennis's picture

Killing other human beings is insane. If you believe it is OK, have at it. Then you will spend the rest of your life justifying the action. There is no debate that can justify killing other human beings. Just because your precious religion is being dismantled, of which at this juncture in history is appropriate, doesn't give you the justification to start killing people. The Dali Lama and all the religious/political leaders our on the way out at the present time. I am glad to see this. Just as the Catholic church has made decisions for masses of people, and the inquisition that killed thousands of people, these religious wars are an aberration of human behavior. If the man wanted to do something he could adopt the style of non-violent protest, and Gandhi did. Organize other people who want to change things and stop doing what they say. If it is worth it, you will be willing to die for it. Then you will see real change. Not by killing a few soldiers. It is only the shallow materialists who would advocate and give sympathy to such actions.

steve har's picture

Dear Chana Dennis

Do you have any recommendation what to do with "a former monk who has lost his mind" - other than finger pointing on the computer screen?

Ever drive past a bad car accident and keep driving and catch a thought: wonder if anyone is hurt, hope someone [not me] stops to help?

Your just a guiltless guy with a drive-by opinion on your computer screen right?

Janet's picture

It's easy to criticize another when you haven't walked in their shoes.

Chana Dennis's picture

This former monk has lost his mind. As a American Buddhist monk for 24 years, i can easily say that killing another human being intentionally is not what the Buddha had in mind, or people who practice Buddhism.
There is nothing that can justify this. It also happened in Japan during WWII. Zen Buddhist masters and teachers were promoting killing. Zen has always catered to the samurai spirit, but to encourage people to kill other people is ludicrous.

steve har's picture


Wondering who this "imperial we" is that you speak of.

Are you speaking
-for a particular ethical community you belong to?
-for yourself in the "Court Plural"?

Surely you're not including me and other Tricycle readers in this pejorative "we" of mindless hoop jumpers and want-doers

You aren't a guy who shoots from the lip, I hope; "we" better all take cover if you are.

Sabio Lantz's picture

Wow, it is amazing the hoops our mind will jump through to do what we want to do anyway.