Buddhism and Violence

The social unrest in Myanmar has had many commenters making wild accusations about the role of Buddhists and monks associated with violence. This article aims to clarify misinformation being made about Buddhist views on violence.

Throughout its 2,500 years of history, there have been several periods of extremely violent eras that humanity has had the misfortune to befall. There are many centuries of time when monks had to learn martial arts to protect themselves, their temples, and their community from people with evil intent. The most famous of these are the Shaolin Monks in China and the warrior monks of feudal Japan when armies of monks were known to participate in battles.

In the context of Theravada Buddhism we must ask ourselves the following as written by Mahinda Deegalle: “As a Buddhist, can one justify any form of violence whether it is verbal or physical or whether violence is directed towards the destruction of Buddhists or non-Buddhists? Is there a Theravāda attitude towards violence? Either historically or socially, have Theravāda Buddhists advocated violence? Is there any evidence within Theravāda scriptures or practice advocating violence? How should a Theravāda Buddhist react in the face of violence in the modern world? Should he or she resort to violence? Or should he or she letothers perpetuate violence on himself or herself? All these are practical questions when Buddhists and Buddhist practices come toface to face with real situations in the modern world.”

In Theraveda countries, because of what monks represent they are seen as living a holy life and offer a view of a higher ideal for the public to aspire to. As compared to Western countries, monks are viewed as being closer to saints rather then a preacher or pastor in the Christian faith. Although by no means always perfect, the Order of the Sangha is like an extended family, punishment for bad behavior is an important social role and monks are disciplinarians to those under their care.

The Buddha spoke on the conditions necassary for a nation’s welfare in the Maha-parinibbana Sutta. This Sutta’s teachings on protecting women, the traditions of a society, and the monks and temples is a central example of the social responsibilities of monks in society.

However the teachings of the Buddha are clear that killing human beings is a very bad moral sin and this is explained in the inconceivable consequences of bad kamma to the murderer. Violence and the taking of life should always and forever be seen as a deviation from the teaching of the Buddha.

There is misinformation that the recent violence in Myanmar was instigated by monks or ‘Buddhists.’ What did occur as described in this link was a vigilante action by a group of people that sought to punish a criminal group of rapists and the situation escalated throughout the country. Buddhists monks have been very clear that lawless behavior is not acceptable and it should be noted that the Myanmar government arrested many suspects of those crimes. Wira Thu was quoted by Fox News as saying “We also condemn these acts,” Wirathu says. “969 doesn’t accept terrorism.”

According to the doctrine of the Theraveda school, certain violent acts can never be redeemed by positive karma:  five “deadly sins” (a’nantariha hamma) (1) parricide; (2) matricide; (3) killing an arhat; (4) shedding the blood of a Buddha;  (5) destroying the harmony of the sangha. Buddhists monks must adhere to many rules on conduct called the Vinaya (Discipline) in order to remain a monk. The precepts taken by lay Buddhists, prohibiting i) killing, ii) stealing iii) lying, iv) sexual misconduct, v) ingesting intoxicants. See also the “Ten Precepts.” Of course it is impossible for these ideals to always be realized by all people at all time, to think otherwise would ignore our humanity. The wisdom of the Buddha in formulating these rules was to minimize the possibility of these regrettable sins from occurring and unlike most regions around the world with extremely aggressive religions, Buddhism has by and large maintained itself as a religion of peace and social harmony. Nothing in Buddhist scripture gives any support to the use of violence as a way to resolve conflict.

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