Buddhist Warfare

Buddhist Warfare

Buddhist Warfare

Buddhist Warfare


Though traditionally regarded as a peaceful religion, Buddhism has a dark side. On multiple occasions over the past fifteen centuries, Buddhist leaders have sanctioned violence, and even war. The eight essays in this book focus on a variety of Buddhist traditions, from antiquity to the present, and show that Buddhist organizations have used religious images and rhetoric to support military conquest throughout history.

Buddhist soldiers in sixth century China were given the illustrious status of Bodhisattva after killing their adversaries. In seventeenth century Tibet, the Fifth Dalai Lama endorsed a Mongol ruler's killing of his rivals. And in modern-day Thailand, Buddhist soldiers carry out their duties undercover, as fully ordained monks armed with guns.

Buddhist Warfare demonstrates that the discourse on religion and violence, usually applied to Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, can no longer exclude Buddhist traditions. The book examines Buddhist military action in Tibet, China, Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, and shows that even the most unlikely and allegedly pacifist religious traditions are susceptible to the violent tendencies of man.


Michael Jerryson

It is a well-known fact that the first of all the commandments of the
Buddhist creed is “Thou shalt not kill” [but] Chinese books contain
various passages relating to Buddhist monks who freely indulged in
carnage and butchery and took an active part in military expeditions
of every description, thus leaving no room for doubt that warfare was
an integrate part of their religious profession for centuries.

—J. J. M. de Groot, 1891

Violence is found in all religious traditions, and Buddhism is no exception. This may surprise those who think of Buddhism as a religion based solely on peace. Indeed, one of the principal reasons for producing this book was to address such a misconception. Within the various Buddhist traditions (which Trevor Ling describes as “Buddhisms”), there is a long history of violence. Since the inception of Buddhist traditions 2,500 years ago, there have been numerous individual and structural cases of prolonged Buddhist violence. This book explores instances in which Buddhist ideas and religious leaders have been related to structural violence in one of its most destructive and public form: warfare. the motivations for this volume are many, but chief among them is the goal of disrupting the social imaginary that holds Buddhist traditions to be exclusively pacifistic and exotic. Most religious traditions, whether Judaic, Christian, Buddhist, Islamic, or Hindu, is quintessentially social in nature; and because religious traditions are social, they suffer from the negative elements . . .

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