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How is it that militant monks can justify waging war or violence? Is nonviolence not necessarily an absolute value for the Buddha? What scriptures are militant monks interpreting to justify war or violence?

Are the militant monks making more or less suffering? Is it right to make more suffering than you have to? Do they have to?

Is there groups that are a threat to Buddhists or the Buddha's teaching?

Do Buddhists have a country to defend?

Do Buddhists have a religion to defend?

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6 Answers 6

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One needs to separate the teachings for monks from the teachings for laypeople. For monks, instructing the killing of or actually killing a human being in any circumstance is forbidden. Where as, for laypeople, killing is a training rule.

But sire, what are the noble duties of a wheel-turning monarch?

Well then, my dear, relying only on principle — honoring, respecting, and venerating principle, having principle as your flag, banner, and authority — provide just protection and security for your court, troops, aristocrats, vassals, brahmins and householders, people of town and country, ascetics and brahmins, beasts and birds. Do not let injustice prevail in the realm.

DN 26

Therefore, while a monk cannot directly instruct a layperson to engage in any type of killing, a monk can directly instruct a layperson of a duty to protect their society. If the layperson chooses to engage in killing to protect their society; that is the choice of the layperson (and is unrelated to the advice of the monk).

For example, I only once listened to a speech by the Burmese 'terrorist' monk Wirathu and I never heard Wirathu transgress the monk's Vinaya (even though I did not personally agree with the underlying intent of his speech).

Monks do not have any country to defend. But laypeople have a country to defend. Many of these laypeople consider themselves to be Buddhists and want to live in a country with a culture that is influenced by Buddhism. They don't want to live a country influenced by Judaism (such as in Palestine) or Wahhabism (such as in Saudi Arabia). They want to live in a Buddhist country, where there is metta, patience & monks.

If Islam or Christianity, for example, ruled every country, the Buddhist religion may become extinct. History shows Christianity eliminated every religion it had power over and, under the (originally pluralistic) Islamic Empire, eventually, after about 500 years, Buddhism became extinct (when Turks and then Mongols took over the Islamic Empire).

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  • So a militant monk would probably acting at the level of a layperson?
    – Lowbrow
    Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 22:01
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    No. The militant monk is telling laypeople to protect their society. However, the militant monk may be corrupt. For example, about Rohingya, I think this is a common land grab by the Burmese government because the Rohingya land has oil & gas. Regards Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 22:29
  • The signaling virtue Buddist must have got ahold of something like the Radical Dharma (as if the Dharma can have an adjective). I know this layperson has felt threatened by it.
    – Lowbrow
    Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 23:21
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    I'm surprised that doctrine related to "wheel-turning monarch" isn't what you'd consider to be later doctrine, added to make Buddhism palatable as a state religion e.g. for Ashoka.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Oct 20, 2019 at 3:20
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Oct 20, 2019 at 13:54
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See, this is the sort of question that can lead to undesirable answers.... some of which are clearly demonstrated in these comments. If your answer is premised on defending "Buddhist countries" from Christian or Islamic influence, that is a textbook example of begging the question. Do Buddhist countries exist? Should they?

Are you willing to be consistent with your answer? If you are willing to equivocate about extremism in Burma, would you also countenance Americans sponsoring revolutionary violence to "liberate" Tibet from China?

Are Buddhist countries even necessary? Is it possible that Buddhist monks would be just as protected, better protected, by multicultural parliamentary democracies?

Is a wheel-turning monarch necessarily even a monarch? Is it possible that the wheel turning monarch is merely an aspiration, a metaphor for rule of law, social progress, human rights?

Isn't it obvious that all past and present claimants of a wheel turning monarch have fallen short of the ideal? Can we agree that the texts pertaining to the wheel-turning monarch are still useful, and authentic?

The Catholics have the idea of a just war, and one of the requirements is that it must be likely to succeed. But Buddhism teaches impermanence and suffering; a defensive war or war of liberation is guaranteed not to succeed, at least not permanently. In the Four Summaries of the dharma, Rathaputta questions the king and the king admits that, yes, he will lead his nation into an aggressive war of conquest in all four directions should the opportunity arise. Anybody who is strong today will be weak some day. Nobody gets to keep their money or land forever.

In Buddhism, God is not watching; there is no assurance of justice in this life, or justice for any specific individual or group of individuals. It's all about long term trends, eons, the law of averages.

Therevada Buddhism teaches against violence, wielding power, owning land or possessions. Nonviolence is one of the five precepts. In Mahayana Buddhism, rules are made to be broken. The Pure Fame Sutra says that the Bhoddisatva can violate the five precepts; when be goes to hell, his mind is unmoved by agony or distress.

Deitrich Bonhoeffer was a perfect example; he, as a Christian, believed in authority and nonviolence, but he attempted to kill Hitler regardless. He was willing to go to hell if it would end the war and save Jewish people.

The object of Buddhism is not to decide if killing is permissible in certain situations, and then strategize accordingly. It's about, how will you maintain compassion and tranquility even when there is no possibility of justice or recompense? How will you set an honorable example, for friend and foe alike, not for your benefit but for theirs? If you miscalculate, and you will, can you face the consequences with courage?

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  • It seems to me that undesirable answers are usually where the truth has been hiding. Could you elaborate what you are basically saying in a couple of concise sentences?🙏🙏🙏
    – Lowbrow
    Commented Oct 26, 2019 at 0:40
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Yes, every Dhammika defends the Noble Domain, defends his right view and his chosen path, the Gems, his refuge, (re)legion.

And he gives up everything for his Domain and (Re)ligion, does not fight anything else then the plunder and occupations the defilements use to undertake:

AN 1.071-080: Kalyāṇamittādivaggo: Good companionship and others.

In this way the Dhammikas customs differ essentially from that of one holding on house, and on stands in this world, for Dhammika have abound the lower three fetters and all kinds of stinginess.

And: Usually consumer, householder think that they are worthy of being protected, thinking they are Arahats... and call others to fight for defend their low ways and objectivities. Mara will serve them, no worry.

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  • Sounds good to me. Welcome to BuddhismSE.
    – Lowbrow
    Commented Feb 28, 2022 at 3:20
  • Good householder Lowbrow
    – user23491
    Commented Feb 28, 2022 at 5:09
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While violence and destruction is strongly discouraged in Buddhism, it is ok for a bonafide ruler or government ("wheel-turning monarch") to establish police and armed forces to:

  • protect and guard the people
  • ensure peace
  • ensure that justice prevails

However, they cannot go on the offensive and attack others for reasons related to greed or hatred.

"What have you heard, Ananda: do the Vajjis duly protect and guard the arahats, so that those who have not come to the realm yet might do so, and those who have already come might live there in peace?"

"I have heard, Lord, that they do."

"So long, Ananda, as this is the case, the growth of the Vajjis is to be expected, not their decline."
DN 16

‘But sire, what are the noble duties of a wheel-turning monarch?’

‘Well then, my dear, relying only on principle—honoring, respecting, and venerating principle, having principle as your flag, banner, and authority — provide just protection and security for your court, troops, aristocrats, vassals, brahmins and householders, people of town and country, ascetics and brahmins, beasts and birds. Do not let injustice prevail in the realm. Pay money to the penniless in the realm.
DN 26

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Only when you become an Ariya (Sotapanna) you eliminate self-view hence the attachment to a country or religion. Lay people and non-ariya monks may protect the country and the religion with the Buddha's guidelines. This is why we need a strong lay support to protect Buddhism and the Sangha. Buddhism destroyed in places like Pakistan and Afganistan due to a lack of lay support and not having enough strength to fight invadors. However, I feel that invadors thrive in a country due to the lack of discipline by the masses. Buddhism was vanished in India but survive in places like Sri Lanka.

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  • Burmese monks had to come to Sri Lanka and reinstate the Sangha. Buddhism nearly also die in Sri Lanka, but not due to military invasion, but due to ignorance or superstition of Sri Lankans. Even today, on Dhammawheel, we read Sri Lankan's that cannot understand Buddhism. Sri Lankans post on Dhammawheel asking Australians & other Westerns to answer their questions about Buddhism. Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 22:26
  • Good point. But Westerners learned Buddhism from Sri Lankans such as Bhikkhu bodhi. Even Pali text society was got help from Sri Lankans. However, your point was a good one. I am not interested in history. I learn Dhamma from anyone who teaches me.-) What I can recall is Buddhism was initially taken to Burma from Sri Lanka. I may be wrong.
    – SarathW
    Commented Oct 20, 2019 at 0:40
  • The period between the 5th century and the 11th century, Sri Lanka faced continuous warfare which was carried out between local kings and foreign invaders such as the Pandyan and Chola dynasties of India. The war welcomed a dreadful era for Buddhists with many stupas and viharas being destroyed vengefully. However, King Vijayabahu I of Polonnaruwa managed to conquer the island in the year 1070 and started re-building the monasteries and stupas that were destroyed. Due to the countries depleted state, there were not enough bhikkus to ordain monks to r.lanka.com/about/interests/buddhism
    – SarathW
    Commented Oct 20, 2019 at 0:56
  • . Towards the end of the 13th century, Buddhism declined due to the invading Tatars.[citation needed] In the 14th century, another lineage was imported from Sri Lanka en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism_in_Myanmar
    – SarathW
    Commented Oct 20, 2019 at 1:04
  • Lay people and non-ariya monks may protect the country What does "may" mean, there -- does it mean they "are permitted"? Who or what gives permission? Or does "may" mean "might", i.e. that they are "able" to and sometimes do, unrelated to whether or not it is permitted?
    – ChrisW
    Commented Oct 20, 2019 at 3:15
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94.5% of Thailand is Buddhist. You can read about Thailand's armed forced here

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Thai_Armed_Forces

and there is Western scholarship on the uneasy fit with Theravada Buddhism and militarism (I suggest reading them, rather than asking for opinions of people with access to the sutras, if you want a real answer). Mahayana Buddhism even has "warrior monks"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sōhei

This book, Zen at war, on Japanese Buddhist militarism, is in fact quite famous

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zen_at_War

There is the idea of a Buddhist wheel turning monarch, best exemplified by Ashoka, who was famously a very cruel monarch before his conversion to Buddhism

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashoka%27s_Hell

and whether or not he continued to be a sadistic torturer is a matter of historical debate

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashoka#Violence_after_conversion


If your question is whether anyone "should" use the military to persecute non Buddhists, whether Buddhists "should" fight in wars, or whether we "should" obey any Buddhist state even when it runs against our ethics, the answer is of course no, no, no etc. (and Western scholarship supports this interpretation of the precepts), though of course reality is complex.

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