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are buddhists violent?

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Bangkok, Thailand. Excerpts from an April 14 article by Lawrence Osborne in Forbes.

Like many former residents of Bangkok, I have been watching the country’s slide into virtual civil war with a mixture of incredulity and tetchy disillusion. It is hard for us to think of one of the world’s only truly Buddhist states descending into a chaotic thuggery that would, alas, be less remarkable elsewhere. But why? Is it because of misperceptions we have about Buddhism? 

bangkok-riots1Buddhist violence–or violence committed by Buddhists, more properly speaking–is a strained concept for us, to put it mildly. I can easily imagine being assaulted by an infuriated Christian or by a hysterically outraged jihadist, by a Zionist even, at a pinch–but by a Buddhist? What would you have to say to get him mad? Deny transmigration?

In some senses, the question is self-answering. If I had entitled this column “Are Baptists Violent?” I would receive 20,000 incoherently enraged rebuttals threatening to enslave my children and rearrange my anatomy within 10 minutes. But Buddhists, if they disagree with you, are more likely to write in with respect, manners and a sense of humor. Rage is not their thing.

Yet our ideas about Buddhism are vague and wobbly for the most part, and our converted boomers who preach its virtues bear little resemblance, say, to the tattooed denizens of a Bangkok slum, many of whom have images of the Buddha burned into their flesh with a hot needle to protect them from evil spirits.

Our popular idea of Buddhism is little better than Madonna’s unhinged vision of the Torah, a “spirituality” gutted of context and complexity. Moreover, Buddhists in America and Europe are mostly middle class and economically comfortable. Theirs is a religion of consumerist choice, individual and private, not one of national inheritance and governance, and their form of Buddhism doesn’t have to get its hands dirty by running an actual state. … 

Nonviolence is indeed what Buddhism teaches. But what of those societies that are Buddhist by heritage but endure political struggles like everyone else? There, the clash between Buddhist belief and, say, class warfare becomes curiously agonizing. Take Thailand. … more 

source of this partial text and photograph:


4 responses »

  1. Great post. Certainly material for contemplation. It is not hard to imagine how difficult it would be working with your “stuff” under the circumstances mentioned in this piece. All we have to do is look at how quickly we can flare up ourselves in anger, greed, despair with family and life circumstances and as the article mentions, things are pretty comfy for us here.

    Also I wonder, as there are many “non practicing” Christians here in the west, I would assume that there are many Buddhists in the east, that call themselves Buddhists but in fact do not actively participate in Buddhism at a daily level. I think of this in the same way that I do all the trouble in Afghanistan and Iran, and Iraq, and then you hear practicing Moslems say, the perpetrators of much of the atrocity are really “hiding behind religion” rather than being true practitioners.

    Ah the world is such a complex and confusing and interesting and wonderful place, all at once!

    • I agree, Carole, a complex topic. The article offers may points of entry for arguments pro and con. Owing to my ignorance of theology and history (etc.) I won’t enter. Instead I direct th spot light on the way I live my life. How do I deal with my own anger from within? How do I treat people who disagree with me? What do I do in the face of violence in my community? Plenty to do right here and now!

      The first of the precepts the Buddha taught is “Avoid killing, or harming any living thing.” Nothing in Buddhist scripture gives support to the use of violence as a way to resolve conflict. Take the Dalai Lama’s commitment to peace: “Hatred will not cease by hatred, but by love alone. This is the ancient law.”

  2. hi -I wanted to read more so I clicked the ‘more’ link. It is broken. There are two http:// in the url. I took out one of the https and was able to read it, but you should fix it so others can read the rest of this very interesting article.


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