Von Katherine Wharton – truthdig
Have you heard about Vakkali, the Buddhist sage who attained Nirvana while slicing his own throat? Of all the major faith traditions, Buddhism is often seen as the most peaceful, but Buddhist Warfare exposes its darker side. The eight essays in the collection describe twisted teachings on phenomena such as “Soldier-Zen”, and atrocities carried out by groups such as the Buddhist cult army of Faqing. In 515 AD, Faqing declared the arrival of the new Buddha and led more than 50,000 men to war. “When a soldier killed a man he earned the title of first-stage Bodhisattva (Buddha-to-be). The more he killed the more he went up the echelon towards sainthood … the insurgents were given an alcoholic drug that made them crazy to the extent that fathers and sons no longer recognized each other and didn’t think twice before killing each other; the only thing that mattered was killing.” Buddhist Warfare forms an accurate history of violence in the name of religion. Its most shocking material is the studies of various sutras that justify killing with detailed reference to the Buddha’s central philosophical tenets. The book therefore presents a uniquely Buddhist “heart of darkness”.
In the afterword, Bernard Faure states that the aim of the collection was to press Buddhists and scholars of Buddhism to face up to the worst aberrations and silences within the tradition. Faure accuses many contemporary Buddhist apologists of taking the “high metaphysical or moral ground” rather than recognizing that in Buddhism, as in all the faiths, there is a constant struggle between light and darkness, between the promise of release and “the violence that lies at the heart of reality (and of each individual)”.
Violent purges and insurgences have occurred in all eras, with or without religious incitement. Yet there is something uniquely chilling about religious texts that justify or even aim to cultivate murder. For instance, the seventeenth-century Zen Master Takuan writes as follows:
“The uplifted sword has no will of its own, it is all of emptiness. It is like a flash of lightning. The man who is about to be struck down is also of emptiness, and so is the one who wields the sword. None of them are possessed of a mind that has any substantiality. As each of them is of emptiness and has no ‘mind’, the striking man is not a man, the sword in his hands is not a sword and the ‘I’ who is about to be struck down is like the splitting of the spring breeze in a flash of lightning.”
This is an application of the central Buddhist teaching of no-self that sees no evil in killing. Brian Daizen Victoria’s excellent essay outlines the direct connections between Takuan’s writings and the philosophy of Soldier-Zen promoted as part of military training during the Asia-Pacific War. Should Zen itself be held responsible for the genocide of 20 million Chinese during this campaign? Brian Victoria does not just blame Takuan: he also directly implicates D. T. Suzuki (1870–1966), the most influential proponent of Zen to the West in the twentieth century. Brian Victoria asserts that Suzuki gave his unqualified support to the “unity of Zen and the sword”.