Book Review: Buddhist Warfare
by Michael Jerryson and Mark Juergensmeyer
Published by Oxford University Press
I was really interested in reading this book. I had read a couple reviews and thought it’d be worth checking out. I always prefer to hear both sides of a story, and as we all know, there are always two sides to a story.
The description, and intent, of the book says, “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.”
I did feel like this book was more of an attack on Buddhism than it was an exposè on violence in the Buddhist realm. I understand the idea behind it, to tear down the veil and mysticism and bring Buddhism down to earth for those that are “hypnotized” by the peacefulness of the religion. I also felt like the writers/ editors compiled this stuff to intentionally smear those involved in Buddhism. The funny thing is though, those “in the know” already know there is, and has been, violence in Buddhism.
In the past few years there have been events in the Buddhist world that included violence. We had the protests and uprising in Tibet, there was the uprising in Burma (Myanmar). Seriously, did the editors think we had no idea of the violence in these circumstances? Yes, I understand they essays here in the book range back hundreds of years, and there is a history of violence. Minus a few incidents, most of the violence has always been in self defense.
Not that I am a believer in any sort of violence or war for that matter but I tell you what, if someone came into my house and attacked my family or myself I would kick the snot out of the person (or try my best). Here’s the shocker though folks, I am a Buddhist. How could I kick the snot out of someone and called myself a Buddhist? It’s easy, I believe that doing so would cause less suffering for a greater amount of people. But that’s a WHOLE different story that I might right later. Even the Dalai Lama says “If someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun.” ( quote from May 15, 2001 issue of The Seattle Times)
I did read this book with the intention of keeping an open mind throughout, it was not easy. I’ve always tried to be rational when I read and or hear someone talking against something I hold close to my heart, it was a struggle to say the least. The terms “rhetoric” in Buddhism could be true to an extent, I mean I can get sick of hearing the same buzzwords all the time too. But the fact of the matter is, this isn’t someone who’s sick of buzzwords, this is someone calling out a religious group and accusing them of using smoke and mirrors to hide some sort of truth that we can’t see cause we have our bodhisattva blinders on or something.
If you are looking to read a book that historically may be true, but may touch a nerve or two than go for it. I am not going to rant and rave about the book in the least. Maybe, down the road, I’ll give it another shot. All in all though, I did not enjoy this book and it took me a lot longer to read than I hoped because I just could not get into it.