|Police provoke peaceful protests to become violent as a pretext to violently clampdown.|
|U.S. state-sponsored violence over Japan|
The total number of human beings who were killed immediately and in the following months was probably close to 200,000. [The countless other earthlings harmed are not measured or recorded.]
|Nagasaki Museum (latimes.com)|
It is against the urgency of this background that the teachings of Buddhism about violence must be studied and interpreted. Excerpts such as the following have been extracted and used to sum up the Buddhist attitude to this issue:
All tremble at violence,
All fear death;
Comparing oneself with others
One should neither kill nor cause others to kill. (Dhp. v. 129)
Victory breeds hatred,These verses would seem to indicate a clearly defined Buddhist perspective. Yet such text extraction can lead to misrepresentation if not undergirded with a strong supporting framework. Furthermore, if Buddhism has a message for a violent world, it must do more than condemn violence. It must be able to interpret its nature, its roots, its hold on the world and the possibilities for its transformation. It must dialogue with other philosophies and ideologies such as utilitarianism [Note 1], scientific socialism, and the belief in a "just" or "holy" war.
The defeated live in pain.
Happily the peaceful live,
Giving up victory and defeat.
(Dhp. v. 201)
For instance, utilitarianism still lives among those who believe that violence can be justified if more people will benefit than will be hurt, and the consequentialist theory is similar to this. Then there are those who hold that certain forms of injustice and exploitation can only be destroyed through violence and that history will justify its legitimacy.
The view that violent change is a historical inevitability is close to this. Buddhism must be able to comment on the stance which argues that if Hitler had been assassinated early in his career numerous deaths would have been avoided, or the claim that force is justified against a government which is using violence against its people under the pretext of law. If it cannot, it will stand accused of irrelevance.
"Violence" is that which harms, debases, dehumanizes, or brutalizes human beings, animals, or the natural world. The violent person is one who causes harm in speech or action, either directly or indirectly, or whose mind is filled with such thoughts . These four questions provide the framework for this study:
(1) What different forms of violence do the Buddhist texts show knowledge of?
(2) Why do the texts condemn violence or call it into question?
(3) What do they see to be the roots of violence?
(4) Do the texts give any guidelines for the eradication of violence in the individual or in society?
Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist Temple -- the first Buddhist temple to be built in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia, 1803. It is filled with striking features and a rich past, a retreat for Buddhist devotees, serving as historical evidence of Burmese occupation (JMR).
Indeed, sirs, King Seniya Bimbisara of Magadha with his wife and children has gone to the recluse Gautama for [guidance] for life. Indeed, sirs, King Pasenadi of Kosala with his wife and children has gone to the [guidance] Gautama for refuge for life. Indeed, sirs, the Brahmin Pokkharasati with his wife and children has gone to the recluse Gautama for [guidance] for life .
A gift bears much fruit if given to a virtuous person, not to a vicious person. As to that, sire, I also will ask you a question. Answer it as you think fit. What think you, sire? Suppose that you were at war, and that the contending armies were being mustered. And there were to arrive a noble youth, untrained, unskilled, unpracticed, undrilled, timid, trembling, affrighted, one who would run away -- would you keep that man? Would such a man be any good to you? 
And again, meditators, when sense pleasures are the cause... having taken sword and shield, having girded on bow and quiver, both sides mass for battle, and arrows are hurled, and knives are hurled, and swords are flashing. Those who wound with arrows and wound with knives and decapitate with their swords, these suffer dying then and pain like unto dying...
And again, meditators, when sense pleasures are the cause...having taken sword and shield, having girded on bow and quiver, they leap on to the newly daubed ramparts, and arrows are hurled, and knives are hurled, and swords are flashing. Those who wound with arrows and wound with knives and pour boiling cow-dung over them and crush them with the portcullis and decapitate them with their swords, these suffer dying then and pain like unto dying .
Kings, having arrested such a one, deal out various punishments: they lash him with whips, and they lash him with canes, and they lash him with rods, and they cut off his hand... his foot... his hand and foot... his ear... and they give him the "gruel-pot" punishment... the "shell-tonsure" punishment... "Rahu's mouth"... the "fire-garland"... the "flaming hand"... and so on .
Now at that time a great sacrifice was arranged to be held for King Pasenadi, the Kosalan. Five hundred bulls, 500 bullocks, and as many heifers, goats, and rams were led to the pillar to be sacrificed. And they that were slaves and menials and craftsmen, hectored about by blows and by fear, made the preparations with tearful faces weeping .In contrast, the shramana groupings within this period rejected sacrifice [to the gods]. Denying the authority of the Vedas and a realm of gods [brahmas, devas, nagas, asuras] to be manipulated, their emphasis was on renunciation, the gaining of insight, and philosophical debate.
1. Utilitarianism is a philosophy which claims that the ultimate end of action should be the creation of human happiness. Actions should be judged according to whether they promote the greatest happiness of the greatest number. The most important exponent of this philosophy was the nineteenth century British thinker John Stuart Mill. One of the weaknesses of utilitarianism is that it can be used to justify the violation of minority rights.
2. Reference may be made to many texts which stress that encouraging others to do harm is blameworthy. AN ii,215, for instance, speaks of the unworthy man and the more unworthy man, the latter being one who encourages others to do harmful actions such as killing living beings.
3. MN 95/ii,167.
4. The Kosala Samyutta (Samyutta Nikaya, Vol. 1) records the conversations which this king had with the Buddha. The examples mentioned have been taken from this section.
5. SN i,97.
6. MN 13/i,86-87.
7. MN 13/i,87.
8. SN iv,343.
9. In several sutras, the Buddha comes across groups of wanderers engaged in heated discussions about kings, robbers, armies, etc. (e.g., DN iii,37; MN ii,1). In contrast, the Buddha advised his disciples either to maintain noble silence or to speak about the Dharma.
10. See Romila Thapar, A History of India (Pelican Books UK, 1966), Chapter 3.
11. SN i,75.