Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Violence and Disruption in Society (sutras)

Elizabeth J. Harris; Dhr. Seven, Amber Larson, Crystal Quintero (eds), Wisdom Quarterly
Police provoke peaceful protests to become violent as a pretext to violently clampdown.
Violence and Disruption in Society: A Study of the Early Buddhist Texts
U.S. state-sponsored violence over Japan
At 8:15 am Japanese time, on August 6th 1945, a U.S. plane purposely dropped a horrific bomb named "Little Boy" over the center of the city of Hiroshima with the intention of killing all the civilians living there.

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)
Propaganda was cultivated as a justification -- How could we do this and still come off looking like moral heroes and nonbarbarians? -- that this nuclear bomb and the one the U.S. military chose to drop on the city of Nagasaki ended the war quickly and saved American and Japanese lives. This is but a consequentialist theory to justify our horrific industrial-scale violence against innocent civilians.
Hirohsima-Nagasaki (kootation.com)
Others say the newly developed weapons had to be tested as a matter of necessity. Victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki helped us usher in a new age. Our tendency toward conflict and violence can now wipe out the entire human habitat....

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,
The defeated live in pain.
Happily the peaceful live,
Giving up victory and defeat.
(Dhp. v. 201)
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.

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 [2].  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?
1. Forms of Violence:
The Buddha's Awareness
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).
The sutras of the Buddha, as they have been handed down, are replete with details about the contemporary realities of his time. They reveal much about the social context within which he moved and the faces of society with which he was familiar.
The Canki [pronounced "chunky"] Sutra shows a Brahmin overlord insisting that the Buddha is equal to him in birth, riches, and knowledge of the Vedas (the sacred knowledge books of India inherited from the more ancient Indus Valley Civilization). He continues:
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 [3].
Important here is the reference to kings. The texts show clearly that the Buddha -- himself a royal from the Shakya clan somewhere in the northwest frontier -- had an intimate knowledge of statecraft. Records of his conversations with King Pasenadi and King Bimbisara show him speaking in a language which those involved in government could understand.

King Pasenadi, for instance, comes through as a man torn between his duties as king, involving some degree of ruthlessness, and his concern for spiritual things. At one moment, he is seen preparing a Brahminical sacrifice in which many animals are to be slaughtered and menials beaten and, at another, speaking seriously with the Buddha about the dangers of wealth, power, and unskillful conduct [4].

What is significant is the level of knowledge shown by the Buddha about the pressures on a king such as Pasenadi. His use of similes and illustrations, for instance, appeals to Pasenadi's experience, including the central concern of all rulers at that time -- defense against aggression. At one point Pasenadi asks about the value of gifts and to whom a gift should be given for the gift to bear much fruit. The Buddha replies:
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? [5]
The Buddha thus uses similes from Pasenadi's military world to indicate that virtue does not depend on birth but on qualities of character. In fact, in a number of texts, illustrations drawn from the context of the state, defense, and martial arts can be found. Not only does the Buddha make use of military metaphors, but the texts show that he [as a prince trained to one day assume throne as king of the Shakyas] had extensive knowledge of the strategies of war, punishment, and political patronage. 

The Mahadukkhakkhandha Sutra, for instance, uses graphic description to show that war and conflict spring from sensual desires:
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 [6].
In the next part of the sutra, a variety of horrific punishments are described, and a keen awareness of their nature is revealed:
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 [7].
In another sutra, two men are pointed out while the Buddha is talking to a headman, Pataliya. One of them is garlanded and well-groomed; the other is tightly bound, about to lose his head. We are told that the same deed has been committed by both. The difference is that the former has killed the foe of the king and has been rewarded for it, while the latter was the king's enemy [8] .

Hence it is stressed that the laws of the state are not impartial: they can mete out punishment or patronage according to the wish of the king and his cravings for revenge or security.
It cannot be argued that the Buddha was ignorant of the political realities of his day. He spurned frivolous talk about such things as affairs of state [9]. But he was neither indifferent to them nor uninformed.

On the contrary, his concern for the human predicament made him acutely aware of the potential for violence within the economic and political forces around him. The political milieu of rival republics and monarchies janapadas] in northern India forms a backdrop to his teaching, whether the rivalries between the kingdoms [of Kosala and Magadha or the struggles of the republics to maintain their traditions and their independence in the face of the rising monarchies [10].

However, the violence attached to politics and statecraft forms only one section of the picture which emerges from the texts. Violence is detected in the Brahmanical sacrificial system, in the austerities practiced by some wanderers, and in the climate of philosophical dispute among the many shramana groupings as well as in the area of social discrimination and the economic order.

Religion, to take this first, is seen as a cause of physical, verbal, and mental violence. The violence inflicted through sacrifices is described thus:
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 [11].
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.
Nevertheless, a form of violence was present. The austerities practiced by some of those who came to the Buddha were worse than any enemy might inflict as punishment. Prior to enlightenment Prince Siddhartha as a wandering ascetic practiced them. In the Maha-Saccaka [12] and the Maha-Sihanada [13] Sutras there is vivid description of the excesses undertaken. More
Abbreviations: DN...Digha Nikaya, MN...Majjhima Nikaya, SN...Samyutta Nikaya, AN...Anguttara Nikaya, Dhp...Dhammapada, Snp...Sutta Nipata.
Textual references have been taken from the Pali Text Society's editions of the Nikayas (Sutra Collections). Unless specified otherwise, English translations have been taken from the PTS versions, though some have been slightly altered.
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.

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