At Religion Dispatches is an article by Michael Jerryson, one of the editors of the just released book Buddhist Warfare. I haven’t read the book yet, but the article has some interesting points that are worth addressing.
Jerryson writes that the book has already “apparently touched some nerves in the academic community before its release. Some have objected to the cover, which they feel is not an appropriate subject for Buddhism.”
I’d be interested to find out more specifically what people are objecting to–Jerryson’s vague summary seems a bit suspect to me.
Based on his article (and the cover, which actually depicts a monk with a toy gun), my initial suspicion is that they are reacting to a dynamic that they are by now rather tired off, one that Jerryson seems to exemplify in the article: the Western naif with a remarkably idealistic view of Buddhism gets a wake up call and then delivers a hyperbolic, overstated critique in reaction.
Jerryson writes that his “journey that began with an exploration of the peaceful aspects of Buddhism” ended up “chronicling portions of its dark side.”
One of Jerryson’s apparently shocking discoveries is that certain Thai Buddhist monks who have been subject to “violent militant attacks” by terrorists have procured guns to use in self-defense. This led him to investigate the history of Buddhism further, whereupon he discovered that over the last few thousands of years, Buddhists have been involved in all sorts of violent episodes.
Really, this is a surprise to anyone? If so, I’m glad that the book, which will probably (hopefully) prove to be less hyperbolic than the article, will provide careful documentation of the involvement in violence by Buddhists (including monks and clerics of various stripes) so that we can all leave that level of naivete behind.
But I also hope that we don’t jump to the equally facile conclusion that Jerryson suggests–that all religions are equally prone to violence–because I don’t think his evidence will establish that, and I don’t think that it happens to be true. Perhaps I am mistaken; I eagerly await the book.