Sunday, January 10, 2010

Michael Jerryson & Mark Juergensmeyer's "Buddhist Warfare"

Michael Jerryson is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Eckerd College and the author of Mongolian Buddhism: The Rise and Fall of the Sangha (2007). Mark Juergensmeyer is Director of the Orfalea Center for Global & International Studies and Professor of Global & International Studies, Sociology and Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Buddhist Warfare, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Buddhist Warfare is from the chapter, “Legalized Violence: Punitive Measures of Buddhist Khans in Mongolia,” by Vesna Wallace. On this page, Wallace discusses monks being served with death sentences after they slandered Buddhist rulers. The Mongolian king, the Eighth Jebtsundamba, is supposed to follow the Buddhist doctrine and carries the title: Bestower of Happiness to All Sentient Beings. At the same time, this Buddhist ruler advocates a death penalty to anyone who defames his character including Buddhist monks.
Lower ranking monks were severely beaten or delivered to the Ministry Affairs for execution if they stole an object belonging to the Jebtsundamba’s private treasury. Those who publicly showed their irreverence for the Jebtsundamba were put to death. The Jebstsundamba was already losing the respect of Mongols of all classes because of his vices and extravagant lifestyle. As reported by Boryn Jambal, a lower-ranking monk at that time, the last such case occurred in 1921, just before the overthrow of the theocratic government. A lama by the name of Damdinsuren was executed for calling the Eighth Jebtsundamba “a wretched Tibetan beggar who has wandered here.” Since in all cases the death penalty, the final decision was made by the Eighth Jebtsundamba, the Bestower of Happiness to All Sentient Beings, himself, it is safe to conclude that Damdinsuren’s death sentence was authorized by the Jebtsundamba as well.
Buddhist Warfare challenges the common perception of a mystical, exotic and wholly peaceful tradition. This perception is all around us. It is reflected in the photos of Buddhist meditation, of grocery visits for soothing herbal teas with Buddhist aphorisms, and of posters detailing the far away monasteries on high snow-peaked mountain tops. This theme of serenity is one facet of many (a facet also found in Christian, Jewish, Muslims and other religious traditions). And like other religious traditions, there is an opposing facet in Buddhist traditions.

We provide historical accounts of Mongolian, Tibetan, Sri Lankan, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Thai traditions to show that Buddhism has a violent side: monks have fought in wars and advocated bloodshed for centuries. Whether it is Tibetan Buddhist assaults on competing schools, Mongolian Buddhist incarnated rulers torturing monks, or recent conflicts in Sri Lanka and Thailand, we find the human proclivity for violence manifested in Buddhist doctrine and practices.

The contents of page 99 illustrate the paradoxical nature of Buddhist warfare. Jebtsundamba is not alone in the vast history of Buddhist traditions, nor does he reflect a unique theocratic stance. Buddhist precepts may disavow murder, but we find different Buddhist doctrine and practices advocating this very act. In the end, what becomes more peculiar is not the Buddhist advocacy for violence, but rather the invisibility of this trait in our recent collective perceptions of the tradition.
Learn more about Buddhist Warfare at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue