As some Buddhist scholars increasingly acknowledge, militant Buddhism is not new. Warring Buddhist armies from dueling monasteries dominated Japan in medieval times. Their tradition gained applause from Shaku Soen (1859-1919), the first Zen Buddhist master to teach in the United States. He argued that everything is of one essence, so that war and peace are the same—and the soldier who doesn't care whether he lives or dies, and doesn't worry about killing others, is getting closer to "the final realization of enlightenment."
The year 1937 brought not only the Nanjing terror but also Zen and Japanese Culture (republished in 1970 by Princeton University Press). Its author, D.T. Suzuki (1870-1966), who became the leading Zen popularizer in the United States, acknowledged that Zen "treats life and death indifferently" and can be "wedded to anarchism or fascism, communism or democracy . . . or any political or economic dogmatism."
That's what is key. Adherents to the key Buddhist doctrine of non-attachment—to things, people, or life itself—argue that we only imagine the difference between war and peace, civilization and savagery: All are illusions. Brian Victoria shows how that doctrine hardened Japanese soldiers with Buddhist training. Others also worry about Zen teaching that, according to Buddhist Josh Baran, pushes adherents to "give up our rational thinking and intelligence."
Baran's review of Victoria's writing noted, "For too long, we have accepted all eastern teaching with childlike reverence, placing our thinking faculties on hold. Perhaps now, with these new revelations, it is time to re-honor intelligence and questioning and look more carefully at what we inherited and where we are headed." Christians have gone through such self-appraisals concerning the Crusades. Some Buddhists are ready to do the same.
My point in all this is not to suggest that Buddhism is a religion of violence—it rarely is these days—but that it can be. Buddhism gets a great press in the United States, but it is one more man-made religion that reflects our naturally sinful natures. Murderers and adulterers all need Christ.
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