“Compassionate Killing”: Violence in East Asian Buddhism

A one-day workshop supported by the UBC Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies and UBC Buddhist Studies Forum

“Compassionate Killing”: Violence in East Asian Buddhism

May 29, 2016, 9am-3pm

Asian Center (1871 West Mall), Room 604

The principle of nonviolence occupies a central place in Buddhist tradition. It is perhaps for this reason that it is regularly contrasted with purportedly more “violent” world religions, asserting that Buddhism has had no institutional involvement in conflicts akin to the crusades or jihad. Against this highly romanticized vision of the tradition, Buddhist monastics have turned out to have interacted with lay people in almost every conceivable way—including, as a matter of course, the intrinsic relationship between Buddhism and violence. This workshop aims to throw light on East Asian Buddhism’s involvement in warfare and other violent and semi-violent activities (e.g., military chaplains and counsellors, warriors, practitioners and promoters of the martial arts, and spices). In addition to bringing to light an important (and severely understudied) front in which the samgha  (i.e., Buddhist community) intervened in the secular world, this workshop will also underscore the necessity to move beyond studying the “real situation of Buddhism” through the prism of the Buddhist precepts, which prescribed, rather than described, the circumstances under which the samgha grew and was transformed. Another aim is to study new features and patterns of state-samgha relations in East Asia. The delicate nature of this relationship determined that the monastic leaders had to “purchase” the samgha’s autonomy and independence by serving the state interests, not only through their expertise in rituals, spirituality, scholarship, and their capacity for political legitimation, but also through their military stratagems, martial skills, or even their capacity to collect information through espionage. Finally, by emphasizing various “international” roles Buddhism played through its involvement in different forms of violence, this workshop will open up rarely touched perspectives to compare key aspects of the military, political, economic, and diplomatic histories of several major countries in East Asia.

This project is by necessity an interdisciplinary one and will incorporate methodological approaches from the fields of Religious Studies, Political Studies, Sociology, and History in terms of warfare, international commerce and exchange, and religious violence. One of our primary objectives is to stimulate new directions for research in the area of East Asian Buddhism at precise moments and within particular settings when and where religious, political, diplomatic, economic, commercial, and martial matters coincide to shape the tradition at large.

List of Committed Panelists and the Tiles of Their Papers

  1. Mickeal Adolphson (professor, U. Alberta/Cambridge): “State-samgha Relationship Viewed through Religious Violence in Medieval Japan”
  2. Jinhua Chen (professor, UBC): “Clandestine Clerics: Monastic Espionage in East Asia”
  3. Paul Groner (Professor, UVa) (keynote speaker):Doctrinal Justifications for Violence in Medieval Japanese Tendai Texts”
  4. Jessica Main (assistant professor, UBC): “The Other Side and the Under Side: Reflecting on Models of Violent Buddhism in the 20th Century”
  5. James Robson (Professor, Harvard): “Fight for the Dharma: Local Religious Confrontations in Medieval China”
  6. Barend ter Haar (Professor, Oxford): “A Frightening God of War: The Role of Buddhist Ideology in the Making of the Violent Image of Lord Guan”