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Friday, September 24, 2010


On February 13, 2010, Christian publication WORLD Magazine published an article by Marvin Olasky titled "Zen at War; war and peace in Buddhism".

Let's start at the top.

"Bold journalist Brit Hume took a lot of heat last month for saying, while commenting on the fall of Tiger Woods, that Buddhism does not 'offer the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith." Maybe so, one Buddhist blogger replied, but Buddhism is a religion of peace without any of those nasty crusades lurking in it's past."

Ouch! Judging from the tone and nature of the rest of the article, I guess the truth really hurts. Also, Brit Hume is supposed to be an impartial, unbiased journalist; trying to make his religion look better than someone else's(which he has probably never studied) does not make him "bold", it just makes him biased, rude, and unethical. Now imagine Mr. Olasky's reaction if a Buddhist journalist had made an equivalent statement comparing Christianity with Buddhism on national television.
Some Christians will do anything to promote their religion and push it into the spotlight.

"Juxtapose that sentiment, please, with this new note; A panel of Japanese and Chinese scholars recently completed a three-year study aimed at reconciling differences of view-point on contentious historical issues involving the two nations- and concluded the study without reconciliation. The final report of the Japan-China Joint History Research Committee will merely consist of papers submitted by each side.
In Particular, the scholars could not agree on the number of Chinese civilians killed by Japanese soldiers in Nanjing in 1937 and 1938, when Nanjing(sometimes called Nanking) was the capital of China. The Japanese suggest tens of thousands. The Chinese insist that 300,000 were killed. But more is at stake than numbers. The best book I've seen on the subject is Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking(Basic, 1997), which quotes eyewitnesses who, for example, witnessed Japanese officers training soldiers in cutting off heads:
'Standing behind the prisoner, Tanaka steadied himself, legs spread apart, and cut off the mans head with a "Yo!".
The head flew more than a meter away. Blood spurted up in two fountains from the body and sprayed into the hole. The scene was so appalling that I felt I couldn't breathe."

Um... how did we get on the subject of WWII Japanese war crimes? They were indeed horrible, but they have very little to do with Buddhism. Let's see what Mr. Olasky says...

"Utter brutality was common. Rapes in front of family members tied up and forced to watch, with the women then mutilated and killed. Soldiers betting on the sex of unborn children and using their bayonets to cut open women and find out who won. Soldiers forcing family members with acts of incest, with any resistance leading to immediate execution.
Three Japanese generals were eventually executed for their roles in the Rape. For a time it was convenient to blame just "Japanese militarism."

Maybe that's because militarism was to blame. Just thought I'd point out the obvious.

"But some contemporary Buddhists acknowledge that Buddhism was not entirely innocent."

Before we go any further, let's remind ourselves that it was Soto Zen, a nationalistic offshoot of mainstream Zen Buddhism, that played out a small part in militarism. Not Buddhism, or Zen Buddhism, as a whole.

"In particular, Zen priest Brian Victoria's Zen at War(Rowman & Littlefield, 2nd edition, 2006) and Zen War Stories(RoutledgeCurzon, 2003) bravely revealed how Zen leaders in the 1930s applauded killing."

Notice how he says "Zen leaders", not "Buddhist leaders". Subtle word-play and word-wankery seem to be the favorite pastime of Christian propagandists(also known as "apologists").

"As some Buddhist scholars increasingly acknowledge, militant Buddhism is not new. Warring Buddhist armies from dueling monasteries dominated Japan in medieval times."

Wrong. You fail basic Japanese history, Mr Olasky; not a surprising feat for a propagandist. The samurai dominated feudal Japan, not warrior monks, who, on the battlefields of Japan, were red herrings. In fact, warrior monks only showed up for about 400 years, give or take, before Oda Nobunaga, the first warlord to attempt to unify Japan, wiped them out sometime before 1580. It's also interesting to note that they fought almost entirely for political reasons, violating several of Buddhism's most basic guidelines(do not harm or kill others, do not strive for selfish ends, etc.).

"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"."

First off, he's talking about the Samurai, my imbecilic friend, not the warrior monks. Secondly, that is indeed what Bushido teaches- but not indiscriminate killing, as you so cleverly forgot to mention.
Moving on...

"The year 1937 brought not only the Nanjing terror but also Zen and the Japanese Culture(republished in 1970 by Princeton University Press). It's 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".

B.S. First off, this(like the warrior monks of old), contradicts the most basic teachings of Buddhism. Does the author have any scriptures from the Dhamma that support one word of this drivel? Secondly, I find it a little convenient that Mr. Olasky neglected to provide us with any evidence that Suzuki said that at all. Surely there was a source for that statement? And if he did say that, what, I wonder, was the original context?

"That's what is key. Adherents to the 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."

Looks like someone took all those Zen koans literally. As I've pointed out, Buddhists are strictly forbidden to partake in violence; a fact that our Christian friend neglects to mention. By contrast, the Hebrews were ordered not to commit murder in the Old Testament. Except for pagans. And homosexuals. And witches. And lazy teenagers. And drunken teenagers. And anyone who blasphemed. And anyone who did any work on the Sabbath.
Projection, anyone?

"Brian Victoria shows how that doctrine hardened Japanese soldiers with *Buddhist* training."

*sigh* Okay, let me explain this for the benefit of anyone gullible enough to buy this crap: the training was watered down martial arts training, not "Buddhist training". Traditional martial arts originated from China in the 2nd Century, I believe; carrying with it a distinct philosophy derived from a mix of Buddhist and Taoist concepts; do not harm any living creature unless it is necessary, do not use Wu shu/karate/etc. for selfish ends, use it only to help those around you. At times, this debased training(stripped of the principles above) was administered by Soto Zen priests, but Japanese Militarism had much more to do with Nationalistic Shinto than anything else(and this was a perversion of Shinto, by the way, before any propagandists try to slander that religion as well). It was also a perversion of the samurai code of Bushido(Way of the Warrior).
If anything, this tragic episode is a cautionary tale that shows how destructive it can be when you separate the philosophy from the art; they were never meant to be separate.
Continuing on...

"Others also worry about Zen teaching that, according to Buddhist Josh Baron, pushes adherents to "give our rational thinking and intelligence."

Well, my Irony Meter just started melting. Guess I'll have to buy a new one. First off, the Christian author very deviously took this quote waaay out of context. Click http://www.darkzen.com/Articles/zenholy.htm to see the original context and be sure to scroll all the way down the page to the second paragraph from the end, right after the author says "this is our iron ball koan". It's nice to see that we can depend on Christians to display overwhelming intellectual honesty ;).  Also, as for "giving up our rational thinking and intelligence", well, wasn't that precisely what Jesus himself was doing when he said that "only those with the faith of a child will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven"(Matthew 18;3)?

"Baron's review of Victoria's writing noted, "For too long, we have accepted all eastern teaching with child-like 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're headed."

Indeed. Buddha's intellectual standards were quite stringent; he demanded that everyone carefully consider every aspect of the Dhamma before accepting it; dogmatic, child-like faith was discouraged.
All Buddhists should examine their beliefs constantly, and refresh their minds by looking into other beliefs and philosophies.

"Christians have gone through such self-appraisals concerning the Crusades. Some Buddhists are ready to do the same."

Right; which is why the Soto Zen sect is currently making sincere, public apologies for their misdeeds.

"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."

Just as any other religion, including Christianity can be, once someone cherry-picks it, guts out the directives of peace and compassion, and replaces them with oppressive, inhumane, fanatical, and totalitarian values.

"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."

Yet another large nugget of crap from a Christian fertilizer salesman. All religions are man-made, and only a liar or a fool would claim otherwise. And something else our Christian friend forgets to mention is that while ample justification for mass murder and even slavery can be found in the Bible, no such excuses are apparent in the Dhamma. The long and short of the matter is that Buddhism does not have any crusades lurking in it's past, nor any possible justification for such actions; even the actions of so-called Buddhist "radicals" in Sri Lanka and elsewhere does not count, because those who do evil in the name of Buddha are going directly against everything he taught to the point of where these people can not be called Buddhists.  Also, Christians have yet to prove that "sin" is anything but a piece of Church dogma. All murderers and adulterers need to break free from the selfish delusions and desires that corrupted them.

May all be well and happy.


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