Murder in Buddhism

bodhi_mindisfree

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Hello everyone. It's been a while since my last post, but this I find difficult to understand. I am currently in College to become a High School History teacher (I know, High School?? is a questionable, but honorable job) and this morning a teacher in my World Civilizations class said something in a lecture. He said Samuraii in Japan were Zen Buddhist. This teacher of mine is quite a teacher, and I do not say he is wrong. I just don't understand how this is possible when Samuraii were a warrior class intent of fighting and KILLING. I wanted to know more, so I emailed him. This is his reply:

As for Samurai, Zen is not always passive. In the case of the Samurai, its
teachings are infused into the basic Samurai guide for life known as the
Hagakure. This is a selection of maxims of the Samurai tradition. In it, A
Samuraii is instructed to meditate primarily on an inevitable death.
Essentially, meditation is used to conquer fears of death. Hope this helps.
Also look towards the code of bushido.


This still makes no sense because Buddhism is about AHIMSA (a jain word, but all the more relevant. It means Non-Violence). Didn't the Buddha ban a monk because he instructed an executioner to kill compassionately with one blow to the neck? This situation reminds me of a RICH Christian (the bible says it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven, i.e. George Bush).
Please don't reply about my last sentence, just on the Samuraii situation. I need help understanding this, because Thich Nhat Hanh is Zen and he instructs non-violence.
 

samabudhi

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It's like the Mafia clinging to Catholicism, which is also non-violent.
As long as there's jam around, there'll be flies.
 

Snoopy

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Hi Bodhi,

Not to take life is of course one of the five precepts (and embedded in the noble eightfold path). This is an ethic that I would wish to guide me. But as you say, the samurai were warriors who were trained in zen. All I can offer by way of any "authority" (whatever that means) is that I was recently talking to a senior (Soto) zen monk and he commented that zen is a state of no-mind (the mind-body cast off: Dogen) and so one can be in this state and (maintain your motorcycle, peel vegetables, play a musical instrument....or) kill.

Japanese history I think contains some unpleasant chapters associated with zen as an instrument not in accord with Shakyamuni (IMO). If I see a conflict between the two, then I'm with Shakyamuni.

s.
 

Vajradhara

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Namaste Bodhi,

thank you for the post.

your history teacher friend should also explain the political situation that existed when Ch'an Buddhism was first introduced to Japan. Once this is understood, it will be clear how it was that the tradition of Zen arose and, subsequently, how the Emperor co-opted the religion, rather like the Romans did of Christianity, to bring a sense of cohesion to the empire.

Samauri existed prior to the arrival of Buddha Dharma in Japan and, as such, they were more Samauri than Buddhist. it was only the meditational aspects of the Buddha Dharma which were practiced by the Samauri. of course, other skills were emphasized as well, caligraphy and poetry, for example.

that said, the associatio of Zen with Samauri and their violent ways is one of the reasons that the reformation of Zen in Japan occurred when it did.

irrespective of any particular instance, however, this is a very good illustration of being relying upon others understanding to form their views of the Dharma. such is a mistaken approach and can only lead to confusion and all manner of activities which are not consonant with the Dharma.

metta,

~v
 

jiii

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bodhi_mindisfree said:
As for Samurai, Zen is not always passive. In the case of the Samurai, its
teachings are infused into the basic Samurai guide for life known as the
Hagakure. This is a selection of maxims of the Samurai tradition. In it, A
Samuraii is instructed to meditate primarily on an inevitable death.
Essentially, meditation is used to conquer fears of death. Hope this helps.
Also look towards the code of bushido.

Well, firstly, the Hagakure was a book on the life and way of the Samurai by Yamamoto Tsunetomo, who was himself a Samurai. Although I personally believe it is an exceptionally well-written book, it is actually a bit too 'new' to be the Samurai 'guide for life.' Many other Samurai wrote books, and many did so many years before Tsunetomo was born. The real Samurai code was not a book, but a kind of 'principle', really...called 'bushido'. 'Bushido' is, generally speaking, a code of moral conduct that involved, primarily, loyalty to one's master and selflessly filling the role of 'retainer' (soldier/protector of the Master), amongst many other things.

The question as to how Buddhism became so closely related to such a bloody and violent tradition as that of the Samurai has been a question of much interest. To begin with, it is important for all Buddhists to remember that, for the truly spiritual man, there is no walk of life that cannot be filled. It is a mistake, I think, for Buddhists to forget that compassion is not limited to outwardly-satisfying acts of righteousness. Compassion can, and ideally would be, served even in the most brutal and unlikely circumstances...and to a certain extent, this underlies the compatability of Zen and the Samurai. If violence is inevitable in these days and times as it was in days of old, and it seems that it may be, then even in the midst of death and murder, there is still the 'mountain quietude'...there is still 'no things'...there is no more or less room for Buddha nature.

D.T. Suzuki wrote a great deal to clarify the connection between Zen and Samurai in his book Zen and Japanese Culture:

"Zen has sustained them (Samurai) in two ways, morally and philosophically. Morally, because Zen is a religion which teaches us not to look backward once the course is decided upon; philosophically, because it treats life and death indifferently... From the philosophical point of view, Zen upholds intuition against intellection, for intuition is the more direct way of reaching the Truth. Therefore, morally and philosophically, there is in Zen a great deal of attraction for the military classes. The military mind, being -and this is one of the essential qualities of a fighter- comparatively simple and not at all addicted to philosophizing finds a congenial spirit in Zen."

Zen emphasized living spontaneously. All of this is only the moment, and if you are anywhere else, you are not here. That is why there are so many examples of koans in Zen that involve questions such as "What is your true nature?" and "Who were you before your parents conceived of you?" These questions, if they are dabbled in intellectually, will spin a thinker around and around in endless circles. The answer, that is, the thoughtful answer, is always unacceptable for Zen. What is more important is that the student directly experiences that to which the question points. The long deliberated answers to such questions only got more and more deluded. The only way was to directly and spontaneously express one's self...with no guile whatsoever. That is always the answer for such questions...which is why there is never a 'one size fits all' answer. As far as the Samurai, they lived very intense lives. Everyday they lived with very real possibility of death, or being challenged by other fighters, or dishonoring themselves, or of having to commit ritual suicide at the drop of hat if their Master decided it was appropriate. A lifestyle such as this would destroy the ordinary man, crushing him under his own weight of stress and doubt and self-frustrating attachment. The Samurai had a role to fill in their society...an important role that was much honored. They needed a way to transcend these burdens of the warrior, to live their lives without perpetually looking back, which would undoubtedly be the way to ruin.

"Zen did not necessarily argue with them (Samurai) about immortality of the soul or righteousness or the divine way or ethical conduct, but it simply urged going ahead with whatever conclusion rational or irrational a man has arrived at. Philosophy may be safely left with intellectual minds; Zen wants to act, and the most effective act, once the mind is made up, is to go on without looking backward. In this respect, Zen is indeed the religion of the samurai warrior."

"Japanese hate to see death met irresolutely and lingeringly; they desire to be blown away like the cherries before the wind, and no doubt this Japanese attitude toward death must have gone very well with the teaching of Zen."

I would also mention that Vajradhara was correct to point out that, by and large, Samurai were not 'Zen men'. They were not devoted followers of the Great Doctrine. Many Samurai studied Zen, Confucianism, maybe even Taoism. The Samurai, nonetheless, found a kindred spirit in Zen that indelibly permeated throughout their history.
 

17th Angel

לבעוט את התחת ולקחת שמות
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Have you seen the little piggies crawling in the d
Samurai are simply being compared say to christian soldiers...

The bible is anti-war and violence and killing yet people go to war in "gods name" and things such as the crusaders.... And the missionarys that ruined most of the lands of the samurai..... all in the name of god...

Although I think there is a difference Samurai... These are people that were so advanced and dedicated and also are they not like strong believers in fate? Say one falls, then as long as it is honorbally it was meant to happen? *sighs* such a dedicated group of people with strong loyalty, discipline and just their way of life.. I wish I could of been a Samurai....
 

MeditationMom

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Is this maybe a question of "church and state"? Is it really possible to "not kill" as a nation, a tribe, any group? There are limited resources in the material world and even a peaceful group or state is likely to be "robbed" if there is no deterrent military/samurai force.

As far as spiritual life is concerned - death is not a problem. Killing would be. So someone like Jesus, for example, does not defend himself. But is this something we can apply to states and nations? A nation, at the spiritual level of true "non-violence", would be taken over and "crucified" just the same, like Tibet. It is a valid choice to make, even for a state, but the likely consequences should be understood and welcomed for what they are when they happen.

What I find impressive about the far eastern cultures of Samurai, Teakwondo, Aikido etc is that the necessity of killing, much like the necessity of eating, and all other physical things we do that are all on some level violence, has been used, and cultivated into a spiritual path/exercise, until everything, including "fighting and killing" happens "in emptiness and formlessness" where at that point, one could say, no "killing", or anything else "happens", from a spiritual view point.

In other words, at that point everything is far beyond any ideas of life and death, killing and being killed. The end of dualistic thinking, even when it comes to "violent" and "non-violent", or even "non-violent violence" and "violent non-violence". Non-dualistic thinking, or empty mind, so easy to confuse with indifference, unfortunately. But then again, even God gets accused of indifference.
 

Vajradhara

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Namaste all,

perhaps this is a bit outside the scope of the conversation here.. but i think that it would be prudent to talk about the idea of killing vs intentional killing.

Buddha Dharma doesn't say that killing, per se, is uncondusive to the cultivation of the religious path, it say that "intentional" killing is the impediment. This is a salient and significant difference which is often glossed over or not throughly explained.

Let me give you an example, trite though it may be.

If i am walking and step upon an insect killing the creature, have I generated negative karma? No. It is only intentional actions which generate karma as my action was unintentional no karma is generated.

Should i have chosen to step on the insect to kill it, then i would have generated negative karma by this intentional act.

To extend this analogy to nation-states is somewhat more difficult as there is no real method for us to know what the intentions are of the various beings which make decisions. as for Tibet... this is a situation of their own making, as difficult as it is for me to say and accept. the nation of Tibet was not always a peaceful place and had its fair share of bloody rulers and conqurers. Tibet is reaping the negative seeds it has sown.. though, we must not forget that karma is constantly able to be changed and, in my view, we see the beginnings of this this century. This is, by the by, a view which His Holiness the Dalai Lama also shares.

As a former member of a military service, i do not view my previous actions as murder. then again, that is due to my own point of view.. i cannot say how others may view it nor what the potential ramifications of those actions will be. As such, i would generally say that beings operating within the context of a military force, when engaged with another military force, are not engaged in murder.

though that could simply be semantics.

metta,

~v
 

Francis king

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...I believe that buddha said to rahula, before you act, consider whether the act will harm yourself or another, and if it does, then u shouldn't do it... and on another occasion he also said that not killing was a great compassionate gift to give others...

however, its not as cut and dried as all that. As it never is. Other things which are to be taken into consideration when about to commit a potentially harmful act is not just the act- it is also about the mental state of the actor, his intentions, his methods, his justification... if u didnt look at it like this, u wouldnt be seeing things as they are...

it would be lovely to live in a world where violence was unneccesary, but sometimes it is. If you're walking home at night, alone, and somebody jumps out of the bushes, and nobody's going to come to your aid, and you whack the person, and they fall over and die, no point feeling guilty about it. You didnt mean it. You were defending yourself.

If a man has a child hostage with a knife to its throat, and he is beyond all reason, and you're in the swat team, and you shoot him in the head, then yes, maybe you should feel a little guilty. But there's no point feeling too guilty- your intentions were noble, even if you were only doing your job.

as nagarjuna says, sometimes it is isnt...

as far as I can gather, beyond all the romanticism, the samurai were mainly just vassals in the feudal system in japan, and so, rather than be some big holy killing machine, they were just mercenaries... you can have them recite koans while they butcher ppl with swords, but they were not fighting for justice, and fighting to liberate the oppressed, they were in the main just savages who were doing as they were told.

within hinduism the kshatriyas, or warriors, can be holy and also be warriors- the two things are not mutually exclusive, but to find a spiritual soldier who is blessed enough so the blood of battle does not stick to his consciousness is, to my mind at least, a rarity...
 
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