Published on March 10th, 2014 | by msalt


The Modern Axis of Buddhist Hate

Ideology is perhaps man’s most deadly invention. And while we have stereotypes of “good” and “bad” ideologies (Islam = “warlike,” Buddhism = “peaceful”), it’s important to remember that ideologies mutate like viruses — and are similarly dangerous.

In the modern West, we stereotype Islam as a “dangerous” religion, despite the billion + peaceful adherents. Even aside from more progressive branches such as Sufism, ask any policeman what role alcohol plays in the violence they see, and do the math.

At the same time, our stereotype of Buddhism and its “lovingkindness” also distorts reality. At different times in history, Buddhism has been the vehicle for war (though less frequently than the Abrahamic religions, which are consistently more war-mongering).

Even today, fundamentalist Buddhism monks are fomenting violence (against Muslims in fact) in Sri Lanka and Myanmar (aka Burma). Foreign Policy magazine’s blog Passport discussed these attacks on March 7th.

This seems odd to us in the West but it shouldn’t. Our dualist view encourages us to put every culture or religion into categories of good or bad, white hat or black hat, friend or fiend. One of Daoism’s strengths is that it moves beyond this, into a more balanced view of conflict.

The Daodejing and Zhuangzi are highly skeptical of war, and border on the pacifist, but Daoism has always recognized there is a time and place where the moment calls for battle. It’s a big part of the culture that developed martial arts, but the avoidance of simplified “right” and “wrong” categories helps avoid the dangerous notion of “the good war.” A “wrong” or “evil” enemy is already dehumanized, and it’s a short path from there to holy war and the massive destruction it brings.

Daoism warns rulers to mourn these times of conflict, even — especially — after a victory, when the thrill of combat is a dangerous lure to constant war. When a faith tells you they pursue pure good, or lovingkindness, or heaven on earth, beware. That pure good defines someone else, some enemy, as pure evil. Soon enough, God or heaven or right and justice will be calling for you to go kill that enemy in the name of lovingkindness.

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About the Author

Mark Saltveit is a writer, standup comedian, skimboarder and dad based in Middlebury, Vermont. His improv show "Palindrome Fight!" will be at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Aug. 5-29th 2022 at the Kilderkin Pub, 67 Canongate, at 7:30pm each night except Tuesdays.

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