View Chapters

Book: Buddhist Violence and Religious Authority

Chapter: 2. Buddhist Justifications for Violence

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.40722


As the pioneering work of Michael Jerryson has shown, the claim of Buddhism to be exclusively a religion of peace is unsustainable. History shows that Buddhists have regularity resorted to violence and contemporary events confirm that this trend has not abated. Conscious of the discrepancy between precept and practice, Buddhists have offered various justifications for the use of force. Mahayana Buddhists, for example, often appeal to compassion, alleging that force is sometimes necessary to save others from the negative karmic consequences of their actions. Attempts have also been made to develop a Buddhist ‘just war’ position that would allow the use of force under certain circumstances, such as in defence of the Dharma. This chapter will review the main positions so far advanced and suggest that all are flawed in various ways. It will argue that no convincing justification for the use of forces has so far been offered either by the tradition itself or by modern scholarship. The chapter will, however, suggest one possible justification that has not so far received much attention. This is based on an argument developed in the Western ‘just war’ tradition that the use of force in war is justified by analogy with the use of force in the punishment of crime.

Chapter Contributors

  • Damien Keown ( - damienkeown) 'Goldsmiths College'