There’s a rumor going about a lot of blogs that Buddhism wins the best religion of the world reward. Unfortunately it’s only blogs that are reporting this. No ordinary news sources, nor can I find the ‘Icarus’ foundation that is said to have given the award because:
“It wasn’t a surprise to me that Buddhism won Best Religion in the World, because we could find literally not one single instance of a war fought in the name of Buddhism, in contrast to every other religion that seems to keep a gun in the closet just in case God makes a mistake. We were hard pressed to even find a Buddhist that had ever been in an army. These people practice what they preach to an extent we simply could not document with any other spiritual tradition.”
While I am halfway to being a Buddhist, this just isn’t true. There are plenty of wars fought ‘in defense’ of Buddhism. Right now young Tibetans are defying the Dalai Lama and trying to get rid of the Chinese in their country for instance. While I fully sympathize with their plight, taking to arms just isn’t the same thing as nonviolence – and that’s what this online rumor does claim. So let’s go straight to the heart of this and quote what was standard reading material in a class on religion and violence I took a few years back:
… the history and teachings of Buddhism are not spotless. The great military conquests of the Sinhalese kingdoms in Sri Lanka, for instance, have been conducted in the name of the Buddhist tradition and often with the blessings of Buddhist monks. In Thailand the tradition called for those who rule by the sword as kings to first experience the discipline of Buddhist monastic training. They had to be “world renouncers” before they could be “world conquerors,” as the Harvard anthropologist Stanley Tambiah put it.
… Like Islam, the great expansion of Buddhism in various parts of the world has been credited in part to the support given it by victorious kings and military forces who have claimed to be fighting only to defend the faith against infidels and to establish a peaceful moral order. (p. 114, Terror in the Mind of God; the global rise of religious violence, Mark Juergensmeyer Buy in the UK and Europe)
vatskyIf you think Tibetan Buddhism is exempt – think again. Any history of the succession of the Dalai Lama’s (let’s go straight to the heart of the myth) shows them being killed off by courtiers one after another. A short summary of that is available here: Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth. It’s a Western wish to see Tibetan Buddhism as peaceful, to ignore the less savory sides of it’s history. And of course Tibetans in exile have a steak in that myth, because it funds their various monasteries, schools, hospitals etc.
I know this is neither comforting, nor uplifting, but I do think that the truth is the only foundation for true spirituality. The fact is: no religion is a guarantee for peace. It’s what human beings do with it that determines the outcome.
[edit July 26th]Given the amount of readers that wonder whether Buddhism can be counted a religion, I thought I’d refer you to the page where I host a discussion on just that topic. So far the consensus is: Yes, Buddhism is a religion. But I’d love to have all of your input. [/edit]