Date: Fri, 06 Oct 1995 12:36:06 +0100
From: "peter.harvey" [email protected]
Subject: Rights, enlightenment potential and ‘non-human’ humans
Santipala Stephen Evans argues that respect for an other person is not based on the abstract notion of their enlightenment potential, but on one’s immediate awareness of them as a particular person, like oneself, and with awareness of oneself. Why cannot one say it is based on both, and that sometimes one emphasises one aspect, sometimes another?
Santipala also says ‘the potential for enlightenment… is a weak support for human rights and may even work against it, as the Sri Lankan tradition (first or second century CE I think’ that non-Buddhists are not fully human, Bodhidharma’s statement that killing a Hinayanist would be justified…’.
I am not familiar with this supposed statement attributed to Bodhidharma. Whoever put it in his mouth was clearly no true Mahaayaanist, for there are Bodhisattva precepts concerning respect for so-called Hiinayaanists.
The Sri Lankan case referred to concerns a passage in the Mahaava.msa chronicle, ch.XXV, concerning the actions of king Dutthagaamani (first century BC). The story is as follows. Being king of Buddhist Ceylon, he made war on (Hindu) Tamils who had invaded the island and established an enclave in the North which lasted forty-five years. For protection, king Duttagaamani’s army is said to have been accompanied by monks and to have had Buddhist relics on spears. The king is said to have fought not for the ‘joy of sovereignty’, but for the protection of the Buddhist religion. His actions are therefore the nearest thing to a ‘holy war’ in Buddhist history (though even this can be seen as a defensive war). After defeating the Tamils, the king was distressed at the many deaths he had caused, but it is said that Arahat monks re-assured him that most of those who had been killed were evil-doers, no better than animals, while Buddhism had been protected by his actions. Indeed verses 109-11 say that only ‘one and a half humans’ were among those kiled: the ‘one’ being someone who took the three refuges of a Buddhist, and the half being someone who followed the five precepts (the king neverthless went on to try to make amends for his actions by a life of good works and benefit to the community, and to have gone on to be reborn in a heaven).
As I see the above, it is a perverse twisting of the doctrine that it is less bad to kill an unvirtuous person than to kill a (truly) virtuous one. This doctrine is normally complemented by one which sees it as always worse to kill a human than to kill an animal (in the //Vinaya//, deliberate killing of a human -any human- leads to defeat; killing an animal is a lesser offence).
The //Mahaava.msa// passage was composed centuries after the events it purports to relate, and the idea that an Arahat would say such a thing is just absurd. It is just a shame that the later monastic compilers saw such a story as believable, and concurred in the sentiments. In the rest of the //Mahaava.msa//, though, there are, I think, no other such semi-justifications for killing certain people.
Such an idea resurfaced, though, in the ideas of the righ-wing Thai monk Kittivu.d.dho. During the 1970s, when Thailand was seen as in danger of being the next ‘domino’ to fall to communism in South-East Asia, this militantly anti-Communist monk taught that , while all killing is bad, killing Communists leads to very little bad karma, and to much good karma, if this is done with the intention of saving the country and its values. Moreover, he held that to do so was not killing people but killing Maara (the rough Buddhist equivalent of satan), who personified mental defilements and evil ideology, so that it was actually one’s duty to kill Communists. //However// Kittivu.d.dho was strongly attacked in the Thai press for such sentiments, and the Supreme Patriarch denounced his ‘justification’ of killing.
SO: Yes, some Buddhists have sometimes twisted Buddhist ideas to bad effect, but that does not mean the ideas themselves are problematic.
Of course, a more contemporary situation is in Sri Lanka, where certain right wing monks seemingly urge the government to not ‘give way’ to the Tamils, and be hard on them. //If// they see this as a way of defending Sinhalese Buddhist culture, it is just stupid: how can one defend Buddhism by actions which include direct violation of the Buddhist precepts??