PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 150 23rd February 2010
I. 'The New Pathways Online Conference' by Geoffrey Klempner
II. 'An Attempt at Understanding Terrorism from a Buddhist Perspective' by Ananya Barua
We celebrate the 150th issue of Philosophy Pathways, launched in January 2001, with the announcement of a new Pathways online conference. Rather than rely as we have previously done on external hosting, we decided that the new conference should be maintained on our own web pages. Visually very pleasing, the conference space makes it easy to start new topics or follow or contribute to several lines of discussion at the same time.
As explained below, this is not a public forum. If you are not a Pathways student or a member of the ISFP or PSOE, then consider joining: it's well worth the 10 GBP/ 15 GBP fee for ISFP life membership.
In this issue the Ananya Barua, Research Scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi examines the nature and metaphysical underpinnings of evil. How does evil arise? Is evil something real in itself, or is it rather a privation arising from the failure of a process which aims for the good but somehow misses?
Barua looks at the question of terrorism from the perspective of Buddhist philosophy. We condemn terrorists as beyond the pale ethically. But how do you approach the problem of terrorism if your fundamental philosophical perspective is a non-violent one? How do you dialogue with someone who implacably refuses to dialogue back? According to the Dalai Lama, it is only by 'long-term strategy to promote globally a political culture of non-violence and dialogue' that we can hope to win the war on terror, for as history has shown only too clearly the way of violence only breeds further violence.
I. 'THE NEW PATHWAYS ONLINE CONFERENCE' BY GEOFFREY KLEMPNER
Almost exactly seven years since the Pathways online conference was launched using the 'Internet Classroom Assistant' at Nicenet.org, I am pleased to announce a brand new Pathways online conference for all Pathways students, past and present, as well as members of the International Society for Philosophers and Philosophical Society of England.
The new Pathways conference was launched on 31 January 2010. To date, there have been 95 posts on 6 topics, which is a healthy figure. I hope that this trend continues. The long-term future of the conference depends on the continued enthusiasm of the participants, but also requires a steady influx of new members willing to share their ideas.
The new conference is hosted by Pathways using the most up-to-date bulletin board software. The main advantages are speed, user friendliness and customisability. The feedback I have received so far has been very positive.
The Pathways Nicenet conference used the old system of threaded discussions, which was popular in its day, but has become increasingly supplanted by the forum style of linear discussions under each topic. The main difference you will notice, apart from the visually more pleasing format, is that members of the conference are able to freely choose discussion topics rather than having fixed topics set in advance by the conference administrator.
The Pathways online conference is a private, not a public forum. In order to register as a participant you will need to obtain the conference key. Entering the key at the URL provided will reveal a link to the conference login page where you can pick your username and password, as well as other details such as your avatar, motto and signature. To request your conference key and URL, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
After you have successfully registered with the conference, take some time to try out the different features provided. There are lots of bells and whistles to explore, as well as a comprehensive and easily navigable help system.
Complete transcripts of the previous Pathways Nicenet conferences, 'The use and value of philosophy', 'Theories of existence', 'Philosophy the learning curve', 'Philosophy a way of life' and 'Last Nicenet conference' can be found by following the links on the ISFP web site at https:---.
Enjoy your conferencing!
(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2010
II. 'AN ATTEMPT AT UNDERSTANDING TERRORISM FROM A BUDDHIST PERSPECTIVE' BY ANANYA BARUA
We now accept terrorism as global phenomena although what is meant by terrorism is hard to define. Perhaps we have to accept the following observation made about the true meaning of the term terrorism:
Terrorism has been described variously as both a tactic and
strategy; a crime and a holy duty; a justified reaction to
oppression and an inexcusable abomination. Obviously, a lot
depends on whose point of view is being represented. All
manifestations of terrorism seem to be now a global
phenomenon. Whether it is at national or global level, an
act of terrorism is an act of crime.
This article is an attempt at throwing light on this difficult area called terrorism from a perspective of universal religion like Buddhism. The article is informed by the question what is terrorism and how does one understand terrorism from a Buddhist perspective, and from the perspective of some of the most renowned contemporary representatives of the Buddhist faith, like the Dalai Lama.
Now if we ponder over the question what about a Buddhist perspective on terrorism?, we find that it is not an easy task to define terrorism from a Buddhist perspective. To quote Prof. Chandra Wikramagamage:
Buddhism can respond to individual, national or global
terrorism at two levels, namely the Buddha and the
Bodhisattva. The level of Buddha is applicable to people of
intellectual advancement and the level of Bodhisattva is
applicable to the public.
It appears that in this respect Buddhism is much closer to Jainism in spirit that keeps provision for absolute non-violence for monks and renouncers and pragmatic application of the principle of ahimsa for worldly people. At the level of individual enlightenment one is on the path of spiritual progress through constant practice of meditation, prayer, ethical conduct, suffering sensitivity etc. That way a true Buddhist is one who takes refuge in the 'Triple Gem' (Tissrana), namely the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. The Triple Gem is also described as follows:
The Buddha -- The acme of universal wisdom
The Dhamma -- The perfect code of discipline
The Sangha -- The exemplary model for a layman
It must be asserted that the Pancha Sila (Five Precepts) do not necessarily make a person a Buddhist, but to be a real Buddhist, one has to rigorously practice and observe the five precepts.
Buddhist sermons have a therapeutic note as well. The very practice of non-violence will not only heal the wounds of war, conflict and violence as well as relieve all human and social sorrows; but it can build up a peaceful and joyful society, and tightly tie with the esteem values of equality, fraternity and liberty. The Dhammapada's prohibition against killing, that 'All tremble at punishment; to everyone life is dear. Taking oneself as an example, one should neither strike nor kill,' is a true reflection of the way of the Buddha. The Buddha reportedly told his followers:
All are afraid of the rod.
Of death, all are afraid.
Having made oneself the example.
One should neither slay nor cause to slay.
Dhammapada: chi. 10
The first of the five precepts (Pancha Sila) admonishes one to refrain from taking life, and early monastic codes list the taking of life as one of the four grave offenses. Mahayana texts carry this rejection of violence forward; for example, the Dasabhumika-sutra proclaims that Buddhists 'must not hate any being and cannot kill a living creature even in thought.' Historically, Buddhists have formulated institutional and ritual supports for this ideal, as seen in the uposatha ceremony when Theravada monks twice a month recite the precepts and confess transgressions.
But the important question is how best to apply the most important Buddhist teachings to our present situation. How to combat terrorism in these two levels, both politically and religiously and thereby therapeutically? In our complicated social situation today, where the majority is more corrupt than the minority, when terrorism is the way of the world, one should explore a practical strategy to deliver the Buddhist message of non-violence to all, including the terrorist. The question remains: in the face of the social situations today, how to deal with the so-called material civilized waves attacking humans from a variety of aspects? How to keep the familiar tradition, human dignity, and social order?
A Buddhist activist would firstly give persuasive explanations and typical evidences of grave social and human damage from war, violent and terrorist actions; and then skillfully encourage and guide humans practicing Buddhist non-violent aims by cultivating compassion and sympathy for true peace, happiness and welfare for oneself and all sentient beings. Even then, one finds that in its treatment of violence, however, the Buddhist tradition sometimes offers mixed messages. Buddhism prescribes short-term goal of correcting a perverted situation, while the main objective is the eradication of suffering and violence and existential anxiety of all sorts.
Although in principle the Buddhist texts, doctrines, and ritual practices advocate non-harming or nonviolence, there are occasional exceptions to these universal dharmic principles in extreme cases like one's need for self-defense or for protecting the helpless and the weaker one from the tyranny of the oppressor:
The Mahaparinrvana Sutra allows for situation when adopting
violent means to counter and prevent more violence is
practiced by kings, rulers and even monks taking up arms to
protect dharma and the helpless victim. This Sutra also
exhorts the laity to use force to protect the Sangha. And
in the commentarial literature, Buddhist thinkers have set
forth elaborate justifications of violence. Historically,
some Buddhists have followed the lead of these
reinterpretations and qualifications of the doctrine of
ahimsa. Buddhist thinkers have legitimated violence in
particular situations; Buddhist sectarian groups have
engaged in warfare; and Buddhist institutions have publicly
supported violence by rulers and their armies. It does offer a
framework for exploring psychological causes of violence.
If we look for the Buddha's attitude toward violence as per references made in some Buddhist Texts including the Pali Nikayas, we find that in many cases violence and punishment are described as a kind of lesser evil, as unfortunately unavoidable part of the life of the householder or civil society.James A. Stroble comments:
The fact that these are for the most part descriptions
rather than normative statements is to be stressed, however.
When there is occasion for the Buddha himself to deal
with one who is deserving of punishment, the method he uses
is manifestly one of non-violence. The difference between
the descriptive portrayal of violence and the normative
example of the Buddha then establishes a distance between
the world of the civil authorities and that of the Sangha.
James A. Stroble continues:
Where the enlightened one is said to 'have stopped moving,'
'having done what is to be done', the king and ministers and
householders are described as having many things to do,
being very busy.
This then forms the basis of the distinction between the
political and religious spheres. The political authorities
are very busy, just as Angulimaala was very busy plundering
the countryside; both stand in contrast to the Buddha, whose
goal is to put an end to violence.
The Dalai Lama puts it:
In principle, any resort to violence is wrong. Initially,
terrorism was a certain mixture of politics, economics, and
religion. Now, it seems that terrorism is more individual
and done to avenge personal grudges. So there are two kinds
of terrorism. Countermeasures for such things are not easy.
We need two levels. One level -- the immediate -- various
governments are taking, including some violent methods,
right or wrong.
The Dalai Lama cites instances of Buddhist monks and Buddhist rulers who often confused these two realms of dharmic and political solution to the evils of the time and in turn took recourse to violence in order to combat violence. What an individual should do is also determined by each individual's karmic relation to the event. He continues:
In the 1930s, one Mongolian leader became a very, very
brutal dictator and eventually became a murderer.
Previously, he was a monk, I am told, and then he became a
revolutionary. Under the influence of his new ideology, he
actually killed his own teacher. Pol Pot's family
background was Buddhist. Whether he himself was a Buddhist
at a young age, I don't know. Even Chairman Mao's family
background was Buddhist.
In the Dalai Lama's attitude, we find the basic commitment to Buddhist non-violence at all costs when he condemns hardness of heart and dictatorship of Buddhist kings, rulers and also of monks turned activists. In order to prevent violence one should not transform oneself into the role model of the enemy. However there is also some concession made for resistance and counter attack in case of self defense etc.
In his book Instinct for Freedom the contemporary dharma activist Alan Clements, a former Buddhist monk in the Burmese tradition of Mahashi Sayadaw puts the constraints that make the path of love and ahimsa almost ineffective when one faces a murderer or a psychopath who becomes killer machine: 'How can one mediate for peace when brothers and sisters are being killed and to love when a gun is pointed on your head...?' the monk turned activist comments. Is there any way to correct the situation within Buddhist scheme? To what extent one can go on keeping options for dialogue in peace and love even with the one who has fallen from the path? when this dialogue seems to be an impossibility and the terrorist and the dictator needs to be addressed by force and manipulation rather than by religious and therapeutic means? Here the Dalai Lama gives some hints when the Buddhist monk faces an extreme situation while facing a terrorist whose mind is close to all kinds of dialogue and who is just a man turned machine robotically killing others when acts of violence become a meaningless but obsessive ritual.
The Buddha's pragmatic and therapeutic approach to the human suffering keeps room for healing the wounds of one and all. Those who are caught in the vicious circle of past karmas and the wrong and evil effects of those karmas are often victims of wrong acts, wrong intentions, wrong mindfulness etc. which are to be corrected by Buddhist guidance. But is the terrorist a victim or a perpetrator? Buddhism will prescribe a special treatment for one who inflicts suffering to others, a terrorist. He is more a victim and his case is diagnosed as pathos. No ordinary dialogue is possible in extreme cases when the terrorist is closed to all such humanitarian appeals simply because his mind is closed to dialogue. Once there is no scope for dialogue and all kinds of interpersonal talks fail, there is no other way but to identify the situation as pervasive and pathetic which needs urgent intervention for restoring its human dimension.
Against this background, being firmly rooted in the path of Truth and non-violence which can also take a pragmatic approach to the constraints of any kind of abnormal situation like extreme cases of violence and terrorism, the Dalai Lama, a lifelong champion of non-violence, maintains utmost restraint and expresses doubts if sheer good will and optimism would suffice. When the so called partners in peace dialogue do not stand on equal footing and when there is no reciprocity between the one and the other, between the one who talks and the one who listens, dialogue becomes monologue and the situation becomes dehumanized. Dialogue is feasible when there is openness from both sides.
Terrorism cannot be tackled by applying the principle of ahimsa or non-violence alone if the minds of terrorists are closed and non communicative:
The Tibetan spiritual leader termed terrorism as the worst
kind of violence, which is not carried by a few mad people
but by those who are very brilliant and educated... but a
strong ill feeling is bred in them. 'Their minds are closed,'
the Dalai Lama said. 'Terrorism is the worst kind of
violence, so we have to check it, we have to take
countermeasures.' With terrorists, the Dalai Lama said,
applying a Buddhist analysis, 'their whole mind is
dominated by negative emotions.' But he emphasized
that 'the real antidote' to terrorism in the long run is
'compassion, dialogue -- peaceful means' even with
terrorists. 'We have to deal with their motivation,' he
said. 'Terrorism comes out of hatred, and also
However Buddhism seeks to offer a framework for exploring psychological causes of violence:
Man should remain explorers of one's inner dimension and
its strength and weaknesses and seek to curb the roots of
all passions and hatred. All these spring from the human's
Threefold Defilements (desire, hatred and ignorance).
Central to the Buddhist analysis of the cause of duhkha
(suffering) is the doctrine of the Three Poisons: greed or
craving, anger or hatred, and ignorance. Buddhism prods us
to look at these defilements in ourselves and those who
might confront us, and how, in each of us as both
perpetrator and victim of violence, these hindrances derive
from certain conditions and cause certain actions. The
second of these defilements, anger and hatred, relates most
directly to violence.
Due to demands of fame and wealth, of social position, of
mammon, of personal property, of promotion, and of various
other desires, etc. in modern life, man has become a
hireling of lust, anger and delusion. Even though he has
been able to win and subdue nature with all sorts of
advanced scientific inventions, he has still failed and is
tied down with the sufferings of birth, old age, sickness
Even though recognition is made of the vicious circle of karmic chain of greed, delusion, shortsightedness, temptation, insensitivity etc. That are the root causes of violent activities on earth, the circle continues and one reaps good and bad results of good and bad karmas and the situation worsens unless there is opening in human nature and human mind to receive spiritual and moral light. Once the mind is completely closed to such openings even the best spiritual and healing aids also become ineffective in humanizing that perverted mind. In such cases, Buddhism offers a pragmatic solution to terrorism by pointing out both short term and long term strategies to humanize an inhuman situation.
But the hope remains that one day mankind will peruse the path of non-violence and love. As the Dalai Lama comments:
Therefore, at the general public level we must cultivate
the notion of not just one religion, one truth, but
pluralism and many truths. We can change the atmosphere,
and we can modify certain ways of thinking. second, there
should be a spirit of dialogue. Whenever we see any
disagreements, we must think how to solve them on the basis
of recognition of oneness of the entire humanity. This is
the modern reality. When a certain community is destroyed,
in reality it destroys a part of all of us. So there should
be a clear recognition that the entire humanity is just one
family. Any conflict within humanity should be considered
as a family conflict. We must find a solution within this
What is required is a well-thought-out, long-term strategy
to promote globally a political culture of non-violence and
dialogue. The international community must assume a
responsibility to give strong and effective support to
non-violent movements committed to peaceful changes We must
draw lessons from the experiences we gained. If we look back
at the last century, the most devastating cause of human
suffering has been the culture of violence in resolving
differences and conflicts. The challenge before us,
therefore, is to make this new 21st century a century of
dialogue when conflicts are resolved non-violently.
1. International Terrorism and Security website:
2. Wikramagamage Prof. Chandra 'Buddhist response to global terrorism'
3. Kalupahana, David J. Dhammapada, translated New York: University Press of America, 1986. p.221
4. Ives, Christopher. 'Sitting with Violence ' in Buddhist Responses to Violence
5. Stroble, James 'A Study of the Status of Violence in Early Buddhism' in Buddhism and War
6. Quoted in Ibid.
7. After meeting in person Angulimala the monk, king Pasenadi says to the Buddha: 'Him, revered sir, that I was unable to tame with stick and sword, the Lord has tamed without stick and sword. Well, I am going now, revered sir, I am very busy, there is much to be done.' Majjhima Nikaya II.102, PTS no. 30, p. 288. Vassakaara, Chief Minister of Magadha, says, 'Now we shall depart. We have many affairs (to attend to), much to do.' Digha Nikaya, Mahaparinibb na Sutta, 135; Burma Pitaka Assoc., p. 191.'
8. The Dalai Lama Interview by Amitabh Pal, January 2006 Issue
10. Christopher Ives Buddhist Responses to Violence
11. The Role of Buddhist Preacher: A Modern Ven. Dr. Thich Quang
12. The Dalai Lama Interview by Amitabh Pal, January 2006 Issue
15. Ives, Christopher. 'Sitting with Violence ' in Buddhist Responses to Violence
16. The Role of Buddhist Preacher: A Modern Ven. Dr. Thich Quang
(c) Ananya Barua 2010