The Origins of Religious Violence: An Asian Perspective

Nicholas F. Gier (Lexington Books, 2014)

The first nine chapters contain detailed analyses of Asian religious history in six countries where religiously motivated violence has been alleged or is apparently evident. Except for the violence caused by the fusion of state and religion in Tibet and Japan, I demonstrate that most Asian religious conflict came after colonial incursions there. Even though I will conclude that there was far more faith-based violence in Asia than most people believe, the Abrahamic religions still have the worst record. Chapter 10 will be a theoretical investigation of why this has been the case.  Only one factor—a mystical monism not prevalent nor favored in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—was the basis of a distinctively Japanese Buddhist call for individuals to identify totally with the emperor and to wage war on behalf of a divine ruler. The Asians have gone to war just as often as any other peoples, but I believe that my research can show that they have, before Muslim and European incursions, done this far less for religious reasons.

The final chapter 11 offers an analysis of one fundamental reason why there was and continues to be less religious violence in Asia.  Playfully, I call it the “Gospel of Weak Belief,” where the religious praxis of Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism counters the “strong” belief–one could say the religious gnosis–of various forms of fundamentalism, Asian and Euro-American. Philosopher Richard Swinburne has coined the phrase “weak belief,” and I argue that the biblical view of faith supports Swinburne’s fideism—a primary emphasis on faith not justified belief.  Many Christians miss the importance of Jesus’ rebuke of the “doubting” Thomas, the disciple who demanded proof: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe,”[v] or to be more precise, “and yet have faith.” Even Thomas Aquinas, the Christian theologian who most trusted reason, defined faith as a theological virtue, that is, “a habit of the mind . . . making the intellect assent to what is non-apparent.”[vi]  I submit that those who view their faith in this way will more likely refrain from committing violence in the name of their deity.

The Destruction of the Babri Mosque and Warring Sādhus
            When I started this project in the late 1980s, the original title was “The Peace of the East.”  I had taught Asian philosophy and religion for nearly 20 years, but I knew Asian history only in broad outlines. When I did consult the historical record, I initially found data such as the following crime statistics from a British census. In 1881 the frequency of crime by religion was as follows: one of 274 Christian Europeans; one of 799 Christian Indians; one of 1,361 Hindus; and one of 3,787 Buddhists.  If the Jains had been included in this count, one would have expected an even higher ratio for them. With regard to the native Christian count, an English official made the following observation: “It appears from these figures that while we effect a very marked moral deterioration in the natives by converting them to our creed, their natural standard of morality is so high that, however much we Christianize them, we cannot succeed in making them altogether as bad as ourselves.”[vii] An 1899 statistical dictionary reported that for every 100,000 people in Western Europe there were from 100-230 prisoners; 190 for England; and 38 for India. I also learned that a statue of Vishnu (freshly adorned with a saffron sash) still stood at the entrance to Anghor Wat, even though it had been converted to a Buddhist temple over 800 years ago. My general thesis for non-violent Asians continued to hold.

While on sabbatical in India in 1992, I did research on my topic at Punjab University in the Department of Gandhian Studies. When I first arrived in Chandigarh, I saw Indian troops at every main intersection and was warned that Sikh militants were still active. I was also dissuaded from visiting the Golden Temple at Amritsar and the famous Hindu pilgrimage sites in the mountains. On December 6, 1992, a group of Hindu and Sikh graduate students invited me to spend the day at a Muslim village 15 miles outside Chandigarh. The students’ semester project was to teach English or Hindi lessons to the village children. The most prominent structure in this village was not a mosque (it appeared to be in ruins), but a temple dedicated to the nine forms of the Hindu Goddess Durgā. While touring the temple, I learned that most of the villagers accepted the free daily meals that the priest and his cooks offered. This is the “Peace of the East” I had been seeking: Gandhi’s India of village republics where all faiths and all castes would be living in peace and harmony.

When I returned to my faculty hostel at Punjab University, I noticed that everyone was gathered around the TV. There was dramatic footage of Hindu militants, using pick axes, sledge hammers, and bare hands, destroying the Babri Mosque in the North Indian city of Ayodhya. Local police stood by passively, and, by the time the army was called in, the mosque lay in ruins. Hindus had long held a deep-seated grievance at this site, because it was allegedly the birth place of Rāma, the divine king celebrated in the grand epic Rāmāyaṇa. In 1528 a Muslim general Mir Banki destroyed the temple at the site, and on it he built the Babri mosque to honor the first Mughal Emperor Babur. Hindu nationalists had given clear warning that Mughal monuments, including the Taj Mahal, were on their hit list. After the Ayodhya incident, I was now fully aware of the dangers of Hindu fundamentalism, and in the aftermath of the destruction of the Babri Mosque, 2,000 (mostly Muslims) lost their lives in sectarian violence across India. Ironically, before I left Bangalore in Karnataka state for my stay in Chandigarh, I was warned not to travel there because of Sikh militants, but after the destruction of the mosque, the Punjab was one of the few states in India that did not have any Ayodhya-related deaths.  In Karnataka, however, 78 were killed and 33 deaths were due to direct fire from police.

When visiting temples all over India, I was surprised to see Vaiṣṇava sādhus inside Śiva temples and vice versa, but that was only because of my knowledge of sectarian conflict in the Abrahamic tradition. Many conservative Euro-American Catholics and Protestants would still not visit each other’s churches even today. Further research, however, led me to the history of armed ascetics in India, who especially active during the last half of the 18th Century. In 1766 the British were defeated by armed ascetics in the Bengali district of Dinhata, and they played, and they played a key role in the Sepoy Uprising of 1857. Most people know of sādhus from videos of the triennial kumbh mela, the ritual bathing, the sādhus having first “dip,” in the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers. Even today some of the ascetics are armed with weapons: trisuls (Śiva’s trident), chimtas (long metal tongs), and swords; and as recent as the 1954 kumbh mela, some sādhus killed a number of pilgrims with their chimtas. (As with Sikh swords, the antiques of these weapons are displayed at kumbh melas and worshipped as deities.)  Vaiṣṇava and Śaivite sādhus have also warred against one another over the centuries. The Śaivites had the upper hand in the 17th and 18th Centuries, and William Pince explains that Śaivite “Gosains would retain control of the Hardwar festival, including the right to tax pilgrims, police the gathering, and dispense justice, until 1796.”[viii] The Vaiṣṇava sādhus dominated the kumbh mela in the 19th Century and British forces had to intervene frequently to separate the combatants. At the kumbh mela at Ujjain in 1826, the Śaivite sādhus suffered, as Pince phrases it, “utter defeat and the plunder of their monasteries and temples in the vicinity of that city at the hands of the Vaiṣṇava bairagis.”[ix]

My naive thesis of peaceful Asians was dissolving before my eyes.  Later I would read about Zen soldiers in Imperial Japan and Buddhist militants in contemporary Sri Lanka. More recently my research uncovered violent lamas in Bhutan and Tibet.  The greatest surprise of all was 1,000 years of “war” magic in Tibet and the use of military and tantric weapons by Bhutan’s Shabdrung. And now with Buddhist attacks against Muslims in Burma (now called Myanmar), I am forced to conclude that Buddhism was the Asian religion that had the worst record of religiously motivated violence. However, as I demonstrate in chapter 9, the Taiping Christians have the world record for the number of religious killings by one single sect.  From 1850-1862 an estimated 20 million Chinese died in the brutal Taiping campaigns.

Bhutan, Burma, Nepal, and Thailand: Does Monarchy Make a Difference?

In a remarkable statement (the second epigraph above), one that would, hypothetically, have precluded his wise and enlightened guidance of the Tibetan people, the current Dalai Lama believes that it would have been better for the Sixth Dalai Lama to have disrobed and had become king of Tibet.  As we shall see in chapter 5, the recent Bhutanese monarchs have been arguably the most righteous Dharma Kings since Indian King Aśoka (304-232 BCE). They stand in stark contrast to the first Shabdrung (the Bhutanese equivalent of the Dalai Lama) and his use of both military and magical means to wreak havoc on his internal and external enemies in the 17th Century. (The alleged magical results—disease, snow storms, etc.—were obviously natural events, but the intentions by these Tibetan and Bhutanese lamas and monks were nonetheless violent.) I have devoted entire chapters to history of the Burmese and Sri Lankan kings and the relatively harmonious relations they had with their Christian, Muslim, and ethnic minorities, and I will now discuss briefly similar developments in Nepal and Thailand. 

The 18th Century Hindu King Jaya Prakash Malla formed an intimate alliance with Nepal’s Buddhists by instituting the cult of the Living Goddess (kumarī). The story goes that every night the king played dice with the goddess Taleju (a Nepalese form of Durgā). One night the king made some sexual advances, and as punishment Taleju withdrew from his presence. She then declared that she would now appear only as a Buddhist virgin girl (kumarī) from a Kathmandu family that claims to have descended from the Buddha himself. Each royal kumarī has Shakya, the Buddha’s clan, as her surname. There are at least ten other living goddesses in the Kathmandu Valley, and ten-year-old Sajani Shakya the kumarī  of Bhaktapur recently lost her crown by traveling to the United States to promote a film on the Living Goddesses of Neapl. According to the priests of Bhaktapur, Sajani became impure by leaving her home and traveling half way around the world.

The royal kumarī  of Kathmandu would become, as the Emerald Buddha is in Thailand, the very seat of national sovereignty. Until the monarchy was abolished in 2008, the kings of Nepal, considered to be incarnations of Viṣṇu, were obliged to visit the Living Goddess for her blessing. One year the goddess placed the tika, a sacred mark just above the middle of the eyebrows, on the crown prince rather than the king himself.  Her act proved prophetic because the king died later that year. In 1999, during a short course on Hinduism and Buddhism in Nepal, I took my students to have darśana (a viewing of a deity) with Amita Shakya, who was very reluctant to come out and greet us. Our guide told us she always prefered, as we could hear clearly that day, playing with her siblings. The goddess did give the traditional blessing to King Gayanendra when he ascended the throne after the crown prince shot his father and six other family members in 2001, so it is unclear whether or not she now acknowledges the legitimacy of the new republican government.

The relative peace in Nepal’s religious communities has now been shattered. Hindu nationalist organizations from India have recently registered with the government, and they may have had a role the May 2009 bombing of Kathmandu’s Church of the Assumption. Two women were killed and over a dozen were wounded. An interfaith vigil was held at the church and Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims attended the service. At the scene of the violence the National Defense Army, a Hindu militant group, left pamphlets calling for the return of Hindu kings and the end to religious freedom,. This group was also responsible for the death of a Hindu priest in eastern Nepal in July of 2008.

In 1992 I visited Thailand for the first time, even though the U. S. State Department had issued a warning to tourists traveling there.  The military dictatorship had just been overthrown, and in the previous protests 52 had been killed and hundreds wounded. Later investigations revealed that many protesters, mostly students, had been tortured and/or “disappeared.” The Buddhist King Rama IX—U. S. born, Swiss educated, and the world’s richest and longest living monarch—intervened and insisted that General Suchinda Kraprayoon and opposition leader Chamlong Srimuang put an end to the hostilities. In a demonstration of ultimate respect for the royal office, both men prostrated themselves at the feet of the king.  Everywhere I went in the country I experienced incredible national pride and faith in their monarch to bring peace and democracy to the Thai people. Americans are still well received, even though previously the U. S. kept the military rulers in power, primarily so the U. S. Air Force could use Thai air bases during the Vietnam War. U.S. fighter-bombers from nine Thai bases delivered 80 percent of the ordnance dropped on Vietnam.

Rama IX has now lost his credibility and role as mediator among Thai political factions because in 2010 he sided with the pro-monarchy “Yellow Shirts.”  This faction forced a very popular Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra into exile, and his “Red Shirt” supporters led nation- wide protests calling for his return. Early on Red Shirt demonstrations were peaceful, even festive, and one leader’s Gandhi T-shirt was a constant reminder that the protests were supposed to be non-violent. When the army moved in to break up their encampment on April 10, 23 people were killed and about 400 wounded. (The final death toll from the protests was 88 with over 1,800 wounded.) The king now finds his closest allies in the military and business community, and he now faces Thaksin’s sister as the duly elected head of government. With regard to the Buddhist-Muslim violence in Southern Thailand, Thaksin was severely criticized in 2004 for the brutal tactics that the Thai army used to put down the Muslim insurgency.

In his field work in Southern Thailand, German social anthropologist Alexander Horstmann has found that there was, in the Thai-speaking provinces, a premodern, precolonial harmony between the Buddhists and Muslims living there. Their “inter-confessional relations” were such that “30 years ago, it was hardly possible to distinguish Buddhist and Muslims according to their dress or houses.”[x] Although Horstmann does not use the term “premodern,” his description of the situation fits the definition perfectly:

In the Thai-speaking parts, Buddhists and Muslims share a homologous structure and do not differ in the political, economic or social sphere. Social relations are organized according to local parameters of reciprocity and redistribution, whereas the integration of the stranger in local systems of exchange provides a crucial mechanism for the integration of the other within the self.[xi]

Horstmann found a very different situation in the Muslim-speaking provinces: “While Buddhists and Muslims coexist harmoniously in the [Thai-speaking] provinces . . . and relations are characterized by ritual exchange, no such relations could ever develop in Patani, Yala and Narathiwat, where Southern Thai Buddhists settled in the wake of state military intrusion into Malay systems.”[xii] Horstmann also discovered something else significant: “Malay-speaking Muslims often regard Thai-speaking Muslims as inferior and complain that Thai-speaking Muslims would eat unclean food, neglect the mosque and prayers.”[xiii] The parallels to Burma are instructive: some international jihadists are hesitant about coming to the aid of their Burmese brethren, because they, too, believe that they are not true Muslims and that they have been polluted by Buddhist culture.

What distinguishes the Thai and Sri Lankan conflicts from the current Burmese violence is that both the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Southern Thai Muslims have waged war against the government. (Significantly, Thai-speaking Muslims in syncretistic southern Songkla have not joined the insurgency.) Understandably, those governments can justify their actions on the principle of self-defense. In Burma the Muslims have, by and large, not provoked the violent response they have experienced. Furthermore, the religious motivations are far less clear in Southern Thailand than in Sri Lankan or Burma. Many Muslims are not anti-Buddhist; rather, as it was described by Don Pathan, “our citizenship shouldn’t come at the expense of my identity.”[xiv] What distinguishes Sri Lankan and Burmese Buddhists from their Thai counterparts is that only some Southern Buddhists have formed armed resistance against the Muslims in their provinces. About 5,000 lives have been lost since 2004, and Buddhist temples have become armories that supply Buddhist militias, which fight in concert with 30,000 Thai soldiers. “Yet,” as The Economist reports, “it is remarkable that the armed struggle has aroused no wider Buddhist backlash against the Muslim minority in the rest of the country.” The anonymous author offers a reason: “Thailand’s Buddhist structure is more hierarchical. The monarch and the political establishment keep the monks on a tight leash.”[xv]  I would have had more confidence in this assessment 10 years ago.

In the course of this book we will see that British influence set the conditions for religious violence committed by Hindu nationalists against Muslims, Sri Lankan Buddhists against Tamils, Christians, and Muslims; Southern Thai Buddhists against Muslims and vice versa; Burmese Buddhists against Indians; and the rise of Sikh nationalists and fundamentalists.  (Further afield, Fiji has never experienced political harmony since the British brought Indians there to work in the sugar plantations.)  In 1906, in a typical divide-and-conquer colonial maneuver, the British, without consulting the people involved, took four northern provinces from Muslim Malaysia and gave them to Buddhist Thailand, and the conditions for the current violence there were in place.

Premodernism, Modernism, and Postmodernism: A Methodological Heuristic

In this book I will demonstrate that, except for Tibet and Bhutan, religiously motivated violence in Asia was rare before the arrival of Muslim armies and European colonialists.  I will further show that Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh fundamentalism is the result of a “reverse” Orientalism by which some thinkers, under the influence of modernist concepts, proposed theories of religious and cultural superiority by giving a racial interpretation to the Indo-Aryan hypothesis of European linguists. One of the defining characteristics of modernism is the tendency to dichotomize: to separate fact from value; to view religions as distinct from one another; and, modeling individuals as social atoms, to separate people from each other.  The existentialist alienation expressed in the works of Søren Kierkegaard, Feodor Dostoevsky, and Jean-Paul Sartre represents the extreme results of this social atomism and fragmentation.  Christian missionaries introduced the idea of one religion being superior to another, and Hindu and Buddhist intellectuals, reversing the direction of Euro-American Orientalism and, ironically, claiming Aryan superiority following the Indo-European hypothesis of European linguistics, reformulated their faith traditions in a modernist nationalist framework. (Under the modernist view, nations became social atoms writ large.)  It is significant to note that the Sikhs did not separate themselves from Hindus until the British praised what they mistakenly viewed as a Judeo-Christian monotheism in their scriptures.

Most Hindus and Buddhists who chose to focus on Aryan superiority also embraced a modernism that reformulated their religions as rational, humanistic, and even scientifically based.  Indian thinkers such as Rammohan Roy, Dayananda Saraswati, and Bankim Chattopadhyaya claimed that caste divisions, child marriage, idol worship were not part of original Hindu philosophy. In Sri Lanka, Anagarika Dharmapala, under the influence of theosophists Annie Besant and Col. Henry Steele Olcott, reformed Buddhism along similar lines. These modernizing trends in the late 19th Century produced at least two distinct movements: socially progressive organizations such as the Ramakrishna Mission in Calcutta and the first generation of Dharmapala’s monks in Śri Lankā, but also the reactionary Hindutva movement in India and an equivalent Sinhalatva in the Buddhist nationalism of Śri Lankā. In chapter 4 I will demonstrate that a similar development occurred in Burma.

In my work on Sri Lankan Buddhism, and the brief research I did on Thailand summarized above, I discovered that premodern forms of assimilating the other—primarily Tamils and the indigenous tribes of the island—proved far less violent than the judgmental and exclusivist views of Buddhist nationalists, who learned to dichotomize selves and others just as radically as Europeans did. As a general methodology for this book I will follow the constructive postmodernism of the Claremont theologians and the authors in the Series on Constructive Postmodern Thought at the State University of New York Press.  Explanation and applications of this heuristic are found most often in the chapters 2, 3, 4, 9, and most extensively in chapter 11. Constructive postmodernism represents a synthesis of premodern and modern ideas, focusing on the rejection of modernist dichotomies such as inner/outer, subject/object, private/public, religion/science, means/ends, and reason/emotions, while at the same time re-appropriating premodern ritual repetition, organicism, and holism.  Not all religiously motivated violence can be attributed to modernist dichotomizing (certainly not in premodern Tibet and Japan), but I am confident that I can demonstrate that much of it can be.

The answer to one methodological question is essential to the success of this book’s analysis: What constitutes religiously motivated violence? First, one can infer violent intentions from direct quotations. When Sri Lankan  Buddhist monk Elle Gunavamsa sings the following lines—”the sword is pulled from the [scabbard], it is not put back unless smeared with blood”—to troops as they went into battle against the non-sectarian Tamil Tigers for the defense of a Buddhist motherland, this is, I submit, religiously motivated violence. The material evidence—destruction of temples, scriptures, and other religious artifacts—is also solid evidence. Furthermore, there is circumstantial evidence that early tantric rites by both Buddhist and Hindu practitioners involved human sacrifice. Finally, even though many of the results of tantric rites against external and internal enemies of Tibetan Buddhist sects were storms, earthquakes, and disease, which we moderns would say were due to unrelated to natural causes, the lamas’ intentions were religiously motivated.  The violent consequences were attributed to the power of “war magic” and the will of the Bodhisattva Chenrezig (Avaloketiśvara, Sk.) and his attending wrathful deities. Hindu armies—in ancient times as well as even today—go into battle with the blessings of the Great Goddess Mahadevī.  (Buddhist militants in Sri Lanka also call on her power.) The parallels to Yahweh the Warrior are chilling, compelling, and instructive.[xvi]

From Mongols to Mughals: Hindu-Muslim Relations in Medieval India

The first chapter will focus on religiously motivated violence in India from the 9th to the 18th Centuries, moving from the Mongols to the Mughals. While the Mongols were brutal in their military campaigns, religion played no role in this horrendous violence. Even though Genghis Khan personally worshipped a sky god, the Mongol court was a model of religious tolerance.  All the major religions were allowed to build temples, churches, and mosques within the walled capital of Karakorum.  The Mongol Empire split into four parts: the Golden Horde of Russia, the Ilkhanate of Persia and Iraq, the Mughal Empire of India, and the Chinese Yuan Dynasty ruled by Kublai Khan. Kublai Khan’s brother Mongke invited all religious parties to a great debate at his imperial camp in 1256.  Although his household had converted to Buddhism, Mathew Kapstein reports that Mongke Khan directed “all to adhere to the vows of their own religions.”[xvii]

From the 10th to the 16th Centuries India was repeatedly invaded by Muslims armies, led first by Afghans and then by the Seljuk Turks.  Mass slaughter of natives and destruction of temples occurred during this early period and continued under most of the Mughal emperors (1527-1707), except for Akbar the Great. The religious tolerance of Genghis Khan returned full circle in the enlightened rule of Akbar, who gathered sages from all of India’s faiths in his court and even allowed the Jesuits to build a church within his compound at Fatipur Sikri. Akbar’s grandson Dara Shikoh continued his grandfather’s work until he was executed by his brother Aurangzeb, who retuned to the brutal suppression of Hindus. Dara’s dialogue with Hindu ascetic Baba La’l is a precursor for a form of religious pluralism that goes beyond tolerance to mutual respect. Affirming the value in other religions and eschewing conversation was later found in Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi. The latter proclaimed that “I have broadened my Hinduism by loving other religions as my own,”[xviii] and the former said that “the Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian.  But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth.”[xix]  Here is the Peace of the East, which has been shattered by centuries of violence, but can be regained and sustained by religious leaders such as Vivekananda, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, and now Pope Francis.

Hindu Nationalism, Modernism, and Reverse Orientalism

The most extreme Hindu nationalists believe that Muslims and Christians do not belong in their own country. Some of them even have plans to recover the original Hindu Empire, extending West into Afghanistan, extending North to recover Tibet, extending Northwest to Cambodia to recover the Hindu Khmer kingdoms of Angkor Wat, and extending Southeast to Java, where a Hindu-Buddhist kingdom once flourished, and finally to Bali where three million Hindus still live.  V. D. Savakar’s Hindutva (literally “Hinduness”) was published in 1923, but the ideas of Hindu religious nationalism go back to the beginning of the 19th Century. The supreme irony about Hindu fundamentalism is that its first writers were profoundly influenced by European archeological and linguistic discoveries.  For the first time Indians were able to see their country as a unified nation that gave birth to not only to the European languages but also to its first civilized peoples (the ancient cities of the Indus) and the world’s greatest religion, singular not plural.  Even Gandhi believed that Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism were not separate religions but forms of a universal Dharma (sanātanadharma).

Interestingly enough, both Indian nationalists and Europeans agreed on at least one proposition: Hindu civilization was indeed corrupt and suffering a long decline, but Hindu fundamentalists believed that the solution to that problem was not Christian capitalism; rather, it was the recovery of a glorious Hindu past about which European linguists and archaeologists had confirmed. Indian nationalists did admit that they had to address some problems that it crept in during a long period of decline: caste discrimination, widow remarriage, untouchability, and child marriage.

One of the most dramatic examples of these views came from Baj Narain Bose, who waxed eloquent as follows: “The noble and puissant Hindu nation rousing herself after sleep, and rushing headlong towards progress with divine prowess.  I see this rejuvenated nation again illuminating the world by her knowledge, spirituality and culture, and the glory of the Hindu nation again spreading over the whole world.”[xx] Bose was insistent that the Hindu Motherland could have no place for Muslims (now 177 million) or Christians (now 24 million) because their religions were alien to India. Religiously motivated violence in the Indian Sub-Continent was rare until Muslims came in the 12th Century and the Portuguese and Dutch came in the 16th Century.  It is significant that Hindus did not attack Muslims or Christians until centuries of resentment boiled over and until they started thinking like Muslim and Christian fundamentalists.

            In early 2002 the prosperous state of Gujarat experienced extensive sectarian violence in which upwards of 2,000—mostly Muslims—suffered deaths by burning, hacking, and occasional gun fire.  Over the last fifty years in India, according to Bikhu Parekh,[xxi] Gujarat has averaged the highest number of deaths from sectarian violence per capita. There is now solid evidence that as early as November 2001 various Hindu nationalist organizations—the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), its youth group Bagrang Dal, and the Rashtriya Swayamsek Sangh (RSS)—distributed weapons (mainly swords and tridents, the god Śiva’s three-tipped spear) to thousands of people for a campaign to protect Hindus from Muslim terrorists.  Parades of armed men took place in many cities with officials from the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) presiding. In early 2002 there were reports of a severe shortage of LPD gas cylinders, and this hoard of ready-made bombs were used later to destroy hundreds of Muslim homes, shops, and mosques.  Much like the marking of Israelite homes in Egypt before the Exodus, Hindu homes in Gujarat’s Dahod district were flying the Hindu nationalist saffron flag as a list of Muslim homes and shops was published in many newspapers. A VHP leader was touring Gajarat’s Dahod district saying: “These Muslims do not allow the mandir (the Rāma temple at Ayodhya). They should be killed.”[xxii]

            Then, on February 27, 2002, after all these preparations had been made, a fire consumed two coaches on the Sabarmati Express at the Godhra station in Dahod district. Most of those burned alive were Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya, where a temporary temple to Rāma had been set up after the Babri Mosque was destroyed. Hindu nationalists claimed that Muslims set the fire, but every single investigation, except one done by the state BJP government, concluded that the fire was an accident caused by a stove on one of the coaches. Nevertheless, in February 2013, 31 Muslims were convicted in a Gujarati court for setting the fire and 11 of them are due to be executed.

Premodern Harmony, Modern Buddhist Nationalism, and Violence in Sri Lanka

Recently the Sri Lankan  people have witnessed more religious violence than ever before. It has spread from the conflict with the Tamil Tigers to Buddhist attacks on Muslims and Christians, and now counter attacks by aggrieved Muslims.  During 2003-04, 165 Sri Lankan  Christian churches were attacked, resulting in the complete destruction of some, the stoning of parsonages, the smashing of statues, and the burning of Bibles and hymnals.  Sri Lanka  has the largest percentage of Christians in South Asia, and 25 percent of those are Tamils. (The father of Tamil nationalism was a Malaysian Christian by the name of J. V. Chelvanayakam.) Christians say that one reason they are being targeted is that they are accused of being Tamil sympathizers. The other reason is that Protestant Christian missionaries have had considerable success in recent years, which has led to Buddhist charges of unethical conversions.  One website claims that Evangelicals and Pentecostals have increased from 50,000 to 240,000 since 1980.  The missionaries can claim that they are simply making up for lost ground because, before the rise of neo-Buddhism in the late 19th Century, there were many more Christians on the island.

            Following the lead of Hindu fundamentalists, who have passed anti-conversion laws in six Indian states, Buddhist legislators have drafted a similar bill that would outlaw the conversion, “by the use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means,” of a person from one religion to another.  Some Buddhist extremists have spread rumors that Christians had assassinated the Buddhist monk who initiated the bill, even though an autopsy showed that he had died of a heart attack.  Sri Lankan  police have been criticized for being slow in making arrests and for dismissing the attackers as mere drunks, but some observers suspect that they are encouraged by radical elements of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), a socialist party that has supported a strong nationalist platform for decades.

Burmese Nationalisms and Buddhist Attacks on Muslims

As I was finishing this book, religiously motivated violence against Muslims broke out in Burma. (I will follow Antony Copley in using the geographic designation “Burma,” because the new name “Myanmar,” which historically just covered that part of the country where most of the Buddhists live, is excessively nationalistic as it excludes 32 percent of population.) The Venerable Ashin Wirathu, abbot of the 2,500-strong Ma Soeyein Monastery, calls himself the “Burmese bin Laden,” and he has been preaching incendiary sermons against Muslims.  He is calling for a boycott of Muslim businesses, a ban on interfaith marriages to preserve “racial purity,” and the prosecution of forced conversions to Islam. He accuses Muslims of being “crude and savage” and having raped Buddhist women and girls. In an interview with Tin Aung Kyaw, Wirathu declared: “Muslims are like the African carp. They breed quickly and they are very violent and they eat their own kind.”[xxiii] Incredibly enough, Wirathu has a strong following among students and professors at the nation’s Buddhist universities.

Wirathu’s sermons have inspired armed Buddhists to kill Muslims and burn their businesses and mosques. Pogroms against Muslims have been happening consistently since 2001, but earlier the army launched its own attack on Muslims in 1978, and, according to the Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence, “scores of people were killed, raped, looted, and arrested.”[xxiv] The targets then and now are Muslims in Rakhine (formerly Arakan) state, adjacent to Muslim Bangladesh, where 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims live.  The Burmese government has denied citizenship to those Muslims who are unable to offer the nearly impossible proof that their ancestors were in the country before 1823. The current round of sectarian violence has claimed the lives of at least 240 and left 140,000 Muslims homeless. In the town of Meikhtila a Thai newspaper reports: “For three days, security forces let roaming gangs of armed Buddhists burn down nearly 1,000 buildings, including mosques, Muslim-owned businesses and houses.”[xxv] Even though his government issued a report condemning “ethnic hatred” against Muslims, Burmese President Thein Sein has defended Wirathu.

Buddhism in Bhutan: From Violent Lamas to Peaceful Kings

It is not an exaggeration to say that Bhutan’s 20th Century monarchs were true Dharma Kings (charkravartins), the virtuous leaders envisioned by the Buddha himself. The same cannot be said, however, of major Bhutanese lamas, who waged sectarian war and supported expansionary military campaigns. Bhutan was never dominated by the Gelugpas (popularly known as the Tibetan “Yellow Hats”), except for some monasteries in the country’s east.  It had, however, been early on the home of the Nyingma School (the original “Red Hats”), established by Indian guru Padmasambhava, and later it was dominated by a Kagyu Tantric sect called the Druk.

The verdant landscape of Bhutan is sometimes broken with the appearance of dzongs, massive structures that serve as monasteries, administrative centers, and not too long ago, fortresses. They provided the main defense against invading Tibetan armies, the first wave sent by rival Kagyupas and the second by the Gelugpas, most often under the Fifth Dalai Lama. Internally, the first Shabdrung, the Bhutanese equivalent of the Dalai Lama, persecuted all Buddhist sects except the Nyingmapas. Today the Bhutanese boast that they were never conquered by the Tibetans, but the actual truth is that they finally, after courageously fending off at least nine invasions, surrendered to Tibetan dominance in 1730 when Tibetan forces installed Jimmy Dakar as the second Shabdrung. They never, however, submitted to the Tibetans original goal—namely, conversion to the Gelug section. The Bhutanese waged war against Hindus to the south in 1676, and in same year and again in 1740 their military forces invaded Buddhist Sikkim because of an incarnational dispute. The Buddhists in Sikkim there were of the same Kagyu tantric sect as the Bhutanese. We will see that conflict over incarnational succession has been pervasive in Tibetan and Bhutanese Buddhism.
            The general justification for the Bhutanese Buddhist use of violence was the same as those found in the Abrahamic religions: it is God’s will as found in prophetic oracles and religious texts. The oracles, proclaimed from in a trance state, were considered to be the prophetic words of the Buddha (Buddha-vacca). Commenting on Buddhism in Bhutan, John Ardussi notes the biblical parallel: “In the extreme were certain itinerant prophets who, like their biblical counterparts, sometimes described their visions in voices deemed too politically strident, becoming thereby the targets of imprisonment or assassination.”[xxvi]  Bhutanese lamas—sometimes joining together in a mass ritual—used tantric “war magic” to subdue their enemies, both internal and external.  The Shabdrung’s rituals were so powerful and destructive that the Tibetans made a moratorium on his war magic a condition for peace treaties with Bhutan.

“Compassionate” Violence in Tibet: 1,000 Years of “War” Magic

In his book Taming the Demons: Violence and Liberation in Tibetan Buddhism, Jacob Dalton traces the use of violent tantric rites during Tibet’s “Dark Ages,” the time between the end of the reign of three Dharma Kings in 840 CE to the coming of Indian monk Atiśa in 1054 CE. Dalton argues that, contrary to traditional views, this period was a time of religious innovation and experimentation. Dalton’s translation of a 9th Century tantric text The Compendium of Intentions Sūtra contains the longest version of the taming of the Hindu deity Rudra/Śiva by wrathful Buddhas. Over the centures high lamas would use tantric “war” magic with devastating effect against their enemies, primarily other Tibetan Buddhist sects. Religiously motivated violence among Tibetan Buddhists has occurred as recently as February 1997, when Lobsang Gyatso and two of his students were murdered by fundamentalist  Gelug lamas. Tantric “liberation” rites are still practiced today at the Namdroling monastery in South India, where an effigy of Rudra is destroyed in the traditional cham dances. The enemy here is of course the Lord Śiva, and it is not difficult to view this as part of a religious war against Hinduism. Theoretically, we will show that this justification of violence goes back to the early Mahāyānist Skill-in-Means Sūtra in which the Bodhisattva may use “preemptive strikes” against evil doers out of compassionate concern for both them and their potential victims. It is significant to note that, while Tibetan Buddhist sects warred on one another over the centuries, they lived in relative harmony with Muslims traders in their midst. This is quite remarkable considering the fact that in 1546 a Muslim army under Haydar Mirzā slaughtered Tibetan Buddhists in Ladakh. According to Hydar himself, “not one of these bewildered people escaped,” and the Tibetan chief Burkāpa “was slain together with all his men; their heads formed a lofty minaret—and the vapour from the brains of the infidels of that country ascended to the heavens.”[xxvii] During the reign of the Fifth Dalai Lama, only a century after this massacre, Muslims traders from Kashmir and Ladakh received a land grant for a mosque and a cemetery. They were allowed to govern themselves and settle their disputes according to shar’iah law. Many of them married Tibetan women (who converted to Islam), learned to speak Tibetan, and not only followed, but contributed to Tibetan culutre. The distinctive high-pitched lilting Nangma songs of Tibet are said to have originated with Muslim immigrants. Before the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959 there were about 3,000 Muslims living there, and they attended seven mosques and their children went to two Islamic schools. After 1959 most of Tibet’s Muslims left together with Buddhist refugees, and many of them have resettled in Kashmir and given Indian citizenship. According to the Islamic Research Council International, Muslim Tibetan Masood Butt now works in the Dalai Lama’s office in Dharamsala.

[diverse pigments]

used by the true Divine Painter for blending the colours and filling in the outlines

[of His picture of the entire human species]. If it be a mosque, the call to prayer is chanted

 in remembrance of Him. If it be a temple, the bell is rung in yearning for him only.

—Shivaji to Emperor Aurganzeb, April 2, 1679

The term “Mughal” comes from a mispronunciation of the word “Mongol,” but the Mughals of India were mostly ethnic Turks not Mongolians. However, Barbur (1483-1530), the first Mughal emperor, could trace his blood line back to Genghis Khan. The Muslims of Central Asia had good reason to hate the Mongols because they destroyed the Abbasid Caliphate when they sacked Baghdad in 1258. During the 300 years after the death of Genghis, the Mongol Empire had split into four parts: the Golden Horde of Russia (1242-1359), the Ilkhanate of Iran and Iraq (1256-1353), the Chinese Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) ruled by Kublai Khan, and finally the Mughal Empire of India (1527-1707).

It was Timur the Lame (known in the Europe as Tamerlane), whose “descent from Genghis Khan,” as Jack Weatherford says, was based on “flimsy evidence,”[34] who gave the Mongols the bad reputation that has come down to us. Virtually nothing good can be said of Timur’s conquests, and this fact has obscured the contributions of the Mongol Empire. While Timur tortured unmercifully and sacked cities indiscriminately, Genghis Khan abolished torture and formed alliances with people who did not resist him. As an orthodox Muslim, Timur thought that the Delhi Sultans had been very lax in enforcing Islamic law against Hindus and other non-Muslims. Just before his devastating attack on Delhi in 1398, he ordered that Muslim and Hindu prisoners be separated and then declared that “every man who had infidel prisoners was to put them to death.”[35] An estimated 100,000 Hindu prisoners were liquidated in one day.

Religious Tolerance from Genghis Khan to Akbar the Great

In addition to proposing the first concept of secular international law, the Mongols generally allowed complete religious freedom in their first hundred years.  Followers of Ong Khan, the adopted father of Genghis Khan, were Nestorian Christians, and these Kereyid Mongols easily assimilated Jesus as healer and shaman into their traditional beliefs.  Weatherford claims that “part of the attraction of the Mongols to Christianity seemed to be in the name of Jesus, Yesu, which sounded like the Mongolian word for nine, their sacred number and the name of Chinggis Khan’s father Yesugei. . . .”[36] Genghis’ four sons married Kereyid Christian women and there were many Christians among their descendents.  Even with this preference for Christianity, Ogodei Khan, Genghis’ son, allowed Daoist and Buddhist temples, mosques, as well as churches to be built at his capital at Karakorum.  Weatherford contends that Karakorum, where only one stone turtle is left after Ming troops destroyed the city in 1380, “was probably the most religiously open and tolerant city in the world at that time.”[37]  No court in Asia would exceed this religious tolerance except for possibly that of Akbar the Great, the truly exceptional Mughal emperor who welcomed all religions to his court and engaged their sages and theologians in friendly debate.

Genghis Khan’s own religion was shamanic with a focus on the worship of the sky, and this ritual is reflected in the choice of blue, rather than the Tibetan white, for the Mongolian Buddhist hospitality scarf.  He communed with this sky god before going into battle and before negotiating treaties, but at no time did he or any Mongol leader force this belief on others. For centuries armies have gone to war with the blessings of their respective deities; indeed, opposing sides sometimes asked for victory from the same deity. The focus of this book, however, is the violence committed for the purpose of converting the enemy to the conqueror’s religion, systematically oppressing those who resist conversion, and destroying their temples and religious artifacts in the process.

Religious persecution did occur during the short reigns of Buddhist and Nestorian Mongol rulers of the early Ilkhanate in Central Asia, but the tables were turned with the conversion of the Mongol Ghazan to Islam in 1304. Ghazan destroyed Buddhist temples and tried to force conversion to Islam on his subjects. Genghis’ grandson Hulegu Khan was the founder of the Ilkhanate and his goal was to take Baghdad, the center of Islamic learning and culture and seat of the Abbasid Caliphate. Hulegu’s mother and two wives were Christians and this helped him forge an alliance with Christian leaders in Georgia and Armenia against the Muslims in Iraq. As Baghdad fell in 1258, Hulegu ordered that the city be evacuated before the looting began. He sent in Christian troops to secure churches and their congregants’ lives and property, but many Muslim residents chose to remain. 

Weatherford describes the destruction that followed the fall of Baghdad: “The Christians inside Baghdad joined their fellow believers to loot the city and slaughter the Muslims, from whom they felt their salvation had finally come. Centuries of hatred and anger spilled out as they defiled and destroyed mosques, and turned many of them into churches.”[38] It is estimated that 80,000 people lost their lives, and the fires of the looting spread to consume the entire city.  As far as I can tell, Weatherford is the only scholar who emphasizes the fact that it was Christian troops seeking revenge who sacked the city. Other accounts also report that Hulegu’s troops slaughtered the people who did attempt to leave the city.

Contrary to widespread belief, most Muslims in India and Indonesia were not converted by the sword.  Some forced conversions did happen in India, but census data prove that most of these converts must have lapsed.  The most famous examples of reconversion were the brothers Harihara and Bukka, founders of the great Hindu empire Vijayanagar (1336-1565), who were said to have converted to Islam by Muhammad Tughluq in 1327. We will soon see that a recent scholar has disputed this allegation. The most striking example of mass reconversion happened in Mysore, where Tipu Sultan (1750-1799) required that all his citizens convert to Islam. Today only 5 percent of the people in the Mysore area is Muslim, while the adjoining Malabar Coast has 30 percent Muslims,[39] primarily because they as immigrant Muslims settled this area as peaceful traders in the 8th Century. With regard to voluntary conversion, one would expect a direct correlation between areas controlled by the Delhi Sultans and the Mughal emperors and the highest Muslim population, but census data does not support this reasoning either. The only correlation that holds is the discovery of higher Muslim populations wherever Sufis traveled on their missions. This explains the otherwise curious fact that East Bengal, far from the centers of Islamic power, is now the Muslim country of Bangladesh. Sufi missionaries were instrumental to the peaceful spread of Islam in Bengal, Indonesia, and Malaysia. 

Premodern Mutuality: Religion and Politics in Pre-Mughal India 

           Assimilation and accommodation, rather than destruction and displacement, are the terms most appropriate to describe the way in which Aryan warriors established their rule among India’s indigenous tribes. The resultant polity was a loose federation of tribes under the authority of a Hindu—sometimes Buddhist or Jain—king. This became the political model for Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms not only in India, but those transplanted in Śri Lankā, Malaysia, and Indonesia.  Drawing on his research in Śri Lankā, Stanley Tambiah states: “The polities . . . had central royal domains surrounded by satellite principalities and provinces replicating the center on a smaller scale and at the margins had even more autonomous tributary principalities.”[40] We will see in Chapter Three on Sri Lankan Buddhism that the cultural and religious mutuality that resulted can be described as premodern organic and holistic entities rather, than modernist thinking that dichotomizes and tends to make different peoples as alien Others.

The great advantage of such governance was the cultural and religious tolerance that it produced.  It also virtually eliminated the necessary of military occupation and other oppressive measures.  The aim of Aryan expansionism, as Herman Kulke explains, “was not the preaching of any revealed doctrine or salvation, but the ritualistic and bureaucratic subjugation and organization of the newly entered regions.”[41] He continues: “Although the relationships between Hindu society and the tribals was never without tensions, its generally peaceful character, especially if we compare it with the annexation of northern America by European settlers, was certainly one of the greatest achievements in Indian history.”[42] On the other hand, the principal liability of this use of “soft power” was that in the face of outside attack it was difficult to rally the provinces in the defense of the realm. This lack of loyalty to central authority would prove highly detrimental when Hindu India was subjected to repeated Muslim invasions.

In the wake of military conquest, Hindu kings typically formed political and religious alliances with tribal chiefs and priests. The result was rule by religious syncretism rather than the religious exclusivism typical of Christian and many Muslim governments. In his chapter entitled “Vaiṣṇava Influence on a Tribal Culture,” Surajit Sinha maintains that

the Vaiṣṇava gurus are. . . not concerned with replacing the traditional rituals of their clients; they are mainly interested in superimposing a few rituals of their own to make their presence as ritual specialists essential in the life of the Bhumij (tribe).  The Vaiṣṇava guru is not moved by a reformist’s zeal to save the heathen souls of his clients but he is very much interested in increasing the number of his clientele.[43]

There is a stark contrast between this process of cultural integration and the demonizing of witches in medieval Europe and the destruction of the indigenous religions by European colonizers.

It was primarily tribal goddesses who were appropriated into a Vedic religion that heretofore did not feature any dominant female deities.  For example, early inscriptions from the 5th and 6th centuries in Orissa indicate royal land donations to the goddess Maninageśvarī—Lady of the Jeweled Serpent—whose shrine was located on a steep hill at Ranpur.  A very respectful division of religious labor evolved in which the tribal priests were in charge of all rituals at the original idol, a formless round stone, but the king’s priests would perform pūjā at a mobile Durgā statue, which symbolized the Hindu appropriation of the indigenous deity’s power. The statue of Durgā (sometimes called Camunda) was placed near the indigenous idol, but always as a complement, never as a replacement.  As Kulke states: “She represent [ed] the real overlord of the state and symbolize[d] the unifying link between the rāja and the tribe since both of them are subjects of the goddess.”[44]

Over time, while indigenous cults drew kings to the countryside for worship, villagers were soon making pilgrimages to royal temples such as the one dedicated to Jagannath in Puri, which became one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Eastern India.  Kings such as Anangabhima III (early 13th Century) gained considerable fame and legitimation by sponsoring the annual cart festival that involved the direct participation of all the villages in the realm. As we shall see, both later Hindus and Muslims fought over control of the revenues of this sacred site, not necessarily for religious reasons but for financial ones. 

In terms of Per Otnes’ theory of Otherness, where selves and others are reconciled by artifacts, the Hindu temple during Muslim rule served as a mediator between indigenous tribes, Muslims, and Hindus. Stuart Gordon uses Otnes’ theory as a way to explain relatively peaceful Hindu-Muslim mutuality in Medieval India, proving that Otnes’ viewpoint “takes us away from essentialist problems of self and other, allowing both to be different, depending on the mediator.”[45] The concept of essential identities is a modernist idea that drove religions apart during the Protestant Reformation and caused horrific religious violence. Overcoming this essentialism is one of the goals of the constructive postmodernism that is the conceptual heuristic for this study.  Influenced by “process” philosophy, constructive postmodernism agrees with Gordon’s view that “sees both self and other as works-in-progress. . . [in a] socially constructed material world.”[46]

Hindu royal power was further enhanced by the practice of granting provincial land to brahmin families who then established Hindu temples in the countryside and also introduced caste hierarchy there. It was said that King Govinda IV of Rastrakuta gave brahmins 1400 villages along with large sums of money.[47] In many instances tribal chiefs were given kṣatriya status outright in return for their allegiance.  Although these Hindu kingdoms had far less central administration than later Muslim governments, the brahmins became the first Indian bureaucrats and they extended their power beyond their traditional religious duties. The brahmins were considered well suited for the job, and, presumably because of their spiritual training, they would have fewer temptations to draw unfair advantages from their political positions.

Both ritual and military violence continued to be associated with Hindu worship, but this was not committed in sectarian ways. As recent as early medieval times there are recorded instances of villagers, primarily pregnant women, who offered themselves as sacrifices to the king if he promised to worship their heads.[48] These early human sacrifices were gradually replaced by animal sacrifices, which are still regularly offered to Durgā and Kālī, primarily in Northeast India and Nepal. Hindu kings typically went to war only after offering goats and buffalo to Durgā, who, according to Hindu mythology, was a more effective warrior than the male gods.  Even today Hindu soldiers credit Durgā for their 1998 victory against Kashmiri militants (supported by the Pakistani military) in the Kargil region. (The battle cry was “Durgā Mata ki jai”—“Long Live Mother Durgā.”) When visiting Ladakh in November of 1999, I was the only non-military person on the Indian Airlines flight. On a hill near Leh, Ladakh’s capital, there was a Kālī temple that served Indian soldiers and their families. They were still holding positions on the Siachen Glacier less than 100 miles to the west on the highest battlefield in military history. Contrary to erroneous opinions, spread by uninformed radical secularists such as Sam Harris,[49] the four wars that India and Pakistan have fought were not religiously motivated.  The soldiers themselves may have been motivated by sectarian animosities, but the governments of both countries definitely were not.

According to goddess theology, even the male gods drew their power from the śakti of the goddess.  Whereas male power (tejas, vijra) is a zero-sum game—when the demons (asuras) had it, the gods (devas) did not—the Goddess shares her śakti power with all beings.[50]  Durgā pūjā is the only time of the year when all Hindus are allowed to eat meat, because ritual killing is religiously sanctioned and sacrificial flesh is not really meat. In addition, this festival was a prime occasion for the king to offer a “communion that bridges the gulf between the folk and the elite.”[51]

One legend from Orissa suggests instructive parallels to the Hebrew concept of Yahweh the Warrior, where the deity wins the battles rather than human armies.  When King Hatakeshavra was attacked by the neighboring state Khandpara, the goddess Bhattarika assured him that she would take care of the enemy soldiers: “I shall go in the disguise of a milkmaid and sell (poisoned) curd.  The soldiers (of Khandpara) will eat the curd and become unconscious.  Holding the sword, I shall kill the soldiers of Khandpara.”[52] If the Goddess is the leader of armies, then she is the female equivalent of Yahweh, Lord of Hosts (=armies). This was obviously violence sanctioned by religion, just, as we shall see, as the “war” magic of Tibetan lamas was. Using Mahāyāna Buddhist texts as their authority, the lamas, including early Dalai Lamas, said that their goal was not only to save Tibetan lives, but also, by means of “compassionate” violence, to prevent the aggressors from accruing huge amounts of karma.

Muslims Traders, Retaliation in 8th Century Sind, and Moderate Islamic Rule

            Let us now return to the first appearance of Muslims in South Asia. With the discovery of a 700-foot dock at Loath in Sind, the conjecture that ancient Indians traded with Western Asia is now empirically verified. Arab traders sailed in Indian waters long before the birth of Muhammad. They established themselves along the southwest coast, best known as the Malabar Coast, where, until the 14th Century, many mosques were found.  From there the Muslim merchants settled in Sri Lanka  (now 8 percent of the population) and finally Malaysia and Indonesia, the latter now the largest Muslim nation in the world.  Indian traders had already plied these eastern routes taking Hindu influence as far as North Vietnam.  The Buddhist-Hindu empires in Sumatra, Java, Malaysia reached their zenith in the 13th Century, and the spread of Islam moved eastward as rulers in Sumatra and Java were converted. Even so the merchant class remained predominantly Hindu and the island of Bali retains its Hindu culture and religion with amazing grace and integrity.           

In 708 a contingent of Arab widows and children were returning from Sri Lanka  where their husbands and fathers had lost their lives to disease.  They were attacked by pirates off the coast of present day Karachi, and the pirates were protected by Dakar, the Hindu king of the province of Sind. When Dakar refused to release the women and children, Hajji (661-714), a viceroy of the Umayyad Empire, sent three expeditions to Sind, the first two being unsuccessful.  Hajji’s forces, under the leadership of his son-in-law Muhammad bin Qasim, finally prevailed, mainly due to superior military equipment, including a siege machine requiring 500 men and the powerful Mongolian bow, plus superb leadership and unprecedented troop discipline. These military advantages would insure repeated Muslim victories over Hindu armies until the rise of Shivaji, the great Maratha military genius in the 18th Century. There were also religious advantages: congregational worship before going into battle, impossible in Hindu liturgy, and the concepts of military jihad were incredible morale boosters.

            Qasim and his army advanced as far north as the Punjab and was preparing to invade Kashmir when the new Caliph Suleiman recalled Qasim to Iraq. Suleiman hated Hajji, who died in 714, and Qasim was imprisoned and died there under torture. Aim’s successes were not only due to military superiority, but also due to at least three additional factors.  First, the largely Buddhist population of Sind was unhappy with their Hindu rulers and their ethics of nonviolence inclined them to welcome the invaders. Second, Qasim responded positively to Buddhist and Hindu overtures of surrender and thereby avoided unnecessary bloodshed and destruction.  This is all the more to Aim’s credit because his compatriots in the first two Muslim expeditions were dealt with harshly. The third reason for Aim’s success in Sind is that he found ready support among the lower castes, especially the Jats and the Meds, whose men bolstered the infantry of a Muslim army dominated by cavalry. (The Hindu king Chach [622-666] was particularly harsh on the Jats.)  For centuries caste discrimination would haunt Hindus and would motivate tens of thousands of Indians to convert to Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity.

            Qasim made another decision that would mitigate the oppression of Muslim rule in India for the next 800 years. When deciding among the four schools of Islamic law, Qasim chose the Hanafi school, the most liberal of the four in terms of treatment of non-believers.  The Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali schools all believed that non-believers in lands conquered by Muslim armies should be converted or be executed. The Hanafi interpretation of shari’ah permitted Qasim to treat Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains as zhimmis, as People of the Book, the same status accorded to Jews and Christians. That meant that they could continue to live under Islamic rule as long as they paid their religious tax (jizyah).  Zimmis were exempt from military service and this tax was payment for the security they enjoyed under Muslim rule. The fact that many Hindus volunteered for and even led the Mughal armies was the reason why it was not levied during the 106-year reigns of Akbar, Jahangir, and Shah Jahan. When the jizyah was decreed its collection was not consistently enforced or Hindus simply refused to pay it, sometimes even killing revenue officials. When Emperor Aurangzeb attempted to reinstitute the collection of jizyah in 1679, the Hindu warrior king Shivaji, in a famous letter of protest, reminded him that Hindus had served the Mughals faithfully and for over 100 years had not been subjected to the tax.[53]

            There were later Muslim rulers who were far more orthodox than Qasim, but they nevertheless allowed Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists to live as People of the Book. These sultans and emperors were restrained by the fact that, with very few exceptions, Hanafi clerics were their chief religious advisors, primarily because the Hanafi school had become dominant in Central Asia by the 12th Century.[54] But even if Muslims rulers wanted to force a stricter version of Islamic law on their subjects, they would have faced the sheer impracticality of forcing conversion, liquidating those refused, and ruling in the face of an angry and resentful majority. At the very most, Islamic rule in India was theocentric, but never theocratic. The fact that Hindus were allowed to rule their villages and settle all disputes according to their own law logically precludes the absolute and comprehensive rule of shari’ah that an Islamic theocracy would require. 

            Hindus and Buddhists were not only tolerated, they were also brought into Qasim’s government as trusted advisors and military officers, a policy what would continue under the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire. A Hindu prime minister made it possible for the imprisoned Arab widows and children, the main reason for Qasim’s invasion, to return to their homes. The Hindu Kaksa was the second most powerful Hindu in Qasim’s administration.  It was said that “Kaksa took precedence in the army before all the nobles and commanders.  He collected the revenue of the country and the treasury was placed under his seal.  He assisted Muhammad ibn Qasim in all of his undertakings. . . .”[55] 

In one instance Qasim went beyond the letter of Hanafi law by allowing, with the permission of the ulama of Damascus, a Buddhist temple to be rebuilt. Of the four schools only the Hanafi clerics forbade the destruction of temples, but they usually did hold that no new places of infidel worship could be built or repaired. Elaborating on the ulama’s decision, Hajjaj, Qasim’s father, explained that the Buddhists and Hindus “have been taken under our protection, and we cannot in any way stretch out our hands upon their lives and property. Permission is given them to worship their gods. Nobody must be forbidden and prevented from following his own religion.”[56] Yet another concession to the Hindus was that, out of respect for the brahmins, Qasim decided to give them 3 percent of his government’s revenues. These early generous acts would set a precedent for Muslim rule in India that discouraged even the most orthodox Muslim ruler from enforcing stricter religious policies.

            Hindu-Muslim Relations and the Jagannath Temple in Orissa

Let us now turn to the state of Orissa and focus on the fate of the Jagannath temple in Puri under Muslim rule. In 1230 King Anangabhima III consolidated his rule by declaring that he ruled “under divine order” and he was the “son and vassal of the Lord of Puri,” who now was the royal deity of Orissa.  Anangabhima proclaimed that an attack on Orissa constituted an attack on the king’s god. He was probably under considerable external pressure because of Muslim incursions in Eastern Indian. Earlier in the century the Delhi Sultan Iltutmish had conquered Varanasi, and he had continued the destruction of Hindu temples and idols that had begun under the first attack in 1194. A sign of Anangabhima’s determination to protect Hinduism culture is the fact that he named is new capital in Cuttack “Abhinava Varanasi,”[57] Varanasi being the holiest city of the Hindus.

            Hindu anxieties about further Muslim advances in Orissa proved to be well founded.  In 1361 Orissa was conquered by the Delhi Sultan Firuz Shah and he destroyed the Jagannath temple and the stone idol, but the indigenous wooden image of the deity was saved. The Jagannath cult at Puri remained officially inactive, but the rituals continued at regional temples or at secret sites. Hindu kings regained control of Puri in the 16th Century only to be attacked again in 1568 by the Afghan general Kalaphar, who managed to find the wooden image and have it burned. During this period, as Kulke explains, “more than a dozen times the priests of Puri had to hide the renewed image of Jagannath in the inaccessible mountains of south Orissa or on some islands in the Chilka Lake.”[58]

In 1590 the Mughals under the Hindu general Man Singh defeated the Afghan forces, but Singh he allowed them to retained control of Orissa except for the Jagannath temple. Akbar personally intervened to stop Man Singh from attacking Ramachandra, who had renewed the Jagannath image in his own capital Khurda and was hoping to reinstall it at Puri. Akbar’s actions were not based entirely on his policy of religious tolerance, but also because of the political advantage of controlling revenues of this pilgrimage site and legitimizing it by supporting a popular Hindu king. 

After the death of Akbar, Orissa again descended into chaos, but this time it was the Hindu Keso Das, appointed as governor by the Mughals, who attacked Puri, burned the temple cars and looted the temple treasury. The Jagannath priests were again able to hide the idol, but they were not able to reinstall it until Prince Shah Jahan gave them permission as he passed through Orissa in 1623.  As emperor Shah Jahan reaffirmed Akbar’s position that all temples were state property and should be maintained as such.  Richard M. Eaton states that by riding in the cart festival procession “Shah Jahan’s officials ritually demonstrated that it was the Mughal emperor, operating through his appointed officers, who was the temple’s—and hence the god’s ultimate lord and protector.”[59] Kulke also notes that Salbeg, a famous Muslim poet, celebrated Lord Jagannath in song.  Kulke summarizes 300 years of Muslim rule in Orissa as follows: “Despite religious fanaticism there were also decades of religious tolerance and mutual cooperation for the welfare of the country.”[60]

Emperor Aurangzeb thought that Akbar had gone too far in allowing new temple construction, because Islamic law protected only existing temples. In 1659 Aurangzeb defended the right of Hindu priests, against the desire of his own officials in Varanasi, to practice their religion in their traditional sites. Interestingly enough, Aurangzeb assumed that the priests were, in addition to their regular duties, “pray[ing] for the continuance of the Empire.”[61] Eaton has made an interesting discovery about why some existing temples were in fact destroyed even though Aurangzeb allowed them to stand elsewhere. Eaton found a number of temple destructions, some beginning before Mughal rule, that have the same pattern.  In each instance the temple was destroyed as punishment because of the disloyalty of Hindu officers of the Empire; the temple was state property and “as an extension of the officer” was “liable for punishment.”[62] It would seem, however, that the general Hindu population would not understand this subtle legal point, and they would perceive this act as an outrage against their religion.

Eaton also offers a new interpretation of Aurangzeb’s decree of 1669 that “the schools and places of worship of the irreligious be subject to demolition.”[63] Most historians have interpreted this as decree that was to be carried out across the empire. Eaton argues that Aurangzeb’s focus was actually quite specific: the emperor was responding to charges that Hindu priests had been teaching “false books” in Thatta, Multan, and Varanasi and that local officials should check to see if it was the case in other regions.  Eaton’s theory may explain the curious fact that Aurganzeb’s orders were carried out only selectively.

In 1692 Aurangzeb did send a direct order that the Jagannath temple be demolished, but local officers were bribed, and all that was accomplished was the closing of the temple, which was reopened after Aurangzeb’s death in 1707. In 1724 the temple was again threatened, but Ramachandra II faked a conversion to Islam and managed to, once again, hide the idols. A new Muslim governor brought the image back, primarily so the pilgrim tax would not be disrupted. The governor calculated that nine lakhs of rupees were lost during this time. Once again, economic and political pressures prevented even the most orthodox Muslims from fulfilling the requirements of Islamic law or complying with imperial decrees.

The Vijayanagara Empire and Hindu-Muslim Cultural Interpenetration

            There are many magnificent archaeological sites in India, but the ruins of Vijayanagar at Hampi are some of the most extensive and impressive. In its peak of glory ca. 1500, with a population of about 500,000 and 60 square miles in area, Vijayanagar was the second largest city in the world behind Beijing.  It was the capital of a great Hindu empire, 140,000 square miles at its apex, that ruled a large part of Southern India from 1336-1646. European travelers stood in awe of this great city and described in great detail its lush gardens and extensive water works. Even after its destruction by Muslim armies in 1556, a 20-foot stone statue of Narasimha, the man-lion incarnation of Viṣṇu, a full scale stone chariot with moving wheels, and many other marvels are still standing.
The land grant that made the Vijayanagar Empire possible was given by the Delhi Sultanate, and it has been widely held this happened because the Hindu founders Harihara and Bukka, two of the five sons of a warrior named Sangama, converted to Islam. The standard story is they went back to their Hindu faith once they occupied the land. Phillip Wagoner, however, has argued that this view is “a composite pastiche based on the modern historiography constructions. . .


are based on a wide body of disparate and contradictory sources . . . leavened with a strong measure of modern Hindu-Muslim communal sentiment.”[64] Wagoner’s strongest point is that none of the Muslim sources, those most likely to mention it, report the alleged conversion, and that the stated reasons for the land grant was that the Sultan was impressed with the brothers’ trustworthiness. There is in fact no evidence of any rebellion towards the Delhi Sultanate and the belief that Vijayanagara was a militant bastion of Hindu orthodoxy is a myth.

            Scholars have been hard pressed to explain why presumably these devout Hindu kings called themselves “sultans.” Ruling from 1344 to 1377 Bukka I had the following titles: “the prosperous great tributary, punisher of enemy kings, Sultan among Hindu Kings [hindurājasuratrāna], vanquisher of kings who break their word, lord of the eastern and western oceans, the auspicious hero.”[65] Puzzled by the phrase, Kulke proposes that Bukka is using the term “sultan” only to suggest that he is equal in stature to other Muslim rulers in India.  Wagoner disagrees:

both titles, “Sultan” and “Sultan among Hindu kings,” were used in a much more literal and direct sense as a means of proclaiming that the Vijayanagara ruler could actually be considered a Sultan, not in terms of relative political standing, but in concrete terms of substance and style. In particular, the title hindurājasuratrāna would have served to differentiate its bearer from ordinary Hindu (i.e., Indic) kings by signaling his willingness to participate in the political discourse of Islamicate civilization.[66]

The main focus of Wagoner’s article is an examination of the Sangama kings’ dress.  Not only did they call themselves “sultans,” they also adopted the same dress as their Muslim counterparts.  Wagoner is quick to state that he is not suggesting a Hindu-Muslim religious syncretism—Harihara, Bukka, and their followers remained devout Hindus.  Rather, he explains that

selected Indic cultural forms and practices were replaced in key “public” contexts
with analogues drawn from a more universal, Islamicate culture. . . not as some inevitable consequence of ‘the onslaught of Islam,’ but quite the opposite, as the result of conscious and deliberately calculated acts by creative individuals seeking to maximize their opportunities in an ever-widening world.[67]

A contemporary parallel would be non-European leaders adopting “suit and tie,” certainly not because they were inclined to accept any European religion, but only to “maximize their opportunities in an ever-widening world.” (Many women leaders wear “power suits” for the very same reason.) I now realize why some of my Indian friends (not all) are puzzledby my wearing Indian dress. I never thought that it might have lowered my status as a man and scholar among them. I will never forget the look of dismay on the face of the former editor of Gandhi Marg, when I entered a University of Idaho classroom in kurta pajama and sandals to introduce him in tweed suit, tie, and oxfords in 90 degree heat. I suspect that my students joined Professor Mahendra Kumar in thinking that I was acting rather silly.

            The Sangama dynasty started by Bukka and Harihara ended in a series of military coups, but Vijayanagara underwent renewal and expansion under the Tuluva kings. In 1565, during the Battle of Talikota, 60 miles from Vijayanagara, 80-year-old King Rāma Rāya led his troops onto the field against the Deccan Sultanates. His artillery was manned by Portuguese and Muslim gunners. The Sultanates had three times the number of cavalry as Rāma Rāja, but the latter had 40,000 more foot soldiers. The Hindu Maratha King Ghorpade provided most of the infantry forces for the Muslim generals. Defying contemporary sectarian perceptions of Muslim versus Hindu, military and political allies in medieval India crossed ethnic and religious divisions.  For example, in 1557 Rāma Rāja joined forces with the Sultan of Bijapur to attack the Golkonda Sultanate. Earlier the Sangama kings of Vijayanagar allied themselves with troops of the Delhi Sultanate against the Muslim rule of the Deccan plateau.

In the first phases of the Battle of Talikota, the Sultanate forces were pushed back, but two divisions of Muslim soldiers under Rāma Rāya changed sides and attacked from the rear. The king was wounded by shrapnel from his own cannon and was taken to the Sultanate generals. They demanded that he convert to Islam, but he dramatically affirmed his allegiance to Kṛṣṇa. He was beheaded and the sight of their great leader’s head on a spear caused the Rāma Rāja’s troops to flee. An estimated 100,000 of his men died in the chaos of retreat. Both Muslims and Hindus joined in burning and looting the “City of Victory,” the literal meaning of Vijayanagara. The betrayal of Rāma Rāja’s Muslim troops is sadly ironic because the city was known for its large and thriving Islamic quarter and its tolerance for all religious sects. Until the 20th Century sectarian violence and the destruction of temples and mosques were overwhelmingly instigated by Muslims not Hindus.

            Recent scholarship has shown that personal identity and political allegiance among Indians up to the colonial period was primarily ethnic and social and not religious.  (In Chapter Seven we will learn that Sikhs self-identified as Punjabi Hindus until the British convinced many of them that their “monotheistic” faith was superior to Hinduism.) In a careful analysis of original texts Wagoner tells the story of a certain ‘Ain al-Mulk, who left the Bijapur Sultanate to work in the administration of Vijayanagara, where he was highly honored by Rāma Rāja. ‘Ain al-Mulk’s primary identity for modern scholars is Muslim, but his contemporaries did not type him according to his religion. Muslims such as ‘Ain al-Mulk were, as Wagoner explains, described in terms of “social class . . . mastery of military skills . . . and the ability to command economic and social resources.”[68] Wagoner states: “An individual’s particular religious affiliation and leanings appear to have been matters of little interest.”[69] He adds that Rāma Rāja started his career in the court of the Golconda Sultanate, which, as we have learned above, he made an enemy later in his life. Wagoner also relates that when in Bijapur ‘Ain al-Mulk made a donation to a Sufi shrine, but while in Vijayanagara he financially supported a village of brahmins. Finally, Wagoner analyzes the inscriptions in what appears to be a mosque in Vijayanagar. The patron is a Muslim warrior serving the Hindu king, to whom he gives the highest praises, but the building is actually called a “Dharma Hall.” In fact, the original scholarship on this building identified it as a Hindu temple. To my mind this is a superb example of religious syncretism, going beyond cultural and political accommodation that Wagoner found in the use of the title sultan.

Stewart Gordon, working with Maratha documents from the 18th Century, reports that other than the fact that some regions had Hindu kings and others had Muslim kings, none of the sectarian differences that led to tensions, conflict, and war in Europe are found in medieval India.  After summarizing various theories of otherness and alterity, Gordon states:

Both Catholics and Protestants represented all that the Other hatred, feared, and suspected.  Dress bifurcated, with Protestants favoring severe dark colors and white; Catholics favoring bright colors and as much finery as the purse permitted. Military alliances strictly followed religion; military recruitment largely did. Religious tracts railed against the Other. The Catholic index of prohibited books denied Protestant texts in Catholic areas. Towns and town councils were either Catholic or Protestant.[70]

We have already seen that official Indian dress was the same across the country, military forces were a blend of Muslim and Hindu, and a rich Islamicate literature developed across religious lines. 

Gordon submits that there is “no evidence of trade following religion,” as it did in Reformation Europe. His own analysis of records in the Maratha city of Burhanpur demonstrates no discrimination against Muslims as it passed to Hindu administration in the 1750s. In fact, Muslim traders still held certain advantages in Burhanpur as well as other towns under Hindu control. For example, Gordon found that “the ‘Musalman’ paid  2.5 percent ad valorem transit duty, while the ‘Hindu’ paid 5 percent.”[71] Significantly, Gordon adds that this is the only reference to Muslims and Hindus that he found in all the administrative records he has studied. The sectarian differences show up only in the titles of people who received government grants.  In 1765 the Hindu government in Burhanpur gave over a third of its religious grants (some 400 Rupees per year) to faqīrs, shaykhs, or qāẓīs. In addition to all the Hindu festivals, the Muslim holy days also received financial support from the Hindu government.

The only conflicts that appears sectarian were efforts, continuing from 1751-55, by the Maratha army to clear out the remainder of the Muslim resistance to Hindu control and to expropriate the land of Muslim army officers. Gordon, however, found that these actions were not religiously motivated because “many Hindu Rājpūt military grantees in the area were displaced with the same vigor and thoroughness as the Muslim grantees. . . . The Marathas simply could not leave heavily armed units residing in the countryside and have any hopes of establishing credible peace and tax collection.”[72] Gordon goes on to document several other instances in which the Marathas conquered Hindu areas in Mararāṭhstra and made sure that the dissident factions were neutralized. In the 1760s the Marathas attacked Hindu Rājpūt states—constant enemies—and followed the same policy of military security.

Shivaji Bhosale and the Maratha Empire

In the next chapter we will learn that the Hindu nationalist B. G. Tilak was responsible for resurrecting Shivaji Bhosale as a symbol for the preservation of the true and pure Hindu identity. Shivaji was most assuredly a nationalist, but his idea of a Hindu nation included all of its religions on equal footing, not Hinduism lording over all. We have just seen that medieval South India was a multicultural community of princely states where there was a rich and complex cultural interpenetration of Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jains, and Europeans. Just as in the Mughal and the Indian Sultanate administrations, Hindus and Muslims served with honor and distinction. They also joined European mercenaries wherever they found their own advantage and glory. At least 50 of Shivaji’s most trusted generals were Muslims; Darya Sarang was in charge of his armory; and Siddi Ibrahim was head of his artillery. Shivaji’s navy was led by Darya Darang and its sailors were primarily Muslims, and half of his cavalry was Muslim.

Although Shivaji was a devout Hindu, he, like millions of Hindus then as well as now, admired the Sufi saints and prayed at their tombs. During his wide-ranging military campaigns, no mosques were ever destroyed and very few non-combatant Muslims were molested or killed. Muslims were allowed to keep their land and businesses, and thousands of them, as we have seen, joined his military forces. After Shivaji’s troops would take a fort—hundreds changed hands during these years—there was no mass slaughter of the residents. After Shivaji’s famous raid on the English merchants in Surat, the French traveler Francois Bernier learned that he had commanded that the Catholic mission should not be attacked. Dutch traders, praised by Shivaji as “charitable men,” were not targeted, [73] because the expedition was planned, in addition to general plunder, to punish the English for sending an artillery battery against him during the siege of Paavankhin in 1660.  Shivaji held four British traders prisoner for about three years to stress the point that they were not to intervene in his affairs.

Let us return to Shivaji’s beginnings to see the full scope of this remarkable man’s career. Sahahji Bhosale, Shivaji’s father, followed the example described by Gordon above: a talented and creative Hindu who sought “to maximize [his] opportunities” in the wide world of the Deccan Sultanates and the Mughal Empire.  Until his death he retained his land grant and small army in Bijapur, but as an experienced military man Sahahji moved extensively in the service of various Muslim rulers, including the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. When Shivaji was 11 years old, he and his mother were sent to Pune, where he spent his formative years. In 1645, at the age of 15, he had already called himself “king” (rāja), asserted authority over a thousand men, taken one fort, and had built another. In a letter to a local Hindu official, dated April 17, 1645, Shivaji wrote that he and his men took an oath “that it is God’s wish that we should establish our own rule and be independent.”[74] In the Abrahamic religions acting on God’s commands in too many instances led to religiously motivated violence, but in Shivaji’s case it did not.

In April of 1657, Shivaji formed an alliance with Aurangzeb, a son of Emperor Shah Jahan, and as a gift Aurangzeb gave him new lands near Bijapur. Within a month Shivaji turned on Aurangzeb and attacked his imperial forces, captured forty forts, and soon had possession of northern Konkan, northwest of Bijapur. Aurangzeb was of course upset with Shivaji’s betrayal, but, as he was being recalled to the north, he could not mount an offensive against this rash rebel. He settled on a few raids into Shivaji’s territory before he returned to Agra. Aurangzeb mollified him in a letter dated February 24, 1658, in which Shivaji was allowed to keep the areas he had taken and most of the forts if he would provide 500 cavalry for his imperial campaigns in the north. If Shivaji agreed, Aurangzeb promised that he would “not take cognisance of your past actions.”[75]

On June 5, 1659, Aurangzeb was crowned emperor and he did not return to the Deccan Plateau for 24 years. From 1682 onward he would spend most of his time fighting the forces of the Maratha Empire that Shivaji had founded. From this secure base near the Sahyadri Mountains, Shivaji would wage both guerrilla and conventional war against Hindu and Muslims enemies for next 23 years. Aurangzeb referred to him derisively as the “Mountain Rat,” and he spent many years pursuing him. The Persian king Shah Abbas II wrote a taunting letter to Aurangzeb: “You call yourself Padishah, but cannot subdue a mere zaminidar like Shiva. I’m going to India with my army to teach you your business.”[76]

The Bijapur Sultanate, which still employed Shivaji’s father, was left to contend with the young rebel. R. D. Palsokar, a retired Indian colonel, analyzes the military strategy of Shivaji in terms of guerrilla warfare. “From now on Shivaji’s men could move freely amongst the people—like fish in water. The people supplied information, soldiers, horses, arms, money, rations, forage and shelter. Those who plied their vessels on the high seas joined his ranks and few his flag.”[77] From his many forts and mountain hideouts, Shivaji raided the lands of the Bijapur Sultanate at will.  An exasperated Sultan Ali Adil Shah sent a military force after Shivaji under the command of Afzal Khan, who called himself “destroyer of the kafirs and rebellious idol breaker.”[78] On his way northwest to the Konkan, Afzal Khan, living up to his iconoclastic reputation, destroyed a temple in Tuljapur, one dedicated to Tulja Bhavani, Shivaji’s mother’s personal deity, and another temple in Pandharpur.

Shivaji led the over confident Afzal Khan into a trap near his fort at Pratapgad. Maratha sources exaggerated the number of Khan’s forces—35,000 infantry, 12,000 cavalry, and 500 cannons—so as to embellish Shivaji’s reputation, but English sources more accurately indicate only 10,000 foot and horse. Khan’s soldiers were unwisely strung out along the Koyna River below the fort. After about a two months’ siege, Shivaji sent word that he wanted to parley, and Khan wrongly assumed that he was going to negotiate surrender. Khan agreed to a meeting at 2 PM on November 10, 1659. After some initial greetings Khan tried to stab Shivaji, but he, uninjured because of his concealed armor, stabbed Khan to death. Shivaji’s body guards overwhelmed and killed Khan’s attendants, and by dark the Bijapur soldiers, constrained by the narrow river valley, were soundly defeated by Shivaji’s men as they attacked from above.

After winning two more major battles against the Bijapur Sultanate, Shivaji had to contend with renewed attacks from Aurangzeb’s imperial army, which now joined forces with the Sultan’s soldiers. The Mughal general Shaista Khan used his superior manpower to his advantage and took the major city of Pune. When Shaista Khan moved out from Pune in 1661, Shivaji was able to win a major victory against him in the Battle of Umberkind. In response Aurangzeb sent the famous Hindu general Jai Singh against Shivaji and this time the Mughals were able to force Shivaji to sign the Treaty of Purandar on June 11, 1665.  The peace lasted only five years, and Shivaji returned to successful military campaigns and was crowned Mahārāja and Chhatrapati (“paramount sovereign”) in 1674. By 1680 the new Maratha Empire included the current states of Maharasthra, Karnataka, and parts of Tamil Nadu. In 1697 Aurangzeb withdrew his forces from the Deccan, and left the Marathas, under five more emperors, to rule over much of India until 1761.

There are indications that Shivaji’s troops did not always honor his orders to protect holy places and those who sought refuge there. In 1678 Maratha soldiers entered Bijapur and they looted the suburbs. As Sarkar reports: “Near the tomb of Shaikh Ahmad Khawas-Khani, [Shivaji’s men] killed Ali Raza and wounded Siddi Yaqut.”[79] As they reached the tomb of Ibrahim Adil Shah, the fifth ruler of the Bijpur Sultanate, they were turned back by Mughal artillery before they could do any damage. During the attack on Jalna in December of 1679, Shivaji’s troops did follow his command that no holy men be harmed, but they did wound and rob, in violation of the principle of religious refuge, rich merchants who had hidden in the hermitage of Sayyid Jan Muhammad.[80] These few examples of disrespect for Islamic sites pale in comparison to the great destruction of temples and general persecution of Hindus by Muslims over 500 years. Shivaji died of dysentery on March 24, 1660, and while Hindus then and now praise him as a great national hero, many Indian Muslims claim that his death was caused by the curse that Sayyid Jan Muhammad placed on him after his troops raided his hermitage in Jalna.

Religious Syncretism, Dara Shikoh, and Mutual Respect

It is a significant irony that the concepts for which Hinduism is much known and praised are non-Vedic and non-Aryan.  The law of karma, reincarnation, the practice of yoga, ahiṃsā (non-injury), the worship of major goddesses, phallus and snake worship are not found in the Vedas. The god Rudra is of course found in the Vedas, but the Śiva we know, merged in the tradition with Rudra, as sitting in the lotus position and as Lord of Animals is found as a Indus seal predating Aryan influence in India.  Scholars have speculated that the “Third Eye” of meditation can be seen in depictions of the Indus priests. We have already discussed the way in which an evolving Hinduism took over local goddess sites all over India and made them into various manifestations of Mahādevī. What happened in ancient India is the one of the deepest and most extensive exercises of religious syncretism in world history.

Religious syncretism has occurred wherever different religions have met, but the Abrahamic religions are generally loath to recognize the influences of other faiths upon them. This emphasis on a false revelational purity has unfortunately led to much religiously motivated violence on their part. Asian peoples have been much more inclined to accept others’ beliefs, and they, consciously or unconsciously, happily practice these mixed religious traditions.  The Muslim Meos, who live southwest of Delhi, not only celebrate Diwali and Dasehra, which are now national holidays, but they also observe the birth of Kṛṣṇa and honor the monkey god Hanuman.  So immersed are these Muslims in Hindu culture that many of them cannot recite the Kālīmah, the seven-fold affirmation of the Islamic faith. The Mina tribe, who live in the same region, are Muslims who worship Hanuman and a tantric form of Śiva.  North of Delhi there are Muslims who offer prayers to Kālī and Allah at their own household shrines. 

The Husaini brahmins of Gujarat, who take their name from Muhammad’s grandson Husain, consider the Vedic Atharvaveda their sacred book.  Mujeeb speculates that “it could be said that they were not really converts to Islam, but had adopted such Islamic beliefs and practices as were not deemed contrary to the Hindu faith.”[81]  Next door in the Pakistani province of Sind, Muslim followers of the Agha Khan consider him the tenth incarnation of Viṣṇu and their rituals contain an odd mix of Hindu and Islamic ideas. There is also the great faith of the Sikhs, which has been erroneously described as a mixture of Hinduism and Islam.  In truth the influences on Guru Nānak, inspired by the syncretistic “sant” tradition, were much more Hindu than Islamic. Images from Hindu mythology were painted on the walls of the Golden Temple in Amritsar until they were whitewashed by fundamentalist Sikhs.  Indeed, the Sikhs called themselves Hindus until the British convinced many of them to fashion their own, more militant, religious identity.

Even though Tipu Sultan’s attempt to convert Mysore to Islam was, in the end, a failure, the people there, as well as Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains across the Indian Subcontinent, have shown high regard for Muslims saints. In November, 2005, my Hindu host at the University of Rājasthan was most keen to take me to the tomb of a great Sufi saint Hazrat Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer. Emperor Shah Jahan prayed here for his first son and Prince Dara Shikoh was conceived soon thereafter. The most dramatic example of Hindu-Muslim cooperation is a shrine on a hill in Mysore dedicated to the Hindu sage Dattatreya. The Hindus in charge of the shrine could not stop bickering among themselves, so they chose a Sufi saint, Baba Qalandar Shah, to take over the rites at the site. Even though the service is a garbled mixture of Arabic and Sanskrit, pilgrims today still receive prasad, prepared by Hindu priests elsewhere, from a descendant of the Baba Shah.[82] It is instructive to note that, because of conflict among the various Christian denominations in Jerusalem, the Muslim Nuseibeh family has had the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher since the Muslim general Saladin chose them for the task in 1192.

The most deliberate intellectual attempt to bring Hinduism and Islam together was undertaken by Prince Dara Shikoh, older brother to Emperor Aurangzeb. After reviewing his luckless efforts as a general in the Mughal army and losing two major battles over succession to his aggressive younger brother, one could easily conclude that Dara was a much better philosopher and theologian. While an imperial official in Allabad and an initiate in the Qadri Sufi sect, Dara came under the influence of the Islamic pantheist Muhibullah, whose works Emperor Aurganzeb ordered burned. The first Mughal emperors Babur and his son Humayan were fervent supporters of the Sufi mystics. Babur penned the following quatrain:

Though I be not related to the Dervishes,

Yet I am their follower in heart and soul.

Do not say that the rank of king is remote from the Dervishes.

I am a king, but yet a slave of the Dervishes![83]

Dara’s spiritual preference for the Sufis had strong Mughal precedents. Nevertheless, he was severely criticized and declared a heretic by Sunni fundamentalists. Here are two specific charges of Mirza Muhammad Kazim: “[Dara] thought that their [Hindus’] books . . . were the word of God revealed in heaven and he called them ‘excellent ancient books’. . . . He spent all his time in this impious work and concentrated all his attention on the content of these wretched [Hindu] books.  In place of the sacred name of God, Allah, he adoptred the Hindu name Prabhu (master), whom Hindus consider a saint. . . .”[84]

Later Dara became a disciple of Hazrat Miyan Mir, a Qadri Sufi of Lahore, and he was the saint that Sikh Guru Arjan Dev chose to lay the foundation stone of the Harmandir Sahib, the “Golden Temple” in Amritsar. Sadly, Arjan Dev was beheaded in 1606 by orders of Emperor Jahangir after five days of torture. While pursuing his Sufi spiritual life, Prince Dara must have despaired of his brother’s persecution of Sikhs and Hindus. In 1675, when Sikh Guru Teg Bahadar agreed to accompany 16 brahmins on a quest to stop Mughal persecution of Hindus, they were arrested and commanded to convert to Islam on pain of torture and death. They all refused, and from November 8-11, 1675, Mati Das was sawn in half, Dayal Das was boiled alive, Sati Das was burned alive, and Teg Bahadar was beheaded.

Finding the pantheism of the Upaniṣads congenial, Dara translated 52 of them from Sanskrit to Persian, finishing the work in 1657. In order to accomplish this intellectual feat he learned Sanskrit and consulted with Hindu scholars in Benares, present day Varanasi.  He also translated the Bhagavad-gītā and the Yoga Vasiṣṭha. (A 1801 Latin translation of Dara’s Upaniṣads was one of the earliest introductions of Hindu philosophy to Europeans.) He conjectured that when the Qur’an mentions a “protected book,” which “none shall touch but the purified ones” (Sura 56:77-80), Dara is certain that the reference is to the Upaniṣads. (Dara entitled his translation of the Upaniṣads “The Great Secret.”) Dara thought that this theory was further backed up by the Quarnic declaration that there are no people “without the Book” (Sura 57:25).[85]

Seeking theological unity in the way that Shivaji and Guru Nanak did, Dara believed that God “dwells in the Ka‘aba and in Somnath [a famous Shaivite temple].”[86]  Dara was convinced that the Sufis and other non-Muslim mystics had discovered “the best path of reaching Divinity,” understood as a divine One. Using the principle of tauhid, which would strip away all of the contingent elements of culture, language, and ritual, Dara was convinced that Hinduism and Islam could be brought together in a grand theological synthesis.  His book Majma ul-Bahrain—“The Mingling of the Two Oceans [of Hinduism and Islam]”—was composed when Dara was 42-years-old and it best expresses his theological quest.

Dara’s most remarkable achievement was his seven conversations, held in 1653, with the heterodox Hindu ascetic Baba La’l Das of Lahore, who was profoundly influenced by the Sufi tradition. Dara’s sincere desire to understand Hindu philosophy is exhibited in the nature of his probing but respectful questions. Louis Massignon describes it well: “What strikes us most in these discourses is their tone; the exchange of trustful views, sincere and amicable overture, with no trace of sharp and deceptive verbal duels strewn with cuts, and dummy moves of an ordinary apologetic tournament.”[87] This does not mean that Dara did not object to some Hindu doctrines: (1) he does not believe in the transmigration of souls; and (2) he rejects the idea that Hindus must go to Benares (Varanasi) to order to secure liberation from the cycle of birth, rebirth, and death. The language of the dialogues between Dara and La’l Das is highly poetic, obviously influenced by the same sant tradition that began with Kabir and that is also reflected in the writings of the Sikh gurus. Almost without exception the theological questions are answered with rich metaphors and similies, which are sometimes quite obscure. For example, to the question of the difference between Islamic and Hindu scripture, La’l Das answers that it is the same as that between a king “when he ordains and the order he enacts.”[88] Dara asks his interlocutor to define dhyana  and samadhi, and a more analytic thinker might conclude that La’l Das does not actually answer the question by comparing the human heart with a captured gazelle, which gradually “acquires knowledge of the grain and straw which nourishes it.”[89] 

In conclusion I offer the conjecture that a natural Indian openness to new religious ideas convinced many immigrant Muslims that a life of peaceful coexistence should be the preferred option. The fact that Indian Sunnis have tolerated the presence of their Shia minority better than anywhere else in the Islamic world, and also allowed Sufi missionaries freedom to proselytize everywhere, are clear indications that Indians may have indeed taught immigrant Muslims the advantages of religious tolerance, and even more deeply, mutual respect. At the same time, credit must be given to liberal Muslims and Sikhs who were also naturally inclined to dialogue with their Hindu colleagues.  One is left to imagine what the course of Indian history might have been if Prince Dara Shikoh had ascended to the the Mughal throne rather than his fundamentalist brother Aurangzeb.

Chapter 2: Hindu Nationalism, Modernism, and Reverse Orientalism

I see in my mind the noble and puissant Hindu nation rousing herself after sleep, and

rushing headlong towards progress with divine prowess.  I see this rejuvenated

nation again illuminating the world by her knowledge, spirituality and culture,

and the glory of the Hindu nation again spreading over the whole world.

—Raj Narain Basu[90]

The foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and
language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must
entertain no ideas but those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture. . .
or may stay in this country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation,
claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, . . . not even citizens’ rights
—M. S. Golwalkar, We or Our Nationhood Defined[91]

These Muslims do not allow the mandir
(the Rāma temple at Ayodhya). They should be killed.

—A Gujarat leader of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (February 2002)[92]

It was state sponsored, state supported, and if eyewitnesses are to be

 believed, state directed. . . . What happened in Gujarat was not a “communal” riot

but an organized massacre of Muslims with the state’s active complicity and connivance.

—K. N. Panikkar, “The Agony of Gujarat”[93]

Dreams of a Greater and Purified India

In 1998 Hindu nationalists proposed that a new Goddess temple be built at Pokharan, 50 km from the site of the atomic bomb tests that were conducted in April of that year. According to their program this would be the 53rd example of Shaktipeeths (seats of strength, literally Goddess power) of Hindu preeminence.  (Another power center is the new temple to Rāma in Ayodhya, being built on the site of the Babri mosque, destroyed by a Hindu mob on December 6, 1992.)  Some suggested that radioactive sand from the test site should be distributed as prasad, the Hindu sacrament, but cooler heads vetoed that idea. Some Hindu fundamentalists also believe that ancient Indians actually possessed atomic weapons, which they call ”Om-made” bombs.

The Indian military helps to fuel this religious enthusiasm by having named its long range missile after the Vedic god of fire Agni. (Muslim Pakistanis countered by appropriating the power of the Hindu Goddess by naming their missile Gaurī, a name for the Goddess in Southern India.)  The followers of Shiv Sena, a Hindu nationalist party in the state of Maharashtra, proudly proclaim that, after the bomb tests, Hindus were no longer eunuchs and now could stand up to the world as real men. At the 1999 Durgā festival in Calcutta celebrants found new figures in the traditional tableau of the Goddess Durgā and her attendants.  They saw life size figures of brave Indian soldiers who won a victory in the mountains of Kashmir because of Durgā’s divine grace and aggressive action.  Hundreds of years ago Hindu kings went into battle only after receiving Durgā’s blessing by sacrificing dozens of water buffalo to her.

Another chilling experience is to read about the recovery of an original Hindu Empire, extending West into Afghanistan and Central Asia encompassing all Buddhist sites; extending North to recover Tibet, the original land of the Aryans according to Dayananda Saraswati, extending Northeast to Cambodia to recover the Hindu Khmer kingdoms of Angkor Wat; to  Vietnam, where Hindu temples may be found from the Champa Dynasty; and extending Southeast to Java, where a Hindu-Buddhist kingdom once flourished, and Bali where three million Hindus still live. In this connection one is reminded of Zionist maps of Greater Israel, or plans by some Calvinists for a new Confederate States of America where God-fearing Anglo-Celtic top males will rule their households and their nation of fifteen states.

The Origins of Hindu Nationalism: Rammohan Roy and Raj Narain Basu

The origins of Hindu religious nationalism are quite recent considering the long history of advanced cultures in the Indian Sub-Continent. V. D. Savakar’s Hindutva (a neologism for “Hinduness”) was published in 1923, but the ideas of this book go back to the beginning of the 19th Century.  The supreme irony about Hindu fundamentalism is that its first writers were profoundly influenced by European Orientalism and its archeological and linguistic discoveries.  The same Orientalism that gave Europeans the excuse to view Asians as effeminate and impotent, thereby lacking the capacities for self rule, was used by Indian writers to create a view of India as a unified nation that gave birth to not only to the European languages, but also to its first civilized peoples and the world’s greatest religions.  The idea of India as the cradle of civilization and spirituality is, amazingly enough, found in Voltaire, Herder, Kant, Schegel, Shelling, Hegel, and Schopenhauer. Some scholars argue that the Indian philosophy that we now know as neo-Vedānta found in Aurobindo, Vivekananda, and Gandhi, is just as much German idealism as Indian philosophy.

Hindu fundamentalists were flattered by Aldous Huxley’s idea of the Perennial Philosophy and its mystical monism, originally found in the Upaniṣads and only later, according to their views, spread to other cultures. Theosophists such as Annie Besant turned Orientalism on its European creators, claiming that what they perceived as weaknesses– namely, nondualism, nonviolence, renunciation, meditation, and tolerance were precisely what were needed for the salvation of Euro-American societies.  In the 1870s there was a concerted effort on the part of English theosophists to merge with the Indian Āyra Samāj (Society of Aryans) as part of Annie Besant’s vision of a World Federation of Aryans. Ironically, in another move of reverse Orientalism, members of Āyra Samāj vetoed this idea because they insisted that Indians were the only true Aryans. Interestingly enough, both Indians and Europeans agreed on at least one proposition: Hindu civilization was indeed corrupt and suffering a long decline, but Hindu fundamentalists believed that the solution to that problem was not Christian capitalism; rather, it was the recovery of a glorious Hindu past that Europeans had conveniently rediscovered for them.

Even before Āyra Samāj there was the Brahmo Samāj (Society of Brahmā, the Hindu Creator God) founded in Calcutta in 1828 by Rammohan Roy, who, although still preserving the idea of Vedic authority, developed a fully modernist—namely, rationalist and humanist—approach to Indian identity and nationhood.  Debendranath Tagore, father of the more famous Rabindranath Tagore, broke with Roy over the issue of Vedic authority, and another nationalist Keshab Chandra Sen proposed that Hinduism ought to be Christianized. The result of these developments within the Bengal Renaissance was a growing view of Hindu supremacy and exclusivity. One of the most dramatic examples of these views came from Raj Narain Basu, who waxed eloquent as follows:

I see in my mind the noble and puissant Hindu nation rousing herself after sleep, and rushing headlong towards progress with divine prowess.  I see this rejuvenated nation again illuminating the world by her knowledge, spirituality and culture, and the glory of the Hindu nation again spreading over the whole world.[94]

Basu was insistent that the Hindu Motherland could have no place for Muslims because their religion was alien to India. India’s religion should be a cultural Hinduism based on the Upaniṣads, but allowing for the mediation of the one true God by means of the traditional idols.  The Brahmo Samāj proposed to reform on the elements that had tarnished the image of Hinduism word wide: caste distinctions, widow remarriage, untouchability, and child marriage. 

It is significant that the Rashtriya Swayamsek Sangh (RSS), inspired by Mussolini’s Brown Shirts and founded in 1925 as a right-wing Hindu cultural organization, encourages Dalits to join. The claims of RSS political neutrality are suspect because most of the members of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) are RSS members. When Gandhi was assassinated by ex-RSS member N. V. Godse in 1948, then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru banned the RSS on suspicion of its role in the killing.  It had been previously banned by British authorities and then twice again after Nehru’s proscription: by Indira Gandhi (1975-78) and then after the demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992. Prominent Hindu nationalist V. D. Savarkar, who coined the term “Hindutva” (=Hinduness), was arrested as a conspirator in Gandhi’s assassination, but he was later acquitted at trial.

Dayananda Saraswati, Chandranath Basu, and Bankimchandra Chattopadhyaya

The Āyra Samāj was founded by Dayananda Saraswati in 1875 in Bombay, now renamed Mumbai, after the goddess Mumbadevī, because of the political influence of the Hindu nationalists of Shiv Sena. (There are also calls to change all English street names to Hindi and warnings against sending good Hindu children to English-speaking schools.) Dayananda’s philosophy is sometimes called neo-Hinduism or Semitized Hinduism, what I would call an Abrahamic Hinduism. Dayananda claimed that the Aryans originated in Tibet, a hypothesis that the Nazis tested by sending Ernst Schaefer and Bruno Beger on two expeditions there in the 1930s.  (The Nazis were also captivated by the bizarre idea that the Arctic was the home of Aryans, an idea promoted by Hindu nationalist B. G. Tilak.) While in Tibet the Aryans, according to Dayananda, purged themselves of inferior people (identified as the dasyus in the Ṛgveda) and then spread to the rest of the world.  In India they established the Hindu Golden Age described in the Rāmāyana and the Mahābhārata. This great age came to an end with the Bhārata War, the beginning of which is dramatically described in the Bhagavad-gītā and the result, according to the text, was over a million deaths. Hindu civilization then descended into a long decline that was exacerbated, according to Dayananda, by the pacificism and nihilism of Buddhism and Jainism, which were seen as failed offshoots of Hinduism and not separate religions from Hinduism.  Starting in the 11th Century, a weakened Hinduism was easy prey for the Mughal invaders and then British imperialism.

Dayananda saw the Aryans as paragons of virtue and the world’s first monotheists. Even though he uses the Hindu epics as proof of the Golden Age, he argued that only the Vedas and the Upaniṣads have religious authority. (Oddly enough, the members of the Āyra Samāj retained the Vedic fire ritual for their services.) He rejected the authority of the priests to interpret scripture and set himself up, in a way very similar to some preachers in the Abrahamic religions, as the only one that could interpret the Vedas correctly. He saw the Vedas and Upaniṣads as the literal Word of God and as the infallible text of the one true Hindu church, a concept alien to the Indian religious tradition, but one again very similar to the Abrahamic religions. Setting the stage for 20th Century Hindutva, Dayananda launched systematic attacks on traditional Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, and Christians.

Dayananda believed that the subjugation of women came with the decline of Hinduism and declared that this was a social ill that needed correction.  He also spoke out against the thousand plus subcastes (jati) that divide Indians according to specific vocations and prevent lateral movement in Indian society. With regard to the four main castes, Dayananda thought that it was a mistake to think of them as hereditary, a position that was an advance over Gandhi, who, while rejecting the oppression of the Dalits, still maintained the hereditary nature of the four main castes. After Dayananda’s death there was a campaign to reconvert Dalits whose families had gone over to Christianity and syncretistic Muslims who, because they so fully participated in Hindu celebrations, ought, according to Āyra Samāj, to return to the fold of the true faith.  This campaign of reconversion is still at the forefront of Hindu fundamentalist efforts today, especially among the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

A key figure in the transition from the Brahmo Samāj to the Āyra Samāj is Chandranath Basu, who is the author that coined the term Hindutva (Hinduness) and turned Hindu nationalism in a decidedly conservative and reactionary direction.  In 1892 he published Hindutva: An Authentic History of the Hindus in which he defended traditional views of Hindu ritual, caste, restriction of women’s education and civil rights, and the maintenance of male authority. Basu was firmly committed to demonstrating the superiority of Hinduism over Christianity, especially after the widespread concern that conversions to Christianity were increasing in the latter half of the century.

In the novels and commentaries of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya we see again the profound influence that European philosophy had on the rise of Indian nationalism.  Particularly important was the work of Immanuel Kant, Herbert Spencer, John Stuart Mill, and Auguste Comte.  Interestingly enough, Bankim’s early support for women’s equality, presumably under Mill’s influence, disappeared in his later works, which also contain stronger claims to Hindu supremacy and more stringent anti-Muslim comments.  He criticized Mill and Comte for their atheism and substituted Kṛṣṇa’s religion of love as the key to human spiritual cultivation and progress.  Nineteenth Century Indian nationalists were fully caught up in the idea of evolution and Bankim proposed that Hinduism was the perfect candidate for Comte’s idea of “positive religion,” the final stage of human perfection. Huxley’s Perennial Philosophy finds a new Indo-European home, but it has a new humanistic twist.  Bankim rejects both the abstract monotheism that he finds in Abrahamic religions and the impersonal monism of his own Brāhmo Samāj in favor of the divine incarnation of Kṛṣṇa as a human being.

In his novel Ananda Math about a sādhu rebellion in late 18th Century Bengal, Bankim glorifies the ascetic warriors who blamed the British for the great famine of 1772, and who fought valiantly against them. A song in the book “Bande Matārām” (Hail Motherland) became the first anthem for a great majority of Indians seeking independence. Here are excerpts from the original, translated by Sri Aurobindo, which emphasize the militant stanzas:

Mother, I salute thee!
Rich with thy hurrying streams,
bright with orchard gleams,
Cool with thy winds of delight,
Dark fields waving Mother of might,
Mother free. . . .
Who hath said thou art weak in thy lands
When the swords flash out in seventy million hands
And seventy million voices roar
Thy dreadful name from shore to shore?
With many strengths who art mighty and stored,
To thee I call Mother and Lord!
Though who savest, arise and save!
To her I cry who ever her foeman drove
Back from plain and Sea
And shook herself free. . . .

Thou art Durga, Lady and Queen,
With her hands that strike and her
swords of sheen, . . .

After the monsoon rains have ceased, Hindu kings, after sacrificing water buffalo to her, called on the Goddess Durgā to aid them in their dry season battles.  In 1999 I visited a Kālī in Ladakh, where Indian soldier’s worshipped before they were sent to fight Pakistani troops on the Siachen Glacier about 50 miles as the Hindu god Brahmā’s hansa (bar-headed goose) flies. These Indian soldiers were honored at Kolkalta’s 1999 Durgā festival. In a very unusual move, clothed unbaked clay statues of soldiers joined the other deities on at least one community altar platform.

The main character in Bankim’s novel Ananda Math is Satya, whose honorific is “Mahātma” (great soul). His name may have been chosen because satya is Sanskrit for “truth.” Mahatma Gandhi’s trained disciples were called satyrāgrahis (“those who have the force of truth). The following are illustrative passages from the novel:

Satya walked in the direction of the murmur and entered the jungle. There he found rows of men seated amid the dark shadows of the trees. The men were tall, and armed. Here and there their polished equipment shone brightly in the moonlight that filtered through the openings between the branches. Two hundred men were sitting in perfect silence.

Satya was looking for a particular warrior named Bhavan:

At last he found the man he sought and touched his body by way of command. The man at once stood up. Satya took him aside. This man was young, his face covered with a black beard and moustache. He was strong and handsome, dressed in yellow, the holy colour, his body anointed with sacramental sandal paste.[95]

Later Bhavan describes his real reason for committing himself to the ascetic life: “We are all ascetics, you see. But our renunciation is only for this practice. When we have mastered all techniques, and attained our goal, we shall return to our homes for our duties as householders. We, too, have wives and children at home.”[96] One might say that my thesis is not supported by this example.  Bhavan is motivated by politics, not his Hindu faith. As William Pince explains:  “This proto-nationalist imagining of the sadhu patriot would counter a British colonial representation of the ascetic as little more than a criminal disguised in ochre robes.”[97] As we shall see in chapter 4, many Burmese accuse their militant monks in the same way.

B. G. Tilak and the Resurrection of the Warrior King Shivaji

At the turn of the century one of the most important Indian nationalist figure is B. G. Tilak, whose importance and standing in the Congress Party was second only to Gandhi.  For purposes of our study of Hindu fundamentalism, Tilak was instrumental in inventing a powerful new form of devotionalism centered on the elephant god Ganeṣa.  Tilak’s strategy was calculated and very effective: the new Ganeṣa festival (first celebrated in 1893) would compete with the Muslim festival of Muharram, which Hindus had always attended.  Hindu nationalists in the state of Maharashtra were successful in creating a new division between Muslims and Hindus that would intensify decade by decade into the new century. The Ganeṣa festival in Mumbai is now so huge that it is common to see pictures and stories of it in the international press.

Tilak also resurrected Shivaji Bhosale, who, by the grace of his patron goddess Bhawanī, was, as we have learned in the previous chapter, by far the most successful Hindu warrior king against the Deccan Sultanates and the Mughal Empire during the 17th Century.  Hindu nationalists admire Shivaji’s courage and excuse the deviousness by which he defeated his Muslim enemies. Tilak instigated celebrations honoring Shivaji, but many of them in the 1890s turned violent.  These were the beginnings of the sectarian conflict that was to increase in the next century but was an uncommon occurrence in earlier times. Tilak used the Bhagavad-gītā to justify Shivaji’s campaigns against the Mughals, but also the violence that may be necessary to keep the Muslims of his day in line. Shivaji has become a hero and a model for a militant leader who will bring back the glory of all things Hindu.  It is significant, however, in terms of the historical Shivaji that while Muslims repeatedly declared jihad against him, Shivaji’s principal motivations were Maratha nationalism rather than a broader Hindu nationalism based on the concept of the Indian Sub-Continent as one nation and the idea of Hinduism as a universal religion.  Tilak also ignored the fact that Shivaji not only had Muslim allies but employed Muslims in his army and administration, demonstrating that his concept of a Maratha nation included non-Hindus as well. Nonetheless, the revival and revision of Shivaji’s reign resulted in a number of Shivaji societies that believed that violence against British rule was a religious duty.

Tilak was also involved in researching and writing about the origins of Hinduism and the Hindu nation. I have already mentioned his odd thesis, defended in a book entitled The Arctic Home of the Vedas, that Aryan culture actually goes all the way back to the last Ice Age.  Drawing on astronomical allusions in the Vedas, Tilak takes Vedic history back 8,000 years and argues that the Vedic gods were polar deities worshiped by arctic Aryans.  From all of his research he drew the same conclusion that many other 19th Century Indian nationalists did, and I offer this illustrative but problematic passage:

During Vedic times, India was a self-contained country.  It was united as great nation.  That unity has disappeared bringing great degradation and it becomes the duty of the leaders to revive that union.  A Hindu of this place [Varanasi] is as much a Hindu as one from Madras or Bombay.  The study of the Gita, Ramayana, and Mahabharata produce the same ideas throughout the country.  Are not these. . . our common heritage?  If we lay stress on forgetting all the minor differences that exist between the different sects, then by the grace of Providence we shall ere long be able to consolidate all the different sects into a mighty Hindu nation.  This ought to be the ambition of every Hindu.[98]

The sects of which Tilak speaks—the Sikhs, the Jains, and the Buddhists—are included, but only if they pledge allegiance to Hindutva (conversion itself is not mandatory).  Sadly excluded are India’s 24 million Christians and 170 million Muslims.

M. S. Golwalkar and the Concept of a Hindu Nation

            In 1939 Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, the second Supreme Chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsek Sangh (RSS), wrote a small book entitled We—Or Our Nationhood Defined, which was widely read in four editions until it was withdrawn from publication. Arguing from the modernist standpoint of Reverse Orientalism, Golwalkar claims that Hinduism is superior to Christianity because it, as opposed to Hinduism, does not “accord with modern knowledge,” and is “dogmatically forced down the throats of one and all.”[99] He also proposes that while Christianity is a mere “ornament” to a basically secular European culture, religion is “the very soul” of the Hindu nation and culture.[100] Golwalkar also argues that a nation’s language must also be protected against encroachment by hegemons. He praises the Irish and the Welsh for preserving their native tongues in the face of British linguistic imperialism, and he urges Indians to prevent English from becoming an official national language. Golwalkar does not appear to see the contradiction in his position on this issue. As early as 1937, Tamil nationalists objected to the compulsory teaching of Hindi in their schools. Not only did they succeed in this goal, but they also won again when the central government withdrew a mandate that all Indian drivers’ licenses had to be in Hindi. Tamil nationalists point out that fact that only 36 percent of Indians speak Hindi as their mother tongue. Hindu nationalists are fighting a losing battle if they adhere to Golwalkar’s principle that the elimination of any of the five elements—geographical, cultural, religious, and linguistic—“means the end of the Nation as a Nation.”[101]

            The most disturbing aspect of Golwalkar’s manifesto is his praise for German and Italian Fascism. As he develops his case for Indian “race consciousness,” he asks his readers to “look at Italy, the old Roman Race consciousness of conquering the whole territory round the Mediterranean Sea, so long dormant, has roused itself, and shaped the Racial-National aspirations accordingly.”[102]  Likewise he commends the Germans for bringing back their “ancient Race spirit,” which in ancient times allowed them to “over-run the whole Europe.” Golwalkar defends the right of Nazi Germany to reconquer the lands (Austria, Czechoslovakia, Russia) where native Germans were separated from their compatriots, just as Hindu nationalists wish to reclaim their “hereditary territory”—all of British India and beyond. 

Golwalkar also awards national leaders the “indisputable right of excommunicating” all of those who have “turned traitors and entertained aspirations contravening or differing from those of the National Race as whole.”[103] For the European Fascists the traitors were the Jews, the Slavs, and the Roma, but for Indian nationalists they are Christians, Muslims, and the few Jews who are left (only 4,000 today) after the Portuguese and the Dutch liquidated most of them in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Golwalkar’s warning to prospective traitors is clear:

The foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no ideas but those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture . . . or may stay in this country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, . . . not even citizens’ rights.[104]

Golwalkar does not flinch from supporting Germany in “her purging the country of the Semitic Races,” commending it as German “race pride at its highest” and offering this project of “racial purity” it as a “good lesson for . . . Hindustan to learn and profit by.”[105] It goes without saying that Golwalkar firmly rejected the League of Nations and its provisions for the protection of ethnic minorities.  

            Contemporary defenders of Golwalkar assert that Hitler and Mussolini had many admirers in America and Europe, and that in 1938 Golwalkar, along with most of the rest of the world, could not have known the full extent of the coming Final Solution. (There was certainly the opportunity, however, in the fourth edition to make changes in 1947, just as Martin Heidegger could have deleted pro-Nazi passages in post-war editions of Introduction to Metaphysics.)  Dutch scholar Koenraad Elst also defends the exclusion of citizenship for non-Hindus because pre-independence Muslim leaders supported a separate Muslim nation, a position that indicated that they no longer wished to be Indians.  Furthermore, Elst offers the parallel of Jews and Christians living in Muslim countries as zimmis.  As he explains, “Muslims would get the same status in India which Christians and Jews . . . ‘enjoy’ under the zimma (charter of toleration) dispensation in an Islamic state.”[106] Elst should have known, as I have written above, that Muslim rulers in India applied the Hanafi interpretation of shari’ah, which determined that Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains were “People of the Book” and that they could live under their own laws, and in most cases did not have to pay the zimmi tax (jiyah).  By the 19th Century most of the restrictions on the zimmis in the Ottoman Empire had been removed, and in 1855 Egyptian Jews and Christians were given full citizenship in 1855, and they no longer had to pay the jiyah.

As Golwalkar concludes his little book, he praises both Shivaji and Guru Nanak’s “war-like Sikhs” for their contributions to the Hindu national revival.  As we will see in Chapter 8, Guru Nānak was a pacifist who would have found the idea that Muslims were not true citizens of India repugnant. While on tour of South Asia Guru, Nānak traveled with a Muslim musician and there was never a time when the Guru required that he “convert.” Eleanor Nesbitt reports that “a Muslim saint Main Mir laid the foundation stone of the Harmandir Sahib [the Golden Temple].”[107] Guru Nānak preached that “the temple and the mosque are the same, there is no difference between a Hindu worship and Muslim prayer.”[108] Golwalkar should have known that militant Sikhs of the 19th and 20th Centuries, who wished to establish a religious and national identity separate from the Hindus, criticized santānam Sikhs for preserving the Hindu tradition and they succeeded in removing images of Hindu deities from the walls of the Golden Temple.  How is it possible that Golwalkar failed to include Sikh militants as “traitors” to the idea of a “pure” Indian nation?

Hindutva, Gujurat, and India’s Krystallnacht

            In early 2002 the prosperous state of Gujurat experienced extensive sectarian violence in which upwards of 2,000—mostly Muslims—suffered deaths by burning, hacking, and occasional gun fire.  Over the last fifty years, according to Bikhu Parekh,[109] Gujarat has averaged the highest number of deaths from sectarian violence per capita. There is now solid evidence that as early as November 2001 various Hindu nationalist organizations—the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), its youth group Bagrang Dal, and the Rashtriya Swayamsek Sangh (RSS)—distributed weapons (mainly swords and tridents, the god Śiva’s three-tipped spear) to thousands of people for a campaign to protect Hindus from Muslim terrorists.  Parades of armed men took place in many cities with officials from the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) presiding. In early 2002 there were reports of a severe shortage of LPD gas cylinders, and this hoard of ready-made bombs was later used later to destroy hundreds of Muslim homes, shops, and mosques.  Much like the marking of Isarelite homes in Egypt before the Exodus, Hindu homes in Gujarat’s Dahod district were flying the Hindu nationalist saffron flag as a list of Muslim homes and shops was published in many newspapers. A VHP leader was touring Gajarat’s Dahod district saying: “These Muslims do not allow the mandir (the Rāma temple at Ayodhya). They should be killed.”[110]

Earlier in his administration Gujurat’s Chief Minister Narendra Modi tried to compel all government employees to attend RSS meetings, but even his own BJP assembly members rejected his totalitarian tendencies.  (A chilling reminder is that the main inspiration for the founding of the RSS was Mussolini’s Brown Shirts.) Trying to deflect charges that he was responsible for violence against Muslims, Christians, and Dalits (formerly “untouchables”), Modi responded that he was just a passenger in the back seat of a car that ran over a puppy. Modi was too obtuse to realize that the car is an analogue of state agencies for which he is directly responsible. Modi also forgot that all chief ministers sit in the back seat with full authority over their domains.

            On February 26 the Sabarmati Express departed for Gujurat from the north, and it contained Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya, where a temporary temple to Rāma had been set up there after the Babri Mosque was destroyed on December 6, 1992. Many of the pilgrims were armed with trishuls and lathis (metal-tipped batons).  Witnesses on the train reported that the militants shouted Hindutva slogans all along the way and threatened the other passengers. The next morning the train arrived at the Godhra station in Dahod district. A press report relates that at the station, “a Muslim girl was molested and an attempt made to pull her into the train. A Muslim tea vendor. . . was insulted and sent out of the coach by the rowdy elements, some of whom climbed onto the roof of the train and made obscene gestures at Muslim women living opposite the railway station.”[111] Fights broke out and there was stone throwing by both Muslims and Hindus. As the train departed it started suddenly as an intense fire broke out in one of the coaches. The corpses were essentially incinerated, but the assumption is that most of the 94 people burned alive were Hindu pilgrims.

Hindu nationalists claimed that Muslims set the fire, but every single investigation, except one done by the state BJP government, concluded that the fire was an accident caused by a stove on one of the coaches. A Gujarat police report stated that Muslims threw fire bombs at the train, but there was no evidence of burning from the outside of the coaches. Such an alleged attack would have been general, not specific to one coach. Nevertheless, in February 2013, 31 Muslims were convicted in a Gujarati court for setting the fire and 11 of them are due to be executed. Indian capital cases are automatically appealed and it will be a long time before the legal process is over.

            After the train fire at Godhra, the Hindutva plan was executed all over Gujarat; and Chief Minister Modi, according to one of his own cabinet members, told his police force to allow the pogrom against Muslims to run its course. It was reported that Modi silenced the head of the state police force when he objected to the order. Hindu-instigated violence was state-wide comprising 21 cities and 68 provinces, and even extended into rural areas where there had never been any sectarian conflict. The pogrom continued for several months and the official death count was 822 (mostly Muslims), although unofficial sources put the final toll at over 2,000 killed.  About 250 mosques were destroyed (statues of Rāma’s faithful servant Hanuman were placed in many of the ruins) along with hundreds of Muslim homes.  Damage to Muslim businesses was estimated at $152 million. Hindus took over many of the Muslim shops and a state-wide boycott of Muslim businesses still continues.

The Hindutva attacks were investigated by the International Initiative for Justice and their 2003 report described one that was particularly brutal: “In Vadodara City, 14 people were killed in what has come to be known as the ‘Best Bakery incident,’ where the family and employees were hacked and burnt to death and in some cases literally baked to death in the bakery ovens.”[112] About 400 of the victims were burned alive, a quid pro quo, Bikhu Parekh suggests,[113] of “fire for fire” in retaliation for the train incident. The violence against women was especially heinous:

Women were stripped of their clothes, gang raped, often publicly, and finally, in almost all cases, burnt or hacked to death. Pregnant women were not only not spared the brutality of rape but also had their abdomens slashed open and their foetuses thrown into raging fires. Children as young as 3 years old were sexually assaulted or raped before being burnt to death by the Hindu mobs.[114]

Women’s breasts were mutilated and in some instances the Hindu symbol “Om” was carved into the victims’ bodies. Ironically, women from Hindutva auxiliaries, who had been taught that their place was in the home, “were brandishing swords [and] throwing stones at riot police,” who, after long delays, came to protect Muslims. In an article entitled “Saffron Sisterhood” Lalitha Panicker quotes an RSS woman Chandravati, who joined Hindu militants at the Babri Mosque in 1991: “We have come here to shed blood . . . The meaning of the [Rāma] temple building is that Mullahs should be hanged.”[115]

            In 2004 the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom investigated the Gujarat violence and concluded that Narendra Modi was guilty of failing to stop the Hindutva attacks. The U. S. State Department did its own research and decided to ban Modi from traveling to the U.S. In addition to citing the failure to prevent the violence, the State Department document condemned the Modi administration for refusing to change textbooks, which extolled the achievements of Nazi Germany and called Hitler a “charismatic” personality. A report of the Indian Human Rights Commission condemned the Modi administration for “promoting the attitudes of racial superiority, racial hatred, and the legacy of Nazism.”[116] Following the logic of the Reverse Orientalism discussed previously, Hindu nationalists agree with Hitler that the Aryans are indeed the Master Race, but as the Nazis searched for the origins of such beings in Central Asia, some followers of Hindutva now believe that the Hindus were the original Aryans.

Large numbers in the Indian community abroad support the BJP, and Indian Americans protested when they learned that Modi was denied entry to the U.S.  They and others around the world are the source of huge sums of money that are used to support Hindu nationalist activities in India.  The Vishva Hindu Parishad of America alone raises million of dollars a year for these projects. Corporate America gives large contributions to the Indian Development and Relief Fund (IDRF), not realizing that it is a front for Hindu nationalist organizations. Between 1997 and 2001 the IDRF raised $10 million, and it reported to the IRS that 82 percent of their funds go to Hindu nationalist organizations.

In a chapter entitled “Genocide in Gujarat” Martha Nussbaum, a careful scholar not known for rhetorical excess, examines, drawing on books such as Fascism in India, the background of Narendra Modi and his nationalist credentials. She reminds her readers that Modi believed that the Muslims of Godhra had “criminal tendencies” and he strongly implies that the state-wide pogrom was a justified “reaction” to the burning of the rail coaches. Nussbaum also refers to the report of the Indian Commission on Human Rights that found that there was “premeditation in the killing of non-Hindus [and] complicity by Gujarati State government officials.”

A previous BJP Gujarat government persecuted Dalits and Christians, and it was reluctant to lash out at Muslims, primarily because of their entrenched business interests. With its two-third parliamentary majority, the BJP was able to press forward with its anti-Christian campaign.  Asia News reported that “from March 1998 onwards, Christians and their institutions were attacked with frightening regularity. A huge church that was under construction was pulled down in Ahmadabad by a mob. Several other churches throughout other parts of South Gujarat were attacked or burnt in December 1998 and January 1999.”[117] In December of the same year, Gujurati Christians, for the first time, marched in Ahmadabad to protest against this persecution, but it still continued. In March of 2003 the Gujarat Parliament passed the Freedom of Religion Act, which requires government permission for one to change his or her religion. At a Hindutva celebration in 2006, Modi called Christian missionaries “arrogant, charlatans, and hypocrites.”[118] Gujurat is now one of seven Indian states that have passed anti-conversion laws.

Gujarat is Gandhi’s home state, and it is where most of the exquisitely beautiful temples of the Jain religion are found. Gandhi claimed that growing up among the strictly non-violent Jains was one of the principal influences on his later world-view. In 1917 Gandhi established an ashram on the Sabarmati River and he and his disciples called it home until the British confiscated it in 1933.  It was from here that Gandhi organized and carried out one of the most successful campaigns of his political career.  Gandhi and 78 well-trained satyāgrahis marched 241 miles to the salt works at Dandi and, although beaten mercilessly by Indian police, still managed to make their own salt in defiance of the British salt monopoly.  It is, therefore, sadly ironic that BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani, who was the BJP’s prime minister candidate in the 2009 election, represents the Sabarmati area in the Indian Parliament. He also calls Golwalkar “Guruji,” whom he believes has been unfairly criticized and grossly misunderstood.  Advani recently reassured Indians that Golwalkar was a true secularist, and that “Guruji was of the view that theocracy is totally alien to the concept of Hindu polity.” [119] Advani has resigned as head of the BJP and now Nahendra Modi is being touted as the prime ministial candidate in federal elections late this year.  The fact that Modi may well be facing criminal charges for his role in the pogrom against Muslims does not appear to deter his supporters.

Chapter 3: Premodern Harmony, Sri Lankan Buddhist Nationalism, and Violence

[Buddhism is] completely identified with the

racial individuality of the [Sinhalese] people.

—Dharmapala, Return to Righteousness[120]

[Dharmapala’s statement] is probably one of the most conflict creating public

statements made in the 20th century. It is also a statement that is detrimental

nationally and internationally to the reputation of Buddhism. . . . He stated explicitly

that Lanka belongs to the Buddhist Sinhalese and for the Tamils there is South India.

—Peter Schalk, “Relativizing Sinhalatva”[121]

While this Saṅgha. . . has democracy, it has neither [a] special country nor

nation nor caste.  To such a society which has no country, nation, or caste, every

human being is the same. . . . Those who fight against the Tamils are not Buddhists.

—Naravila Dhammaratana[122]

Earlier it was the Tamils, now they are clearly targeting us.

A Muslim Spokesman for the Sri Lankan  Thaheed Jamath[123]

Recent Persecution of Christians and Muslims

            Recently the Sri Lankan  people have witnessed more religious violence than ever before.  It has spread from the civil war with the Tamil Tigers—the final battle in 2009 involved the deaths of an estimated 40,000 civilians—to Buddhist attacks on Muslims and Christians. Based on charges that Muslim businessmen are attempted to monopolize trade, 30 Muslim shops have been attacked since September, 2011.  In the course of 2012 and 2013, 20 mosques have been attacked, one during the Muslim holiday of Eid. Raw pork and pig’s heads have been thrown into mosques, Muslim leaders have been kidnapped and one arrested for sectarian agitation, and Muslim women and girls have been harassed because of their dress. Although they claim no involvement, these actions have been prompted by Buddhist militant organizations such as Bodu Bala Sena and Sinhala Ravaya, which have promulgated anti-Muslim propaganda.

The flag of Sri Lanka contains two stripes, green embracing the Muslims and orange integrating the Hindus, thus validating their Sinhalese identity in the Country of the Lion (=Sinhala). Buddhist nationalists have removed these colored strips from their flag, so the sword in the lion’s hand must now appear much more menacing to Hindus, Muslims, and Christians, the Hindus comprising 12 percent of the population with Muslims and Christians claiming 8 percent each. After the most recent attack on a mosque in the capital Colombo, a spokesman for the Sri Lankan Thaheed Jamath despaired: “Earlier it was the Tamils, now they are clearly targeting us.”[124]

The persecution against Sri Lankan  Christians has been even more fierce and determined. From 2002 to 2007 there were 320 reported cases of arson against churches and homes, smashing of statues and burning of Bibles and hymnals, and physical assaults on individual Christians. Routinely Buddhist authorities request that the celebration of Christmas and Easter be cancelled. On July 6, 2007, 500 Buddhists surrounded Calvary Church northeast of Colombo. The Christian Post reported that “the mob, including monks, entered the church and completely destroyed everything within, leaving only the walls standing.”[125] Fortunately, deaths have been rare, but one missionary was murdered in February because of his conversion techniques. In 2012 there were 52 attacks on churches, and the count in 2013 up to middle of August was 75. Even after the nation’s highest court ruled that the Christians and their buildings may not be molested, the attacks continued. Members of a home church were confronted on August 7, 2013, and Sinhalese troops stormed a church one day later, on the presumption that it was not a legal building.  On May 24, 2013, a monk Ven Thero Bowatte Indrarathana, after he appealed to the Parliament to ban Christian proselytizing, immolated himself as a “sacrifice” for the cause of Sinhalese nationalism.

Sri Lanka has the largest percentage of Christians in South Asia, and 25 percent of those are Tamils. (The father of Tamil nationalism was a Malaysian Christian by the name of J. V. Chelvanayakam.) Christians say that one reason they are being targeted is that they are accused of being Tamil sympathizers. The other reason is that Protestant Christian missionaries have had considerable success in recent years, which has led to Buddhist charges of unethical conversions.  One website claims that Evangelicals and Pentecostals have increased from 50,000 to 240,000 since 1980. American Buddhist blogger Barbara O’Brien confesses that there is no excuse for the violence, but she counters as follows:

There is an ongoing problem with over-aggressive Christian proselytizing conducted in a dishonest and unethical manner by some conservative evangelical groups. . . . They have distributed inflammatory literature, such as pamphlets condemning the Buddha as a reincarnation of Satan.[126]

The missionaries could counter that they are simply making up for lost ground, because, before the rise of a vigorous Buddhist revival in the late 19th Century, there were many more Christians on the island.

Following the lead of Hindu fundamentalists, who have passed anti-conversion law in seven Indian states, Sri Lankan Buddhist legislators have drafted a similar bill that would outlaw the conversion, “by the use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means,” of a person from one religion to another. Some Buddhist extremists have spread rumors that Christians had assassinated the Buddhist monk who initiated the bill, even though an autopsy showed that he had died of a heart attack.  Sri Lankan police have been criticized for being slow in making arrests and for dismissing the attackers as mere drunks, but some observers suspect that they are encouraged by radical elements of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), a socialist party that has supported a strong nationalist platform for decades. The JVP is allied with Vidyālankara University, whose monks are disciples of Anagarika Dharmapala, the father of Buddhist nationalism and whose second generation monks, as H. L. Seneviratne contends, upset the “delicate balance” established by first generation his followers with “violence, breaking it up into pieces, never to be put back together again.”[127]

During the war with the Tamil Tigers, Buddhist monk Elle Gunavamsa made himself famous for writing war songs.  They were published by the government and were sung as the Sri Lankan army went into battle.  Here is a sample:

The sword is pulled from the [scabbard], it is

Not put back unless smeared with blood.

I turned my blood to milk to make you grow

Not for myself but for the country

My brave, brilliant soldier son



to defend the motherland

That act of merit is enough

To reach Nirvāṇa in a future birth.[128]

Here we have the Buddhist equivalent of the radical Muslim Holy War, complete with promises of spiritual rewards.  Yet another echo is the fact that Gunavamsa calls on Mahadevī, the great goddess that Hindu kings celebrated as they went to war. Although her cult is fading in contemporary Śri Lankā, this could be a reference to the goddess Pattini, an immigrant Tamil deity that alternatively combines the opposing qualities of the Hindu Pārvatī and Kālī.[129]

            Buddhist nationalism has its roots in the Dīpavamsa, Mahāvamsa, and Culavamsa, texts unique to Sinhalese Buddhism. Over the centuries effective rituals, described in the fourth section below, were developed to reconcile the presence of non-Buddhists in what some Buddhists perceive to be the cosmic center of the Dharma.  These premodern systems of integrating the “other” have now been supplanted by a modernist concept of a Buddhist nation state that is exclusionary rather than inclusionary. Peter Schalk proposes that there is now a Sinhalatva (Sinhaleseness) that is just as rigid and uncompromising as Hindutva (Hinduness) in neighboring India.[130]  The term “Sinhalatva” was first used in 2001 by Nalin de Silva, a retired physics professor and fervent Sinhalese nationalist.  Schalk’s main task in his article “Relativizing Sinhalatva and Semnatic Transformation of the Dhammadipa”is to demonstrate that the claim that dhammadipa means “island of the dhamma” is a nationalist invention started by Angarika Dharmapala.

Premodernism, Modernism, and the Modern Nation State

We will now explore the view that Sinhalatva is based on a reverse Orientalism that essentializes ethnic identities and leverages the supposed superiority of Aryan Buddhists to attack Dravidian Tamils and other “aliens” in Śri Lankā. The fact that even a moderate such as monk Bhikkhu Dhammavihari, similar to Hindu nationalists denying Muslims citizenship, labels the Tamils “non-Śri Lankān” is particularly unfortunate.  It does not help Dhammavihari’s anti-Tamil brief to claim historical authority for the Mahāvamsa and then state, quite incongruously, that the chroniclers “bungle” when their accounts are embarrassing or do not fit his thesis.[131]

For the purposes of this book a premodern worldview is one in which totality, unity, and purpose are paramount. These values were celebrated in ritual and myth, the effect of which was to sacralize the cycles of seasons, the generations of animal and human procreation, and to integrate the presence of aliens. The human self, then, is an integral part of the sacred whole, which is greater than and more valuable than its parts. Generally speaking, the premodern mind resolves conflict dialectically, the polarities of yin and yang being the best examples. (The exception to this rule is radical dualism of Manicheanism and Gnosticism, found in Jainism and even in Gandhi’s writings.) Robert Bellah has observed that modern religion rejects the premodern mediation of ritual and myth in favor of an unmediated personal salvation.[132]  Interestingly enough, there are anticipations of this religious individualism in the world’s ascetic traditions, but it did not come to full fruition until the Protestant Reformation. Elsewhere I have argued that premodernism, modernism, and postmodernism is best understood conceptually rather than in strict chronological terms.[133]

            In contrast to premodern polarity, the modern mind loves to dichotomize: it separates the mind from the heart, fact and value, science and faith, the public from the private, and theory from practice.  As opposed to the premodern relational self, the modern self is seen as self-contained and self-legislating–a social atom as it were.  The modern nation state is this autonomous self writ large and it is expressed as the will of a people defined by language, culture, religion, and race. Just as selves as social atoms become dysfunctional, the nation states tend to behave in similar ways. They draw strict boundaries that set up unnecessary barriers to natural human intercourse and fellowship.

One can also trace a move from premodern orality to modernist textuality, where the priest/pastor/monk now exhorts his congregation to act on the meaning, sometimes quite untraditional, of selected texts of vernacular scripture available to a literate population. There is a significant difference between finding noncognitive meaning in a ritual performed in a sacred language that the believer does not know, and a much more cognitive gnōsis by which modern believers shape their religious worldviews and sometimes acting on them in a political way. Here we find a movement from premodern sacred “sound as the message” to a modern vernacular text with an intellectual meaning. In this chapter I will critique Sri Lankan Buddhist nationalism using this premodern/modern heuristic, and then in book’s final chapter, I will offer a constructive postmodern solution to religious nationalism and fundamentalism.

            Nationalist claims to ethnic and religious purity have never been borne out by the facts.   Śri Lankā’s founding myth involves the intermingling of native peoples with Hindu immigrants from North and South India. Historically, Buddhism did not arrive in Sri Lanka until the 3rd Century BCE. It is a fact that Buddhist frequently kings fended off military invasions from South India, but just as often they formed alliances with Hindu rulers and traders from Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Bahu I (1272-84) welcomed South Indian Śaivites with open arms, giving them lands and titles, just as South Indians welcomed Jews and Christians to their Malabar coast. The supreme irony is that the Tamil kings of the Nayakkar line (1739-1815) did the most to restore the Sinhalese Buddhist priesthood and promote Buddhist art and architecture.  The other significant fact is that at this time Tamils and Sinhalese were usually not divided by race as they have been since the late 19th Century.[134] The main factor here was the introduction of the European discovery that that Sinhala was an Indo-European (=Aryan) language whereas Tamil was a Dravidian language. The caustic mix of race, language, and Buddhist nationhood had its origins here.

            The Tamil Tigers are just as much to blame for their many atrocities—they have done more suicide bombings than all other terrorist groups combined—but terrorists, whatever their nationality or religion, are made not born. Some argue that Tamil claims to an ancient homeland and distinct ethnic identity are groundless,[135] but comparable Buddhist claims of Aryan racial purity are similarly without merit.  There are some instructive similarities to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  An aggrieved minority has been radicalized by a perception that Israel and its American ally do not care about them, and Israeli military superiority has forced some Palestinians to use terrorist tactics to fight back. Both sides in both conflicts have legitimate claims to live on the land that is in dispute. A long, bitter, polarizing struggle with no easy solution has been the result in both countries.

            For decades Tamil moderates proposed a reasonable federal solution as they pleaded for social, economic, and linguistic inclusion with some autonomy. (Ironically, medieval Sinhalese polity was a loose federation rather than the homogenous state imputed to it by contemporary Buddhist nationalists.) Until the 1970s a great majority of Tamils would not have supported a separate Tamil state, just as most Indian Muslims did not support Partition.  As D. Amarasiri Weeratane states: “When all attempts to settle the problem by democratic methods failed, the Tamils were driven into the arms of the terrorists who posed as the saviours of the Tamil people.”[136] Tragically, Muslim and Hindu extremists won out in 1948, but let us hope that the Śri Laṅkāns can avoid the catastrophic dislocation that ravaged India.  Significantly, the Tamil Tigers did not embrace the ideology of Hindu essentialism because their grievances are primarily economic and linguistic, not religious. The first step to a general peace for Śri Laṅkāns is the acknowledge the fact that for over 2,200 years their beautiful island has been, is now, and must always be a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society.

The Mythical Origins of the Sinhalese Nation

            The Mahāvamsa (written in the 6th Century CE) tells the story of Sinhabahu, a North India who, along with a twin sister Sinhasivali, was born of the union between a lion and a maiden.  He was not a Buddhist but a Vaiṣṇava, and he founded a city called Sinhapura in the lion’s territory, and together with his sister as queen, fathered 32 sons, the eldest of whom was Vijaya. The Mahāvamsa explains that “Vijaya was of evil conduct and his followers were even (like himself), and many intolerable deeds of violence were done by them.”[137] Vijaya and 700 of his men were banished and sent away to sea, landing in Sri Lanka  at the time, the chronicle claims, of the Buddha’s death. This is the mythological source of the Sinhalese people, those who came from a lion (sinha) and who established Sinhala “the country of the lion.”

Vijaya’s first task was to rid the island of its indigenous population, known in Hindu epics as a country of yakṣas and rakṣasas, the most famous being Ravāna of the Rāmāyana. The first chapter of the Mahāvamsa relates that the Buddha himself did preparatory work during three trips to the island, converting “many koti of living beings” to Buddhism, founding stupas, and otherwise preparing the way for the Dharma, which historically did not come for another 300 years. While it is clear that the resident nagas were converted, the Mahāvamsa (chapter 1) relates that Buddha relieved the yakṣas of their fears in return for the possession of their island.  The Buddha did no violence to them and exiled them to a “rocky island,” but they were back on the main island when Vijaya arrived. Furthermore, the Mahāvamsa does not record any encounter with Buddhists or discovery of stupas.

            According to the chapter 7 of Mahāvamsa Vijaya did have two children by the yakṣi Kuvani. Following the ancient theme of maiden betraying her people to the foreigner, Vijaya, with Kuvani’s help, slaughters her fellow yakṣas, but in the end Kuvani is banished along with her children. This mytheme allows us to assume that there was intermarriage with native people, the Vaddas, who, in ancient times, were hunter gatherers spread throughout the island.  Most of them were converted to Buddhism after the 15th Century and became rice farmers in the western regions of the country. Only several thousand preserve their original identity today and some claim Vijaya as their ancestral father. In the next section we will see how the Vaddas gained a Sinhalese identity through premodern modes of ritual inclusion.

In addition to mixing genes with the locals, Vijaya married a Śaivite Tamil princess and she brought women for Vijaya’s ministers and thousands of craftsmen and their families.  As Gananath Obeyesekere states: “Unlike the Vaddas, the Tamils are not only kinfolk but also co-founders of the nation. This aspect of the myth has been almost completely forgotten or ignored in recent times.”[138] Bhikkhu Dhammavihari grossly underestimates the influx of South Indians to the island when he admits that “a few people from the neighbourhood of the adjacent country moved in here from time to time and soon learnt to co-exist in a spirit of friendship with the people of their new homeland.”[139] Obeyesekere counters this claim by declaring that “viewed in long term historical perspective Sinhalas have been for the most part South Indian migrants who have been sasanized,”[140] that is, either having been converted to Buddhism or having come under the umbrella of the Buddhist “church” (śāsana).  Referring to the Mahāvamsa’s myth of Sinhabahu, one can make an even stronger argument: the original “people of the lion” were North Indian Vaiṣṇavas not Buddhists. In the next chapter we will see that this is the case for the original Burmese.

Buddhist nationalist claims to racial purity are nipped in the proverbial bud: the mythical seed of the Sinhalese Buddhist nation is a hybrid of immigrant Hindus, Indian Buddhists (some Mahāyānists), and indigenous people. The Pāli word sihala is found infrequently in the early chronicles, and when it is used even Dhammavihari admits that it is not in the sense of a “religio-nationalism.”[141] It definitely does not refer to a pure race of people, as some 19th Century Europeans proposed and Buddhist nationalists, in an ironic reverse Orientalism, assumed.  Buddhist nationalists sometimes use the testimony of Chinese pilgrims as proof that a distinct Sinhalese identity is not just projection of current beliefs on a distant past. The fact that Fa Xian (5th Century CE) and Hiuen Ziang (7th Century CE) refer to Sri Lanka  as “the country of the lion” does not prove ethnic or religious purity at all. The original myth the lion was North Indian and the founder was a devotee of Viṣṇu.

When Vijaya arrives on the island, Viṣṇu is there to greet the newcomers.  (He had been designated guardian deity of Sri Lanka  by the Buddha himself.) Viṣṇu is asked “What island is this, sir?” “The island of Lankā,” he answered. “There are no men here, and here no dangers will arise.”[142] And when a delegation returns to the original “lion country” in India, it brings back a Vaiṣṇava prince, Panduvasudeva, who succeeds Vijaya as king of Śri Lankā, still a country of Vaddas, Śaivite Tamils, and North Indian Vaiṣṇavas, but, significantly, no Buddhists.

Obeyesekere points out that “it is one of the ironies of ethnicity that the Tamils want a separate state of Ilam, which means ‘Sinhala country’; while the Sinhalas want to hang on to Lankā which is derived from ilankai the Tamil word for ‘island.’”[143] Obeyesekere also confirms that “in my reading of literally hundreds of ritual texts I have not come across one instance of the country being called other than Lankā or Sri Lanka  . . . , except when foreign gods or traders come to these shores and hail it as the country of the Sinhala (sinhaladesa).”[144] Obeyesekere asserts that it is common for outsiders to name a country in terms of its dominant group: “outsiders see it as a single entity whereas the insiders are sensitive to the complexities of internal differentiation,”[145] differences of which the precolonial rulers of the island were aware and respected.

            One incident from the Mahāvamsa (chap. 19) demonstrates the ethnic and religious harmony that existed during the reign of King Devanamtissa (247-207 BCE), who introduced Buddhism to the island. The chapter begins with an elaborate description of the transport of the Bodhi tree from King Aśoka in India and its arrival in the northern port of Jubukola.  There a brahmin priest named Tivakka was one of the first to worship the holy tree. Two weeks later it arrived in the capital city of Anuradhapura and the tree miraculously sprouted 32 saplings. One was given to Tivakka to plant in his own town, and two others were given to Hindu kśatriyas in the north. This demonstrates that not only was there ethnic harmony, but Hindus and Buddhists, as many still do today in India and Nepal, worshiped together honoring common sacred sites and things.

            The next major event is the campaign of King Dutthagamani (161-137 BCE) that led to the unification of the island under this Buddhist king. The Dīpavamsa (18.50-54), the earliest chronicle from the 4th Century CE, portrays the Tamil king Elara as a just ruler and there appear to be no anti-Buddhist allegations against him. The fact that Dutthagamani starts from the periphery of power in the south and must fight 32 other provincial rulers, some of them presumably Buddhists, on his way north indicates that the actual motivations for Dutthagamani’s campaign could not have been primarily religious. The 1912 English version of the Mahāvamsa contains an unfortunate mistranslation that moves a Buddhist relic from the royal scepter to Dutthagamani’s spear, and this error has given Buddhist militants an illicit, but even stronger justification for Buddhist warfare.[146]

            While the Dīpavamsa contains only 13 stanzas about Dutthagamani, more than half the Mahāvamsa is devoted to the famous king. The authors are determined to glorify Dutthagamani and they design an edifying narrative framework based on the story of Aśoka. The number of provincial rulers who resisted Dutthagamani is obviously exaggerated and most likely is drawn from the 32 opponents of Aśoka.  But the most significant similarity to Aśoka is the post-battle malaise that Dutthagamani suffers over the great number of Tamil causalities. In chapter 25, a group of arhats come to console the grieving king and report a remarkable calculation concerning those killed in the war. According to the wise monks, only one enemy soldier had taken full refuge in the Dharma and another had embraced only the Five Precepts. This means that there had been only one and a half real persons killed among thousands of causalities. This demonstrates that there has been substantial anti-Tamil sentiment for centuries and it provides ready fodder for contemporary Sinhalese propagandists. Even the great Buddhist scholar Wapola Rahula uses this incident without questioning its veracity in his defense of Sinhalese nationalism.[147]

            Stanley Tambiah demonstrates how Buddhist chroniclers regularly invented scenarios in order to explain the presence of so many South Indians in their midst. A very instructive example of this fictitious history is the rājavaliya (Lineage of Kings) that gives an account of a Sinhalese invasion of the Chola kingdom in South India in the 12th Century.[148] The Buddhist king Gajabahu wins a great victory and brings home not only 12,000 Sinhalese prisoners from previous Tamil campaigns but also an equal number of new Tamil prisoners. The Tamils were incorporated into Sinhalese society as low caste workers spread throughout the ancient kingdom of Kandy.  The Buddhist chroniclers, sensing the national shame of one South Indian invasion (10th Century) and another from Kālīnga (13th Century), established a rhetorical quid pro quo as well as explaining the presence of Tamils in their southern kingdom.  Incidentally but significantly, the Tamils in the north placed their Sinhalese captives in sub-caste positions as well. The Sinhalese most likely learned caste consciousness from the Hindus and the principal motivation for marrying into Hindu families was to validate their position as authentic rulers (kśatriyas).

            As strict Theravādins, the Buddhist chroniclers also failed to mention the influx of Mahāyāna Buddhists from South India. The Lōtus Sūtra has Gautama Buddha born in Sri Lanka  and he is given the name Sinhala, a favor that its Mahāyāna authors should not have offered to Sinhalese Buddhists who did not welcome South Indian Mahāyānists to their island. Nonetheless, the presence of Mahāyāna Buddhists is recorded faithfully in wall paintings, sculpture, and religious practices.  (Dharmapala’s focus on a savior Buddha who suffered for others may have come from Mahāyāna as well as Christianity.) Furthermore, most Sinhalese Buddhists apparently do not realize that Buddadatta and Dhammapala, Buddhist scholars that Sinhalese scholars used as trusted commentators on the Pāli canon, were South Indian Tamils.

Mahāyāna Buddhist immigrants from Kerala rose to prominence in trade and political administration, and the Sinhalese king Bahu VI dedicated a shrine to their goddess Pattini, whose worship is now wide spread in Śri Lankā.[149]  Significantly these South Indians stood by their Buddhist king when, in the late 14th Century, he had to defend his territory from the Tamil king of Jaffna. One Keralite family married into Sinhalese royalty, and another became so strong that it operated as a separate principality and played a key role in turning back the Tamil invasion.  The historical lesson that we can learn is that during this period the motivations for warfare on all sides were not primarily religious in nature, and the notion of a pure Buddhist Sinhalese race constantly defending itself against South Indian “unbelievers” has no foundation in historical reality.

            Let me conclude this section with an account of Kirti Sri Rājasinha (1747-82), who was anathemized by militant monks as “the heretic king” for doing Śaivite worship in private. Kīrti Śri was the most famous of the Tamil Nayakkar kings who ruled from 1739 until 1815, when the British, with aid from Buddhists aristocrats and monks, overthrew the dynasty. The Nayakkar line in Śri Lanka actually started much earlier in the reign of Rājasinghe II (1635-87), who married two Tamil women from this family. The Mahāvamsa has nothing but praise for this great king, who sent an embassy to Thailand to bring back priests who reestablished the Sinhalese Saṅgha.  (The last ordained monk had died in 1729.) He also gave lavish support to Buddhist art, monasteries, and temple building, including the establishment of the now famous Temple of the Tooth, which, sadly, has recently been attacked by the Tamil Tigers.  During his reign vipasanā meditation techniques were developed, which have now become popular throughout the world.

            Even a prominent Buddhist nationalist R. A. L. H. Gunawardena had to concede that Kīrti Śri was an authentic Buddhist king, one of “the divine lords who had come down in the lineage of Mahāsammata [Buddha King] through Vijaya and other rulers of Śri Lanka.”[150]  One black mark against Kīrti Śri was that he did put some Roman Catholic priests on trial for distributing anti-Buddhist literature, but he eventually called off the anti-Catholic campaign and ordered the rebuilding of a church that had been destroyed. Kīrti Śri appeared to have good relations with the Muslim population, and he gave one Muslim trader a large tract of land that once belonged to one of the conspirators who tried unsuccessfully to assassinate him.

            In his book on Kīrti Śri, John Holt demonstrates how committed he was to fulfilling his duty as “the quintessential Thervada Buddhist king.”[151]  Kīrti Śri had studied Aśoka’s reign very carefully (albeit via the unreliable Mahāvamsa), and Holt describes one ritual that he borrowed from Aśoka that had substantial dramatic effect. It is an ordination rite, still performed in Kandy today, in which the king symbolically abdicates in favor the monk who is being ordained.  The monk is honored as if he were king, being entertained by the royal dancers and riding on the royal elephant. Holt claims that the art that Kīrti Śri sponsored was a “superb distillation of an authentic Sinhalese Theravada Buddhist worldview that has been genuinely embraced by Kandyan Buddhists”; and he “laid the foundation for the manner in which Buddhism has become a type of civil religion in Kandy for up-country Sinhalese.”[152] In addition to the Aśokan model of Buddhist kingship, Kīrti Śri also used Śakra (=Vedic Indra) and King Manu, the latter taken from the god-king of the Laws of Manu. Kīrti Śri also styled himself as a Bodhisattva, a strategy, Holt claims, that had much appeal to the peasants and the oppressed.

Integrating the “Other” in Precolonial Śri Laṅkā

            Despite frequent conflict and a deeply felt anti-Tamil sentiment among many Buddhists, why is it that the people of this beautiful island have lived in relative peace for centuries?  The key, I believe, lies in how premodern Sinhalese socially and psychologically processed the presence of others in their midst. Obeyesekere offers a fascinating account of the worship of various indigenous deities under the umbrella of the dominant Buddhism: “In Rambadeniya, after each harvest, villagers will gather together in a collective thanksgiving ritual for the gods known as the adukku (“food offering”). During this festival the priest of the deity cults (never the Buddhist monk) pays formal homage to the Buddha and the great guardian deities and then actively propitiates the local gods. . . .”[153]  After this the people trek 35 miles to a Buddhist temple where they join many other villagers, who had just paid respect to their local deities, in an exclusively Buddhist ceremony.

            Obeyesekere also describes an elaborate ritual in which the Vaddas, the indigenous people who were originally hunters and gathers, are validated within the larger Buddhist society.  There is a simulated battle in which armed Vadda warriors attack a Buddhist temple but are thwarted by temple guardians. They continue their fake battle until their spears are broken and thrown against the temple. After worshipping at their own altars, they purify themselves in a nearby river, and then return to the temple where a Buddhist priest anoints them with sandal water. They end their ceremony with the chant of haro-hara to the god Skanda, a god they share not only with Buddhists, but also with Hindus, because hara is a name for Śiva and Skanda is his second son. This ritual of dialectical reconciliation of identity and difference demonstrates the genius of the premodern worldview, which produces resolved polarities rather than strict dichotomies and particularized inclusion rather than complete exclusion.

            Obeyesekere further describes a ritual that allows the “naturalization” of Tamils into the Sinhalese community. As in the Vadda ceremony above, the Tamils, outfitted either as merchants or deities, are stopped at a symbolic gate by two guardian deities. The Tamil actors speak with “a strong Tamil accent and they constantly utter malapropisms, unintended puns, and spoonerisms. In their ignorance they make insulting remarks about the gods at the barrier; they do not know Sinhala and Buddhist customs and the audience has a lot of fun at their expense.”[154]  Like the Beast in ballet versions of Beauty and the Beast, who dances more eloquently as Beauty accepts him, the Tamil players begin to speak more fluently and accurately and are then accepted by the Sinhalese community by a symbolic opening of the previously barred gate.

            Not only does ritual provide a way of reconciling conflict and otherness, but so does myth.  Under the section title “The Processes of Incorporation and Inclusion,” Tambiah analyzes the story of Pitiye Deviyo, a Hindu Chola prince/deity, who is cursed and exiled because he killed a calf.  Transformed into a demon, he invades Śri Lanka and defeats Natha, one of the four Buddhist guardian deities. (It is significant to note that the three other guardian deities—Skanda, Viṣṇu, and Saman—appear to have Hindu origins.) Natha’s defeat is mythically rationalized by his decision not “to commit sin by waging further war.”[155] Natha is promoted to the status of Bodhisattva because of this vow of nonviolemce, and, significantly enough, Pitiye is incorporated a subordinate regional deity.  (Here is another excellent example of premodern inclusion, whereas modern Christian missionaries, especially Protestant, would insist on total exclusion of the alien deity.) According to the legend, Pitiye established irrigation systems and rice farming and the locals turn from hunting and raising cattle. Rice farming in Śri Lanka now enjoys high caste status, whereas hunting (the original occupation of the Vaddas) and cattle raising are low caste.

            Obeyesekere observes that “‘nation’ is an alien word that has no parallel in the Sinhala lexicon. It is śāsana that takes its place.”[156] He translates śāsana as “church,” but not in the sense of an established church where every citizen must join and foreswear all other beliefs, but more in the sense of an overarching moral community in which people find meaning without losing deeply rooted ties to their villages. This fusion of local and central worship parallels the relation between the authority of the king, who, unlike the modern nation state, allows considerable autonomy in his outlying realm.  Stanley Tambiah explains:  “The polities modeled on mandala-type patterning had central royal domains surrounded by satellite principalities and provinces replicating the center on a smaller scale and at the margins had even more autonomous tributary principalities.”[157] Tambiah gives this type of polity the engaging name “pulsating galactic polities,” and he believes that this form of political organization is better at integrating minorities and respecting their autonomy. Ironically, Buddhist nationalists frequently use medieval symbols of Sinhalese political unity that are actually more federalist in meaning than the modernist homogenous unity that they impose on them.[158]

            By keeping church and state separate the modern nation state has succeeded thus far in satisfying its minorities, but serious problems are beginning to arise as Muslims in Europe feel alienated in an overwhelmingly secular society.  In the United States increasing larger number of Christians are concerned about a society that has lost its values.  The homogenizing effects of modern secular culture do indeed appear to be destructive of traditional values. Obeyesekere observes that contemporary Śri Lankan society is also in the midst of a moral crisis with high murder and suicide rates, and the fact that there are more liquor shops in the countryside than rural banks. Obeyesekere also reports drinking, meat eating, and financial corruption among the monks and lay supporters. The ancient Buddhist śāsana (=“church”) appeared to serve the diverse society of Śri Lanka relatively well until Europeans came with exclusivist notion of church that tore open the fabric of native religious communities.

The Misdirected Trajectory of 19th Century Sri Lankan  Buddhism

The neo-Hinduism and neo-Buddhism of the last two centuries can be instructively explained as a form of “affirmative” or “reverse” Orientalism, a response to the negative Orientalism that arose out of the first European encounters with Indian culture.  Negative Orientalism viewed the South Asian people as uncivilized, irrational, superstitious, lazy, cowardly, and effeminate.  (The British exempted the Pasthuns, the Sikhs, and the Gurkhas from this characterization.) While granting the technological advantage of Western culture, Annie Besant and the theosophists promoted affirmative Orientalism, a view that proclaimed the spiritual superiority of South Asian civilization and the nobility of its commitment to the virtues of peace, nonviolence, and compassion. Ironically, Gandhi learned to appreciate the value of his own Indian tradition from his association with theosophists in London.  Gandhi joined most Hindus in accepting the theosophical axiom that Buddhism and Jainism were essentially the same as Hinduism. What was lost in this rather superficial universalism was a respect for the autonomy and integrity of Buddhism and Jainism, not to mention the other religions that were fused together in the unscholarly amalgam sometimes called the “perennial philosophy.”

On May 17, 1880, theosophists Madam Blavatsky and Colonel Henry Steele Olcott arrived in Śri Lanka and proclaimed that Buddhism was a natural expression of their own spiritual universalism. They quickly established the Colombo Buddhist Theosophical Society one month later on June 17.  Col. Olcott stayed on to inspire Sinhalese Buddhists not only to recover, but to substantially redefine, their own tradition, and to respond to what they perceived to be the destructive effects of increasing numbers of Christian missionaries.  When the British took over Śri Lanka in 1815, they promised to protect the integrity of Buddhism, but instead they established English medium schools in which Buddhism was portrayed as a superstitious and other worldly religion.  Under Olcott’s leadership 460 Buddhist schools, including leading colleges such as Ananda, Nalanda, Dharmapala, Dharmarāja, Visakha, and Musaeus College were established. One of the results of this Buddhist Counter Reformation is that there are far fewer Christians in Śri Lanka today than there were in the 19th Century, a fact that contemporary missionaries use to counter the anti-conversion bill.

Col. Olcott’s claim that Buddhism was a rational philosophy and not a religion led Sinhalese Buddhists to reformulate their faith in a way that made it more European than Asian.  Olcott’s Buddhist Catechism, published in 1881, translated into 22 languages and now in its 40th printing, has had a powerful effect on how many Euro-Americans understand Buddhism.  More significantly, however, this fully modernist book about Buddhism is still part of the curriculum of Sri Lankan schools.

By the far the most influential Sri Lankan  to come out of this historical setting was Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1933), the founding father of Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism. Born into a petite bourgeois family, Dharmapala went to Christian schools where, early on, he was very sensitive to the negative way in which Buddhism was being portrayed.  He changed his name from David to Dharmapala (“Guardian of Dharma”), and in taking on the other honorific Anagarika (“homeless”) he, in anticipation of Gandhi, wanted his followers to interpret this as a form of this-worldly renunciation. Even in his asceticism he still preserved the entrepreneurial virtues—“methodism, punctuality, cleanliness, orderliness, time-consciousness,” as Seneviratne lists them[159]—that he learned in his family business and subtly made part of his vision of a modernized Buddhism.

Dharmapala worked closely with Olcott and together they made a very successful journey to Japan in 1888. Although Dharmapala had some disagreements with Olcott, he followed him in the “Protestant” form of Buddhism that we see in his followers today. He founded the Mahabodhi Society in 1891 and initiated campaigns to return Buddha Gaya, the site of the Buddha’s Temptation and Enlightenment, to Buddhist hands and to established Buddhist missions throughout the world. In this regard, Dharmapala declared that “with Buddhism Ceylon shall yet become the beacon light of Religion to the World,”[160] echoing similar nationalist sentiments of America as, in Ronald Reagan’s words, “a great shining city on a hill,” derived from Jesus’ proclamation that his followers would be “the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid” (Matthew 5:14). Dharmapala, however, claims precedence for Buddhism as the true beacon of civilizing light, which established a land of righteousness in Śri Lanka long before the birth of Jesus Christ. It was “Semitic barbarism,” which includes both Dravidian Tamils and Judeo-Christians, who destroyed this great cultural and religious achievement.[161]

The Buddhist canon does not use ārya as a racial term; rather, it is an honorific for all those who embrace the Dharma.  Furthermore, as Mahinda Palihawadana has argued, the Buddha believed that racism and nationalism are the result of flawed perception.  Like the Body of Christ, there are no distinctions at all within the Body of the Buddha.  Perceiving a “difference by birth” is, as Palihawadana explains,

a mental propensity (ditthanusaya), something invested with emotional content. The classic example is the idea of me, my self; and, compounded with other conventional views, my clan, my country, my language, my nation, and not least, my creed.[162]

Ultra nationalists take their own nāma-gotta—name and clan—and mistakenly believe that it is an essential part of their identity. 

In 1908 Dharmapala declared that Buddhism was “completely identified with the racial individuality of the people.”[163] As Peter Schalk states: “This is probably one of the most conflict creating public statements made in the 20th century. It is also a statement that is detrimental nationally and internationally to the reputation of Buddhism. . . . He stated explicitly that Lanka belongs to the Buddhist Sinhalese and for the Tamils there is South India.”[164] It is unfortunate that American evangelical Christian activists unwittingly spread the myth of the Aryan Sinhalese.  One of their websites states that the Buddhist portion of the island’s population (75 percent) is Sinhala and Aryan, obviously implying that the Sri Lankan  Christians, Muslims, and Hindus are not. Incidentally, if there is any historical substance to a North Indian origin of the original immigrants to the island, then one could claim an Aryan origin, but only linguistically, for these people.

It is significant to note that in 1935, two years after Dharmapala’s death, three Tamil members of the State Council supported the effort to return Bodh Gaya to Buddhist control, most likely assuming that, in addition to a gesture of goodwill, that they would receive something in return for their own projects. Sadly, the favor was not reciprocated as Buddhists hardened their nationalist prejudices. In 1936, embracing a reverse Orientalism and drawing on an alleged racial superiority of Aryan Buddhists, non-Buddhists were excluded from the Board of Ministers of the Donoughmore Constitution.  Later the Citizenship Act of 1948 withdrew citizenship from the estate Tamils (not restored until the 1980s), and finally in 1956 English and Tamil were suppressed in favor of Sinhalese as the only official language. This made it very difficult for most Tamils to read and fill out government documents and to communicate their grievances.  The supreme irony is that multilingualism was one of cultural ideals of medieval Sinhalese society, where the mastery of six languages was considered to be the educated norm.

The most striking evidence of reverse Orientalism in Dharmapala’s thought is his attempt, one initiated earlier on behalf of Hinduism by the Brahmo Samāj in Calcutta, to show that Buddhism is fully compatible with European science and rationalism. In his History of an Ancient Civilization, Dharmapala claims that “higher Buddhism is pure science.  It has no place for theology. . . . It is the religion of absolute freedom, which is to be gained avoiding all evil, doing all good, and purifying the heart.  . . . It is the friend of enlightened progress, and preaches the sublimest truths of meritorious activity.”[165] In his journal Dharmapala wrote a weekly column entitled “Facts That You Should Know,” a modernist title that would have sounded quite alien to a medieval Buddhist. It is true that the Buddha’s method can be called “empiricist,” and there are constructive parallels that can be drawn to David Hume, and even better comparisons to William James, but these insights should be used to erase the negatives of European Orientalism, not to propose an equally destructive Asian exceptionalism.

Dharmapala learned much from his sojourn in Calcutta. Both he and the Indian nationalists rejected the sacred power of images, myth, ritual, and priestly mediation. Both were enamored by modernist concepts of individual reason, progress, and the importance of social activism. Both believed in a Protestant-like priesthood of all believers and that spiritual liberation would be both personal and social. Dharmapala may not have known that the Ramakrishna mission was modeled directly on the Buddhist Saṅgha, but its social activism derived much more, as Seneviratne maintains,[166] from Christianity than any South Asian tradition.  (Similarly, ahimsā is an Indian concept, but it is clear that Gandhi’s social and political use of it was mostly due to his reading of Socrates, Thoreau, Tolstoy, and Ruskin.)  Walpola Rahula’s thesis that the Buddha meant his disciples to be the like the social workers of the modern welfare state has been roundly criticized as anachronistic and yet another form of reverse Orientalism. 

It is significant, nevertheless, that the immediate followers of the Hindu nationalist Dayananda and the Buddhist Dharmapala went into social service not politics.  Indeed, one could say early signs indicated that Hindu and Buddhist nationalism would be progressive and constructive. The darker aspects of Dharmapala’s religious nationalism did not come to the fore until 1956.  A first generation disciple Kalukondayave (1895-1977) did not believe that monks should be involved in party politics. Working closely with Tamil and Muslim officials, he saw himself primarily as a social worker and teacher of morality.[167] Hendiyagala Silaratna (1913-1982), another Dharmapalite monk, learned Tamil and wrote a booklet praising the Tamils for preserving their culture against European advances.[168] In comparison he thought that his own culture was far more decadent; he especially commended Tamil women for their modest dress.

Seneviratne describes the early Dharmapalite monks as “overlooking cultural and ideological differences among the lay leadership, astutely addressing their commonness rather than their differences. . . . ,” and he also praises the next generation of monks in the Vidyodaya monastery for their “healthy and realistic attitude towards western influences which [they] were able to creatively generate, as they bravely resisted the ethno-religious exclusivist impulse that constituted one half their progenitor Dharmapala’s philosophy and activist project.”[169]

Buddhist nationalism has been more successful in Sri Lanka  for several reasons.  Compared to India, religious authority is much more centralized and unified in Sinhalese Buddhism. In the Dharmapalite vision Buddhist monks, in the absence of Sinhalese royalty, were to do the “work of kings,” the title of Seneviratne’s thorough study of Dharmapala’s legacy. A much higher literacy rate has allowed for an effective spread of Buddhist Protestantism through print media and the radio. A Dharmapalite monk Hinatiyana Dhammaloka (1900-81) sometimes did ten sermons a week and was considered to be the best Buddhist preacher in Śri Lankā.[170] Copying the Christian model, Dharmapala proposed that long rituals be replaced by short sermons that focused on morality and social action.

On February 13, 1946, the faculty at the Vidyālankara monastery approved without dissent a resolution declaring that monks should become politically active. There was strong reaction from the press and the government; some critics said it was a Communist plot and some proposed that political monks be disrobed or even imprisoned. The monks at Vidyodaya published their protest in a journal founded by Dharmapala. They also criticized the dissident monks on doctrinal grounds, alleging that they rejected the Buddha’s omniscience and the theory of karma and rebirth. 

The Vidhyālankara monks moved the Dharmapalite revolution from nonsectarian social action in the villages to a political ideology that fused language, religion, and state.  In their 1946 resolution they stated: “We hope from this campaign to make Sri Lanka a dharmadvipa (“light of dharma”), to enrich Buddhism, and to make people free of suffering and disease and make them whole; and to make monks a category of people who do not simply exist [doing nothing] but who work selflessly for the good of the religion and its adherents.”[171] The original intention was that this was to be accomplished outside of party affiliation.  But already in April, 1946, the radical monks had formed the Lankā Eksat Bhiksu Mandalaya, the United Bhikku Organization of Śri Lankā.  The seeds of a highly politicized Sinhalese Buddhism were now sown. As Seneviratne states: “By the mid 1950s [it] turned into a hegemonic Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism.”[172]

Before concluding this section, some historical balance is now in order to counter the previous focus on Buddhist nationalism. In the British constitutional reforms of 1911, the Tamils, with only 10 percent of population, were given 42 percent of the representation.  In a move to protect their position, high caste Tamils, previously favored by the British, did object to a more equitable formula in the first Donoughmore proposals in 1927. These high caste Tamils, distinct from the more recent tea estate Tamils, thought the Sinhalese were a “uncivilized and backward community,” and their spokesman Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan stated: “Although we may be small in numbers, in terms of caste, official power etc., we are the most powerful community in Śri Lankā. Both the Sinhalese and the Muslims have accepted this. Therefore, when the British leave, it is the Tamils who should rightfully inherit political power.”[173]

In 1947 Sinhalese representation was capped at 55 percent. It is Athureliye Rathana’s contention that the Tamils did not begin proposing a separate state until after they realized that they were not going to achieve majority power in the legislature.[174] The Tamil State Party was indeed established in 1949, almost a decade before the riots began, but moderate Tamils still prevailed until the Tamil Tigers came to prominence in the late 1970s. The adoption of the 1972 Constitution that strengthened the Buddhist Sinhalese majority was an event that radicalized many Tamils. Unfortunately, Tamil moderates did not fare very well among the militants and many were executed on the orders of Tamil Tiger leaders.  The stage was not set for the militant Buddhist reaction that has been the focus of this chapter.

Chapter Four: Burmese Nationalisms and Buddhist Attacks on Muslims

[British] imperialism eventually undermined these premodern conceptualizations
 of social solidarity and replaced them with [a modernist] reified ethnicity, which,
 in time, generated new forms of social and political action and reaction.
The multiple nationalisms of modern Myanmar were the result.
Robert H. Taylor[175]

A powerful ethnic nationalism, based on the idea of a Buddhist and Burmese
speaking people, one that saw little need to accommodate minority people, took
root. . . . An anti-Indian character was now deeply etched into ethnic Burmese
nationalism, with disastrous consequences in the years to come.

—Thant Myint-U, The Rivers of Lost Footsteps[176]

Not only did they fail to intervene, but [Burmese] government security forces and
authorities destroyed mosques, effectively blocked humanitarian aid to [Muslim] Rohingya
populations and . . . acted alongside [Buddhist] Arakanese to forcibly displace Muslims.

—Matthew Smith, Human Rights Watch in 2013[177]

Islam is a dangerous and fearful poison that is severe enough to
eradicate all civilization . . . Muslims are like the African carp.
They breed quickly and they are very violent and they eat their own kind.
—Ashin Wirathu, Abbot of the Ma Soeyein Monastery[178]

As I was finishing this book, religiously motivated violence against Muslims broke out in Burma. (I will follow many scholars in using the geographic designation “Burma,” because the new name “Myanmar,” which historically just covered that part of the country where most of the Buddhists live, is excessively nationalistic as it excludes 32 percent of population.) In his incendiary sermons Ashin Wirathu, abbot of the 2,500-strong Ma Soeyein Monastery, has called for a boycott of Muslim businesses, a ban on interfaith marriages to preserve “racial purity,” and the prosecution of forced conversions to Islam. (A non-Buddhist, however, would have to convert to Buddhism to marry a Buddhist.) In 2002, as we learned in the previous chapter, Hindu nationalists in Gujarat marked Hindu homes with Hindutva flags so that sword-carrying fanatics could find Muslims, and sword-carrying Burmese Buddhists have now done the same by tagging co-religionist homes with the national flag so as to preserve them from attack. In 2002, even more parallel to Gujarat time-wise, the Burmese government destroyed 40 mosques in Arakan State; and in some cases, just as with the new Rāma temple in Ayodhya, new Buddhist monasteries or pagodas have been built in their place.

The Venerable Wirathu, who spent eight years in prison (2002-2010) for his anti-Muslim campaign, has been called a “bald Bin Laden,” and he admitted that he called himself that “as a joke.”[179]  Wirathu accuses Muslims of being “crude and savage” and having raped Buddhist women and girls. In an interview with Tin Aung Kyaw, Wirathu declared: “Muslims are like the African carp. They breed quickly and they are very violent and they eat their own kind.”[180] In a perverse application of Buddhist ethics to Muslims, he stated: “You can be full of kindness and love, but you cannot sleep next to a mad dog.”[181]Incredibly enough, Wirathu has a strong following among students and professors at the nation’s Buddhist universities.  His videos are wildly popular, and he reaches 60,000 children with religious lessons that teach Buddhist chauvinism and hate for Muslims. Wirathu claims that Islam is a “dangerous and fearful poison that is severe enough to eradicate all civilization.”[182]

Militant Monks and Anti-Muslim Attacks

Wirathu’s sermons have inspired armed Buddhists to kill Muslims and burn their businesses and mosques. Pogroms against Muslims have been happening consistently since 2001, but earlier the army launched its own attack on Muslims in 1978, and, according to the Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence, “scores of people were killed, raped, looted, and arrested.”[183] The targets then and now are Muslims in Arakan) State, adjacent to Muslim Bangladesh, where 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims live. The Burmese government has denied citizenship to those Muslims who are unable to offer the nearly impossible proof that their ancestors were in the country before 1823.  On November 21, 2003 the United Nations passed a resolution urging the government to grant the Rohingyas full citizenship. Government repression and denial of basic rights is outright brutal: the Rohingya are not allowed to travel nor to marry, and incredibly enough, not permitted to give birth to children. Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state used have 75,000 Muslims, and now there numbers are fewer than 5,000, and the last Muslim enclave Aung Mingalar is under attack.

The current round of sectarian violence started when a Buddhist mob killed 10 Muslims to avenge the rape and death of a Buddhist woman by a Muslim. Anti-Muslim attacks have now claimed the lives of at least 1,000 dead (the government says only 192) and have left 140,000 Muslims homeless. In the town of Meiktila a Thai newspaper reports: “For three days, security forces let roaming gangs of armed Buddhists burn down nearly 1,000 buildings, including mosques, Muslim-owned businesses and houses.”[184] Muslim school children were included in the over 100 killed, and Kate Linthicum reported that Muslims “were forced to eat pork and to pray Buddhist-style during the siege.”[185]  The 1,000 Muslims who still remain in Meiktila have taken refuge on an Islamic university campus surrounded by razor wire. Rather than condemning the attack Wirathu said that it was a “show of strength” of his anti-Muslim movement: “If we are weak,” he said, “our land will become Muslim.”[186] Even though the government issued a report condemning “ethnic hatred” against Muslims and promulgating a “zero tolerance” policy against violence, Burmese President Thein Sein has praised Wirathu as “a son of Lord Buddha.”[187]

Relative Harmony between Buddhists and Muslims in Pre-Colonial Burma

The parallels to Sri Lanka are instructive and worrisome. Just as in Śri Lankā, the Burmese monarchy traced its ancestry back to a legendary Hindu King Abhiraja, a prince of the future Buddha’s Sakya clan, who traveled from Northeast India and settled in the Irrawaddy River valley. Burmese legends explain that then Prince Abhiraja chose to leave India because the King of Kosala went to war and defeated Abhiraja’s Panchalas over a disputed marriage. Historian Thant Myint-U writes that Abhiraja’s “elder son . . . ventured south and founded his own kingdom of Arakan. The younger son succeeded his father and was followed by a dynasty of thirty-one kings.”[188] Until the British came to Burma in the 18th Century, Muslims and Buddhists, the former having arrived as early as the 9th Century, lived in relative peace. In southern Burma Muslims at one time outnumbered Buddhists, and, over the centuries, unlike recent times, there were only occasional acts of persecution and killing of Muslims.

Ancient Burmese chronicles tell the story of the Buddha and some of his disciples, using the same miraculous means by which he reconnoitered Sri Lanka, flew over Burma. During the aerial surveillance, they looked down at ancient Pegu on the Gulf of Martaban, and the Buddha predicted that Buddhism would flourish in this place. There is also a story about two Burmese merchants, Tapussa and Ballika, who, while traveling in North India, claimed to have met the Buddha and received from him eight hairs from his head. These sacred relics now reside in the Shwedagon Pagoda, the tallest in the world and now covered with 60 tons of gold, some of which was brought back from military expeditions to Thailand. Additional gold came from Burmese kings and queens, who would donate their weight in gold to the pagoda.

Legend becomes history in the Buddhist kingdom of Prome, whose kings claimed to have descended from Abhiraja and his roots back to pre-Buddhist India. During the 4th Century C. E. the Buddhism of these kings of Prome and surrounding city states came from South India, just as it did for Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Indonesia. One of many Chinese travelers, who gave us the first outside reports of early Buddhism, described the Buddhists in Prome as follows: “It is their custom to love life and hate killing. . . They do not wear silk because, they say, it comes from silkworms and involves injury to life.”[189] Although Pāli scriptures never refer to the Buddha as divine, omniscient, or coming in a future form, the Buddhist kings of this period promote the idea that, if they attained sufficient merit, they would become an omniscient Buddha.  At the royal inaugurations of the Pagan kings, they would be sitting between statues of Sakka (=Hindu Indra) and Brahmā, and they would, according to Aung-Thwin, become “the [future] Buddha Metteyya (=Maitreya in Sanskrit).” Not only were the kings of Prome blessed by Hindu deities, they also took Hindu names such as Vikram and Varman; and they guided their city state through a brilliant and prosperous millennium until the Pagan king Aniruddha came down from the north and conquered them in the 9th Century.

In the 7th Century CE the Buddhism that came to Burma through North India and Tibet was a tantric sect known as Ari Buddhism, which mixed animism, serpent (naga) worship, and Hinduism. Temples were dedicated to the great Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, the goddess Tārā (a Tibetan adaptation of the Hindu goddess Pārvartī), the five Dhyāni Buddhas, and the wrathful deity Hayagrīva. The palace of Pagan King Kalancacsā (1084-1111) had four towers and an additional one in the center, which most likely represents the five Dhyāni Buddhas: Vairocana in the center, Amitābha in the West, Akṣobhya in the East, Amoghasiddha in the North, and Ratnasaṃbhava in the South.

Syncretism with Hinduism was even more extensive than in Tibet. Aung Twin states that Avalokiteśvara “came even to resemble Brahmā,” and drawing on the great Buddhist scholar Edward Conze, he notes that he “became a magician, and adopted many of Śiva’s characteristics.”[190] Black and white magic was used, as William Koeng relates, by Burmese court wizards “for neutralizing or overcoming a rival, or even the superior power of the king.”[191] As far as my sources indicate, it was never to the extent that specific tantric rituals were used in Tibet, where it can arguably be termed “war” magic. As the influence of Theravada school increased, the tantric lamas were looked upon with more disfavor, primarily because they ate beef and drank alcohol. More conservative Buddhists have always been suspicious of the tantrics’ claim that their techniques made them so spiritually pure that they could eat or do all forbidden things.

The Pagan King Aniruddha (1044-1078) was an Ari Buddhist, but one of his generals was a Muslim named Byatta. Byatta’s two sons were elevated as nats, deities whom Aniruddha included in Buddhist worship even after he converted to the more “orthodox” Theravada school. To this student of Buddhism the most amazing fact about this celestial hierarchy is that Māra, the great tempter of Sakyamuni during his Enlightenment, is a deity higher than the nats.  As Michael Aung-Thwin explains: “[Māra’s] past merits were so good that even all his subsequent evil deeds could not bring him lower.”[192] In Hindu mythology the asuras, incorrectly translated as “demons” only because they are always in conflict with devas, also gain great merit by practicing yogic austerities, and some of them—for example, Bali and Rāvaṇa—rule as righteous kings.

The Hindu deities Viṣṇu and Śiva were evident in Burma as early as the First Century C.E., and Hindu priests were invited to instruct in Sanskrit and perform rituals for royalty but not for the laity. As a gesture to his resident Hindus, King Aniruddha made the warrior god Indra the Lord of the 33 nats. (In neighboring Thailand the Hindu creator god Brahmā sits at the top of every Buddhist house or business shrine.)  A Tamil merchant was allowed to build, just south of the capital city of Pagan, a temple to Viṣṇu with the name Nānādēsi Viṇṇagar Ālvār, which means “Viṣṇu temple of those coming from various countries.”[193] Aniruddha’s name has the word deva (god) added at the end, and “Aniruddha” is Sanskrit for “uncontrolled.” (There be a connection to Aniruddha, the grandson of Kṛṣṇa.) During the Pagan period, the Burmese language evolved out of Pyu, a tongue closely related to Brāhmī, an Indic language found, for example, on the rock edicts of Emperor Aśoka. A growing scholarly consensus is that the script was originally derived from the yet undeciphered language of the Indus Valley civilization. Scholars are now divided, however, about whether the Burmese script is derived from Pyu or Mon, a language that dominated the culture and literature of pre-12th Century Pagan.  At its zenith (ca. 1200 CE) the Pagan had a population of upwards of 2.5 million with those in the capital number as many as 200,000 people and 10,000 Buddhist temples.

Under Aniruddha’s wise rule, Burma flourished culturally, administratively, and agriculturally, but his generous patronage of Buddhism led to more and more tax exempt land being owned by the Saṅgha. Burmese kings earned great merit by supporting temple and pagoda building (2,500 of Aniruddha’s pagodas still remain), and this great store of merit could be bestowed—Bodhisattva-like—on the general population. However, scholars argue that the main reason for the decline of Burmese dynasties through the centuries was this loss of tax revenue. It is estimated that Pagan could once rely on 600,000 cultivated acres, but that area had declined to 250,000 acres of taxable land during the late years of the empire. During Aniruddha’s reign, his armies conquered an area that is almost as large as Burma’s current boundaries. One of his main rivals were the Khmer kings of Anghor, whom he fought for territorial reasons and not because they were Hindus. The Khmers had a formidable navy, which sailed down the Mekong to engage the Hindu kingdom of Champa. Their ships reach as far as South India, and their navy landed troops on the southeast coast of Burma, where Aniruddha’s force defeated them.

In contrast to Tibet, where religion and state were fused in the rule of high lamas (sometimes with negative consequences), Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Burma never had priest-kings, although the elevation of Burmese kings to level of nats clearly indicated their sej8divinity. Southeast Asian Buddhist kings did wield much power as protectors of Buddhist faith and the Saṅgha. Burmese kings would occasionally “purify” the Saṅgha, which was usually justified on the basis of monastic corruption and immorality, which led to the defrocking of monks; but also indirectly done to check monastic power by expropriating Buddhist property. The Burmese kings also had the prerogative of “purifying” scripture, and Aniruddha undertook a “righteous conquest” of Lower Burma because, as Aung Twin reports, “he was refused the ‘correct version of the [Pāli canon]’ that he wanted.”[194]  Aung-Twin continues: “[Aniruddha’s] unsuccessful attack on the [northern] Nanchao area was ‘to seek the [Buddha’s] holy tooth,’ rather than to secure his strategic military bases.”[195] His destruction of the ancient capital Śrī Kṣetra was also done to obtain a Buddhist relic. In contrast to the non-religious conflict with other countries, Aniruddha, ironically, went to war against his fellow Buddhists for religious reasons.

During the early medieval period, Buddhism was primarily, just as it was in 8-9th Century Tibet, the religion of the ruling class. Although personally favoring Theravādin Buddhism, the Pagan King Kalancacsā tolerated both Hindus and Muslims, and he also brought together all of Burma’s principal ethnic cultures.  Under Kalancacsā’s patronage, the minority Mon scholars and artisans became dominant, and their language was adopted by the court. As Michael Aung-Twin states: “Art and architecture, religion, language and literature, ethnic plurality—in effect the whole society during Kalancacsā’s reign, reflected assimilation and syncretism.”[196] This is the premodern “social solidarity,” which, according to Robert H. Taylor, was dissolved by a modernist and destructive “reified ethnicity” introduced by British colonialism.[197] In the previous chapters we saw that this cultural, ethnic, and religious mutuality, not completely devoid of conflict but nonetheless generally harmonious, was also the case in medieval India and Sri Lanka. 

Under the command of the future Chinese emperor Kublai Khan, Mongol armies took advantage of Pagan’s weaknesses, and the empire, already in decline, officially ended on December 17, 1297. During the 250 years of fragmentation and tension among small principalities, the purely Buddhist nationalist line, however, was interrupted, just as it was with the Tamil kings of Śri Lankā, by invading Turkish and Afghan forces from East Bengal (present day Bangladesh) in the 14th Century. In 1430 King Naramithla, exiled from the western coastal region of Arakan returned home to Burma, and, with the aid of primarily Afghan soldiers, established a hybrid Buddhist-Islamic dynasty at Mrauk-U. Mrauk-U grew to become a large cosmopolitan trading city of 160,000. Historian Myint-U lists Mrauk-U’s inhabitants as “mix of Arakanese, Bengalis, Afghans, Burmese, Dutch, Portuguese, Abyssinians, Persian, even Japanese Christians from Nagasaki.”[198] These Arkanese kings grew even more powerful as the Bengali Sultanate’s rule waned, and they were the last to fall to the military juggernaut of King Bayinnaung (1516-1581). It is significant, as Aung San Suu Kyi reports in her history of her country, that from the 15th Century onwards the Arakanese kings “used Islamic titles, although they and the majority of their subjects remained Buddhist.”[199] Further enriching the religious syncretism of the state is the fact Arakanese marriage customs reflect strong Muslim influence.

Although the Burmese chronicles attempt to trace all royalty back to Pagan and earlier, Bayinnaung’s father was a lowly toddy tree climber.  His mother, however, became nursemaid to Prince Tabinshwehti, and a strong bond developed between the young prince and his nursemaid’s son. At the age of 14 Tabinshwehti became the King of Toungoo and took one of Bayinnaung’s sisters as his queen. Bayinnaung became one of the kingdom’s must successful military officers. In 1539, at the age of 23, he led his troops to a great victory at the Battle of Nuangyo, which gave them control of the Mon city of Pegu. As a reward, Tabinshwehti bestowed upon him the honorific “Bayinnaung,” which means “king’s elder brother.”

The Toungoo dynasty had its capital in Pegu, whose previous inhabitants spoke Mon and had experienced their own golden age of culture, literature, and world trade.  Pegu was a thriving port city until its access to the Gulf of Martaban had silted in. After conquering Pegu, Bayinnaung went on to take Martaban, whose prince had Portuguese allies with artillery. Over the next forty years, Bayinnaung would establish the largest empire in Southeast Asian history. Crowned king in Pegu in 1554, Bayinnaung was known as a chakravartin, a Dharma-wheel-turning king, and the Thais, even though Bayinnaung finally defeated them decisively and arrogated himself as Emperor of Siam, still refer to him as the “Conqueror of the Ten Directions.”

The most dramatic incident of anti-Muslim violence was during the reign of the Arakan King Sanda Thudhama (1652-1674), who initially welcomed Mughal Prince Shah Shuja, who was seeking refuge from his brother Aurangzeb. When Emperor Shah Jahan died, Shah Shuja crowned himself emperor. As he moved his army and navy out of Bengal and up the Ganges, where Shah Shuja had been governor, he was defeated by his younger brother Dara Shikoh near the present day Varanasi. As we learned in chapter 2, Dara was much less fortunate against Aurangzeb in battle. Shah Shuja marched all the way to Fatehpur near Agra where Aurangzeb defeated him decisively in January 1659.  Shah Shuja fled east to Arakan by a road that still bears his name, but the gold, silver, and jewels carried on Shah Shuja’s camel train were too much of a temptation for the Arkanese. Shah Shuja’s daughter was raped by King Sanda Thudhamma and his three sons were beheaded, but their father was able to escape back to India. The details of this incident demonstrate that the principal motivation here was not religious differences but greed. There was good reason for historians to label Sanda Thudhamma the “pirate king.”

The Last Burmese Kings and British Colonialism

In the middle of the 18th Century several factions were attempting to take advantage of the weaknesses of Bayinnaung’s waning Toungoo Empire.  A rising Vaiṣṇava kingdom in Manipur, intent on enforcing caste rules, raided along the Mu River in the northwest in 1739, and, uncharacteristic for any Hindu army, destroyed pagodas and monasteries. Historian Myint-U describes the attempts at conversion by a Manipuri priest: “In 1743 the famed Manipuri teacher Maha Tharphu arrived in person at Ava, intending to instruct the Burmese king in the ways of the Hindu faith.”[200] In the south the Mons were more successful. They gained strength under the leadership of Bannya Dala, and he brought all the cities of that area, including Pegu and Ava, under his rule. Burmese chiefs in the north were not pleased with this development, and they unified around a charismatic warrior Aung Zeyya from an obscure village 60 miles north of Ava. In 1754 he entered Ava victorious, and by 1759 he, now called Alungpaya (a Burmese name for the future Buddha,) had gained control over a reunited Burma second in size only to Bayinnaung’s.

The first British contacts with Burma were made by the East India Company in the 17th Century; but, after having lost Madras to the French in 1746, the sought renew trade across the Bay of Bengal.  In Burma they also met French resistance, but they held on tenaciously to the island port of Negrais. Because the French had supported Bannya Dala, Alungpaya was more inclined to forge an alliance with the British, so he again attempted to dislodge the French from Syriam. An elite force of 93 Burmese commandos was able to break through the defenses. With this loss and even more in India, and then facing defeat in the Seven Years’ War in America and Europe, the French left the British in control of most of Burma and South Asia.

King Bodawpaya, the fourth son of Alungpaya, took a great interest in Buddhism, but, in an unprecedented move, the Saṅgha rejected his claim to be Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future.[201] The king’s support of religion extended to Islam, which he patronized by ordering the translation of the works of Abhisha Husseini, a Sufi missionary from the Indian city of Aurangabad.  A considerable number of Muslims had come from India as mercenary musketeers and artillery men.  The city of Amarapura had a population of perhaps 9,000 Muslims and they attended 40 mosques there. Many of these men married Burmese women, and a British visitor described Muslim women as follows: “their women of all ranks go unveiled and clothed as scantily as the rest of their countrywomen; they marry for love and women even pray in the same mosques as men.”[202] Muslims were the mayor and governor of the royal city Ava and Pagan respectively. (Arab speaking Jewish traders became so influential that both Rangoon and Panthein had Jewish mayors in the early 1900s.) Most of the 19th Century Burma continued a centuries-long tradition of welcoming Muslims and non-Buddhists in their midst, but that would change dramatically as the British tightened their colonial control by bringing in laborers and administrators from India. 

It is unlikely that Bodawpaya’s attempts to purify Buddhism, with a focus of the actual words of the Buddha (à la “red letter” editions of the New Testament), was the result of any British or missionary influence. It was Maung Myo, Prince of Mekaya and Bodawpaya’s youngest son, who was the first Burmese royalty to embrace European learning. British linguist Charles Lane and the prince collaborated on the first English-Burmese dictionary. One British author described the prince as a “great metaphysician, theologian, and meddler in ecclesiastical affairs.”[203] Maung Myo was especially interested in European science and this was the beginning of, as Myint-U states, “a long relationship between modern science and Theravāda Buddhism.”[204] In the previous chapter we learned that Sri Lanka n Buddhist, adopting a Reverse Orientalism, not only heralded Buddhist as superior because of its Aryan origins, but also supreme because the Buddha’s “radical empiricism,” as I term it, anticipated the modern scientific method. For later Neo-Buddhists or “Protestant” Buddhist it was yet another way to demonstrate the truth of their faith, and a reason to claim that Christians, Tamils, or Muslims had any rights in their countries.

Bodawpaya’s successor King Bagyidaw inherited the largest Burmese empire since Bayinnaung, but it proved to be difficult to hold, especially on the western frontier with British Bengal. Tensions there led to the first Anglo-Burmese War, which resulted in a decisive British victory.  The initial phases of the war on border’s difficult terrain went in Bagyidaw’s favor, but a naval assault on Rangoon turn the tide in favor of the British. A most dramatic anti-Christian action occurred under Bagyidaw’s rule. An American Baptist missionary Adoniram Judson was struggling with a very small number of converts (18 in 12 years), a process made more difficult because a law proscribed Burmese from converting from Buddhism. Judson arranged an audience with the king hoping that he could convince him to change the anti-conversion law. Myint-U describes the unfortunate result of Judson’s overtures: “On his first trip to Amarapura he had taken a beautifully bound and wrapped Bible together with a brief summary of Christianity in Burmese; the king . . . , a somewhat doctrinaire Buddhist, read the first couple of lines of the summary and then tossed it back.”[205] This is the first official anti-Christian action with obvious religious intent that my research in Burmese history has uncovered. Judson had much better luck with the Karens, and he would pleased to know that there are now one half million Baptists in Burma.

Despite these close intellectual connections to the British, anti-colonial sentiments were growing stronger. Bagyidaw’s successor King Tharawaddy (1837-1846) had two Muslim advisors—Ali Khan and Agha Hussein—and they informed him of the success of the Sikh empire of Ranjit Singh. They also stoked anti-British feelings by telling the king that the British were headed for defeat in Afghanistan. Although as crown prince Tharawaddy had led his troops to defeat in the First Anglo-Burmese War, he was emboldened to break the 1826 Treaty of Yandabo ending that conflict.  As Myint-U reports: “In an interview with Muslim traders, Tharawaddy stated his intention to retake Tennasserim [far southeast Burma held by the British] and even make a grab for Calcutta through Arakan [in the southwest].”[206] Returning to the chapter’s focus, it is significant to note that Muslims still occupied a place of trust at the highest levels of Burmese society. Nevertheless, there was a growing Burmese nationalism, which expressed itself in denigrating all outsiders as kalaars, and within a century Indians—both Hindu and Muslim—would be condemned as the unwanted dark-skinned ones. 

From 1853 to 1878, King Maung Lwin Mindon successfully modernized Burma, in spite of the fact that the British had taken over the lower half of his country and had backed a failed coup by his two youngest sons in 1866. He was also thwarted by a revolt of the Karens, many of whom had been converted by Christian missionaries and encouraged to assert their independence. The Karens had stories of a great flood and the first woman born from a man’s rib, and they also believed that, as Myint-U states, “messengers from across the seas would one day bring them a ‘lost book.’”[207] With this background missionaries were able to convince the Karens that they were one of the lost tribes of Israel. The Karen National Union has fought a 60-year battle against the central government, even refusing to participate in first election of an independent Burma in 1947. The KNU’s military wing the Karen National Liberation Army, the nucleus of which was soldiers trained by the British, is the largest insurgent army in Burma.  The KNLA has waged a war for an independent Karenistan, a conflict that has experienced several cease fires, the most recent in 2012.  Significantly, in 1994 Buddhist soldiers in the KNLA left the army in protest because of what they called too much Christian domination. Karen religious nationalism is the reason why the plural “nationalisms” appears in this chapter’s title.

King Mindon was a great supporter of Buddhism, and in 1871 he arranged the Fifth Great Buddhist Synod in Mandalay. The entire Pāli canon was chanted by attending monks over six months, much in the same way as the First Council soon after the Buddha’s death, and the scriptures were meticulously inscribed on 700 marble slabs. Following his predecessors, Mindon continued the religious tolerance, even patronage, of other religions. Min Aung Zaw states that under Mindon “mosques were built and thousands of Muslims served in Burmese infantry and artillery divisions. Mindon even helped build a hostel in Mecca for Burmese Muslims making the pilgrimage, or hajj.”[208] Mindon’s successor King Thibaw (1878-1885) and the last Burmese monarch continued the modernization program, but, primarily because of French expansion in Cambodia and Vietnam, it was inevitable that the British would take all of Burma as a buffer against them. Again the Burmese military was no match for the British, and the Third Anglo-Burmese War lasted only a week. As with most pacification programs, however, the British, even with Indian and Karen troops, Burmese resistance continued until their independence in 1948.

The Detested Indian Kalaars: Anti-Indian and Anti-Muslim Riots in the 1930s

As we have learned, the Burmese call Indians kalaars, a derogatory term that refers to dark-skinned people from India and Africa.Europeans were sometimes called bayingyi kalaars, and Myint-U explains that “bayingyi was a Burmese corruption of the Arab feringhi or “Frank,”[209] a legacy of Arab dealings with the Crusaders. The British were sometimes called tho-saung kalaars, because tho-saung means “sheep wearing,” and the Burmese elite copied the British by adopting wool clothing instead of the traditional and of course cooler cotton dress. The Burmese no longer used the term kalaar for the British after they joined with them to drive the Japanese out of their country. Significantly enough, the kalaar religion was not Christianity or Hinduism, but Islam. Burmese have a saying that when faced with a Muslim Rakhine kalaar and a cobra, you should kill the kalaar first. Long before Venerable Witharu, a song from the 1930s claimed that Indians were “exploiting our economic resources and seizing our women, [and] we are in danger of racial extinction.”[210] Therefore, current anti-Muslim violence has both racial and religious origins and motivations.

Indian immigration reached its peak in 1927, when the British brought 500,000 Indians to Burma. At one time 55 percent of the population of Rangoon was Indian (in 1872 it was 67 percent Burmese), and they worked in the rice fields (greatly expanded) and on the docks. The British believed that the Burmese were even more lazy and shiftless than the Indians, except of course for the Sikhs and the Gurkhas. Michael Charney writes that the Burmese were considered “too backward for equal treatment with the Indians, as well as too lazy to compete with them for manual labor, and too inept to compete commercially with the [24,000] Chinese.”[211] Adding to Burmese resentment were thousands of British-trained bureaucrats, who supplanted the quite efficient national administration that the Burmese kings had set up.  (Burmese civil service exams during this time were taken in Hindi.) On May 8, 1930, 5,000 South Indian workers at the docks in Rangoon went on strike, and the British ship owners hired Burmese to replace them. As the Indians came back to work on May 26, fights broke out between them and the Burmese replacements. Over 200 Indians were killed that day in Rangoon, and violent Burmese reaction spread throughout the country. 

In 1938 Burmese Buddhists were understandably upset about a book written by a Muslim, which contained libelous statements about Buddhism and its founder. On July 26 thousands of Buddhists attended a meeting at the Shwedagon Pagoda, and they decided to vent their anger in the Surati Bazaar, the center of Rangoon’s Muslim population. A riot broke out and the military intervened. The official death toll was 204 and 1,000 injured. A British judge banned the anti-Buddhist book, but he also proscribed any newspaper from reporting on the event. The stage was set for the development of an ever militant Buddhist nationalism. As historian Myint-U explains: “A powerful ethnic nationalism, based on the idea of a Buddhist and Burmese speaking people, one that saw little need to accommodate minority people, took root. At the centre of this nationalism would be a desire for a new martial spirit.”[212]

The General Conference of Burmese Association and U Saya San’s Rebellion

During the 20th Century there have been nonsectarian and nonviolent protests, most of them led by students and/or monks, and, before the British left, inspired by the Indian National Congress and Gandhi.  (In 1992 Thai students, with the support of their Buddhist king, brought down a military dictatorship.) At the beginning of the century it was the Young Men’s Buddhist Association, founded in 1906 and obviously modeled on the YMCA, which initiated the first political reforms in 1915. The YMBA’s goals were modest: they wanted Buddhist holidays to be recognized in British calendars and they wanted more access to education. The latter goal was reached by a student strike in 1920, which led to the establishment of Buddhist schools and universities. Previously, the University of Rangoon was simply an extension of the University of Calcutta.

The YMBA led the way to the General Conference of Burmese Association (GCBA), the original “B” standing for “Buddhist,” which, according to Yeshiva Moser-Puangsuwan, was “changed to ‘Burmese’ in order to be more inclusive.”[213] Under the leadership of U Ottama, who carried on a correspondence with Gandhi, the GCBA encouraged the Burmese to boycott British goods, and, inspired by Gandhi’s khadi campaign, to wear homespun clothing. U Ottama was imprisoned repeatedly by the British in the 1920s, and, in a show of support, Gandhi visited Burma three times during that decade. During the 1930s fractures formed within the GCBA, and a one of its leaders Saya San, described as a “disrobed monk and mystic pretending to be the heir to the Burmese monarchy,” formed an armed militia, and he led a “massive rural rebellion that still remains a major mark of nationalist pride. . . .”[214] The Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence states: “The harsh repression devised by the British colonial authorities, but mostly handled by Indian, Karen, Chin, and Kachin police, left between 1,700 and 3,000 dead after 18 months of unrest.”[215] Just as in India, the British established four different electorates (Burmese, Indians, Anglo-Indians, and Karens) in the late 19th Century. Time and time again, British colonial authorities all over the world used the principle of “divide and conquer” among ethnic and religious groups, and the long term negative effects of that policy rebound to this day.

Aung San: From Japanese Collaborator to Father of the Nation

            Aung Sun, the father of Aung Sun Suu Kyi and father of an independent Burma, was a student activist at Rangoon University during the 1930s. Together with U Nu, who would later become prime minister twice before the military took over in 1962, Aung Sun led a strike student strike that spread to Mandalay. Aung Sun extended his political activism nation-wide as general secretary of the anti-imperialist Our Burma Union. The leaders calls themselves “Thakins” (Lords), a powerful linguistic move that usurped the Hindi term that the Indian British administrators used for themselves. In March of 1940, renewing a connection made by U Ottama’s GCBA, Aung San attended a meeting of the Indian National Congress, but he eventually rejected Gandhi’s non-violent political solution. The British issued a warrant for his arrest and he fled the country on August 14, 1940, hidden on a Norwegian ship bound for Amoy, China.

As a founding member of the Burmese Communist Party, Aung Sun intended to seek aid from the Chinese Communists. However, he was intercepted by the Japanese, taken to Tokyo, and was persuaded to join their anti-imperialist war against the Western powers. Myint-U quotes his enthusiastic conversion to Fascism: “What we want is a strong state administration as exemplified in Germany and Japan.  There shall be one nation, one state, one party, one leader . . . there shall be no nonsense of individualism.”[216] (Aung Sun wasn’t the only one tempted by Fascism, because some private militias in the 1930s goose-stepped as Burmese Brown Shirts.) Aung Sun secretly returned to Burma, contacting a number of Thakins (later to be known as the “Thirty Comrades”), who joined him in Japanese military training on the Chinese Island of Hainan. These men would become the core of the Burmese Independence Army (BIA), which, under General Aung Sun’s leadership, would take on legendary status, a quality on which the later military dictatorship capitalized heavily.

In 1942, the BIA marched right behind the first Japanese troops to spearhead the invasion of Burma. As the Germans did in Europe and the Japanese did in Manchuria, the latter appointed Ba Maw, as their “quisling” prime minister and he acted for the Japanese from 1943-45. In 1931 Ba Maw gained prominence as one of the attorneys defending the rebel Saya San.  Even with this anti-British background he was nevertheless appointed premier of the Crown Colony of Burma (1937-39). In a speech in Japan, Ba Maw, alluding to typical fascist terms, declared that Burmese, Japanese, and other Asians should unite under “one blood.” (The BIA’s motto then and national army now is “One Blood, One Voice, One Command.”) Ba Maw styled himself as a Burmese king, and Myint-U reports that “he had a field day in designing pseudoroyal outfits. . . . [but] many soon tired of the show. . . . There was a gnawing sense that history was about to favor a different side.”[217] For all the talk of “one blood” the Japanese generally treated the Burmese worse than the British did.

As the world war turned against the Axis powers, many Burmese began to look at their former British oppressors and their Indian lackeys more favorably. The hill tribes, such as the Kachins and Karens, had never cut their ties with the West.  Kachin guerrillas, working with both British and American intelligence in the northern jungles, were able to kill 25 Japanese for every fighter lost. Burmese Communists, who had never joined the Japanese, were also active and courageous. In 1944 British forces, with the aid of full Indian divisions and African contingents, led the military advance to retake Burma. Quietly switching sides, Aung Sun became the leader of the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League, and, going against the opinion of British generals, Lord Mountbatten decided not to press charges against Burmese who had sided with the Japanese. Aung Sun’s sincerity and bold behavior finally won over the British authorities.

As Burma prepared for independence, Aung Sun lost one important ally: Than Tun, one of the Thirty Comrades and the leader of the “white flag” Burma Communist Party, not to be confused with the “red flag” Stalinist Communist Party of Burma, which refused to collaborate with the Japanese. In May 1948, Than Tun initiated anti-government actions after Aung Sun after the latter tried to arrest the party’s leadership. Than Tun’s army of 20,000 soldiers would cause trouble for the Burmese government for decades. The Communists feared that British business interests would prevent the Burmese from determining their own future. They were right to be suspicious, because the Burmese Chamber of Commerce, dominated by Scots, insisted that the Indian laborers and the hated Chettyar moneylenders return, which they did, but only to fuel the resentment against Indians that would simmer for years and flare up as it has recently. During the run-up to the April 1947 elections, the provisional Executive Council did decide that Burma would not be a member of the British Commonwealth. To his credit Aung Sun had persuaded the Shams, the Karens, and a Muslim leader from Mandalay to join the Executive Council. On April 9, 1947, the Burmese people voted in their first free and fair election, and they gave Aung Sun’s Anti-Fascist League an overwhelming parliamentary majority. But, on July 19, 1947, men dressed in army uniforms made their way unhindered into the Secretariat Building and shot Aung Sun, and only three members of the Council survived.  U Nu, Aung Sun’s close friend from their student days, was absent that day and he was appointed the new prime minister.

U Nu, U Thant, and Burma’s First Democratic Government

Burma finally won its independence on January 4, 1948, but it was already embroiled in a bitter civil war, a conflict that would continue in the tribal regions for 60 years. In 1948 the contending factions were many: the Stalinist Red Flag Communists, Than Tun’s White Flag Communists, the Karen Defense Organization, the Kachin militia, left-wing BIA soldiers, and an Islamic insurgency in the Arakan. During the Partition of India, Muslims in the far west of Arakan State wished to join the newly created state of East Pakistan. Initially, their desires were expressed politically, but when the Burmese government resisted, militant Muslims declared jihad. They were initially successful and soon had control over the entire Mayu region. In 1954 “Operation Monsoon,” spearheaded by the Fifth Burmese Rifles and a Chin battalion, was a success, and these forces were able to pacify the region and restore it to government control.  By 1970 the Arakan Mujahids were reduced to a few dozen rice smugglers on the Pakistan border.

The Communists, the Kachins, and the Karens were a much tougher enemy. The two Communist armies made significant advances along the Irrawaddy valley, and U Nu responded with socialist proposals which he thought would satisfy them. He believed that a socialism that respected Buddhism was better than the Communists’ rejection of religion. General Ne Win, also one of the Thirty Comrades, enhanced U Nu’s program by creating socialist units in the army that he called Sitwundan. The rebellion, however, continued as thousands of soldiers deserted from the BIA, so much so that the 4th Burmese Rifles, Karen, and Kachin battalions were the only effective counter force. Many Burmese, however, did not trust the Karens, and Burmese soldiers turned on them. In response three Karen battalions counter attacked, and they were on the verge of taking Rangoon, but Gen. Ne Win’s 4th Burmese Rifles just barely held the city. Ironically, Karen and Communist forces took Mandalay and set up a temporary government, and Kachin troops were within 100 miles of Rangoon. Fearing a Communist take-over, Western leaders sent financial aid and supplies. Burmese pilots in British Spitfires and American pilots in Catalina Flying Boats began pounding rebel positions. The tribal armies were eventually pushed back into the hills and the Communist forces were also scattered.  By the skin of their teeth, General Ne Win and Prime Minister U Nu were able to hold the new government together.

Returning to the focus of this chapter, government soldiers did murder Karen civilians—some in their own churches on Christmas Eve, 1948—and Karen neighborhoods in Rangoon were set on fire. Soldiers from the 4th Burmese Rifles had also burned down a Baptist mission in the city of Maubin. Violence against the Karens also occurred during the Japanese occupation. In 1942 the BIA learned of a Karen plan to rescue their own from the town of Mayungmya, and they started executing Karens (perhaps as many as 2,000) and they destroyed the town’s Catholic Mission. A short history of the Karen people relates that “in many Karen areas the BIA massacred entire Karen villages, and in Papun (Mutraw) District Karen women were herded into camps where they were systematically raped by BIA soldiers.”[218] One bright spot in the otherwise dark Japanese occupation was the intervention of Col. Suzuki Keiji, who was able contain BIA atrocities.[219] Each BIA battalion had Japanese officers and advisers.

Only 25 percent of the Karens are Christians, but their leadership is heavily so, and the Buddhist Karens have begun to assert their autonomy as a protest against the Christian militants. During the 1948 attacks some Karen preachers declared that their people should save themselves from Buddhist “unbelievers,” but it may be difficult to separate political and religious motivations in this war-time violence. However, the military dictatorship has continued its attacks on Karens, other Christians, and Muslims, and in 2013 the U. S. Commission on International Religious Freedom placed Burma among the top 15 violators of basic religious freedoms. (The group includes Saudi Arabia, Iraq, China, Vietnam, Nigeria, Egypt, Pakistan, North Korea, and Sudan.) The Commission’s report states that “most religious freedom violations occurred against ethnic minority Christian and Muslim communities, with serious abuses against mainly Christian civilians during military interventions in Kachin State and sectarian violence by societal actors targeting Muslims in [Arakan] State.”[220] The Commission also accused the government of violating the rights of Buddhist monks who have engaged in anti-government activities.

U Nu was a charismatic leader, who led a simple life and made a positive impression in international political circles. India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru once said that U Nu’s “radiant personality . . . wins him friends wherever he goes.”[221] He patched up relations with the British, and, during a visit to Moscow, he personally challenged the Soviets to respect the rights of Jews. In the presence of Nikita Khrushchev, U Nu also boasted about how his troops had made progress against the Burmese Communist guerillas. U Nu and his personal secretary U Thant (historian Thant Myint-U’s grandfather) experienced a world-win tour of the U. S., where they were awestruck by that country’s great morale and prosperity. Under his wise leadership, Burma was one of the first nations to recognize the state of Israel. He appointed U Thant as Burma’s UN ambassador, and he would later become the UN’s third Secretary General, serving in that position from 1961-71. In their travels U Thant and U Nu would become international celebrities as they polished the image of a poor, struggling country, which suffered as much war damage as many of the European nations had. U Nu skillfully led Burma through the beginnings of the Cold War and was respected leader in the neutral Non-Aligned Movement.

U Nu was a devout Buddhist and his generous patronage of the faith led many Burmese to see him in the mold of the great merit-bearing kings. In July of 1948, during the chaotic conditions after independence, the married U Nu took a vow of celibacy that he never broke.  One is reminded of similar vow that Gandhi made in 1906, one that also lasted for the rest of his life.  Both Gandhi and U Nu did it for the same reason: true political leadership requires the purification of the soul.  In order to counter the charge that U Nu should not be compared to a saint such as Gandhi, let me quote Hugh Tinker: “Amdist unceasing trials and upheavals he has emerged a selfless being, completely relaxed, without tension, inspired by vision and compassion; and his driving is Buddhism which permeates his every thought and action.”[222] Donald Smith relates that, after stepping down as prime minister in 1958, U Nu “divested himself of all personal possession. . . , renounced the secular world, put on the yellow robe of the monk, and spent a week in a monastery.”[223] U Nu’s reputation as a statesman who had successfully fused spirituality and political vision is well attested by this accolade at the World Fellowship of Buddhists in 1954: “[U Nu is] unique among the world’s statesman, by his unparalleled piety and the embodiment of the ideal of rajarsi, the ruler who is also a sage.”[224]  For many U Nu had attained the status of a Wheel-Turning King (chakravartin).

Taking on the royal prerogative of the protector of Buddhism, U Nu organized the Sixth Great Buddhist Council, whose deliberations went on for two years (1955-56). He also exercised the traditional sovereign’s right to “purify” the Saṅgha by passing the 1949 Vinasaya Act, which required that all monks register and submit to discipline. The Act established monastic courts where monks could be punished for violations of their vows and the rules of Saṅgha. U Nu and a great many citizens were concerned about the immoral or outright criminal conduct of some monks. In a column for a newspaper, U Nu wrote that “everybody who puts on a yellow robe is not a pongyi [monk]. . . . If he indulges in all sort of evil deeds, like having an affair with a woman, gambling, and drinking, then . . . he is just a rogue in a yellow robe.”[225] As Aung-Twin states: “Monks . . . were involved in all sorts of serious crimes, including forgery, sedition, opium smuggling, armed robbery, destruction of private property, rape, assault with deadly weapons, and murder.”[226] For example, in 1951, 150 monks tore down a theater because two of them had been denied free admission. Without any central monastic authority and a lapse in monastic exam taking, monasteries became a refuge for shiftless young men. There were battles within monasteries about the naming of new abbots, and at least four monks were killed. Aung-Thwin writes that “another group of monks in Mandalay . . . destroyed several Indian shops . . . stormed a police station . . . , and flogged three men who had been detained.”[227] Newspapers that dare criticize monks were threatened with retaliation. In 1961 U Nu ordered the construction of 60,000 sand pagodas as a means to right the disorder that was spreading across his country.

While the teaching of Buddhism was a required school subject, the government also allowed lessons in the Bible and the Qur’an. The monks objected, but as Charney states: “Nu, arguing that if the Bible and the Qur’an could not be taught, then the Buddhist scriptures could not be taught either.”[228] Debates such as these led monks, especially from the more politically engaged Thudhamma Saṅgha, to request that U Nu declare Buddhism the state religion, and he promised that he would do so.  After handily winning the election in 1960 election, U Nu believed that he was in a strong position to submit an amendment to the 1947 Constitution, which simply stated that “the State recognizes the special position of Buddhism as the faith professed by the great majority of the citizens of the Union.” Christians and Muslims reminded U Nu of Aung Sun’s strong preference for a secular state, and the National Muslim Affairs Committee proposed, as Charney reports, that the Prime Minister “act as the Defender of the Faiths rather than making Buddhism the state religion.”[229]

Despite these objections the Burmese Parliament, on August 26, 1961, passed the State Religion Act by a vote of 324 to 28, a law that made Buddhism the state religion. Militant monks were emboldened by the law and seized a partially finished mosque north of Rangoon, where they thought there were too many Muslim places of worship. When the police came, as Charney describes it, “the monks inside the mosque set fire to it and other mosques in the area.”[230] This is yet another piece of evidence to demonstrate the truth of my hypothesis that the fusion of state and religion is a sure recipe for religious violence. Presumably in order to return to Aung Sun’s vision of a secular state, Ne Win ordered the repeal of this law soon after he and his generals brought down the government on March 2, 1962.

The Dictatorship, Purifying the Saṅgha, and the “8888” Uprising
            In 1958 U Nu’s Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League experienced a schism from which it never recovered. As the leader of the “clean” faction, U Nu released political prisoners and legalized the Communist Party. Fearing a Communist take-over in this political chaos, the government’s war office consulted with restive generals, and they persuaded U Nu to agree to an interim military government under Ne Win. During their two years in control, Ne Win was praised for cleaning up the cities, rooting out corruption, reducing crime, and making progress against various rebel groups. Ne Win had turned to well trained technocrats to achieve these successes; but after the coup in 1962, he put his generals in charge, with disastrous results for the economy as many well-educated Burmans left the country. Ne Win had sided with the anti-Nu faction and he was disappointed that, after governing so well in the interim, but, as we have seen, U Nu won by a large majority in the 1960 election. However, political bickering among the parties continued, and the lawless behavior of many monks, mentioned above, simply reflected the general chaos in society as a whole. Furthermore, tribal rebellions had intensified and posed a further threat to an independent but fragile Union of Burma.

Except for shooting Burmese President Sao Shwe Thaik’s son as he tried to protect his father, the military take-over was, as Myint-U describes it, a “bloodless textbook coup d’état,” and “this time there was no promise of future elections.”[231] In addition to arresting U Nu, Sao Shwe Thaik, and five government ministers, Ne Win also detained 30 Shan and Karen chiefs. In addition to declaring himself president, he made himself defense chief and head of finance and revenue. International airlines were told to leave, as well as international foundations and NGOs, and English language schools were shut down. The students at Rangoon University led protests, but the army shot 15 of them dead and then blew up the Student Union Building, a symbol of free speech since the 1930s. All of Burma’s universities were closed for two years.

Ne Win had a personal grudge against Indians, because, after dropping out of Rangoon University in 1931, he went into the coal business where he found that he could not compete with a well-entrenched Indian traders. Most Burmese had their own anti-Indian prejudices, so there was little protest when Ne Win nationalized Indian businesses and gave their owners a one way ticket “home,” an alien land for many, who had been in Burma for decades if not centuries. In 1964, 300,000 hard-working entrepreneurs left Burma, and well-stocked Indian shops were replaced by poorly run state stores, which soon had rationed goods in them. (The Indian population of Burma declined from a high of 16 percent to 2 percent today.) Ne Win introduced “the Burmese Way to Socialism,” and this called for nationalizing the banks and major industries. The economy was soon in shambles and industrial production dropped 40 percent.

In beginning Ne Win had the advantage of fresh memories of his achievements in 1958-60 “care taker” period; and, and even more so, the reputation of the Burmese Army as “saviors of the nation” from the days of Aung Sun and the Thirty Comrades. The Burmese generals would take Bayinnaung and other warrior kings as their model rulers. (The parade grounds at new capital Naypyidaw are dominated by huge statues of Kings Aniruddha, Bayinnaung, and Alaungpaya.) The strict discipline and brutality that the army’s original core learned from the Japanese would, unfortunately, continue under the 48-year dictatorship. In stark contrast, U Nu had made Indian King Aśoka his hero. Aśoka pulled his troops back from the borders and established a qualified non-violent regime with no offensive war, no royal hunts, and establishment of animal hospitals. U Nu was much more in line with earlier kings, who, even though they led armies, also looked to Aśoka for inspiration. Myint-U writes that in 1853 “when [King Mindon] ordered irrigation repairs to be undertaken around Shwébo, he also ordered that no fish were to be harmed as a result. . . . In 1864, all hunting and trapping of animas in the lower Dhindwin was banned.”[232] King Mindon, Prince Mekkaya and the Myoza of Myothit all established animal sanctuaries throughout the country.  The State Religion Act of 1961 contained a ban on cow slaughter, which was soon repealed by the military government.

While U Nu had allied himself with the liberal Thudhamma Saṅgha (the largest sect), the ruling generals favored the conservative Shwegyin Saṅgha (second largest), which stayed out of politics.  Furthermore, as Jon Wiant suggests, “the ascetic qualities of the fundamentalist complemented the austerity and disciplines of the military ideologues.”[233] In 1965 the government attempted to nationalize the Saṅgha, claiming that 80 percent of the monks supported this measure. The military rulers miscalculated the monastic backlash from this power grab.  Charney reports that “the Revolutionary Council’s “plans resulted in an uprising, mainly among monks in Mandalay, characterized by the torching of army trucks and government buildings.”[234] The generals promised that they would support religious freedom for all religions, but, as Charney states: “The last foreign Baptist missionaries and foreign Catholic priests and nuns left Burma, as the government either refused to renew their stay permits or explicitly ordered them out of the country.”[235] Persecution of Christians continued throughout the dictatorship, and from 2011 to 2013, 60 churches were razed by Burmese military units.  The Kachins, 90 percent Christian, have been especially hard hit.  The Revolutionary Council is filled with conservative Buddhist generals, so the charge of religiously motivated violence can at least be suggested.

In 1980 the military government undertook a thorough “purification” of the Saṅgha with strict controls down to the village level.  Initially, the generals relied on the smaller Shwegyin Saṅgha, but now they turned to the much larger Thudhamma Saṅgha.  Charney writes that “ecclesiastical courts were set up to try hundreds of monks, including forty senior monks, for violating the monastic code, some on the charge of having sexual intercourse with women.”[236] The government prohibited monastic political activities and also reigned in appropriations for religious purposes.  Charney lists some of these measures: “the freezing of state fund intended for the construction of nat shrines . . . , the suspension of the printing and distribution by the government of Buddhist texts, drastic reductions in the broadcast of Buddhist sermons on state radio, and the abolition of the Buddhist Sasana Council.”[237] It is significant to note that, aside from Medieval Tibet, Burma has always had the most monks per capita of any Buddhist country. In 2009 there were about twice as many monks and novices (500,000) as there were soldiers in the military (280,000).

During the military dictatorship, the Burmese Army continued its fight against Communist, tribal, and Muslim insurgents. By the early 1970s in Northern Arakan, the Muslim National Liberation Party was second only in strength to the forces of the Stalinist Communist Party of Burma. In 1978 the Burmese Army launched a major campaign in the Arakan, in which soldiers served as census workers. It was brutal harassment, because most of the Muslim Rohingya did not (and still do not) have identity cards. More than 200,000 Muslim fled across the border as the operation, as Fredholm described it, turned into “abuse and murder.”[238]  Fredholm continues: “By purging the Muslims, the [Burmese Army] attempt[ed] to appease the Rakhine [Buddhist] nationalists of Arakan.”[239] In June and July of 1983, in response to anti-Muslim riots in Lower Burma, Mohammed Zaid, a former Burma Airways employee, founded the Kawthoolei Muslim Liberation Front (KMLF) in August 1983. At its strongest the force had only about 200 soldiers (about the same as those in the Arakan), and, as Fredholm states: “The organization did not last long, however. By March 1987, it had begun to fall apart because of disagreements between Sunni and Shiite leaders.”[240] Again in 1991 in the Arakan, according to a report of the UK’s Islamic Human Rights Commission, “the government reportedly contributed to or instigated . . . anti-Muslim violence, and over 250,000 fled to neighbouring Bangladesh. . . . The government reportedly also contributed to or instigated anti-Muslim violence in Shan state and Yangon in 1996.”[241] It is significant to note that, while Burmese mujahidin traveled abroad to request help during this period, they received only morale support not weapons. As we shall see at the end of this chapter, major supporters of international jihad have now changed their minds.

In 1988 Nu Win stunned his political party—the the Burma Socialist Programme Party—and the rest of the nation by announcing that he was stepping down and calling for elections.  Students immediately started organizing, and, as Myint-U writes, “on 8 August 1988, at eight minutes past eight in the morning, a day and time deemed auspicious [astrology is widely used all over Asia], . . . dockworkers along the Rangoon River walked off their jobs.”[242]  All across the country the Burmese people marched in the streets carrying banners and pictures of Aung San.  The army did not respond until 11:30 PM, and then it opened fire on the demonstrators and dozens were killed.  “Rather than curtail the demonstrations,” as Myint-U explains, “the bloodshed incited people further, and for the next five days the death toll rose.”[243] The people were still not deterred: labor unions and uncensored newspapers suddenly appeared, and even housewives marched with their pots and pans. Myint-U reports that “in ministry after ministry civil servants and clerical workers left their offices and joined the throngs.”[244] The police and public media workers went on strike, and plans were made for a nation-wide work stoppage.  On September 18, 1988, the army returned to two days of killing, and newly engaged citizens of Burma gradually went back to their daily lives. One estimate of those killed in the 1988 protests was 3,000.

Aung San Suu Kyi: Devout Buddhist, Gandhian, and Compromised Politician

In the absence of a leader, the 1988 protestors had used Aung San as their hero; and, misusing a Buddhist metaphor just a bit, one might say that his good karma “ripened” in the form of his daughter Aung San Suu Kyi. (As readers will learn, I will insist, in my critique of Tibetan Buddhism, that karma is earned and “ripens” individually not collectively.) During the 1988 demonstrations, Suu Kyi gave her first speech to a huge crowd on August 25, 1988 at the Shwedagon Pagoda. She had not returned to Burma in 1988 for political reasons; rather, she was there to take care of her ailing mother. At the age of 15, Suu Kyi joined her mother when she was appointed ambassador to India and Nepal.  In 1964 she obtained her bachelor’s degree in politics at Lady Sri Ram College in New Delhi, and then went to get an Oxford degree in philosophy, politics, and economics in 1969.  She worked for the United Nations for three years and then married Michael Aris, an expert on Tibetan Buddhism, in 1971.  (I will rely on Aris’ scholarly authority frequently in the next chapter on Bhutan.)  In the 1980s she was working on a doctoral degree on Burmese literature at the London School of Oriental and African Studies.

While in college in New Delhi, Suu Kyi studied the writings of Gandhi, and Copley describes Suu Kyi as a “pragmatic” but “strongly committed Gandhian.”[245] Her commitment to Gandhian political ethics comes out especially in this passage: “Some have questioned the appropriateness of talking about such matters as metta (loving-kindness) and thissa (truth) to the political context. But politics is about people and what we had seen . . . proved that love and truth can move people more strongly than any form of coercion.”[246] In her survey of the virtues of the Buddhist king he states that “while a private individual may be bound only by the formal vows he makes, those who govern should be wholly bound by the truth in thought, word, and deed.”[247] Her commitment to Gandhian principles is also seen in her belief that without a “quintessential” revolution of spirit, “merely. . . changing official policies and institutions with a view to an improvement in material conditions has little chance of success.”[248]

In my own work on Gandhi, I have maintained that he stands in contrast to the Jain absolutist non-violence and Hindu relative non-violence. What I mean by relative non-violence is that it is “relative” in cases, for example, such as the caste duty to fight or the animal consecrated in the Vedic sacrifice is not harmed. I argue further that the Buddha and Gandhi agree on a pragmatic application ahiṃsā.  The Buddha firmly rejected the ritual sacri­fice of animals, but his death due to poisoned pork (not mushrooms as vegetarian Buddhists claim) proved that he at least believed that he could not refuse anything placed in his begging bowl; or, at most, that he was a meat eater. A great many Buddhists believe that consumption of meat is allowed if they themselves are not the butchers. Buddhist farmers can eliminate pests who are destroying crops, but they must perform atoning rites afterwards.  While pacifism is the ideal, Buddhists may kill in self-defense. As we shall see in the next chapters on Bhutan and Tibet, Bodhisattvas may kill persons who will, if not stopped, murder others in the future.  Appealing to consequentialist arguments, these Mah~y~na Buddhists, including the Dalai Lama himself, justify such preemptive strikes, because Bodhi­sattvas accrue merit that they then can bequeath to others, and the would-be murderers are saved from the horrors of Hell.

In his dialogues with Suu Kyi, Alan Clements asked her to comment on Nelson Mandela’s belief, once he realized that non-violence was not working against the apartheid regime, that non-violence was a tactic and not a spiritual principle. Clements assumes that Suu Kyi believes that it is a principle, but one of her answers is: “Yes.  He took out his whip, didn’t he?  I don’t think one can afford to be dogmatic in politics.”[249] Earlier in the dialogue, however, she indicates that there are no exceptions to ahiṃsā. If, however, she becomes President of Burma in 2015 she may find herself embracing a more pragmatic position. She says that she will not condemn the students who wage violent protests, and she promises that “as long as I am part of a democratic organization I will have to abide by collective decisions.”[250] Even Gandhi believed that when people are confronted with the choice of cowardice and defending themselves with violence, refusing to fight is worse. In her response to Clements, Suu Kyi acknowledges this famous Gandhian qualification to ahiṃsā, and we may assume that that she will follow the Buddha’s pragmatism as well.

According to Copley, Suu Kyi believes that a theistic spiritual base for non-violence is stronger, because the Buddhist view of “no self” (annata in Pāli) does not support political action and individual agency in general.[251] Copley gives no reference for this assertion, and, in her dialogue with Alan Clements, she refuses to support this alleged claim that she believes theists have such an advantage.[252] As a long-time student and disciple of Theravādin Buddhism, I would be surprised that Suu Kyi holds this view of the annata doctrine. The Pāli scriptures teach that the Buddhist self is  “empty” only because there is no enduring soul substance, so there is no reason not to view it—the five skandhas working in unison as a jīva (see the nun’s poem in Questions of Milinda)—as a robust moral agent in the world.  David Hume, William James, and Alfred North Whitehead offer Euro-American philosophical equivalents, as they all have “bundle” theories of selves that are non-substantial, constantly changing, yet still carrying the same individual agency and personal identity. Clements alludes to this more positive view of the Buddhist self, when he defines annata as “interrelatedness.”[253]

In 1989 Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won 82 percent of the vote, but the military did not honor her great achievement. From 1990-2013 Suu Kyi spent 15 of those 23 years under house arrest or in prison. During this time, Suu Kyi devoted herself to correspondence, reading, and Buddhist studies and practice. She wrote that her political work was inspired by the example of the “hermit Sumedha, who sacrificed the possibility of early liberation for himself that he might save others from suffering.”[254] The story of Sumedha, an accomplished brahmin who became a Buddha named Dīpamkara, or more accurately a bodhisatta in this account in the Pāli Jātaka Tales. With regard to this lofty status, Copley states that Suu Kyi “jokingly . . . recognizes she has not yet become a Bodhisattva,”[255] a title to which so many Burmese kings had aspired. Suu Kyi admired a highly respected monk named U Pandita, who guided her in her Buddhist practice.  He taught her the importance of “mindfulness” (sati), the one virtue for which there is no mean; it does not become a vice in excess, as courage does in foolhardiness. With the Buddhist virtues U Pandita had confidence that, at least in 1989, Suu Kyi could persevere in the face of attacks for “engaging in honest politics.”[256]

In September 2007, there were mass protests in Rangoon over huge price increases (up to 500 percent) for fuel and food. It was to become known as the “Saffron Revolution,” although some said that Burmese monks actually wear maroon robes. On August 19 and again on the 22nd, hundreds of protesters, led by student 8888 leaders, were beaten by government-paid thugs and many were arrested by police. On September 5, hundreds of monks near Mandalay marched, and equal numbers of students and general citizens joined them. The junta called out the troops, and a Human Rights Watch report relates that “the army reacted brutally, beating the monks and the bystanders with bamboo sticks,”[257] but they did not fire on the crowds until September 26. A new organization called the All Burma Monks Alliance (ABMA), claiming the support of their abbots, responded by turning over their begging bowls, a powerful gesture that denied the devout Buddhists in the government the opportunity to perform their daily meritorious acts. Human Rights Watch states that “a September 21 statement by the ABMA went even further, denouncing ‘the evil military dictatorship’ as the ‘common enemy of all our citizens’ and vowing to ‘banish the common enemy evil regime from Burmese soil forever.’”[258] Monks and civilians continued their protests all over the country, including daily vigils at the Shwedagon and Sule Pagodas, even though they were drenched in monsoon rains.

On September 22, protestors marched to Suu Kyi’s home and she gave them a tearful welcome. Later she was moved from house arrest to the Insein Prison. This high security institution is known as the “Hell-hole of Burma, where Suu Kyi was imprisoned in 2003 and then again in 2009.  Every day the marches drew more participants and spread to more cities, and on September 25 the number of protesters reached its apex. On September 26, the army and police came out in full force and started beating the monks severely, and one eye witness reported that one of them died. In the afternoon a group of protesters was trapped on Strand Road, and the army opened fire, killing four.  After an attack on the Ngwe Kyar Yan Monastery in the early morning of September 26, there were 100 monks missing the next day, and 8 confirmed deaths among civilians protecting the monks. The next day at least 7 people, including high school students, were shot near High School #2, and even more were killed near High School #3.  The total number killed and wounded is still unknown, but as I read through the detailed eyewitness report of Human Rights Watch, the deaths were easily in the low hundreds. By September 29 the streets of Rangoon were so full of police and soldiers that it was impossible for people to reassemble and protest.

One Burma scholar does not have a positive view of some of the monks involved in the 2007 protests.  Aung-Thwin expresses his reservations: “Large numbers of monks were cordoned-off by hand-holding people as if ‘protecting’ them. . . . But when political opposition forces dressed in saffron robes and shaved heads high-jacked what had been a peaceful demonstration, it turned violent,”[259] and only then did the troops open fire. The abbots of the monasteries declared that all their monks were to return home immediately. Aung-Thwin cites sources that report that monastic robes had sold out in Rangoon, “so clearly there were secular politicos dressed up as monks with shaven heads.”[260] Many, however, were rogue monks from “fringe” monasteries, where “arms, ammunition, and pornography were subsequently said to have been found.”[261] Furthermore, Aung-Thwin concludes that, as all the monks (even the fake and rogue ones) had returned to their monasteries before the soldiers started firing, the later demonstrations were “largely not ‘saffron’ and certainly not a ‘revolution.’”[262]

            Suu Kyi’s response to the most recent anti-Muslim attacks has been disappointing, but mostly to her international admirers, and not to a Burmese population that is largely anti-Muslim. Copley has made much of Suu Kyi’s comments to Clements about Burma’s ethnic minorities. She firmly rejects the politics of ethnic identity—“we cannot have the attitude of ‘I’m Kachin,’ ‘I’m Burman,’ ‘I’m Shan’”[263]—and the identity politics that sometimes accompanies such divisions. She appears to reveal an implicit nationalist bias when she admitted that she “can only talk about the ethnic Burmese majority.  I’ve not studied the culture of the other ethnic peoples of Burma deeply enough to connect to them.”[264] This seems to put Suu Kyi in a bad light on one of Burma’s greatest problems. Copley, however, neglects to quote the entire sentence, which concludes: “My mother always taught me to think of them [ethnic minorities] as very close to us, emphasizing how loyal they were.  She always spoke of them with great respect and warmth.” Furthermore, she states that “we do not think that this union can be built by the Burmese alone—it has to be built by all the ethnic groups.”[265]

During the election campaign of 1989, Suu Kyi traveled to even the most remote parts of Burma, and she was hailed as a national savior everywhere she went. We can assume that she did learn much about the ethnic minorities of her country; and furthermore, in 1985 she wrote at length and in depth about them in the chapter “My Country and People” in her collections of essays in Freedom from Fear.  Nevertheless, on a 2012 trip to Europe she disappointed Kachin students when she refused to condemn government attacks on their people back home. One of the students, Ko Nawng, declared that “she should be a leader for all the ethnic nationalities and stand up for our rights like the moral icon and human rights defender she is.”[266] He could have referred to Suu Kyi’s own reference to the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, which “proclaims that ‘every individual and every organ of society’ should strive to promote the basic rights and freedoms to which all human beings regardless of race, nationality, or religion are entitled.”[267] It is significant to note that the rights mentioned in both the U.N. Declaration and the U.S. Declaration of Independence are natural rights, which demand protection regardless of citizenship. Even if, for example, the Royingyas are not citizens, their basic rights should be respected.

During the same trip Suu Kyi enraged Royingya Muslims when she said that she was unsure that they are an ethnic minority, and she expressed doubts that they are Burmese citizens, a position roundly criticized by international human rights organizations. The International Crisis Group issued a statement in which it expected “her to break through partisanship and speak much more strongly and clearly against extremist rhetoric and violence.”[268] Suu Kyi has also rejected the charge, made by Human Rights Watch, that the attacks on the Rohingya Muslims are ethnic cleansing. Suu Kyi has laid blame on both Muslims and Buddhists, has warned about growing Muslim power world-wide, and has, incredibly enough, praised the work of the police and Burmese security forces. International observers, such as Tomás Ojea Quintana, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, countered this by saying he had witnessed government authorities “standing by while atrocities have been committed before their very eyes, including by well-organized ultranationalist Buddhist mobs.”[269]

Maung Zarni, a Burma expert and visiting fellow at the London School of Economics, says that Suu Kyi “is no longer a political dissident trying to stick to her principles.  She’s a politician and her eyes are fixed on the prize, which is the 2015 majority Buddhist vote.”[270] A reporter from The Economist quotes one critic saying that she “has lost touch with the suffering of the people.”[271] To her credit she did object to the new government policy to limit Muslim parents, attacked world-wide by Islamophobs as “breeders,” to two children. Nevertheless, it may be concluded that Suu Kyi has departed from the Gandhian political ethics of truth and loving-kindness. With so much inclination to political compromise, it is not clear that she can even hold to her pragmatic view of non-violence. Will Suu Kyi be able engage in the “honest politics” of which U Pandita found her eminently capable?

It is sadly ironic that the Venerable Wirathu jokingly compared himself with Osama bin Laden, because Muslim jihadis—Burmese, Bangladeshis, Indonesians, and Pakistanis—would be offended by any disrespect shown to their martyr, and they will intensify their efforts to respond to the anti-Muslim attacks.  In May of 2013 jihadists were thwarted in their plans to bomb the Myanmar Embassy in Indonesia, where two representatives of the Rohingya Solidarity Organization were said to be requesting arms from jihadist there. There is evidence that foreign Islamic militants have already arrived in Burma. The Long War Journal has released unconfirmed reports that in July of 2013, a group claims it killed 17 Burmese soldiers in its first ambush of a military convoy, and “a few days ago they slaughtered three men including a Buddhist monk.”[272] This jihadist group is called Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Arakan, and it was founded by Maulana Abdul Quddus, a Burmese Muslim who has been associated with Al Qaeda since the early 1980s. Jihadists from around the world are rallying to a jihad in Burma because of what they call the “genocide” of Muslims there. One mitigating factor was reported by The Economist:  “[Foreign jihadists] would regard the Rohingyas’ brand of Islam as unduly syncretic, even un-Islamic, and thus unworthy of support.”[273]  Nevertheless, the prospects for religious harmony in both Sri Lanka and Burma do not bode well.


Chief avenger and punisher of those who were inimical to
the cause of Buddhism and the public peace.
—A Tibetan description of Bhutan’s Dharma Rāja, the Shabdrung[274]
The defeat of the six Tibetan invasions, which took place during his
lifetime were made possible by [the Shabdrung] alone, more particularly
 by his magical control of the guardian deities of the Drukpa.
—Michael Aris[275]
So we are faced with the odd situation that during these years the Tibetan
 [1682-97] and Bhutanese [1651-1708] states were both ruled by corpses
—Michael Aris[276]
The Sixth Dalai Lama disrobed according to some [divine] plan. If he had
 disrobed and still remained the Dalai Lama, then he would have had
a son who would have become king.  That would have been better.
—The 14th Dalai Lama[277]

Located immediately to the south of Central Tibet and half the size of the state of Indiana, Bhutan today is an eminently peaceful constitutional monarchy. Bhutan was never dominated by the Gelugpas (popularly known as the Tibetan “Yellow Hat” sect), except for some monasteries in the far east.  It had, however, been early on the home of the Nyingma School (the original “Red Hats”), established by Indian guru Padmasambhava, and later it was dominated by a Kagyu Tantric sect called the Druk. The major non-Gelug tantric schools of Tibetan Buddhism are the Nyingma, the Karma-Kagyu, and the Sakya. The suffix “pa” indicates followers of each of these schools.

Tibetan religious histories tell us that in the early 7th Century CE the Tibetan “Dharma” King Songzen Gampo established two monasteries in Bhutan, two of 12 sacred sites laid out, according to an elaborate geomantic system, by Gampo’s Chinese wife Konjo. In addition to Chinese geomancy, there is also a more ancient version of the conquest of Tibet, which depicts the sacred geography of the country in the form of a giant ogress “pinned” down by 12 great Buddhist monasteries. (Tantric daggers or stakes are used in the “taming” or “liberation” rituals.) The preferred Tibetan view of Gampo’s theocratic rule would have Bhutan as the southeast extension of a great Buddhist empire, but there is no evidence that the native Bön religion lost its hold on this region during the early empire of the 7th and 8th Centuries.

During a 3-week trip to Tibet and Bhutan in 1999, I learned that the Bhutanese had bravely defended themselves against nine Tibetan invasions in the 17th Century. My gracious Bhutanese hosts allowed me to assume that they as Drukpas were always the victims of religious violence by Tibetan armies. The first three conflicts, however, were between warring factions within the Tantric Druk sect, some of whom had fled to Bhutan. Tibetan sources also indicate that at least three of these attacks may have been provoked by the Bhutanese themselves.[278] In 1676, in order to gain control over a lama reincarnation, Bhutan invaded Sikkim and the Tibetans invaded Bhutan in retaliation. The Bhutanese invaded Sikkim a second time in 1740, and again Tibet came to its aid, but the Bhutanese still occupied its Kālīmpong region until 1865.[279]

The first section will discuss the exploits of Padmasambhava, sometimes called the Second Buddha, who came from the Swat Valley in present-day Pakistan.  Traveling in this area in the 7th Century, Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang (602-664) reported visiting a center for Vajrayāna (=tantric) Buddhism with 1,400 temples. There are so many legends surrounding the great saint that it is difficult to find a truly historical core. One of his many biographies reports that his career as a tantric yogi began with an act of violence. After having “karmically cause[d] the death of a minister’s wife and two infants,” he was exiled to do penance in charnel grounds near Bodhgaya where he was introduced to the Tantras.[280] After being discovered initiating tantric rites to Mandarava, daughter of King Vihardhara of Rewalsar, Padmasambhava and the daughter consort survived a trial by fire ordered by the king. The king was duly impressed and allowed Mandarava to become Padmasambhava’s first consort.

Beginning with some philosophical and theological issues, the second section will discuss similarities and differences between the Bodhisattva and the Abrahamic deity. The difference points to the ongoing dialogue between Mahāyāna Buddhism and process theology where common ground is found in a rejection of divine omnipotence and divine immutability. The first allows the possibility of free-will and the second makes the idea of divine compassion intelligible.  The second section also explains my concern that reincarnated lamas as Bodhisattvas or Buddhas undermine the law of karma. The Bodhisattva ideal has been taken as one of the greatest moral and spiritual achievements of Mahāyāna Buddhism. These “beings of enlightenment,” beneficent laypeople in many instances, have exhausted their karmic debt, but they choose not to enter Nīrvaṇa until all sentient beings are redeemed. The claim that transcendent beings without karma, seemingly working independently of the cause and effect, can nonetheless take on the karma of others raises serious metaphysical and moral questions.

In the third section I discuss the proposal that the lamas are more correctly viewed as emanations rather than incarnations. This raises the issue of docetism, the view that the Bodhisattva only appears to take on a human body and enter human history. Docetism was declared a heresy in Christianity, but is not taken as such in Mahāyāna Buddhism.  Docetism, however, only exacerbates the problem of a transcendent deity operating apart from space, time, and causation. It also allows apologists to excuse the bad behavior of lamas with the explanation that that is only the human shell acting, not Chenrezig, the Tibetan name for the Indian Avaloketiśvara.

In the fourth section I argue that the Dalai Lama’s claim that Chenrezig has a divine plan for the Tibetan people undermines the through-going humanism found in the Pāli scriptures. This humanism, holding there are real nonsubstantial individuals within the interdependent web of existence, holds that the Buddha is not a divine being and this also implies that lamas are not divine beings either. This view is more consistent with the Dalai Lama’s suggestion that Tibet would have been better ruled by hereditary kings, or today by a parliamentary democracy.

The fifth section contains a summary of issues involved in Buddhist political philosophy, especially the doctrine of dual sovereignty. There is a long line of very successful Buddhist kings in ancient India, Śri Lankā, Burma, and Cambodia. In the 20th Century there have been exemplary Buddhist kings in Bhutan and Thailand. It is supremely ironic that the most religiously tolerant rulers of Hindu India were the Buddhist Aśoka the Great and the Muslim Akbar the Great, and the best kings that Buddhists of Sri Lanka  ever had, as we saw in the previous chapter, were their Hindu kings from 1739 to 1815. 

In the sixth section I discuss the reign of Ngawang Namgyal, who fled to Bhutan because of a dispute about succession in the Druk lineage. Called the “Shabdrung” (lit. “at whose feet one submits”), he quickly consolidated power not only through his charismatic personality, but also by magical and military means, and, as a result, the Drukpas became the dominant Buddhist school in Bhutan. The seventh section summarizes the reign the regents after the Shabdrung and the installation of the Second Shabdrung.  The eighth and final section deals with Bhutan’s encounter with the British and its decision to give up rule by incarnated lamas for hereditary kings. As the epigraph above indicates, the current Dalai Lama now admits that this political regime would have been a better for Tibet after the Fifth Dalai Lama.

            Padmasambhava “Tames” Indigenous Deities

When the great saint Padmasambhava, sometimes called the Second Buddha, traveled up from India in the mid-8th Century, he first came to Bhutan and established a Nyingma school there. As he would do in Tibet, the Great Guru used tantric rituals and weapons to pacify native deities and committed “compassionate” violence to “save” the local spirits of Bhutan. (The most frequent phrases in the huge 666-page book Oracles and Demons of Tibet are indigenous spirits “subdued” or “conquered” by Padmasambhava.) After the Tibetan King Trisong Detsen deported the Buddhist monk ŚānTārākṣita on the charge that he had brought small pox to Tibet, the king invited Padmasambhava to Lhasa in 761. According to tradition, the great yogi received Trisong Detsen’s wife as his second consort. Padmasambhava then proceeded to “tame” all the indigenous deities of Tibet with war magic.  Instead of being destroyed, these beings became the wrathful “protector” deities of Tibetan Buddhism.

Padmasambhava is said to have used a tantric “wheel” to destroy those who obstructed his missionary efforts. There is an entire collection of tantric texts entitled The Life-Wheel of Bumthang, which Shears the Lives of Enemies. Upon returning to India after his first sojourn in Bhutan, Padmasambhava used the tantric wheel to defeat Hindus who had taken over the Buddhist sanctuary at Bodhgaya.[281] When he traveled to Bhutan again, he brought the “life-wheel” back to its home in Bumthang and used it to pacify native deities. Bhutanese sources indicate that Padmasambhava gave very explicit instructions about how to build Buddhist structures properly. Reference is constantly made to the great demoness whose “pinning down” was fundamental to location to all the sacred sites of Tibetan Buddhism.

In the war magic of The Secret Visions of the Fifth Dalai Lama a tantric wheel (chakra) was used to seal an iron box in which effigies of enemies (dissident Buddhist or Mongols) were imprisoned.[282] The supreme irony of course is that the dharmachakra—the Wheel of Dharma—is the ultimate symbol of Buddha’s teaching of non-violence and compassion. The “precious wheel” (chakraratna) of the Wheel-Turning King (chakravartin) is a disc-like cosmic ship (500 leagues in diameter) in which the great Buddhist King will conquer all “non-believers,” identified as the followers of the Abrahamic religions in the Kālachakra Tantra (“Wheel of Time” Tantra). (As we shall see in the next chapter, the current Dalai Lama, following a symbolic interpretation of this text, has initiated 1.7 million people in its practices.)  One is reminded of Viṣṇu’s discus (brahmachakra), which was his weapon of choice in fighting enemies, and also for cutting up the body of the goddess Satī to pacify her grieving husband Śiva. Each of the principal goddess temples in India are located where each of her body parts fell to earth.

According to Bhutanese legend, Padmasambhava converted a Hindu king Sindhu Rāja, who was ruler of a country called Bumthang with its capital in present day Punakha.[283] The Great Guru told Sindhu Rāja to construct a temple in Bumthang such that a local demoness was pinned down lying her back. The Great Guru also commissions the building of stupas all around the borders to serve as both reliquaries of Buddhist treasures and also to pacify the local spirits.  As opposed to the Abrahamic goal of the total destruction of evil, the general Hindu/ Buddhist strategy is to tame the demons and force them to serve you. The Lord Kṛṣṇa dispatched his demoness nursemaid Putāna directly to heaven, but lamas such as Padmasambhava compelled the local gods to become wrathful protector deities. Ngawang Namgyal, the future Shabdrung of Bhutan, learned all these tantric rites at Tibet’s Ralung monastery. When a dispute arose about his claim to reincarnation, a Tibetan Jonang tantric lama warned that supporters of the other candidate would risk retaliation from Bhutan, whose “protective deities were so ferocious.”[284] These native gods had presumably been tamed by Padmasambhava a thousand years earlier.

Returning to Sindhu Rāja, it is said that he committed a number of grave sins that caused him to lose his soul. Padmasambhava offered to help him, but the cure required the services of one of his daughters, the one with 21 distinctive marks of a tantric dhakini, a minor goddess. After of a week of meditation in a cave, the Great Guru and his newly acquired tantric consort were able to restore the king’s soul. The king’s daughter continued to play a major role in Padmasambhava’s exploits in Bhutan. She was said to embody, as Aris explains, the “wisdom latent in all beings but, given the ancient association of the country with tigers, she symbolizes in particular the inhabitants of Bhutan whose barbarism is transmuted by the wrathful activity of the Guru into spiritual awakening.”[285]

In one version of the myth, the king’s daughter, in the form of a pregnant tiger that will give birth to wisdom, serves, as totemic animals do for the major Hindu deities, as the “vehicle” or “mount” for the Great Guru. Legend has it that Padmasambhava would fly with his favorite yogini to 13 different “tiger’s nests” for tantric meditation and rituals.  The most famous tourist attraction in Bhutan is one of these “nests,” a group of temples high on a cliff accessible by a steep and rugged trail.  When I was in Bhutan in 1999, they were closed because of a fire caused by yak butter lamps.

Many Problems with the Spiritual Succession of High Lamas

In early Tibetan history political and religious succession was hereditary. The Kagyu school, of which Bhutan’s Drukpas are a subsect, introduced the idea of reincarnated lamas, and the Gelugpas chose to continue that tradition. In Tibet, Ladakh, Bhutan, Sikkim, and Mongolia, reincarnated lamas (now numbering about 3,000, including some women) are called tulkus, Tibetan for nirmāṇakāya, the form of the Dharmakāya that expresses itself in human beings. Tulkus are Bodhisattvas (most often Chenrezig) or Buddhas, specifically Amitābha in the case of the Pachen Lamas. Congruent with the Bodhisattva ideal, Tibetan lamas choose not to enter Nīrvaṇa for the sake of the Tibetan people and by extension all sentient beings. 

One could initially say that this theory of religio-political succession is a brilliant one. The government of fallible humans could now be perfected by the rule of compassionate Buddhas, or more precisely, the Ādi Buddha itself, from which all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are plural manifestations. (The Ādi Buddha is another name for the Dharmakāya and even the Dalai Lamas are given the title Vajradhara, the tantric name of the Ādi Buddha.) Transition from one lama to another would be secured and harmonious rule would be preserved under the control of the same perfect soul from generation to generation. We will see that the 14th Dalai Lama believes that Chenrezig has a “master plan” for the cosmos, and that the Tibetan people and their incarnated lamas have been chosen as the principal instruments of this divine mandate. 

In what follows I will raise philosophical, moral, political, and practical objections to the Tulku theory. The Dalai Lama actually agrees with those who say that the temptations to manipulate both the choice of the infant lama and his philosophical and political education are simply too great. As we will see in the next chapter, the Fifth Dalai Lama, considered to be the greatest Tibetan religious and political leader until the 20th Century, confessed that he could not recognize the sacred implements of his predecessor, and he realized that he was chosen essentially for political reasons. We will also see that the Great Fifth’s succession was clouded in controversy and violence, just as was Bhutan’s first Shabdrung.

Frequently, there were competing parties putting forth their candidates and the conflict over them sometime led to war. The nonviolent, theological solutions to the problem of plural candidates—declaring that two were the mind and body of Chenrezig can be admired only for their ingenuity and their commitment to peaceful reconciliation. In the case of Bhutan’s Shabdrung there were three reincarnations—Chenrezig’s, body, mouth, and mind. Such solutions, however ingenious, did not necessarily guarantee political stability.  As we will see in the next chapter, there were two contenders after the death of the 16th Karmapa in 1981.  Factions for the two lamas still argue about the correct choice, but there are some wise mediators who remind their colleagues that in the past Chenrezig has chosen to appear in two or more bodies without contradiction.  Again these are clever and not coherent solutions that wreak havoc with basic Buddhist doctrines.

Some claims of incarnational succession are patently absurd. In 1999 Penor Rinpoché, 11th Throne Holder of the Palyui Lineage of the Nyingmapas, defended his pronouncement that action movie actor Steven Seagal was the reincarnation of the Treasure Revealer Chungdrag Dorjé of Palyul Monastery.[286] (He was quick to deny that he had received any money from Seagal.)  The current Dalai Lama claims that it is “logical” to assume that his successor will be reincarnated outside of Tibet, but one would assume that the person would be from a family with deeper spiritual connections to Tibetan Buddhism.  At least the Spaniard Ösel Hita Torres, known as Tenzin Ösel Rinpoché, undertook tulku training at Nepal’s Kopan Monastery. The late Thubten Yeshe (1935-1984), not an incarnate lama himself and controversial as the reputed “paisa (=money) lama,” claimed that the then one-year-old Torres was his reincarnation.  With Ösel Rinpoché one more tulku lineage has been added to the over 500 already in existence.

Bodhisattvas and Abrahamic Deities: Compared and Contrasted

Bodhisattvas in the Mahāyāna tradition are like the Abrahamic deity in that they are persons with wills and emotional/mental lives, and they have a transcendent existence apart from time and space. Bodhisattvas are also like Christ in that they are incarnated in human bodies and operate in human history. Although the current Dalai Lama laughs off the claim, his official seal states that he is “worshipped by gods and men” and is “the unchangeable all-knowing one who [is] lord of the three worlds [heaven, earth, and the underworld].” Tibetan Buddhists have unwittingly made the Dalai Lamas into what I have called a “spiritual Titan.” Spiritual Titanism is an extreme form of humanism in which human beings claim divine attributes and prerogatives.[287]

Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are significantly different from the Abrahamic God in that they are not creators of the cosmos (which is eternal) nor are they omnipotent. This may be the reason why the Dalai Lama, in his conversations with Thomas Laird, says that Chenrezig’s plans for Tibet have failed on several occasions. The denial of omnipotence makes way, as it does in Christian “process” theology, for human free-will and responsibility, but the mechanics of this divine-human interaction are unclear in all the Mahāyāna sutras that I have studied. Also like the process deity, Bodhisattvas are not impassive and immutable, even though the Dalai Lama’s seal say that he is so. The early Church declared the doctrine of patripassianism—the view that God the Father suffered in the Crucifixion—heretical, but Alfred North Whitehead, modern father of process theology, stated that “God is the great companion—the fellow-sufferer who understands.”[288]

In the Pāli scriptures of Theravada Buddhism Gautama Buddha calls himself a Bodhisattva in each of his previous lives, but uses the term “Buddha” to describe his last life as Prince Siddhartha Gautama.  In these earlier lives he states that “I was still the bodhisatta, not fully awakened, being liable to birth . . . .”[289] Although legends indicate that he knew he was a Buddha at birth, Gautama did not actually confirm this until his enlightenment at the age of 35.  It is significant to note that the Buddha describes the Bodhisattva as “not fully awake.” The implications of Gautama’s view of the Bodhisattva are rather momentous and most ironic: for Gautama Buddha the earlier Bodhisattvas, even though they are benevolent in every instance, are lesser beings because they are subject to rebirth. For Mahāyāna Buddhists, however, their Bodhisattvas are greater than Gautama, because they refused to enter Nirvāṇa as Gautama did, but choose to return to the world again and again until all beings are liberated.  An outside observer could say that this makes Gautama Buddha a rather selfish saint, and Donald Lopez acknowledges that “Tibetans are fond of saying that the teacher [lama] is actually kinder than the Buddha, because the Buddha did not remain in the world to teach us benighted begins of this degenerate age.”[290]
            The Bodhisattva doctrine raises fundamental problems not only in the claim that a being with no karmic debt can still have effects on the world, but also the claim that the Bodhisattva, as Peter Harvey explains, “prays that the sufferings of the world should ripen in him: that he should take on the bad karma of others, not just give them his ‘merit.’”[291] This appears to violate the basic the law of karma. What is the mechanism, other than one based on faith alone, by which a being with no karmic debt and presumably no real body, can, nonetheless be reborn into a world of karma and then take on the karma of others?  Gautama Buddha makes it clear that as the “asavas [defiling tendencies] in me are abandoned . . . not to arise again in future time.”[292] Only possession of asavas can keep a being in the karmic cycle.  This also implies that the Buddha believes that, as Bodhisattvas for him are subject to rebirth, they, too, possess some asavas.            Furthermore, how can a lama choose to be reborn in an infant whose karmic line, presumably, is connected to another person? (Logically, the line for one who has no karmic debt has ended, as the Buddha affirmed above.) What happens to the karmic line that has now been miraculously interrupted?  The fact that a commentator maintains that the “karmic proclivity” of the child chosen “will help determine his or her next mindstream emanation” indicates that the law of karma must count for something in this theory.[293] A general view of Tibetan Buddhist ethics also maintains that ordinary humans are inextricably bound by the law of karma. There appears to be a theory of dual causation similar to that of Christian theology in which God, by means of supranatural causation, can make things happen in the world but remains causally unaffected in the process.

The following passage from Lopez demonstrates that Chenrezig and his emanations stand outside the law of karma.  Contrary to ordinary humans, reincarnated lamas

exercise full control over their rebirth.  For ordinary beings, rebirth must take place within forty-nine days from the time of death. Incarnate lamas are under no such constraints. For ordinary beings, the circumstances of . . . rebirth . . . are all determined by karma. For the incarnate lama, all of these are a matter of choice and are said to have been decided in advance. . . .”[294]

The law of karma, usually admired for its flawless moral logic and followed faithfully by Gautama Buddha, has been rendered irrational. The interdependent web of causation, one of greatest contributions of Buddhist philosophy, is broken by the Tulku doctrine.

Harvey’s discussion of the Bodhisattvas’ “pure lands” indicates the basic problem vis-à-vis the law of karma: “Pure lands are outside the normal system of rebirth, according to personal karma. To be reborn in one requires a transfer of some of huge stock of ‘merit’ of the Land’s presiding Buddha.”[295] As far as I can determine, Mahāyānist philosophers have not been able to articulate how this is possible given the interdependent causal web that Gautama Buddha endorsed so strongly. At the sixth stage of their development, Mahāyāna Bodhisattvas, as Peter Harvey states, “gain full insight into conditioned arising,”[296] but their independent status apart from it indicates a contradiction not illumination.

            Returning to the notion of three lamas sharing the same soul, there are other problems that arise. The ancient Sāṃkhya-Yoga school assumed a one soul/one body axiom. Even in its final release from the body, the puruṣa soul still maintains its individuality. The absolute monism of some Mahāyānist schools, however, undermines the plurality of souls and also the fundamental metaphysical pluralism on which the law of karma is based.  If individual souls and their suffering are ultimately illusory, then the basis for the Bodhisattva’s vow is rendered unintelligible. An interesting parallel is found in Advaita Vedānta, where the liberated jīvanmukta has the luxury of bliss, but Īśvara, the creator of the world of māyā, is bound to his richly differentiated but illusory world as long as souls are deluded in their thinking that they are suffering individuals. It seems as if a selfish Gautama Buddha, just like the selfish jīvanmukta, leaves all the work of universal salvation to the selfless Bodhisattvas.

            Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Emanation, and Docetism

            Some commentators claim that “rebirth” and “incarnation” are the wrong words to describe and explain the appearance of a tulku. The correct word to use is “emanation” or more precisely a “mindstream emanation,” indicating the strong influence of Yogācāra idealism on Tibetan Buddhism. In theological discussions “emanation” is usually a term used to describe the outpouring of divine reality into various forms.  In neo-Platonism, for example, Nous, the divine mind, is the first emanation of the One, and from Nous there comes a World Soul, the third emanation.

            In Tibetan Buddhism the five Dhyāni Buddhas, of which the Panchen Lama (second only to the Dali Lama) is the incarnation of the Amitābha Buddha, emanate from the Ādi Buddha (dharmakāya), and then from them there emanate five correlative Bodhisattvas, of which the Dalai Lama is an the emanation of Chenrezig.  (Chenrezig chooses to manifest Amitābha’s compassion and shows this by sporting an Amitābha image in his crown.) The Dhyāni Buddhas are purely spiritual while the Bodhisattvas take on bodily form, either celestial or earthly. If each “new” Panchen or Dalai Lama is a direct emanation of the Ādi Buddha in its various forms, the problems with the law of karma mentioned above are not solved. There is still an arbitrary break in the karmic line of the individual who is now declared to be the new emanation of the Ādi Buddha.         

            Another problem with the emanation theory is that Tibetan Buddhists would have the same challenge that confronted some early Christian thinkers. It was the heresy of docetism, the doctrine that God only appeared to live in Jesus’ human body. It was presumably an attempt to answer Jewish objections to, not to mention the basic logical problems, of a divine human being.  Buddhist docetism can be found in the early Mahāyānist Māhavastu, where, even though the Buddha did not need to wash or eat food, he did so to “appear” as a normal human being.  (In striking contrast are the Pāli scriptures in which the Buddha is subject to all the needs and ills of the mortal body.)  Mahāyāna docetism is confirmed in the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra and the Mahāyāna-saṃgraha, where as Peter Harvey explains, “[the Bodhisattva] does this by meditatively sending forth a seemingly physical ‘mind-made body’ in which he tunes into and perceives the apparent ‘world’ of those he is seeking to aid.”[297] If the tulkus are direct emanations of the Ādi Buddha, independent from the causal web of karma, then they only appear to be reborn in a body.

            There are, however, significant differences between Christian and Buddhist doceticism. First, many Mahāyāna Buddhists, unlike the Theravādins, would have no objections to making the Buddha divine, at least in his dharmakāya or saṃbodhyakāya manifestations. Second, given the almost universal commitment to a form of absolute monism, Tibetan Buddhists believe that bodies, and all individuals for that matter, are ultimately unreal.  While the Bodhisattva appears in a “mind-made body” as well as all other individuals, God appeared, except for Christian Scientists, in the real blood and flesh of the historical Jesus.  The “scandal” of Christ that the Apostle Paul said shocked the Jews and the pagans would be no problem for most Mahāyāna Buddhists.

            There are at least two puzzles that the emanation theory may resolve.  The first is the conundrum when the child is discovered before the lama himself is deceased. In the case of both the Fifth Dalai Lama and Bhutan’s Shabdrung, candidates were chosen before either of them left their bodies. If the new tulku is a direct emanation of the Ādi Buddha outside any causal chain, then it may be possible that he is the Ādi Buddha from conception on. But we now have a different plurality problem. Above we had the example of the multiple incarnations—officially recognized in the case of the Shabdrung’s successor as the mind, body, and voice of Chenrezig. Now we have a situation in which one soul is in two bodies at the same time until the preceding tulku dies. Again, the Tibetan Buddhist answer may very well be that ultimately there is no plurality of souls. There is one undifferentiated Dharmakāya and the appearance of many individuals and many Buddhas is simply an illusion.  The Bodhisattva’s efforts, however, are not in vain, because as other beings continue to perceive themselves as separate and suffering, the Bodhisattva is obligated to help liberate them.

            The second puzzle is the apparent contradiction of Chenrezig appearing in the life of an outwardly sinful person, such as the Sixth Dalai Lama or Reting Rinpoché, the 14th’s first regent, who though a reincarnate lama, was an active bisexual and who bankrupted the Tibetan state treasury through corrupt business dealings. The monks and patron at Sera monastery supported him, but other Tibetans and the Manchus considered him too tainted to perform the enthronement rites for Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, in 1939.  A docetic theory of reincarnation and Nāgārjuna’s doctrine of two levels of truth resolve this problem by maintaining that Chenrezig only appears to assume a human body and all of its failings. A corollary solution is the current Dalai Lama’s theory that the Sixth was a perfected tantric yogi who could visit the bars of Lhasa and sleep with both men and women without incurring any karmic debt.
            Spiritual Titans, Chenrezig’s Divine Plan, and Buddhist Humanism
An emanation theory of creation and its ontological “fluidity” between the finite and the infinite sometimes leads to the deification of human beings. In my book Spiritual Titanism I define this view as an extreme form of humanism in which human beings take on divine attributes and prerogatives. There are obviously more destructive implications in technological Titanism than in the spiritual forms, which generally take on benign manifestations such as Jainism. As opposed to Jews and Muslims, who believe in an absolute qualitative difference between humans and God, the Tibetans hold that the Dalai Lamas are essentially Chenrezig on earth, though only appearing to live in human body. Claiming authority on the basis of one’s divine nature to act against your enemies would obviously be a great temptation, and perhaps the best candidate among our reincarnate lamas might be the Bhutanese Shabdrung. The deity yoga of Tibetan Buddhism, although initially appearing as a form of Spiritual Titanism, differs from the liberated Jain saint in a significant way: the Jina is an omniscient spiritual atom separated from all other souls while the tantric yogi has merged with the Ādi Buddha without remainder.
            My own personal attraction to Buddhism rests in what I take to be the Gautama Buddha’s through-going humanism, namely, that humans are responsible for their own actions and cannot count on any divine aid in paying off their karmic debt. This humanism is also a form of philosophical realism in which individuals are assumed to have their own reality even within the interdependent web of existence. By some accounts, the Buddha’s last words were “I have taught you the Dharma; now work out your own salvation.” Just as the Buddha, as Narayan Champawat explains, “attributed all his realization, attainments, and achievements to human endeavour and intelligence,” he would also extend that capacity to all human beings.[298]

            Buddhist humanism would also reject the doctrine that Gautama Buddha was a divine being.  The Buddha did not consider himself divine; in fact, for him the gods were inferior beings resting in their bliss in the various heavens and in no position to aid human beings.  In his famous debate with Dona, when the Buddha was asked what sort of being he was, he answered that he was neither a god nor a gandhabba (heavenly being) nor a yakkha (demon) nor a human.[299] For some Mahāyāna Buddhists this passage is proof that the Buddha definitely claimed to have a transcendental existence and he could legitimately be called a “god beyond the gods”(devatīdeva). I prefer an alternative reading that follows the logic of the law of karma: namely, that the Buddha, knowing that this was his last life, would not be reborn in any of the six realms of existence. At his enlightenment Siddhartha Gautama is neither merely human nor divine; rather, as the conclusion of the passage above states, “I am a Buddha,” a perfected being beyond all defiling tendencies. The non-existence of not being reborn is not a transcendental realm; rather, it has no ontological status at all.

            In an unpublished paper entitled “Buddhism and Chinese Humanism,” David Kalupahana contends that Buddhism should be promoted, along with Confucianism, as an equally strong form of Asian humanism. He claims that Gautama’s rejection of tran­scendental knowledge, his declaration of moral freedom in the midst of karmic determinants, and his refusal to go beyond immediate experience all converge nicely with major elements of European humanism. Here is his summary statement:

The philosophy of early Buddhism. . . undoubtedly represents one of the most comprehensive and systematic forms of humanism.  It is based on naturalistic metaphysics, with causal dependence as its central theme.  Rejecting any form of transcendentalism, [hard] determinism, or fatalism, it em­phasizes its ultimate faith in man and recognizes his power or potentiality in solving his problems through reliance primarily upon empirical know­ledge, reason and scientific method applied with courage and vision.[300]

I would add at least two important Buddhist correctives to European humanism: (1) a social-relational self that replaces the Euro-American atomistic, autonomous self; and (2) an interdependent world that serves as a welcomed substitute in our ecological age for atomism at the cosmic level.

I submit that the Dalai Lama’s master plan theory undermines Buddhist humanism. What should be attributed to individual human responsibility according karmic laws can now only be imputed to the cosmic Buddha itself. This is essentially no different from the problematic moral implications of divine omnipotence in the Abrahamic religions. Declaring that the Katrina hurricane and the Haitian earthquake are God’s will absolves all individual humans of their responsibility for substandard construction, the main cause of the loss of life and property in these examples.

In the Dalai Lama and other Mahāyāna Buddhists, I find a preference for the dissolution of the self in the dharmakāya, the cosmic body of the Buddha.  I find the Hindu or Buddhist universal self (substantial or unsubstantial), promoted at the expense of an individual self, an unsatisfactory basis for moral responsibility and it fails to support a robust view of human rights. Gautama Buddha rejected the universal self (ātman) of his Hindu tradition because he found, following what we would call a strict empiricist method, no evidence for such a self.  In place of the atman the Buddha proposed a “bundle” theory of the self in which the self is constituted by feelings, perceptions, sensations, and thoughts in relation to the body and its social environment. This is an individual, not a universal, self, and can be a locus of moral responsibility just as easily as David Hume’s or William James’ nonsubstantial selves.

This is a social-relational self, along with the Buddha’s radical empiricism, is very much like William James’ philosophy, and the notion of self is roughly similar to that of Confucius, Alfred North Whitehead, Martin Buber, Martin Heidegger, and Gabriel Marcel.  Like process philosophy Pāli Buddhism is best interpreted as a metaphysical pluralism, which supports the existence of real, social-relational individuals within the interdependent web of existence. In contrast to some nihilist views of no-self in Mahāyāna, Pāli Buddhism supports a self that can be the bearer of the universal human rights that the Dalai Lama so strongly embraces. We now turn to articulating a Buddhist political philosophy that is commensurate with Gautama’s thorough-going humanism.

From the Saṅgha’s Proto-Democracy to Buddhist Kingship

The original Buddhist Saṅgha was an equalitarian, proto-communistic, proto-democratic institution. The monks owned only a few personal items, and the Saṅgha, in contrast to later Buddhist institutions, owned no land or personal property. Gautama’s son Raula was given no special privileges—he was certainly not the Buddha’s Crown Prince—because all the monks were considered equals, although there were seniority rights. The monks made their own decisions by consensus, and, as Gail Omvedt explains: “elaborate procedures [were] laid down for determining whether a decision was correctly taken or not. In the voting procedure, the Saṅgha even approved the democratic appointment of a ‘returning officer.’”[301] There of course would be no appeal to religious authority (textual or otherwise) in confirming the right decisions.

In the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta King Ajātasattu of Magadha declares that he wants to destroy the Vajjians, a neighboring people with a republican form of government, but he wanted to consult with the Buddha before he did.  Exhibiting the most subtle and deft diplomatic skills, the Buddha answered the Hindu king’s representative in a dialogue with Ananda, the person who presumably remembered this sūtra and recited it to the First Council after the Buddha’s death.  The Buddha asked Ananda if it were not true that the Vajjians “hold regular and frequent assemblies” and whether they “meet in harmony, break up in harmony, and carry on their business in harmony.” Ananda answered that the Vajjians did indeed do so, and because of that “they may be expected to prosper, and not decline.”[302] The Buddha also gets Ananda to agree that the Vajjians have followed the seven political and moral principles for Buddhist laypeople. Ajātasattu’s ambassador admits that a people who follow even one of these principles would prosper. Furthermore, he confesses that his king will not succeed in conquering the Ajjians by force of arms. The pacifying force of countries that hold deliberative assemblies has been demonstrated by the fact that no secular, humanistic, liberal democracy has ever gone to war with any of its peers.

The Buddhist Saṅgha was a caste-less association, so the monks won their respective positions on the basis of both seniority and merit. As he was the most adept at following the rules of the Saṅgha, Upāli was elected master of the discipline (vinaya). As the one best a meditation, Mahākāśyapa was the only one to understand the Buddha’s gesture of holding up a flower as an answer to unedifying questions. This monk became a favorite for Zen Buddhists and their view that truth is beyond scripture and meaning. After Gautama’s death, Ananda was elected to recite the sūtras (“Thus I heard the Buddha say . . .”), because of his phenomenal memory and the fact that he had been the Buddha’s personal attendant for 45 years. One of the principles of democratic polity is that people reach decisions by reasoned discourse. Ananda was able to persuade the Buddha, who was initially against the ordination of nuns, that women should be admitted to the Saṅgha. The former Hindu B. R. Ambedkar—a  20th Century Buddhist convert, activist against British rule, and author of the Indian Constitution—correctly described groups of monks as a “parliaments,” and the Buddha as a “torch-bearer of democracy and an ardent exponent of liberty, equality, and fraternity”[303]   

Saṅgha polity was an ideal, one which the monks themselves sometimes were unable to attain, so the Buddha realized that laypeople themselves could not give up their desires to marry, to pursue worldly pleasures, to trade, accumulate wealth, or otherwise make a living. Most of the lay devotees in the early days of Buddhism lived in cities, and many were tradesmen and professionals. Laksiri Jayasuriya contends that “the Buddha virtually became the spokesperson of a new urban based merchant class in rejecting brahmin orthodoxy, particularly the religious justification of social inequalities arising from the status of ordering human relations.”[304] Buddhism also served to check the growing individualism among the northeast Indian republics that led to the claim that every assembly member was a king unto himself.  Textual evidence indicates that the early Buddhist kings were elected and, in lieu of a constitution, they were checked in their actions by public opinion. Ultimately, however, it is the dharma that is “co-regent” with righteous kings and their “rule cannot be overthrown by any hostile creature in human form.”[305]

Gautama disagreed with certain principles of Hindu political philosophy.  First and foremost, the king was not a deity nor did he rule with divine authority. Second, the Buddha envisioned a caste-less society in which each and every person could realize his or her own dharma, not one dictated by caste.  I interpret the Buddha’s dictum that “they who know causation know the dharma[306] as follows: if we know our causal web of existence, we know the truth (i.e., the true facts of our lives), then we will know what to do. The truths we discover by means of this formula will be very personal truths, as Aristotle says of moral virtues, “relative to us.” Third, the Buddha criticized the moral expediency (e.g., “might makes right”) reminiscent of Machiavelli that Hindu kings such as Ajātasattu were allowed on the authority of the Arthaśāstras. The Buddha’s theory of monarchy is epitomized in the doctrine of the chakravartin, the wheel-turning king.  Peace will come to the world only when a righteous and compassionate king receives the Wheel of Dharma, which appears in the sky, and it allows him to conquer “this sea-girt land [the known world] without stick or sword.”[307] Using the same wheel, the Dharma King in the Kālachakra Tantra does take the sword to “non-believers.”  In the next chapter I argue that a symbolic interpretation of this violence does not make sense.

King Aśoka of India (c. 300-232 BCE) was one of the best examples of the chakravartin and religious tolerance under secular rule. Not only did he not make Buddhism the state religion, it is not even clear that he was a practicing Buddhist himself. Here is his decree from the 12th Rock Edict: “The root of it is restraint of speech, that is, that there should not be honor of one’s own sect and condemnation of other’s sect without any ground. . . . Thus doing, one helps his own sect to grow, and benefits the sects of others, too.”[308] By insisting that his people know the doctrines of faiths other their own went beyond mere tolerance to mutual respect, a position that Dara Shikoh, Akbar the Great, Swami Vivekananda, and M. K. Gandhi took many centuries later. As he states: “There should be . . . growth of the essential elements of all religious sects.”[309]

The translator of Aśoka’s Rock Edicts emphasizes that the “essential elements,” translation of sāravaḍī, are the “vital principles” of each faith, which should induce a “wide-hearted toleration recognizing that there is an element of truth in every sect.”[310] Furthermore, the translator also proposes that Aśoka gives the word dharma a broader meaning that in other edicts.  It is not just the Buddhist dharma, but, once again, the “vital element” of each religion.[311] Non-violence (ahiṃsā) was one of those dharmic elements, and Aśoka implemented that principle by abolishing the royal hunt and setting up the world’s first animal hospitals. Aśoka attempted to fulfill one of the rules of the chakravartin, “maintaining an army but not using it.”[312]He withdrew his troops from the borders and established 150 years of peace in the Indian Subcontinent. We may assume that King Ajātasattu was also deterred in his attack on the Vajjians primarily because of the moral force of their dharmic republicanism.

As we have seen in the previous chapter, in medieval Sri Lanka Bahu I (1272-84) welcomed South Indian Shaivites with open arms, giving them lands and titles, and the Tamil kings of the Nayakkar line (1739-1815) did the most to restore the Sinhalese Buddhist priesthood and promote Buddhist art and architecture.  Although the Tamil minority has suffered recently, especially after the rise of Sinhalese nationalism (at the same time as Hindu nationalism), there is solid evidence of Hindu-Buddhist harmony going all the way back to introduction of Buddhism under King Devanamtissa (247-207 BCE). In modern times the Thai kings, ruling as secular heads of a Buddhist nation, have been exemplary in their preservation of the Saṅgha as well as a commitment to modernization of Thailand. We will see that Bhutan’s kings have approached chakravartin status in their wise reigns in the 20th Century.
            Conflict Over Incarnational Succession in the Druk Lineage
             The tantric Druk school, whose home was the Ralung monastery in the Tibetan province of Tsang, honored both hereditary and reincarnated lamas.  Most Tibetan tantrics, following the example of Lord Śiva, practiced coitus interruptus, but the Drukpa allow their adepts to ejaculate and, presumably, to produce legitimate spiritual heirs. In 1592 Pema Karpo, the Fourth Gyalwang Drukpa, died, and a dispute arose because before his death Pema Karpo had announced that he had chosen two reincarnations. The powerful King of Tsang ruled in favor of Pagsam Wangpo (1593-1641), who was of illegitimate birth and even failed his tulku tests, was nonetheless in the blood line of Phagpa Lotro Gyaltsen (1235-1280), the top Tibetan religious official in Mongolia.  In 1264 Yuan emperor Kublai Khan chose Phagpa to be the religious and secular ruler of Tibet.

The other candidate Ngawang Namgyal (1594-1651) was given the Druk throne at the age of eight by a large number of tantric lamas, and in 1606 he was installed as the 18th abbot of Ralung. With the significant exception of the Gelugpas, dignitaries and lamas from all major Tibetan schools (including his Druk rivals), were in attendance. Pagsam Wangpo had been enthroned at the Sang-ngag Choling monastery, where an attempt to reconcile the two young competing reincarnates took place in 1605. Michael Aris describes the efforts as a failure: “It appears that [Ngawang Namgyal’s] throne had been placed at a slightly lower level than that of Pagsam Wangpo’s, so he refused to participate.”[313] The young Ngawang Namgyal had gained a reputation for being rash and hot-headed.  Aris relates that he once rode his horse directly up the steps of the Tsang royal palace “to the discomfiture of the ruler who had prepared a respectful welcome for him.”[314]

For the next 10 years Ngawang Namgyal and his family tried to legitimize his incarnational right to the Druk line, but the conflict continued. The main point of contention between the two young monks was the Kharsapani image of Chenrezig, whose incarnation each of the candidates claimed to be, and which was the principal object for the legitimacy of the Druk school.  (According to the Drukpas, the image was found in a backbone of a cremated lama.) Ngawang Namgyal somehow managed to get the image, and using the time-honored rule that “possession is nine tenths of the law,” refused to give it up when a Druk court demanded that he do so. Pagsam Wangpo’s throne may have been was higher, but Ngawang Namgyal had something much more important. Just as in Thailand, where he who owns the Emerald Buddha is the true king, whoever possessed the Kharsapani Buddha was the true incarnation of the Druk lineage.

Ngawang Namgyal, known officially as the first Shabdrung, was ruthless in rooting out religious and political opposition to his absolute rule. The transformation of the student-guru relationship from spiritual to political submission may not have been wisest of choices. In a famous 16-point proclamation the Shabdrung declared: “I am the incarnation prophesied by the patriarchs. I am the executioner of false incarnations.”[315] John Ardussi poses the main question for this chapter and the next:

How could two neighboring states sharing the same scriptural etiology and constitutional intent, whose heads of state were emanations of the same Bodhisattva [Avaloketiśvara=Chenrezig (Tib.)], yet remain at war with one another for more than one hundred years over such issues as boundary alignments, control of trade routes, and the ownership of statues?[316]

The Kharsapani statue is now safely stowed away at summer palace in Panakha, where at least I as a tourist was not allowed to see it or, for that matter, any other Bhutanese religious objects (except for a gigantic thankga of Padmasambhava during a festival at Wangdiphodrang Dzong) during my two weeks there.  John Ardussi, from whom I have gathered this information about the Chenrezig image, adds that, in order not to lose face, “the Ralung monastery replaced this image with another Kharsapani image of its own, which was still on exhibit there during the early 20th century.”[317]

Even though “boundary alignments, control of trade routes” caused some tension, it is clear that religious issues were at the root of the conflict.  Determining religiously motivated violence is, however, extremely difficult without having records of the principal actors’ intentions, which of course we rarely have. With regard to forced conversions, the burning of scripture, hate speech and cursing of other sects, or the destruction of monasteries, temples, and statues, all of these actions count, I submit, as religious violence and do not require any knowledge of motivation.

Bhutan’s Shabdrung, Tantric Magic, and Sectarian Persecution

In 1616 Namgyal received information that his life was in danger, and he decided to use tantric magic (more details in the next chapter) to lead to the deaths of three supporters of the rival lama Pagsam Wangpo. Soon thereafter he received a vision, which as described by Aris, has him “flying after a raven to a place situated to the south.  The bird was taken to be the raven-headed form of Mahākāla, chief protective deity of the Drukpa. . . .”[318] The vision confirmed that “the Raven-Headed Mahākāla of Action having thus come and conducted him along a path of clear light, gestures of offering this country of the Southern Land to him as his heavenly field were made.”[319] Speaking from the Kharsapani image, Chenrezig told the Shabdrung he, as Ardussi phrases it, “should establish a new state for the welfare of its sentient inhabitants.”[320] The location of that country was already indicated in his Mahākāla vision, but it was further confirmed in the following prophecy from Padmasambhava:

Seek out repose in the Southern Valleys

On the border, through the Southern Door;

If you do thus you will gain as much success in seven days of

meditation as in seven years in the land of Tibet.[321]

Now that his enemies were determined to eliminate him, Namgyal decided to remove both himself and the Kharsapani image from Ralung across the border and claim the kingdom that had been promised him. Although not yet the Shabdrung, Namgyal received a warm welcome by Bhutanese Druk leaders, who had attended his installation at Ralung and saw great promise in the young lama.  (There were also a large number of Bhutanese monks in residence at Ralung.) Once he was settled in the Thimpu valley (he recognized the Druk monastery there from his vision), he was ready to reply to a threatening letter sent by the Tsang authorities. Aris describes the Shabdrung’s reply as “sarcastic and contemptuous,”[322] and the Tsang government sent an army into Bhutan to eliminate whom they considered to be a false contender to the Druk lineage. 

Bhutanese village militias are said to be have terrorized the invaders with their tantric dress and spells cast by the Shabdrung, who claimed to have taken on the form of the Mahākāla, his wrathful protector deity. Mahākāla’s totemic animal is the raven and it is alleged that an army of ravens harassed the Tibetans until they were forced to retreat.[323] (The Raven Crown is one of the headdresses of Bhutanese royalty.) The thought of Buddhists, including monks, going into battle is hard for Euro-Americans to imagine, but their actions were no less brutal than any other soldiers of their time. Aris describes the gory details of the victory celebration: “The head, hands, and heart of the [Tibetan commander] were brought to [the Shabdrung] impaled on a banner.”[324] The Shabdrung’s fame spread far and wide and it was recorded that “the great army of the Tsangpa had not been able to subdue this single yogin.”[325] His magic extended into Tibet itself, and in 1631, as Shakabpa reports, one of his Tsang opponents and wife “were afflicted with smallpox and died.”[326] In a 1639 peace settlement after a Tibetan invasion, one of the main concessions the Tibetans and their Bhutanese allies demanded was that the Shabdrung cease performing tantric war magic.[327]

The Shabdrung would defeat Tsang armies two more times, and Bhutanese would successfully defend their country against Tibetan hegemony until 1730. In 1644, under the Fifth Dalai Lama, a Mongol army led by Gushri Khan invaded Bhutan. They were defeated and the spoils of that war, including fine Tibetan armor, are proudly displayed at the museum in Paro where I visited in 1999.  In the Shabdrung’s biography it was recorded that “for three months, many [Tibetan] catapults and firearms bombarded the area. However, the Bhutanese performed a great religious ceremony, and the blessings from that ceremony are said to have protected the religious images and paintings from harm.”[328] 

Among the effects of the war magic was the sudden appearance of a “great cloud of smoke” in the Tibetan camps, which caused the invaders to flee leaving everything behind. The Tibetans retaliated by converting several Kagyu monasteries in Tibet to the Gelug sect, adding even more to the religiously motivated violence of the period. Yet another Tibetan campaign in 1647-49 also ended in defeat.  This time the tantric rituals unleashed a huge swarm of bees, and, as Ram Rahul describes it, “the bee-stung Tibetans ran in pain and panic [and] their long hair became hopelessly entangled in the brambles of the undergrowth, where they fell easy prey to the counter-attacking Bhutanese.”[329]

The boastful Bhutanese like to say that evidently the only reason that the Tibetans invaded was that they “came to die.”[330] As Shakabpa states: “This defeat shattered the myth of an invincible Mongol army.”[331] The Shabdrung continued to use tantric magic with deadly effect against enemies external and internal, generally described as five groups of lamas, who sometimes requested help from Tibet in their battles. In 1657 the oracle at the Sera Monastery warned Tibetan officials that they should not invade Bhutan, but the army marched out to the border anyway. When the troops became bogged down for the summer, other oracles were consulted.  Evidently, the oracle at the Samyé Monastery was furious: “Since I knew that your strategy would not work, and asked you not to undertake it.”[332] This same source, according to Shakabpa, “cites many famous stories told by the soldiers concerning the magical capacities of the Bhutanese tantric masters.”[333]

The invaders apparently died of disease, accidental gunpowder explosions, and natural causes other than spiritual.  At least this would be the conclusion from our modern perspective, as, for example, the “wrathful action” of the protector deities was like a flash of “lightning, pervad[ing] the earth and sky.”[334] These tantric rites were essentially psychological warfare—a Buddhist form of Voodoo complete with effigies of the enemy—and any deadly effect, be it storms, a mysterious deaths, or disease, would be perceived as caused by the superior power of the Shabdrung. 

The Shabdrung continued to consult the Kharsapani image, and he also received advice from his deceased father in dreams. Ardussi explains that these oracles convinced him to “follow the path taken by the Tibetan Sakya hierarch Phagpa to found a new religious state. . . according to the Tibetan tradition of uniting religion and secular government in a single administrative apparatus.”[335] Quite in line with the actions of Abrahamic theocracies, prophetic guidance and reliance on scripture were used as justification for an aggressive and violent campaign to bring all of what we now know as Bhutan together as one nation and one religion, the Druk school of Tibetan Buddhism. (One temporary and evidently expedient exception in 1627 was permission to establish a church, which was never built, for visiting Jesuits.) Just as some Christian fundamentalists do today, Namgyal took “an obscure text from the Kanjur, the Tantra on the Arising of the Wrathful Lord’s Yogic Powers, [that] provided the necessary archetype of a ‘hands-on’ Bodhisattva who, in extreme circumstances, resorted even to the killing of enemies to make his earthly kingdom safe for the Dharma.”[336] In some instances simple persuasion was sufficient. The Shabdrung sent a letter to his Hindu neighbor to the south in Cooch Bihar and he encouraged him to give up his devotion to Śiva. King Padma Narayan responded by saying that he had indeed converted to Tantric Buddhism and that he had enclosed a copy of the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā as proof.[337]  Later Bhutan and the British would go to war over Cooch Bihar.

            As the Shabdrung consolidated his rule, sometimes by ruthless oppression of hold-out princes and religious orders, he composed a 16-point proclamation that was inscribed on his royal seal, which might be safely described as approaching megalomania.  Known as the “16 I’s,” they read as follows:
             I am he who turns the wheel of the dual system (of spiritual

and secular law).

I am everyone’s good refuge.

I am he who upholds the teachings of the Glorious Drukpa.

I am the subduer of all who disguise themselves as Drukpa.

I achieve the realization of the Sarasvatī of Composition.

I am the pure source of moral aphorisms.

I am the possessor of an unlimited view.

I am he who refutes those with false views.

I am the possessor of great power in debate.

Who is the rival that does not tremble before me?

I am the hero who destroys the host of demons.

Who is the strong man that can repulse my power?

I am mighty in speech that expounds religion.

I am wise in all the sciences.

I am the incarnation prophesied by the patriarchs.

I am the executioner of false incarnations.[338]

Ardussi claims that the Shabdrung did something no other Buddhist lama had done before:

The head of state in Bhutan was himself simultaneously a Bodhisattva and a Dharmarāja, the embodiment of a militant Avalokiteśvara taking command as its chief of state. . . . Scriptural authority was cited from texts in the Kanjur which interpreted the mission of Ngawang Namgyal as that of turning the ten-fold wheel of the Dharma in both a religious sense and as a Chakravartin, that is to say as a monarch inspired by religion.[339]

Ardussi argues that such a complete unification of religious and secular authority had never happened in Tibet, but some would argue that it did indeed occur in the Fifth Dalai Lama.

            There are good reasons to support Ardussi in his claim. The Great Fifth was a reluctant actor in his secular functions of the Lhasa government, especially those dealing with the military. As Ardussi states: “In Tibet, where Gushri Khan served as defender of the faith, the [Fifth] Dalai Lama’s persona did not require such a militant interpretation.”[340] It is also significant to note that, as we learned above, the Tibetans invaded Bhutan in 1644 and they were decisively defeated. Earlier in 1642 the Fifth had reluctantly acceded to using Mongol troops against the Tsang king, who was aided in his defeat by the Fifth and his lamas performing mass tantric rites against him. We could assume then that war magic was also used against the Shabdrung as well.  If this is true, then his great victory, noted in the Fifth’s biography, was proof that the Shabdrung was a greater tantric master than the head Tibetan lama, who was also trained in the Tantras.

            Keeping up the façade of dual sovereignty, the Shabdrung did appoint a regent, in Indian terms a Deb Rāja, to complement his role as a Dharma Rāja. The Deb Rāja had very little power and was limited by a 3-year term, so it was left to the Shabdrung to act, as Nagendra Singh quotes from a Tibetan source, as “chief avenger and punisher of those who were inimical to the cause of Buddhist and the public peace.”[341] The Shabdrung sent out a proclamation addressing the three realms of “gods, asuras, and men” demanding that they obey his commands, and threatening them, as Aris phrases it, “with severe punishments if they did not.”[342]

Shabdrung’s “death” in 1651 was hidden for an incredible 57 years, and his people were told that he was on an extended retreat in his palace. His officials continued write dispatches in his name, and his butler brought his meals every day. During this time the Shabdrung also appointed  a succession of regents to continue a semblance of his rule. In Tibet a similar 15-year interval (1682-1697) occurred between the Fifth and Sixth Dalai Lama. As Aris quips: “So we are faced with the odd situation that during these years the Tibetan and Bhutanese states were both ruled by corpses, in a manner of speaking.”[343] Keeping the deaths of high lamas secret was a long tradition, primarily because of the challenge of finding the next incarnation and the political intrigue that necessarily followed. The advisers of the Great Fifth and the Shabdrung feared that internal and external enemies would take advantage of a period of political instability.

Before he took his vows as a Bodhisattva in 1632, the Shabdrung fathered a son a year earlier with a tantric consort whom he evidently shared with other tantric lamas.  His initial intention was that his boy would succeed him as Shabdrung, but it is said that he was an invalid and his death in 1681 was also kept a secret. In 1705 a lama disturbed the Shabdrung’s body and “three rays issued from his body, speech, and mind, and these departed for different places in Sikkim, Bhutan, and Tibet, where incarnations of the Shabdrung were later born.”[344] Until the official Second Shabdrung was installed in 1712, the actual rule of the country was in the hands of regents (desi).

            Religious Persecution during the Rule of Bhutanese Regents

During the rule of the regents after the First Shabdrung, Bhutan fell into disarray, and military forces led by monks were sent out to pacify incipient rebels. Aris states that the “campaign itself seem to have had little of the flavor of a crusade or jihad.  It was more the reflection of a confident expansionary trend in the new state, justified but not occasioned by religious prophecy and sentiment.”[345] Aris’ qualification of the religiously motivated violence, however, is belied by the fact that he records, under the rule of the Second Regent, the “extermination by the Bhutanese authorities of a pro-Tibetan faction.”[346] The invading forces, described as “the entire Tibetan-Mongol army,” was under the authority of the Great Fifth, so one can assume that this group was most likely pro-Gelugpa or one of the five dissenting Buddhist sects. There is no evidence that the Shabdrung, not yet spiritually dead, used tantric rituals to help in this campaign or other political or religious events.

Under the Third Regent there were two more Tibetan invasions under the Great Fifth, the second led by the largest army to date, and each were expelled by the Bhutanese. Bhutanese expansion reached its height under the Third Regent, and there were no more Tibetan incursions for 37 years. The Third Regent was overthrown in 1680 and died in the same year. It was said that his demise was due to the karma accrued by causing so many deaths during his reign.  Tantric Buddhists follow the general rule of the consequences of karma “ripening” sometime in the future. Only true Bodhisattvas, such as the first Shabdrung and the highest lamas, may use, without accruing karma, “compassionate” violence for the protection of Buddhism and salvation for all sentient beings.

The Fourth Regent’s honorific was Śri Rinpoché (“the precious enthroned”) was a distant blood relative of the Shabdrung. He ruled for 15 years (1680-95), while the Shabdrung was still presumably resting in his palace retreat. As Aris explains: “No doubt [his] appointment had the seal of approval of the [dead] Shabdrung as in the case of his predecessor and ruling abbot Sodnam Odzer.”[347] The latter died in 1689 firm in his belief that the Shabdrung was still alive. During the reign of the Fourth Regent, the Shabdrung’s incarnation was found near the Tibetan border, and before the Bhutanese could bring him to the capital, the boy was kidnapped by the Gelugpas. The Fourth Regent tried unsuccessfully to secure his return, but the boy died mysteriously in China.  Tshoskyes Dorje, the Shabdrung’s granddaughter, one of two children of his invalid son, ruled briefly as regent, but died of small pox in 1698. 

Two more regents were appointed from 1698 to 1708, and then finally the Shabdrung’s “second” incarnation, the 19-year-old Kundga Gyalmshan, already ten years in hiding after the death of his sister, was brought forth as a candidate for the Second Shabdrung.  Kundga, however, was not accepted and the conflict about incarnational succession continued for another four years. Presumably, the problem with the first Shabdrung’s grandson was the fact that he was not one of the predicted incarnations from the three rays of his Buddha-mind, which streamed forth when the Shabdrung’s body was disturbed in 1705. The emanation of the Bhutanese Bodhisattva’s body was directed towards Sikkim and the “ray of mind” was pointed towards Tibet.  The emanation of the Shabdrung’s speech was found in Southern Bhutan in the boy Phyoglas Namgyal (1708-36).  In 1712, during the reign of the 8th Regent, Phyoglas was installed as the Second Shabdrung.  So as to eliminate any more reincarnational confusion, the First Shabdrung’s son was murdered in 1713. 

The Second Shabdrung’s tenure was not without controversy, and in 1736 he was forced to flee the winter palace in Punakha and died in exile the same year.  His supporters found his reincarnation in the infant Shākya Tandzin (1736-80), but he was imprisoned by the enemies of his successor.  As Aris elaborates: “The vacuum of the years 1730 to 1746 was filled no less than three ‘representatives’”: two incarnations of the First Shabdrung’s son and one of the Fourth Regent Śri Rinpoché.[348]  (The Bhutanese were trying to blend, not very successfully, two principles of succession—hereditary and incarnational.)  Finally, the Bhutanese government agreed that the Third Shabdrung should be the incarnation of the boy who was kidnapped by the Tibetans, and whom the Fourth Regent believed was in the direct incarnational (not hereditary) line of the First Shabdrung. This time the Bhutanese, after some difficult negotiations, were able to bring the child from Tibet and install him as the Third Shabdrung Jigsmed Gragspa in 1746. 

Fortunate for the young contender Shākya Tandzin (above), he was released from prison and was recognized as the Bodhisattva’s speech while Jigsmed was entrusted his mind. To round out the original three rays emanating from the First Shabdrung, the Bodhisattva’s body was found in the son of the king of Sikkim. This tripartite incarnational line was accepted by Bhutanese officials until the establishment of the monarchy in 1907. Dual sovereignty was reintroduced with much clearer lines of authority between the Deb Rāja ruling in the temporal realm and Shabdrung, as British official put it, “wholly confined to the contemplation of his spiritual dignity.”[349] The diminished power of the Shabdrung was demonstrated clearly in the conflict among five contending deb rājas during the years 1850-52.  As Aris states: “The Shabdrung of this period, Jigsmed Norbu (1831-61), was totally ineffective in stemming the tide of revolt and counter revolt.”[350] In stark contrast to the First Shabdrung’s religiously motivated violence, here it is clear that the conflicts are primarily of a political nature. Of the 55 deb rājas between the retreat of First Shabdrung in 1651 and the first king in 1907, only 12 were deposed and six murdered. The 18th and 19th centuries were generally a peaceful period in which Bhutan’s spiritual and artistic life flourished.

British Influence and the Rise of Bhutan’s Dharma Kings

Under the rule of Deb Judhur (=Shidar) (1768-1773) friendly relations were established with Tibet and Nepal, but Bhutan intervened in its southern neighbor Cooch Behar on a regular basis.  In 1772 the British sent troops to support Nazir Dev of Cooch Behar and the Bhutanese forces were driven out.  With the mediation of Tashi Lama, regent to the young Eighth Dalai Lama, a peace treaty was signed in 1774.  The Bhutanese agreed to allow East Indian Company traders to pass through their country on their way north to Tibet. The Tibetans had always bought their tea from China, but with new plantations in Assam and Bengal, British tea was now able to compete with the Chinese. 

For most of the middle 1800s tensions increased between Britain and Bhutan over the Assamese and Bengali “Duars,” 220,000 square miles of border territory between Bhutan and India.  When the British annexed the Assamese Duars, Bhutanese incursions increased, but the Afghan and Anglo-Sikh wars prevented the British from acting more decisively. When the Bhutanese made clear that they supported the Indian rebels in the mutiny of 1857, the British were forced to act. In 1862 the British sent Ashley Eden to Bhutan, but Bhutanese officials were bent on humiliating him. “Under compulsion” (the exact words under his signature), Eden signed a treaty that was not only very unfavorable, but unusually offensive to the British. 

The British Raj repudiated the treaty, and when the Bhutanese refused to accede to British demands, they sent a military force to enforce them. In response the Deb Rāja promised retaliation: he “would send against them a divine force of twelve Gods, who were ‘very ferocious ghosts.’”[351] This has all the signs of a threat of tantric magic that the first Shabdrung had used against his enemies. Initially, the wrathful deities appeared to cause the British forces to fall into disarray, but they eventually recovered and forced the Bhutanese to agree to negotiations.  The Ten Article Treaty of Rawa Pani was signed on November 11, 1865, and Bhutan agreed to cede all 18 duars and to cease all violent activities in these areas. This treaty remained the basis for peaceful relations between Britain and Bhutan until Indian independence in 1947.  As far as I can ascertain, this is the last time a Bhutanese official or lama publicly threatened anyone with war magic.

The kings of 20th Century Bhutan have been praised for their wise rule and the peace that they brought to their country.  In 1947 the Bhutanese gained their independence, but India still controls their foreign policy. With millions of square miles of Indian territory under dispute from the war with China in 1962, the Indians fear that China will exert pressure on Bhutan just as it has in Nepal. While on tour in Bhutan in 1999, I witnessed the Royal Bhutanese army on maneuvers with Indian soldiers.

In the 1950s the third king Jigme Dorje Wangchuck opened his country to the world and began to develop his country along modern lines. For centuries Bhutanese raiders had kidnapped Indians and had brought them back as slaves.  It was not until the reign of Wangchuck III that this heinous practice was abolished. Crucial to the economic success and political stability of many Asian countries, land ownership was limited to 30 acres and those who had no land were given their first plots.

Harvard educated Jigme Singye Wangchuck continued the policies of his father when he took the throne in 1972 and ruled for 44 years. In 1999 Wangchuck IV established internet connections to the outside world and allowed his people to receive television programs for the first time. Earlier he had banned plastic bags, which clog the rivers and streams of neighboring India and Nepal. He also forbade the importation of motorcycle taxis, which foul the air of many South Asia cities. Furthermore, he decreed that Bhutan would no longer export logs to India, and that there would be more emphasis on hydroelectric power generation.

King Wangchuck IV also decided that it was time to take seriously the worship of the Himalayas as goddesses, and a royal decree went out that these sacred beings would not be climbed nor be cluttered with garbage. He limited tourism to a small number of visitors per year (9,000 in 2012), and the $200 per day per person fees (eliminating bargain tourists) were invested in better accommodations and infrastructure. In contrast to India and Nepal, the Bhutanese have free health care and free schooling. In 2005, Wangchuck IV proposed that the National Assembly ban smoking and the sale of tobacco products, and the parliamentarians quickly complied. All over the world we see that a lack of political will sometimes prevents even the most reasonable reforms, so the advantages of a beneficent dictator —Plato’s philosopher king if you will—may be tempting to embrace.

Against many of his citizen’s wishes—he had been a wildly popular—Wangchuck IV ordered the drafting of a constitution, called for elections, and then, to the great surprise and regret of his subjects, abdicated in 2006. The new constitution gave the National Assembly the power, by a two-thirds vote, to impeach the king, an unprecedented policy even among the most enlightened constitutional monarchies. His son Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck ascended the throne in 2008 and continued liberalize the political system. Cultural restrictions, however, are still in place. In contrast to Mongolia, India, Tibet, and Ladakh, access to Buddhist monasteries and their statues and paintings is severely restricted. Tourists are allowed to witness some Buddhist festivals with cham (mask) dancing and displays of specially selected thangkas, elaborate paintings of Buddhist deities and lamas. The king has made the preservation of traditional religion, dress, and architecture a top priority.

Our Bhutanese guide was assisted by a young man, who kept telling us that he preferred leading trekking tours, and after hours he appeared at the hotel bar in t-shirt and jeans. Since my trip in 1999, I have read of disturbances cause by young people, who are obviously testing the boundaries of their freer society. On the other hand, Bhutanese women have always had more freedom than their South Asian peers. The Bhutanese I met—male and female alike—were not embarrassed by the high divorce rate, because they believe that it demonstrates the power that Bhutanese women have traditionally had to determine their own destinies.

In 1969 and 1979 the National Assembly passed laws that proscribed the public practice of religions other than Buddhism and Hinduism.  Ancient Bön rituals are still part of royal celebrations and Hindu festivals are recognized as national holidays. As many as three-fourths of the population follow either Druk or Nyingma beliefs, and significantly enough, Bhutanese royalty have practiced both. (The Fifth Dalai Lama was an accomplished Nyingma devotee.)  The next largest religious group in Bhutan are the Hindus (22 percent), mainly Nepalese and many are refugees. Christians number less than one percent of the population, and there is only one church in the southern part of the country.

The Preamble of Constitution of Bhutan, adopted on July 18, 2008, states: “Blessed by the Triple Gem [the Buddha, the Dharma, and Saṅgha], the protection of our guardian deities, the wisdom of our leaders, the everlasting fortunes of the Pelden Drukpa, and the guidance of His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.”[352] (“Druk Gyalpo” means “Precious Ruler of the Dragon People,” and therefore is not a religious title.) The Constitution also mandates the Drukpa Kagyupa as the state religion of Bhutan, but states that the king “is the protector of all religions in Bhutan,” and that “religion remains separate from politics.”[353] Finally, the Constitution states that “no person shall be compelled to belong to another faith by means of coercion or inducement.”[354] This church/state division was strengthened by the provision, promulgated in 2010, that 14 categories of “religious personalities” registered monks may not vote or hold office. As is the case in many countries, family matters such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance are resolved according to the laws of the respective religion.

Despite these constitutional guarantees, there has been widespread criticism of denial of religious freedom. Dissenters claim that proselytizing is not allowed and conversions are not permitted.  Furthermore, they claim that the only printed religious material that may come into the country is Buddhist. According to a 2005 U. S. State Department report on religious freedom in Bhutan, Christians “could not erect religious buildings or congregate in public. NGOs reported that permission from the Government to build a Hindu temple was required but rarely granted. There were no Hindu temples in [capital] Thimphu, despite the migration of many ethnic Nepalese to the capital city.”[355] The report also found that non-Buddhist missionaries are not allowed to enter the country. One of the most egregious violations of religious freedom was a police raid on three Protestant “house churches” on Easter Sunday, 2004.  The government denied this, but witnesses told investigators that they were told that their religious services were viewed as “terrorist activities.” In January of 2006 two men were arrested for showing a Christian film in a Buddhist home.  In a public trial they were sentenced to three years in prison.

The people of Bhutan proudly remember the reign of the First Shabdrung as the time when their country really came into its own. For the first time their nation’s sovereignty was respected, and neighboring countries, especially Tibet, learned not to intervene. Drukpa lamas controlled monasteries in Sikkim, far west to the sacred Mt. Kailasa, even farther into Ladakh. The Shabdrung also expanded the number of monasteries and dzongs, which became the administrative headquarters of a united nation.  A Tibetan chronicler praised him as one in whom spiritual and temporal duties were fulfilled “thoroughly and efficiently. He introduced law into a lawless Bhutan.”[356]

What has been lost to the popular civilian memory is the religiously motivated violence that happened during the reign of the Shabdrungs, and the incredible confusion and conflict that was caused by the principle of incarnational succession. The contrast between rule by incarnate lamas and the kings of 20th Century Bhutan is stark and instructive. (One only hopes that the current government learns to abide by its formal commitments to religious freedom.) As we have seen, Buddhist kings in other countries have generally led people well and progressively. Even the current Dalai Lama realizes the advantages of a hereditary monarchy, and especially if it is limited by a constitution.  In his dialogue with Thomas Laird, His Holiness confessed:The Sixth Dalai Lama disrobed according to some [divine] plan. If he had disrobed and still remained the Dalai Lama, then he would have had a son who would have become king.  That would have been better.”[357] But incarnated lamas, some good but most bad or effective, continued to rule Tibet, and the most enlightened lama, even while in exile, has revived the principle of dual sovereignty with a fully empowered Parliament in Dharamsala, India.

Chapter 6: “Compassionate” Violence in
Tibetan Buddhism: One Thousand Years of War Magic

The tune of the flute changed to the song of the arrow.

The Fifth Dalai Lama, reluctantly acceding to using Mongolian Troops[358]
The king of the powerful wish-granting


who is worshipped by gods and men . . . the unchangeable
all-knowing one who [is] lord of the three worlds.
—The Seal of the Dalai Lama[359]
The time has come for violence against these evil ones who cannot
be tamed peacefully, who have violated the teachings and broken their vows.
—10th Century Tibetan Buddhist Prayer[360]
This means that those . . . motivated by compassion could—under special

circumstances—kill persons who are harmful to the teaching or who hate sentient

 beings and are about to commit hideous non-virtues but cannot be restrained by other means.
—The 14th Dalai Lama, Commentary on the Kālachakra Tantra[361]

The modern Tibetan state was. . . founded on violent rituals, practices that

were rooted . . . in the ancient themes of darkness [and] demon taming.

—Jacob Dalton, The Taming of Demons: Violence and Liberation in Tibetan Buddhism[362]

History demonstrates that there have been very few examples of nonviolent rule by religious leaders. Crusading popes, kings, and caliphs have left much destruction in their paths. Considering the admirable moral codes of the world religions, one would have expected a better performance. The millions who rightly admire the current Dalai Lama would offer him as a glowing exception and many would make the assumption the Tibetan Buddhism has always produced such saints. Sadly, this is not, as we just saw with Bhutan’s Shabdrung, the case. Hugh Richardson comments that the “rivalry and bitter fighting” among the monasteries “is a blot on the Tibetan Middle Ages.” Each of the monasteries had a “private army commanded often by a reliable family member of the original religious founder and head of the monastery.”[363] In the 14th Century the warrior-lama Changchub Gyaltsen was able to rule Tibet with the aid of an army led by a monk general.[364]

After the decline of Indian Buddhism due to Muslim invasions, Alexander Norman observes that the Tibetan “Kālachakra tantric teachings are replete with references to a coming conflagration in which the followers of Buddha will emerge victorious in a final battle with the followers of the Prophet [Muhammad].”[365] I was unable to verify if any Tibetans consider the following victory as a fulfillment of this prophecy, but in 1206, a force of 10,000 cavalry led by the Turkish general Ikhtiyar-ud-din moving up from Northeast India, was soundly defeated. More specifically and accurately, this army were most likely turned back by Bhutanese forces in the south of their country. Muslims accounts of this failed expedition recognized Bhutan as a separate nation, which was capable of putting 10,000 cavalry and 10,000 infantry in the field.[366]

The Kālachakra Tantra is still performed today by the 14th Dalai Lama, and most of those in the huge crowds are unaware of the tantric magic and violent language against the Abrahamic religions and the prophet Mani, from whom Manicheanism arose. I will dispute the claim that these violent actions should be interpreted, as the war in the Bhagāvad-gītā frequently is, as symbolizing internal battles within human souls.  We will refrain, however, from assuming that the 14th Dalai Lama has any violent intentions when he recites the Kālachakra Tantra. Millions of Christians read or sing the Psalms without ever realizing that many of them are imprecatory hymns asking God to destroy his enemies.  Unfortunately, there are conservative Christians in my own town who are charged by their minister to chant them against opponents of his divisive church.

Religiously motivated violence among Tibetan Buddhists has happened as recently as February 1997, when Lobsang Gyatso and two of his students were murdered only a hundred yards from the Dalai Lama’s compound. This lama, who was named after the Fifth Dalai Lama, spoke out against the followers of Dorjé Shugden, a powerful protector deity who was dominant in the 17th Century.  Going back 355 years, these fundamentalist Gelugpas have always opposed any adulteration of Gelug practice and doctrine by other sects, especially the tantric Nyingmapas. Today there are a large number of Shugden followers who condemn the Dalai Lama for “excommunicating” their sect and declaring that Dorjé Shugden is an “evil spirit.”

As we have in the previous chapter, there is a surprising parallel between the Bodhisattva Chenrezig and the Abrahamic deity in that both are said to have directed human activities and history. I find it troublesome problematic that the Dalai Lama, in his conversations with Thomas Laird, believes that the Chenrezig, who is incarnate in His Holiness, has a “divine plan” and works directly in historical events. At the same time, he tells Laird he has strong reservations about political rule by high lamas, who, as incarnations of Chenrezig, have initiated these plans.  His Holiness even proposes that the Fifth Dalai Lama intended that the Sixth, having indeed rejected his vows, should have set up a royal line as was finally done in Bhutan. He also states that each of the Dalai Lamas have/had their own plans, and it is unclear from his statements whether they are the same as Chenrezig’s “divine” goals. (More on this shortly.) The implications of these speculative wanderings are problematic for a religious leader who has recently been unguarded in his pronouncements, especially, as we will see, those regarding his immediate future.

It is significant that Tsepon Shakabpa, writing with the approval of the current Dalai Lama, describes Gushri Khan’s Western Mongols’ campaign on behalf of the Gelugpas against the Tsang King and his Kagyupa allies as a “religious war,” and in turn the Tsang King directed his own Eastern Mongol troops to “wipe out the Gelug sect.”[367] Shakabpa submits that “religious zeal. . . cannot be ignored as a prime motivation for the [Gushri] Khan’s actions.”[368] We will see that the 5th Dalai Lama instructed his monks to perform elaborate tantric rituals to harm the enemies of the Gelug sect.

The second section is a summary history of the Dharma Kings and the little known Tibetan empire of the 8th and 9th Centuries CE, which at its height was as large as the Roman Empire. There is very little evidence that extensive military campaigns during this period were done in the name of the Buddha.  Tibetan Buddhist devotees were few in number even in the time of Songzen Gampo, who allegedly was converted to Buddhism by his Nepali and Chinese wives, who were said to be incarnations of the wrathful and blissful goddess Tārā. (The Hindu equivalents are Durgā/Kālī and Pārvatī/Uma.) The current Dalai Lama believes that Gampo was an incarnation of Chenrezig, and therefore he was at work in everything that happened, including the extensive violence and the alleged anti-Buddhist campaign of King Lang Darma.

The third section is a discussion of Jacob Dalton’s book Taming of the Demons: Violence and Liberation in Tibetan Buddhism. Dalton offers a new perspective on the so-called “Dark Ages” of Tibetan Buddhism between Lang Darma and the coming of Atiśa from India in 1042. Dalton argues that, contrary to previous views, this period was a time of religious innovation and experimentation.  Dalton’s translation of a 9th Century tantric text The Great Compendium of Intentions Sūtra contains the longest version of the taming of Rudra/Śiva by wrathful Buddhas and the description of what appears to be ritual human sacrifice.  Later Tibetan and Bhutanese lamas used black (“warring”) magic with devastating effect against their enemies, just as Voodoo practitioners have done in Haiti and elsewhere in the West Indies.

In the same way the conquest of Canaan was primarily executed by “Yahweh the Warrior” not by Israelite armies, Tibetan Buddhists have used sympathetic magic as means to call on protector deities to defeat their opponents, who were killed indirectly by weather catastrophes or directly by specific Buddhist deities. (The walls of Jericho came “tumbling down” by the blast of trumpets, not by battering rams.) As opposed to the strong Abrahamic dualism of good and evil, in which the indigenous (mundane) deities are destroyed or disabled, the Asian preference is for a morally subtle dialectical relationship between the two. The “taming” and then conversion of the demons is the norm rather than, for example, throwing Satan and his angels into eternal “fire and brimstone” along with those who are unredeemed.[369]

The fourth section covers the coming of Atiśa in 1042 to the rise of the Gelugpas in the 15th Century. The powerful Pugyal Dynasty was established by the Sakyapas, who were accomplished tantric yogis. During the 13th Century, they initially turned back Mongol invasions with a combination of military skill and war magic, but then forged powerful alliances with the early Mongol Khans. The Sakyapas were then supplanted by the Karma-Kagyupas, who, by means of warrior monk Changchub Gyaltsen’s brutal military campaigns, were able to maintain the Phamo Drupa regime until its demise in 1434.  Changchub was said to be an incarnation of Vajrapāṇi, and as such he became the “tamer” of competing sects and rival Mongols. Under the leadership of Tsongkhapa, the Gelugpas eventually grew in prestige and power. Early on they insisted on a symbolic interpretation of the battles in the Kālachakra Tantra, and war magic, as far as I could ascertain, was not used by Gelugpa lamas until the Second Dalai Lama.

The fifth section covers the history of the First Dalai Lama through the Fourth, and we learn that tantric magic was used against enemies by the Second and the Fourth Dalai Lamas. I also discuss the successful alliance between the Mongols and the Gelug sect and how it became dominant primarily through military action.  The sixth section features the Fifth Dalai Lama and his doubts about being a legitimate incarnation, his use of “war magic,” and his doubts about whether this was the best way to advance the cause of the Gelugpas. The seventh section summarizes the lives and actions Dalai Lamas Six and Seven.  Until the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, the office was occupied by weak lamas who were dominated by the Manchus.

In the eighth section we discuss the life and actions of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, focusing on his use of war magic and his failed attempts to modernize Tibet.  The final two sections are devoted to the Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s Kālachakra Tantra initiations; the “excommunication” of  Dorjé Shugden because of murders committed by his magic; and the controversy over the successor to the Tenth Panchen Lama, an office first recognized by the Fifth Dalai Lama. Although the Chinese, beginning with the Manchus, have always wanted to politicize this office, the Tibetans always insisted that the Panchen Lama was strictly a spiritual leader, while the Dalai Lama, while of course spiritual, would also be the head of state. The ultimate failure of incarnational succession is clearly seen in the current situation. The Communist government now has its own Panchen Lama, and it will be a position to enthrone its own Dalai Lama when Tenzin Gaytso dies.

            “Compassionate” Violence: Moral Problems with Chenrezig’s Divine Plans

            There are other moral problems with the theory of reincarnated kings and lamas. In his extended dialogues with Thomas Laird in The Story of Tibet, the Dalai Lama claims that Chenrezig’s “master plan” started with Songzen Gampo, the first historical king of Tibet. As we will see in third section, Gampo and his successors established by military force an empire as large as ancient Rome. Even though statues of the Vairocana Buddha were erected everywhere in the empire, there is very little evidence that the violence involved was done in the name of the Buddhist religion. Constantly using Nāgārjuna’s doctrine of two truths, the Dalai Lama claims that conventional empirical truths obscure the real truth of Chenrezig’s actions in the world. Presumably this means that Chenrezig was also acting in reign of Lang Darma, when Buddhism was, according to traditional accounts, violently suppressed, as well as in all the later battles between the various sects of Tibetan Buddhism. The Kagyu and Gelug schools both claim that their lamas are incarnations of Chenrezig, so we have the same paradox of Christian armies fighting each other to the death, while at the same time insisting on guidance and blessings from the same deity.

            Complicating these issues even more is the Dalai Lama’s claim that each of the Dalai Lamas had their own plans, which, if they are incarnations of Chenrezig, should be identical to the divine Bodhisattava’s, but evidently they are not. If there are not the same, then the Dalai Lamas, unlike Jesus as the incarnate Christ, would have two wills rather than one. In a conversation with Glenn Mullin, the Dalai Lama contends that “these Dalai Lamas seem to have had three master plans: the first involving the First to Fifth; the second involving the Sixth, which failed [because he did not become a king]; and then third, which involves the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and myself.”[370] Tradition has it that the Thirteenth deliberately shorten his life-span so that the conflict he foresaw with Communist China would be handled by his young and vigorous successor.

            Yet another moral problem is the Dalai Lama’s support for preemptive retribution, which he uses to justify the assassination of 9th Century lama Lang Darma. He explains: “Theoretically speaking, in order to achieve greater benefit for a greater number of people, you can use a violent method.”[371] Significantly, the Dalai Lama states that this concept of “compassionate” violence does not appear in Theravāda Buddhism, which I believe does a much better job of adhering to the law of karma. His Holiness somehow forgets the Pāli story of the Buddha as the brahmin Lomaskassapa, who killed hundreds of animals as blood sacrifices in the Milindapaṅha. Exoneration here appears to conform to the Vedic and ethical consequentialist stipulation that the animals are not harmed if they are used for spiritual purposes. The Mahāyāna Skill-in-Means Sūtra tells the story of a ship’s captain who discovers that one of his 500 passengers plans to kill everyone on board and take all the ship’s goods. Taking the karmic debt upon himself, the captain kills the would-be murderer. The passengers are saved and the killer is saved from a far worse karmic fate than the captain. Indeed, the thief is sent to one of the Buddhist heavens in his next life.

Critics of utilitarianism, which is the theory implicit in these stories, claim that our general moral intuitions resist the killing of one person (or many if the number of hedons [units of pleasure] outweigh the dolors [units of pain]) to promote the general good. Critics would say that such acts violate Kant’s categorical imperative, which, in its second formulation, holds that one may not use another person merely as means to a putative good.  For Kant the end can never justify the means, especially if persons are used to seek that end. A Kantian would concede that in some instances, such as the story above, it might be prudent to kill or lie, but it would never be moral to do so, as utilitarianism necessarily dictates.  The Bodhisattva’s vow—do everything in your power to save all sentient beings—appears to trump all conventional moral precepts. Just as Nietzsche’s Übermensch is beyond good and evil, so is the Bodhisattva, according to the 3rd Century Buddhist philosopher Āryadeva: “Because of his or her intention both virtue and sin are entirely virtuous for the bodhisattva.”[372] The end of liberating all sentient beings justifies any possible means.

It is only fair to point out that Buddhist ethics has also placed equal weight on intentions. It is also important to remember that the ship’s captain in the story above is acting as a Bodhisattva, who can commit acts of violence with impunity only if he or she is not part of, as James Stroble phrases it, “the causality of violence (sans karma).”  Only then “the actor (not victor in any sense) would have no thought of enmity, no concern over victory or loss, no attachment to the outcome.”[373] But once again this violates the principle of codependent coorigination, absolutely fundamental to the Buddha’s philosophy.  As we saw in the previous chapter, the Buddha believed that Bodhisattvas are still “liable to birth,” and therefore still part of the cosmic web of cause and effect.

            The Dharma Kings and the Tibetan Empire        

It is difficult to separate fact from legend in the stories of King Tsenpo Songtsen Gampo.  Gampo is an honorific meaning “wise,” primarily because he is said to be the founder of Tibetan civilization.  In addition to allegedly establishing Buddhism as the state religion, he promulgated laws for the proper administration of the empire. An alternative view, according to Mathew Kapstein, is that “even Tibetan Buddhist historians often prefer to side step the issue [of a Buddhist state religion], insisting that Songtsen’s religious commitment was largely confined to the inner court and so kept secret.”[374] It is also believed that Gampo, for the first time, introduced a written Tibetan script, with which Buddhist texts were translated from Sanskrit.  Kapstein describes the remarkable benefits of this project: “The result, ultimately, was to enrich the growing Tibetan literary language, to create within it a medium for the exact expression of ideas in a wide range of fields of learning.”[375]

Songtsen Gampo acquired two Buddhist wives through his imperial conquests—a Chinese princess from the Tang Dynasty and a Nepalese princess from the southern borders of his expanded empire.  In 649 Songtsen, after his troops threatened the imperial capital Chang’an (present day Xi’an), was honored by Chinese emperor Kaozong with the title paowang (lit. “king of jewels”), which meant the ruler of the West, more specifically the Amitābha Buddha.[376] Songtsen died soon thereafter, but his successors managed to dominate (with occasional set-backs) the Tibetan Plateau and much of Central Asia for the next two centuries.  Although statues of the Vairocana (=Ādi) Buddha were erected all over this vast region, there is no evidence that the motivation for these campaigns was religious. (No alliance with Muslim armies would have been possible had this been the case.) Furthermore, Buddhism—initially as Hināyāna—was already firmly established there and these Buddhists usually became allies of the Tibetans against the Arabs and the Chinese. Kapstein states: “Ironically, war and booty were among the conditions that facilitated the eventual Tibetan adoption of Buddhism.”[377] As Tibetan Buddhism advanced in influence and sophistication, Central Asian Buddhism went into decline because of Muslim conquests. Even so, the Tibetan manuscripts discovered at the Dunhuang Caves on the old Silk Road have become an invaluable source by which scholars have enhanced our knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism.

Songtsen Gampo is now known as the first Dharma King of Tibet, and Trisong Detsen (755-804) has been honored as the second. The native Bön religion was still a powerful influence in Tibet, and Buddhism had not yet planted deep roots. At the end of the turbulent years between Songsten and Trisong Detsen, Bön priests and their war lord allies had succeeded in suppressing Buddhist practice. In 762 Trisong Detsen proclaimed that he “had heard the Dharma” and that Buddhism was now the religion of Tibet.[378] Trisong is credited with founding the Samyé monastery and inviting Indian Buddhists—Padmasambhava foremost among them—to Tibet.  The first Tibetan Buddhist monks were ordained by the Indian philosopher ŚānTārākṣita, and for first time Tibetans were obligated to provide for the monks from their families. In an attempt to evaluate all the Buddhist schools, Trisong Detsen invited Moheyan, a Zen master from China, to debate the Indian scholar Kamalaśīla. It is said that the Tibetans preferred the gradual approach to enlightenment over the Zen concept of satori, and, according to one account, the Zen monk was sent home in disgrace, after exposing himself as metaphor for instant satori. Sources from the Dunhuang Caves indicate that Zen Buddhism was still practiced by some Tibetan monks for many years afterwards. The continuing influence of Bön, however, is seen in the fact that their priests still had sufficient power to force a debate about whether Trisong Detsen’s funeral rites should follow Bön practices. Trisong’s eldest son Muné Tsenpo decided in favor of a Buddhist ceremony.

Tritsu Detsen (815-838) was considered the third and last Dharma kings of Tibet, and during his reign the empire grew to its largest extent ever. At this point Kapstein proposes that  Tibetan Central Asia had indeed become a “holy empire,” where “the Buddhist religion brought to it an ethos of learning and ethical refinement that to some degree leavened the harsh means whereby it had been won.” Again, as most of the Central Asians and Chinese were Buddhists and there were no forced conversions of non-Buddhists, no holy war was fought to establish this empire. Better known as Ralpacan, Tritsu Detsen continued the patronage of Buddhism—building monasteries, stupas, and translating Sanskrit texts. Battles with the Chinese continued, but Ralpacan managed to establish two decades of peace with his powerful northern neighbor. As a sign of this ancient religion’s continued influence, the celebration of the peace treaty of 821 included Bön priests performing animal sacrifices. According to traditional accounts, Ralpacan died at the hands of two pro-Bön ministers who were allied with Ralpacan’s brother Lang Darma. This violence may have been the result of Ralpacan’s expending huge funds on the monasteries and persecuting non-Buddhists with harsh punishments.

Lang Darma’s short reign (838-842) saw a dramatic decline of the empire and its central authority (with a simultaneous reduction in the imperial treasury), and, according to traditional accounts, violent campaigns against Buddhism. According to Réne de Nebesky-Wojkowitz, Lang Darma “commanded all Buddhist priests and Bön magicians to invoke . . . all protective deities of the Land of Snows.”[379] This has become an annual festival practiced to this day in which all the oracles of Tibet enter a trance and channel their own deities. (We will return to the chief Nechung Oracle later in the chapter.) All the deities are said to be feasting together and throwing dice to win the souls of human beings. On the day of the first celebration of this festival lightning struck the Samyé Monastery, which Lang Darma took to mean that the deities were displeased with Buddhism. Tradition holds that this is one of many excuses that he offered to begin his persecution of the Buddhist faithful.

Recent attempts to clear Lang Darma’s name have been met with considerable skepticism. Japanese scholar Zuihō Yamaguchi argues that not only did the persecution of Buddhism come late in his short tenure, but that Lang Darma was actually a devout Buddhist. Yamaguchi claims to have found evidence that Lang Darma worshipped the Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra and wrote a long philosophical analysis of Madhyamaka philosophy. Yamaguchi, however, may have mistranslated the reference to the Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra (it was most likely lamas, not Lang Darma, who recited the text), and he may have overlooked the possibility that the philosophical treatise may have been simply credited to him, as was done with the preceding Dharma kings.

Kaptstein speculates that the alleged persecution of Buddhism might have been simply “a withdrawal of funding, no doubt due to a poor current-accounts balance rather than to anti-Buddhist sentiment.”[380] (It is significant to note that Lang Darma’s son Osung was a Buddhist and he supported temple construction.) There is evidence that Lang Darma may have only resisted tantric practices, which of course should have led to praise by later Gelugpas, but he backed down when a Nyingma lama threatened him with deadly sorcery, about which we have already learned from the last chapter.[381] Whatever the actual details may have been, Lang Darma was assassinated by the head lama Lhalung Palgye Dorjé, who, allegedly in the disguise of a Bön priest, gained an audience with the king in 842.  Unless this is also legend, we have, in addition to Padmasambhava’s earlier demon “taming,” another example of religiously motivated violence by a highly respected Tibetan Buddhist. One of the most incredible claims of Bhutanese Buddhists is that Palgye Dorjé was the incarnation of their great Shabdrung, a great protector of Buddhism, not only during his actual reign but during this crucial point in Buddhist history.[382]

The Rise of Tibetan Tantric Rituals in the 9th Century CE

The 212 years between the death of Lang Darma and the coming of Atiśa in 1042 have been traditionally considered the Tibetan Dark Ages. In his book Taming of the Demons: Violence and Liberation in Tibetan Buddhism, Jacob Dalton acknowledges that this was indeed a time of political and religious fragmentation, but not theological degeneration. Dalton argues that, contrary to previous views, this period was a time of religious innovation and experimentation. Indeed, Dalton contends that this was a time in which the Tibetans made Buddhism truly their own religion.

Access to tantric texts were restricted under imperial central authority, and tantric practices emerged with great vigor after the empire’s decline.  According to later Tibetan authorities, the most disturbing aspects of this new popular Buddhism were rituals that included both sexual relations with yoginis and violent acts of liberation or demon taming. In one text Dalton found that the liberation rites could cause the victim to have “serious illness,” cause “destruction or torment,” or end in the death of a live human sacrifice.[383] (In chapter 2 we saw that human sacrifices were involved in early medieval goddess worship in South India.) Living human offerings were eventually replaced by animals and effigies, and the same rites continue to be performed by Tibetan Buddhists of all sects today. A transition from living sacrifice to effigy can be seen in this ambiguous instruction: “Having led forth the evil one, take the effigy. . . .[384]

Dalton’s translation of a 9th Century tantric text The Great Compendium of Intentions Sūtra contains the longest version of the taming of Rudra/Śiva by wrathful Buddhas and the description of what appears to be ritual human sacrifice. Rudra of course is a Hindu deity and tantric Buddhists appropriated a long Hindu tradition of demon taming and ritual sacrifice. The concept itself is found as early as the Puruṣa Hymn of the Rig-veda in which a primal man is dismembered in the creation of the physical and social world. With the demise of the Gupta Empire (320-550 CE) the Tantras came to prominence and Hindu kings were more inclined to employ tantric priests as way of protecting their domains in more chaotic times. With their transgressive actions and their siddhi powers, tantric yogis, as Dalton states, gained “the respect and patronage of kings.”[385]

One could easily imagine the primal Vedic puruṣa “staked out” as the founding demoness of Tibet was, as well as the sacrificial victims/effigies that were offered in tantric liberation rites. One Buddhist Tantra contains the language of “pressing” harmful demons, which refers to an ancient practice of staking out a living human body for its “compassionate” liberation from evil, for example, holding anti-Buddhist beliefs.[386] Tibetan stupas and temples also serve to “press” and tame indigenous deities, and the twelve stakes that hold down the original Tibetan demoness mark the places where major monasteries would eventually arise. In some practices the officiating lama uses a ritual dagger and stabs in ten different directions in order to secure a sacred domain protected on all sides.

In Hinduism the appropriate word is also “taming,” not an Abrahamic total destruction of evil. Dalton cites Vedic myth of Indrakīla, “a god who pins and stabilizes the serpent Vṛtra with a mythic ‘peg’ or ‘dagger’ (kīla).”[387] Following the Vedic tradition that the sacrificial victim is rewarded,[388] Kṛṣṇa’s defeats his demon nursemaid Pūtanā and is immediately sent to heaven. Similarly, the Tibetan “mundane” gods are brought over from the dark side to become wrathful protector deities. Even in their violent dispatch the demons are treated with “compassion”—saved for their own good and for the sake of sentient beings whom they might have harmed in the future.

Later Tibetan and Bhutanese lamas used black (“warring”) magic with devastating effect against their enemies, just as Voodoo practitioners have done in Haiti and elsewhere in the West Indies. “Liberation” rites are still practiced today at the Namdroling monastery in South India, where an effigy of Rudra is destroyed in the traditional cham dances. The enemy here is of course the Lord Śiva, and it may be permissible to view this as an ancient religious war against Hinduism, most likely during the time in which Hindu and Buddhist tantrics competed in North India. As Dalton suggests: “The destruction of an effigy by fearsome Buddhist dancers may be a simultaneous reenactment of the liberation of Rudra, the ancient apostate king Lang Darma, the local spirits, and even the specter of Chinese occupation,”[389] all of the Tibetans’ enemies strung together. These dances and recent assassinations in the name of Gelug orthodoxy support Dalton’s claim that violence still plays a “crucial role in Tibetan Buddhism.”[390]

The ethical model of the Bodhisattva saving both the premeditating killer and his 500 potential victims in the Mahāyāna Skill-in-Means Sūtra stands prominently behind the justification of “compassionate” violence made by 19th Century Gelug Lama Rigdzin Garwang. Eager to distinguish his liberation rites from actual blood sacrifices, he explains that the lama must be “beyond anger” and must be able to “liberate [the victim] from suffering with great compassion . . . and restore quickly the sentient being who is killed.”[391] Please note that there is no effigy in this liberation rite, and even more telling is his confession that “sacrificial killing has been widespread” and “even today there are those who follow that evil tradition.”[392] Here the reference is to animal, not human, sacrifices.

The Hindu myths feature Śiva-Rudra slaying the asuras (older gods like the Greek Titans but now demonized),[393] but the Buddhist texts have Vajrapāṇi in violent engagement with not only Rudra, but other Hindu deities, such as the seven mother goddesses who have been overlaid, as early as Padmasambhava, on indigenous demonesses. This was essentially a religious war against both Hindu and indigenous deities. In one version of the Rudra Myth, Śiva-Rudra and his consort Uma-Pārvartī are “crushed underfoot by Vajrapāṇi,” but then “reborn in purified form” as a protector deity at the edges of the Tibetan Buddhist maṇḍala.[394]

Demon taming in Buddhism goes all the way back to the Buddha’s night of enlightenment, when Siddhartha Gautama, immune from attack by means of his yogic trance, defeated the forces of the chief demon Māra. Māra appears as a Bodhisattva in the tantric Compendium of Principles, where he is “produced out the violence and firmness” of the meditative power of the tantric Buddha Vajrasattva.[395] As we shall see in the next section, the Mongol Khans alternated between being depicted as Rudra or Vajrapāṇi, depending on whether they were friend or foe of the Tibetan Buddhist sect in question. Kaju Akyak, an old Buddhist philosopher living during the time of the Fourth Dalai Lama, noted the difference between the Buddha’s non-violent taming of demons, “generating a meditative stabilization on love,” and this alien tantric practice, “which is like a nomad praying to gods,” presumably seeking revenge.[396]

In the Madhyamaka philosophy of non-dualism, Rudra is not conceived as an autonomous being, but as an emanation from the Dharmakāya. Furthermore, the only difference between demonic and Buddhist violence is that the former has evil ends and latter is compassionate and directed to the liberation of all beings. A rough parallel is found in the recitation of Bardo Thödol for a soul in transition from one body to another. The chanting lama reminds that spiritual pilgrim that the wrathful deities that attack her are not real, but simply the projection of her own evil deeds, as the later blissful deities are actually her good deeds. The closest Abrahamic theology comes to this dialectic of good and evil is Martin Luther’s provocative idea that Satan is a “mask of God,” not a separate power as the Manichees, Gnostics, and far too many Christians still believe. To unrepentant sinners, and including the troubled anded the young Luther himself, God always appeared to them as Satan, the embodiment of God’s wrath.

The story of Balaam and his ass gives support for this Lutheran divine dialectic of good and evil. When Balaam disobeys Yahweh “his Lord,” the “angel of the Lord” stands in his way as satan, literallythe “adversary” (Numbers 23; see also 1 Chronicles 21:1, where satan objects to David and his census). Balaam is an oracle and Balak, king of the Moabites, demands that Balaam perform war magic against the Israelites by cursing them. It is also significant that the “Angel of the Lord” leads Yahweh’s heavenly hosts (=armies) into battle. Finding the city of Jericho impregnable, Joshua receives instructions from the “Angel of the Lord” to circle the city for six days blowing trumpets. On the seventh day Joshua’s army was instructed to give a great shout. Carefully following these rituals, the walls of Jericho “came tumbling down” and all the inhabitants and their animals, except for the prostitute Rahab who had helped the Israelites, were killed (Joshua 5:15-6:27).  Joshua curses the site and warns that anyone who rebuilds the city will lose his first born son.  Much later when the Israelites are threatened by the Assyrians, the “Angel of the Lord set out and struck down one hundred eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians.” (2 Kings 19:35).  If we now return to Kaju Akyak, the old Buddhist philosopher mentioned above, he condemns Central Asian nomads praying to a vengeful God and resorting to magic and praises the Buddha’s non-violent taming of his enemies by unconditional love.

From the Kadampa Atiśa to the Gelugpa Tsongkhapa

            Withthe arrival of Atiśa Dipankara in 1042 from Vikramaśila, the great monastic university in Northeast India, Tibet gradually returned to centralized political and religious authority. At first Atiśa declined the invitation to travel to Tibet, but the goddess Tārā, his constant spiritual guide, is said to have convinced him to go.  Legend has it that he was also guided in his perilous journey through the mountains by none other than Chenrezig himself. Although Atiśa would attempt to control the excesses of the tantric tradition, the tantric Sakyapas continued to gain favor with Tibetan aristocratic families. Two sons of Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092-1158), Sonam Tsemo (1142-82) and Drakpa Gyeltsen (1147-1261), dominated the late 12th Century with their voluminous writings. 

One critic of tantric practices during this time charged that “the ‘many means’ of the ordinary siddhi, such as the means for killing beings and attracting consorts, . . . represent animosity towards sentient beings.”[397] This of course is a direct rebuttal to the view that antinomian practices are justified because they are done out of compassion and for the liberation of all sentient beings.  In his reply Sönam Tsemo called on the authority of the great Mahāyāna philosopher Asaṅga, who argued that one would be justified to killing evil persons who threaten the lives of many innocents.  He also referred to what most Tibetans claim was the compassionate killing of King Lang Darma by a famous lama so that Buddhism could be saved from his persecutions. Interestingly enough, Sönam’s critic charged that to claim that a yogi could remain pure while enacting great sins is Indian saṃkhya philosophy not Buddhism.  In contrast to Buddhism, where the self is made up of contingent constituent parts (skandhas), the pure puruṣa soul of the radical saṃkhya dualism is totally separate from the material world, and only ignorance and illusion allows the empirical self to believe that it is not.  One could argue that Sönam’s critic had won an important philosophical point.

            After his brother’s early demise, Drakpa Gyeltsen took over the scholarly reigns of the Sakyapas. At his father’s funeral the participants watched in astonishment as the young 11-year-old recited the Hevajra Tantra from memory. As he grew in stature and prestige, Drakpa became a magnet for Indian scholars and tantric yogis, who were fleeing Northeast India after the Turkish warrior Ikhtiyar-ud-din conquered Bengal and destroyed the great Buddhist universities in Nalanda, Odantapuri, and Vikramaśila, the academic home of Atiśa. (This deadly blow to Indian Buddhism became a boon for the development of Tibetan Buddhism.) With a force of 10,000 cavalry, Ikhtiyar-ud-din invaded Tibet in 1206, but he was soundly defeated. When he returned from Tibet (the Tibetans boast that only one horse survived), Ikhtiyar-ud-din was assassinated by one of his own officers in the same year.

Drakpa Gyeltsen was responsible for introducing the Kālachakra Tantra to Tibetan Buddhism, becoming one of its most popular texts, and the Dalai Lama has recited this scripture 32 times to huge audiences since 1954. It was composed in the early 11th Century when Central Asia and Northwest India were threatened by Muslim incursions. The main theme of the Kālachakra Tantra is a prophecy about an invasion of Tibet by peoples of an asuric nature (from the Sanskrit asura meaning “demons”): “The chakravartin shall come out at the end of the age, from the city the gods fashioned on Mount Kailasa. He shall smite the barbarians in battle with his own four-division army, on the entire surface of the earth.”[398] The text explains that Hindus and Buddhists will unite on the condition that the former reject caste, and then high lamas will initiate them by reciting the Kālachakra Tantra and building the appropriate mandala. Forming one vajra caste (from the Vajrayāna of Tibetan Buddhism), a Buddhist king will lead the combined armies and will defeat the asuric warriors.

The identity of these evil ones has remained a mystery, and according to the internal chronology of the text, the battle will not occur until 3,304 years after the death of the Buddha.  As I wrote above, the prophecy may have been fulfilled in the defeat of the Turkish army in 1206 in southeast Tibet, present day Bhutan. Alexander Kerzin believes that those threatened were not initially Tibetans, but Central Asian Buddhists who were attacked by Sunni Ghaznavids in the early 11th Century. Berzin contends that the violence of the Kālachakra Tantra is symbolic only, and just as in a widely held interpretation of the Bhagāvad-gītā, the battle is one between warring factions in the human self. Later in this chapter, I will offer reasons why this interpretation may be incorrect.

Sakya political and religious power was consolidated under Kunga Gyaltsen (1182-1251), also known as the Sakya Pandita, an honorific referring to his Buddhist school and his status as a scholar. The Mongols were in the process of conquering most of Asia at the time, and Kunga Gyaltsen was able to stop a full invasion of Tibet, which had already led to the destruction of two monasteries and the death of 500 monks and civilians. Kunga’s tantric Sakya lamas were skilled in magic and they used it to full effect against the Mongols. In the 13th Century elaborate war magic rituals were performed on a large-scale basis on the fourteen day of fourth month of every year. Taklung Sangye Yarjön (1203–1272) used these tantric rites to defeat a large scale Mongol invasion.[399] We shall see this magic allegedly produced storms and/or pestilence that caused enemies to retreat.

Later, however, Tibetan Buddhists forged various alliances with the Mongols. Godan Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan, sought out the most spiritual of Tibet’s lamas, and in 1244 he wrote a letter to Kunga Gyaltsen requesting that he “advise my ignorant people on how to conduct themselves morally and spiritually.”[400] There is a scholarly consensus that the Mongols, from Godan in the 13th Century to Gushri Khan in the 17th Century, combined sincere religious intentions with the political intention of unifying their conquered territories under a faith with universal appeal, a criterion that Buddhism, in contrast to Confucianism and Daoism, was able to provide. The Sakya Pandita agreed to instruct Godan and his troops in the Buddhist faith, and one of the most immediate results was that the Mongols stopped the practice of throwing Chinese in their rivers to reduce their population.[401] In a book entitled The Buddha’s Intention the great lama explained that the Mongol-Tibetan alliance had allowed him to “preach


religion without fear” and “we will be able to “spread [it] far and wide.”[402] Both Kunga Gyaltsen and Godan Khan died one after the other, so it was the former’s son, Phagpa Lotro Gyaltsen (1235-1280), and Kublai Khan, Genghis’s most famous grandson, who continued to forge the Mongol-Tibetan friendship. David Morgan explains that Phagpa cleverly incorporated the Mongol Khans “into the line of Buddhist universal emperors, the Chakravartin kings, and he produced a Buddhist religio-political theory of world rule.”[403]

It was Kublai Khan’s preference that only Phagpa’s Sakya sect be tolerated, but the lama insisted that all schools be accepted as equals. Apparently learning the advantages of religious diversity, the Great Khan underwent tantric initiation. Kublai found the Nyingma rites so fascinating and their “water of life” cure so promising that the sect was exempt from taxation.[404] Kublai also developed close relations with the tantric Karma-Kagyu school and one of their lamas, Karma Pakshi, wowed Kublai with his miraculous feats. He was also convinced that the spiritual power derived from the Tantras would help him in his military conquests. With Mahākāla, the wrathful form of Chenrezig, “on his side,” as Norman explains, Kublai was sure that the “campaign against Ta-li [in southeastYunnan province] was bound to be successful.”[405] Kublai’s firm alliance with Buddhism was key to his ability to outmaneuver his brother Arigh Borke in a battle for leadership of the Mongol Empire.

In 1254 Kublai Khan declared that he would sponsor and protect Tibetan Buddhism, and he granted Phagpa full spiritual and temporal authority over Tibet. Just as Godan Khan apologized to Phagpa for his people’s moral and spiritual deficiencies, so did Kublai beg him not to think the “Mongols incapable of learning your religion. We will learn it gradually.”[406] Phagpa gave Kublai the highest honor that a Buddhist layman could achieve: he was crowned chakravartin, a Dharma “wheel-turning universal monarch.” As such Kublai proclaimed that he and Phagpa were like “the sun and the moon in the sky,” which were considered deities directly under Shangdi, the Chinese Lord on High. During a visit to Mongolia in 1268, Phagpa was declared the “Prince of Indian deities, Miraculous Divine Lord under the Sky and above the Earth.”[407] Kublai agreed to prostrate himself at Phagpa’s feet when receiving instruction, but in public they occupied seats of equal height when considering political matters. Phagpa’s reputation remained so great that 400 years later the Fifth Dalai Lama, officially a Gelugpa, wrote in his autobiography “I am Phagpa,” and this identification makes perfect sense if they were both emanations of Chenrezig.

Kublai Khan was concerned that the Quanzhen Daoists had taken over 237 Buddhist temples, had remodeled them as their own, and had burned Buddhist scriptures. In 1255 and 1258 the Great Khan arranged two debates between the Daoists and the Buddhists, and, according to ancient Indian rules of debate, the losers and their devotees were obligated to convert to the winners’ faith.  The 17 Daoist monks were no match for the Buddhists trained in sophisticated dialectical methods and the 23-year-old Phagpa landed the deciding blows. Using an archery metaphor, Phagpa describes his performance as the “arrow transmitting the authentic scriptures/tipped with the vajra arrowhead of logic/. . . placed on the bow of analysis/and shot by the archer of inspired speech.”[408] Submitting to the traditional rules of debate, the Daoist clergy became Buddhists and the temples were restored to their rightful owners. After another debate in 1281, Sam van Schaik reports that “the Buddhists won again, and this time the entire Daoist canon (except for the Daodejing) was burned.”[409] As far as I could ascertain, no one was killed in these incidents, but I have defined religiously motivated violence to include forced conversion and banning/destroying of scripture.

Although Phagpa persuaded Kublai to respect all the Buddhist sects, the Great Khan did not tolerate outright rebellion. After Phagpa’s death in 1280, and when the Kagyupas in Drikhung schemed against the Sakyapas, Mongolian troops were key to putting down the insurgents in 1290. The Kagyu Drikhung monastery was razed and many monks were murdered with the death toll estimated at 10,000. According to Tibetan accounts, Kublai Khan’s troops were eventually driven out by war magic. Bön priests joined Kagyu lamas in making thousands of effigies from barley dough, so many that it was said that they were as high as the mountains.[410] In order to consummate the rite, the Kagyu lama Gyalwa Yang Gönpa meditated for seven days and the Mongols were forced to retreat.

The power of the Sakyas waned in the next century and the Karmapas, a subsect of the tantric Kagyupas, were favored, and in 1331 the Mongol-Chinese emperor Togon Temur bestowed on Karmapa Lama Rangjung Dorjé the title “All-knower of Religion, the Buddha Karmapa.” It was under the Karmapas that incarnate lamas became the norm and every sect, except for the Sakyapas, adopted the principle of incarnational succession by means of male children. The preference for the Karmapas continued under the Ming Dynasty, even though the Kadampas, Atiśa inspired forerunners of the Gelugpas, were invited to the imperial court as well.

Under the warrior-monk Changchub Gyaltsen (1302-64) the Kagyupa were able to wrest political control from the Sakyapas, and by means of brutal military campaigns, his Phamo Drupa regime remained strong until its demise in 1434.  The Fifth Dalai Lama, who admired Changchub very much, wrote that “the heads of the [Sakyapas] and their banners were handed over like symbols of victory,”[411] and in another battle the eyes of 464 prisoners were gouged out. A new biography of Padmasambhava was written during the 14th Century and in it the Great Guru prophesized that Genghis Khan “will cut the earth between his upper and lower teeth,” and he also predicts that some renegade lamas will “act like Mongol generals.”[412] The rise of Changchub was also foreseen by Padmasambhava, who declared that “there will come from the interior of Yarlung incarnation of Vajrapāṇi,”[413] the tamer of Hindu Rudra/Śiva. Under Changchub’s reign both the Sakaypas and the Mongols were declared to be Rudra/Śiva, and tantric war magic was used to drive the Mongols out of central Tibet during his reign.

By the end of his life, Changchub had brought central Tibet back to the unified rule that occurred under Phagpa’s Pugyal dynasty. In contrast to many Karma-Kagyu and Sakya lamas (Sakya Pandit Danyi took seven wives), Changchub Gyaltsen was fervent in keeping his monastic vows and took no food after noon.  He also banned alcohol and women from his palace. He is also recognized as a great nationalist and traditionalist, bringing back the dress, customs, and laws of the early Tibetan Empire and eliminating many of the Mongolian influences of his predecessors.  He was also responsible for reorganizing the districts of Tibet, constructing roads, bridges, fortresses, improving agriculture, and strengthening public security.

During this period the Gelugpas were gaining ground, primarily because of the monastic reforms of Tsongkhapa, their founding father. Interestingly enough, Tsongkhapa was not a Chenrezig incarnation but was an emanation of Manjuśri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. This was a later attribution because Tsongkhapa, as an expert on monastic discipline, did not believe that lamas should inherit either property or titles. Atiśa was brought to Tibet to mitigate the excesses of tantric practices, but, as we have seen, they still continued unabated. To counter these influences, the teaching of the Tantras comes in late a Gelug lama’s education, and the male-female polarity was given symbolic, not physical, meaning. Still, it is significant to point out that all the Dalai Lamas were themselves familiar with or even initiated as tantric yogis.

With Tsongkhapa’s success came the resources to build three great Gelug monasteries: Ganden (1409), Drepung (1416), and Sera (1419).  The abbots were always key players in wielding religious and political power as the Gelugpas, fighting constantly (sometimes in armed battle) with the Karma-Kagyupas, gradually gained control of Tibet with the constant aid of their Mongolian allies. The early Gelugpas were loathe to use tantric rituals against their enemies. The First Panchen Lama Khedrubje Gelek Pelzang (1385-1438), a principal disciple of Tsongkhapa, wrote a commentary on the Kālachakra Tantra in which he interprets the battle against the “barbarians” as a symbolic conflict within the human soul.  The 14th Dalai Lama has relied heavily on this text for his many performances of the Kālachakra Tantra. War magic, along with the perception that their opponents were very real and external, was used by the Second, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, Tenth Dalai, 13th, and many other high lamas.

            The First Four Dalai Lamas and their Tantric Rituals

Although not recognized as the First Dalai Lama until the rule of the Third, Gendun Drub (1391-1475) was considered special already at birth.  Indeed, the literature tells that all the great lamas had miraculous births. It is said that after being hid from bandits as an infant, Gendun was found being guarded by a raven, a symbol for Mahākala, the wrathful form of Chenrezig. Gendun Drub also became attached to the goddess Palden Lhamo, who became one of the protector deities of the Gelugpas and who resided at the Lake of Visions.  He also had visitations from the goddess Tārā, Chenrezig’s tantric consort.

Although he was to become a great Gelug lama, Gendun Drub had a passionate interest in tantricism and he studied under great Nyingma lamas. The Nyingma lama Bodong Namgyal was so impressed with him that he called him the “All-Knowing One.”[414] Gendun Drub was not only a consummate monk and scholar but also a builder, and his greatest achievement was the construction of the Tashihunpo Monastery in 1447, which became the residence of the Panchen Lamas. The Panchen Lamas were the Dalai Lamas’ right-hand men (as long as they had friendly relations), and they were said to be the emanation of the mind of Chenrezig while the Dalai Lamas were Chenrezig’s body. Significant for the current study, the long-lived Gendun Drub (he died at the age of 84) apparently did not have any connections with religiously motivated violence.

Posthumously recognized as the Second Dalai Lama, Gendun Gyatso (1475-1542) was a precocious child who claimed that he was the incarnation of Gendun Drub, and early on he expressed a strong desire to go to the Tashihunpo monastery. His father was an accomplished Nyingma yogi and his mother and paternal grandmother were famous Nyingma yoginis. It was natural then that he was initiated into this tradition before going joining the Gelugpas at Tashihunpo. Even so, Gendun Gyatso was, just as his predecessor, praised for his spiritual feats by Nyingma lamas, and, following their tradition, kept his mother’s skull as a chalice. It was said that all the Tibetan lamas received tantric initiation by the Second Dalai Lama.[415] As opposed to the other tantric sects, the Nyingmapas were generally tolerated, if not highly respected, by the Gelugpas.

Generally speaking, Gedun Gyatso was friendly to all sects, as exemplified in his refusal to intervene in a debate about a Karma-Kagyu interpretation of the Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra.  As Glenn Mullin states: “[the Second Dalai Lama] made it known that he himself greatly enjoyed the Karmapa’s philosophical text and was amused by the passionate controversy it had aroused in the Sera [a Gelug monastery] community.”[416] Everywhere he went in his extensive travels he was warmly welcomed by all the Buddhist schools. As biographer Yangpa Chojey wrote: “His attentions were not demanded merely by lamas of one particular sect or region; all schools without exception invited him to teach, and he gave equal care and attention to them all.”[417]

In 1498 the Kagyupas took over control of Lhasa and a general persecution of the Gelugpas began. As Kaptstein explains: “Gelug monks were now forbidden to take part in the Great Prayer Festival marking the Lhasa New Year that been [Gelug founder] Tsongkhapa’s innovation, and they were ordered to substitute red ceremonial head ware for the customary yellow hats of their order.”[418] In retaliation the Gelugpas tore down a new monastery that the Kagyupas had built in Lhasa.  Kaptstein attributes this sectarian conflict primarily to political maneuverings, and not to the doctrinal differences that later led to religious warfare. 

The Second Dalai Lama reestablished Gelugpa control over the Great Prayer Festival and Kapstein, using Gedun Gyatso’s own statements, demonstrates that even the great Gelug leader admitted that Kagyupa control over the festival was due to their political power. Religiously motivated war did break out later in Gedun Gyatso’s tenure, when in 1537 the Kagyupas of Drikung monastery commenced battles that led to the loss of 18 Gelugpa monasteries. Unlike his predecessor the Second Dalai Lama may not have “kept himself entirely aloof from the turmoil in which his contemporaries were involved,”[419] as Norman claims.  Biographer Yangpa Chojey reports that the Second pacified the warring Gelugpas and Kagyupas “through ritual invocation and mantra recitation of the [wrathful] Dharmapalas, mostly the protector Dharmarāja.”[420]

In 1537 unidentified armies attacked the Gyal monastery, which the Second Dalai Lama had planned and built, but not without help of “tamed” indigenous gods aiding the construction every night. Retreating to the sacred Lake of Visions, the Second called on the wrathful Palden Lhamo to subdue these enemies. The tantric rites he performed caused a great storm and deafening sounds, and a friendly army appeared out of nowhere. The invading soldiers fled in great disarray and carried disease back their home country.[421] Assuming that the Second did not consider the Kagyupas as enemies, he practiced war magic only against external enemies. Previous and later lamas of course used it in internal and religiously motivated battles as well. At the close of his life the Second Dalai Lama sang tantric songs and urged others to worship tantric deities.

At his death the Second Dalai Lama sent forth 100 emanations of Chenrezig (the First had sent out only three), but only one, presumably, hit the right target. Sonam Gyatso (1543-1588) had a miraculous birth: “Emerging from the womb untarnished, clear as crystal, and adorned with countless marks of perfection.”[422] A delegation of lamas to his parent’s home were amazed that Sonam Gyatso knew their names, and his eminent status was confirmed by a rainbow and a celestial fall of flowers.  Recognized as the reincarnation of Gendum Gyatso, Sonam was taken to Drepung monastery where he was later installed as the abbot. The other Buddhist sects acknowledged the brilliance of the young Third Dalai Lama, who at the age of 21 was chosen to officiate at the funeral of a famous lama.  Sonam Gyatso proved himself as a successful mediator of conflicts between the Gelugpas and the Kagyupas. In 1560 he was able to stop the fighting between the two sects in Lhasa.

At the invitation of Altan Khan of the Tumet Mongols, Sonam Gyatso traveled 1,500 miles to Mongolia in 1577-78. He so impressed the Khan that he converted to Buddhism. Norman is convinced that Altan’s turn to Buddhism actually came earlier in the 1570s when he began chanting, on the encouragement of a lama in Northeastern Tibet, Chenrezig’s sacred mantra: om mani padme hum.  There was a political motivation as well: Altan, as Norman states, “could use the Buddhists of Tibet to advance his cause” of uniting all the Mongols.[423]

Altan Khan gave Sonam Gyatso the title “Dalai,” “ocean” in Mongolian, and the tradition has it that this was a unique title. The fact is, however, that the Tibetan word gyatso also means “ocean,” and Altan mistook it for a family name that he translated into Mongolian. The current Dalai Lama supports this correction: “So I don’t really agree that the Mongols actually conferred a title. It was just a translation.”[424] As a return favor, Sonam Gyatso crowned Alan Khan “Religious King, Brahmā of the Gods.” The Hindu Brahmā is the creator of the gods or God of gods, but in Buddhism these gods were definitely subordinate to the Buddha himself. Together Altan Khan and Sonam Gyatso embodied not only the doctrine of reincarnated lamas, but also reincarnated kings. Sonam Gyatso extended his incarnational lineage back to Phagpa, and he also declared that Altan Khan was the reincarnation of Kublai Khan.

Altan Khan, noting that his country had once been Buddhist but had since regressed, ordered that all Mongolians, on the threat of death, had to convert to the Gelug sect. As Thomas Laird explains: “The Mongols’ loyalty to their princes, and the military structure of Mongol society, made mass conversion possible.  When the princes converted, the princes followed.”[425] (This of course was roughly the same policy in Reformation Europe after the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648.) Altan Khan banned all blood sacrifices and the practice of burying wives and slaves alive with their dead masters. He also ordered the execution of all shamans and their shrines. The Great Khan had said that the result of Buddhism’s earlier demise was “an ocean of blood had flooded the land,”[426] but now, ironically, even more blood-letting was done in the name of Buddhism.

            Knowing that Genghis Khan had insisted on complete religious tolerance, we can savor the irony of the Mongolians committing these acts of religious violence. The suppression of shamanism is also ironic given the fact that Tibetan Buddhism was partially but significantly shamanistic (e.g., the oracle priests and cham dancing). Both shamanism and Buddhism would experience a great renaissance after the demise of the Mongolian Communists in 1989.  During my trip to Mongolia in the summer of 2005, I noticed that for every hill that had a colored stone arrangement of om mani padme hum, there was another hill with a shamanistic oovo, a large rock cairn with many blue Mongolian hospitality scarves flying. Tibetan scarves are white, but the Mongolians prefer to honor Genghis Khan’s worship of the great blue sky. 

Altan Khan financed the printing of Buddhist texts and the construction of the first Buddhist monasteries in Mongolia. With this firm anchor in Mongolia, the Gelugpas created a Buddhist renaissance in Central Asia, where the first Buddhist missionaries and translators had great success a millennium before. In the far southeast in present day Yunan province Sonam Gyatso was successful in converting the King of Lithang from the Kagyu sect to the Gelug order in 1580. Sonam Gyatso’s alliance with the Mongolians was viewed with great apprehension by the non-Gelugpas.

Although the retrospective recognition of the first and second Dalai Lamas appears politically expedient on its face, the current Dalai Lama insists on legitimizing them according to Chenrezig’s “master plan,” as discussed previously. The Great 14th believes that the Second Dalai Lama, “formalized the system of recognizing another Gelug incarnate, including the vision lake of Palden Lhamo.”[427] For every Dalai Lama search to the present day, the quest begins at the sacred lake where Palden Lhamo, the wrathful protector deity of the Gelugpas, resides.  By the use of tantric ceremonies she can be called upon at any time to defend the Gelugpas. The 14th Dalai Lama believes that it was Chenrezig’s plan that Sonam Gyatso spread the Gelug order and convert the Mongolians to Buddhism.

When Sonam Gyatso died in 1588, two Tibetan oracles predicted that his reincarnation would be found in Mongolia; and, in 1589, a child, a descendant of Genghis Khan and the great grandson of Altan Khan, was born in the Kokonor region, present day Qinghai Province. As Norman described it, “a rainbow clothed the tent in which [his mother] conceived him . . . [and] others clearly heard the six-syllable mantra of Chenrezig emanating from her womb.”[428] According to Gelug authorities, the child, recognizing the possessions of Sonam Gyatso and passed the requisite spiritual exams as a tulku. The Mongolian child, given the name Yonten Gyatso, remained in the Kokonor region until he was 12 when, in 1601, he undertook the long journey to Tibet, visiting Gelug monasteries on the way and impressing everyone with his preternatural wisdom. Escorted by 1,000 Mongolian cavalry, he arrived in Lhasa in 1603 to start his formal education. In that year Yonten Gyatso was installed as the Fourth Dalai Lama and was made abbot of both Drepung and Sera monasteries.

Some Tibetan princes were convinced of the choice, but the Kagyupa were suspicious. They viewed the alliance with Altan Khan with great anxiety, so they found it politically expedient to join forces with the Khalkha and Chahar Mongols, who followed the Kagyu school and had escaped Altan’s dominance. Very little time elapsed before conflict broke out between the Altan Khan’s troops and the Karma-Kagyupas. In 1604 Karmapa monks visited the Jokhang monastery and left as an offering a scarf on which a poem had been written in an archaic language. A year later, a prayer, allegedly written on a hospitality scarf by the Sixth Sharmapa, was found draped on the Jokhang Temple’s most precious Buddha, the one donated by Songtsen Gampo’s Chinese wife.  Both incidents were interpreted as grave insults to the Dalai Lama, and Mongolian troops were dispatched to the Sharmapa’s residence to punish the offenders. In 1605 the Karmapas retaliated and troops led by the King of Tsang drove the foreign troops out of Lhasa.  In 1607 the Fourth Dalai Lama received a letter from the Sixth Sharmapa, who offered an opportunity for reconciliation. Gelug officials advised the Fourth Dalai Lama against any negotiations and the result was that in 1610 he was forced to flee Drepung monastery.

The Nyingma lama Lodrö Gyaltsen (1552-1624) wrote a book entitled A History of How the Mongols were Repelled.  He was an expert in tantric magic, and as Dalton states, he become “so proficient in these large-scale war rites that he became known simply as Sokdokpa, the ‘Mongol Repeller.’”[429] As many as 250,000 paper effigies of warriors and horses would be set up in a ritual battlefield “staked out” as a mandala, and in 1608 the war magic allegedly caused the death of most of the Mongol’s sheep and cattle. In 1614 Sokdokpa led 14 lamas in a tantric ritual that brought a great snow storm, and “the Mongols were buried in the snow, men along with their horses and pack animals.  Not even one escaped death.”[430] The sectarian war continued for years and in 1618 the Tsang army attacked Lhasa. Shakabpa writes that “the hill on which Drepung monastery stood was littered with the bodies of slaughtered monks.”[431] The monks of several Gelug monasteries were forced to convert to the Kagyu sect. In Shigatse a new Kagyu monastery (named Tashi Zilnon, which means “Suppressor of Tashilhunpo”) was built above Tashilhunpo monastery, the home of the abbot who would become the Panchen Lama. The monks at Tashi Zilnon enjoyed rolling huge boulders down on the Gelugpas below.

There was constant conflict between the two warring sects, and it was now clear that sectarian motivations and religiously motivated violence were now dominant.  The Fourth Dalai Lama ordered all the monasteries of central Tibet to perform tantric rites against the Kagyu Tsangpas, and his efforts were so successful that he earned the titled “Yonten Gyatso the Great Shaman.” Afterward he said that “if I claim to be like Padmasambhava, this would be boastful.  However, I am able say that I am a little like him.”[432] Siddhartha Gautama would have most likely judged the Fourth Dalai Lama as much too boastful, and he may not have called his successor “great.”  Tibetan Buddhist tradition holds that that a lama who has not yet taken monastic vows is free from the injunction against violence, and it is therefore significant to note that the Fourth Dalai Lama did not take his vows until 1614.  In 1616 the Ming emperor Unzhu Wang bestowed upon him the tantric title “Pervasive Lord, Dorjé Wang.”[433]

            The Fifth Dalai Lama: Political Leader and Tantric Master

When the Fourth Dalai Lama died in 1616 at the young age of 28, the King of Tsang banned any search for a new incarnation. The Gelug lamas at Drepung monastery secretly went ahead with their own plans and eventually found three possible candidates.  (Interestingly enough, the children were chosen by lots, a procedure later instituted by Manchu authorities, who drew the names of some of the Dalai and Panchen Lamas from a golden urn.) The favored child, later named Lobsang Gyatso, came from the powerful Zahor family, and he was chosen primarily because he had been selected as a successor in two other lama lineages. 

One of the three candidates was Drakpa Gyaltsen (1617-1654), who was allegedly reincarnated as the wrathful protector deity Dorjé Shugden. In 1654 Drakpa died under mysterious circumstances that some believe to have been an assassination ordered by Sonam Rapten, the Fifth Dalai Lama’s regent.[434] (As I related above, purist Gelugpas who worship Dorjé Shugden were responsible for the death of the Gelug lama Lobsang Gyatso [namesake of the Fifth] in 1997.)  Norman reports that one version of events was that Lobsang and Drakpa were involved in a debate in which Lobsang lost.  It is said that the white scarf Lobsang gave to Drakpa as a gracious gesture of defeat was found stuffed down Drakpa’s throat. But Drakpa, as a “hungry ghost,” frequently haunted the Great Fifth during his reign.[435] Mills writes that in the 17th Century “Shugden is said to have laid waste to Central Tibet until . . . his power forced the Tibetan Government . . . to seek reconciliation.”[436] Dorjé Shugden was finally tamed, ritually “pinned down” in a Nyingma temple near Drepung Monastery, where he promised to be a protector deity of the Gelugpas. But resentment among purist monks and lamas continued, primarily because of the Fifth’s openness to other Buddhist schools and his practice of Nyingma sexual yoga.

It must be stressed that non-Gelug sects had recognized the spiritual authority of reincarnated lamas for centuries. (The only exception was the Sakya school, whose married lamas maintained an hereditary line of succession.) Until the retrospective awarding of Dalai Lama status to the first two, Gelug abbots were chosen by merit, which was the position of Gelug founder Tsongkhapa. Most Tibetan monasteries were led by tulkus, and the Gelugpas were simply following a long venerated tradition, one that may have, in the end, caused many more political problems than it was intended to solve. In choosing Lobsang Gyatso as the Fifth Dalai Lama the politically astute Gelugpas saw a chance to preempt the other schools and unite the people around their candidate. The child’s father, Dudul Rabten, favored the Gelugpas and refused offers from the other sects to consecrate his son. The Tsang government imprisoned Rabten for his obstinacy, but the mother was able to return home safely with her child to Nakartse castle in Yardrog.  Rabten died in 1622 without seeing his son ever again.

In 1620 Mongolian troops, sneaking back into Lhasa disguised as pilgrims, were successful in driving the Tsang army out of Lhasa. With the Fourth Panchen Lama mediating, the Mongols agreed to leave only after (1) exacting a promise that the monasteries forced to convert to the Kagyupas be returned to the Gelugpas; and (2) that Tsang troops also withdraw from Lhasa. After the ban on searching for the Fourth Dalai Lama’s successor was officially lifted, the Gelugpas brought Lobsang Gyatso to Drepung monastery. His enthronement as the Fifth Dalai Lama was delayed for many years because of constant sectarian strife and religiously motivated violence.

The most amazing aspect of the life of the Great Fifth and his spiritual legitimacy is that he confessed that he failed a crucial test as a child candidate. In his autobiography, he states:

The official . . . of the Ganden Palace showed me statues and rosaries (that belonged to the Fourth Dalai Lama and other lamas), but I was unable to distinguish between them! When he left the room I heard him tell the people outside that I had successfully passed the tests. Later, when he became my tutor, he would often admonish me and say: “You must work hard, since you were unable to recognize the objects.”[437]

Today, at least one high lama has announced that the Fifth was not properly chosen, and that is the current Dalai Lama’s own brother.[438] One wonders if the contemporary followers of Dorjé Shugden have made use of this evidence to claim that Drakpa Gyaltsen was the true successor to the Fourth Dalai Lama?  Lobsang’s enthusiastic embrace of Nyingma ritual led some people to suspect that he was not a true follower of Tsongkhapa.

Lobsang’s family had affiliations with all the major Buddhist sects, including the Kagyupas, the Nyingmapas, and his mother’s own tantric Jonangpas, a sect banned under her son’s rule. In 1633 Lobsang Gyatso was initiated by a Nyingma lama named Konchog Lhundrup. Samten Karmay describes this as “a turning point in his life. He learned about mystical practices and tantric rituals entirely unknown to him and realized that his philosophical training at the monastery alone was not sufficient to attain spiritual enlightenment.”[439] In his own private Lukhang temple it is said that he continued the Dzogchen practice, the sexual yoga of the Nyingma school. Lobsang’s free and independent spirit is revealed in the following statement: “When I finished the Oral Teachings of Manjuśrī [in 1658], I had to leave the ranks of the Gelug. Today [in 1674], having completed the Oral teachings of the Knowledge-Holders [Dzogchen scripture], I will probably have to withdraw from the Nyingma ranks as well!”[440]

The use of the Nechung Oracle was institutionalized under the Great Fifth. (He was featured in the movie Kundun falling into trances and “speaking in tongues.”)  One-half mile south of the Drepung Monastery one finds the Nechung Gompa, one of the most beautiful and ornate Tibetan Buddhist temples. The Nyingma monks there attend to the Oracle, who channels Pehar, the Dalai Lama’s protector deity. Weapons, such as spears, swords, bows and arrows, and snares are typical instruments of Tibetan oracles, and they are also found, including a matchlock gun, as decoration inside the temple.  A statue of Padmasambhava stands near the Oracle’s throne in order to ensure that Pehar, whom the Great Guru tamed in the 8th Century, remains committed to protecting Buddhism. Significantly enough, the south gate of the temple is closed awaiting the coming of Dorjé Shugden, who, according to de Nebesky-Wojkowitz, will enter there to “succeed Pehar as the chief dharmapāla of Tibet after the former . . . has vacated the temple.”[441] These facts must both excite and alarm contemporary followers of Dorjé Shugden.  With supreme irony they would proscribe Nyingma practices, but their protector deity, now declared an “evil spirit” by the 14th Dalai Lama, is intimately associated with that heretical sect.

Under the rule of the Great Fifth the doctrine of dual sovereignty was essentially put aside, and the lama king became the single most powerful and most successful Tibetan ruler since Songzen Gampo. The Great Fifth regularized customs, clothing, and festivals, but he also introduced serfdom, an evil that was not abolished until the 1950s. He made Lhasa his capital and started building the Potala Palace on a hill considered to be sacred to Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. The word “Potala” comes from the name of a mountain in Southern India, which was held as the sacred mountain of Avalokīteśvara (Chenrezig in Tibetan). The current Dalai Lama believes that Songzen Gampo built a palace there, but there is no evidence for this, and it must be taken as yet another indication of the theological overlay of Chenrezig’s master plan for Tibet as the chosen Buddhist nation.

In 1636 the King of Tsang moved an army of 10,000 in position to attack Gushri Khan’s Mongolian troops. Karma Kagyu and Nyingma lamas from Tsang performed tantric rites that, as Shakabpa explained, “were magically able to bind the eight classes of violent deities as servants.  They brought lightning and thunder down onto the Mongolian camp.”[442] In addition Arsalang Taiji, a Tsang commander who had gone over to the side of the Gelugpas, mysteriously came down with a mental disorder.  Because of the effects of war magic, the Mongolians refused to fight, and Arsalang’s father sent out a team to assassinate his treasonous son and two of his generals.  Readers may recall from the previous chapter that in negotiations with the Bhutanese, the Tibetans insisted that the Shabdrung cease and desist with regard to his powerful magic.

In 1639 the Great Fifth refused to sign a letter authorizing Gushri Khan’s attack on the King of Beri, a follower of the Bön religion and an ally of the Kagyupas. He had allied himself with the Eastern Mongols and who, ironically, were initially the Third Dalai Lama’s allies.  His reason was that “too many people have suffered in the past and even been killed because of this kind of political activity.”[443] Sonam Rapten forged his signature and the campaign went forward.  Gushri Khan was able to intercept a message from the King of Beri, which contained a plan ordering his Eastern Mongol troops to destroy Gelug statues and “completely eliminate the Gelug sect, so that no trace of it will ever be found.”[444] After defeating his forces, Gushri Khan took an entire year to pursue the King of Beri and finally killed him in 1640.

It was only because of the military forces of the Western Mongol Gushri Khan that the Great Fifth was able to dominate Tibet as he did. Moving out from his base in Kokonor in 1640, Gushri Khan’s 40,000 troops defeated the defenders of Kagyu monasteries in Kham and Amdo, the Tsang King’s allies in Eastern Tibet.  On April 13, 1642, Gushri defeated the King of Tsang, which made way for the dominance of the Gelug school until the present day. Gushri Khan was sincere in his Buddhist devotions, and his motivations for coming to Tibet, according to Lobsang’s own history of Tibet, “were purely religious . . . so great was the devotion born in Gushri . . . that the chieftain bruised his forehead making protestations in the direction of Lhasa.”[445]

As we have seen above, it was Lobsang Gyatso’s regent, the monk Sonam Rapten, not the Great Fifth himself, who ordered Gushri’s troops to march on Lhasa and dislodge the Tsang king. The young lama king was initially very alarmed about using foreign troops in this way. In fact, he resisted the use of violence against the other sects. When the Regent wanted Gushri to initiate the final campaign against the King of Tsang, the Great Fifth once again rejected the idea: “Did I not tell you a number of times that it would be unwise to engage in a war with the Tsang ruler?”[446] Nevertheless, Sonam Rapten ordered the Mongolian troops to attack, sometimes joining Gushri at the head of cavalry and along with his monk militiamen. The young lama king relented in despair: “We now must go through with this war, which you have so carelessly begun.”[447]

While Gushri was making the final assault on the Kagyu forts in Shigatse in 1642, the Great Fifth, evidently no longer reluctant about religious warfare, gathered his monks in Lhasa to perform tantric war magic against his enemies. Norman reports that, in addition to Pehar, originally tamed by Padmasambhava, Lobsang “was particularly close to three other wrathful protectors”: Palden Lhamo, Begtse (a Mongolian war god), and Gonpo Dramzey—”the raven-headed emanation of Mahākāla who protected the First Dalai Lama as a baby.”[448] (He also led the first Shabdrung to his new home in Bhutan.) The Great Fifth already performed pūjā to Begtse at the end of every month, and Palden Lhamo, protector of the Sacred Lake where the search for some Dalai Lamas began, was at the center of every New Year’s festival.

The Great Fifth ordered a mass ritual in which monks at two monasteries constructed thousands of paper effigies for both enemy soldiers and their horses. Gushri Khan was depicted as Vajrapāṇi in the violent Rudra Myth, which Dalton has explained above. Conducting one of the rites himself, the Fifth, according to Norman, had a vision

in which a large human head with macabre face rose up, its mouth opened wide, and into which a cascade of smaller heads fell “like grain poured into a sack.” This the Dalai Lama took as a sign of the success of the rite he was conducting to implore the deities to grant a favorable outcome of the war on Tsang.[449]

In another vision the Fifth saw Palden Lhamo, the Tibetan equivalent of the Hindu Kālī as a “tamed” protector deity, doing a victory dance in the sky. (Just as Kālī empowered the swords of her armies to decapitate her enemies in India, so does Vajrapāṇi for the Mongol troops.) The people of Lhasa heard Paden Lhamo’s blood-curdling scream in the far distance just as Gushri’s troops attained their goal.[450]

Gushri Khan imprisoned the Tsang king and his officials in Lhasa and thought that his military campaign was over. The Fifth Dalai Lama, however, was right: his enemies would continue to plot against him and then he would be forced to retaliate. The Karmapas incited rebellion in the Northwest and Southeast, where they burned down a Gelug monastery. Gushri Khan and Sonam Rapten unleashed a furious counter attack and killed 7,000 rebels in the Kongpo region. They found papers with Karmapa plans that called for the destruction of the Gelugpas, and Gushri was so angry that he sent orders for the immediate execution of the Tsang king. As Shakabpa states: “This situation might be compared to the execution of [Catholic] Mary, Queen of Scots, which finally brought an end of the many plots against the throne of [Protestant] Queen Elizabeth.”[451] Religiously motivated violence in Tibet was just as bad as it was in Europe.

The Great Fifth describes the tantric rites that he performed during this time: “First, I performed the suppression ritual of the Lord of Death’s Hunt, the Angry Sun. Thinking of how the previous year large-scale violent rites were needed against

[the King of ]

Beri, I made a great imprecation stūpa. . . and accomplished the violent acts of sorcery.”[452] Dalton explains that “the Dalai Lama conquered his own demonic enemies by pinning them under a ritual stūpa, thereby creating the modern Buddhist state of the Ganden Podrang.”[453] Ganden Podrang means “victorious everywhere” and it describes the hegemonic Gelug theocracy under the all the Dalai Lamas.

As a reward for his efforts, Gushri Khan was publicly declared King of Tibet. At a secret meeting in Lhasa in 1637, the Fifth had already conferred upon him the titles “Dharma King” and “Holder of Doctrine.” But at this public ceremony in 1642, it was the Fifth who actually sat on the throne, effectively undermining the doctrine of dual sovereignty. As Samten Karmay states: “For the first time in Tibetan history, a Dalai Lama, previously merely the abbot of a monastery and leader of one religious order, became the country’s leader.”[454] Making Gushri’s position even more marginal, Karmay believes that the royal title referred only to the territories that Gushri had conquered in Eastern Tibet. Norman agrees with scholars who believe that the Great Fifth’s status had been elevated to a transcendent being operating as a full-fledged Bodhisattva: “An object of worship and means by which merit was obtained [for all sentient beings].”[455]

Lee Feigon describes the extent of the Great Fifth’s new Tibetan Empire: “In battle after battle, the Fifth Dalai Lama and his armies captured territory from Ladakh [far West] . . . to the Burmese border [far southeast].”[456] Thomas Laird elaborates: “[The Great Fifth] sat on a throne beside the first Manchu emperor of China, received in Beijing on equal terms. Marauding Mongol bands from one end of Asia to the other fought, or stood down, on his orders.”[457] With his Five Point Plan the King of Tsang’s goal, together with his Kagyu religious allies, was to restore the Songzen Gampo’s empire, but it was Lobsang Gyatso, the Gelugpas, and the Western Mongols, who achieved the most extensive military, political, and religious expansion since the 9th Century.

Even though he was the spiritual leader of the Gelugpas, the Great Fifth was, as indicated above, initiated as a Nyingma yogi and he also instituted a dramatic innovation with regard to the Bön religion. This ancient faith shares many rituals with the Nyingmapas, and Lobsang established it as the fifth school of Tibetan Buddhism. In 1674 Lobsang reached out to the Karmapas and invited Karmapa Choying Dorjé to the Potala Palace, where they found ways to reduce the violence of decades of religious warfare. On the other hand, in his conversations with the current Dalai Lama, Laird and he discussed of forced conversions of Kagyupas and Sakyapas under the Great Fifth, which the current Dalai Lama does not believe were just political actions.[458] As we will see below, resentment from this period still lingered into the 20th Century.

One group of tantrics, who suffered heavily under the rule of the Great Fifth, was the Jonang, the sect to which the Second Dalai Lama’s mother belonged. They were members of a branch of the Kagyu sect and they trace their lineage back to Indian yogis who practiced the Kālachakra  Tantra. As Karmay reports, Lobsang banished “the Jonang from Central Tibet to Amdo, and forc[ed] some Jonpo monasteries to convert to the Gelug tradition,”[459] but he clarifies that the persecution was because of political not religious reasons. The Jonangpas survive today in monasteries in Northeastern Amdo Province. 

            Even though the Nyingmapa were generally tolerated and not always persecuted, many of them nevertheless moved south and settled in Nepal during the 17th Century. The 1643 invasion of Bhutan was motivated in part by pursuing and punishing Nyingma refugees who had sought safety there. Today’s Sherpas are Nyingmapas, and in 1999 I witnessed a tantric healing (accompanied by a huge cloud of marijuana smoke) by a married lama while on a trek with some students in the Langtang Valley north of Kathmandu. Thomas Laird lived among these Nepali Buddhists, and they told him that their ancestors “worried that if they stayed in Tibet, they might have to fight the Gelugpa, or face conversion.  As Buddhists, they did not want to kill anyone.”[460]          

The 14th Dalai Lama admits that there is still much resentment about the persecution of other sects during the time of the Great Fifth. He tells the story about a 90-year-old Kagyu monk from Kham who refused to attend any of the Dalai Lama’s festivals or meet with any of his people. Describing the Kagyupas’ persecution as “three hundred years of pain,” [461] the Dalai Lama was pleased to inform Laird that at the end of his life the monk finally realized that the Great Fifth was personally nonsectarian, practicing what was later known as Rimey, the unifying movement in Tibetan Buddhism the current Dalai Lama promotes. The monk was now convinced that the Fifth and the current Dalai Lama did not condone violence or act out of political motivation.

The Fifth Dalai Lama always wanted to spread Buddhism to China, so he was very glad to accept, after many delays, an invitation from the 14-year-old Shunzhi Emperor of the newly established Qing dynasty.  During the two imperial audiences Lobsang was seated just a little lower than Shunzhi, but he allowed his guest to drink tea simultaneously with him. In his autobiography, the Fifth Dalai Lama described Shunzhi, after remarking about his young age, as “a fearless lion roaming without a bridle.”[462] The emperor conferred upon him the title “Overseer of the Buddhist Faith on Earth under the Great Benevolent Self-Subsisting Buddha of the Western Paradise,” and from then on Tibetan Buddhism played a significant role in both the spiritual and political functions of the Qing dynasty.

Contrary to current Communist propaganda, which has always tried to portray Tibet as dependent state, the Qing emperors viewed the Tibetans as equals and saw that they could use them to pacify the Mongols, who were always intruding on their northwestern borders.  As Laird states: “The Manchus did not invite [the Fifth Dalai Lama] as a vassal; they invited him because of his power, not his servility.”[463] In dialogue with the current Dalai Lama, Laird also recorded him saying that the reason Lobsang Gyatso went to China “was simply to propagate Buddhist Dharma” not to show obeisance to Manchu authorities.[464] Only under the Eighth to the Twelfth Dalai Lamas did Chinese intervention undermine Tibetan sovereignty.

            The Wild Sixth, the Popular and Effective Seventh, and Weak 8th-12th

News of Fifth Dalai Lama’s death in 1682 was kept from the public for 15 years.  His regent Sangye Gyatso was very adept at deceiving even the most prying visitors. When dignitaries demanded an audience, Sangye dressed up a monk who looked like the Fifth and led them in for their visits. When the Khalka Mongols and the Manchu army defeated Galten Khan, still King of Tibet, the Qing Emperor Kangzi demanded that the Tibetan government submit to the terms of Galden’s surrender.  Significantly enough for one of the main themes of this chapter,  Kangzi’s edict was protected by “8 classes of demons,”[465] who might well have been the same wrathful Tibetan deities that the Chinese government summoned to confront the equally wrathful  Kṣetrapāla, whom the Tibetans sent against the Chinese militia in 1940.

The first section of the Kangzi’s edict contained a demand to know whether the Fifth Dalai Lama was still alive, because they suspected that they had been deceived for years. The Tibetans were forced to concede that the Great Fifth was indeed dead that that his successor had been already been chosen. As was the case with Bhutan’s First Shabdrung, Sangye told everyone that the Great Fifth had gone into an extended spiritual retreat. Once again the vulnerabilities of the doctrine of incarnational procession were made evident.  Delicate political relations both internal and external (especially with cantankerous Mongol warlords) would have been upset by an immediate search for Lobsang Gyatso’s child successor.

Sangye Gyatso secretly went ahead and found the Fifth’s successor using the traditional means of identifying his child reincarnation.  A boy born in 1683 with definite characteristics of a tulku was found in Mon in 1688, and he was brought to Lhasa and secretly educated until the boy, named Tsangzang Gyatso, was enthroned as the Sixth Dalai Lama in 1697. The gods were so delighted by the event that it was reported that the huge crowds heard their laughter in the skies. Significantly enough, in addition to being introduced to Gelug doctrine by the Fifth Panchen Lama, the young lama was also initiated by the Nyingma yogis who had been mentors to the Great Fifth, a fact from which, as we shall see, the current Dalai Lama draws special meaning.

The young lama demonstrated very little interest in his studies, preferring archery and spending time with young aristocrats. The 20-year-old Tsangzang renounced his monastic vows in the presence of the Panchen Lama and started to frequent Lhasa’s beer halls and making love with many women. Naturally there was deep and growing concern, especially among the Mongols and the Manchus, who had stricter views of how reincarnated lamas should behave. Among the Tibetans the consensus was that it there was no question that Tsangzang was the true incarnation of the Great Fifth, and they blamed the regent Sangye Gyatso for not educating the young man properly.

The Mongol chieftain Lazang Khan, the grandson of Gushri Khan, was especially troubled by the Sixth’s behavior. As a strict Gelugpa, he saw the corrupting influence of the Nyingma sect already in Lobsang Gyatso and continuing on in his successor. After negotiations with Sangye Gyatso failed, Lazang raised an army, executed the regent, and assumed power in Lhasa as the new Tibetan king in 1705. Together with Manchu authorities, Lazang plotted to get rid of Tsangyang and to install his own candidate for Tibet’s highest spiritual office. Lazang pressured the abbots of the three main Drepung monasteries to admit that the “Buddha-mind” no longer resided in Tsangyang Gyatso.

In 1706 the Manchu emperor ordered that Tsangyang be brought to his court and on the way out of Lhasa Drepung monks were successful in overwhelming his escort and they spirited him away to the monastery. Lazang threatened to annihilate the monks and their famous buildings with his artillery, and in order to prevent this, Tsangyang gave himself up to the Mongol forces. The Sixth Dalai Lama died under mysterious circumstances in Lithang in the Kokonor region. In a note to one of his lovers Tsangyang wrote “I go no farther than Lithang and thence return again.”[466] The child who is now recognized as the Seventh Dalai Lama was born in Lithang.  The Mongol-Manchu substitute for Tsangyang was never accepted by the Tibetan people, who honored the reincarnation procedures despite the unusual behavior of the tulku. As we shall see, the current Dalai Lama does not find Tsangyang’s behavior out of line, because this is how a tantric yogi should behave.

As the current Dalai Lama read the Fifth’s autobiography, he noted a preference given to hereditary succession in the Sakya order. He now believes that it was therefore part of Chenrezig’s “master plan” that Tsangyang renounce his celibacy and continue as a heredity head of state. According to the Fourteenth’s reading, the Great Fifth admitted that incarnational succession was “unstable” and “risky,” and that the hereditary system was “much stronger.”[467] The current Dalai Lama speculates that “the Sixth Dalai Lama disrobed according to some [divine] plan. If he had disrobed and still remained the Dalai Lama, and the popular support for the Dalai Lama remained, then he would have had a son who would have become king.  That would have been better.”[468]

Curiously, the fact that Tsangyang did not become king is, according to the Fourteenth, a sign that Chenrezig’s master plan failed. As I have speculated in the first section, this is most likely because the great Bodhisattva is not omnipotent; and, while able to guide human affairs, cannot control them completely. Still more curious is the Fourteenth’s generosity towards Lazang and the Manchus: he blames the sectarian religious fighting for this blemish on Tibetan history and praises the Sixth for giving up himself at Drepung to avoid even greater violence. He also believes that the Sixth used his yogic powers to survive and to prepare for his reincarnation as Kelsang Gyatso, the Seventh Dalai Lama.[469] According to the Mahāyāna philosopher Nāgārjuna’s “two truths” doctrine, the conventional truth is that Tsangyang died on the way to China, but the real truth was that he survived to fulfill the prophecy contained in the poem quoted above. 

A legend has it that Tsangyang attained the status of a siddhi, a tantric yogi who lives forever as transcendent being.[470] Another account, The Tune from the Notes of the Divine Lute, recognized as authentic only until recently, gives details of Tsangyang’s life from 1706, his alleged death at the hands of the Manchus to his “actual” death in 1748.  According to this book, he wandered in disguise from place to place giving teachings. In 1714 the Nechung Oracle in Lhasa recognized him and “brandished his sword in salutation.”[471] In 1716 he returned to Amdo where he took the name Dakpo Lama and, ironically, as Norman says, “corresponded with the Panchen Lama on the subject of the vinaya, the code of monastic discipline,”[472] which Tsangyang had of course systematically violated.

The current Dalai Lama believes that we should not discount the fact that both the Fifth and the Sixth were trained in the sexual yoga of the Nyingma school. Therefore, Tsangyang’s outwardly dissolute behavior was consistent with the ideal of a tantric yogi who remains pure even in the throes of sensual pleasure. The current Dalai Lama uses Nāgārjuna’s distinction between conventional and real truth to explain that while conventionally it looked like young man who “just liked girls,” when in reality he was perfected tantric yogi. The Tibetan people’s intense devotion to the Tsangyang may have been due to an intuitive awareness that this must have been the real reasons for his unconventional behavior. As Kapstein explains:

The Tibetans tended to be more tolerant of [Tsangyang] his excesses, perhaps in part because the tantric ethos of ‘pure vision’ with respect to one revered as a lama had long been normative in Tibetan culture overall.  From such a perspective, even the guru’s transgressions are regarded as evidence of the “play” of spiritual perfection and so are seldom condemned.[473]

A similar spiritual dynamic operates among Hindu devotees of Kṛṣṇa, whose practical jokes as a child and sexual dalliances as a youth are celebrated as spiritual “play”(līla), a word that Kapstein may be referring to in Tibetan translation.

Lazang tried to install his own choice as Tsangyang’s reincarnation, a young boy whose lama name was Yeshe Gyatso, and even managed to get the Panchen Lama’s blessing.  Yeshe was widely rejected as an imposter, not only by the people and the Gelugpas, but also by a great many Mongols. Dissident Mongol lobbying forced Manchu officials to wait three years, but after realizing that Lazang had them over a barrel, they, too, recognized Yeshe Gyatso as the Sixth Dalai Lama. When news of an unusual child born in Lithang according to Tsangyang’s prophecy reached the Manchus, they moved gradually in the direction of favoring this boy, later known as Kelsang Gyatso, as the correct choice.  The Dzungar Mongols also took this opportunity to undermine Lazang’s authority in Tibet.  After many battles they stormed Lhasa, killed Lazang, and even desecrated the tomb of the Great Fifth, whom they thought had betrayed the Buddhist faith.

The Dzungar Mongols quickly lost credibility with the Tibetan people for at least three reasons: (1) they were brutal in their occupation of the country; (2) they began a suppression, which the Manchus supported, of the Nyingma and Bön sects, destroying two Nyingma monasteries and killing their lamas; and (3) they could not make good on their promise that they would bring Kelsang Gyatso to Lhasa. The young lama was under the protection of the Manchu emperor Kangxi, who continued to insist that Kelsang was the true Sixth, not the new Seventh Dalai Lama.  Manchu armies marched on Tibet and they were able to dislodge the Dzungar Mongols, and their victory was so great that only 500 of their troops made it back to their homeland. 

The Manchus then brought Kelsang Gyatso to Lhasa in 1720 and installed him as the Seventh Dalai Lama. The Tibetans’ devotion to Tsangyang Gyatso was too strong for the Manchus to prevail in their initial belief he was illegitimate. For the first time in Tibetan history China now dominated the country and the power of the Dalai Lamas declined dramatically until the reign of the 13th Dalai Lama. Even the Seventh was tightly controlled by the Manchus and by strong man Polhané, who ruled Tibet from 1728 until his death in 1747.  Although ruthless, Polhané brought peace and prosperity, and he focused on the preservation of Tibetan culture.  He financed the publication of a new edition of Tibetan scripture: the Tanjur (the Buddha’s teachings) and the Kanjur (philosophical commentaries and medical treatises). The texts were meticulously carved on wood blocks, and in Beijing the Kanjur published in 1732 followed by the Tanjur in 1742.

Despite the restrictions placed on him by the Manchu authorities and Polhané, the Seventh Dalai Lama was popular with his people, becoming a prolific writer and great spiritual leader. Norman relates that the Seventh was “responsible for the restoration of the Kālachakra Tantra to a central place within the Tibetan tradition,”[474] one to which the current Dalai Lama is much devoted. One might say that he was able to do this because he neither had the distractions nor the temptations of temporal rule, which continued to be violent and chaotic in secular hands.  Political conflict arose between Chinese and anti-Chinese factions, the former led by Polhané. The Seventh’s father was anti-Manchu, and he sent a letter to Emperor Yongzhen requesting that his recent letter denouncing the Nyingmapas be rescinded. It is significant to note that when one abbot refused to join Polhané’s group, he was murdered by means of black magic.[475]

Polhané was pushed out of the Lhasa government by the anti-Manchu faction, and, even though his family was Nyingma, he believed that he could convince Manchu authorities to call off the proscription of his sect. He organized an army and marched on Lhasa, but he was soundly defeated by the Lhasa government and their Mongol mercenaries. Using his own Mongol allies, Polhané regrouped and eventually took control of Lhasa. Even though he sincerely attempted mediation between the two factions, the Seventh was exiled to his home province for seven years. His father, fully implicated as anti-Manchu, was taken all the way to Beijing where he, chained between his two wives, was publicly reprimanded by Emperor Yongzhen and banned forever from Tibetan politics.

The Seventh Dalai Lama was allowed to return to Lhasa in 1736, but Polhané, called “The Invincible One” by his Mongol allies, remained firmly in control of the government. When Polhané died in 1747, he had already designated his dissolute son as his successor. Gyurmé Namgyal sought out the Dzungzar Mongols to help him drive out the Manchus.  Chinese officials (ambans) were swift in their reaction, and they assassinated him during a visit to their embassy. The Seventh, who did not hide is disgust for Polhané, urged calm and gave 200 imperial staff members refuge in the Potala.  Tibetan nationalists, however, stormed the Chinese embassy and one amban was killed and the other committed suicide. The rebellion soon dissipated and the Seventh was able to bring peace to Lhasa even before the imperial army reached the capital.  As a reward the new Emperor Qianlong allowed the Seventh to appoint his own cabinet (kashag), but he still had to answer to the new appointed ambans.

When the Seventh Dalai Lama died in 1757, three candidates for his reincarnation arose. Five oracles could not decide on the right boy, and many Tibetans believed that they should heed the prophecy from The Book of Kham that “an incarnation of Chenrezig will work for seven lifetimes to benefit the black-haired peoples of Tibet.”[476] Nevertheless, the Panchen Lama intervened and chose Jamphel Gyatso as the Eighth Dalai Lama. The Eighth was a reluctant ruler—”neither Buddha nor king,” as Norman contends—and even when he was finally enthroned in 1781 at the age of 24, Jamphel deferred constantly to his regent.

The Eighth Dalai Lama did show some leadership during Tibet’s war with Nepal.  The Nepalese army launched an invasion of Tibet in 1788, and by 1791 they were within striking distance of Lhasa. Many in the capital were preparing to flee but, as Shakabpa describes it, “the Dalai Lama was compelled to address a large gathering of people from the balcony of the Jokhang temple, assuring them . . . that he himself had no intention of leaving the city.”[477] The Tibetan army rallied, and with the aid of Qing troops, it was able to drive the Nepalese back to their homeland. 

During this time, the abbot of the Nyingma Mindrolling Monastery led a rarely used tantric ritual in which four “thread crosses” 18-feet high were erected. Padmasambhava introduced this rite and the lamas began the ceremony with a prayer to the Great Guru. The crosses, known world-wide among priests and shamans, are essentially “demon catchers,” set up to attract the protector deities. Each of them represent the four Hindu-Buddhist continents and each were filled, as de Nebesky-Wojkowitz explains, with “skulls, bones, flesh, blood of various animals,” and many other exotic and repulsive ingredients.[478] The Mindrolling abbot meditated for seven days “requesting one of the

[protective deities]

to dispatch the army of the btsan demons against” the Nepalese armies.”[479] The day that thread crosses were ceremonially burned there was a great earthquake in the Kathmandu Valley and the Nepalese general in charge of the invasion died mysteriously.

The Gurkha king of Nepal, Prithvi Narayan Shah, had formed an alliance with the 10th Shamarpa (Chosdup Gyamtso), a Karma-Kagyu lama, and one of his servants guided Nepalese troops on their invasion of Tibet. He was hoping that the victorious Nepalese king would intercede in a property dispute with his half brother, the recently deceased Dalai Lama. The primary cause of the war was a dispute over Nepal’s minting of Tibetan currency and Tibet’s export of adulterated salt. The Shamarpa had offered himself as ransom to force a resolution of the conflicts. This was a major miscalculation on the Shamarpa’s part, because the Tibetans had very little concern for him.

When the combined Tibetan-Manchu army invaded Nepal, the Shamarpa’s hosts blamed him and he committed suicide by poisoning himself. The Tibetan troops recovered his ceremonial hat and it was taken back to Lhasa and buried in front of the Jokhang Monastery.  As Norman explains: “No greater insult could be imagined.  This meant that for all time every visitor to Tibet’s holiest shrine would be compelled to symbolically to tread on it.”[480] The Tibetan government, presumably with the agreement and pleasure of the Gelug hierarchy, converted the Shamarpa’s monastery to the Gelugpas and also forbade the investiture of any future lamas in the Shamarpa’s line. In 1963 the Tibetan Government in Exile finally lifted this ban, although the lineage had been continued in secret for 200 years. Even under the Great Fourteenth sectarian strife continued to the present times.

When the Eighth Dalai Lama died in 1804, Norman speculates that there were “members of the Gelug hierarchy who regretted not having ended the Dalai Lama institution half a century ago. The outcome could hardly have been worse.”[481] The 8th-12th Dalai Lamas were consistently weak—some dying very young (poison suspected in some instances)—and the country was ruled by regents. The regents and religious authorities were committed to closing Tibet to outsiders, and the result was that, as Shakabpa phrases it, “this propaganda [against foreigners] had such an effect on the minds of the Tibetans that even in later years it was believed that one’s faith would be endangered by eating sweets or using soap imported from India.”[482] After the death of the 11th Dalai Lama in 1856, Nepal again invaded Tibet.  Large numbers of monks volunteered for battle, but the Nepalese offered peace terms before they reached the battlefield. It was common practice for the monasteries to have armories, and the monks fought in both sectarian and non-sectarian battles. During the short reign of the 12th Dalai Lama, armed monks from Ganden and Drepung Monasteries fought with monks from the Sera Monastery, the former taking the side of Dondup Shatra in his successful overthrow of Regent Rating Rinpoché. Tibetan monasteries had always been heavily armed.  In 1947 it was said that there were 2,000 rifles in the Sera Monastery alone.

In 1792 Emperor Qianlong chastised the Tibetans for the corruption he found in the process of choosing all high lamas.  He was especially concerned about the fact that certain clans were dominant in the selection of the Dalai Lamas. He argued that “if the dignity of the tulkus were transmitted for generations within the same clan that would be egoism.  What has the Buddha to do with egoism?  This [practice] must therefore terminated.”[483] His solution was a golden urn, which arrived in Tibet in 1793, from which the tulkus would be chosen by lottery.  Although he admitted that “I cannot entirely eliminate abuses,” the emperor explained that “the names of all eligible persons shall be written and placed in the urn. The person to be appointed shall be determined by lot.”[484]

The Tibetans fiercely resisted the emperor’s new plan, and their officials were successful in getting a waiver for choosing the 9th, but the 10th, 11th, 12th, and 14th Dalai Lamas, and the 10th Panchen Lama were confirmed by the new imperial procedure.  (Tibetans were at least relieved in those instances where the lottery agreed with the result of the traditional procedures.) Conveniently citing these precedents, the current Beijing government chose their own 11th Panchen Lama by this method, and will no doubt appoint the future 15th Dalai Lama by use of the golden urn.

            The 13th Dalai Lama: War Magic against the British, Germans, and the Chinese

When the 12th Dalai Lama died in 1875, foul play was again suspected, and newly appointed Regent Kundeling Rinpoché was chosen to find Chenrezig’s incarnation. Tibetan authorities were confident in using the traditional procedure, because, as Norman explains, the Qing Dynasty was “in terminal decline [and] was not in any position to enforce

[the urn’s]

use.”[485] Thupten Gyatso, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, was enthroned in 1879 at the age of 19.  Black magic played a role in an early threat to the Thirteenth’s life.  Seeking the cause of an illness the Thirteenth was experiencing, officials discovered that former Regent Demo Rinpoché had placed a note with an occult symbol in the Thirteenth’s boots. The Dalai Lama was lenient with the conspirators and he refused to sanction the death penalty. In addition to lashings, public exposure in stocks, and exile, the Thirteenth ordered that there would be no further incarnations in Demo Rinpoché’s lineage. I must continue to press the logical complications of Chenrezig’s “plan.” Can a Dalai Lama actually stop Chenrezig’s emanations by his own will, or is this Chenrezig’s choice, or do both act with a single will?

The black magic of this sort was commonly used among Tibetans for personal revenge, and no special skill was involved in preparing the spells and their instruments. Tibetan warriors also used magic charms “against bullets and weapons,”[486] and those who thought they were thereby immune from People’s Liberation Army were sorely disappointed when they did not work. It is not the sophisticated tantric war magic performed by high lamas that we have seen in other instances, and the one that follows. In 1904 the 13th Dalai Lama performed a tantric ritual from The Razor of the Dagger’s Ultimate Essence (a Nyingma document) as a means to repel the Youngsblood invasion of Tibet.[487] The Nechung Oracle also predicted that “the magic powers radiating from this mountain [on the border with Sikkim] would be strong enough to check all future movements of the British should they try to enter Tibet.”[488] The British marched over the mountain with little resistance, and the wrathful deities were not successful in their counter attack. The Oracle was later dismissed for his false prophecy, which was actually a common occurrence with Tibetan mediums through the centuries.

The Thirteenth was forced to flee to Mongolia and then to China, where he was stripped of all of titles given to him by Emperor Gaungxu. The young ruler, completely controlled by the Dowager Cixi, was addicted to opium and he could not even feed himself at imperial banquets. During the Dalai Lama’s visit, the emperor fell ill and then the Dowager as well, and the Thirteenth performed “long-life” rituals for them.  It is widely believed that the Dowager actually poisoned her son and she then died mysteriously soon thereafter.  There were some Chinese, however, who accused the Thirteenth of using tantric magic to kill both of them.

The Dalai Lama returned to Lhasa in December 1909, but two months later the Chinese launched another invasion. The Dalai Lama, once again, was forced to flee, this time to Sikkim and then on to Darjeeling, where he consulted with the British.  Back home, however, the monks performed the liberation rituals, and this time tantric war magic appeared to work, as least from the Tibetan perspective. As the Thirteenth explained: “Due to our unrelenting performance of rituals for the preservation of religion and state. . ., the Chinese armies . . . were gradually driven back to the borders.”[489] Again, as in many other instances, it was snow and ice that blocked the Chinese advance, not superior military power.

Please note that the Thirteenth states that the liberation rituals were used, once again, to destroy an enemy. It was a purely defensive move, and there is no mention of liberating anyone from the cycles of death and rebirth. It is doubtful that the Chinese were treated with compassion and saved for their own sake (like the thief in the Mahāyāna Skill-in-Means Sūtra) to preempt the violence that they would commit in the future. The only exception appears to have been 19th Century Lama Rigdzin Garwang, who as noted above, insists that the lama must be “beyond anger” and must be able to “liberate

[the victim]

from suffering with great compassion . . . and restore quickly the sentient being who is killed.”[490] As far as it can be determined, there is no record that the victims of war magic were helped in any way.  If they were simply natural events, as it appears to a scientific mind, then this is a moot point.

With the outbreak of World War I the 13th Dalai Lama volunteered 1,000 of his own soldiers for the British war effort.  In addition, as Norman explains, the he “mobilized the monasteries, at considerable expense, to obtain supernatural assistance for the British.”[491] This can only indicate the same tantric war magic that been used through the centuries against Tibet’s enemies. Although it did not make sense during the Youngsblood invasion, many Tibetans had for many years identified Queen Victoria with the wrathful Palden Lhamo, the Dalai Lama’s protector goddess.[492] There is no record of the British response to the offer of Tibetan war magic.

Using the Kālachakra Tantra as his text, Agvan Dorjiev, a Mongolian monk and tutor to the Thirteenth, offered very different advice. As the Thirteenth’s envoy to Russia, Dorjiev came to believe that Russia was Shambala, the ideal Buddhist state mentioned in this scripture, and the Czar was its future ruler.[493] For over a century Russian Buddhists had considered the czars to be the incarnation of the White Tārā, Chenrezig’s consort and a feminine version of the Hindu god Pārvartī/Uma. The British believed that Dorjiev was a Russian spy and their suspicions were confirmed when they found Russian weapons in Lhasa during the Youngsblood expedition. Therefore, Dorjiev recommended that the Dalai Lama aligned Tibet against the British instead.

The Thirteenth of course sided with the British and one could assume that the Tibetan lamas were vindicated in their use of tantric magic when the Allies won the war. The British did turn down the earlier offer of troops, but instead they gave the Tibetans 30 artillery pieces and 10,000 rifles (with ammunition) and sent officers to train the Tibetan army. Not all the lamas were happy with the idea of a standing army, and their fears were soon realized when the Thirteenth used his troops to quell a revolt by dissident monks from Drepung’s Loseling College. The Dalai Lama ceased his military build-up when he heard rumors that his own army, in collusion with British, intended to unseat him.[494] For those who believe in it, karma works, though infrequently, in very predictable ways.

The Thirteenth Dalai Lama’s attempts to modernize Tibet was thwarted by another development: the rise of fundamentalist Gelugpas who worshipped the wrathful deity Dorjé Shugden.  Readers will recall that fundamentalist Gelugpas wished to see Tibetan Buddhism purged of any influence from other schools, particularly the Nyingma. During the early 20th Century the worship of Shugden was promoted by Pabongkha Rinpoché (1878-1944). From his power base in Eastern Tibet, Pabongkha ordered the destruction of “religious artifacts associated with Padmasambhava . . . and non-Gelug, and particularly Nyingma, monasteries were forcibly converted to the Gelug position.”[495] We will soon return to the troubles caused by the Shugden sectarians during the reign of the 14th Dalai Lama.

When the Thirteenth Dalai Lama died in 1933, his most trusted adviser Kumbela was outmaneuvered by Lungshar, a member of the National Assembly and the leader of the secret Reform Party. In early 1934 Lungshar had take four Tibetan students on a European tour and he was keen to modernize his country and make it a democratic republic. The members of the Dalai Lama’s cabinet feared that Lungshar and his allies would lead a Communist rebellion of the sort that had just occurred in Mongolia, which resulted in a brutal suppression of Buddhism.  The chief minister Trimön had Lungshar arrested, and pieces of paper with occult symbols and Trimön’s name were found in his boots. Previously, treason was a capital crime, but under the Thirteenth Dalai Lama the death penalty had been suspended.  Langshar’s punishment was blinding by the application of yak knuckles at each temple tightened with a tourniquet.  Only one eye was blinded by this gruesome procedure, and the well-meaning but luckless Lungshar died within a year.

            The 14th Dalai Lama and Mass Kālachakra Tantra Initiations

The 14th Dalai Lama was discovered in 1938 in Admo Province, but his travel to Lhasa was delayed because of objections from the Muslim war lord of the area. Finally, in February of 1940, Tenzin Gyatso, the spiritual name of the 14th Dalai Lama, was permitted to depart and he was greeted jubilantly by the Tibetan people and enthroned in Lhasa. The regent during this time of transition was Reting Rinpoché, a popular but controversial figure who led the expedition that discovered Tenzin in Northeast Tibet. Rumors of Reting’s bisexual escapades and drinking parties forced him to resign his post at the end of 1940. Curiously, Reting approved his replacement, Taktra Rinpoché, when he should have known Taktra was very conservative and would resist the modernizing programs of the previous Dalai Lama. 

Reting realized his error and plotted to assassinate Taktra, but his plot was discovered. Tibetan authorities found incriminating documents that proved that Reting had been secretly negotiating with the Chinese Nationalist government for help in overthrowing Taktra.  When Reting was arrested on April 16, 1947, his monastic allies at Sera Monastery initiated an armed rebellion in his support. Government troops counter attacked and in the end they surrounded the Jé College at the Sera Monastery. Between 200-300 monks were killed when Tibetan troops broke down the barricades. Reting died in the Potala Palace prison under mysterious circumstances.

There were at least two incidents in which tantric war magic was used in the 1940s and early 1950s. During one incursion by the Chinese militia, Kṣetrapāla, originally a son of Śiva and now a dark blue emanation of Mahākāla, was called on to thwart the invaders. Kṣetrapāla is protector deity who “cuts the life-thread” of enemies and also executes those who have broken their monastic vows. In paintings he is accompanied by mahāśakti, a Kālī-like goddess who, “terrifying, wildly laughing, . . . reduc[es] the enemies and obstacle-creating demons to dust.”[496] (The consort of the “four-handed wise” Mahākāla is in fact Mahākālī.) In this particular battle Kṣetrapāla is sent against a Chinese “nine-headed demon,”[497] which indicates that the Chinese were most likely using their Tibetan allies to perform reciprocal tantric magic. In 1950 the ritual involving the 18-foot-high “thread crosses” (described above) was performed against the People’s Liberation Army, and, unlike the perceived success of this magic against the Nepalese, it was a great failure.[498]

Since 1954 the Dalai Lama has performed at least 32 Kālachakra Tantra initiations with a total audience, according to his own website, of 1.7 million people. According to explanations on the Fourteenth’s website, those who are initiated must have achieved “renunciation of saṃsara, bodichitta, and understanding of emptiness.”[499] One must assume that the Dalai Lama has waived these requirements for a large majority of his audiences. There are 11 levels of initiation and the Dalai Lama performs only the first seven, reserving the rest for higher adepts. Four of the first seven stages use the metaphor of a child to symbolically wash, tie the hair, pierce the ears, and name the initiate. The last three “exalted” initiations involve interaction with a consort: “touching her breasts” and “engaging in union.”[500] Here one assumes that very few qualify for this level of tantric practice, even if the yogi and his consort are only symbols of cosmic male and female energies, an interpretation upon which the Gelugpas insist.

The tangka (Tibetan religious painting) that hangs above the Dalai Lama when he is performing the Kālachakra initiation features the tantric “God of Time” in sexual union with his consort.  They are both holding, among other things, weapons, skulls, and severed heads. As we have seen in other tantric rituals discussed above, these weapons are used by the protective deities—themselves previously “tamed” enemies—to attack opponents of Buddhism and the Tibetan state.  The fact that previous Dalai Lamas, Bhutan’s Shabdrung, and other high lamas claimed to have actually defeated external enemies, not their own internal demons, does not support the symbolic interpretation.

In his commentary on the Kālachakra Tantra, the current Dalai Lama offers two  interpretation of the following antinomian and provocative imperatives: “Those of the vajra lineage definitely should take life; those of the sword [should speak] untrue words. Those of jewel should steal others’ wealth; those of the lotus lineage should steal other’ mates.”  The Dalai Lama explains that

in its provisional sense this means that those of the Akṣhobhya lineage [the Dhyāni Buddha of the East] motivated by compassion could—under special circumstances—kill person who are harmful to the teaching or who hate sentient beings and are about to commit hideous non-virtues but cannot be restrained by other means. In its definitive sense this means that those of the Akṣhobhya lineage should bind the white mind of enlightenment, which is the basis of bliss, in the crown protrusion and should take the life of the winds that brings about emission.”[501]

Here we have the “dual truth” doctrine of Mahāyāna Buddhism, made most famous by Nāgārjuna. The “higher” truth is the symbolic interpretation of Tantras, namely, that any appearance of violence means only the destruction of ignorance and the achievement of bliss. It is significant, however, that the Dalai Lama does not reject the provisional or conventional interpretation, because, as we have seen above, he defends that assassination of Lang Darma and states that “theoretically speaking, in order to achieve greater benefit for a greater number of people, you can use a violent method.”[502]

In support of the symbolic interpretation, Alexander Berzin quotes from the Kālachakra Tantra itself: “The battle with the lord of the non-Indic invaders is definitely inside the body of embodied beings. On the other hand, the external (level of the battle) is, in fact, an illusory form. (Thus,) the battle with the non-Indic invaders in the case of Mecca is not (actually) a battle.”[503] When the Tibetans and Bhutanese did use war magic against their enemies, they boasted about their victories in ways that do not support the contention that these battles were illusory. Yogācāra idealism and other mentalistic forms of Buddhism cannot accurately describe the 13th Dalai Lama’s claim that “due to our unrelenting performance of rituals for the preservation of religion and state, . . . the Chinese armies . . . were gradually driven back to the borders.”[504]

It is significant to note that the 13th Dalai Lama did not say that the Chinese—or the Germans in the case of his tantric attack on them—symbolize the Tibetans’ own internal demons. Therefore, Berzin’s claim that no rites were performed against external enemies is simply not supported. It must also be pointed out that when those who support the symbolic interpretation state that the Dharma King conquers “without stick or sword,” the meaning is taken literally, but if he breaks the rule of non-violence, then the symbolic reading is inconsistently preferred. Finally, it is baffling that while insisting on a symbolic interpretation of the invaders, Berzin, at the same time, goes to great lengths to identify them as real external armies in history.[505]

The symbolic and psychological interpretation of enemies reminds one of the 49 wrathful deities in the Bardo Thödöl, better known as the Tibetan Book of the Dead.  As the appointed lama reads the text over the corpse of the departed soul, he reminds the spiritual pilgrim that these are not real demons but simply emanations of his own evil deeds, as the 49 blissful deities are projections of his good actions. The person is encouraged to embrace both sets of deities in what I call a “Last Judgment as Self Judgment,” a process of making one’s self whole and purified of sin.  Although somewhat similar regarding the principle of mental projections, the Kālachakra Tantra says something very different. The “enemies of Dharma” are the Abrahamic religions and they are explicitly described as a “family of demonic snakes.”[506] Islam is particularly mentioned and Mecca is where “demonic incarnation” (Muhammad?) lives.[507] Again, it makes no sense to say that these “non-believers” are the initiates’ own internal enemies, unless they themselves are actually not Buddhists and are in fact enemies of the Dharma. This of course is absurd.

Before we resume our focus on the moral and political problems with reincarnated lamas, let us summarize and conclude our analysis of the use of war magic in Tibetan Buddhism.  For over a thousand years in Tibet and Bhutan lamas have used tantric rituals to bring harm to their Buddhist enemies and their allies. The intention for these acts was for the most part religiously motivated, and even though we moderns would say that violent results were simply natural events coincident with the ritual performance, good or evil intentions, not consequences, are the principal foci of Buddhist ethics. The claim that the intentions were good because they were directed at saving their opponents from horrible karmic destinies violates basic moral intuitions and the Kantian imperative that persons may not be used as merely means to a putative good end. Finally, as intentions are what has primary moral worth in Buddhism, the truth of fanciful stories of swarms of ravens or bees killing the Shabdrung’s enemies has no ethical relevance.

Although some Mahāyānist philosophy support the claim that all material things and historical events are nothing but psychological projections, we have also maintained that this is not the conceptual context of very explicit intentions of defeating the enemies of the Dharma in what the lamas appear to take as a very real world.  (The metaphysics of “all is mind” is very difficult to live; in kicking a rock on a walk with George Berkeley, Samuel Johnson is said to have exclaimed: “Thus I refute you!”) Our own internal demons—certainly creations of our own minds—are very different entities than perceived enemies in the external world.  We have seen that the 14th Dalai Lama has explicitly supported the principle of “compassionate violence” based on Mahāyānist texts,[508] but I have no reason to believe that he intends any violence against anyone when he performs the Kālachakra Tantra. Other recent acts of “compassionate” killing have been reported in connection with other lamas and disputes over incarnational succession. We now turn to murders committed in the name of Dorjé Shugden, who was reincarnated as the main contender to the child who became the Fifth Dalai Lama.

            The 14th Dalai Lama and the Dorjé Shugden Controversy

One of the two other children who were candidates for replacement of the 4th Dalai Lama was Drakpa Gyaltsen (1617-1654), who was allegedly reincarnated as the wrathful protector deity Dorjé Shugden. As was related above, the Fifth Dalai Lama admitted that he did not pass one crucial test for incarnational succession, and this fact could be used to validate the choice of Drakpa Gyaltsen and give credence to the preeminence of Dorjé Shugden. It is significant to point out that the current Dalai Lama’s junior tutor, Trijang Rinpoché (1901-1983), was a disciple of Pabongkha Rinpoché (1878-1944), the most prominent 20th Century promoter of the worship of Dorjé Shugden. Ling Rinpoché, the 14th’s senior tutor, was also a Shugden devotee. Helmut Gassner, the Dalai Lama’s German translator for 17 years, reports that Dorjé Shugden’s oracle in the Panlung Monastery predicated everything that happened during the Dalai Lama’s flight from Tibet in 1959.[509] In fact, it was Shugden’s oracle who gave the Dalai Lama instructions as he left on the night of March 17, 1959. The 14th relates that the oracle said “Go tonight!” and he “wrote down, quite clearly and explicitly, the route I should take out of the Norbulingka [his summer palace], down to the last town on the Indian border.”[510]

The Dalai Lama now admits that he “propitiated the fierce spirit [Dorjé] Shugden]” until 1975, when he then discovered “the profound historical, social and religious problems associated with [the deity].”[511] As a sign of his personal integrity and honor, the Dalai Lama initially thought that his worship of Dorjé Shugden invalidated his sacred office, but in 1977 he changed his mind about abdication and began to speak out against public celebrations of Dorjé Shugden. (Private worship could continue.) In the spring of 1996, under pressure from the Nyingma school, the Dalai Lama went much further and declared that Dorjé Shugden was an “evil spirit,” and said that his followers “promoted [Shugden] as more important than the Buddha himself.”[512] For centuries Tibetan Buddhists have debated the difference between buddhas and demons, and the Dalai Lama was forced to confirm the growing consensus that Dorjé Shugden is a demon, or more accurately, a “mundane” deity. A similar relationship holds in Hinduism between the devas and the asuras, and Buddhists of all sects carry over this prejudice against what were the indigenous gods of the Indian Subcontinent.

It is puzzling to observe that after serving the Gelug sect so well since the rule of the Great Fifth, and after taking such meticulous care of the Fourteenth, Dorjé Shugden could be so easily and quickly anathemized. One would think that protector deities who are shunned might well prove to be dangerous, and this is precisely what has happened. In the 1970s Martin Mills reports that, because they mixed Nyingma with Gelugpa beliefs, “23 [Tibetan-in-exile] government officials and lamas [were] assassinated using [Shugden’s magic] powers.”[513] Then, on February 4, 1997, Lobsang Gyatso and two of his students were brutally murdered only a hundred yards from the Dalai Lama’s compound. Fifteen to twenty knife wounds were found in each of their bodies. Lobsang, who was named after the Fifth Dalai Lama and head of the School of Dialectics at Dharamsala, had spoken out against the followers of Dorjé Shugden.

Evidence found at the scene of the crime pointed to the Dorjé Shugden Supporters Society in New Delhi. Officials of this group deny that they were behind the murders, but they have now started a well-orchestrated campaign against the Dalai Lama. They claim that he has denied religious freedom to their Buddhist sect, the only one to stand for the pure form of Gelug teachings, which Dorjé Shugden has vowed to protect.  Drawing on a Roman Catholic parallel, Norman aptly describes him as a “heavenly Grand Inquisitor.”[514] I have not done a thorough reading of his devotees’ literature, but I would conjecture that some of them must reference the contested transition from the Fourth to the Fifth Dalai Lama as evidence in their favor.  I would assume that they would insist that Tibet would have fared far better under a strict Gelug theocracy. I am certain that there would be many detractors from this view, one that has all the potential for the religiously motivated violence detailed in this book.

The 11th Panchen Lama, the 14th’s Successor, and the Future of his Office

The perennial problems with incarnated lamas arose again when Choekyi Gyalsten, the 10th Panchen Lama, died in 1989. The Panchen Lamas were considered the Chenrezig’s “mind” while Dalai Lama was his “body,” but that did not mean that they always agreed, especially with regard to politics. The 10th Panchen Lama was a controversial figure in 20th Tibetan history because, at least early on, he sympathized with the Chinese Communists. For example, he sent a telegram to Beijing encouraging Mao to suppress the rebellion against the 1959 invasion. Soon he turned against Mao and wrote the “The 70 Thousand Character Petition,” naively hoping that the Chinese Communists would listen to his complaints that their programs were destroying Tibetan culture and religion. In 1966 Choekyi Gyalsten was arrested and spent 12 years in prison. During his rehabilitation and against his Gelug vows, he married a Chinese woman and had a daughter with her.  He eventually made it back to Tibet, but started to repeat his criticisms of Chinese Communism. In 1989 he died under mysterious circumstances at the Panchen Lama’s residence, the Tashilhunpo monastery in Shigatse. The 10th Panchen Lama’s daughter, widely known in China as Renji, is very guarded in her comments; but, in a conversation with Beijing correspondent Tim Johnson, she said that she is not sure that the Chinese have chosen the right person as her father’s successor.[515]

The Dalai Lama commenced the traditional proceedings to find the correct child incarnation. When the Dalai Lama announced that then 8-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was the true 11th Panchen Lama on May 14, 1995, the Chinese government arrested him and his family and has kept them under house arrest to this day. The abbot who conducted the search was imprisoned for seven years and he is still under house arrest. Using the 290-year-old tradition of choosing both the Panchen and Dalai Lamas from the Golden Urn, Beijing officials set up their own version of the Lama Lottery. On November 29, 1995, it was announced that Gyaltsen Norbu was the rightful 11th Panchen Lama and the true incarnation of the Amitābha Buddha.  It was no surprise that his parents’ political credentials were approved by the Chinese Communist Party. In March of 2010, the Beijing government announced that their Panchen Lama, now 20 years old, is among the 13 new members of the powerful National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Gyeltsen Norbu now lives in a Beijing monastery where all the monks have to swear that he is the true Panchen Lama.

It is therefore inevitable that upon the death of Dalai Lama, Beijing officials will ask Gyeltsen Norbu, as it is the Panchen Lama’s duty, to search for and choose candidates for the Golden Urn, and to make sure that the most politically viable candidate wins. The Tibetans-in-exile will no doubt find their own child as the true incarnation of Chenrezig, and unfortunately the controversy will drag on indefinitely. The Dalai Lama says that if he returns to Tibet, he will step down as head of state and continue his life as a “simple monk.” He has already begun to undermine the principle of dual sovereignty by ceding all political power to the Tibetan Parliament in Dharamsala. Significantly enough, the Dalai Lama persuaded those writing its constitution that there be a provision for the impeachment of the Dalai Lama and his removal from office. Does life as a “simple monk” actually mean that he will, like Pope Benedict the 14th, resign his post before he dies?  That of course would be very unwise, as it would give the Chinese far more advantages than they already have.

In his book Tragedy in Crimson: How the Dalai Lama Conquered the World but Lost the Battle with China, Tim Johnson predicts that Tibet will evolve into another Inner Mongolia, where the Han Chinese population has grown to 83 percent. Vajrayāna Buddhist culture will inevitably decline in Tibet itself, and more monks and nuns will protest, immolate themselves, and be imprisoned. The only hope for Tibetan Buddhism lies in the vibrant communities in American and Europe, as well as in Ladakh, Sikkim, Dharamsala, Bhutan, and the Republic of Mongolia.  During a trip to Mongolia in 2005, I was amazed to witness the revival of Buddhist religion and culture there. The monasteries are accessible and the monks and lamas are approachable, and the art works are some of the finest in the Buddhist world.

On November 21, 2013, the Dalai Lama did in fact announce that he would resign in “the next few months.”[516] He also said that if he did retire, a “deputy” Dalai Lama might be chosen to take his place. Even more intriguing and provocative, was his pronouncement that if he dies while traveling (which he does very frequently), his successor would be from the country where he was.  Curiously, he said that this would be only “logical,” but the Tibetan tradition appears to have another logic, namely, that Chenrezig chose the Tibetan people as the vehicle for the Buddhist transformation of the world.  Finally, the Dalai Lama did not foreclose the possibility that a woman could be his successor. He said that he already confirmed this 20 years ago, and if a “female reincarnated person is more effective, more useful for serving Buddha dharma, [then] why not?”[517]

With regard to the idea of a hereditary king for Tibet, why did Chenrezig choose such a poor candidate as the Sixth Dalai Lama, and why did this divine plan fail? One implication, based on the three plans of the Dalai Lamas (see first section above), is that it was the Sixth’s will and not Chenrezig’s. In this conversation with Glenn Mullin, Mullin proposed that, as the Thirteenth Dalai Lama willed that his life be shortened so that his successor could do his great work, why does not the Fourteenth extend his life so that it can continue to benefit all sentient beings? Even though he suggested that “perhaps I will have to come up with a fourth master plan,” His Holiness did not respond to Mullin’s proposal.[518] Sadly, there are too many “perhaps’s” and idle speculation in his pronouncements. Adding to the mystery and frustration is the troublesome implication that, if Tibet had returned to a hereditary monarchy, which the Dalai Lama himself maintains would have been better, then humankind would have lost the great benefit of his compassionate and charismatic leadership. Even more questions can be raised about the implications of the Dalai Lama’s many off-hand comments for basic Buddhist philosophy and the relationship of this great Bodhisattva to the Tibetan people and the rest of the world.

There is some speculation that the Tibetans-in-exile could possibly choose the 17th Karmapa Lama Ogyen Trinley Dorjé, whose lineage is 900-years-old. One would think that this option would be rejected outright by the Gelugpas, but, “in the minds of many Tibetans,” according to Jonathan Mirsky, “[Trinley Dorjé] has taken the place of the Panchen as their favored successor to the Dalai Lama.”[519] The problem, however, is that Trinley Dorjé’s succession has been disputed at the highest level of Karmapa authority.  Just as with the Dalai Lamas, there have been disputes in the past about this oldest line of incarnate lamas; indeed, the succession to the 8th, 10th, and 12th took some time to resolve. Interestingly enough, the Chinese government supported the selection of Trinley Dorjé, as well as a substantial majority of the Karmapas.

The Dalai Lama played an unprecedented role in Trinley Dorjé’s discovery in Lhasa, and he held “long life” rituals for him. However, in a February 1997 letter to the Dalai Lama, Shamar Rinpoché, the principal supporter of Thaye Dorjé, states: “This amounts to a medieval dictatorial command. . . . This is completely unacceptable to me. . . . With respect to our lineage it is up to us, who are a part of that lineage, to achieve its aims.”[520] Others have suggested a peaceful solution noting that Chenrezig can choose to manifest himself in any way that he wishes, as we saw with the three candidates to succeed the Bhutan’s First Shabdrung. As his emanations are allegedly many, Chenrezig can incarnated himself within lineages but also across them, and if we are to believe the Dalai Lama, outside of Tibet, Bhutan, Mongolia, or India.

Evidently, the Dalai Lama has taken back his comments about retiring, but no one can deny the damage these and other comments have done to his sacred office. It must have made the Tibetan people wince when, on May 21, 2010, they heard their beloved saint laugh and say: “I have come to feel that the Dalai Lama system is no longer important. . . . The Chinese government cares more about this than I do.”[521] Perhaps this is the “fourth master plan” to which His Holiness hinted in his conversation with Mullin discussed above. Many are convinced that the Beijing government is ready to instruct Gyalsten Norbu to search for candidates for the Fourteenth’s successor, and the Tibetans-in-exile, even the pure republicans among them, will have lost all the leverage that this significant but flawed religious office retains. One could say that the Bhutanese have made more deliberate and wise decisions by preserving the doctrine of dual sovereignty with a strong Dharma King and a democratically elected National Assembly.  It is easy to check the DNA of a crown prince, but it is empirically impossible to identify the correct incarnate lama.

Chapter 7: Buddhism and Japanese Nationalism:

A Sad Chronicle of Complicity

From ancient times, sacrificing one’s physical existence for the sake of the

emperor and the country was akin to discarding worn-out sandals.  It is

this unique feature of our people which has caused the radiance of our

national polity and produced the supreme beauty of our national customs.

—Enryō Inoue[522]

Our nation [Japan] is the only true Buddhist nation of all the nations in the world. It is

thus upon the shoulders of this nation that the responsibility for the unification of

Eastern and Western thought and the continued advancement of the East falls.

—Anesaki Masaharu[523]

The pillar of Japan is to be found in Bushido. Although Bushido employs the sword,

its essence is not to kill people, but rather to use the word that gives life to people. 

Using the spirit of his sword, we wish to contribute to world peace.

—Ambassador Kurusu Saburō, signing the Tripartite Pact[524]

It is exceedingly wonderful that in 1941 we were able to make this very day [December 8,

the Buddha’s birthday] also . . . a holy day for eternally commemorating the reconstruction

of the world. On this day was handed down to us the Great Imperial edict declaring war

 aimed at punishing the arrogant U.S. and England, and news of the destruction

of American forward bases in Hawaii spread quickly throughout the world.

—Zen Priest Hata Esho[525]

When one investigates the origins of religious violence, it becomes clear that one of the main causes is the fusion of religious and national identity.  This is certainly true of Christian countries such as late 15th Century Spain, where Jews and Muslims were given three choices: conversion, immigration, or death.  The same can be said for the Islamic conquest of India, although, as we have seen in Chapter 2, the sheer size of the Hindu population and generally moderate Islamic policies mitigated Hindu the number of conversions, deaths, and temple destruction.  This chapter will explore the story of Japanese nationalists promoting State Shinto and the unexpected result, at least those in the West, that most Buddhists would join them a divine mission to transform Asia and even conquer the world.

When I first proposed a number of hypotheses about the origins of religious violence, I initially assumed that most of confirmations would come among the Abrahamic religions. I have now realized that there is one theory that applies only to Asia, and most accurately only to some Hindu and Buddhist schools. When the doctrine of the mystical dissolution of the self is appropriated by the state, as it was proposed by Zen Buddhists such as D. T. Suzuki, then state sanctioned violence was the result.  In the Abrahamic tradition mystics have always stood on the periphery of their traditions and have been often persecuted or at least marginalized. In stark contrast, mystics have operated from the very center of most Asian religions. In the Introduction we learned that many sādhus participated in violence against other yogis and against the British, but in some cases it was difficult to separate political and religious motivations.

            In the first section I will summarize the Meiji leaders’ resurrection of Shinto as the state religion; their concerted but failed attempt to eradicate Buddhism; and the Buddhists’ success in rehabilitating themselves as willing agents of the Japanese state.  The second section will discuss the Japanese delegation to the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions and how the Buddhists promoted, either directly or indirectly, the concept of a unique Japanese Buddhism with a goal of dominating the world.  Of particular interest here one delegate Sōen Shaku, a leading nationalist and D. T. Suzuki’s Zen master.  The third section will cover Buddhist attempts in 1934 to answer renewed charges by the Shinto Reform Association that Buddhists were not true patriots.  Again the Buddhists were quite willing to declare that the Buddha’s law and imperial law were one in the same.

The fourth section will focus on D. T. Suzuki and his role in giving new meaning to the medieval notion of the fusion of Zen, and the samurai sword and his leadership in making Zen the most militant and nationalist of the Buddhist schools.  It was Suzuki and others who proposed military self-sacrifice in the guise of mystical dissolution of the self. The fifth section discusses religious nationalism in the Kyoto school of Buddhist philosophy with a focus on Nishitani Keiji and Nishida Kitāro.  The last section will begin with followers of Nichiren who became militant nationalists and then conclude with some Nichiren Buddhist who were critical of the corrosive mixing of religion and the state.  Of particular note is Soka Gakkei, whose first two presidents were imprisoned during the war for refusing to accept the sacred amulet of the Sun Goddess and to pay obeisance to the emperor.

The Meiji Persecution of Buddhists and their Patriotic Response

            With the end of the Tokugawa Shoguntate and Meiji Restoration in 1868, imperial rule was reestablished and Shinto became the state religion. Missionaries from a new Department of Religious Ceremonies were sent to all regions to promote Shinto and denounce Buddhism and Christianity. An estimated 4,500 Buddhist temples were either closed or destroyed, idols were melted down to make cannons, and sutras and vestments were burned.  Thousands of priests were forced to return to ordinary life, and those 18-45 were drafted into the Imperial Army.  Following a pecking order of persecution, oppressed Buddhists turned on their Christian neighbors with vengeance, determined to “refute evil Christianity and exalt righteousness.”    From 1870-73, peasants, mainly followers of Shinran and Nichiren, revolted against the anti-Buddhist campaign, and foreign governments complained bitterly about the loss of religious freedom for Japanese Christians.  As a result, the Department of Religious Ceremonies was abolished in 1872.  A new Department of Religious Instruction, however, was established in its place, and government support for Shinto continued unabated. 

In their defense, Meiji leaders claimed that Shinto is not actually a religion; rather, its ceremonies are essential to what it meant to be a Japanese citizen.  After the pioneering work of Robert Bellah, one could say that Shinto is Japan’s civic religion. Criticism of mixing of state and religion from groups such as the Meiji Six Society (meirokuska) was countered by imperial arguments that as an indigenous tradition, Shinto was Japan’s civil religion and it was institutionally different from Buddhism and Christianity.  Even a leading Meirokuska thinker such as Nishi Amane was willing to accept the nationalist principle of kokutai, a nativist social, ethical, and religious polity with the emperor as its sovereign.[526] Even though he was inspired by Immanuel Kant’s Perpetual Peace, Nishi was fully cognizant of the dangers of European encroachment in Asia and proposed that half of Japan’s budget should be given to the military.[527]

Japan’s emperor was named “coeval with Heaven and Earth” along the lines of Chinese rulers, and imperial authorities downplayed kami worship at Ise in favor of showing “reverence [for] the imperial household, because Ise had been built to honor the emperor’s ancestors.”[528] Shinto is essentially a form of ancestor worship based on the belief that all Japanese descended from the family of the first emperor Jimmu, son of the Sun Goddess, putatively born on February 11, 660 BCE.

Hozumi Yatsuka, an influential conservative voice in the formation of Meiji Japan’s civil code rejected a rights-based draft based on French thought in favor of one drawing inspiration from Shinto, Confucianism, and German statist philosophy. The final version of the civil code stated that “the Sun Goddess is the founder of our race, and the


throne is the sacred house of our race.”[529] Race, soil, and blood played, unfortunately, the same role in Japanese fascism as it did in Nazi Germany. In an act of nationalist bravado, the editor of The Essence of Bushidō, a volume published by the imperial army in 1941, made a strong claim.  He boasted that Zen Buddhist D. T. Suzuki’s “writings are said to have strongly influenced the military spirit of Nazi Germany.”[530] The claim was not without foundation. A German translation of Suzuki’s book Zen and Japanese Culture published in 1941 was praised by one of Hitler’s advisors for putting “the fatherland and state before the family and the family before the individual.”[531] Imperial Japan flexed its military muscles and it won impressive victories over China in 1894-95, by which it gained control of part of Northeast China and Taiwan; and then over Russia in 1904-5, destroying most of the Russia navy in the Tsushima Straits. These events reinforced nationalist fervor and convinced many Japanese that they indeed had become a world power with a divine mission. As a result, Shinto grew stronger during the 1894-1912 period.

            The general Buddhist reaction to the new Meiji religious policies was to submit to all imperial laws and to actively promote nationalism and militarism.  Buddhist complicity with imperial rule, with some exceptions, continued through four wars until the armistice of 1945. As the imperial war machine moved in Manchuria in 1931, there were more and more attacks on Buddhists by militant nationalists declaring that they were still not patriotic enough. The debate that followed, especially the eagerness by which the Buddhist defended their nationalist bona fides, makes for a sad chronicle of religious believers conforming to state ideology.

Some Buddhist leaders even confessed that the Meiji campaign against their religion constituted a necessary purgation of an immoral and financially corrupt priesthood, and many were pleased to see that a “New Buddhism” arose—John Harding calls it a “Mahāyāna Phoenix”—one that conformed to modern scientific, rational, and new social welfare standards.  (Copying but never matching the success of Christian missionary social work, this is called “Protestant Buddhism” by scholars who study a similar development in Sri Lankan Buddhism.)  James E. Ketelaar states that “Meiji Buddhists succeeded. . . not merely in refiguring Buddhism from the heretical to the martyr; they also succeed in producing a ‘new Buddhism’ that in fact has become to be viewed as a bastion of ‘true Japanese culture.’”[532] For an institution faced with total eradication in early Meiji period, this was an incredible accomplishment.

Japanese Delegates at the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions

A new Japanese Buddhism, with an implicit nationalist agenda, was dramatically revealed at the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  The Shinto delegate Shibata Reiichi was no match for the five Buddhist participants, except for one newsworthy moment when he kissed several Christian women right on the platform.  In his account of the Parliament’s proceedings, Shibata completely ignored the Buddhists and they gladly returned the favor.  (The Zen priest Shaku Sōen also deleted the Pure Land presentation from his report.) The Asian visitors wowed the Americans with their exotic dress and mannerisms—made more assimilable as “biblical personages” with “their peculiar head gear and flowing robes”[533] —but Shibata’s kiss definitely received the PR prize.

American and European participants were apparently not aware of any Asian nationalism, choosing instead to cheer on the Asian speakers, especially Swami Vivekananda who also carried strong Hindu nationalist credentials. Buddhist nationalists proposed the same hierarchical religious universalism, except that they placed Buddhism at the top rather than Hinduism.  Ashitsu Jitsuzen, a Japanese delegate representing Tendai Buddhism, explained his participation in the Parliament in nationalist terms, explaining that “the two ways of the Emperor and Buddhism are like two wings of a bird.”[534] Later Japanese Buddhists would rephrase this by declaring that there is no difference between the Emperor’s Law and the Buddha’s Law. 

Writing after his return from Chicago, Yatsubuchi Banryū, the Jōdo Shinshū representative, predicated that Buddhism, going beyond Auguste Comte’s three revolutions, would lead the fourth as “the general of the revolutionary army of the spiritual world.”[535] This was not solely a spiritual war, because he criticized monks who did not want to join the army, then preparing for war with China.  He stated: “What a sad and depressing attitude. Those monks really take out the energy from Japanese Buddhism, they are bad influences on the Japanese national and poison Japanese people’s idea of spirituality.”[536] In the decades to come Japanese perceived to be less than patriotic would be criticized for not demonstrating the proper Japanese spirit, which was interpreted as total obedience to imperial laws, commands, conscriptions.

The lay delegate Hirai Kinzo was the only Japanese representative who was not a nationalist. In his writings he made it clear that religion should resist its innate tendency to become political, and it should always stand as a potential critic of national policies.  Japanese historian Murakami Senshō was also the exception when he warned that “it is extremely difficult to criticize war when one’s place of enunciation is located within the state.  It is only when one takes a position outside the state in religion . . . that war can be shown to be evil.”[537] Murakami’s wisdom was lost on Nishida Kitarō who agreed to be an imperial army advisor in the late 1930s, thinking that he could somehow convince the generals that nations should participate equally in a “Co-Prosperity Sphere” rather than the total Japanese domination in Asian politics and economics that was the imperial plan.

Hirai was loudly applauded by Christians in the Parliament audience, even though he defended the brutal persecution of Christianity under the Tokugawa Shogunate. (Chairman John Henry Barrows did not want him to give this speech.) Hirai justified these actions because he believed that Christian nations had unjustly interfered in Japanese affairs.  Here is an example of his provocative rhetoric:

But admitting for the sake of argument that we are idolaters and heathen, is it Christian morality to trample upon the rights and advantages of a non-Christian nation, coloring all their natural happiness with the dark stain of injustice.[538]

Hirai then proceeded to quote from the Declaration of Independence to prove American hypocrisy.  He concluded by embracing the morality and justice of the Christian Gospels, but he warned that goals of the Parliament could not be reached if Europe and America did not treat Asians equally and fairly.  The Chicago Daily News reported that when Hirai “had finished, the people rose again to their feet and gave him three mighty cheers.”[539]

The enthusiastic reception of the Asian delegations gave them the false impression that Christianity was “on the ropes” and that it would easily succumb to the idea of either a Hindu or a Buddhist universalism.  (Ironically, both Buddhist and Hindu nationalists, following what has been called a reverse Orientalism, used the Indo-European linguistic hypothesis as a racial theory to prove their superiority as true Aryans.) Here is what the Buddhist representatives told Japanese audiences upon their return:

The Parliament was called because the Western nations have come to realize the weakness and folly of Christianity, and they really wished to hear from us of our religions and to learn what the best religion is. The meeting showed the great superiority of Buddhism over Christianity, and the mere fact of calling the meetings showed that the Americans and other Western peoples had lost their faith in Christianity and were ready to accept the teachings of a superior religion.[540]

The Asian delegation somehow failed to discern the strong Judeo-Christian agenda, obvious in these words from the opening speech by Parliament Chairman Barrows: “If anything great and worthy is to be the outcome of this Parliament, the glory is wholly due to Him who inspired it, and who, in the Scriptures which most of us cherish as the Word of God, has taught the blessed truths of divine Fatherhood and human brotherhood.”[541] Calling themselves “heathens,” the Japanese were at least aware of their exclusion from the Parliament’s Fifth Goal: “To indicate the impregnable foundations of theism, and the reasons for man’s faith in Immortality . . . .”[542]

The Japanese Buddhist speakers at the Parliament set the exclusivist tone that most of their coreligionists were to follow in the fateful years to come: not only was Buddhism the true religion, but its Japanese form was superior to degenerate schools in Korea, China, and India.  Many Japanese Buddhists were upset with the fact that, as Brian Victoria describes it, the first European Buddhist scholars had “identified the Buddhism of the Pāli canon found in the countries of South and Southeast Asia as ‘true’ or ‘pure’ Buddhism.”[543] The Japanese response to this perceived slight is summarized best in Outlines of Mahāyāna Buddhism, one of D. T. Suzuki’s bestselling books.  (Although not present, Suzuki was the main translator of the Parliament papers presented by the Japanese.) The Japanese were convinced that once that Buddhism’s Great Vehicle was properly understood in its Japanese form, Euro-American society would reject Theravāda Buddhism as narrow and monkish.

Even with this bias against other Buddhist schools, Rinzai priest Shaku Sōen (1859-1919), parliament delegate and Suzuki’s Zen master, had allied himself with Col. Henry Steele Olcott, who was mentor to Sri Lankan  Buddhist Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1933), who accompanied Olcott on a trip to Japan in 1889 and also spoke at the Parliament. Olcott was keen to unify northern and southern Buddhist schools and present a united front against Christianity. As he argued:

Why should the two great halves of the Buddhist church be any longer ignorant and indifferent about each other? Let us break the long silence; let us bridge the chasm of 2,300 years; let the Buddhists of the North and those of the South be one family again.[544]

At the Chicago meeting there was lots of confusion about the distinction between the two schools, and the Shingon (=Vajrāyāna) representative Toki Hōryū proposed bringing the two together as one vehicle (ekayāna): “Mahāyāna does not exclude Hināyāna, and together they are called Ekanyāna . . . . We believe that finally these two views will come together without any contest according to the development of the human intellect and the progress of science.”[545] Given the Japanese Buddhists’ partisan program, it was clear that this fusion would only happen within a Japanese Mahāyānist framework.

During a stay in Sri Lanka  (1887-89) Shaku Sōen came to realize that it was a good idea to promote Shakyamuni Buddha as the main figure of worship rather than the many Bodhisattvas of the Mahāyāna tradition, which were a confusing stumbling block for Euro-American audiences. While there Sōen also read Olcott’s highly influential Buddhist Catechism,and Olcott’s description of Buddhism as rational and scientific made its way into his speech in Chicago, which was read in translation by Chairman Barrows. (Drawing on one great advantage of British colonialism, Vivekananda and Dhamapala spoke in fluent English.) In his speech “The Law of Cause and Effect, as taught by Buddha,” Sōen criticized Christianity as supernatural superstition and not based on empirical evidence. As John Harding explains, Sōen “identified this causal law as the source of moral authority, and repeatedly insisted that there is no divine agency at work in the law of cause and effect.”[546]

Sōen’s second speech at the Parliament was entitled “Arbitration Instead of War.”  Starting with the Buddha’s principle that all humans are equal, Sōen proposed a universal brotherhood in which all nations and religions would participate.  Sōen appeared to put all the great religious leaders on the same level, because the Buddha, as John Harding paraphrases Sōen, “shares the distinction of teaching universal love and fraternity with the other great religious teachers such as Jesus Christ and Confucius.”[547] When Sōen volunteered as a chaplain in the war with Russia, his views had become much less accommodating. He justifies the taking of Russian lives with an appeal to Mahāyāna monism: there is no “worldly distinction made between friend and foe, tragedy and comedy, war and peace, saṃsara and nīrvaṇa.”[548] The broken bodies of war “are like the sheaths of the bamboo sprout,” and “from a broader [monistic] point of view these sacrifices are so many phoenixes consumed in the sacred fire of spirituality. . . .”[549]  This is the first confirmation of my thesis about the connection between mystical monism and religious violence. Sōen wrote that Japan had reluctantly entered into the war with Russia and pursues “no egoistic purpose” other than to overcome evil and prepare for the enlightenment of all people. This war was “not necessarily horrible, provided that it is fought for a just and honorable cause.”[550] As we shall see, Zen Buddhists such as Sōen were some of the most militant supporters of Japan’s later wars in China and the Pacific.

During the war with Russia, Leo Tolstoy appealed to Sōen, assuming that as a Buddhist he would share his pacifist views, but Sōen answered that “killing and war are necessary” to bring “into harmony those things which are incompatible.”[551] In a perverse dialectical reversal that we find in other Buddhist nationalists, Sōen declares that “what is shed by Buddhists is not blood—which, unfortunately, has stained so many pages in the history of religion—but tears issuing directly from the fountainhead of lovingkindness.”[552] In their two wars with China Japanese Buddhists believed that they had an obligation to correct the degenerate views of Chinese Buddhism, and a preemptive war fought out of compassion for the Chinese would forestall their spiritual demise.

Buddhists Answer Shintoists: “We are True Patriots”

            At the end of 1933 members of the Shinto Reform Association challenged Japan’s Buddhists to answer seven questions on the topic of “Buddhism and the Japanese Spirit,” the latter phrase having a strong nationalist connotation. The questions were prefaced with insults and racial innuendo, accusing Buddhists of rejecting the kami and wasting large amounts of money on elaborate temples built in honor of “the blackie from the degenerate country India.”[553] These Shinto leaders were not be outdone by Alexander McKenzie, a Calvinist delegate to the 1893 Parliament, whose goal was to fashion “black material into noble men and women” and “red material into respectable men.”[554] The response by 45 Buddhist leaders in the journal Chūō Bukkyō was groveling and enthusiastic, using family metaphors to demonstrate how integral Buddhism was to the Japanese nation. Graciously accepting the passive and subordinate role, the Buddhists describe their faith alternately as a daughter, bride, and mother to an active, male Japan. Ōta Kakumin combines all three in this eloquent plea for religious and national unity: “With a sincere heart this wife [Buddhism] worked hard to take care of our home, having children and then grandchildren. Our home, not her original home, has been foremost in her mind. Indeed, from early on, more than a daughter from another home, she has been our wife and mother.”[555]

Ōta reverses the flow of brides and by sending a Japanese woman to Manchuria: “For both peoples this is a spiritual marriage and, in terms of the friendly relations between them, this is cause for celebration.”[556] For others, such as Taniguchi Jōzen, Japan becomes the groom, who takes Buddhism as his “flower bride,” who then becomes “womb of Japanese culture.”[557] Proposing a more assertive role for Buddhism, Takai Kankai states that the “Japanese spirit is the innate nature specific to the Japanese people, and Buddhism and Confucianism fostered its growth. Through the education it received from Buddhism and Confucianism, Japanese culture matured from a child into an adult.”[558] For the Shintoists to now demand a divorce after such a long, successful marriage was very offensive to these Buddhists patriots.

            Along less poetic lines, the Buddhist respondents reminded their accusers of Shōtoku Taishi and his acceptance of Buddhism as the essential new ingredient for birth of Japanese nation in the 6th Century Japan, for the first time known as Nippon and the country of the rising sun. They also mentioned the alliance of Buddhism and Kyoto emperor and the building of the magnificent temple at Nara, described as the “realm-protecting temple of the four heavenly kings of golden light” and where Buddhists prayed for the well being of the nation.  Finally, and most telling and fatal, the Buddhists told the Shinto accusers that they believed in the “unity of the emperor’s law and the Buddha’s law.”[559]

D. T. Suzuki, “Actualism,” and the Sword

Sincemedieval times Zen Buddhism had always maintained a close connection with the Japanese military, and it had a special vigor and masculinity that appealed to the samurai warriors. Citing Medieval Zen masters, Seisen Fueoka claims in his Zen Primer of 1927 that “the spirits of Japan’s many heroes have been trained by Zen” and that “Zen and the sword were one and the same.”[560] Even before its introduction into Japan, Chinese Ch’an had elements of violence not present in other Buddhist schools.  Brian Victoria, however, has shown that Song Dynasty Ch’an masters meant that the “sword that kills” destroys only ignorance not human enemies.[561] The famous sayings exhorting monks to kill the Buddha and kill their families were meant as provocative rhetoric to prevent idolatry and attachment and to destroy the illusory self.  Victoria does, however, admit that physical violence (blows to the body and head) and verbal abuse by Ch’an and later Zen masters was and continues to characterize Zen discipline.

More than any other Zen Buddhist, it was D. T. Suzuki who revived this connection between Zen and the samurai sword, and who urged Buddhists to support imperial warfare. Victoria, however, believes that Suzuki participated in a “pernicious abuse” of traditional Zen terminology, and “one can only marvel at the fact that the transference of these terms to the real battlefield by later generations.”[562] In the interest of fairness it is necessary to point out that scholars such as Kirita Kiyohide claim that Suzuki, in private correspondence, distanced himself from emperor worship and was critical of imperial war efforts.[563] A similar caveat is in order for Nishida Kitāro, who, as we will see in the next section, held strong private reservations about the actions of his country even while serving as a consultant for the Imperial Army.

In 1896 Suzuki published a book entitled A New Treatise on Religion, and he argued that the war with China was just and a necessary “religious action,” because the Chinese were “violent. . . unruly heathens” who interfered with Japan’s need to trade and get resources for its factories. He maintained that “religion should, first of all, seek to preserve the existence of the state, abiding by its history and its feelings.”[564] Suzuki claimed that Japan was justified in declaring war “in the name of religion” and “the progress of humanity” on any “lawless country” that “trapples on [Japan’s] rights.”[565] Suzuki believed that Buddhism actually went extinct in China during the Song Dynasty, and it only because of its intimate relation with samurai culture that Buddhism was resurrected by the Japanese. Suzuki believes that the practice of Zen gives one an iron will, because Zen “is a religion of will power, and will power is what is urgently needed by the warriors.”[566] In this same passage, Suzuki claims that only Zen can provide the warriors because, as he repeats a Japanese saying, “Tendai [Buddhism] is for the royal family, [esoteric] Shingon is for the royalty, . . . and Jōdō for the masses.” Also in this passage he admits that Zen could be a “destructive force.”

In the same book Zen and Japanese Culture Suzuki explains that Zennist iron will is independent from one’s illusory ego will, because the solider has “no desire to do harm to anybody.”[567] Suzuki warns that “these powers may be devilish at times, but there is no doubt that they are superhuman and work wonders.”[568] Suzuki quotes from a 17th Century text as follows: “The book emphasizes very much the samurai’s readiness to give his life away at any moment [and] it states that no great work has ever been accomplished without going mad.”[569] In 1941 the Japanese military published a book entitled The Essence of Bushidō  and in his own chapter “Zen and Bushidō,” Suzuki states that the soldier must act as if he were “truly abandoning this life.”[570] These explicit statements stand in stark contrast to a line from a letter quoted by Kirita in which Suzuki contends that “Zen absolutely never teaches one to throw one’s life away.”[571]

Suzuki was also instrumental in developing a philosophical framework for a philosophy of “actualism” that holds that everything that happens is as it should be.  This means that there is no distinction between the Is and the Ought, which leaves, as Christopher Ives states, “no impetus for social criticism or transformative activism.”[572] Suzuki actually admits that, because of this passive tolerance, Zen could wed itself to “anarchism or fascism, communism or democracy. . . .”[573] Ives argues that Suzuki’s ideas helped Nishida Kitāro “provide a philosophical foundation for the ‘holy war’ being waged in the name of the emperor.”[574] In the next section we will find mitigating evidence against this charge.

In addition to theocratic immanence, one finds yet another element of immanent spirituality.  A quasi-spiritual scientism allied with the state could abuse its power just as easily as a materialistic one, and the Soviet Union and Communist China are good examples of this. We saw this scientism in the Buddhist delegates to the 1893 World Parliament; and this view, allied with the modernizing thrust of the Meiji Restoration, represented, as James Ketelar explains, “a new scientism of cooperative global evolution.”  He continues: “This New Buddhism is in a direct relation to the manipulation of the material world. . . . In other words, for the Meiji Buddhists, Buddhism is moral and is technological: it is also Japan.”[575] Meiji Buddhists warned that the scientific and technological innovations borrowed from the West would be “hollow husks” without the “immanent spirituality” upon which their Buddhist faith would confer.

Japanese Nationalism and the Kyoto School

Christopher Ives believes that among the members of the famous Kyoto School of Philosophy, “Nishitani Keiji, Kōsaka Masaaki, Kōyama Iwao, and Suzuki Shigetaka had a more enthusiastic attitude toward Japanese imperialism than Nishida Kitāro, and Tanabe Hajime explicitly changed his standpoint.”[576] In this section, I will focus on Nishitanti and Nishida, mainly because they are more known to American and European audiences. With regard to the Japanese invasion of China, Nishitani criticized those who compared it to previous colonial actions in Asia. Commenting on the Meiji principle of kukotai in his seminal essay “Overcoming Modernity,” Nishitani asks:

Why does the nation-state (kokka) demand a professional service from people (kokumin) that extinguishes their private sense of self? It is, quite simply, because the need to strengthen, as much as possible, its internal unity as a nation-state. And this unity is necessary for the nation-state to concentrate its total power as an individual totality and to act with a high level of energy. . . . Every Japanese [must] extinguish their private selves and be reduced as a totality, to the nation-state.[577]

I have been hesitant to use the term “fascism” in this chapter, but this worship of the state goes far beyond most forms of nationalism.  Again we see the dissolution of the self for the service of the nation, following a mystical monism of many forms of Mahāyāna Buddhism.

In the same article Nishitani argues that the modernism of European philosophy has led to alienation, colonialism, and destruction.  He believes that a new concept of self, based on religion, is needed to forge a “Greater East Asia” and “new world order.” Moving through some his trademark dialectical machinations, Nishitani arrives at a position of “subjective nothingness” as the True Self. Nishitani is convinced that only Japanese thought can provide this: “Even in the East itself, there is no country other than Japan where Eastern religiosity has been so closely bound to national ethics as to become the cornerstone of the nation and tap its primal energies.”[578] Minamoto Ryōen, however, reminds readers that when Nishitani talks about his “world ethic” he does not mean that it should be established by war or through colonialism: “This sets him apart from collaborators who fanned enthusiasm for the war among the people.”[579]

            Ueda Shizuteru and Yusa Michiko strive to defend Nishida Kitāro from any strong formulation of the charge of nationalism. Yusa contends that Nishida is “a thinker who resisted fanatic nationalism and struggled against the attempts of the pre-1945 military government to impose its program of ‘thought control’ on Japan’s intellectual community.”[580] Ueda claims that critics do not realize that Nishida distinguishes between Japan as a “subject,” the aggressive imperial Japan, and the ideal concept of Japanese culture.[581] With regard to the former, Nishida always took a critical attitude, but with regard to the latter, Nishida believed that the Japanese, and the Asians in general, have made unique contributions to world culture and others should learn from them.

            During the war Nishida’s friends noticed that he never celebrated Japanese victories as others did; instead, they usually found him in a state of depression.  He had experienced similar low moods during the war with the Russians, and he commented that victory celebrations were frivolous. In letters from 1944 he writes: “I get more and more disgusted at what I read in the papers.  My ideas are not being understood at all. . . . I have already given up hope.”[582] Nishida’s grandchildren remember being confused when he took them for long walks in Tokyo’s parks and refused to bow at the imperial shrines on the way. His grandchildren told him that they had been taught that the emperor was a deity, but Nishida replied that he was “an ordinary human being whom we should feel sorry for because he had been deprived of his freedom.”[583] It is significant to point out that the divinity of the emperor did not become official until 1935, and that Hirohito himself rejected the title and predicted correctly that it would only cause trouble. Nishida’s defenders claim that he was a nationalist only in the sense that he believed in the unifying power of the imperial throne (not the person in it), which brought the people together in a way that defines a very distinctive “Japanese spirit,” a phrase used by militant Shintoists, who charged that Nishida did not conform to their views.  Opposed to the fascists, Nishida believed that kokutai was “grounded in humanity,” and that the imperial family was the symbol of the basic humanity of the Japanese people.[584]

Nishida made it clear in his writings that the American or British worldviews were equally valuable, and he envisioned a “New World Order” in which these cultures would enrich each other. Critics fail to notice that Nishida gives the hegemonic slogan “East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere,” a multicultural interpretation in the following passage from a work entitled “Principles for a New World Order”:

A peace that embraces all of humankind is possible only if all nations and peoples, awakened to their common world-historical mission, first form particular world or “co-prosperity spheres,” in line with existing geographical and cultural bonds; and further, if through the mutual cooperation of these different co-prosperity spheres, a world in the true sense of the word, a global world, comes into being.[585]

In a debate with a military officer, Nishida made it clear that he thought that Japan’s policy in the rest of Asia was a “simple coercion sphere, not a co-prosperity sphere.”[586]

            Even with all this mitigating evidence, one is still left to wonder why Nishida always accepted offers to sit on government committees.  (One can of course understand why he was not critical in his comments to the emperor himself.)  Yusa phrases the issue this way: “One has to wonder why Nishida would venture out into such an open minefield, and this in turn raises the possibility that his thought was in fact inherently nationalistic.”[587] Yusa defends Nishida’s actions assuming that he wanted to convince imperial authorities that their militant view of Japanese nationalism was wrong. Yusa does admit that some of Nishida’s remarks on kokutai are “problematic” and that he undermines his generosity toward Euro-American civilization when he states (Yusa admits that it is a “strong claim”) that “no other country has what we call kokutai.”[588]

Soka Gakkei Rejects Other Nichiren Nationalists

            Japan’s Nichiren Buddhists, with a few exceptions, fell right in line with imperial nationalism and militarism. Tanaka Chigaku (1861-1939) championed the unity of imperial law and the Buddha’s law. Nichiren was famous for his principle of skakubuku—”conquering evil aggressively”—which he thought should be used even against Buddhist sects that had lost their way. Tanaka thought that skakubuku should be employed against Japan’s enemies: “When it is said that the Japanese Imperial Army is an army of humanity and justice, for maintaining justice and building peace, it means that it is a force for compassion. The shakubukuof Nichirenism must be like this.”[589]

Nichiren scholar Christina Naylor points out that Nichiren never thought of shakubuku with the nationalist meaning that Tanaka gave it.  She gives the example of Nichiren refusing to use shakubuku against the Mongol invaders, because he thought they were bringing divine revenge on a government that was persecuting him. Naylor does, however, point out a Buddhist imperialism in Nichiren: “Whereas previous sages had spoken of enbudai no Nippon (Japan of the inhabited earth), Nichiren had used the term Nippon no enbudai to include the whole inhabited earth in Japan.”[590] This of course could be used by Buddhist militarists to support a world-wide war.

Naylor states that Tanaka thought that the “Lotus Sūtra . . . was to be the sword, and in the work of unifying the world, Nichiren was to be Generalissimo, the empire the supreme command, the people of Japan the heavenly soldiers, and teachers devoted to Nichiren the officers.”[591] (I am reminded of a sign “Christ is the Commander in Chief” outside a Los Angeles church during the invasion of Iraq.) As with many other Japanese nationalists, Tanaka envisioned Japan ruling the world from its imperial throne, because “the extraordinarily great Emperor Meiji [had] appeared to become the axis of the world.”[592] Tanaka also believed that all the people of the world would in time worship at the imperial Shinto shrines.

            Ishihara Kanji (1889-1949), another follower of Nichiren, was awarded the imperial Order of the Golden Kite for his role in setting up the puppet state of Manchukuo. He was also given a mandala from the Pillar of the Nation Society, a fascist organization set up by Tanaka.  The mandala was supposed to have been drawn by Nichiren himself and was used to deter the Mongol invasion.  As Naylor reports, there appeared to be only one person, Takayama Chogyii (1871-1902), who knew that the mandala was a fake and that Nichiren had actually prayed for Japan’s defeat. Takayama was especially offended by a 65-foot statue of Nichiren erected as a war memorial after Japan’s victory over Russia. The statue held the fraudulent mandala as it faces the Sea of Japan, looking west towards Russia and the place where two Mongol fleets were destroyed by storms.

Ishihara and Tanaka believed the war could be won only if the emperor accepted the Lotus Sūtra as the sacred source of the power of the throne.  As Naylor states: “Ishihara believed that world unity would ultimately be achieved after a ‘final world war’ which was to break out 2500 years after the death of the Buddha.”[593] Nationalist followers of Nichiren liked to quote this prophecy from his writings: “The flag of the sun, of the country where the sun rises, as prophesied by the Buddha long ago, is now truly about to illumine the darkness of the whole world.”[594] (Christian fundamentalists are not the only ones to use scriptural prophecy to justify violence.) Unlike others mentioned in this essay, Ishihara wrote a letter of apology to General MacArthur confessing that he had been mistaken in believing that Nichiren’s prophecy meant that Japan would go to war with the Western powers.

            Naylor mentions only one follower of Nichiren, Seno’o Giro(1889-1961), who refused to follow the imperial program. Seno’o founded the New Buddhist Youth Federation in 1931, and he was jailed during the war because of his pacifism, but he continued his anti-war activities during the 1950s. Naylor demonstrates that Nichiren was not against military action, and she takes Soka Gakkai to task because its anti-war and anti-nuclear weapons programs are at odds with Nichiren’s views. This criticism seems misplaced and unwarranted. Most Jews, Christians, Hindus, and Muslims have also rejected militaristic passages in their scriptures, realizing that blind adherence to a literal reading of prophet’s words is not the way to practice one’s faith.

It is odd that Naylor fails to mention Sokka Gakkei’s first two presidents, Makiguchi Tsunesaburo (1871-1944) and Toda Josei (1900-58). During the 1890s Makiguchi distinguished himself as an innovative and caring teacher, and he poured much of this experience into a remarkable book The Geography of Human Life published in 1903.  Moving to Tokyo he worked in the Ministry of Education, and he then served as head of five schools over the next 30 years. In 1928 Makiguchi converted to Nichiren Shoshu and established, with Toda as co-founder, the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai (Value-Creation Education Society).  In his early years he debated with socialists in Tokyo, and he rejected their idea of radical change in the structure of government.  In the 1930s Makiguchi became a strong opponent of State Shinto and condemned followers of Nichiren who failed to speak out about the lost of religious and political freedom.  In 1943 Makiguchi was brought before Nichiren Shoshu’s high priest and he was commanded to accept an amulet from Ise and affirm his belief in the divinity of the emperor.  He refused and government officials arrested him as a “thought criminal,” subjected him to harsh interrogation, and he died in prison in 1944.

Toda Josei also converted to Nichiren Buddhism in 1928 and became a very successful textbook publisher. He was also imprisoned by imperial authorities and spent most of 1943-45 in a deep study of Buddhism, finding in it a powerful self-actualizing humanism. With the death of Makiguchi, Toda became the second president of Soka Kyoiku Gakkai, which soon changed its name to Soka Gakkai (Value Creating Society).  Soka Gakkei’s version of Nichiren Buddhism was very attractive to many Japanese, and its missionaries were successful in taking their message door to door, although their leaders now realize that their overzealous use of shakabuku was counterproductive. (Shakabuku was only used in neighborhood proselytizing and was never conceived as a weapon to attack Japan’s enemies.) Toda was especially active in leading his organization to join a world-wide movement to abolish of nuclear weapons.

For over 40 years Ikeda Daisaku, first as third president of Soka Gakkai in Japan and then as president of Soka Gakkai International, has extended Makigushi’s and Toda’s vision around the world, growing it into the largest lay Buddhist organization in the world, one dedicated to world peace, interfaith dialogue, and nation building in the developing world. One could argue that Soka Gakkai has taken the best ideas of the Meiji Restoration, rejecting the narrow nationalism and militarism that grew out it, and melding moral and spiritual values from Europe and America with a distinctive Japanese spirit. (It could very well be seen as a form of constructive postmodernism as explained the final chapter.)  I am certain that Ikeda would embrace Nishida’s idea of “a peace that embraces all of humankind is possible only . . . the mutual cooperation of these different co-prosperity spheres,” and from this “a world in the true sense of the word, a global world” will come into being.

Chapter 8: Sikhism, the Seduction of Modernism, and Violence

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word

was with the Guru, and the Guru was God.

—adapted from Singh Sabhā theology[595]

The strains of martial music [of the dhādhī jathās] would be the last thing

one would expect to hear [from] a quietistic teacher who preached a doctrine

of liberation based upon nām simran, meditation on the nām of Akal Purakh.

—Louis E. French, Martyrdom in the Sikh Tradition[596]

When all efforts to restore peace prove useless and no words

avail, lawful is the flash of steel, it is right to draw the sword.

—Guru Gobind Singh, Zafarnāma

One can only say “my religion” . . . in a Christian-European

manner, through a process of “conversion to modernity.”

—A. S. Mandair, Religion and the Specter of West

At first glance Sikhism appears to join the Abrahamic religions in providing a basis for religiously motivated violence. In the Introduction I summarized a number of theological doctrines might be responsible for violence in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and, while it appears that Sikhism might conform to several, if not all of these principles, an in-depth analysis proves this to be mistaken. This means that Sikhism joins its South Asia counterparts—except for Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist fundamentalists—in producing very little religiously motivated violence. 

In the first section I analyze the texts that might have justified recent religious violence on the part of Sikh militants. In the second section I discuss the Abrahamic focus on the divine Word, which in the form of explicit declarations and commands (e.g., kill all the infidels; wipe out the Midianites) have led to violence committed in the name of God.  We shall see that, even after colonial influences encouraged the Sikhs to separate from Hindus and view their scriptures more like the Bible, very little religiously motivated violence was the result.  Abrahamic religions are primarily religions of obedience to creeds, while the Asian religions are either religions of gnosis (Jainism and some schools of Buddhism and Hinduism) or religions of praxis (Sikhism, Confucianism, Daoism, and Zen).  Even among modern Sikh fundamentalists the emphasis is much more on right conduct and emulating the deeds of the Gurus than conforming to a set of theological doctrines. 

The topic of the third section is the general Abrahamic demand for the purity of revelation and a firm rejection of religious syncretism.  Here again we will see the pre-colonial Sikhs participated in Hindu rituals (even animal sacrifices to Durgā) and the scripture Guru Granth contains hymns and poetry from non-Sikhs.  We shall see that the Sikhs actually claimed to be Hindus until the British offered them a modern idea of religion that allowed them to draw clean and sometimes antagonizing distinctions between themselves and their Hindu and Muslim neighbors. The pre-colonial situation is aptly described by Louis French: “It is now well known that it was only after the 1870 that the boundaries of categories such as ‘Hindu,’ ‘Muslim,’ and ‘Sikh’ were established.”[597] For the many Sikhs this unfortunately led to a religious nationalism that included beliefs in one place (gurdwaras whitewashed of previous Hindu influence), one people (Sikhs living in a Punjabi-speaking state), one pure scripture (the Ādi Granth, but not the syncretistic Dasam Granth), and one immutable, transcendent God (purged of pantheistic implications). These beliefs were bound to produce religiously motivated violence.

In the fourth section I will discuss how divine transcendence in the Abrahamic religions may have desacralized the world to the point where any activity there could permitted—whether it be the liquation of enemies or natives whose land and resources were much desired.  Once again we will find that the Sikhs have a strong belief in divine immanence, which is characteristic of the Asian religions in general.  I propose that the relative transcendence found in panentheism, the view of constructive postmodern process theology, is the best way solve the problems related to a wholly other God. In the fifth and final section I will argue that what fundamentalist tendencies the Sikhs have developed are primarily due to their attempts to conform to colonialist and thoroughly modernist conceptions of self, religion, and nationhood.  Instead of the Derridean interpretative framework that Arvind Mandair proposes, I prefer the constructive postmodernism of the process theologians.  I also suggest that the “deep” religious pluralism that these thinkers have developed is an option that many Sikhs would find attractive as a religious minority in a Hindu majority nation. 

            Recent Sikh Militants versus the Non-Violent Akālī Dal

Sikh militants of the 1980-90s declared that their organizations were a “righteous force,” and that they had had just as much right as Pakistanis and Bangladeshis to use violence to establish a separate state of Khalistan—literally the “Land of the Pure.”  Sikh militants claimed the authority of their first Guru Nānak, who, perhaps in comparison to Muslim martyrs, promised that “fighting for the right cause .  .  .  [leads] straight to liberation.”[598] The Sikh daily prayer contains blessings for all people but it ends with “May the Khālsā rule!” The Khālsā was established by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699 for the purpose of centralizing his authority in a paramilitary organization loyal to him, and it became the main vehicle for Sikh nationalism. Gurinder Singh Mann describes Gobind Singh’s poets as “reciting the name of Vahiguru [=God] while preparing for a holy war.”[599]

The Bachitar Natak of the Dasam Granth begins with what appears to be an identification of the Creator and the Sword: “Thee I invoke, All-conquering Sword, Destroyer of evil, Ornament of the brave. Powerful your arm and radiant your glory, your splendor as dazzling as the brightness of the sun. . . . Hail to the world’s Creator and Sustainer, my invincible Protector the Sword.”[600] The implication seems clear: it is God’s powerful arm that holds the “All-conquering Sword.” One is reminded of the Angel of the Lord with a drawn sword leading the Israelite armies, or in some cases doing the work of destruction on his own.  As we have seen in Chapter 5, this being is frequently identified as Satan, through whom God, as Luther read it, expresses his wrath. King David describes the Angel of the Lord as “standing between earth and heaven, and in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem” (1 Chronicles 21:16).

When the British defeated the Sikh army and annexed Panjab, Lord Dalhousie wrote to the directors of the East India Company about the disposition of some weapons belonging to the deposed Mahārāja Ranjit Singh. He argued that as the weapons were “sacred and warlike symbols of a warlike faith,”[601] and as it was known that Ranjit Singh did pūjā before the “Raikot” sword every morning, it was essential that they be kept from the Sikhs. Just as the so-called Emerald Buddha was the symbol of the Thai king’s right to rule, so, too, did these sacred objects represent the sovereignty of the Sikh nation.  Removing them from the Mahārāja’s possession amounted to a “symbolic disarming and unmanning” of the militant Sikhs. The weapons were not returned until 1966, when the Punjab was recognized as a one of the 24 “linguistic” Indian states. The weapons went on a tour of the entire province, marking out the boundaries of what many Sikhs celebrated as the sovereign state of Khalistan.

The government of Indira Gandhi may have regretted the reappearance of these sacred relics. In the late 70s and 80s the Congress Party saw trouble on two fronts—the rise of Hindu nationalism on one hand and the demands of the Akālī Dal, a nonviolent Sikh political party that was insisting on more political autonomy in the Punjab.  Congress decided to support Sikh extremists in the same way that the CIA and Israel financed the militant Hamas against the PLO. The main difference of course with the PLO is that the Akālī Dal had no history of violence, but the PLO did. Many in Congress portrayed all Sikhs as terrorists just as Hindu nationalists, and far too many Americans and Europeans, condemn all Muslims.  Initially, Congress supported Sikh militant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, but he quickly realized that he was being used.  Eventually Bhindranwale became the main target for the Indian military’s attack on the Golden Temple in 1984. As Mandair explains: “Through the neat conflation of the image of Bhindranwale as the arch-‘Sikh terrorist’ with the ‘Punjab problem’ within India, the Sikh community as a whole came to be perceived as the ‘enemy within.’”[602]

The battle for Khalistan involved targeted assassinations by Sikh militants.  The government of Indira Gandhi was legitimately concerned, but in desperation she committed one of the greatest blunders of her already controversial career. On the night of June 5, 1984, she ordered the storming of the Harmandir Sahib, more widely known as the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Incredibly enough, the commanding general chose Baisakhi, the holy day when the Sikhs celebrate the founding of the Khālsā.  In addition to hundreds of heavily armed militants inside, there were thousands of pilgrims in and around the temple complex. Also incredible was the fact that tanks and artillery were used by the Indian army in a “shock and awe” attack. Government accounts of civilian deaths were in the hundreds but thousands were most likely killed.  A sacred library containing manuscripts with the Gurus’ signatures was also destroyed.

After the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards later that month, an estimated 5,000 Sikhs lost their lives in pogroms across the country, mostly in New Delhi, where 200 gurudwaras were also burned down.  Nine commissions were set up to bring the perpetrators to justice, but there was no action until 2005, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, himself a Sikh, declared: “On behalf of our government, on behalf of the entire people of this country, I bow my head in shame that such a thing took place . . . I have no hesitation in apologizing to the Sikh community.” A large majority of Sikhs do not support militant action and they are frustrated and embarrassed by Sikh extremists, many with foreign support, who still try to stir up trouble.

Sikh militants declared that the Indira Gandhi’s murder was a “holy act” and the execution of her two killers elevated them to martyr status. The Sikhs have a long tradition of honoring Guru Arjan, Guru Tegh Bahadur, and many others who were tortured and executed by post-Akbar Mughal emperors. The following is a decree by Emperor Bahadur Shah: “The disciples of Nānak [they are not yet called Sikhs] are to be slaughtered in every place that they are found.”[603] A Sikh head was worth 25 rupees and the reward for a live Sikh was four times as much. Contemporary Sikhs will argue that the violence that their leaders committed in 17th-19th Centuries was justified self-defense in the face of oppression by the Mughals, the Afghans, the British, and the Indian government. The Golden Temple was destroyed twice before the 1984 attack—by Mughal armies in 1736 and the Afghans in 1757 both during Baisakhi—so it is easy to sympathize with this claim. 

Louis French states that “tradition maintains that Sikhs must always be defenders, not aggressors,” and that a just war (dharam yudh) must one that “is fought while keeping the principles of dharma foremost [in one’s mind and heart]. A war in which deception, betrayal and falsehoods are not used; a war fought in order to protect the principles of dharam.”[604]  Some of the battles that were fought to consolidate Ranjit Singh’s empire were not described as dharma yudh, which, as French surmises, “clearly suggests” that this was a “war of expansion” not defense.[605] (Add Check Fundamentalism Observed, ed. Marty, 594ff.) Nevertheless, Sikh armies and later militants never attacked Hindu temples or Muslim mosques. Religious motivations for violence are sometimes very difficult to ascertain, but the destruction of holy sites, relics, and books are the best evidence that we have.  The victims of these attacks certainly perceive them as such.

The Word of God: Abrahamic Gnosis and Sikh Praxis

Guru Nānak claimed to have been lifted up into the presence of God and, following the Hindu tradition of an avatāra, God commanded him to return to the world to save humankind for the evils of the Kali Age. While taking his morning bath in Sein River, Nānak disappeared into its waters.  After three days and nights he returned, and his first words were “there is neither Hindu nor Muslim.”[606] (This most definitely did not mean that there were only Sikhs, because that religious identity did not exist until colonial times.) While in the God’s presence, Guru Nānak drank the waters of immortality (amṛta) and then was told to return to earth to preach his nonsectarian message.  Much like the Hebrew prophets, Nānak said that he was unworthy and that he preferred to stay prostrated at the feet of God. Reluctantly he finally agreed to undertake the divine commission.

The first epigraph above is derived from Arvind Mandair’s exposition of the Sikh concept of śabda-guru as “the Guru exists as Word, that the Guru is Word, and that the Guru is revealed by the Word.”[607] (In my own Christian adaptation above the imputation of divinity to both the Word and the Guru is correct.) Mandair submits that the Sikh reformists (the modernizing Singh Sabhā) “transcendentalized” śabda-guru “for the purpose of removing any traces of ‘Hindu signification,’”[608] so that Sikhism could become an autonomous religion and have a proper theology in the eyes of British authorities. The pre-modern Sikh idea of the divine Word, however, is very different from the Christian Logos, which was a Hellenistic concept of divine reason operating in the cosmos.  Significantly enough, this is what śabda-guru becomes for Singh Sabhā theologians such as Jodh Singh, who rejects the avatāra theory of the Gurus and concomitantly rejects the Hindu idea of guru. As Mandair explains, Nānak is now a prophet, “God’s personal messenger,” who made a clean break with Hinduism, “to whom God spoke and revealed his Word” and “the path of True Religion.”[609] Although it is difficult for them to do so, Sikh modernizers also wanted to distance themselves from the Vedic principle of sacred sound. In what appears to be an allusion to Christian theology, Jodh Singh believes that the Divine Word “mediates knowledge of God to man,”[610] and only the Punjabi language can carry this sacred communication.  Mandair demonstrates that a modernist separation of distinct religions also led to the assumption that speaking Hindi, Urdu, or Punjabi went hand in hand with identifying oneself as Hindu, Muslim, or Sikh.

Most of the text of the Guru Granth—the last Guru embodied in words of Sikh scripture the Ādi Granth—is poetry set to the musical meters of the Indian rāga. Just like the Sankrit Vedas, the Sikh scripture contains divine sounds created to evoke harmonious human emotions. They are not propositions by which one can produce a systematic theology and thereby lay out doctrines that devotees cognize as truths.  Mandair argues that the key themes of the Adi Granth“do not obey any theological or transcendental structure”;[611] rather, the musical structure is designed to lead to a mystical union with God as immanent in humans and nature. The typical Hindu worshipper does not understand the Sanskrit their priests recite, just as most Catholics do not understand the words of the Latin Mass.  It is a performative experience, not a cognitive one, in which a creed is cited and presumably affirmed.  However, one could argue that the recitation of the Nicene Creed is for many Christians an empty ritual not tied to either doctrine or a tradition of sacred sound.  Mandair warns us not to assume that the aesthetic component of the Adi Granthis simply a supplementary ornament to scripture; rather, it is the very essence of the Gurus’ experience of God.

 Just as Luther and the Protestant Reformers wrote in German and French, the Sikh gurus wrote in the vernacular Sant Bhasa, a poetic language used in the 15th and 16th Centuries. Most Sikhs can therefore understand Sant Bhasa and can read it in the Gurmukhi script of modern Punjabi. Sikhism joins Buddhism in its initial use of Pāli, which established a clean break with the Vedic principle of sacred sound embodied solely in Sanskrit.  Early Buddhist philosophy was sophisticated enough to propose a linguistic nominalism in which words were simply names given to things—including the human self—that were transient elements of human experience. As far as I know, no Sikh thinker expressed himself in this way, and Mandair is confident that the Gurus did not subscribe to a theology of sacred sound based on precise pronunciation of a sacred Punjabi language.

 In any case, modernizing colonial influences did not turn the Guru Granth into a set of propositions to be manipulated by fundamentalist theologians. South Asian dharmas are rarely ever connected to divine will and commands in propositional form. The Ādi Guru Granth does not contain a single divine declaration or command; rather, the text is primarily praise for God in poetic hymns. It is mostly first person Guru sayings rather than divine speech. (In fact, Mandair makes the provocative claims that it is the Guru talking to himself; more on this later.) Furthermore, in most instances it is misleading to translate the Punjabi word hukam as divine “will”; it is more accurately rendered as cosmic order, as translator W. H. M. McLeod does.  As he labored with great frustration (and with incredible presumption) to write a systematic Sikh theology, he writes: “Here, in the divine Order (hukam), is the inscription of His will for all who are able to read it.”[612]  For worshipping Sikhs, “taking a hukam” means turning randomly to any page in the Guru Granth and reading what “appears at the top of the left-hand page.”[613] Mandair maintains that Mcleod was never able to explain how an ineffable formless deity (nirguṇ) could be experienced except as a mystical union with an immanent divine (saguṇ). 

As opposed to the Abrahamic scriptures that contain distinct divine sayings and commands, the Sikhs are unable to join this tradition with a doctrine of divine communication.  McLeod concludes that Sikh theologians have never able to “give a satisfactory, coherent answer to the question of how . . . God communicates with man.  The question has been allowed to remain a mystery.”[614] This imponderable may well be viewed as a great advantage, because some many religious fundamentalists are very confident about what God has said to them and sometimes commanded them to do. This means that Sikhism primarily has a doctrine of general providence rather than the special providence we find in the Abrahamic religions. The Sikh deity is impartial, not showing favor to one people or the other. None of the Gurus claimed that the Sikhs have a special dispensation from God. A survey of their prayers indicate that they are primarily prayers of praise not specific petitions, and certainly not requestrws for divine guidance in war. Much like the Stoic deity, the Sikh God works his will in the world without words and without partiality.

            Abrahamic Revelational Purity versus Sikh Religious Syncretism

Religions of the Book have been more concerned with maintaining the purity of divine revelation.  Even though the integrity of the Abrahamic faiths has been compromised by religious syncretism and cultural accretions, most of their followers find it very difficult to believe that their faiths have been “adulterated” in such a manner. Mandair phrases the inevitability of syncretism succinctly: “Cocontamination is the original condition of all cultures.”[615] With the compilation of Adi Granthin 1604 and coming to its final form in 1706, one could say that Sikhism had become a Religion of the Book. One arguing for a connection between religion and violence could point to the apparent correlation between this written scripture, the martyrdom of Gurus Arjan and Tegh Bahadur, and Sikhs arming themselves to battle the Mughals. No distinct Sikh religious identity, however, grew up around Ādi Granth; and, as we shall see, the Mughal persecution was not religiously motivated. The followers of Guru Nānak continued to act if they were just another expression of the South Asian sanātana dharma, from which later Singh Sabhā theologians wished to separate. Even in the 19th Century those attending the Golden Temple in Amritsar believed that they, surrounding by walls depicting Hindu mythology, were tapping into the Eternal Sound of the Vedic tradition by reciting the hymns of the Adi Granthand Dasam Granth, the latter filled with praise for the Hindu Goddess Durgā.

While on tour of South Asia Guru Nānak traveled with a Muslim musician and there was never a time when the Guru required that he “convert.” Eleanor Nesbitt relates that “a Muslim saint Mian Mir laid the foundation stone of the Harmandir Sahib.”[616] The Mughal Emperor Jahangir (1605-1627) ordered the Fifth Guru Arjan’s arrest not because he was a Sikh, but because he was supporting Jahangir’s rival Khusrau, whom Jahangir blinded for his dissent. Muslim and Hindu rebels were arrested and executed for the same reason, not only by Jahangir but throughout the Mughal period. 

It is significant that Jahangir did not order the persecution of the Guru’s followers, whom he considered to be Hindus.  As Louis French points out, Jahangir was on good terms with the Hindu majority and that Guru Hargobind, even in the wake of Arjan’s death, was able to establish a friendship with the emperor.[617] When Hargobind found it necessary to go to war with Jahangir, he still built a mosque for his Muslim friends in Kiratpur, making clear that his enemy was not the religion of Islam. When Gobind Singh went to war with the Mughals, 500 Muslim soldiers joined his army, but he then turned around and sent his troops to the Deccan to aid the Mughal armies there.[618]Up until the time of Emperor Aurangzeb (1658-1707), conflict in the empire was not primarily the result of religious differences. Contemporary Sikhs might argue that the Mughal authorities required that their coreligionists to become Muslims, but Louis French argues that the argument that conversion “would have obviated the execution[s] seems highly implausible.  From the perspective of the Mughal authorities, Sikhs in this period were rebels, bandits, and thieves. . . . The defiance of imperial authority, whether from a Muslim, Hindu, or Sikh . . . was thus mercilessly crushed.  This was politics pure and simple.”[619]

The Dasam Granth, written by Guru Gobind Singh, explains, with the assumption that the Sikhs are included, that

someone is Hindu and someone a Muslim, . . . , but all the human beings . . . are recognized as one and the same. . . . Thus worship the one Lord, who is the common enlightener of all; all have been created in His Image and amongst all comprehend the same one light. The temple and the mosque are the same, there is no difference between a Hindu worship and Muslim prayer.[620] 

The Adi Granthcontains songs of divine praise from both Hindu and Muslims authors. Of the 5,894 hymns (shabads) in the text, 938 are from non-Sikh authors.  Hindus considered Sikhism just another legitimate sampradaya, i.e., one of many guru-led movements that arose in South Asia, and there is no reason to believe that Guru Nānak did not see himself in this light. Nānak’s successor Guru Angad (1539—52) declared that Nānak’s path was just one just one among many, and his daughter was not required to give up her “Sikh” faith when she married a Hindu.[621] Guru Tegh Bahadur (1664-75) claimed to have died “for the protection of the sacred thread and the frontal mark” of the Hindu princes imprisoned with him.[622] A 19th Century text contains a declaration by Tegh Bahadur that “ours is the Hindu faith.”[623]

The 10th Guru Gobind Singh (1675-1708) held that all religions are united in a quest for truth and that, as we have seen above, the mosque and the temple are equally holy. During the life time of Ratan Singh Bhangu (d. 1846), the Sikhs were still considered Hindus, and they started calling themselves Sikhs only under colonial rule later in the century.  It is ironic that the British recognized Sikhism as a separate religion before the Sikhs themselves did. Hindus worshipped at the Golden Temple during the reign of Ranjit Singh and its walls were covered, as we have learned, with frescos depicting Hindu mythology. In the 20th Century Sikhs associated with the Golden Temple were criticized by Sikh fundamentalists in Lahore for their syncretistic ways. They are called Sanātan Sikhs, those who followed sanātana dharma, the South Asian universal religion that makes no distinctions among Buddhists, Jains, Hindus, and Sikhs. This has led millions of Hindus, including Gandhi before 1930, to declare that “Everyone is a Hindu.”

Until 1930 Gandhi embraced sanātana dharma and he defined it as the religion that “transcends Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity, etc. It does not supersede them. It harmonizes them and gives them reality.”[624] After 1930 Gandhi assumed a position more in line with Swami Vivekananda, who, while assuming fluid boundaries among them, acknowledged that no religion should be merged with another.  The Swami explains: “The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian.  But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth.”[625]  I am certain that the great Swami would include the Sikhs in this list. I would hope that contemporary Sikhs would find this model of religious pluralism helpful in defending their distinctive religious identity; and, at the same time, discourage them from following the exclusivism of their militant brothers and sisters.

Sanātan Sikhs were particularly attracted to Viṣṇu and his avatars, and the fact that there are the same number of avatars as gurus may not be just coincidental. The Sikhs gurus came to save humankind from the extreme depredations of the Kālīyuga just as Kalki, the tenth incarnation of Viṣṇu, is predicted to do so. Kalki is mounted on a white horse brandishing a sword, the weapon of choice for Sikh warriors and an honorific for God himself. As the Guru Gobind Singh states in his Akāl Ustat: “May we have the protection of All-Steel; may we have protection of All-Death.”[626] The Dasam Granth—scripture held by some as equal to the Ādi Granth—calls God “Durgā” and Gobind Singh sacrificed buffaloes—just as Nepalese Hindus do at Dasain—to her. He also worshipped the goddess Chandi, so the divine title of “All-Death” may be derived from this Kālī-like goddess of death. (A word search of an on-line Dasam Granth listed 309 references to the goddess—most often Durgā and Chandi—and many times in acts of violence.) The Dasam Granth came under attack because of its references to the Goddess and Hindu mythology.  (Parts of it, however, are still included in the morning prayers of all good Sikhs.) It is significant that in the early 20th Century, Vir Singh, who founded the Khālsā Text Society and was a member of the modernizing Singh Sabhā, edited out references to goddess worship in Ratan Singh Bhangu’s 1841 epic Gur-panth Prakāś.[627] For him and his colleagues the Sikh religion was unique and Guru Nānak’s revelation was pure and superior to all others.

It is correct that Guru Nānak criticized Hindus, but not because their tradition was wrong; rather that they did not have the correct view of the Vedas. As he clearly states: “In the Vedas, the ultimate objective is the Nām, the Name of the Lord, but they do not hear this, and they wander around like demons.” Nānak is placing himself within the sanātanadharma not outside of it.  It is roughly similar to Christians saying that the Jews do not recognize all the alleged prophecies of the coming of Christ in the Hebrew scriptures.  Guru Amar Das found that chanting the name Rāma did not bring union with God, but he still continued to use Ramā as the name of God.[628] The discrepancy here may be due to the fact that Nānak called on his disciples to reject Hindu ritual, but he did not expect for them to leave the Vedic tradition.  In contrast, modernizing Sikhs wished to have a complete break from Hinduism, a schism that would make Nānak’s revelation pure and distinct, and as such, they would have a “real” religion worthy in the eyes of the British and historians of religion.

            Abrahamic Divine Transcendence versus Sikh Immanence

It is significant to note that the modernizing Singh Sabhā theologians argued that God as a pure being must be fully actualized, much like Thomas Aquinas’ God of pure act devoid of potentiality.  For Christians who read their Bibles and discover a God who relates to his creatures on an intimate basis, this abstract philosophical theology makes relations between God and the world highly problematic. When M. A. Macauliffe maintained that no Sikh guru “has succeeded in logically dissociating theism from pantheism,” he should have included this own faith as well.  To make sense of the human religious experience one should not separate the two but combine them. The only theology that has arguably made divine transcendence and immanence intelligible is the panentheism of Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne.  This theology has now been joined with the “constructive postmodern thought” of the State University of New York Press series by this name.

Without addressing this problem and unconsciously following Aristotle and Aquinas, Vir Singh proposed that God as nirguṇ—a no-thinged-ness that is potentially all things—had to be fully actualized. As a defensive move against Christian objections, the Sikh God could have no deficiencies. Mandair uses a passage from a commentary on early Christianity to demonstrate how far Sikh modernizers went in the direction of “extreme transcendence,” a state in which there could be no residue of worldly things or sensation. This wholly other God cannot have anything other than its own thought as an object of knowledge.

Trained in philosophy, Mandair must know that it was Aristotle who first argued that the eternal form “can be presented only by thinking in and through form itself.”[629] (As I always joked with my ancient philosophy students: Aristotle’s god is pure “nous nousing nous.”) Mandair states that this radically transcendent deity—absolutely different from anything in the world and beyond time and space—was the price the Sikhs had to pay to join the elite club of the monotheistic religions. In order to meet Ernest Trumpp’s charge that the Sikhs did not have “a sufficiently exalted idea of God,” the Singh Sabhā had to prove a clean break with Hindu pantheism, which Christian theologians believed dissolved both divinity and human individuals into nothingness—the reason for which Meister Eckhart and other Christian mystics were condemned.

            Many Sikhs fiercely objected to Trumpp’s preface to his translation (the first) of the Ādi Granth.  Trumpp rejected the description of Sikhism as a “moralizing deism” as inaccurate because ethics requires a robust concept of the self that Sikh pantheism could not support.  Sikh scripture, he claimed, had no “leading principle”; it was “a mere promiscuous heap of verses”; and it was an “exceedingly incoherent and wearisome book.”[630] (I wonder what Trumpp thought about making his way through some of the books of the Hebrew Bible?) He further offended many Sikhs in placing them further down the religious hierarchy—below Hindu pantheism and just above atheistic and “nihilistic” Buddhism. Trumpp’s outrage made modernizing Sikhs even more determined to conform to the Christian model of systematic theology. 

Budding Sikh “theologians” were encouraged by the 1909 publication of M. A. Macauliffe’s six-volume The Sikh Religion, in which the author praised Sikhism as the Indian religion that, despite Nānak’s inability to logically distinguish pantheism from monotheism, had made the most progress towards religion’s “monotheistic consummation.”[631] Mandair demonstrates, however, that even Macauliffe imposed an English model of translation and meaning on a Punjabi text that he and others could not trust the Sikhs to understand properly.  This colonial subjugation parallels the creation of Hindi from the amorphous Hindustani of Northern India, whose native speakers were judged by British linguists as totally unreliable collaborators. Such examples undermine the notion that Euro-Americans in all walks of life are capable of mutual dialogue with their foreign counterparts.

Mandair devotes numerous pages to an analysis of Vir Singh’s gallant attempts to give the mul mandtar, the first twelve words of the Ādi Granth, a monotheistic interpretation. The Sanātan Sikhs had always read these words from the standpoint of Vedāntist philosophy. The aesthetic form of scripture does not easily lend itself to clear interpretation, but I side with the traditional Sikhs on this issue. I have neither inclination nor linguistic skill to offer my own interpretation, but passage after passage clearly indicates a God of immanence not radical transcendence.

Satinām, the third word of the mul mandtar, may be interpreted as “Truth is the Name of God,” where nām is not just a name as in the Latin nomen and theological nominalism; rather, nām, and therefore Truth, is the very essence and substance of deity. One of course is reminded of Gandhi’s declaration that “Truth is God” and that a virtue ethics of living right and truthfully fits not only Gandhi but the Sikh Gurus as well. Mandair, however, sees a disturbing trend in contemporary Sikhism in which “locking the discourse of ethics into a belief system” has prevented “individual Sikhs from adequately responding to the complex variety of ethical questions now being raised.” I have argued that Gandhi’s ethics of nonviolence is best interpreted as a virtue ethics and that this moral theory actually offers much more flexibility in moral action and judgment than generally believed.[632] I also agree with B. K. Matilal: “By the term dharma . . . I understand nothing short of moral virtue,”[633] and I have expanded on this proposition in other work.[634] I submit that Sikh morality could very easily be interpreted as a dharmic virtue ethics.

            Mandair offers his own interpretation of how the Sikh Gurus dealt with the divine nature and its relation to human individuals. He begins with the provocative but persuasive thesis that Nānak’s hymns are basically a dialogue with himself, what today’s therapists refer to as analyzing one’s “self-talk.” Mandair explains: “Nānak almost always speaks to his own mind, addressing it at times through tender love, as when he says ‘my beloved mind,’ at times by cajoling it, as in ‘my foolish mind,’ and at other times beseeching it as a lover beseeches her beloved not to leave her.”[635] When Nānak overcomes his foolish ego mind, he experiences God as an ineffable formlessness (nirguṇ), but simultaneously—because he is always embodied in the world—as an immanent divine with qualities (saguṇ). That means that nām, as Mandair contends, is the proper name for God as both nirguṇ-sarguṇ” in which the devotee experiences the “meeting of time and eternity, the absolute and finite.”[636] Nām also provides the link between self and others, and chanting nām simaraṇ not only brings the person in union with the divine but allows love to be experienced between people. Meditating on nām simaraṇ is, as Mandair proposes, is a “concrete sacrificial practice” that sacralizes time and space.

What I call a “both-and/synthetic is not unique to either Asia or Europe.  Heraclitus set the conceptual stage with epigrams such as “the way up and the way down are one and the same,” and his concept of logos as the guiding principle for reconciling opposites in the world.  Most Christian theologians have followed an either/or dialectic drawn from formal logic, but Nicholas of Cusa’s dialectical method of coincidentia oppositorum is the only way to make sense of the claim that Jesus Christ isboth fully human and fully God. The Christian doctrine of liberty, as phrased by the evangelical J. I. Packer, is that “man is both free and controlled.”[637]Luther expressed the Protestant doctrine of justification as simul iustus et peccator (simultaneously justified and sinful), and with his concept of “the masks of God” he revived the Hebrew concept of deity as both God and Satan (divine wrath).  Most Christians are not aware of the verse from Second Isaiah where Jahweh declares that ““I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things” (45.7).  

In his exposition of Sikh theology, Mandair maintains that the Sikh Gurus also rejected “either/or oppositions” such as “good/evil.”[638] Please note that, as far as I know, the Gurus’ deity never speaks in Yahweh’s direct manner of self-revelation—a fact that supports Mandair’s theory of Guru-self-talk.  Note also that, although called a creator, the Gurus’ deity is not described as “doing all things” or as an omnipotent coercive power. The Sikhs have an immanental doctrine of creation (creation out of nirguṇ) similar to neo-Platonism rather than a transcendent God who, avoiding the heresy of pantheism does not create out of himself, but, as Aquinas explains, creates matter that is a mixture of being and non-being.

The other significant comparison that comes to mind is the dialectical coincidence of nirvaṇa and saṃsara in Mahāyāna Buddhism.  Just as liberation for the Sikh Gurus is not a complete annihilation of the self, so, too, is nirvaṇa not a total dissolution into the Dharmakāya.  In the famous Ox-Herding story it is significant that the story does not end with the eighth image “Ox and Self Transcended”; rather, the boy returns in the ninth image as a tiny figure in a sublime nature “seeing mountains as mountains for the first time”; and then in the tenth image the boy is back in society in dialogue with an iterant monk/sage. One can also imagine Guru Nānak coming back from his divine encounter first to nature and then back to his fellow humans. The simultaneity of nirguṇ/saguṇ, as Mandair states, is “evident in the lives of the Sikh Gurus, for whom there was no contradiction between mystical experience and the life of a soldier, householder, or political leader.”[639] Although there is no mention of Buddhism in the Sikh scripture, it is no exaggeration to say that the Sikh Gurus were Punjabi Bodhisattvas.

            Sikh Fundamentalism: From Premodernism to Modernist Nationalism

Mandair warns us that some attempts at reappropriating the past can lead to a false premodernism, which is only the illusion of recapturing a lost paradise. Following the lead of Orientalists who proposed that there was once a Golden Age of Hinduism that had been lost by a gradual devolution to the current state of Hindu deprivation, contemporary Sikhs are trying to recreate the Golden Age of Nānak and the Gurus.  In what might be called a “reverse” Orientalism many Hindu scholars in the last century have claimed that Sanskrit is not only the original Aryan language, but also the only language that contains the eternal sounds of God. The orthodox brahmins were shocked to see the Vedas printed in English translation and European scholars presuming to understand them as a text read by private readers. Europeans did, however, agree with the brahmins that orality was indeed superior to textuality.  (Socrates was a long forgotten advocate of this view.)  Brahmanical orthodoxy reasserted not only the traditional priority of śruti (that which is heard) over smṛti (that which is remembered) but also rejected both Christian and Sikh textual authority. Mandair contends that in reaction against two violent textual religions (first Islam and then Christianity), Hindus orthodoxy assumed that “orality is synonymous with nativeness, ahistoricality, pacifism, and plurality, whereas textuality is foreign, violent, bringing with it a linear history of decline and the construction of boundaries.”[640]

The contemporary Sikh response to this slight (one among many of course) is fascinating.  Drawing on its own rich oral tradition and the power of modern technology, Sikhs around the world can tune their computers to “24/7” recitations of the Gurus’ Word, which conjures up the grand illusion that they are original sacred sounds. Enforcing this deceit is the internet’s ability to erase the sense of time, space, and culture by simultaneous communication. Dedicated satellite TV stations allow millions of Sikhs to watch dozens of simultaneous complete readings of Adi Granth(called the akaṇḍ pāth) at the Golden Temple. Mandair argues successfully that all of these Indian attempts at Reverse Orientalism are aping the false univeralism of a European idea of religion, reinforcing distinct religious identities may that foster intolerance and violence. 

Just as the modern media has facilitated the rise of Hindu, Buddhist, and Tamil fundamentalism and its attendant violence, the same technology certainly reinforces Sikh nationalism and sectarianism. Mandair points out that the idea of a Sikh Golden Age has yet another danger: “Sikh subjectivity or repetition will already have been defined in terms of quietist detachment from worldly politics through constant remembrance of the Name (nām simaraṇ) performed in conformity with a timeless Indian universal.”[641] It was only appropriate for President George Bush to declare that Islam is a religion of peace in the aftermath of the September 11, 2011 attacks, but millions of moderate Muslims may have taken a pass in not being proactive enough against militants in their midst. Mandair submits that claims of Sikh pacifism also plays right into the hands of the reigning brahmanical and European universal: namely, that all the native South Asian religions are nonviolent and this assumption may well have justified government attempts to punish Sikhs rebels who did not conform to the dominant Indian sanātana dharma. Punjabis who do not behave like nonviolent Hindus, Jains, and Buddhist are not true Sikhs, and they therefore cannot claim any special religious consideration. As Michael Hawley states: “Modernity postulates a division between religion and violence,” a distinction he correctly believes that Gandhi accepted. While religions are presumed to be nonviolent, it is assumed that modern nation state has a monopoly on the sometimes violent enforcement of law.

The foregoing analysis is truly ironic when we consider that fact that Singh Sabhā theologians assumed that Sikhism could become a legitimate faith only by purging itself of everything that was premodern. As Mandair observes: “The Singh Sabhā scholars could not easily avoid using the language of sonic monism even as they were eradicating ‘Hindu’ influence from the prior exegesis of the Ādi Granth.”[642] But the ideology of sacred sound was used in a modernized theological framework, in which the Word is “directly revealed by as monotheistic God . . . an eternal cosmic Wisdom, an eternal vibration from beginning to end.”[643] One might argue that this is a legitimate integration of premodern and modern to construct a postmodern Sikh theology, but only if it is not used to promote Sikh nationalism and sectarianism. As I have argued elsewhere with regard to Gandhi,[644] a constructive postmodern view of religious pluralism would not support an ideology of a special and exclusive revelation; rather, it would be similar to Swami Vivekananda’s proposal mentioned above. To their credit, however, Sikh nationalists never claimed that Sikhism and Punjabi be the exclusive religion and language of India (or even of the Punjab), as Hindu fundamentalists have insisted about Hinduism and Hindi and Sri Lankan  Buddhists did for Buddhism and Sinhalese. It is not an exaggeration to claim that Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh fundamentalism would not have been possible without British linguistic and religious imperialism.

It is significant to note that during the reign of Ranjit Singh (1799-1839) Muslims and Hindus were members of his administration and Sikhism was not the official religion of his 40-year reign. (Hindus were also found in great numbers as officials and soldiers during Mughal times.) After the Ranjit Singh’s final victory in Lahore, no Muslims were executed in retribution for the liquidation of thousands of Sikhs during the period of the post-Akbar Mughal emperors. This is truly remarkable given the fact that Ranjit Singh was considered to be the reincarnation of the famous Sikh martyr Gurbahsh Singh Nihang.[645] As opposed to the practice of many Hindu and Muslim militants (today or centuries previous), no temples or mosques were destroyed during that time. This would have been evidence of religiously motivated violence as I define it.

Mandair demonstrates how British linguists, frustrated by the fact that Indians did not seem to care about speaking a consistent and coherent language, constructed Hindi for them. Devoid of Persian and Arabic vocabulary (now found in Urdu), Hindi fostered a separate Hindu identity ready-made for the rise of Hindutva. A modernist project of language-making went hand-in-hand with religion-making, and with regard to the Sikhs, the creation of a theology based on a Christian model. Alluding to Heidegger’s principle that “language is the house of Being,” Mandair suggests that as a result the Sikhs took on a British self and a British worldview. This is not just idle speculation on Mandair’s part, because in his book On the Education of the People of India Charles Trevelyan wrote: “They are about to have a new character imprinted on them” and they will end up “more English than Hindu.”[646]

Yet another important contribution of Mandair’s monumental project is to reject the notion that the British were in mutual dialogue with their native colleagues.  Long after the introduction of Hindi in English medium schools, students were still complaining about learning two foreign languages: the Empress’ mother tongue and a national language that the Crown had created for them. The British “manufactured the consent” of their subjects and, drawing on Jacque Lacan, Mandair submits that “one does not master language; rather, one is mastered by language.”[647] This dynamic leads me to question Mandair’s claim that South Asians underwent a “conversion to modernity,” a term that assumes conscious effort. Rather than freely accepting a British worldview, Indians, especially the Sikhs, were “seduced” by the appeal of modernism and the advantages that it gave them to establish a pseudo-national identity as a minority among a huge Hindu majority.

Mandair describes the Gurus’ experience as a Zen-like “spontaneity of speech-thought-action,” which also is expressed as a “wonder at the nature of existence,” and a concept of natural (rather than supranatural) grace. Mandair phrases nature’s grace beautifully: “Just as all creation simply happens without asking why, so the unspoken Word arises without connection to intention, desire, or will.”[648] As in the Buddhist Ox-Herding story, there is “no annihilation of the ego” and no “struggle against the world but a struggle to exist within the world.” Rather than a Derridean “erasure” of the self, which still suggests dissolution, I would rather see this as a discovery of the social-relational self that one finds in the Buddha, Confucius, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Buber. When Mandair speaks of love appearing in the relation between the self and others, I think of Buber’s I and Thou and his brilliant suggestion that God is that which happens in between—the deity as Mitmenschlichkeit. Is this what Mandair means in this rather cryptic statement:  “[For Sikhism] monotheism in a strict sense becomes almost redundant in the movement and crossings of love.”[649] When Mandair suggests that Guru Nānak wanted his “beloved mind back,” this must be a shared experience with others and the nirguṇ/saguṇ. This Gandhi’s harmonious village republic that I experienced just outside Chandigarh in the Punjab, and it is also and Martin Luther King’s vision of the “beloved community.”  I will discuss further the social-relational self and constructive postmodernism in the final section of chapter 11.

Chapter 9: Religious Nationalism, Violence, and Taiping Christianity

The Bible . . . was to propel Hong Xuiquan’s transformation of

his Society of God Worshippers from a religious movement with

political overtones into a full-fledged political rebellion.

—Thomas H. Reilly[650]

I have received the immediate command of God

in his presence; the will of Heaven rests with me.

—Hong Xiuquan[651]

Taiping soldiers preach[ed] the new religion with

Drawn swords in their hands, to underline the message.

–Jonathan D. Spence[652]

            I once viewed a video that showed the earth’s population grow from a single dot, representing the first thousand homo sapiens, to hundreds of thousands of dots indicating the citizens of the world’s first civilizations. As the 14th Century came up on the chronometer, ticking at about a year a second, we saw, as we fully expected, many dots disappear the world-wide bubonic plague. As 1850 came up, many people were puzzled by dots disappearing in Eastern China from Guangdong to Shanghai. If I had not been reading about the Taiping Rebellion, I would have been just as baffled. The Taiping Rebellion has been called the “greatest civil war [and] the greatest popular rebellion in history.”[653] It is estimated that between 10 and 20 million people lost their lives in a conflict initiated by a group of militant Christians led by Hong Xiuquan. Hong was a convert to Christianity who came to believe that, after visiting God’s extended family in Heaven in a 1837 vision, he was Christ’s younger brother with a sacred sword to kill all evil doers.  After successfully evangelizing in Guangdong and neighboring Guangzi Province in the 1840s, Hong and his followers raised huge armies that marched northward, taking as many as 600 cities, and eventually conquering Nanjing in 1853. Hong had already crowned himself Heavenly King in 1851, and he now declared Nanjing as the capital of China as a holy nation, a New Jerusalem ruling over the 10,000 nations. As we shall see, Hong’s religious views have significant parallels to American postmillennial dominion theologians.

We have seen that Hindus in India and Buddhists in Sri Lanka and Burma who have participated in religiously motivated violence have done so in a postcolonial environment in which they learned to fuse national and their own religious identity. The same factors appear to have come together in Taiping Christian ideology. Religiously motivated violence had occurred in China, prime examples were the White Lotus School and the Triad Society. The Triads, only quasi-religious in their worship of the war god Guan Di, were one of China’s most famous secret societies. In contrast, the White Lotus devotees openly preached the imminent coming of Maitreya, the Buddhist Messiah.  What is significant here is the presence of an apocalyptic vision radicalized by a Manichean division of the forces of light and righteousness and the forces of darkness and evil.  In the first and second sections I will discuss these Chinese precursors in order to determine differences that might have made the Taipings more successful, at least initially, in their religious goals. As Thomas H. Reilly states: “Neither of these movements [the White Lotus and Eight Trigram] demonstrated the kind of creative impulse and constructive energy that the Taiping displayed.”[654]

 I will note with some concern Reilly’s evident disregard for the negative consequences of the Taiping Rebellion.  Reilly himself remarks that Ming officials admitted that, even in their suppression of Catholicism, these Christians were not “responsible for inciting any kind of disturbance,” and Reilly admits that it was not they, but the Taipings who laid “the fuse of rebellion.”[655] During the Taiping Rebellion, Catholic missionaries were keen to separate themselves from the violent and destructive Taipings, because these two sects were easily confused by outsiders, a conflation exacerbated by Qing tracts attributing Taiping doctrines to Chinese Roman Catholics, commonly called the Heavenly Lord sect.

Catholics were also distressed that the Taipings had killed thirty of their coreligionists in Nanjing and put the rest of them on trial.  On Easter, 1853, 22 Catholics agreed to recite the Taiping prayers, “finding nothing in them that specifically contradicts their faith,” and those who refused were forced into labor or sent to the front line. Catholic authorities were very concerned about the Taiping’s challenge to imperial authority of the Emperor, dramatically expressed in Taiping battle flags emblazoned with “The Religion of the Supreme Emperor [Hong himself].”[656] Catholics had been particularly careful in not using the divine term shangdi, which Hong deliberately embraced to demonstrate that he was the Son of Heaven, not the Qing emperor.  (The early use of shangdi by Catholic missionaries was proscribed by Nicholas IV in the late 13th Century.) After 120 years of persecution, Catholics did not wish to lose the promise of toleration granted them by the Qing emperor in 1844.

The third section will discuss one religiously motivated reaction against the Taipings, the short-lived resistance offered by BaoLisheng’s Righteous Army of Dongan. What is significant here is Bao’s purely defensive posture and his undogmatic, agnostic way of interpreting the coming apocalypse. The fourth section will demonstrate how Taiping theology gradually but decisively extricated itself from an early alliance with Classical Confucianism.  Only Hong’s Eastern King wanted to preserve the Classics and the ceremonies that accompanied them.

The fifth and sixth sections will deal with several aspects of Taiping Christianity, particularly its view of Satan, its materialistic conception of God, its odd doctrine of the Trinity, and Hong’s own interpretation of the Bible. The most recent scholarship, especially Reilly’s book The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, argues that the Taipings, although fully incorporating their theology within a Chinese worldview, were more “uniquely Christian” than previous scholars have thought, a view that brings forth distinctive Abrahamic reasons for religious violence. ADD Check Bao Lishing, 13: Footnote 41. The Taipings in the Shaoxing prefectural capital cut off an old woman’s ear because she recited a Buddhist prayer.  Spence, 176.  In Nanking Taiping soldiers preach their Gospel with swords drawn.  Same page:  the Muslims are tolerated, mosques left standing.

The White Lotus School, Earlier Heterodox Movements, and Manicheanism

The White Lotus School arose in the early 12th Century as an offshoot of Pure Land Buddhism. In 1129, according to White Lotus records, a monk by the name of Maoziyuan initiated some of the distinctive White Lotus practices, which included a married clergy, the use of a vernacular scripture, non-Buddhist, indigenous idols, and vegetarianism.  Because of their ban on meat eating and emphasis on apocalypticism, they were sometimes identified with the vegetarian, “devil” worshipping Manicheans. White Lotus devotees were condemned by both mainline Buddhists and the government.  Two surviving edicts from 1281 and 1308 indicate that the government officials did not approve of White Lotus texts that predicted the rise and fall of dynasties. As a result, as Vincent Shih relates, “temples and idols of the sect were destroyed; the believers were ordered to resume secular life and were made to labor for the government.”[657] As with the Tang persecution of Buddhism and the Ming proscription of Roman Catholicism, the reasons for governmental action appear to be more political than religious.

Susan M. Jones and Philip A. Kuhn describe the White Lotus Schools as “religiously diverse and broadly syncretic.”[658]Pure Land Buddhists worship the Amitābha Buddha as the enthroned savior of the Heavenly Kingdom in the West, a penultimate life in which believers enjoy pure bliss in a pure land without craving and attachment. The White Lotus Schools, however, substituted the Maitreya Buddha, the Buddhist Messiah who would come during times of great crisis to establish the Great Peace (taiping). Added to this apocalyptic and millennial vision was the influence of Manicheanism from Central Asia, a view that intensified the difference between the preferred group of saints and all the others. A Manichean dualism between the righteous and the wicked definitely permeated Taiping Christianity.

The worship of Maitreya Buddha came to China in the 6th Century, and Maitreya believers soon came under government criticism: Vincent Shih explains: “[The Maitreya monks] would confuse [the people] with vague statements, frighten them with a hell of incessant suffering, lure them with their absurd theories, and entice them with the happiness of the Tusita heaven.”[659] As a result of their suppression, apparently more political than religious as with most all Chinese imperial persecution, White Lotus Maitreya Buddhists frequently fomented rebellion during the Tang and Song dynasties. On this basis one could argue that this sectarian violence was more defensive and reactive rather than the offensive character of the Taiping Rebellion.

Jones and Kuhn explain the effects of Maitreya messianism on the White Lotus Schools very well:

The descent of the future Buddha, Maitreya (Milefo), was to usher in final stage of world history and establish a regime of peace and plenty. And an incarnate Manichae[n] deity, the ‘prince of light’ (ming-wang) was to bring about the triumph of light over darkness in an ultimate world cataclysm. Like the Triads, [the White Lotus School] embodied an ardent faith and a compelling eschatology capable of mobilizing great masses of followers against the existing state system.[660]

They were instrumental in bringing down the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty and they were active in the Shantung Rebellion at the end of the Ming Dynasty.

The influence of Manicheanism can be seen in much heterodox Chinese belief.  Most significantly, it attached itself to the reappearance of the Taiping Dao movement in 1086.  Its originator, Chang Chueh, was the leader of the Yellow Turban Rebellion of the 2nd Century, which originally was Daoist in terms of its religious dress. Chang’s main message was that he had the power to heal individuals and to bring them peace (taiping).  Chang required that his disciples kneel and confess their sins before the healing ritual began. Chang’s views were also apocalyptic in his prediction that “the taiping qi [peace force] is about to arrive, and a ruler of great virtue will appear, and the spirit will through him descend upon the earth.”[661] In the Song revival of Chang’s Taiping Dao, devil worship and vegetarianism, which was not part of his original vision, but a distinctive combination indicating Manicheanism, became a major concern for government officials as they attempted to put down a rebellion in Chang’s name. Vincent Shih is convinced that the rebels were using Chang’s thought as a religious disguise for their subversive activities.

Except for odd borrowings, such as the Buddhist 33rd heaven and the Buddhist King of Hades, one must agree with Vincent Shih, who concludes that there is “no evidence that the Taipings borrowed from these unorthodox Buddhist societies.”[662] It was the Roman Catholics who adopted Buddhist models.  ADD See Reilly.  Positive about Confucian, even later when they believed that the Confucian texts could be saved, but Buddhism completely dismissed and seen as the cause of the demise of later dynasties.  Hail, 97

Wickeri, p. 13: “He did not use the Buddhist eschatology which was all around him, except to assist in explaining his new language.

The Heaven and Earth Society and Taiping Christianity

The Heaven and Earth Society (tiandihui) was an important early ally of the Taipings. They were also called the Triads because of the cosmic triad of heaven, earth, and human beings. The Chinese phrase for the hea­ven-earth-human al­liance is san cai, which means “three powers, three forces, three origins.”[663] Theoretically, each partner in the Cosmic Triad is able to maintain its integrity because each is equiprimordial.  While all three are essentially interdependent, none is created by the other.  The contrast with other worldviews is striking. In orthodox Christianity the universe is created out of nothing, and after being used as an instrument for God’s redemptive purposes, it returns to nothing. Nature has no intrinsic value in most Indian religious traditions either.  The earth, other worlds, and the body are also mere instruments for spiritual liberation. 

One would have assumed that the concept of the Cosmic Triad would have motivated the Chinese to protect their environment, but for many centuries it was ruined, primarily because of massive deforestation. With regard to religion, however, I have argued that the Cosmic Triad may have limited instances of what I call “spiritual Titanism” in China to a minimum.[664]  One of the tendencies in the Abrahamic religion is a radical transcendentalism that ignores the earth and body and as result distorts the relationship between God and humans.  As we have seen above, the idea that God would lead a heavenly army or any human could arrogate the Mandate of Heaven as Hong did is alien to the Chinese mind.  With his grandiose claims, one could say that the Christian Hong was just as much a spiritual Titan as he claims the Qing emperor was.  It is significant to point out that while orthodox Christian philosophers had no problem deifying Jesus, no Chinese philosopher ever deified Confucius.[665]

Unfortunately, the Triads did not live up to the ideals of the Cosmic Triad.  On the positive side, they did serve as a mutual aid society and helped many members during hard times.  They were especially popular with the impoverished people of Southeast China with their Robin Hood policy of robbing the rich to feed the poor.  Their political slogan of “destroy the Qing to restore Ming” (fan qing fu ming) also resonated well with people who had never accepted Manchu rule. According to Jonathan Spence, the Triads were responsible for 55 uprisings in Guangdong and other southeastern provinces between 1800 and 1840.[666]

Unlike the Taipings, the Triads were only quasi-religious and they lacked the discipline and moral force that was key to the early Taiping success. Nevertheless, Taiping leaders generally found the Triads an important ally until 1852, although there were alliances of convenience as late as 1855-56.  While many Triad members refused to formally join the Taipings, others did happily and some became trusted commanders.  Triad forces in cities in the Taiping march north were key to the surrender of those urban centers, including the conquest of Nanjing in 1853.

The decision to consolidate their power in Nanjing and not send their armies immediately north to Beijing may have prevented a final Taiping victory, but the fact that Nanjing was the old Ming capital helped them verify traditional dynastic claims.  As Ming restorationists, the Triads were of course elated that the Taipings had chosen Nanjing as their capital.  One of the Triad’s taboo words was “Hong,” because it was the first character in the Ming imperial name. The character Hong literally means “flood” and Jonathan Spence suggests that Hong could not have failed to notice a divine message that he was the second Noah, this time commanding a flood of righteous warriors who would establish a world-wide Heavenly Kingdom.[667] While a simple coincidence of characters indicating Ming restorationism may have appeared auspicious to many Triads, Taiping leaders were not completely happy with the alliance even from the beginning. As we have already noted, Hong was not interested in restoring the Ming dynasty; rather, his goal was worldwide empire under his rule. The Triads were also closely connected with organized crime, especially gambling in Canton.  In his revision of the Ten Commandments Hong added gambling, wine drinking, and opium smoking to the other prohibitions.

In a close examination of Taiping documents, Vincent Shih notices that positive references to the Triads were deleted in later editions starting in 1852.  As Shih states: “The Taipings wanted to get clear of any relation to the Triad Society . . . However, this omission also shows that they must have a great deal to do with that society before this date.”[668]  Shih also explains that, in addition to deleting references to the Triads, Hong wanted to “eliminate all traces of traditionalism and intensify the influence of the Bible.”[669] We will discuss this in more detail in sections below.

In the end the Triads proved to be disappointing ally.  Commentators note that the later degeneration of discipline in the Taiping army, while generally due to indiscriminate recruiting along the way, was more specifically due to the demoralizing effect of associating with Triad forces.[670] (Alliances with the Nian rebels in the north also had the same effect on Taiping troop morale.)[671] The Triads and the Nians also had a reputation for inconsistency, sometimes negotiating and surrendering to imperial troops. The Taipings may well have won against the imperial forces if the Triads had not betrayed them in Shanghai, where they held the city for some time; the Triads also failed to take Canton, their traditional stronghold.  With these two cities and a navy, Hong could have become the first Christian Emperor of China.

Bao Lisheng’s Righteous Army and Taiping Christianity

            Although he posed only a minor obstacle in the path of the Taiping advance, Bao Lisheng’s Righteous Army of Dongan is significant for this chapter because of the rich mix of religious influences in Bao’s thought.  A short study of Bao’s resistance will help us better understand Buddhist millennialism and appreciate the fact that his militancy and resistance was defensive in nature. In his early years Bao’s fellow villagers thought that he was deranged.  Although he did not have a classical education, he was literate and was fond of making predictions according to the Zodiac.  He spent his days fasting, sitting in mediation, pacing out the Big Dipper and chanting a mantra, frequently laughing to himself, dancing and then kneeling in “worship


something that others could not see,” and sometimes “running so fast that he seemed to be flying.”[672]

The turning point in his life was a vision in which the Immortal of the White King Crab gave him the equivalent of the Chinese Excalibur with which he was to slay the long-haired bandits, identified as the Taiping Christians whom Bao predicted would soon cause great destruction in the area. After witnessing about his vision, Bao’s credibility rose rapidly: the people called him Superman Bao (bao shenxian), and after their first disastrous encounters with Bao’s militia, the Taipings feared him as demon (yao) or as god (shen).  His new standing was made official when, after an interview a local magistrate, Bao allowed to perform a ritual postponing the Buddhist apocalypse (kalpa) at the city temple. Later Communist historians made much of the fact that Bao’s resistance was not pro-Manchu; rather, it was a local peasant rebellion based on the belief that will power alone would make up for any lack in military equipment or expertise.

The people attributed miraculous powers to Commander Bao.  He was able to multiply grains of rice in the same way that Jesus multiplied fishes and loaves. It was said that Bao could accurately predict Taiping troop movements and thereby be able to direct his own forces accordingly.  According to one account, it was claimed that all Bao had to do was yell loudly and the Taipings would retreat in chaos. After experiencing several major defeats, the Taipings confessed that “from the Zhe River east, the Taipings fear only one man, Bao.”[673] 

James Cole observes that earlier in 1796, Qing troops were similarly affected by rebels such as Bao because their belief that the turning of the kalpa would favor these Buddhist millennarians.[674] In the end, Bao’s powers left him almost as quickly as he gained them.  The Taipings noticed this turn of fate and they were then able to defeat Bao’s soldiers, and he died of a bullet wound at the age of 24. Some refused to accept this and a legend arose about him surviving as a mountain sage.

We need to better understand the phrase “turning of the kalpa” and how Bao’s millennial views differed from that Taiping’s and other Buddhist inspired sects.  Although Bao was vegetarian and was on good terms with the Buddhist establishment, there is insufficient evidence to determine whether he was a member of a Buddhist sect. To his own credit, Bao interpreted the concept of kalpa, the Buddhist eschaton, in a humble, undogmatic way. Hong and other Chinese sectarians claimed to know who would be saved and who would be “doomed,” one common meaning of zaijie, the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit kalpa.  In a warning to his followers Bao asked them: “Are you sure that your own parents are not doomed?”[675] Bao and Hong agreed that there was a moral basis for salvation, but contrary to the Taiping Manichean exclusivism, Bao recognized that there were good and bad Taipings.  Crowning his humble eschatology was Bao’s admission that the kalpa might not be to his advantage.

There are some instructive lessons to be gained by studying the documents that were exchanged between Bao and the Taipings as they tried to negotiate a truce. With regard to the turning of the kalpa one can discern what looks like fatalism in Bao’s language that may explain his humility and his agnosticism.  As I have argued elsewhere,[676] there is nothing necessarily negative about a fatalism based on the law of karma, which simply means that actions have consequences and you reap what you sow. We can say that those who are unmindful and do not develop the virtues are destined to experience the harsh truth that the vices are their own punishment. Buddhist ethics can be formulated in a simple conditional: “If we act motivated by greed, hatred, or delusion, we are planting the seed of suffering; but when our acts are motivated by generosity, love, or wisdom, then we are creating the karmic conditions for abundance and happiness.” What may look at first like fatalism is now explained positively in the famous motto: character is destiny.

In his first response to the Taipings, Bao gives them a lecture on the history of the Chinese dynasties, explaining their demise by declaring that “their kalpa was exhausted.”  Here kalpa means good karma, or more specifically, the rulers’ virtue.  Bao states:

The reason for this is none other than that the dynasties’ founders had benevolent hearts and benevolent reputations, giving the people confidence and comforting the people in their hopes. But finally, when their kalpa was exhausted, in the end they were exterminated, leaving behind a legacy of eternal ill.[677]

What we can see in Bao’s statement is a premillennial view of the Buddhist Eschaton, the equivalent of a Christian Rapture. Even though character is indeed destiny, one can always be deceived by semblances of virtue. Although there is a strict determinism in karmic action, only a true Buddha would know the karmic debt of any one particular person. Because people are ignorant and unmindful, Bao warned his followers that they cannot even be sure if their own parents are saved.

Whatever the merits of Bao’s views, the historical fact remains that there would have been no Righteous Army of the Dongan if the Taipings had not invaded Bao’s territory.  Bao had no messianic designs of his own and would not have acted militarily on his own religious convictions. As James Cole explains: “[Lisheng] was reacting against a threat from outside his locale. Without the Taiping invasion, Bao Lisheng’s Righteous Army is inconceivable. Nor, a fortiori, did Lisheng promise to lead his followers into a new millennium. His ambition was less grandiose.”[678]

The Taipings’ Complex Relationship with Confucianism

Reilly contends that Hong is eminently Confucian in his belief that he has Heaven’s mandate (tian ming) to establish a new Chinese nation under rule of Shangdi, which Reilly translates as “Sovereign of Heaven” fusing religious and political meanings. Hong was heavily influenced by Confucianism early on, but later he emended his doctrines to exclude much of it and make it more biblical. There are many reasons why this was necessary. The Confucian Heaven is impersonal and universally, rather than specifically, providential, and it could never be said to enter history in the form of a man. Furthermore, any good Confucian would reject Hong’s arrogation of tian ming unto himself, primarily because Heaven is incredibly subtle and inscrutable in its ways. Finally, it would be inconceivable for a Chinese emperor to point to a passage in the Classics that gave him permission to wage war or to rule in God’s name.

From a logical standpoint, claiming the Mandate of Heaven and declaring that someone has lost it boils down to an exercise in circular reasoning. The Zhou kings proclaimed that they gained tian ming because of their virtue, but all that an outsider could verify is that the Shang dynasty had been defeated and that the Zhou now ruled. Did Hong somehow have Shangdi’s mandate for 20 years and then lose it as the Qing armies were entering Nanjing in 1864? When the Zhou dynasty started breaking up in the 9th Century BCE, this passage from The Book of Poetry blames Heaven, interestingly enough, not the human beings:

Oh, universal Tian, whom we call parent!

            I am innocent and blameless,

            Yet I suffer from such great disorders.

            Majestic Heaven, you are too stern;

            for truly I am innocent.

            Majestic Heaven, you are too cruel;

for truly I am blameless?[679]

Except for a Christian who insisted on a very unorthodox reading of Job, it is inconceivable, especially with someone as theonomous as Hong, that this unique expression of Confucian humanism could become a Christian view of God’s actions in history. Furthermore, it should be stressed that Confucius’ transcendent anchor is not the anthropomorphic Shangdi of the Shang dynasty and the Classics, but it was the impersonal Tian of Classical Confucianism.

During his visit to Christian Heaven, Hong divided this time between killing demons and reading the Chinese Classics with the women in Heaven. In fact, one of Hong’s poems indicates that Jesus studied the classics before coming down to earth: “God is therefore displeased, and has sent his Son with orders to come down into the world, having first studied the classics.”[680] Early on, as James Cole explains, Hong tried to find “common ground between Confucian and Christian principles, the most notable product being daliang, which Hong defined as a kind of universal brotherly love transcending racial prejudice or petty loyalty to family, village, or even nation.”[681]

Among the Taiping edicts of 1852 there is a remarkable poem that is left out in later editions. Its title is “Ode of One Hundred Correct Things” and it is beautiful example of Confucian virtue ethics. There are only a few changes involving Christian terminology, particularly condemnation to Hell for those who are incorrect. The ode emphasizes the standard correlation between the virtue of correctness (cheng) and successful ruling. Yao, Shun, and the Zhou kings are praised for their virtue just as they are in Classical Confucianism, and Confucius’ success as a teacher is linked to his virtue, not to his worship of God.  Typical for Taiping ideology is a focus on sexual immorality as the cause for cultural and political decline.[682] Completely consistent with Confucian humanism is the text’s implication that people can develop virtue and avoid vice without divine assistance. Referring to this ode, Fairbank maintains that in the mid-1840s Hong embraced a Christian Confucianism that “was little more than worship of Jehovah, abandonment of idolatry, and clean living.”[683] In the end Hong’s Christianity, although unorthodox in many ways, was clearly Christian and not Confucian, Buddhist, or Daoist.

It is significant that the Taipings decided to delete two paragraphs in The Book of Heavenly Precepts, which argue that the ancient kings worshipped Shangdi, and that this religion was open to the barbarians as well.  The text declares that it is an “absurd statement. . . that to worship the August God (shangdi) is to follow the barbarian,”[684] a clear rebuke to missionaries who wished to stress that Christianity had no links to Chinese culture or religion. The Confucian philosopher Mencius is used as an authority to support the thesis that ancient Chinese religion and Christianity are the same. One is also reminded of Confucius’ claim the barbarians, with good role models, can become just as virtuous as anyone else.[685] Late Taiping theology concluded that this policy was far too generous.

As early as 1847 Hong added anti-Confucian elements to his original account of his 1837 visit to Heaven. In the new version Confucius is brought before God and Christ to answer charges that he confused and misled the Chinese people.  Confucius struggles to defend himself but then decides to flee.  Hong and a host of angels are deputized to bring Confucius back whereupon he is flogged. God shows mercy on the poor sage by judging that his virtues outweighed his vices. Confucius was allowed to stay in Heaven but banned from ever again descending to earth.

A compromise was also reached on the status of Chinese classics. ADDCheck In 18?? a commission was appointed to “obliterate all the passages in the classics relating to idolatry or superstitious practices and to prefix the word Huang to Shangdi at every occurrence.”[686] The punishment for reading the unedited texts was harsh: “Anyone who dares read, study, or teach any kind of imp book [i.e. the Confucian classics] shall be beheaded. You must wait patiently for the revision, printing, and publication of these books; then you will be allowed to read and study them.”[687]

There were power struggles in the Taiping leadership, and it was the Eastern King Yang Xiuqing who caused the most conflict, primarily caused by a debate about Confucius, whom Yang viewed much more favorably. Hong found it difficult to criticize Yang, because he frequently fell into trances and spoke directly as God. (God was described as having come down in Yang’s presence.) Hong’s high respect for his Eastern King led him to appoint him prime minister of his government in Nanjing. Hong also declared Yang to be the earthly incarnation of the Holy Spirit, which theoretically made him higher in the divine hierarchy than Hong himself. This is undoubtedly the most bizarre expression of the Trinity in the history of Christian theology. Rounding out the Taiping Trinity was the Western King Xiao Chaogui, a strong critic of Confucianism. Until his untimely death in 1852, Xiao was said to possess the power to channel for Christ. He, too, was higher than Hong, who claimed to be only the brother of Christ.

The Taiping Godhead was torn internally by this theological debate. While Christ’s messages through Xiao continued the condemnation of Confucius, implying that even censored editions of the classics would not be allowed, God’s messages through Yang struck a fall more conciliatory tone. Yang’s pronouncements came in 1854, when his power was at its strongest, and at a time when the Taipings were trying to reassure the Confucian literati that they meant no harm to them or their traditions as long as they accepted Shangdi as their deity.  Here is what God advised through Yang on March 2, 1854:

You should ask Fourth Brother [Yang] to notify your Heavenly King [Hong] that among the ancient books which were condemned as demonic are Four Books and Thirteen Classics which advocate Heavenly feeling and truth. These books exhort people to be filial and loyal to their country. For this reason, East King requested me to order the preservation of these books.[688]

God also advised Yang to restore the traditional guardian dragons with five paws, because the people have confused these auspicious spirit beings with Hong’s Satan, Yan Luo, a four-paw serpent from the eastern seas. That also meant that all traditional dragon accessories, especially vessels and robes, were now allowed. After all, when Hong visited God in Heaven in 1837, God was dressed in a dragon robe.

            Taiping Christian Doctrines on Satan, a Physical God, and the Trinity

            In this section I will discuss three aspects of Taiping theology: its view of Satan, its materialistic concept of God, and its doctrine of Trinity. Hong’s relationship with the Devil is a fascinating example of religious syncretism.  Yan Luo is the Buddhist King of Hades, the Chinese equivalent of Vedic Yama, the king of the underworld. Hong’s diagnosis of the problems of Chinese society rested on the belief that the gods of popular religion were all demons and that their statues had to be destroyed. Hong conducted some of these iconoclastic attacks personally, and the fact that there was no demonic retribution offered additional proof of his divine calling. Further confirmation of the impotence of the traditional deities was the fact that although Hong himself had sacrificed to the gods of the scholars, he had failed every single civil service exam.[689] Hong’s Christian motto could be summarized as “Slay the demons and their followers and worship the one true God.” Once Hong had identified the Qing emperor as the one who “led the people to behave like imps, worships demons and disobey the true God,”[690] the stage was set for a total religious war against any all forces who would dispute God’s will.

One of the criteria by which one can determine religiously motivated violence is the destruction of temples, statues, and religious images. The Taiping record in this regard has been described as “unsparing.” Not long after two months of intense Bible study under the Rev. I. J. Roberts in Canton, Hong entered a temple in Xiangzhou and destroyed its main idol. Reilly describes the event as follows: “[Hong] beat it, referring to it as a demon, and ordered his followers to ‘dig out the eyes of the demon, cut off his beard, trample its hat, tear its embroidered dragon robe to shreds, turn its body upside down, and break off its arms.”[691] On October 26, 1844, Hong destroyed the idol of Kan Wang Yeh in Xiang Zhou, and this deed was memorialized in The Taiping Heavenly Chronicle as an exemplary act of God’s will being actualized in Hong’s actions.

The Rev. Josiah Cox reports an eyewitness to Taiping iconoclasm as follows:

In the temples we entered, the destruction of idols has been unsparing. The god of war and his satellites lay in scattered fragments about their formers shrines; here lay a dishonored image prostrate on its nose. Another lost its head. Others stood with bruised eyes and mouths, and ears and noses missing. Some lay about in dismembered heaps.[692]

I would hazard a guess that more temples and religious artifacts were destroyed on a per capita basis than all the years of Muslim conquest in India, where alternate years of religiously tolerate rule and failure to execute imperial orders in intolerant times led to relatively little temple destruction. Eventually, as we learned in chapter 2, Mughal authorities realized that they would gain economically by allowing the temple to stand and collect the huge revenues from the Hindu pilgrims.

Hong’s first encounter with Yan Luo and his demons was during his visit to Heaven in 1837. After being given a sacred sword and seal, Hong receives God’s permission to slay demons, and he is joined by a host of angels in his great battle.  (It is significant to note that the Hebrew word translated as “host” in the Hebrew Bible means “army.”) With Christ himself holding Hong’s seal, which both bedazzles and blinds, Hong kills demons and drives those remaining out of heaven’s 33rd level down to earth. Yan Lou, very much like the buffalo demon in the myths of the Hindu Goddess Durga, is able to transform himself and take on many disguises, but Hong finally traps him and has a chance to finish him off. God stays Hong’s sword, giving an excuse that Hong’s obviously does not comprehend. I will let Spence finish this incredible story: “Protesting but obedient, Hong spares the devil king. As to Yan Lou’s minions, all those that Hong can find in the world below, his father lets him slay.”[693]

While Reilly is definitely correct that Hong’s theology is “uniquely Christian,” it is certainly not orthodox. In the exchange of views between the British and Yang the Eastern King asked his fellow Christians how tall God is, how big his belly is, the color of his beard, the type of clothes he wears, and 26 other questions about Jesus’ physical qualities, God’s abilities, his extended family, the number of heavens and their dimensions. The British are completely baffled by these strange interrogatories, and after forming what they called a “synod,” they answered Yang: God is a spiritual being with no physical qualities; Christ is the Son of God only spiritual sense; and God definitely has no family. (Only Mormon theologians would agree with the concept of a material deity.) With regard to many of Hong’s questions, the British humbly replied that they had no answer because the Bible could provide none.  They summarized their response politely but tersely: “We place no faith in any one of your dogmas [Hong’s claims]. . . and can subscribe to none of them.”[694] They go on to essentially state the Apostle’s Creed as the summation of orthodox Christianity. 

Hong of course repeatedly defended the doctrine of God’s physical nature because he actually walked and talked with him in heaven. The British were particularly put off by such grandiose claims and some British envoys refused to meet with Hong because he required that they kowtow to him and recognize him as their Lord.  Hong’s claims to universal rule extended to the practice of reserving sections of his harem for women from various foreign lands.  The right of Taiping officials to take many wives contrasted hypocritically with a strict separation of women and men, even those married, which was not lifted until late in Taiping history. The concept of a divine family, including an imperial harem, is obviously a projection of a deeply rooted family centered Confucian culture.

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity has been stumbling block not only for Euro-Americans, but most especially for Asians. Under the influence of Mohist logic and a very concrete sense of reality, Chinese philosophy has always been strongly nominalistic.  The rectification of names is perfect example of philosophical nominalism: to wit, for every name there is a corresponding individual and respecting this correlation is essential for a harmonious world.  Medieval Christian nominalists such as Roscelin got into immediate trouble when they concluded that the three names—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit—must represent three separate gods. 

Rejecting polytheism and affirming monotheism, Hong, even though his language is not always clear, maintains that it is only God the Father who is divine. In his commentary on the Mark 2:1, Hong begins with what appears to be an orthodox formulation of the Trinity, noting that “the Holy Ghost is [also] God” and that “the Holy Ghost completes the Trinity.”[695] The most striking claim is that Yang the Eastern King is the incarnation of the Holy Spirit.  In his campaign to portray the Qing emperor as a blasphemer, Hong states that not even Jesus himself can claim the divine name di, and “who is greater than Jesus?”[696] 

Speaking as a good Chinese nominalist, Hong rectifies the divine names in a thoroughly Confucian manner: “For the Father is the Father, a son is a son, the Elder Brother is the Elder Brother, and a younger brother [Hong] is a younger brother.”[697] Commenting on Mark 12:29, Hong argues as follows: “The Great Elder Brother stated quite clearly that there was only one Great Lord. Why did the disciples later suppose that Christ was God? If he was, there would be two Gods.”[698] In this passage, Hong’s nominalistic rectification of names is clearest: “Immediately upon their descent the titles and ranks have been fixed. If you should suppose that Christ is God, there would be another God.”[699]

Juwen Jen offers yet another good Chinese reason why Hong could not accept orthodox formulations of the Trinity: “The fundamental Chinese ethical principle of the relative status of the superior and the inferior—that a father could be more honorable than a son—would never allow an equal footing of the two persons, to say nothing of the merger of the two persons into one identity.”[700]Jen further explains that this divine hierarchy was graphically portrayed in Taiping documents in which the characters for God, Christ, Hong were written, respectively, four spaces, three spaces, and two spaces above the line. Furthermore, in every passage indicating the singularity of Jesus’ sonship, Hong changes the filial relation of Jesus to “First Son of God,” in order to leave a place for himself as the Second Son of God. Finally, in a comment on 1 John 5: 7-8 Hong makes it clear that Jesus, Yang, and he were all born of the same mother, or as he says later in his commentary on Revelation, “out of the womb of God’s consort, heavenly mother.”[701]

Biblical Errancy and Divinely Inspired Corrections

We will now look at Hong’s commentary on some biblical passages as well as actual changes that he made to the text.  With regard to biblical authority, the Taipings believe in biblical errancy, not inerrancy. In his commentary on 1 John, Hong states that “the Father knows there are some mistakes in records of the New Testament,” and then makes an allusion to Yang, the Eastern King. This is most likely a reference to a remarkable event on July 7, 1854, when God, speaking through Yang, made the following proclamation:

Both the Old Testament and the New Testament, which have been preserved in foreign lands, contain numerous falsehoods . . . . [These] books are neither polished in literary terms nor are they fully complete. You must consult together, and correct them so that they become both polished and complete.[702]

The force of Yang’s authority was so great that the Taipings ceased printing the Bible until proper corrections could be made. Taiping scriptures were made complete by the addition of the True Testament, an authorized collection of Taiping religious documents. I will summarize some of the most important corrections below, especially as they have to do with Hong’s status and authority. In order to avoid excessive endnotes, I will let the biblical references act as citations to J. C. Cheng’ chapter entitled “The Taiping Bible.” I have also changed what I judge to be unnecessary capitalization in Cheng’s translations.

As a prelude to the Book of Genesis, Hong declares: “The Father is Light; the Brother is Light; and the Lord [Hong] is Light.” Hong’s claim to divine light also expressed in the striking claim, oddly attached to the appearance of the rainbow in the story of Noah, that he is the sun.  In a comment on Matthew 27:40, Hong plays with the dots in his name to predict that he as the sun will rebuild Jewish temple that was destroyed in 70 CE. Hong also explains the parable in Matthew 24:27-29 as follows: “I myself was the sun. After my descent upon earth as a man it thus became darkened. My wife was the moon. After her descent upon earth as a woman it would thus not give light.” This cryptic statement is most likely a reference to Hong and his wife’s role in the coming apocalypse described in the Book of Revelation.

Ever vigilant on moral matters, Hong eliminates all references to Noah’s drunkenness and nakedness, deletes the story of Lot’s daughters making him drunk and seducing him, and censors Judah’s incestuous relationship with Tamar. The story of Jacob represents a double offense to Hong’s Chinese sensibilities, not only because of Jacob’s deceit but because of improper filial relations. Therefore, Hong has to scrap the original story and rewrite it completely. As Spence explains: “Speaking as a respectful younger brother, Jacob gives Esau a brief lecture on the need to respect his birthright, and then agrees to ‘divide’ it with him in exchange for the pottage that Esau craves.”[703] In a commentary on Genesis 14:18-20, Hong claims to have been the mysterious priest Melchizedek. He declares that he became incarnate as this high priest to bless and to save Abraham, so as the secure the way for Jesus to come as savior. He repeats this identification with Melchizedek in his commentary on the Book of Hebrews where this priest has a prominent role.  There Hong describes himself as the “Grain King” (ho wang), who “shall be the Lord to save virtuous men.” Interestingly enough, Hong ignores the fact that in Hebrews 7:3 Melchizedek is described as “without father, without mother, [and] without descent . . . .”

            In his reading of 1 Corinthians 15:45, Hong is perceptive enough to note something that most readers miss. Paul appears to be adopting Philo of Alexander’s two-stage doctrine of human creation, thereby explaining the two different accounts given in Genesis 1:26 and 2.  Hong’s own version is that God created all human souls as pure spirits, which are then joined with the bodies produced by earthly fathers. Hong then extends this dual theory of human origins to a corresponding Great Paradise, a spiritual kingdom in heaven with the Small Paradise, the earthly kingdom that he has built in China. “The Great Paradise in heaven is where souls give glory to God . . . .The Small Paradise on earth is where the bodies give glory to God.” Breaking with his usual literalism, Hong’s view of the new Temple of God is, however, not an actual temple, but, at least in his reading of Revelation 3:12, the entire heavenly dynasty that Hong has established, which, as we seen, would eventually extend throughout the world.

In his commentary on the Book of Revelation, Hong is prepared to fully appropriate his claim to be the sun and his wife the moon. Commenting on chapter 6:12-15, Hong states: “I myself was the sun; my wife, the moon. The record that they became as dark as blood is a parable to prophecy that we shall descend to become human beings.  Our heavenly generals and heavenly soldiers are those stars in heaven which fell to earth, and sent down by parabolic edict into the world to exterminate demons.” Hong also declares that “the Universal Peace [will] be consolidated, and the geography remodeled.” 

The dramatic image of “a woman clothed with the sun” in Revelation 12:1-5 allows Hong once again to play solar deity. This woman is of course his earthly mother and in her womb God “clothed [his] body in sunlight to show that the embryo inside was the sun.” The serpent devil Yan Luo, dramatically portrayed as “a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.” Yan Luo threatens to destroy Hong in the womb, but he is protected by his omnipotent heavenly father. Not surprisingly Hong has a very Chinese reading of Revelation’s Bride of the Lamb: “The wife of the Divine Lamb is the heavenly Sister-in-Law, who[m] I saw many times in heaven.  The heavenly Sister-in-Law also descends to earth [with God and Christ], and calls me ‘Younger Brother.’”

In Hong’s reading of Revelation, God and Christ will descend to earth and help both Hong and his son, “the Junior Lord,” govern all the nations of the earth.  As the Eschaton unfolds, Hong destroys the devil Yan Luo and establishes “Universal Peace under Heaven.” As Hong has previously identified divine fire as the sun, he fully implicates himself in this most essential deed: “Today the serpent and the beast are destroyed by heavenly fire.” Hong very last comment indicates some resentment towards “holy disciples [who] are not happy.” Could these be the American and British visitors who have politely rejected Hong’s very personal reinterpretation of the Bible? Despite these curious differences with orthodox Christianity, it will come as no surprise that Taiping Christianity confirms all but one of my hypotheses about the causes of religious violence. In fact, as we shall see in the next chapter, it is the charge of unorthodoxy and never-ending conflicts about religious doctrine that are the primary causes of religious violence.  Those who emphasize orthopraxis (right living) instead of orthodoxos (right belief) are far more inclined to tolerate those of other faiths.

            Before concluding this chapter, I wish to comment on Reilly’s discussion of Hong’s charge that the Qing Emperor was a blasphemer, an accusation that Reilly, for a reason to which I allude shortly, accepts uncritically. As he explains: “In Hong’s understanding, the emperor had established himself as an idol to be worshipped ahead of Shangdi

[which Reilly translates as “Sovereign of Heaven”]

, thereby eliciting the wrath of both Shangdi and the Taiping.”[704] Reilly implies that Hong is therefore justified in overthrowing the emperor because of this religious crime. Reilly quotes a long passage from the Xianfeng Emperor that is illuminating in several significant respects.  First, the Emperor does not speak as one with divine authority; rather, he is self-depreciating to the extreme: “I fell deeply ashamed.  I have made many mistakes and committed innumerable grievous errors in my reign.”[705] He is grieved that his troops have not succeeded in putting down the Taiping rebels. Second, and equally important because Reilly overlooks this important difference, the Xianfeng Emperor worships Tian not Shangdi, so the charge of blasphemy is unfounded.  When Hong objects to the policy that only the Emperor can worship Shangdi, he, with Reilly supporting this accusation, does not realize that the Chinese emperors’ duty has always been to perform sacrifices to Tian (not Shangdi) at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. Shangdi is the deity of the ancient Shang Dynasty and the Classics, not Classical Confucianism and the imperial dynasties. Just as it was not my task in this book to favor one Hindu or Buddhist sect and judge any to be heretical, Reilly’s place is not to decide that the Taiping Christians were justified in leading a rebellion against the “Blasphemy of Empire” (part of Reilly’s subtitle) because of the ways in which the Chinese Emperor exercized his religious duties. I suggest that Reilly may have crossed the line from professional historian to Christian advocate when he notes with pleasure that the Taiping rebels inspired the rise of a distinctive Chinese Christianity, which is now revealed in the wide-spread House Church movement in today’s China.

Chapter 10: Hypotheses on the Reasons for Religious Violence

The brief Galilean vision of humility flickered throughout the ages,

uncertainly. . . .But the deeper idolatry, of fashioning God in the image

of the Egyptian, Persian, and Roman imperial rulers, was retained. The

Church gave unto God the attributes which belonged exclusively to Caesar.

—Alfred North Whitehead[706]

God versus Satan becomes Pure Soul versus Matter.  God is Pure Soul.

 Satan is Pure Matter, the tempter, seducer, deluder and Jailor of the Soul.

—Jain philosopher J. L. Jaini [707]

We are enslaved in the body because of our sinful deeds. . . . [The body is] a

filthy mass of bones, flesh and blood. . . . When it is under the control of God

it is a jewel, but when it passes into the control of the Devil, it is pit of filth.

—M. K. Gandhi[708]

The task of this chapter to test the following hypotheses about religiously motivated violence. The evidence supports the theses in the Abrahamic religions and Taiping theology, but one finds, except for the last one, limited validation in the Asian religions.

  1. The Abrahamic religions make God the “axiological” ultimate, i.e., the highest good, while Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Daoism make God (or sometimes simply a divine One) the “metaphysical” ultimate, i.e., the highest being or reality.

If we look at the conceptual foundations of the Abrahamic and Asian religions, we find a significant philosophical difference. In general the Abrahamic prophets exhort us to worship the holy “ought,” while Asian yogis and sages invite us to meditate on the holy “is.” The trinity of Vedāntist values expressed in satchitananda (being, knowledge, bliss) contrasts with the Thomistic one, good, and the beautiful derived from the Greeks. It is oddly ironic that people who worshipped the highest good would tend to commit more violence and be more intolerant than those who do not have such a moral focus. Those Tibetan Buddhists who have personalized Chenrezig and claim that he intervenes in history and guides the Tibetan people are one exception to the Asian norm. The fact some lamas can determine the divine will from oracles and scriptures brings Buddhist theology much more in line with Abrahamic theology and the hypotheses discussed below. Significantly enough, the Bible does not mention any cases of prophets being dismissed for false predictions, but Tibetans and Bhutanese captured, tortured, and/or murdered each other’s prophets for bringing bad news.[709] As we have seen, Tibetan oracles could be fired for providing false information.

Following the implications of Whitehead’s insight in the first epigraph, one might be able to resolve the paradox of a putative good deity being associated with violence. If Sigmund Freud and Ludwig Feuerbach are correct in proposing that God is simply a psychological projection of the father, or, in Whitehead’s version a powerful king, then one must acknowledge that even the best fathers or kings are not always good. Tibetans have been told that Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of compassion, has chosen them to spread the Dharma throughout the world and that he promises to care for them. But they also learn, even from the current Dalai Lama, that Chenrezig’s plans included the assassination of 9th Century lama Lang Darma. I will repeat His Holiness’ justification: “Theoretically speaking, in order to achieve greater benefit for a greater number of people, you can use a violent method.”[710] In chapters 5 and 6 we saw that high lamas used the same reasoning to send armies against rival sects or to use tantric magic against them and their leaders. Chenrezig’s wrathful deities always did his bidding in war and intrigue. One of the great puzzles for both believers and unbelievers, the former agonizing about it and the latter even more determined in their atheism, is the proposition that an omnipotent and omnibeneficent deity either wills evil or allows it to happen. Earlier I suggested that Chenrezig, just like the Whitehead’s God, is not omnipotent (he can persuade but not coerce), but justifying preemptive strikes against some for the long term benefit of all—the goal of all Bodhisattva—is still deeply problematic.

  • Abrahamic prophets claimed to have had direct communication with God and were very much concerned with following his commands, while Asian devotees rarely spoke about what God actually said for us to do.

Except for Tibetan Buddhism, Asian religions rarely ever speak about divine will and God’s commands. Taiping Christianity was unique in Chinese religion in having three persons who claimed to have direct contact with God: Hong, visiting God and his family in Heaven; Yang, the Eastern King, speaking for God on earth; and Xiao, the Western King, channeling for Christ until his untimely death. Hong stated that “I have received the immediate command of God in his presence; the will of Heaven rests with me.”[711] We have already seen how powerful Yang was in establishing his role as the incarnation of the Holy Spirit and declaring that the Bible was not inerrant.

            Chinese rulers claimed their authority as a general mandate from Heaven, not as a personal command of God, and it is often as subtle and inexplicable as the Delphic Oracle. In the case of Bao Lisheng it led to a humility and agnosticism, and even the Qing Emperor Xianfeng was humble and apologetic before an inscrutable Heaven. In stark contrast, the instructions that Hong, Yang, and Xaio received were unequivocal, and they instilled a confidence and a militancy that obviously motivated their troops to a high degree. Furthermore, the practice of congregational worship, virtually unknown in Asian religion, was just as effective in the discipline and motivation of Taiping troops as it was for Islamic and Christian soldiers in their battles for their respective faiths.

            Bhutan’s Shabdrung believed that Chenrezig could appear in three different simultaneous incarnations as his mind, body, and voice. In chapter 5 we learned that the great Bodhisattva spoke to him through the image, which he eventually smuggled, to the great consternation of fellow Drukpas, out of Tibet. Speaking from the image, Chenrezig told him that he was to establish a Buddhist kingdom in Bhutan, and the raven form of Mahākāla, the Drukpa’s protective deity, led him in a vision to this “southern land.” With this divine mandate the Shabdrung used everything in his power—his army and his tantric magic—to attack other sects and to ward off invasions from Tibet. As we also learned, a rather obscure prophecy of Padmasambhava was also used to justify the Shabdrung’s move south. The Book of Kham predicted that there would be only six Dalai Lamas, and the decline of the office for two centuries was presumably a sign that the Tibetan leaders had disobeyed Chenrezig, but also, interestingly enough, that Chenrezig’s plan had failed. Recall that the current Dalai Lama said that setting up a monarchy would have been better, presumably because Chenrezig wished it that way. Does that also imply that Chenrezig did not want him to be one of the greatest ambassadors for Buddhism in world history? Discerning the divine will is an extremely difficult theological exercize, which can have violence consequences if it is enacted by powerful religious and military agents.

3. The Abrahamic religions emphasize the authority of written scripture much more than Asian religions do.

Muhammad called the Abrahamic faiths “Religions of the Book,” because Jews, Christians, and Moslems all claim to have received a linguistic revelation, i.e., direct words of God. Moses is said to have talked to God “as a friend,” and the angel Gabriel’s first command to the illiterate Muhammad was “Read!” In contrast are the Hindu Vedas, literally divine sounds, which are used for meditation and spiritual discipline and not political action. Indeed, typical Indian worshippers do not understand the Sanskrit their priests recite, just as most Christians did not understand their Latin services until the Reformation, when scripture and sermons were read and heard in the vernacular. There is therefore no “propositional” revelation over which Asian devotees can argue endlessly and sometimes come to blows about. Many conservative evangelical Christians believe that they are reading God’s literal Word and they have an individual right to interpret it, even against the received tradition or established church authority.  This of course is a sure recipe for conflict.

Taiping scholar Thomas Reilly confirms this point in his claim that “the Bible . . . was to propel Hong’s . . . transformation of his Society of God Worshippers from a religious movement with political overtones into a full-fledged political rebellion.”[712] The other revolutionary Chinese religious sects did not have any direct link to scripture in this way. Before Hong visited the Baptist mission in Canton in 1840, the only biblical verses he knew were the scattered references, mainly from the New Testament, from Liang Afa’s Good Words. From his Canton visit Hong also, most likely, obtained his own copy of Gutzlaff’s translation of the Bible. From then on biblical verses, some of them “corrected” for Taiping sensibilities, were a major guide for the Taiping military campaigns.

In chapter 8 we have seen that, even though the Sikh scripture has the status of a divine Guru, there are no divine commands or directives in what is mainly poetry set to the meters of the Hindu rāgas. The Adi Granth was originally and primarily aesthetic and nondiscursive, and not very conducive to systematic theology, which the British wished it to be, let alone a revelation of divine will.  It is worth reiterating Mandair’s point that the aesthetic component of the Adi Granth is not simply a supplementary ornament to scripture, as biblical poetry is; rather, it is the very essence of the Gurus’ experience of God.  It was the Sikh modernizers who made Nānak is a mediator between God and the Sikhs, now viewed as a separate people defined by a scripture, the Punjabi language, and a Sikh nation. We also learned from Mandair that speaking Hindi, Urdu, or Punjabi became a way, many times mistaken, of identifying as Hindu, Muslim, or Sikh.

  • Abrahamic religions are primarily religions of obedience, while the Asian religions (Jainism and some schools of Buddhism and Hinduism) are religions of knowledge (gnosis) or religions of praxis (Confucianism, Daoism, and Zen).

A central feature of Taiping Christianity, as well as many other Christian denominations, was obedience to God primarily through strict adherence to Hong’s version of the Ten Commandments. Taiping congregants were publicly executed for violating these divine rules. In his revision of the Ten Commandments Hong added gambling, wine drinking, and opium smoking to the other prohibitions. Always the strict moralist, Hong eliminated Old Testament stories that told of wine drinking and sexual improprieties by presumably godly people. As far as I have been able to determine, this legalistic view of religion is not found in the other Chinese sects that fomented rebellion. No South Asia religion, not even Sikhism, requires that its devotees adhere to the dharma in this way.

With regard to religions of knowledge (gnosis), let us draw on Sri Aurobino as an example. Ancient Gnosticism, without a radical dualism of spirit and matter except for Jainism and Saṃkhya-Yoga, has a continuing presence in India, where the jnana yoga of the Upaniṣads is still very much alive. Although the texts and general teachings are open to all, the tradition of being initiated secretly by a guru is still very strong. In his works Sri Aurobindo uses the term “gnosticism” frequently, and he believes that we can become supermen with perfect knowledge. Here is a passage from Aurobindo’s spiritual companion “The Mother”: “What is remarkable is that once we have had the experience of a single contact with the Divine, a true, spontaneous and sincere experience, at that moment, in that experience, we shall know everything, and even more.”[713] If this is mystical knowledge of an undifferentiated unity, then the claim is not as egregious as it looks on its face.

  • The Abrahamic religions have also been more concerned with maintaining the purity of divine revelation, while the Asian religions have generally allowed, even welcomed, other religious influences.

We have seen that early Taiping religion was heavily influenced by Confucianism and, to a lesser extent, Buddhism, but direct links and validation from the Chinese Classics were eventually eliminated as the Taiping Christians became increasingly exclusive and militant. Only the general and deep seated influences of Chinese culture, especially the central idea of hierarchical family relationships, remained. In Asia religions, syncretism has not only been accepted, but in some cases celebrated. For example, the late Rev. Sunyung Moon claimed to be a good Buddhist, Confucian, Korean shaman, as well as a good Presbyterian. Here and elsewhere in Asia there has been no fetish about revelational purity. This may be a key to widespread religious tolerance in Asia and less religiously motivated violence than in the Middle East and Euro-America. Syncretism may, in some instances, also lead to intolerance and violence, as we have seen with the influence of Manicheanism in Chinese and Euro-American religions. A radical dualism of the righteous and the wicked may easily lead to conflict, as I argue in the next section. The exceptions are non-violent Jainism, where contemporary Jain philosophers oppose evil matter/body against pure spirit. There is no question, however, that the pursuit of revelational purity has led to sectarian strife all over the world.

In chapter 4 we learned that Buddhist kings had the prerogative of disciplining the Saṅgha and “purifying” the scriptures to avoid heresy.Concerning King Bodawpaya, Myint-U elaborates: “He supported growing attempts to arrive at a more ‘authentic’ Buddhism, a Buddhism of greater textual accuracy, one which was believed to be closer to that of the religion’s founder.”[714] In 1817 Bodawpaya sent out envoys, which, interestingly enough included brahmin priests, to India and Sri Lanka to cross reference all the existing Pāli texts. Under Bodawpaya’s guidance, the Burmese Theravāda was held in such high esteem in the Buddhist world that that the Burmese ordination ceremony was established in Sri Lanka (the traditional seat of Theravāda orthodoxy) as the Amarapura Nikāya. Significantly, Bodawpaya’s focus on a “pure” Buddhism, in a way that might be called “fundamentalist,” did not lead to intolerance of other Buddhist sects or religions. He deemphasized the search for relics, suspecting that many were fakes; and he reversed the purging of the old Mahāyāna rituals, “permitting” them, as Myint-U explains, but not “encouraging” them.[715]

  • The Abrahamic religions have viewed the origin of evil as located in the will or even body and matter, but the Asian thought, particularly the Chinese, see evil as a matter of imbalance and disharmony.

Manichean dualism, which spread both east and west from its Persian origins, offered a radical cosmic dualism of good and evil, which convinced many people in the Abrahamic faiths that they had the only “clean” solution to the problem of evil. Sadly ironic, however, is the fact that Manicheanism produced pacifist religious sects that were sometimes persecuted for their heresy in Europe, but, it inspired militant apocalyptic movements such as the White Lotus School and Yellow Turban Sect in China. The Manichee mind-set, still implicit in many conservative Abrahamic sects, makes it easy to demonize entire groups of people and became a strong motivating factor in religious violence. There is certainly sufficient evidence to prove that Hong was captured by a Manichean worldview that allowed him to brand all of his opponents as thoroughly evil. Interviews with Muslim terrorists have revealed that they generally divided the world into the forces of goodness and light and the forces of darkness and evil. 

This radical cosmic dualism, the creation of a Persian prophet Mani, was inconsistent with the traditional Chinese view of evil as imbalance and disharmony, not the result of a separate evil power or deficient will. Contrary to some Euro-American misconceptions, yang, for example, is not good and yin evil; rather it is the imbalance between them that brings discord to human beings and their world.  There is, however, one important mitigating factor in Christian and Buddhist views of Satan, namely, the fact that the forces of evil are not separate, as in Mani’s original view or later Gnostic religions; rather, the Chinese Buddhist and Christian Satan is under the power of God. Interestingly enough, Yan Lou was demoted to the fifth place in Hell because he had been too compassionate and lenient to some sinners. In the Hebrew scripture Satan was originally one of the subordinate deities and still appears as such in the Book of Job.  Closer still to Asian polarities and evidently derived from the Hebrews, is Martin Luther’s dipolar view, mentioned in chapter 6, that Satan is a “mask of God” who expresses the Wrath of God.

In addition to the pacifist Christian medieval Manichees, one finds, surprisingly enough, this radical dualism in Jainism and Gandhi. A contemporary Jain philosopher J. L. Jaini states: “God versus Satan becomes Pure Soul versus Matter.  God is Pure Soul.  Satan is Pure Matter, the tempter, seducer, deluder and Jailor of the Soul.”[716]Gandhi frequently affirms a strict dualism between soul and body, and he speaks constantly of a Manichean battle between our spiritual natures and our animal natures. The body is given to us because of our karma: “We are enslaved in the body because of our sinful deeds.”[717] The body is “a filthy mass of bones, flesh and blood”; and “when it is under the control of God it is a jewel, but when it passes into the control of the Devil, it is pit of filth.”[718] Gandhi’s Manicheanism is pervasive and it may have come from Christian influences as well as his own Indian tradition: “In God there is no duality. But as soon as we descend to the empirical level, we get two forces–God and Satan, as Christians call them.”[719]  Shifting from “forces” to “faces,” one might see a hint of Luther’s Satan as a “mask of God.”

            7. The Abrahamic religions have focused on God’s capacity to actively intervene in history and human wills, while Asian religions emphasize an inner spiritual power that is rarely viewed as coer­cive. The Abrahamic God has a monopoly of power whereas the Hindu Goddess shares power with all beings.

             “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” The initial words of the Apostles’ Creed testify to the prominence of divine power in Christian theology. Placing omnipotence first, even before divine goodness and wisdom, is the preference not only of Christianity but also Judaism and Islam. Anna Case-Winters observes that in Judaism “power becomes a paraphrase of the divine names, a kind of euphemism for God.”[720] In these Abrahamic religions, much more so than in the Asian, divine power has been conceived in terms of political power: God is conceived as a cosmic king, exerting absolute and uncontested rule over the universe and everything in it. Political terms such as pantokrator (“all –ruling”), sovereignty, and kingship dominate Abrahamic descriptions of God. In his book Kingship of God Martin Buber argues that Yahweh is different from the other middle eastern gods in that he demanded control in all areas of human life, not just the religious.
              In the Abrahamic religions God’s power executed in history and in human wills, but in Asia divine power is expressed more in terms of one’s inner spiritual power—a power that is rarely ever used coercively. In this significant respect the Asian religions are compatible with contemporary process theology, drawn from Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne. The process God is co‑creative with all other creatures, including blooming flowers, singing whales, and insect architects. The source of power and creativity is ontologically distinct from God, and both God and finite beings draw on the same source of creative energy. This precludes the idea of God as the source of all power and creativity and gives finite beings and nature as a whole an independence and an autonomy of their own. There is no beginning to creation; God and the universe are co‑eternally creative. Whitehead is also the source of the constructive postmodernism that is the hermeneutical framework of this book.
            In other work I have argued that divine omnicausality undermines the freedom of the will and leads to the inevitable conclusion, explicitly stated in the Hebrew scriptures, that God is the cause of evil. This passage from the Book of Isaiah expresses divine omnicausality and its full implications: “I form light, and I create dark­ness: I produce well‑being, and I create evil, I Yahweh do all these things.”[721] In the Book of Job, God does not only allow Satan to tempt and cause violence to Job and his family, but in the end, the author (s) write that its was God who brought “all the evil . . . upon him” (42:11). It is Martin Luther who confirms the biblical view of divine power: “By the omnipotence of God. . . I do not mean the potentiality by which he could do many things which he does not, but the active power by which he potently works all in all. . . . This omnipotence and the fore­knowledge of God, I say, completely abolish the dogma of free choice.”[722] Luther also supports divine omnicausality with regard to the actions of Satan: “Since. . . God moves and actuates all in all, he necessarily moves and acts in Satan and godly man.”[723]

            As we have seen, divine intervention is found in Tibetan Buddhism in which Chenrezig, incarnated in each of the Dalai Lamas, and has, according to the current Dalai Lama, a “master plan” for the evolution of Buddhism in the world. In his ten incarnations Viṣṇu does intervene in history with increasingly violent ways culminating in Kalki’s apocalyptic battle with the evil forces of the Kali Age. It is significant to stress that, in constrast to Christianity and Buddhist messianism, Kalki’s goal is not to establish a universal empire of Hindus. Curiously, Viṣṇu’s primary tasks in most of his incarnations was to punish asura kings (wrongly translated as “demons”), who had by hard-won karmic purifications and a right to rule as virtuous monarchs. The Vedic devas and asuras do not battle about religion, unless one views it as a conflict between the dark old deities and the bright shiny new ones, very similar to the war between the Greek Titans and Olympians. 

            The power of the devas and the asuras is tejas, which Wendy Doniger defines as “fiery splendour, glory, fiery destructive power, energy.”[724] Interestingly enough, especially for those used to European ideas of divinity, tejas is not a necessary attribute, i.e., it is not inherent in the nature of the gods themselves. This explains why the devas and the asuras both need soma or amṛta to keep themselves “energized.” Śakti, the power of the Great Goddess, is ontologically different, and it, as Thomas Coburn explains, “is not something that a deity has, but something that the Goddess is . . . .”[725] Śakti is a power that the Goddess has as a necessary attribute and, panentheistically, something that everything else in the universe has by virtue of her omnipresence. (That is also the reason why the asuras still continued to exist even though the devas stole all the amṛta they produced together in the Churning of the Ocean myth.) The Goddess’ agenda is not the zero-sum power game that the patriarchs play, but a game with totally different rules.  Śakti is not a power that is won, but one that is simply given unconditionally to all beings. Once again, Whitehead’s process theology, which posits “creativity” as a shared source of cosmic power, captures the essence of śakti from a Euro-American perspective. If power is shared and one agent does not monopolize all of it, all beings are therefore free and responsible for their use of it.

  • The Abrahamic God has usually been viewed as a transcendent being, while Asian divinities have generally been viewed as immanent in each person.

            Except for their minority mystical traditions, the Abrahamic religions have viewed God as a transcendent, sometimes radically so, while Asian divinities have generally been viewed as immanent in each person and the world. In chapter 8 I have argued that Sikh theology may be interpreted as a panentheism that makes both divine transcendence and immanence intelligible. Many have argued that a transcendent deity makes way for secularism and a desacralized world that can be exploited for its natural resources.  (If the earth is a goddess how could you possibly agree to breaking open her body?) The American Puritan fathers, who accepted John Calvin’s principle of the radical separation of God and the world, considered the wild tracts of their adopted country Satan’s domain and the native inhabitants as cursed by God and less than human.  Clearing the wilderness of trees, game, and indigenous people was therefore viewed as a divine mandate. Not only was nature “other,” its wild inhabitants were also beyond the pale of humanity and civilization.

Not only did Calvin’s theology make nature an alien other, it arguably led to human alienation in the modern world. Process theologian Catherine Keller argues that “the atomic ego is created in the image of the separate God.”[726] I submit that Democritean atomism also must have played a role in the rise of the modern autonomous self—one that is self-legislating in Kantian morality and libertarian political philosophy. In Euro-American ­philosophy and theology the ideal self is modeled on the concept of God as a self-contained, self-sufficient being of pure thought. If God is viewed as wholly other, then it may be easier for atomistic selves to see each other in the same way.  Radical nationalism, racism, intolerance, and violence may be the result.  As Christopher Chapple observes: “When the other stands opposed to self, violence can proceed.  When other is seen as self, nonviolence can prevail.”[727] Although I agree with the rhetorical power of this statement, I actually take issue with Chapple’s Vedāntist implication that, only when the individual self is completely erased and seen as a universal ātman, is non-violence possible.  I believe that a Buddhist-Confucian social-relational self can achieve the same goal without losing the individual identity to which basic rights and agency properly belong.  I will discuss this in more detail in the next chapter.

  • Religions with a future messianic ruler and strong apocalyptic visions will cause more violence. Divinely initiated premillennial views may also be less violent than human-led postmillennial theories.

            We have seen that Chinese sects that worshipped Maitreya Buddha and integrated Manichean dualism did indeed cause religiously motivated violence. Even though Hong  claimed a Confucian Mandate of Heaven, his apocalypticism is thoroughly Christian, and more specifically, postmillennial. No Confucian could conceive of “Shangdi as a Holy Warrior leading his armies to victory,” or “a great apocalyptic battle led by a conquering king,”[728] certainly not at the direct command of Heaven.  Hong’s apocalypticism is not Chinese Buddhist, because Maitreya is never portrayed as a violent, conquering king.  (We have seen, however, that the chakravartin of the Tibetan Kālachakra Tantra is indeed such a monarch.) Maitreya iconography reveals symbols of Buddhist political and religious power, but Maitreya does not carry a sword or any other weapons. Even the sword of Manjuśri is used for slaying ignorance and killing spiritual demons, not for political rebellion and the killing of imperial “imps,” as Hong calls his enemies.

            In several pronouncements, Hong makes it clear that he envisions his new Chinese dynasty to include all the nations of the world. Hong claims that he has God’s and Christ’s authority to “unite all elements whether up in heaven, down beneath the earth, or in the human world to be one grand dynasty at all times and in all places.”[729] Philip Wickeri discerns the difference between premillennialism of the Christian Rapture and Hong’s postmillennialism: “They did not wait upon the will of God to bring in the new order, but instead sought to usher it in themselves as the active agents of God in this world.”[730] Hong himself proclaimed: “The New Jerusalem, the Heavenly capital [tianjing] is where God and Christ descended into the world, bringing both myself and the Young Monarch [Hong’s son Tiangui] to be the sovereigns . . . . God’s Heaven [Shangdi Tiantang] now exists among men.”[731] Hong’s followers were, as the New England Puritans phrased it, the “visible saints.” Contemporary Reconstructionists/ Dominionists, inspired by theologians such as Rousas Rushdoony, believe that godly men have a duty to prepare a Kingdom of God on earth and administer divine rule according to biblical laws.

            It is clear that premillennial views may cause far less human-initiated violence than postmillennial eschatologies. In the Rapture it is God that initiates it and directly causes all the violence and destruction. There is a significant difference between early Chinese Christian Liang Afa’s premillennial view of the Last Judgment.  According to Liang Afa, the sheep will stand on the right hand of God and receive their eternal reward while the goats on God’s left will burn in Hell.  Only then would the Kingdom of God begin, and it would not be of this world, because all earthly things would be consumed in the fire of the Rapture. Liang Afa was following the eschatology that the Cantonese missionaries had taught him, and these Euro-American Christians were not pleased with Hong’s postmillennial views and especially the potential threat they posed to imperial prerogatives. Reilly recognizes the postmillennial character of Hong’s eschatology very well: “Hong[‘s] . . . conception of the millennial kingdom was more earthly, present, and dynamic than that presented in Liang’s tract. He believed in a kingdom that was coming, even now, through the instrumentality of the Taiping host.”[732] Political postmillennialism posed a direct threat to imperial rule, just a contemporary Christian dominionist are not shy in opposing the U. S. federal government and even, among some, threatening violence.

  1. Whenever religious and national identities are fused, one will find religiously motivated violence.

            I submit that this hypothesis has been firmly proved in this book.  It is true not only for the Abrahamic religions (including of course the Taipings), but, as we have seen, time and time again, it has been confirmed wherever Buddhists, Hindus, Shintonists, and Sikhs have attempted to fuse religion and state. Except for ancient Tibet and Japan, it was primarily European colonial influence that led to the rise of religious nationalism and fundamentalism in India, Sri Lanka, Burma, and China. Ironically, it was a Euoprean theory about the origins of the Indo-European languages that inspired the view that Hindus and Buddhist now have about their cultural, religious, and racial superiority. I have also made much of the current Dalai Lama’s admission that a secular king with religious advisers would have been preferable after the Fifth Dalai Lama.  He has now gone further to endorse a Tibetan Parliament in which he would have no authority at all.  Furthermore, I have demonstrated that Bhutan’s Dharma kings have a much better record than the violence committed by the First Shabdrung and the chaos created by concealing his death for 51 years. The British recommendation that the Bhutanese establish a secular monarchy was paid rich dividends for this small Buddhist nation.

  1. A mystical monism, found primarily in some Asian religions but only on the fringes of the Abrahamic faiths, may have played a major role in Japanese losing their selves by identifying with their emperor during the violent nationalism of the 20th Century.

In addition to a Zen actualism that fuses the Ought and the Is, thereby eliminating the difference between good and evil, there is an absolute monism that dissolves the individual self into a undifferentiated whole, or, alternatively, into the emperor himself. As Zennist Ekijū Yamazaki states: “When imperial subjects meld themselves into one with the august mind [of the emperor], their original countenance [Buddha mind] shines forth.”[733] This is a widely-held Mahāyānist concept of no-self, meaning only no substantial self in the Pāli texts, but now indicating no self at all.  Ekijū had been the Zen master of Lt. Col. Sugimoto Gorō, one of the most celebrated soldiers of the Chinese campaigns of the 1930s.  Sugimoto believed that Japanese expansionism was a holy war prosecuted in the spirit of Buddhist compassion. He explained that “war is moral training for not only the individual but for the entire world.  It consists of the extinction of self-seeking and the destruction of self-preservation.”[734] Appealing to the Sōtō Master Dōgen, Sugimoto declares that one must discard body and mind “until there is nothing left to discard.”[735] Ekijū maintained that his student’s zazen practice was equal to that of Bodhidharma, the first Zen Patriarch, but Sugimoto was unique in perfecting what he called “Soldier Zen,” which stressed “the unity of sovereign and subjects, eliminating their ego and getting rid of their selves.”

Intimately connected to the monistic fusion of selves is the principle of the divine immanence of the emperor. This concept is just as politically dangerous as a transcendent God intervening, as Yahweh did, as a divine warrior fighting the Israelites battles for them.[736] In his classic work Religion in Japanese History Joseph Kitigawa observes that Japan established an “immanental theocracy” in which the imperial throne represents “God and Caesar . . . rolled into one.”[737] He contends that Meiji Confucians and Shintoists attempted to “uphold the principle of ‘immanental theocracy’ in order to defend the nation from dangerous elements of ‘modernity.’”[738] But it appears as if Buddhism was able to accomplish this is a non-theistic way, although one could say that the putative deity of the emperor would still make it theocratic even for Buddhists. Kitigawa argues that it was the Japanese’ “ethnocentric belief in the superindividual which was the Japanese nation itself” that “drove Japan down the dreadful and fateful path toward the Second World War.”[739]

It is essential to keep in mind, however, that the imperial government did not require belief in the divinity of the emperor until 1935.  It is also important to note that Hirohito himself rejected deification and predicted correctly that it would only cause trouble. Although certainly not divine, he was certainly presicent in this prediction. In the next and final chapter I offer an anti-dote to religious nationalism and fundamentalism: the Gospel of Weak Belief.  I will also propose that there is a better way to overcome “otherness” than dissolution into God or his representatives on earth.

Chapter 11: The Gospel of Weak Belief, Overcoming
the Other, and Constructive Postmodernism

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.
—John 20:29
Now faith (pistis) is the assurance (hypostasis) of things
hoped for, the conviction
(elenchon) of things not seen.
Hebrews 11:1
Faiths is a habit of the mind . . . making the
intellect assent to what is non-apparent.
Thomas Aquinas[740] 
The true believing Christian must first of all be a skeptic.
David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion
The kind of faith which is necessary for religion involves [a] belief [of] a fairly weak kind
—the belief that a certain creed is more likely to true than the creed of any rival religion.
—Richard Swinburne, Faith and Reason[741]One can only say “my religion” . . . in a Christian-European
manner, through a process of “conversion to modernity.”
—A. S. Mandair, Religion and the Specter of West[742]

The late Jerry Falwell was one of my favorite preachers of strong belief. He once declared that God does not answer the prayers of Jews. Not only is Falwell claiming to know God’s mind, but he is also undermining divine freedom.  Surely God can decide to answer any prayer that God chooses to.  Others of Falwell’s ilk appear to make God a real weakling.  There is a marvelous cartoon in which former Sen. Jesse Helms, after trying so hard to get prayer in the schools, asks the Lord how Christian values can possibly survive. God’s answer is simple: “Don’t worry, Jesse, I can take care of it.” Conservative Christians condemn secular humanists because they believe the latter are substituting their laws with God’s and generally taking over divine prerogatives.  I have called this “Spiritual Titanism” and I believe that preachers who speak for God and tell us what God wants us to do are good examples of spiritual Titans.

Richard Swinburne’s Concept of “Weak” Belief

With his concept of “weak belief” British philosopher Richard Swinburne has offered a constructive way of responding to the “strong belief” of fundamentalism. In Faith and Reason Swinburne states: “The kind of faith which is necessary for religion involves both trust and belief; but the kind of belief involved is a fairly weak kind—the belief that a certain creed is more likely to true than the creed of any rival religion.”[743] For Swinburne all that a good Christian needs is a “weak” belief that Christianity is probably true and other religions are probably false. In the context of a comprehensive “world theology,” I prefer to revise Swinburne’s proposal along more universal lines: some sort of divine being probably exists and that all religions at their best are in tune with the divine. Or, if we are serious about being all inclusive, the following might be the most acceptable: none of us know whether a divine being exists or not, so all religious belief and unbelief must be tolerated.  This is actually the position of Mahatma Gandhi, who believed that all the people of the world could be united under moral categories such as justice, nonviolence, tolerance, and compassion. Insisting that “there is no such thing as religion overriding morality,” Gandhi states that “true religion and true morality are inseparably bound up with each other.”[744] While in London Gandhi read William Salter’s book Ethical Religion and he observed that two of the most effective English moral reformers of the day were atheists. This fact convinced him that, no matter how much they resisted, Gandhi would include atheists in his view of authentic morality and religion. As he once said: “Even the atheists who have pretended to disbelieve in God have believed in truth.”[745] Gandhi could not deny that these atheists developed their virtues from within their own natures, an ethical naturalism that could unite all people wishing to be moral, just, and compassionate.

One might interpret the strong belief of fundamentalism as a new form of gnosticism (from the Greek gnosis=knowledge), although contemporary fundamentalists do not share the esoterism of the ancient Gnostics. The Gospel of Weak Belief could be seen as a form of agnosticism, or more accurately, as a reaffirmation of fideism, putting faith before knowledge claims. The best biblical support for fideism is the opening words of Hebrews 11: “Now faith (pistis) is the assurance (hypostasis) of things hoped for, the conviction (elenchon) of things not seen.” The author’s use of the Greek pistis is intimately connected with the Hebrew term for faith ‘emunah.3 The etymology of this term suggests firmness and certainty, especially through a related word ‘aman, which means to “confirm,” “support,” or “uphold.” ‘Emunah is also a cognate of ‘emet, the Hebrew word sometimes translated as “truth” but which is usually rendered as “faithfulness.”

The Revised Standard translation does not really express the full meaning of hypostasis, which in creeds of the early church was used to describe the very nature of God. This is why the Anchor Bible uses the awkward but more correct translation of “groundwork.” Furthermore, the word elenchus comes from legal cross-examination (“basis for testing”), which gives a more epistemological tone to the passage. Indeed, Plato uses this term to describe the Socratic dialectic. The Anchor Bible translation is then in full: “Now faith is the groundwork of things hoped for, the basis for testing things not seen.” The examples in Hebrews 11 illustrate the meaning of this fideistic motto. Although he could not verify or predict events as yet unseen (v. 7), Noah had the groundwork of faith so that he could hope and be assured of the best. Similarly, Abraham “went out, not knowing where he was to go” (v. 8). For the nonbeliever this appears to be blind, unjustified action, but for the believer standing on the firm “groundwork” of faith it is definitely not. It was most absurd that Sarah should conceive and then unreasonable (even outrageous) that God should then require Abraham to sacrifice the product of this miraculous conception. Nevertheless, both of them found complete “support” (‘aman) in their faith.  Anticipating and validating Swinburne, Noah and Abraham had “weak” belief but strong faith.  Thomas Aquinas expresses this view of biblical faith very well: “Faiths is a habit of the mind . . . making the intellect assent to what is non-apparent.”[746]

The Prophets of Weak Belief: Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, Laozi, and Gandhi

If there is a Gospel of Weak Belief, who are its prophets? I propose that Mahāvīra, Gandhi, the Buddha, Confucius, Laozi, Zhuangzi, and Jesus are the saints of weak belief. Mahāvīra, an elder contemporary of the Buddha, promoted the doctrine of “many-sidedness” (anekāntavāda) and his followers, called the Jains, explained this view with the parable of the Five Blind Men and the Elephant. Each man acquired a hold of one part of the elephant, so to one reality was tail-like; to another it was trunk-like, and so on. Each man had a different, but equally valid perspective on the same reality. The Jains use this story as a lesson for universal tolerance of all beliefs. Gandhi was profoundly influenced by Jainism, and he listed the Jain saint Raichancharya among his top three sources of inspiration.  Here is one of his most famous Jain-like confessions: “Formerly I used to resent the ignorance of my opponents. Today I can love them because I am gifted with the eye to see myself as others see me and vice versa.”[747]  One would think that weak belief leads to impotence, but the power of Gandhi’s agnosticism and active nonviolence undermined British rule in India. Therefore, weak belief definitely does not mean weak conviction or passivity.

The Buddha was frequently asked questions such as the following: (1) Is the world eternal or not eternal? (2) Is the soul the same as the body or different from the body? (3) Is there life after death or no life after death? The secret of the Buddha’s famous Middle Way is to ascertain the difference between desires that can be fulfilled (they do not bring new karma) and cravings, those that will lead to karmic debt. One of the most subtle and deep-seated desires is a “craving for views,” typically expressed in metaphysical queries such as the ones above. The Buddha called such problems “questions that do not tend to edification,” and he usually answered with what I call a “neither/nor” dialectic: (1) The world is neither eternal nor not eternal; (2) the soul is neither the same as the body nor different from the body; and (3) there is neither life after death nor no life after death.[748] This dialectical technique was perfected by the great Buddhist philosopher Nāgārjuna, but its effect was just as powerful in the Buddha’s own formulations. “Neither/nor dialectic” essentially destroys “craving for views” by negating it into oblivion. Sometimes the Buddha would just sit in silence as a signal that the questions were inappropriate. When pressed for an explanation, the Buddha answered that these questions “are useful in attaining the goal; they are not fundamental to the dhamma and do not lead to aversion, dispassion, cessation, peace, higher knowledge, enlightenment, and nibbāna.”[749] In so far as Zen Buddhists move beyond scripture and reject idolatry in some times the most provocative and brutal ways—“if you see the Buddha on the Road, kill him”—they may be seen as the most radical preachers of weak belief. One might dare say that the Zen masters understood the Buddha better than he himself did.

When Confucius was asked about the existence of spirits and divine retribution, he, too, deflected the questions and instead encouraged his disciples to develop their virtues and treat others as they would have them treat themselves. Confucius had no interest in metaphysics or cosmology, allowing himself only vague allusions to the mandate of Heaven. He was, however, committed to the “rectification of names,” a theory that assumed that if one is able to correctly match names to objects, then human lives would proceed correctly. In the Analects Confucious begins on a humble note, but then appears very confident about rectifying names: “An exemplary person (junzi) defers on matters he does not understand.  When names are not used properly, language will not be used effectively. When language is not used effectively, matters will not be taken care of.”[750]  He then traces a causal chain of linguistic deficiency that ends in the loss of propriety (li), not appreciating music, and the inability to enforce laws and enact punishments.

Daoist Laozi was also a master of dialectical thinking, especially what might be called the dialectic of reversal: for example, power when exercised to an extreme becomes impotence; whereas weakness and softness (like water slowly eroding the elements) is real strength. The following passages from the Daodejing promotes the Gospel of Weak Belief: “The sage [takes] no action practices the teaching that uses no words . . . One who knows does not speak; one who speaks does not know. . . To know yet to think that one does not know is best.”[751] Laozi’s dialectic of reversal is seen in this passage: “Reversion is the action of the Tao. Weakness is the function of the Tao.  All things in the world come from being.  And being comes from non-being.”[752]  There is an implicit criticism of rectifying names throughout the text, beginning with the first stanza of the first chapter: “The Way (dao) that can followed is not the constant Way. A name that can be named is not a constant nme.  Nameless, it is the beginning of Heaven and earth.”[753]

Daoist Zhuangzi joins Laozi in criticizing Confucius, and especially the Rectification of Names: “I’m going to try speaking some reckless words and I want you to listen to them recklessly.”[754] In the playful dialogues of the Zhuangzi Confucius is made to turn on his own doctrines and to assure his favorite disciple Yen Hui that it is not necessary for sages to follow the rules of li. In the Zhuangzi Confucius is asked to comment on some men who were singing joyfully at the side of their friend’s corpse.  Speaking obscurely like Zhuangzi does himself, Confucius admits that while he is “condemned by the sentence of Heaven,” these men who do not mourn are praised elsewhere by Zhuangzi as shen ren (divine men), who “protect the land,” “keep creatures free from plagues and makes the grain ripen every year.”[755] I have argued elsewhere that Daodejing most likely represents a premodern position, while the Zhuangzi anticipates a constructive postmodernism.[756] Zhuangzi is not a mystical monist nor does he perform Derridean deconstruction, but he validates multiple perspectives without rejecting the idea of an ontological ground or even ontological structure. Through illumination (ming) the sage is able to see things exactly as they are by the “light of Heaven”—a Zen satori experience in which, for the first time, one sees mountains as mountains and rivers as rivers.

Jesus’ commitment to weak belief is found primarily in his parables. Parabolic language is the perfect medium for the Jain doctrine of many-sidedness. Parables are open-ended and offer many levels of meaning, and they preserve the freedom of the respondent. Jesus and the Buddhist Zen monks were more radical than the Buddha: the point of a parable or a koan is not an ethical one, but a provocation for people to transform their lives spiritually. The early church made the parables into allegories (for example, Jesus is the sower) and turned rich, polyvalent discourse into the univocal dogma of strong belief. Even today Christian ministers too often interpret the parables in a conventional ethical way that obscures their transforming power.

In his support for the dispossessed Jesus loved the dialectic of reversal just as much as Laozi did. “So the last will be first, and the first last” (Matt. 20:16); “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk. 18:15). There is another less noticed, but equally powerful reversal in Jesus’ rebuke of Thomas: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have faith” (Jn. 20:29). Jesus’ point, I believe, is clear: Thomas was wrong to demand the evidence of strong belief.  In this verse Jesus is condemning the first Christian fundamentalist and essentially saying “Blessed are those of weak belief.” Paradoxically, the partner of strong belief is weak faith, and God’s rebuke of Jesse Helms is a good example of strong belief but weak faith in what God is able to do. The Scottish philosopher David Hume is usually portrayed as an enemy of Christianity, but I believe he was correct when he said that “the true believing Christian must first of all be a skeptic.”

Nationalism: Christian, Islamic, and Buddhist
           As opposed to the premodern relational self, the modern self is seen as self-contained and self-legislating—a social atom as it were. The modern nation state is this autonomous self writ large and it is expressed as the will of a people defined by language, culture, religion, and race. Just as selves as social atoms become dysfunctional, the nation states tend to behave in similar ways. They draw strict boundaries that set up unnecessary barriers to natural human intercourse and fellowship.  One could say that tribalism and nationalism has been one of the most destructive forces in human history. In order to avoid the excessive nationalism that modern liberal states have developed, I have elsewhere proposed a reformed liberalism,[757] which not only offers a social-relational self to counter the alienating tendencies of social atomism, but also to question the value-free political sphere on which that modern liberal theorists have insisted. If one reads carefully the works of classical liberals such John Locke, Adam Smith, Immanuel Kant, and J. S. Mill, one will find that they did not intend the state to be morally neutral in the sense of contemporary procedural liberalism. Amendments such as these to liberal political philosophy would help solve the problems that the challenges of Christian and Islamic fundamentalism raise.

Among the many Christian nationalists, George Grant stands out as one of the more extreme. Here is one of his clearest pronouncements: “Christian politics has as its primary intent the conquest of the land–of men, families, institutions, bureaucracies, courts, and governments for the Kingdom of Christ. It is to reinstitute the authority of God’s Word as supreme over all judgments, over all legislation, over all declarations, constitutions, and confederations.”[758] Grant’s “dominion theology” is heavily influenced by Rousas J. Rushdoony whose movement is also called Christian Reconstruction. In his Institutes of Biblical Law in which he proposes that all the Old Testament laws be enforced, including capital punishment for apostasy and homosexuality. Following Rushdoony’s lead, Greg Dickison, a member of a Calvinist church in my own town, writes that true Christian magistrates would enforce capital punishment for “kidnapping, sorcery, bestiality, adultery, homosexuality, and cursing one’s parents.”[759] Dickison takes delight in the biblical punishment for a woman to touches the genitals of a man not her husband: “You shall cut off her hand; your eye shall not pity her.” (Deut. 25:12).

            There is an ethnic form of Christian nationalism in the current neo-Confederate movement in the American South. In my own college town of Moscow, Idaho, a booklet entitled Southern Slavery As It Was appeared in 1996. The authors, one a local Calvinist pastor and the other a founding director of the neo-Confederate League of the South, blame abolitionists and particularly Unitarians for the Civil War. They also argue that Southern Christians had biblical sanction to own slaves as long as they treated them humanely. The authors declare that “there has never been a multi-racial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world.”[760] The League of the South proposes that 15 Southern State should form a new Confederacy based on Celtic Calvinism and biblical law. Attempts by these thinkers to trace their Southern heritage to Scotland is just as muddled as Sri Lankan  Buddhists claiming pure Aryan ancestors.[761] The neo-Confederates wish to make the Southern States a refuge for true Christianity in the same way that Buddhism desire to make Sri Lanka  the Island of the Dharma.

A major difference between Buddhist and Christian nationalists is that former have, as we have seen, a modern worldview whereas the latter generally have a premodern worldview. Christian nationalists join Islamic fundamentalists in rejecting nearly all aspects of modernism—liberal democracy, the use of reason, and equal rights for all. (Interestingly enough, even though the theosophists supported modern reform in Hinduism and Buddhism, their spiritual universalism was philosophically premodern.) One would never hear of a Christian or Muslim fundamentalist disputing the truth of their scriptures, except for the Taiping Christian manipulation of the biblical texts that we saw in chapter 8.  Just like the Taipings, the Buddhist nationalist Dhammavihari ridicules the Mahāvamsa for its historical distortions.[762] Unwittingly following Thomas Jefferson’s example of reducing scripture to a modernist core, the Hindu Dayananda and the Buddhist Dharmapala wanted to rid their scriptures of ritual, antiquated laws, and incoherent dogma.  (Please note the interesting and instructive converse: Christian and Muslim fundamentalists want these laws restored.) In an exact parallel with the “Jeffersonian Bible,” Dharmapala, as Seneviratne explains, “expressed the need to sift ‘the pure teachings of the gentle Nazarene [read Buddha]’ from ‘later theological accretions.’”[763] In light of the recent attacks on Christians, it is certainly an irony that Dharmapala urged Sri Lankan  Christians to modernize their religion along similar lines and integrate fully within Sinhalese society.

Some of the greatest achievements of modernism have been protecting religious freedom and insulating the state from intrusions of religious factions. Religious fundamentalists around the world are committed to undermine these safeguards. The anti-conversion bills in Sri Lanka  and India have already been mentioned, but as early as 1956 the Sri Lankan  Freedom Party (SLFP) proposed a Buddhist Department to recover and to enrich the island’s Buddhist heritage. In the election of 1956 3-4,000 monks went door to door campaigning for the SLFP.   The United National Party (UNP), which was defeated, was portrayed as anti-Buddhist, just as the Democrats were branded as anti-Christian in the 2004 U.S. election. Within two years time  Sri Lanka  erupted in violence. In 1958 some Tamils attempted a Gandhian satyāgraha, but they were met with violence rather than dialogue.  In the East 10,000 Tamils were fired on by police, over 100 Tamils were killed by Sinhalese goons in the Gal Oya Valley.

As we have learned, U Nu finally made good on his promise to make Buddhism Burma’s state religion, because Buddhist conservatives had always objected to constitutional protection of freedom of religion. Well before the State Religion Act of 1961, however, the Burmese Parliament established the Buddha Sasana Council (BSC), which as we have seen, sought to promote Buddhism in all levels of Burmese life. Sixty years before the current anti-Muslim violence, U Chan Htoon, one of the principal supporters of the BSC, proposed a theory about the decline of Burmese Buddhism, which has all the traits of contemporary Islamophobia.  Whereas I have praised earlier Burmese kings for forging alliances with their Muslims citizens, U Chan Htoon saw this as a great mistake. He argued that India’s permissive attitude towards its Muslim population, allowing them, for example, to apply their own shari’ah law, had caused the Hindu majority great difficulties. (Hindu fundamentalists have made similar charges.) Smith reports that Chan Htoon drew “an analogy between 15th Century Islam and present-day communism, [and] he found both to be aggressive ideologies demanding man’s total submission and loyalty.”[764]  He insisted that only the state promotion of Buddhist self-reliance, rationalism, and anti-authorianism could win the victory over Communist totalitarianism.

In arguing for the BSC, U Nu maintained that the organization would safeguard the doctrine of the Buddha’s omniscience, and responding to socialist objections to the bill he stated that “Karl Marx’s knowledge is much smaller than one-tenth of a particle ofdust at Lord Gotama’s foot.”[765] The BSC would also train missionaries not only to consolidate the Buddhist faith in Burma, but also send them to other countries as well. At the inauguration of the BSC on August 26, 1951, Home and Religious Affairs Minister U Win stated that “Burma is one of the few strongholds of Buddhism in its purest form, and has a special responsibility to the world to foster that purity and hand it on unsullied to future generations.”[766]  He regretted the decline of Buddhism after the King Thibaw stepped down in 1885, and it was now the duty of the newly independent Burmese government to protect the faith, discipline the monks, and purify the scriptures.  Similar to private programs for evangelical work in U. S. prisons, the BSC held examinations on the Pāli scripture and Theravādin doctrine in Burmese prisons, and those who passed were rewarded with time off from their sentences.  The stage was set for an assertive Buddhist nationalism that has now expressed itself in the current anti-Muslim attacks.

Constructive Postmodernism: Integrating the Modern and Premodern
            The premodern vision of the world is one of totality, unity, and above all, purpose.  These values were celebrated in ritual and myth, the effect of which was to sacralize the cycles of seasons and the generations of animal and human procreation.  Sikh scholar Harjot Oberoi refers to the cosmos of the Sanātan Sikhs as “enchanted,”[767] and it is significant that constructive postmodern philosophers, valorizing this rich, premodern idea, call for the “reenchantment” of science. The human self is an integral part of the sacred whole, which is greater than and more valuable than its parts. And, as Mircea Eliade has shown in Cosmos and History, premodern people sought to escape the meaningless momentariness of history (Eliade called it the “terror of history”) by immersing themselves in an Eternal Now.  Myth and ritual facilitated the painful passage through personal and social crises, rationalized death and violence, and controlled the power of sexuality. One could say that contemporary humankind is left to cope with their crises with far less successful therapies or helpful institutions.

Following Descartes’ insistence on a method of reducing to simples and focusing on clear and distinct ideas, modern humans have made great strides conceptually and theoretically.  The practical application of modernism has extended the rule of science and conceptual analysis to all areas of life: personal machines of all sorts, a fully mechanized industry, and centralized bureaucratic administration. Modern philosophy generally separates the outer from the inner, the subject and the object, fact and value, the “is” and the “ought,” science and faith, politics and religion, the public from the private, and theory from practice. With regard to India specifically, European Orientialists, as Michael Hawley explains, “reflected the binaries of stagnation/progress, superstitious/rational, barbaric/civilized, child/parent, disloyal/loyal, cowardly/brave, and lazy/industrious, just to name a few.”[768]  The modern mind loves to dichotomize.

More and more, however, these modernist distinctions have been found to be, arguably, the cause of institutionalized racism (a modernist invention),[769] militarism, social disintegration, and environmental degradation.  Rather than making the elimination of all otherness the goal—achieved in either a premodern dissolution into the One or an equally amorphous dissipation in Derridean difference—I have chosen the constructive postmodernist approach promoted in the SUNY Press series “Constructive Postmodern Thought.”   

With regard to separating the inner and outer, let us look again at Mandair’s insight just above that Guru Nānak “at once refines and negates the monotheistic concept of self/God as a relationship of inside and outside.” The transcendent God of Christian orthodoxy is totally outside the world, but the relative transcendence of panentheism brings God and the world back together. Process theologians, the primary proponents of constructive postmodernism, see the relationship of God and the world as analogous to the embodied self, which transcends the body in every conscious thought but is fully immanent in it at the same time.  I do not think it would be inaccurate to say, especially as Mandair’s exposition is very similar, that this is the Sikh view as well.

Recognizing the relative success of premodern peoples to integrate otherness and reconcile differences, constructive postmodernists wish to reestablish the premodern harmony of humans, society, and God without losing the integrity of the individual, the possibility of meaning, an affirmation of history, liberal political values, and the intrinsic value of nature.  Constructive postmodernists believe that French deconstructionists are throwing out the proverbial baby with the bath water.  The latter wish to reject not only the modern worldview but any worldview whatsoever.  Constructive postmodernists want to preserve the concept of a worldview and propose to reconstruct one that avoids the liabilities of both premodernism and modernism. 

The authors of the Reenchantment of Science have argued that the modern distinction between religion and science arose because of the concept of a transcendent deity. The neo-Platonic idea of the Great Chain of Being was very prominent in the early Renaissance, and Catholic theologians countered its paganism and pantheism by emphasizing the transcendence of God.  The result was an unspoken truce between church authorities and the early scientists, an unwritten treaty in which divine and worldly realms were separated and safeguarded by each side.  The authors argue that both religion and science would have fared much better as closer allies they had agreed to share a resacralized world in which a “reenchanted” science would be more open to the paranormal and Christian theologians would reconceptualize the divine immanence in their own tradition.  The authors submit that a constructive postmodern process philosophy best serves this goal.

One significant aspect of modernist thinking is its tendency to essentialize and to universalize.  In his classic work The Meaning and End of Religion, Wilfred Cantwell Smith demonstrates that traditional faiths did not define themselves under the category of a universal term we now call “religion.” John Hick’s interlocutor “Phil” in A Christian Theology of Religions is quite correct in asserting that, under the rubric of a universal religion, modernist thinkers forced “the complex and variegated


world into a single conceptual scheme.”[770] Hick’s doctrine of the Real might very well be one of these schemes, drawing as it does on Kant, a major figures in modern philosophy. Ironically, however, Hick universalizes the Real as having no qualities, so that his view of religious pluralism assumes an ontological basis in such philosophies as the nirguṇa brahman of Advaita Vedanta, the śunyata of Madhyamaka Buddhism, and the bloss nit of Meister Eckhart. I argue that this leads to a bias against the theistic religions in which the ultimate divine reality does have qualities.[771]  The result is the Hick has universalized the essence of religion as a mystical monism that favors some Asian philosophical religions.

In the concluding essay in Deep Religious Pluralism process theologian John Cobb registers his dissatisfaction with the category “religion” and how the imposition of attributes that a worldview must have to be a religion has bedeviled theories of religious pluralism. The first problem, epitomized in the Rev. Barrows’ mention of “divine fatherhood” at 1893 World Parliament of Religions, is the tendency to religious imperialism where sincere but unmindful attempts at inclusion end up excluding.  As I have just argued, Hick’s attempt to address this by positing the Real, with direct equivalences in Hinduism and Buddhism, has not solved the problem of bias.[772] Even if the problem of bias is solved, Cobb believes that the universalizing effect of the category of religion results in a depreciation of the distinctive characteristics of each individual faith tradition.  Yet another problem that Cobb discerns is “the strong tendency, when an essence of religion is sought, to emphasize the sacred”[773] and to exclude the secular, sometimes seen as fallen, unclean, or otherwise unworthy.

One exception to Cantwell Smith’s thesis that “religion” is a modernist invention might be the concept of sanātanadharma in which the Hindu faith was assumed to contain the eternal essence of truth. With regard to this point Jeffery Long states: “If [dharma] must be identified with the term ‘religion,’ it would mean something like ‘religion as such,’ the eternal ideal or ‘Platonic form’ of religion, in which all particular instances of religion participate . . . .”[774]  Finding this essentialized dharma previous to any accepted chronology of the beginning of the modern period demonstrates once again that the term “modernism” must be defined conceptually rather than historically. Modernism has been described as a movement from mythos to logos, and this replacement of myth by logic has been going on for at least 2,500 years.  Almost simultaneously in India, China, and Greece, the strict separation of fact and value, science and religion was proposed by the Lokāyata materialists, the Greek atomists, and the Chinese Mohists.  These philosophies remained minority positions, but it is nevertheless essential to note that the seeds for modernist philosophy are very old.  The Greek Sophists stood for ethical individualism and relativism; they gave law its adversarial system and the now accepted practice that attorneys may “make the weaker argument the stronger”; they inspired Renaissance humanists to extend education to the masses as well as to the aristocracy; and they gave us a preview of a fully secular modern society. Even though maintaining teleology and the unity of fact and value, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle affirmed ethical individualism and rationalism, and Aristotle supported representative government, held by many as one of the great achievements of the modernism.

Hindu Dharma Morality as a Constructive Postmodern Virtue Ethics

If one looks closely at the actual use of the term dharma in major Hindu texts, we find something very different from a universal form of religion. In the Vanaparva of the Mahābhārata King Nahuṣa asks Yudhiṣṭhira what dharma is, and he defines it not as universal law, but as the virtues of truthfulness, generosity, forgiveness, goodness, kindness, self-control, and compassion.[775] Even though social customs stand third behind śruti and smṛti on many Hindu textual lists, it could be argued that they are actually the true source of dharma.  For example, this passage from the Mahābhārata gives priority to customs: “Dharma has its origin in good practices and the Vedas are established on dharma.”[776] Āpastamba’s Dharmasūtra begins: “And we shall explain the accepted customary laws, the authority for which rests on the acceptance by those who know the law and on the Vedas”; and “he should model his conduct after that which is unanimously approved in all regions by Āryas who have been properly trained.”[777] Paul Häcker contends that this text “is the most concrete and most precise definition of the Hindu concept of dharma that I know,” describing it as “radically empirical” and as conceivable only through experience.[778]

Some passages of The Laws of Manu define dharma as custom, not duty. The righteous king “should ordain (as law) whatever may be the usual custom of good, religious twice-born men, if it does not conflict with (the customs of) countries, families, and castes.”[779] The king was to honor local custom even though it might contravene smṛti. This analysis supports the theory that laws are indeed abstracted from customs and the practice of the virtues, and only if this axiological priority was honored could a healthy flexibility and tolerance of different customs and virtues flourish.

In my initial work on Asian virtue ethics I proposed that both Buddhist and Confucian morality could be conceived as a virtue ethics roughly similar to Aristotle and his doctrine of the mean. I was also sure that I could interpret Gandhi’s ethics of non-violence from a virtue perspective, and also argue that his highly personalized “experiments in truth” was an attempt to final a unique mean between extremes. But I was not sure, especially since Gandhi had so many non-Indian influences, if this would apply to any other aspect of the Indian tradition. When I read Bimal Krishna Matilal’s essays in Ethics and Epics, especially his proposal that “by the term dharma . . . I understand nothing short of moral virtue,” [780] I then had the key to link Gandhi to the Hindu tradition. I argued that the virtues are personal creations that are, as Aristotle maintains, “relative to us,” and I also demonstrated that deontological or utilitarian readings of the ethics of the Hindu epics are not always supported. Furthermore, I interpreted Gandhi as a constructive postmodern thinker and proposed that virtue ethics was the best option for world with multiple religions and cultures.

Moral rules are too abstract and too rigid, and it is difficult to apply them to complex situations and decisions. I argue that virtues came first, as the first human societies found, most likely unconsciously, discovered that virtuous behavior brought positive consequences and that the vices had negative results.  If this is correct, then moral imperatives and prohibitions are abstractions from this long evolution of proto-ethical experimentation.  If one objects that, as virtues vary across cultures—a few some holding, for example, that honor killings is not a vice—then there would be no way for the international community to condemn practices that a large majority may find totally unacceptable. The answer is that moral rules, even though they are abstractions, still have normative effect, and that virtue ethics, still claiming that virtues have axiological priority, could support international documents such as the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Finally, I would argue that coming to agreement about the virtues is much less difficult than codifying universal rules, which, I would submit, would have a far greater chance for conflict and even violence, not only in word but deed.

As opposed to a rule based ethics, where the most that we can know is that we always fall short of the norm, virtue ethics is truly a voyage of personal discovery. Ancient virtue ethics—Buddhist, Hindu, Confucian, and Greek—always aimed at a personal mean that is a creative choice for each individual. For Confucius yi is that which makes the appropriate application of the general rules of li; and samyak, usually translated as “right” in the Buddha’s 8-fold path, can be rendered as “right for you.”[781] (For example, “right vocation” must mean personal not general.) Virtue ethics is emulative—using the sage or savior as a model for virtue—whereas rule ethics involves conformity and obedience.The emulative approach engages the imagination and personalizes and thoroughly grounds individual moral action and responsibility. Such an ethics naturally lends itself to Matilal’s moral poets and a virtue aesthetics: the crafting of a good and beautiful soul, becoming an elegant and refined as the Confucian junzi,  a unique gem among other gems.

Overcoming the Other as other People, as Nature, and the Other within Our Selves

In his article “Hindus, Muslims, and the Other in 18th Century India,” Stuart Gordon begins his analysis with a survey of types of otherness, or as he terms it, “alterity.”  The first is the premodern view of those people, the Greeks called them barbarians (barbaroi), who lived beyond the boundaries of civilization, defined in singular terms by the people drawing the borders. The Greeks made this definition explicit in the phrase pas mē hellēn barbaros: “whoever is not a Greek is a barbarian.” The Romans continued to make the division—especially with regard the invading northern tribes—but also occasionally and ironically against the Greeks from which they drew their culture. 

The Sanskrit word barbara comes from the same Indo-European root as barbaros and has the same meaning as the Greek. The most frequent Sanskrit word to describe foreigners, however, was mleccha, which included all non-Indic peoples, which is defined as “a foreigner, barbarian, non-Aryan, man of an outcaste race, any person who does not speak Sanskrit and does not conform to the usual Hindu institutions.”[782] Ironically, Alexander and his troops, whose remaining artisans profoundly influenced Gandhāra art and culture, were called mlecchas. In the Arthaśāstra and Hindu epics mleccha were not completely beyond the pale: their courage and skill in battle made them acceptable and presumably trustworthy as mercenary forces and most effective as assassins. Buddhist texts state that there is a mleccha dharma, which makes perfect general sense as empirically based customs discussed just above.  Less charitable, however, is the view of the mleccha in the Kālachakra Tantra, where, as we have seen, Buddhists will join Hindus (only if they give up caste distinctions) for a final battle against this invading force of “unbelievers.” Significantly enough, even this text acknowledges the dharma of the mlecchas.[783]

While mostly described as uncouth and dangerous, these foreigners as travelers were quite often treated with kindness and an abundance of hospitality. Gordon gives an example: “The Odyssey illustrates that one’s reaction to the Other need not be fear and hostility; Ulysses survived by the kindness of strangers, and the story can be read as a common humanity beneath the strangeness of the Other.”[784] Ancient Middle Eastern hospitality to strangers continues to this day. When three strangers visited Abraham while camped at the great trees of Mamre, he offered them fresh bread and a roast from his choicest calf (Gen. 18). When the strangers go on to Sodom and are raped by the men of the city, it is clear from later commentary (even the words of Jesus) that the sin of “sodomy” is not unnatural sex but treating strangers with brutal disrespect.[785]

In the Statesman Plato sets in dialogue the “Young Socrates” with a “Visitor” from the Greek colony of Elea. This person is therefore not a barbarian, and the consensus view is that the Visitor is Plato presenting his own philosophy. In what was obviously a reversal of historical roles (if Plato is the Visitor), the Visitor instructs the young, inexperienced Socrates in philosophical analysis, and he demonstrates to him that dividing Greeks from the rest of humankind makes no logical sense. The division between barbarians and Greeks leaves the first term as empty of meaning as all there rest of the numbers when the number 10,000 is separated from them (262de). The Classical Confucians go beyond Plato to draw moral conclusions from the lives of barbarians. When his disciples warned him about his plan to of settle among the barbarians, Confucius replied that a junzi (best translated as the “perfected person”) would easily correct their lack of refinement.[786] The implication is that Chinese culture is still superior, but, significantly, it also means that the barbarians are educable. The great irony of course is that the three Sage Kings, whom all Confucians admired, were all barbarians. Although they were first greeted with deep suspicion (especially the monks with no families) by the Chinese, “barbarian” Buddhists proved Confucius’ point as they were gradually integrated with Chinese culture. To repeat for emphasis the point just made above, the otherness of mleccha is mediated by fact they have customs (in the general sense of dharma) that a Buddhist or Hindu king would have to respect. The converse also holds true: the Tamil kings of Sri Lanka  were mleccha, and although they worshipped Śiva in private, they were entrusted with the preservation of Buddhist religion and culture. Therefore, there are precedents in ancient literature and practice of rulers and scholars having overcome the generally harmful premodern distinction between them and the Other.

The subtly playful Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi uses visions of the monstrous and the strange to break the idols of ordinary culture and language. For him the ritual-bound Confucian next door is far stranger than people in a distant land. The Aryan and Chinese agriculturalists feared the wild men and animals of the forests, but the Daoists praised the mountain sages, who, just as the Buddhist siddhis and Hindu sādhus, were immune from animal attacks. They also ate nuts, berries, and roots and shunned the five grains of the plains. Zhuangzi also demonstrates that one of the worst sins of assimilating strangers is to remake them in our image. Zhuangzi tells the story of Shu of the South Sea (symbolizing yin), Hu of the North Sea (representing yang), and Hundun of the Center.  Shu and Hu met Hundun in the Center and their host treated them very graciously. Wanting to repay Hundun for his hospitality and noticing that Hundun did not have the seven human orifices, Shu and Hu proceeded to create an opening for Hundun on each successive day. Their kindness was terribly ill conceived and Hundun died on the seventh day.[787]  Max Kaltenmark captures the Daoist moral of this story: “An untimely zeal [of Hu and Shu] would wish to make it [Hundun] like everybody else, and initiate it into civilized life by giving it the sense organs that destroy its unity.  The myth is a perfect symbol of the Founding Kings’ original sin.”[788] The traditional designations of Chinese barbarians were northern, western, and southern, so it is certainly conceivable that Zhuangzi shifts civilized “heavenly kingdoms” from the center to the periphery. 

Gordon’s second concept of the Other moves from those beyond our boundaries to those who live among as the Other. As he states: “Even though they move amongst us, as Other they are alien, foreign, and ‘not-us.’”[789] We have already learned from Gordon and Wagoner of how precolonial Indians and Śri Laṅkāns, until the forces of modernism and reverse Orientalism in the 19th Century were simply too strong, were able reconcile the aliens among them, and avoid the wide-spread violence and persecution that erupted in Medieval and Reformation Europe where there were no mediating institutions. Gordon gives more specific examples such as Shakespeare’s Shylock asking “if you cut us, do we not bleed,” and I offer Othello the Moor.  Just as Shakespeare is reaching across the Christian/Jewish divide, so is he also, with subtle reversals, in his portrayal of Othello. As English society was creating a new dark Other with black slaves in their midst—in the ancient world slaves could be from all races—Shakespeare portrays the white Iago as the one having the black heart, and the good Othello fails, not because of his religion or his color, but because of the universal human vice of jealousy.[790]

I have always marveled at the way India has integrated those on the extreme margins of society. I am thinking specifically of the hijras, or “eunuchs” as the British called them and Indians still do in their Indian English. They have never been in the “closet” as gays and lesbians have been in Euro-America. They have a public place and role in Indian society, albeit the lowest of the low. Traditionally they were hired to sing and dance at birth ceremonies and at weddings.  In many instances the chief hijra is the one who first holds the new born infant, ritually taking on  its karma, primarily because there is no one lower among the Dalits than the hijras. The chief hijra also examines the infant’s genitals and has the right to take it if it is of indeterminate sex and raise it in the hijra family. Not surprisingly, what might be called the positive forces of modernism have inspired all Dalits, including the hijras, to rebel against the traditional divisions and roles in Indian society. At a wedding in New Delhi in 1999 I witnessed, and stood with dropped jaw, as three hijras, refusing to dance and sing, instead extorted dozens of one hundred rupee notes from the fathers of the bride and groom just in front of me.  When the one hundred rupee notes stopped coming, one of the hijras would start undressing.

Gordon presents one last category of alterity: the Other within our own selves.  Unlike the Democritean atom, which is indivisible, the modernist social atom must split because relationality is the essence of human interaction. (The atom of contemporary physics also splits into many relational parts.) Gordon gives the example of the pre-modern idea of spirit possession and the more modernist concept of the dual self of Freud’s Ego/Superego versus the Id. I want to expand on Gordon’s mention of Herman Hesse’s novel Steppenwolf, a book that I discussed for many years in my existentialism classes. At the beginning of the novel the protagonist Harry Haller is trapped in a dualistic wolf-man (id-ego) persona, which is gradually replaced with an “onion” self, a thousand layered self that Hesse drew either from Asian or Nietzschean sources (or both). Hesse’s wild immortals, very much like the antinomian Daoist immortals, symbolize the free self-transformation that is possible if one embraces this idea of a multi-faceted soul. Harry encounters Goethe in a dream and he initially chides him for taking himself so seriously and betraying the spirit of Romanticism. Harry contrasts Goethe to Mozart, who “did not make pretensions in his own life to the enduring and the orderly and to exalted dignity as you did. He did not think himself so important! He sang his divine melodies and died [young].”[791] (The movie Amadeus portrays Mozart exactly in this way.) It is significant to note that Nietzsche  believed that Goethe was the Übermensch of the 18th Century.[792] Presumably following Nietzsche’s lead, Hesse portrays Goethe’s response as a veritable act of Daoist self-transformation: he changes into Mozart, then to Schubert, and the once stiff old figure begins to dance. Hesse’s immortals also have a laughter that is, as shepherd’s “no human laughter” in Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra,[793] but a cosmic laughter that flows naturally from a recognition of the fluidity and absurdity of the universe. Harry also learns how to dance, and his teacher is a lovely creature of indeterminate sex (Hermine/Herman) who compels him to follow both the bliss and the chaos of his thousand selves.

Harry’s Haller’s own transformation follows Nietzsche “Three Metamorphoses” of camel (Harry’s bourgeois self), lion (Harry’s wolf self), and child (Harry as Übermensch, overcoming both bourgeois and wolf selves).[794] (Far too many readers take the lion as the “superman.”) Graham Parkes’ interprets Three Metamorphoses asrepresenting immersion, detachment, and reintegration. From the standpoint of constructive postmodernism, the camel stage symbolizes the premodern self immersed in its society; the modern lion as protesting the oppressive elements of premodernism but offering nothing constructive or meaningful in return; and the child as representing the reintegrative task of constructive postmodernism.  As Parkes explains: “The third stage involves a reappropriation of the appropriate elements of the tradition that has been rejected. . . . The creativity symbolized by the child does not issue in a creation ex nihilo, but rather in a reconstruction or reconstrual of selected elements from the tradition into something uniquely original.”[795] It is essential to note that this progression does not take place in history, but in personal lives and in the thoughts of pivotal thinkers. It must also be stressed that Nietzsche is often taken to be the 19th Century’s leading prophet of deconstructive postmodernism.  Elsewhere, I have argued that he can most profitably be viewed as constructive postmodern thinker.[796] Furthermore, I have demonstrated that the Buddha, Confucius, and the Daoists (especially Zhuangzi), each a proponent of weak belief, can be interpreted as constructive postmodern.[797]

We have seen that the modernist atomistic self is suspicious of and sometimes violent towards others and tends to alienate itself from itself.  This creation of external and internal alterity, I have argued, is the source of many social problems, including religiously motivated violence. The subtle modeling of the self as a social atom went hand in hand with viewing the cosmos as a machine. The cosmos is simply the sum total of its many inert and externally related parts, just as modern society is simply the sum total of social atoms contingently related to other social atoms. Rejecting an ancient premodern tradition of universal ensoulment in all things, Descartes limits the soul, externally related to the body, exclusively to human beings and believes that animals are simply physical machines. It is no wonder then that nature itself has been stripped of any intrinsic value and is subject to exploitation by modern humans with ever more powerful machines. This is Nietzsche’s dysfunctional lion stage, and he describes the reenchantment of nature that occurs in the third and final stage: “we [will] begin to naturalize humanity in terms of a pure, newly discovered, newly redeemed nature.”[798]

Direct empirical investigation of the self should never have produced the idea of an autonomous self; indeed, experience shows that the self, embedded as it is in a body and social relations, is anything but self-contained, self-sufficient, and completely self-directing.  Therefore, the autonomous self must have been a theoretical invention. Rather than the model being scientific atomism, Mark Taylor proposes that the idea of the autonomous self is basically a theological conception.[799] Catherine Keller agrees with Taylor in her succinct observation that “the atomic ego is created in the image of the separate God.”[800] In Western ­philosophy and theology the ideal self is modeled on the concept of God as a self-contained, self-sufficient being of pure thought.

Rather than a deconstruction of the self, I propose that what Buber and other 20th Century philosophers have done is a constructive postmodern revival of a relational, social self.  (The adjectives are not redundant because the Daoist sage’s self is relational but anti-social.) When Mandair states that Guru Nānak “at once refines and negates the monotheistic concept of self/God as a relationship of inside and outside,”[801] I would reverse the order of this process by negating the self-contained God first and then reconstructing (=refining) a concept of deity that does justice to our experience, just as the Sikhs Gurus did in their own time.  (Just as the isolated modernist self is an abstraction, so is a radically transcendent deity; and I include in this category the isolated puruṣas of the Sāṃkya-Yoga tradition.) In other words, instead of the “death of God” of Mark Taylor’s theology of Derridean deconstruction, one should instead think of a constructive postmodern retrieval of the sacred.  Just as the relational self replaces the deconstructed autonomous self, the Gurus’ God—aptly reconstructed by Mandair himself—replaces the self-contained isolated deity of Christian orthodoxy.

[1]Himmatbahadur Virdavali,2-8 (selections from vv. 3-50), quoted in William R. Pinch, “Subaltern Sadhus? Political Ascetics in Indian Myth, Memory, and History,” paper presented at The Peasant Symposium, May, 1997, accessed at papers/sadhus.html on November 23, 2013. Cited with MS pagination.

[2]Thomas Laird, The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama (New York: Grove Press, 2006), 184-85.

[3]Robert H. Taylor, “Pathways to the Present” in Myanmar: Beyond Politics to Societal Imperatives, eds., Kyaw Yin Hlaing, Robert H. Taylor, and Tin Maung Maung Than (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2005), 7.

[4]The New Testament: Revised Standard Version [RSV] (New York: Bantam Books, 1962), John 20:29. Hereafter cited chapter and verse RSV, unless otherwise indicated.

[5]John 20:29 (RSV).

[6]Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Benzinger Brothers, 2nd and revised ed., 1920), 2. 2. question 4, article 1.

[7]Quoted in J. Head and S. L. Cranston, eds., Reincarnation: The Phoenix Fire Mystery (New York: Julian Crown Publishers, 1977), 69. 

[8]Pinch, “Subaltern Sadhus? Political Ascetics in Indian Myth, Memory, and History,”11.


[10]Alexander Horstmann, “Transformation of Buddhist-Muslim Coexistence in

Southern Thailand” accessed at Thai/resource/Transformation.pdf  on November 30, 2013.




[14]“Thailand Grapples with Deadly Tensions between Muslms, Buddhists,” The PBS News Hour (February 21, 2012).

[15]“Fears of New Religious Strife,” The Economist (July 27, 2013).

[16]See Millard C. Lind, Yahweh is a Warrior: The Theology of Warfare in Ancient Isreal (Scotsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1980); and Tremper Longman and Daniel G. Reid, God is a Warrior (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995).

[17]Matthew T. Kapstein, The Tibetans (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), 113.

[18]M. K. Gandhi, The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (New Delhi: Government of India Publications, 1959), vol. 35, 462.

[19]From Vivekananda’s final address at the 1983 World Parliament of Religions found in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda at vol_1_frame.htm, accessed on November 30, 2013.

[20]Quoted in M. M. Agrawal, ed., Ethnicity, Culture, and Nationalism in North-East India (New Delhi: Indus Publishing Co., 1996), 92.

[21]Bikhu Parekh, “Making Sense of Gujarat” in The Gujarat Carnage, ed. Asgharali Engineer (New Delhi: Longmans Orient, 2003), 169.

[22]Threatened Existence, A Feminist Analysis of the Genocide in Gujarat Report by the International Initiative for Justice (December 2003), PDF file, 2. Accessed at on July 18, 2013.

[23]Tin Aung Kyaw, “Buddhist Monk Wirathu Leads Violent National Campaign against Myanmar’s Muslims,” (June 21, 2013), accessed at on January 16, 2014.

[24]Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence, at, accessed on September 30, 2013.

[25]Maung Zarni, “Myanmar’s Extremist Buddhists Get Free Rein,” The Nation (Thailand) (April 10, 2013), accessed at on January 16, 2014

[26]John Ardussi, “Formation of the State of Bhutan (’Brug gzhung) in the 17th Century and its Tibetan Antecedents” Journal of Bhutan Studies 11 (Winter, 2004): 11-12. PDF file at

[27]See Haydar Mirzā, The Tarikh-i-Rashidi of Mirza Muhammad Haidar, trans. E. Denison Ross (London: SampsonLow, Marston & Co., 1895), 418.

[28]Quoted in Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi,Modern Japanese Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 126.

[29]Christopher Ives, “The Mobilization of Doctrine: Buddhist Contributions to Imperial Ideology in Modern Japan,” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 26:1-2 (1999), 86.

[30]See N. F. Gier, “The Color of Sin/The Color of Skin: Ancient Color Blindness and the Philosophical Origins of Modern Racism,” Journal of Religious Thought 46:1 (Summer-Fall, 1989): 42-52.  One could counter that the Indian caste system is evidence against my thesis, but this system was racist only in its original form.  As intermarriage between Aryan and non-Aryan did eventually occur on a wide scale, an Aryan apartheid never developed and the caste system became a source of social, not racial, discrimination.

[31]Hermann Kulke, Kings and Cults: State Formation and Legitimation in India and Southeast Asia (New Delhi: Manohar, 2001), 33.

[32]Surajit Sinha, “Vaishnava Influence on Tribal Culture” in Milton Singer, ed., Krishna, Myth, Rites, and Attitudes (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968), 72.  

[33]Stewart Gordon, “Hindus, Muslims, and the Other in Eighteenth-century India,” International Journal of Hindu Studies 3:3 (December 1999): 221.

[34]Jack Weatherford, Chinggis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2004), 252.

[35]From Timur’s autobiography cited in The Delhi Sultanate, ed. R. C. Majumdar (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1967), 119.

[36]Weatherford, Chinggis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, 135.


[38]Ibid., 183.

[39]S. M. Ikram, Muslim Civilization in India (New York: Columbia University Press, 1964), 124.

[40]Stanley J. Tambiah, Buddhism Betrayed? Religion, Politics, and Violence in Sri Lanka (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 173. 

[41]Kulke, Kings and Cults, 258.

[42]Ibid, 4.

[43]Sinha, “Vaishnava Influence on Tribal Culture,” 72.

[44]Kulke, Kings and Cults, 136.

[45]Gordon, “Hindus, Muslims, and the Other in Eighteenth-century India,” 224.


[47]Kulke, Kings and Cults, 13.

[48]See Ibid., 118.

[49]Sam Harris, The End of Faith (New York: W. W. Norton, 2005), 26-28.

[50]See N. F. Gier, “The Yogi and the Goddess,” International Journal of Hindu Studies 1:2 (June, 1997): 265-87. Reprinted as chapter six in Gier, Spiritual Titanism: Indian, Chinese, and Western Perspectives (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2000).

[51]Kulke, Kings and Cults, 16.

[52]Ibid., 119. 

[53]See Sir Jadunath Sarkar, Shivaji and His Times (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 2nd revised edition, 1920), 367.

[54]M. Mujeeb, The Indian Muslims (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1967), 58. 

[55]H. M. Elliot and John Dowson, The History of India as Told by Its Own Historians (London, 1867-1877), vol. 1, 203.

[56]Cited in ibid., 185-86.

[57]See Kulke, Kings and Cults, 17.

[58]Ibid., 34-35.

[59]Richard M. Eaton, “Temple Desecration and Indo-Muslim States,”Frontline 17:26 (December 23, 2000), accessed at on January 16, 2014.

[60]Kulke, Kings and Cults, 33.

[61]Order to Abu’l-Hasan in Varanasi in 1659, found in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (1911), 689-90; quoted in Richard M. Eaton, Temple Desecration and Muslim States in Medieval India (New Delhi: Hope India Publications, 2004), chap. 5, note 9. No pagination given in GoogleBooks version.

[62]Ibid., chap. 6.

[63]Eaton, “Temple Desecration and Indo-Muslim States.”

[64]Phillip B. Wagoner, “Sultan among Hindu Kings: Dress, Titles, and the Islamicization of
Hindu Culture at Vijayanagara,” The Journal of Asian Studies 55:4 (November 1996): 873fn.

[65]Quoted in ibid., 861.

[66]Ibid., 863. Wagoner’s transliteration from the Kannada language is changed to Sanskrit to avoid confusion.

[67]Ibid., 875.

[68]Phillip B. Wagoner, “Fortuitous Convergences and Essential Ambiguities: Transcultural Political Elites in the Medieval Deccan,” International Journal of Hindu Studies 3:3 (December 1999): 246.


[70]Gordon, “Hindus, Muslims, and the Other in Eighteenth-century India, 225.

[71]Ibid., 228.

[72]Ibid., 233.

[73]Francois Bernier, Travels in the Mogul Empire, A.D. 1656-1668, ed. Archibald Constable and trans. Irving Brock (Edinburgh: T. and T. Constable, 1891), 188.

[74]Cited in R. D. Palsokar, Shivaji: the Great Guerrilla (Dehra Dun: Natraj Publishers, 2003), 52.

[75]Ibid., 75.

[76]See Sarkar, Shivaji and His Times, 424.

[77]Ibid., 78.

[78]Ibid., 81.

[79]Ibid., 364.

[80]Ibid., 378. 

[81]Mujeeb, The Indian Muslims,16. All these examples of religious syncretism are taken from Mujeeb.

[82]Agehananda Bharati, The Tantric Tradition (New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1970), 186.

[83]Annemarie Schimmel, The Empire of the Great Mughals: History, Art and Culture (London: Reaktion Books, 2004), 130.

[84]Louis Massignon, “An Experiment in Hindu-Muslim Unity: Dara Shikoh” in On Becoming an Indian Muslim: French Essays on Aspects of Syncretism, trans. and ed. M. Waseem (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003), 96.

[85]Ibid., 114.

[86]Quoted in Yoginder Sikand, “The Tauhidic basis for inter-community peace and justice: Lessons from Dara Shikoh (April 19, 2010), posted at, accessed on September 22, 2013.

[87]Massignon, 99.

[88]Ibid., 100.

[89]Ibid., 102.

[90]Quoted R. P. Sharma, “Indian Nationalism: A Layman’s View” in Ethnicity, Culture, and Nationalism in North-East India, 92.

[91]M. S. Golwalkar, We or Our Nationhood Defined (Nagpur: Bharat Prakashan, 4th ed., 1984). 55-56.  

[92]Quoted in Threatened Existence, 2.

[93]K. N. Panikkar, “The Agony of Gujarat” in The Gujarat Carnage, 93, 98.

[94]Quoted in Sharma, “Indian Nationalism: A Layman’s View,” 92.

[95]Bankim Chandra Chatterji,Anandamath, trans. and adapted by B. K. Roy (New Delhi: Orient Paperbacks, 2006), 41-42.

[96]Ibid., 53.

[97]Pinch, “Subaltern Sadhus? Political Ascetics in Indian Myth, Memory, and History,” 2

[98]A Google text of “Bal Gangadhar Tilak, His Writings, and Speeches” Found on page 37 of the copied text in Georgia font in single-spaces.

[99]Golwalkar, We or Our Nationhood Defined, 29.

[100]Ibid., 28.

[101]Ibid., 40.

[102]Ibid., 39.

[103]Ibid., 40.

[104]Ibid., 55-56.  

[105]Ibid., 43.

[106]Koenraad Elst, “Was Guru Golwalkar a Nazi?” at, accessed on August 27, 2013.

[107]Eleanor Nesbitt, Sikhism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 122.

[108]Dasam Granth at, 51; accessed on January 16, 2014.

[109]Bikhu Parekh, “Making Sense of Gujarat” in The Gujarat Carnage, 169.

[110]Threatened Existence, 2.

[111]K. S. Subramanian, “Truth Behind the Fire in Sabarmati Express,” Mainstream Weekly (April 9, 2011), posted at, accessed on November 18, 2013.

[112]Ibid., 5.

[113]Parekh, “Making Sense of Gujarat,”170.

[114]Threatened Existence, 5.

[115]Lalitha Panicker, “Saffron Sisterhood: An Illusory Promise of Power” in The Gujarat Carnage, 105.

[116]Quoted in Martha Nussbaum, The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India’s Future (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), 50. 

[117]Nirmala Carvalho, “Ayodhya No Justification for Evil Actions of Hindu Fundamentalists,” Asian News (September 30, 2010), accessed at on November 18, 2013.


[119]“Advani Says He Learnt Meaning of Secularism from Golwalkar,” The Times of India (August 17, 2008).

[120]Dharmapala, Return to Righteousness: A Collection of Speeches, Essays and Letters of the Anagarika Dharmapala, ed., Ananda Guruge (Colombo: Government Press, 1965), 489.

[121]Peter Schalk, “Relativising Sinhalatva and Semantic Transformations of the Dhammadipa,” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 10 (2003): 124.

[122]Cited in H. L. Seneviratne, The Work of Kings: The New Buddhism in Sri Lanka (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), vii.

[123]“Muslims React Strongly Against Buddhist Mob Attack on Mosque in Colomo,” (August 11, 2013), accessed at on January 14, 2014.


[125]“Buddhist Monks Destroy Church in Sri Lanka, Attack Pastor,” Christian Post (July 24, 2008), accessed at

[126]Barbara O’Brien, “Buddhists v. Christians in Sri Lanka,” May 30, 2008, at accessed on August 29, 2013.

[127]Seneviratne, The Work of Kings, 105.

[128]Quoted in ibid., 274, 272.  I have replaced “scaffold” with “scabbard” in the first line.

[129]See Gananath Obeyesekere, The Cult of the Goddess Pattini (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984).

[130]Schalk, “Relativising Sinhalatva and Semantic Transformations of the Dhammadipa,” 114-31.  Dhammadipa means “island of the dhamma”  and the word is used only once in the Mahāvamsa (1.84), but here it means something like Sri Lanka will become the “light” of dhamma, which is connected with an earlier reference (1.20) where the Buddha proclaimed that on this island the śāsana (Buddhist teachings) would shine.

[131]Bhikkhu Dhammavihari (Jotiya Dhirasekera), “Recording, Translating and Interpreting Sri Lankan Chronicle Data,” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 10 (2003), 13, 17.

[132]Robert Bellah, “Religious Evolution” in W. A. Lessa and E. Z. Vogt, eds., Reader in Comparative Religion (New York: Harper & Row, 2nd ed., 1965),  82. My premodern category includes Bellah’s “primitive” and “archaic,” and I include his “historic,” “early modern,” and “modern” in my “modern” category.

[133]See Gier, Spiritual Titanism: Indian, Chinese, and Western Perspectives, chap. 2.

[134]V. Perniola, The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka: The Dutch Period (Dehiwala: Tisara Prakasakayo, 1983), xxiv; cited inJohn D. Rogers, “Post-Orientalism and the Interpretation of Premodern and Modern Political Identities: The Case of Sri Lanka,” The Journal of Asian Studies 53:1 (February, 1994): 14.

[135]See Athureliye Rathana, “Buddhist Analysis of the Ethnic Conflict,” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 10(2003): 96-100.

[136]D. Amarasiri Weeraratne, “Devolution Package and the Maha Sangha,” The Observer (March 17, 1996), reprinted in The Work of Kings, 331-32.

[137]The Mahāvamsa: The Great Chronicle of Lanka from the 6th Century BC to 4th Century AD, trans. Wilhelm Geiger.  Internet translation found at     and downloaded as a Microsoft Word file and pagination in New Times Roman, 27. Accessed on January 14, 2014.

[138]Gananath Obeyesekere, “Buddhism, Ethnicity, and Identity: A Problem of Buddhist History,” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 10 (2003): 46.

[139]Dhammavihari, “Recording, Translating and Interpreting Sri Lankan Chronicle Data,” 10.

[140]Obeyesekere, “Buddhism, Ethnicity, and Identity: A Problem of Buddhist History,” 54.

[141]Dhammavihari, “Recording, Translating and Interpreting Sri Lankan Chronicle Data,” 21.

[142]The Mahāvamsa, chapter 6, 27-28.

[143]Obeyesekere, “Buddhism, Ethnicity, and Identity: A Problem of Buddhist History,” 61, endnote 10.

[144]Ibid., 47.

[145]Ibid., 48.

[146]See Obeyesekere, “Buddhism, Ethnicity, and Identity: A Problem of Buddhist History,” 18.

[147]Walpola Rahula, The History of Buddhism in Ceylon: The Anuradhapura period, 3d century BC-10th century AD (Columbo: M. D. Gunasena & Co., 1966), 79.

[148]Tambiah, Buddhism Betrayed, 144-45.

[149]See Obeyesekere, The Cult of the Goddess Pattini.  Seneviratne praises Obeyesekere’s work “as particularly timely today when the extremists of both the Sinhala and Tamil ethnic groups are trying to separate the two groups.  The Pattini rituals constitute one more demonstration of the cultural affinity between the Sinhala and Tamil peoples and of their synthesizing genius as opposed to the separating frenzies of demagogues of both groups” (The Work of Kings, 334fn.).

[150]R. A. L. H. Gunawardena, “The People of the Lion,” quoted in Tambiah, 168.

[151]John C. Holt, The Religious World of Kīrti Śri: Buddhism, Art, and Politics in Late Medieval Sri Lanka(New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), vi.

[152]Ibid., 41, 46.

[153]Obeyesekere, “Buddhism, Ethnicity, and Identity,” 48.

[154]Ibid., 57.

[155]Tambiah, Buddhism Betrayed, 150.

[156]Obeyesekere, “Buddhism, Ethnicity, and Identity,” 49.

[157]Tambiah, Buddhism Betrayed,175. In a National Public Radio report (May, 2005) about failed attempts by the Vietnamese government to stop the spread of bird flu, a commentator cited an ancient saying: “The rule of the king stops at the village gate.”

[158]See Seneviratne, The Work of Kings, seventh plate between p 188-189.

[159]Ibid., 29; name changing reference on page 27.

[160]Dharmapala, Return to Righteousness, 512.

[161]Dharmapala, “The Unknown Co-founders of Buddhism,”The Maha Bodhi 36 (1928), 70; cited in Schalk, “Relativising Sinhalatva and Semantic Transformations of The Dhammadipa,” 123.

[162]Mahinda Palihawadana, “Theravada Perspective[s] on Causation and Resolution of Conflicts,” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 10 (2003), 69.

[163]Dharmapala, Return to Righteousness, 489.

[164]Schalk, “Relativising Sinhalatva and Semantic Transformations of the Dhammadipa,” 124.

[165]Dharmapala, History of Ancient Civilization, excerpted in Return to Righteousness, 658-59.

[166]Seneviratne, The Work of Kings, 137fn.

[167]Ibid., 71.

[168]Ibid., 106fn.

[169]Ibid., 104.

[170]Ibid., 87.

[171]Ibid., 140.

[172]Ibid., 131.

[173]Cited in Rathana, 96.


[175]Robert H. Taylor, “Pathways to the Present” in Myanmar: Beyond Politics to Societal Imperatives, eds., Kyaw Yin Hlaing, Robert H. Taylor, and Tin Maung Maung Than (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2005), 7.

[176]Thant Myint-U, The Rivers of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2006), 210.

[177]Quoted in Daniel Schearf, “HRW Accuses Burma of Ethnic Cleansing,” Voice of America at, accessed on September 29, 2013. 

[178]Tin Aung Kyaw, “Buddhist Monk Wirathu Leads Violent National Campaign against Myanmar’s Muslims,” (June 21, 2013); Thomas Fuller, “Extremism Rises Among Myanmar Buddhists,” The New York Times (June 20, 2013).

[179]Fiona MacGregor, “Buddhist Bin Laden or a Man of Peace? Monk leads anti-Muslim Campaign in Myanmar,” accessed at on January 16, 2014.

[180]Tin Aung Kyaw, “Buddhist Monk Wirathu Leads Violent National Campaign against Myanmar’s Muslims.”

[181]Thomas Fuller, “Extremism Rises Among Myanmar Buddhists.”


[183]Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence, at, accessed on September 30, 2013.

[184]Maung Zarni, “Myanmar’s Extremist Buddhists Get Free Rein,” The Nation (Thailand) (April 10, 2013).

[185]Kate Linthicum, “Myanmar Violence between Buddhists, Muslims threatens Reforms,” The Los Angeles Times (October 27, 2013).

[186]Thomas Fuller, “Extremism Rises Among Myanmar Buddhists,” The New York Times (June 20, 2013).

[187]Kate Linthicum, “Myanmar Violence between Buddhists, Muslims threatens Reforms.”

[188]Myint-U, The River of Lost Footsteps, 44.

[189]Quoted in ibid., 52.

[190]Michael Aung-Thwin, Pagan: The Origins of Modern Burma (Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, 1985), 37.

[191]Willam J. Koenig, The Burmese Polity, 1752-1819: Politics, Administration and Social Organization in the Early Kon-baung Period, Michigan Papers South and Southeast Asia, Number 34 (MI, University of Michigan, 1990), 44-45.

[192]Aung-Thwin, Pagan: The Origins of Modern Burma, 24.

[193]Ibid., 34.

[194]Ibid., 57.


[196]Ibid., 31.

[197]Taylor, “Pathways to the Present,” 7.

[198]Aung-Thwin, Pagan: The Origins of Modern Burma, 73-74.

[199]Aung San Suu Kyi, Freedom from Fear and Other Writings, ed. Michael Aris (London: Penguin Books, 1991), 63.

[200]Myint-U, The River of Lost Footsteps, 88.

[201]Roger Bischoff, Buddhism in Myanmar—A Short History (Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society, 1995), 110-118.

[202]Quoted in Myint-U, The River of Lost Footsteps, 126.

[203]Quoted in ibid., 101.


[205]Ibid., 210.

[206]Ibid., 102.

[207]Ibid., 211.

[208]Antony Copley, “Burmese Days: Past and Present,” Gandhi Marg 34:4 (January-March, 2013): 467.

[209]Myint-U, The River of Lost Footsteps, 108.

[210]Quoted in “The Dark Side of Transition: Violence Against Muslims in Myanmar” Asia Report 251(October, 2013):2.  Published by the International Crisis Group at, accessed on December 14, 2013.

[211]Michael W. Charney, A History of Modern Burma (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 23.

[212]Myint-U, The River of Lost Footsteps, 197.

[213]Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan, “Burma: Civil Resistance in the Anticolonial Struggle, 1900-1940,” Gandhi Marg 34:4 (January-March, 2013): 383.

[214]Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence, at, accessed on September 30, 2013.


[216]Quoted in Myint-U, The River of Lost Footsteps, 229.

[217]Ibid., 233.

[218]The Karen People: Culture, Faith and History at Karen_people_ booklet.pdf, 10, accessed on December 14, 2013.

[219]Martin Smith, Burma: Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity (London: Zed Books, 1991),

[220]U. S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, 2013 Report at images/2013%20USCIRF%20Annual%20Report%20(2).pdf, accessed on December 14, 2013.

[221]Myint-U, The River of Lost Footsteps, 269.  

[222]Hugh Tinker, The Union of Burma: A Study of the First Years of Independence (London: Oxford University Press, 1961), 177; quoted in Donald E. Smith, Religion and Politics in Burma (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1965), 143.

[223]Smith, Religion and Politics in Burma, 142.

[224]Quoted in ibid., 147.

[225]Ibid., 205-6.

[226]Aung-Thwin, “Of Monarchs, Monks, and Men: Religion and the State in Myanmar,” Asia Research Institute (December, 2009): 14, at, accessed on December 15, 2013.


[228]Charney, A History of Modern Burma, 89.

[229]Ibid., 103.

[230]Ibid., 104.

[231]Myint-U, The River of Lost Footsteps,290, 291.

[232]Myin-U, The Making of Modern Burma, 149.

[233]Jon Wiant, “Tradition in the Service of Revolution: the Political Symbolism of the Taw-hlan-ye-khit” in F. K. Lehman , ed., Military Ryule in Burma since 1962: Kaleidoscope of Views (Singapore: Maruzen Asia, 1991): 63; quoted in Charney, 116. 

[234]Charney, A History of Modern Burma,119.


[236]Ibid., 140.

[237]Ibid., 117.

[238]Michael Fredholm, Burma: Ethnicity and Insurgency (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1993), 178.

[239]Ibid., 180.

[240]Ibid., 121.

[241]Rianne ten Veen, “Myanmar’s Muslims: The Oppressed of the Oppressed” (London: Islamic Human Rights Commission, 2005), 9, at, accessed on December 14, 2013.

[242]Myint-U, The River of Lost Footsteps, 33.

[243]Ibid., 34.

[244]Ibid., 35.

[245]Copley, “Burmese Days: Past and Present,” 467.

[246]Aung San Suu Kyi, Letters from Burma, ed. Fergal Keane (London: Penguin Books, 1997), ix.

[247]Aung San Suu Kyi, Freedom from Fear, 171.

[248]Ibid., 183.

[249]Alan Clements, ed., Voices of Hope: Aung San Suu Kyi: Conversations with Alan Clements (New York Seven Stories Press, 1997), 155.

[250]Ibid., 152.

[251]Copley, “Burmese Days: Past and Present,” 465.

[252]Ibid., 149-150.

[253]Ibid., 149.

[254]Suu Kyi,Letters from Burma, 160.

[255]Copley, “Burmese Days: Past and Present,” 465.

[256]Quoted in Suu Kyi, Letters from Burma, 161.

[257]“Crackdown: Repression of the 2007 Popular Protests in Burma,” Human Rights Watch Report 19:18c (December, 2007), 29 pdf; accessed at on December 21, 2013.

[258]Ibid., 32.

[259]Aung-Thwin, “Of Monarchs, Monks, and Men: Religion and the State in Myanmar,” 20.



[262]Ibid., 21.

[263]Quoted in Copley, 465.

[264]Suu Kyi and Clements, Voices of Hope, 195.

[265]Ibid., 196.

[266]William Lloyd-Georg, “Suu Kyi & the Contradictions of State,” The Diplomat (June 30, 2012), at, accessed on December 26, 2013.

[267]SuuKyi, Freedom from Fear, 182.

[268]Quoted in Peter Popham, The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi ( New York: The Experiment, 2013), 405.

[269]Aung Zaw, “Are Myanmar’s Hopes Fading?” The New York Times (April 24, 2013).

[270]Julius Cavendish, “Burma’s Rohingya Muslims: Aung San Suu Kyi’s Blind Spot,” The Independent (August 20, 2012).

[271]“Myanmar: Twenty Painful Years,” The Economist (August 16, 2008), 46.

[272]Bill Roggio, “Jihadists Seek to Open New Front in Burma,” Long War Journal (July 15, 2013), at, accessed September 23, 2013.

[273]The Economist (July 27, 2013), at, accessed on December 20, 2013.

[274]Nagendra Singh, Bhutan: A Kingdom in the Himalayas (New Delhi: Thomson Press Limited, 1972), 23.

[275]Michael V. Aris, Bhutan: The Early History of a Himalayan Kingdom (Warminster, England: Aris & Phillips, 1979), 230.

[276]Ibid., 235.

[277]Thomas Laird, The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama (New York: Grove Press, 2006), 184-85.

[278]Tsepon Shakabpa, Tibet: A Political History (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1967), 118, 119.

[279]See Maitreyee Choudhury, Himalayan Studies in India (New Delhi: Mittal Publications, 2008), 13.

[280]Robert Beér, The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs (Chicago: Serindia Publications, 1999), 250.

[281]Ibid., 55.

[282]See Beér, The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs, 298.

[283]Singh, Bhutan: A Kingdom in the Himalayas, 18; Aris, Bhutan: The Early History of a Himalayan Kingdom, 46-7.

[284]Shakabpa, One Hundred Thousand Moons: An Advanced Political History of Tibet, trans. Dererk F. Maher (Leiden: Brill, 2010), vol. 1, 284.

[285]Aris, Bhutan: The Early History of a Himalayan Kingdom ,142.

[286]Cited in Tim Johnson, Tragedy in Crimson: How the Dalai Lama Conquered the World but Lost the Battle with China (Nation Books), 311note8.

[287]See N. F. Gier, Spiritual Titanism: Indian, Chinese, and Western Perspectives (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2000),

[288]Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality (New York: Macmillan, 1929), 520.

[289]Majjhima Nikāya 1.163.4; The Middle Length Sayings, trans. I. B. Horner (London: Pali Text Society, 1976), vol. 1, 207.

[290]Donald S. Lopez, “Introduction” in Religions of Tibet in Practice, ed., Donald S. Lopez (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997), 15.

[291]Peter Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 123.

[292]Anguttara Nikāya 4.6.36; The Book of Gradual Sayings, trans. E. M. Hare (London: Pali Text Society, 1995), vol. 4, 44.

[293]Wikipedia entry on tulkus at, accessed on July 10, 2013

[294]Lopez, “Introduction” in Religions of Tibet in Practice, 23.

[295]Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhism, 126.

[296]Ibid., 123.

[297]Ibid., 113.

[298]Narayan Champawat, “Buddha” in Great Thinkers of the Eastern World, ed. Ian McGreal (New York: HarperCollins, 1995), 164.

[299]Anguttara Nikaya 4.6.36; Book of Gradual Sayings, vol. 4, 44.

[300]David J. Kalupahana, “Buddhism and Chinese Humanism,” 11 in typescript.  This paper was presented at a Symposium on Chinese Humanism, sponsored by the Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy during a special session of the American Philosophical Association, March 25, 1977. See also N. F. Gier and Paul K. Kjellberg, “Buddhism and the Freedom of the Will” in Freedom and Determinism: Topics in Contemporary Philosophy,eds., J. K. Campbell, D. Shier, M. O’Rourke (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004), 277-304.

[301]Gail Omvedt, “The Buddha as a Political Philosopher,” Economic and Political Review 36:21 (May 26, 2001): 1802.

[302] The Mahāparinibbāna Sutta, 1.1-12; in the Dīgha Nikāya, 2:73-4; The Long Discourses of the Buddha, trans. Maurice Walshe (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1995), 231-34.

[303]Quoted in Omvedt, “The Buddha as a Political Philosopher,” 1802.

[304]Laksiri Jayasuriya, “Buddhism, Politics, and Statecraft,” International Journal of Buddhist Thought & Culture 11 (September, 2008): 46.

[305]Anguttara Nikāya 3.14, trans. Nyanaponika Theraand Bhikku Bodhi (Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society, on-line ed., 2010), 14 (PDF), accessed at on January 17, 2014. PDF page number.

[306]Majjhima Nikāya, 1.190-1; The Middle Length Sayings, 236-237.  I have paraphrased Horner’s translation.

[307] Dīgha Nikāya, 3.61; The Long Discourses of the Buddha, trans. Maurice Welsh 395-96, accessed at The+Long+Discourses+of+the+Buddha&hl=en&sa=X&ei=EmnZUvnZM-3iyAHeioGY Cw&ved=0CDoQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=The%20Long%20Discourses%20of%20the%20Buddha&f=false on January 17, 2014.

[308]Quoted in Radhakumud Mookerji, Aśoka (New Delhi: Motila Banarsidass, 1989), 159.


[310]Ibid., note 1.

[311]Ibid., 161, note 3.

[312]Omvedt, “The Buddha as a Political Philosopher,” 1803.

[313]Aris, Bhutan: The Early History of a Himalayan Kingdom ,207.

[314]Ibid., 208.

[315]Ibid., 214.

[316]Ardussi, “Formation of the State of Bhutan,” 13.

[317]Ibid., 211.

[318]Ibid., 209.



[321]Quoted in ibid.

[322]Ibid., 212.

[323]Ram Rahul, Modern Bhutan (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1972), 22. Rahul identifies the birds as eagles, but the raven is the bird associated with Mahākāla. He also says that the raven was removed from the royal crown, but there is an image of the former King Jigme Singye Wangschuk (1972-2006) wearing the raven crown at, accessed on June 25, 2006.



[326]Ibid., 284.

[327]Aris, Bhutan: The Early History of a Himalayan Kingdom, 223.

[328]Shakabpa, One Hundred Thousand Moons, 352.

[329]Rahul, Modern Bhutan, 24.

[330]Singh, Bhutan: A Kingdom in the Himalayas, 21. 

[331]Shakabpa, Tibet: A Political History, 112.

[332]Quoted in Shakabpa, One Hundred Thousand Moons, 361.


[334]Ibid., 96.

[335]Ardussi, “Formation of the State of Bhutan,” 14-15.

[336]Ibid., 19.

[337]Aris, Bhutan: The Early History of a Himalayan Kingdom , 234.

[338]Ibid., 20-21. An image of the seal is found on the cover of Aris’ book and also as Figure 5 (213).

[339]Ardussi, “Formation of the State of Bhutan,”17-18.


[341]Singh, Bhutan: A Kingdom in the Himalayas, 23.

[342]Aris, Bhutan: The Early History of a Himalayan Kingdom, 215.

[343]Ibid., 235.

[344]Ibid., 234.

[345]Ibid, 246.

[346]Ibid., 247; see also Shakabpa, Tibet: A Political History, 443.

[347]Ibid., 250.

[348]Ibid., 260.

[349]Quote in ibid., 262.

[350]Ibid., 264.

[351]Quoted in Singh, Bhutan: A Kingdom in the Himalayas, 45.

[352]The Constitution of Bhutan, PDF file accessed file_id=167955 on February 17, 2013, 7.

[353]Ibid., Article 3, Sections 2, 3, 17.

[354]Ibid., Article 7, Section 4, 14.

[355]International Religious Freedom Report 2005: Bhutan, accessed at irf/2005/51617.htm on February 17, 2013.

[356]Quoted in Singh, Bhutan: A Kingdom in the Himalayas, 23.

[357]Laird,The Story of Tibet, 184-85.

[358]Quoted in Shakabpa, Tibet: A Political History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967), 107.

[359]Ibid., frontispiece.

[360]Quoted in Jacob P. Dalton, Taming the Demons: Violence and Liberation in Tibetan Buddhism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011), 55.

[361] Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Kālachakra Tantra Rite of Initiation: For the Stage of Generation, trans. Jeffrey Hopkins (Boston: Wisdom Publications, enlarged edition, 1999), 350-51

[362]Dalton,Taming the Demons, 142.

[363]Hugh E. Richardson, Tibet and its History (Boston: Shambhala, 2nd ed., 1984), 39.

[364]Ibid., 35.

[365]Alexander Norman, Secret Lives of the Dalai Lamas: The Untold Story of the Holy Men Who Shaped Tibet, from Pre-history to the Present Day (New York: Doubleday, 2010), 124fn.

[366]Ram Rahul, Modern Bhutan (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1972), 18.

[367]Shakabpa, Tibet: A Political History, 103.


[369]The Book of Revelation 20:10 (RSV).

[370]Glenn H. Mullin, The Second Dalai Lama: His Life and Teachings (Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion Publications, 1994), 15.

[371]Laird, The Story of Tibet,70.

[372]Dalton, Taming of the Demons, 26.

[373]James A. Stroble, “Buddhism and War: A Study of the Status of Violence in Early Buddhism,” accessed at on July 10, 2013.

[374]Kapstein, The Tibetans, 59.

[375]Ibid., 72.

[376]See Christopher I. Beckwith, The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987), 25-26.

[377]Kapstein, The Tibetans, 65.

[378]Ibid., 67.

[379]Réne de Nebesky-Wojkowitz, Oracles and Demons in Tibet (The Hague: Mouton & Co., 1956), 422.

[380]Kapstein, The Tibetans, 80-81.

[381]Dalton, Taming the Demons, 53.

[382]Aris, Bhutan: The Early History of a Himalayan Kingdom, 231.

[383]Dalton, Taming the Demons, 31.

[384]Ibid., 33.

[385]Ibid., 35.

[386]Ibid., 80.

[387]Ibid., 118.

[388]Ibid., 92

[389]Ibid., 18

[390]Ibid., 2.

[391]Ibid., 149.

[392]Ibid., 148.

[393]For a comparative analysis of asuras and Greek Titans see Gier, Spiritual Titanism, chap. 3.

[394]Dalton, Taming the Demons, 32.

[395]Ibid., 36.

[396]Quoted in Shakabpa, A Hundred Thousand Moons, 314.

[397]Ronald M. Davidson, Tibetan Renaissance: Tantric Buddhism in the Rebirth of Tibetan Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 363.

[398]Kālachakra Tantra, 1:161.

[399]Ibid., 134.

[400]Shakabpa, Tibet: A Political History, 62.

[401]Ibid., 63.


[403]Lee Feigon, Demystifying Tibet: Unlocking the Secrets of the Land of the Snows (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1966), 60-61.

[404]Kaptstein, The Tibetans,114. 

[405]Norman, Secret Lives of the Dalai Lamas, 118. 

[406]Shakabpa, Tibet: A Political History, 66

[407]Ibid., 68.

[408]Sam van Schaik, “Phagpa’s Arrow, or Buddhists vs Daoist,” at, accessed on January 6, 2014.


[410]Dalton, Taming the Demons,134.

[411]Quoted in Norman, Secret Lives of the Dalai Lamas, 147.

[412]Quoted in ibid., 129.

[413]Dalton, Taming the Demons, 132.

[414]Norman, Secret Lives of the Dalai Lamas, 163.

[415]Mullin, The Second Dalai Lama, 11.

[416]Ibid., 104.

[417]Quoted in ibid., 76-77.

[418]Kapstein, The Tibetans, 129.

[419]Norman, Secret Lives of the Dalai Lamas, 179.

[420]Quoted in Mullin, The Second Dalai Lama, 98.

[421]Ibid., 103-4.

[422]Norman, Secret Lives of the Dalai Lamas,181.

[423]Ibid., 185.

[424]Laird, The Story of Tibet, 143.

[425]Ibid., 144.

[426]Shakabpa, Tibet: A Political History, 94.

[427]Laird, The Story of Tibet, 139.

[428]Norman, Secret Lives of the Dalai Lamas,193.

[429]Ibid., 133.

[430]Sokdokpa, A History of How the Mongols were Repelled, quoted in Dalton, Taming of the Demons, 135.

[431]Skakabpa, Tibet: A Political History, 100.

[432]Shakabpa, One Hundred Thousand Moons, 315-316.

[433]Ibid., 316.

[434]Norman, Secret Lives of the Dalai Lamas, 233.


[436]Ibid., 55.

[437]Quoted in Samten G. Karmay, “The Great Fifth” IIAS Newsletter 39 (December, 2005): 12.

[438]See Norman, Secret Lives of the Dalai Lamas, 145 fn.

[439]Karmay, “The Great Fifth,”13.


[441]de Nebesky-Wojkowitz, Oracles and Demons in Tibet (The Hague: Mouton & Co., 1956),445.

[442]Shkabpa, One Hundred Thousand Moons, 337.

[443]Shakabpa, Tibet: A Political History, 106.

[444]Ibid., 105.

[445]Norman, The Secret Lives of the Dalai Lamas, 220.

[446]Shakabpa, Tibet: A Political History, 109.

[447]Ibid., 110.

[448]Norman, The Secret Lives of the Dalai Lamas, 219.

[449] Ibid., 213.


[451]Skakabpa, Tibet: A Political History, 112.

[452]Quoted in Dalton, Taming of the Demons, 141-2.

[453]Ibid., 142.

[454]Karmay, “The Fifth Dalai Lama,”12.

[455]Norman, The Secret Lives of the Dalai Lamas, 214.

[456]Feigon, Demystifying Tibet, 79.

[457]Laird, The Story of Tibet, 152.

[458]Ibid., 166-67.

[459]Karmay, “The Fifth Dalai Lama,” 12-13.

[460]Laird, The Story of Tibet, 167.

[461]Ibid., 19.

[462]Ibid., 173.

[463]Ibid., 170.

[464]Ibid., 174.

[465]Zahiruddin Ahmad, Sino-Tibetan Relations in the Seventeenth Century (Rome: Instituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estreme Oriente, 1970), 311.

[466]Norman, The Secret Lives of the Dalai Lamas, 287.

[467]Laird, The Story of Tibet, 184.

[468]Ibid., 184-85.

[469]Ibid., 191. 

[470]Norman, The Secret Lives of the Dalai Lamas, 283.

[471]Ibid., 284.

[472]Ibid., 285.

[473]Kapstein, The Tibetans, 143.

[474]Norman, The Secret Lives of the Dalai Lamas, 304.

[475]Ibid., 297.

[476]Ibid., 306.

[477]Shakabpa, A Political History of Tibet,165.

[478]de Nebesky-Wojkowitz, Oracles and Demons in Tibet, 494.


[480]Norman, The Secret Lives of the Dalai Lamas, 314.

[481]Ibid., 316.

[482]Shakabpa, A Political History of Tibet, 173.

[483]Quoted in Kapstein, The Tibetans, 159.


[485]Norman, The Secret Lives of the Dalai Lamas, 332-33.

[486]See L. Austine Waddell, The Buddhism of Tibet or Lamism (Cambridge: W. Heffer & Sons Limited, 2nd ed., 1939), 404.

[487]Dalton, The Taming of the Demons, 155. Norman writes that “the full resources of the saṅgha


mobilized to invoke the protection of the wrathful deities” (Secret Lives of the Dalai Lamas, 339).

[488]de Nebesky-Wojkowitz, Oracles and Demons in Tibet, 451.

[489]Quoted in Dalton., The Taming of the Demons, 156.

[490]Ibid., 149.

[491]Norman, The Secret Lives of the Dalai Lamas, 148

[492]Ibid., 346.

[493]Alexandre Andreyev, “Soviet Russia and Tibet: A Debacle of Secret Diplomacy,”The Tibet Journal 21:3 (Autumn, 1996):4–34.

[494]Ibid., 350.

[495]David N. Kay, Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain: Transplantation, Development and Adaptation (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004), 43.

[496]de Nebesky-Wojkowitz, Oracles and Demons in Tibet, 40-41.

[497]Robert Beér, The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs, 267. See also de Nebesky-Wojkowitz, Oracles and Demons of Tibet, 495.

[498]de Nebesky-Wojkowitz, Oracles and Demons in Tibet, 495.

[499]Quoted from the website of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet at, accessed on December 22, 2012.


[501]Tenzin Gyatso, Kālachakra Tantra Rite of Initiation (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 199), 350-51.

[502]Laird, The Story of Tibet, 70.

[503]Quoted in Alexander Berzin, “The Kalachakra Presentation of the Prophets of the Non-Indic Invaders (full analysis),” at kalachakra_islam, accessed on April 1, 2013.

[504]Quoted in Dalton, The Taming of the Demons, 156.

[505]Berzin, “The Kalachakra Presentation of the Prophets of the Non-Indic Invaders (abridged edition),” at _islam/ kalachakra_presentation_prophets_in/kc_pres_prophets_islam_abridged.html, accessed on September 26, 2013.

[506]Kālachakra Tantra, 1.154.


[508]Quoted in Laird, The Story of Tibet,70.

[509]Helmut Gassner, “Dalai Lama Dorje Shugden,” PDF file accessed at www.dorje on February 28, 2013.

[510]Quoted in Norman, The Secret Lives of the Dalai Lamas, 375.

[511]Quoted from the Website of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet at, accessed on December 22, 2012.


[513]Martin A. Mills, “This Turbulent Priest: Contesting Religious Rights and the State in the Tibetan Shugden Controversy” in Human Rights in Global Perspective, eds., Richard Ashby Wilson and Jon  Mitchell (London: Routledge, 2003), 56.

[514]Norman, The Secret Lives of the Dalai Lamas, 8.

[515]Johnson, Tragedy in Crimson, 165.

[516]“Dalai Lama Talks of Early Retirement,” Asian Tribune (November, 22, 2012), accessed at on April 7, 2013.


[518]Mullin, The Second Dalai Lama, 16.

[519]Jonathan Mirsky, “Will There be a ‘Duel of the Dalai Lamas?” The New York Review of Books (May 26, 2011): 35.

[520]Shamar Rinpoche, “Letter to the Private Office of the Dalai Lama” (February 7, 1997), cited in The Great Deception: The Ruling Lamas’ Policies (London: Western Shugden Society, PDF version, 2011), 209.

[521]Perry Link, “Talking about Tibet: An Open Dialogue between Chinese Citizens and the Dalai Lama,” New York Review of Books Blog (May 24, 2010), accessed at on April 9, 2013.

[522]Quoted in Brian D. Victoria, Zen at War (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2nd ed., 2006),  19.

[523]Quoted in ibid., 15.

[524]Quoted in ibid., 112.

[525]Quoted in Christopher Ives, “Ethical Pitfalls in Imperial Zen and Nishida Philosophy” in Rude Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto Shool, and the Question of Nationalism, ed. James W. Heisig and John C. Maraldo (Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press, 1994), 18-19.

[526]Thomas R. H. Havens, Nishi Amane and Modern Japanese Thought (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1970), 183.

[527]Ibid., 195.

[528]Kenneth B. Pyle, “Meiji Conservatism” in The Cambridge History of Japan: The Nineteenth Century, edited by Marius B. Jansen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), vol. 5, 702.

[529]Quoted in Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi,Modern Japanese Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 126.

[530]Quoted in Victoria, Zen at War, 111.

[531]Quoted in ibid., 242 note 32.

[532] James A. Ketelaar, Of Heretics and Martyrs in Meiji Japan: Buddhism and Its Persecution (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993), x.

[533]Ibid., 153.

[534] John S. Harding, Mahāyāna Phoenix (New York: Peter Lang, 2008), 77.

[535]Ketelaar, Of Heretics and Martyrs,165.

[536]Harding, Mahāyāna Phoenix, 78.

[537]Ketelaar, Of Heretics and Martyrs, 173.

[538]Cited in Harding, Mahāyāna Phoenix, 85.

[539]Quoted in Ketelaar, Of Heretics and Martyrs, 169.

[540]Quoted in Judith Snodgrass, Presenting Japanese Buddhism to the West: Orientalism, Occidentalism, and the Columbian Exposition (Raleigh, NC: University of North Carolina, 2003), 246-47.

[541]Richard H. Seager, The Dawn of Religious Pluralism: Voices from the World’s Parliament of Religions, 1893 (Chicago: Open Court Publishing, 1993), 24.

[542]Quoted in Ketelaar, Of Heretics and Martyrs, 158.

[543]Victoria, Zen at War, 14.

[544]Stephen R. Prothero, The White Buddhist: the Asian Odyssey of Henry Steel Olcott (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996), 125.

[545]Quoted in Harding, Mahāyāna Phoenix, 108.

[546]Ibid., 124.

[547]Ibid., 125.

[548]Soyen Shaku, “At the Battle of Nan Shan Hill” in Sermons of a Buddhist Abbot: Addresses on Religious Subjects, trans. D. T. Suzuki (Chicago: Open Court Publishing Company, 1906), 200.

[549]Soyen Shaku, “A Memorial Address in 1905” in Sermons of a Buddhist Abbot, 212.

[550]Ibid., 211.

[551]Quoted in Victoria, Zen at War, 29.

[552]Soyen Shaku, “A Buddhist View of War,” 194.

[553]Christopher Ives, “The Mobilization of Doctrine: Buddhist Contributions to Imperial Ideology in Modern Japan,” 84.

[554]Quoted in Ketelaar, Of Heretics and Martyrs, 156.

[555]Quoted in Ives, “The Mobilization of Doctrine,” 86.

[556]Quoted in ibid, 87.

[557]Quoted in ibid.

[558]Quoted in ibid.

[559]Quoted in ibid, 85.

[560]Quoted in Victoria, Zen at War, 100.

[561]Ibid., 207.

[562]Ibid., 208.

[563]Kirita Kiyohide, “D. T. Suzuki on Society and the State” in Rude Awakenings, 52-74.

[564]Quoted in Victoria, Zen at War, 24, 23.

[565]Quoted in ibid., 24.

[566]D. T. Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture (London: Taylor & Francis, 1970), 63.

[567]Ibid., 145.

[568]Ibid., 70.


[570]Quoted in Victoria, Zen at War, 110-111.

[571]Kirita, “D. T. Suzuki on Society and the State,” 72.

[572]Ives, “Ethical Pitfalls in Imperial Zen and Nishida Philosophy,” 25.

[573]Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, 63.

[574]Ives, “Ethical Pitfalls in Imperial Zen and Nishida Philosophy,” 25

[575]Ketelar, Of Heretics and Martyrs, 172, 167.

[576]Ives, “Ethical Pitfalls in Imperial Zen and Nishida Philosophy,” 39.

[577]Quoted in Kevin M. Doak, “Nationalism as Dialectics” in Rude Awakenings, 193-94.

[578]Quoted in Minamoto Ryøen, “The Symposium on ‘Overcoming Modernity” in Rude Awakenings, 219.

[579]Ibid., 219-20.

[580]Yusa Michiko, “Nishida and Totalitarianism” in Rude Awakenings, 107.

[581]Ueda Shizuteru, “Nishida, Nationalism, and the War in Question” in Rude Awakenings, 84-85.

[582]Quoted in ibid., 90.

[583]Quoted in Yusa, “Nishida and Totalitarianism,”109.


[585]Quoted in Ueda, “Nishida, Nationalism, and the War in Question,”88.

[586]Quoted in ibid., 90.

[587]Yusa, “Nishida and Totalitarianism,” 126.

[588]Quoted in ibid., 130.

[589]Christina Naylor, “Nichiren, Imperialism, and the Peace Movement,” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 18:1 (1991), 52.

[590]Ibid., 51-52.

[591]Ibid., 53.



[594]Ibid., 55.

[595]See Arvind-Pal S. Mandair, Religion and the Specter of the West: Sikhism, India, Postcoloniality, and the Politics of Translation (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), 36.

[596]Louis E. French, Martyrdom in the Sikh Tradition (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000), 33-34.

[597]Ibid., 3.

[598]Quoted in Gurinder Singh Mann, Sikhism (Upper Saddle River, NY: Prentice-Hal, 2004), 83.


[600]Cited in W. H. McLeod, ed., Textual Sources for the Study of Sikhism (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984), 58.

[601]Ann Murphy, “The Guru’s Weapons,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 77:2 (June, 2009): 316. The author points out that this was not unique in the Indian tradition. Viṣṇu’s discus (chakra) and his divine power are identified in the Hindu epics.

[602]Mandair, Religion and the Specter of the West, 303.

[603]Cited in French, Martyrdom in the Sikh Tradition, 28n44.

[604]Ibid., 91, 147.

[605]Ibid., 99.

[606]Cited in McLeod, Textual Sources for the Study of Sikhism, 21. 

[607]Mandair, Religion and the Specter of the West, 36.


[609]Ibid., 211, 266.

[610]Ibid., 267.

[611]Ibid., 361.

[612]McLeod, Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1977), 29.

[613]McLeod, Textual Sources for the Study of Sikhism, 153n24.

[614]McLeod, Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion, 191.

[615]Mandair, Religion and the Specter of the West, 431.

[616]Eleanor Nesbitt, Sikhism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 122.

[617]French, Martyrdom in the Sikh Tradition, 120.

[618] W. Owen Cole, Sikhism and its Indian Context (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1984), 261,263.

[619]French, Martyrdom in the Sikh Tradition, 131.

[620]Dasam Granth at,  51

[621] Cole, Sikhism and its Indian Context, 225.

[622]Quoted in French, Martyrdom in the Sikh Tradition, 152.

[623]Ibid., 153.

[624]Gandhi, All Men are Brothers (Ahmebabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1960), 77.

[625]Vivekananda’s final address at the 1983 World Parliament of Religions found in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda at <www. vol_1_frame.htm>.

[626]Quoted in Peggy Morgan and Clive A. Lawton, eds., Ethical Issues in Six Religious Traditions (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007), 154.

[627]Gian Singh, Panth Prakāś, 79, quoted in French, Martyrdom in the Sikh Tradition, 190.

[628] Cole, Sikhism and its Indian Context, 229-230.

[629]Mandair, Religion and the Specter of the West, 232.

[630]Ibid., 193.

[631]M. A. Macauliffe, The Sikh Religion: Its Gurus, Sacred Writings, and Authors (Oxford: Chand and Company, reprinted, 1983), lviii.

[632]See N. F. Gier, The Virtue of Non-Violence: from Gautama to Gandhi (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2004), passim.

[633]The Collected Essays of Bimal Krishna Matilal: Ethics and Epics, ed. Jonardon Ganeri (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002), 50.

[634]N. F. Gier, “Dharma Morality as Virtue Ethics” in  Indian Ethics: Classical Traditions and Contemporary Challenges, vol. 2, eds. Purusottama Bilimoria and Joseph Prabuhu (Springer, 13), forthcoming.

[635]Mandair, Religion and the Specter of the West, 371.

[636]Ibid., 375-6.

[637] J. I. Packer, Fundamentalism and the Word of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1958), 117. My emphasis.

[638] Mandair, Religion and the Specter of the West, 372.

[639]Ibid., 378.

[640]Ibid., 354.

[641]Ibid., 355.

[642]Ibid., 330.

[643]Ibid., 332-33.

[644]N. F. Gier, “Gandhi, Deep Religious Pluralism, and Multicultrualism,” forthcoming in ophy East and West 64:2 (April, 2014):

[645]See French, Martyrdom in the Sikh Tradition, 150.

[646]Cited in Mandair, Religion and the Specter of the West, 96.

[647]Ibid., 101.

[648]Ibid., 375.

[649]Ibid. 372.

[650]Thomas H. Reilly, The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom: Rebellion and Blasphemy of Empire (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2004), 77.

[651]Quoted in Philip L. Wickeri, “Christianity and the Origins of the Taiping Movement: A Study in the Function of the Social Function of Religious Symbols,” Ching Feng 19:1 (1976): 13.

[652]Jonathan D. Spence, God’s Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of the Hong Xiuquan (New York: Norton & Co., 1996), 176.

[653]C. A. Curwen, Taiping Rebel: The Deposition of Li Hsiu-cheng (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 11.

[654]Reilly, The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, 11.

[655]Ibid., 51, 55. It is revealing that Reilly uses violent phrases such as these, in addition to the Taipings “crushing,” “destroying,” and “smashing.”

[656]Ibid., 154.

[657] Shih, The Taiping Ideology, 356.

[658] John K. Fairbank and Denis Twitchett, eds., The Cambridge History of China (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), vol. 10, 136.

[659]Shih, The Taiping Ideology, 357.

[660]The Cambridge History of China, vol. 10, 137.

[661]Shih, The Taiping Ideology, 340.

[662]Ibid., 358.

[663]Y. Mei, “The Basis of Social, Ethical, and Spiritual Val­ues in Chinese Philosophy” in The Chinese Mind, 324.

[664]See Gier, Spiritual Titanism, especially chaps. 9, 10, and 11.

[665]See N. F. Gier “On the Deification of Confucius,” Asian Philosophy 1:3 (1993), p 43-54.

[666]Spence, God’s Chinese Son, 345fn24

[667]Ibid., 32.

[668]Shih, The Taiping Ideology, 132.

[669]Ibid., 466.

[670]Curwen, Taiping Rebel, 222.

[671]Ibid., 222 note 58.

[672]James H. Cole, The People Versus the Taipings: Bao Lisheng’s “Righteous Army of Dongan” (Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, 1981), p 24, 1.  I am indebted to Cole for all information about Bao.

[673]Ibid., 45.

[674]Ibid., 46.

[675]Ibid., 33.

[676]See N. F. Gier, “Dharma Morality as Virtue Ethics,” in Indian Ethics: Classical Traditions and Contemporary Challenges, vol. 2, eds.Purusottama Bilimoria and Joseph Prabuhu (New York: Springer, 2015).

[677]Quoted in James Cole, The People Versus the Taipings, 53. Cole suggests that the first response was composed by his Confucian advisors, but this second reply evidently comes from his own hand.

[678]Ibid., 33.

[679]Book of Poetry, 2:5, 4, quoted in Milton M. Chieu, The Tao of Chinese Religion (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1984), 28.

[680]Quoted in William J. Hail, Tsen Kuo-Fan and the Taiping Rebellion (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2nd ed, 1964), 98.

[681]Yu-Wen Jen, The Taiping Revolutionary Movement (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1973, 163.

[682]J. C. Cheng, ed, Chinese Sources for the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864) (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1963), 74-75.

[683]Cambridge History of China, 269.

[684]Cheng, Chinese Sources for the Taiping Rebellion, 77.

[685] The Analects of Confucius: A Philosophical Translation, trans. Roger T. Ames and Henry Rosemont, Jr. (New York: Ballantine Books, 1998), 9:14.

[686]Jen, The Taiping Revolutionary Movement, 128.

[687]Ibid., 128.

[688]Quoted in Spence, God’s Chinese Son, 225.

[689]Wickeri notes that the first Christian document that Hong read, Liang Afa’s Good Words for Exhorting the Age, made this same point about the impotence of the scholars’ gods Wen Ch’ang and K’uei Hsing (“Christianity and the Origins of the Taiping Movement, 12). Hong believed that Good Words had not only confirmed his 1837 vision but it has explained everything that had happened in his adult life.

[690]Quoted in ibid., 26. 

[691]Reilly, The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, 95.

[692]Quoted in ibid. 96.

[693]Spence, God’s Chinese Son, 48.

[694]Ibid., 232.

[695]Cheng, Chinese Sources for the Taiping Rebellion, 85.

[696]Quoted in Reilly, The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, 94.

[697]Quoted in Spence, God’s Chinese Son, 292.

[698]Cheng, Chinese Sources for the Taiping Rebellion, 85.

[699]Ibid., 89.

[700]Jen, The Taiping Revolutionary Movement, 160.

[701]Cheng, Chinese Sources for the Taiping Rebellion, 90

[702]Quoted in Spence, God’s Chinese Son, 233.  I have deleted a debate that broke out in the Taiping court after God, according to Yang, said “that it is no longer useful to propagate” the Bible. God quickly corrects himself by clarifying his position in the last portion I quote in the text.

[703]Ibid., 257.

[704]Reilly, The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, 15.

[705]Quoted in ibid., 108.

[706]Whitehead, Process and Reality, 520.

[707]J. L. Jaini, Commentary on Kundakundāchārya’s Samayasara in The Sacred Books of the Jainas, ed. J. L. Jaini (New York, NY: AMS Press, 1974), vol. 8, 43.

[708]Gandhi, The Collected Works, vol. 12:375. “We are born in sin, and we are enslaved in the body, because of our sinful deeds” (ibid.; a letter dated March 7, 1914).

[709]See John Ardussi, “Formation of the State of Bhutan,” 11-12.

[710]Laird, The Story of Tibet, 70.

[711]Quoted in Wickeri, “Christianity and the Origins of the Taiping Movement,” 13.

[712]Reilly, The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, 77.

[713]Collected Works of the Mother (Pondicherry: Sri Aurobiondo Ashram, 2nd ed., 2001), vol. 10,  34.

[714]Myint-U, The Making of Modern Burma, 86.

[715]Ibid., 86.

[716]Jaini, Commentary on Kundakundāchārya’s Samayasara, vol. 8: 43.

[717]Gandhi, The Collected Works, vol. 12:375. “We are born in sin, and we are enslaved in the body, because of our sinful deeds” (ibid.; a letter dated March 7, 1914).

[718]Ibid., vol. 12, p. 165.

[719]Gandhi, Young India 8 (January 21, 1926): 121.

[720]Anna Case‑Winters, God’s Power, Traditional Understandings, and Contemporary Challenges (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1990), 27.

[721]Isaiah 40-55, trans. Joseph Blenkinsopp, The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 2000), vol. 19a: 45:7.

[722]Luther’s Works, eds. N. Pelikan and H. T. Lehman (St. Louis: Concordia, 1955‑76), vol. 33,189.


[724]Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, Śiva: The Erotic Ascetic (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), 325.

[725]Thomas B. Coburn, Devī-Māhātmya: The Crystallization of the Goddess Tradition (New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1984), 147.

[726]Catherine Keller, “Warriors, Women, and the Nuclear Complex” in Sacred Interconnections: Postmodern Spirituality, Political Economy, and Art, ed. David R. Griffin (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1990), 72.

[727]Christopher Key Chapple, Nonviolence to Animals, Earth, and Self in Asian Traditions (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1993), xiv.

[728]Reilly, The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, 114.

[729]Quoted in Shih, The Taiping Ideology, 89. 

[730]Wickeri, “Christianity and the Origins of the Taiping Movement,” 30.

[731]Quoted in Reilly, The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, 112.

[732]Reilly, The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, 111.

[733]Quoted in Victoria, Zen at War, 123.

[734]Quoted in ibid., 120.

[735]Quoted in ibid.

[736]See Millard C. Lind, Yahweh Is a Warrior: The Theology of Warfare in Ancient Israel (Waterloo, ON: Herald Press, 1980).

[737]Joseph M. Kitigawa, Religion in Japanese History (New York: Columbia University Press, 1966), 248.

[738]Ibid., 230.

[739]Ibid., 261.

[740]Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Benzinger Brothers, 2nd and revised ed., 1920), 2. 2. quest. 4, art. 1.

[741]Richard Swinburne, Faith and Reason (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), 209.

[742]Mandair, Religion and the Specter of the West, 24.

[743]Swinburne, Faith and Reason, 209.

[744]Excerpted in Nirmal Kumar Bose, Selections from Gandhi (Ahmedabad: Navajivan, 1957), 223.

[745]Gandhi, Collected Works, vol. 65, 44

[746]Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2. 2. quest. 4, art. 1.

[747]Gandhi, Young India 8 (January 21, 1926): 30.

[748]See N. F. Gier, “Dialectic East and West,” Indian Philosophical Quarterly 10 (January, 1983): 207-218.

[749]Cūḷa-Mālinkya Sutta in Early Buddhist Discourses, ed. and trans. John J. Hoder (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Co., 2006), 100. I have inserted the original Pāli dhamma for “religious life” in this translation.

[750]The Analects, 13:3.

[751]Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching, trans. D. C. Lau (London: Penguin Books, 1963), chaps. 2, 56, and 71.

[752]The Way of Lao-Tzu, trans. Wing-tsit Chan (Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1963), chap. 40.

[753]The Daodejing of Laozi, trans. Philip J. Ivanhoe (Indianpolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Co., 2003), chap. 1.

[754]Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings, trans. Burton Watson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 42.

[755]Quoted in Kristofer Schipper, The Taoist Body, trans. Karen C. Duval (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1993), 172; Chuang-Tzu: The Inner Chapters, trans. A. C. Graham (London: Unwin Paperbacks, 1989), 46.

See Gier, Siritual Titanism, chap. 11

[757]N. F. Gier, “Non-Violence as a Civic Virtue: Gandhi as a Reformed Liberal,” International Journal of Hindu Studies 7 (2003): 75-98.

[758]George Grant, The Changing of the Guard (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1987), 50-51.

[759]Greg Dickison, “Magistralis: Know Where to Draw the Line,”Credenda/Agenda 3: 9.

[760]Douglas Wilson and Steven J. Wilkins, Southern Slavery As It Was (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1996), 24.  The booklet was withdrawn from publication after it was discovered that at least 20 percent of it had been plagiarized.  For a detailed account see palouse.

[761]Edward H. Sebesta, “The Confederate Memorial Tartan: Officially Approved by the Scottish Tartan Authority,” Scottish Affairs 31 (Spring, 2000): 55-84.

[762]Bhikkhu Dhammavihari, “Recording, Translating and Interpreting Sri Lankan Chronicle Data,” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 10 (2003): 9-22.

[763]Seneviratne, The Work of Kings, 27 fn. 3.

[764]Smith, Religion and Politics in Burma, 150.

[765]Quoted in ibid., 150.

[766]Quoted in ibid., 152.

[767]Harjot Oberoi, The Construction of Religious Boundaries; quoted in Mandair, Religion and the Specter of the West, 330.

[768]Michael Hawley, 

[769]See N. F. Gier, “The Color of Sin/The Color of Skin: Ancient Color Blindness and the Philosophical Origins of Modern Racism,” Journal of Religious Thought 46:1 (Summer-Fall, 1989): 42-52.  One could counter that the Indian caste system is evidence against my thesis, but this system was racist only in its original form.  As intermarriage between Aryan and non-Aryan did eventually occur on a wide scale, an Aryan apartheid never developed and the caste system became a source of social, not racial, discrimination.

[770]John Hick, A Christian Theology of Religions: A Rainbow of Faiths (Louisville, KY: Westminstger John Knox Press, 2005), 40.

[771]See N. F. Gier, “Gandhi, Deep Religious Pluralism, and Multiculturalism,” Philosophy East and West 64:2 (April, 2014): 120-163.

[772]Nicholas F. Gier, “Gandhi, Deep Religious Pluralism, and Multiculturalism,” Philosophy East and West 64:2 (April 2104):  Several paragraphs here have been adapted from this article.

[773]John B. Cobb Jr., “Some Whiteheadian Assumptions about Religion and Pluralism,” in David R. Griffin, ed. Deep Religious Pluralism (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 244.

[774]Jeffery Long, “Anekanta Vedanta: Hindu Religious Pluralism,” Deep Religious Pluralism, 148.

[775]The Collected Essays of Bimal Krishna Matilal, 54.

[776]The Vana Parva 27.107, cited in Bangalore Kuppuswamy, Dharma and Society (Columbia, MO: South Asia Books, 1977), 17.

[777]The Dharmasūtras: The Law Codes of Āpastamba, Gautama, Baudhāyana, and Vasiāṭha, trans. Patrick Olivelle (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 1.1.1, p. 7.

[778]Paul Häcker, “Dharma im Hinduismus,” Zeitschrift für Missionwissenschaft und Relgionswissenschaft 49 (1965), p. 99.

[779]The Laws of Manu, trans. Wendy Doniger and Brian K. Smith (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1999), 8.46; 156.

[780]The Collected Essays of Bimal Krishna Matilal, 50.

[781]Gier, The Virtue of Non-Violence, chap. 5.

[782]Monier Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary, accessed at on January 18, 2014.

[783]Quoted in Alexander Berzin, “The Kālachakra Presentation of the Prophets of the Non-Indic Invaders (full analysis).”

[784]Gordon, “Hindus, Muslims, and the Other in Eighteenth-century India,” 221.

[785]See Nicholas F. Gier, “The Real Meaning of Sodomy” at sodom.htm.

[786]The Analects, 9:14.

[787]Chuang-Tzu: The Inner Chapters, 98-99.

[788]Max Kaltenmark, Lao Tzu and Taoism, trans. Roger Greaves (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1969), 101.

[789]Gordon, “Hindus, Muslims, and the Other in Eighteenth-century India,” 222.

[790]Nicholas F. Gier, “The Color of Sin/The Color of Skin: Ancient Color Blindness and the Philosophical Origins of Modern Racism,” Journal of Religious Thought 46:1 (Summer-Fall, 1989): 42-52.

[791]Herman Hesse, Steppenwolf, trans. Basil Creighton (New York: Bantam Books, 1969), 110.

[792]Friedrich Nietzsche, The Portable Nietzsche, trans. and ed. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Viking Press, 1954), 554. Here is his praise for Goethe: “A kind of self-overcoming on the part of that century.  He bore its strongest instincts within himself . . . . What he wanted was totality; he fought the mutual extraneousness of reason, senses, feeling, and will . . . he disciplined himself to wholeness, he created himself.”

[793]Ibid., 268.

[794]Ibid., 305.

[795]Graham Parkes, Composing the Soul: Reaches of Nietzsche’s Psychology (Chicago, IL:  University of Chicago Press, 1994), 332.

[796]Gier, “Nietzsche’s Übermensch not a Titan” Spiritual Titanism, Check pages.

[797]Ibid., chapters 8, 9, and 10.

[798]Nietzsche, The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Random House, 1974), §109, 169.

[799]See Alphonso Lingus’ comment on Taylor in “On Deconstructing Theology: A Symposium on Erring: A Postmodern A/Theology,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 54:3 (Fall, 1986), 529.

[800]Catherine Keller, “Warriors, Women, and the Nuclear Complex,” 72.

[801]Mandair, Religion and the Specter of the West, 372.

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