VIOLENCE AND DISRUPTION IN SOCIETY
A Study of the Early Buddhist Texts
Elizabeth J. Harris
The Wheel Publication No. 392/393
Published in 1994
Copyright 1990 by Elizabeth J. Harris
Originally published in //Dialogue//, New Series Vo. XVII (1990) by
The Ecumenical Institute for Study & Dialogue, 490/5 Havelock Road,
Colombo 6, Sri Lanka. Reprinted in the Wheel Series with the consent
of the author and the original publisher.
BUDDHIST PUBLICATION SOCIETY
KANDY SRI LANKA
* * *
DharmaNet Edition 1994
Formatted for DharmaNet by John Bullitt
This electronic edition is offered for free distribution
via DharmaNet by arrangement with the publisher.
P.O. Box 4951, Berkeley CA 94704-4951
* * * * * * * *
Part 1. The Forms of Violence
Part 2. Reasons for Buddhism's Attitude to Violence
Part 3. The Roots of Violence
Part 4. Can Violent Tendencies Be Eradicated?
* * * * * * * *
At 8.15 a.m. Japanese time, on August 6th 1945, a U.S. plane dropped a
bomb named "Little Boy" over the center of the city of Hiroshima. The
total number of people who were killed immediately and in the
following months was probably close to 200,000. Some claim that this
bomb and the one which fell on Nagasaki ended the war quickly and
saved American and Japanese lives -- a consequentialist theory to
justify horrific violence against innocent civilians. Others say the
newly developed weapons had to be tested as a matter of necessity.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki ushered in a new age. Humankind's tendency
towards conflict and violence can now wipe out the entire human
habitat. The weapon used on Hiroshima had a destructive force of 12.5
kilotons; a contemporary cruise missile has the power of 200 kilotons.
All war, violence and conflict at national and international levels in
the last quarter of the twentieth century has thus taken on sinister
proportions. It is not that human nature has changed but that the
resources at our disposal have. No country is free from the threat of
nuclear annihilation; no country is free from internal conflict and
the barrel of the gun. It is against the urgency of this background
that the teachings of Buddhism about violence must be studied and
Excerpts such as the following have been extracted and used to sum
up the Buddhist attitude to this issue:
All tremble at violence,
All fear death;
Comparing oneself with others
One should neither kill nor cause others to kill.
Dhp. v. 129
Victory breeds hatred,
The defeated live in pain.
Happily the peaceful live,
Giving up victory and defeat.
Dhp. v. 201
These verses would seem to indicate a clearly defined Buddhist
perspective. Yet such text extraction can lead to misrepresentation if
not undergirded with a strong supporting framework. Furthermore, if
Buddhism has a message for a violent world, it must do more than
condemn violence. It must be able to interpret its nature, its roots,
its hold on the world and the possibilities for its transformation. It
must dialogue with other philosophies and ideologies such as
utilitarianism,  scientific socialism and the belief in a just or
"holy" war. For instance, utilitarianism still lives among those who
believe that violence can be justified if more people will benefit
than will be hurt, and the consequentialist theory mentioned with
reference to Hiroshima is similar to this. Then there are those who
hold that certain forms of injustice and exploitation can only be
destroyed through violence and that history will justify its
legitimacy. The view that violent change is a historical inevitability
is close to this. Buddhism must be able to comment on the stance which
argues that if Hitler had been assassinated early in his career
numerous deaths would have been avoided, or the claim that force is
justified against a government which is using violence against its
people under the pretext of law. If it cannot, it will stand accused
In this study, I define violence as that which harms, debases,
dehumanizes or brutalizes human beings, animals or the natural world;
and the violent person, as one who causes harm in speech or action,
either directly or indirectly, or whose mind is filled with such
thoughts.  The approach will be scriptural, and the resource I use
will be the Pali texts. The basic issue I investigate is what this
resource says on the subject of violence. Identity is not assumed
between the sixth century B.C. and the twentieth century A.D. Rather,
the potential of the scriptures of any religion to provide guidelines
for action and models for contemporary interpretation is recognized.
Hence, the following specific questions will provide the framework for
(1) What different forms of violence do the Buddhist texts show
(2) For what reasons do the texts condemn violence or call it
(3) What do they see to be the roots of violence?
(4) Do the texts give any guidelines for the eradication of
violence in the individual or in society?
* * * * * * * *
THE FORMS OF VIOLENCE
The Buddha's Awareness
The sermons of the Buddha, as they have been handed down to us, are
replete with details about the contemporary realities of the times.
They reveal much about the social contexts within which the Buddha
moved and the faces of society with which he was familiar.
The Canki Sutta shows a brahmin overlord insisting that the Buddha
is equal to him in birth, riches and the knowledge of the Vedas. He
Indeed, sirs, King Seniya Bimbisara of Magadha with his wife
and children has gone to the recluse Gotama for refuge for
life. Indeed, sirs, King Pasenadi of Kosala with his wife and
children has gone to the recluse Gotama for refuge for life.
Indeed, sirs, the brahmin Pokkharasati with his wife and
children has gone to the recluse Gotama for refuge for life.
Important here is the reference to kings. The texts show clearly
that the Buddha had an intimate knowledge of statecraft. Records of
his conversations with Pasenadi and Bimbisara show him speaking in a
language which those involved in government could understand.
Pasenadi, for instance, comes through as a man torn between his duties
as king, involving some degree of ruthlessness, and his concern for
spiritual things. At one moment, he is seen preparing a sacrifice in
which many animals are to be slaughtered and menials beaten and, at
another, speaking seriously with the Buddha about the dangers of
wealth, power and evil conduct.  What is significant is the level
of knowledge shown by the Buddha about the pressures on a king such as
Pasenadi. His use of similes and illustrations, for instance, appeals
to Pasenadi's experience, including the central concern of all rulers
at that time -- defense against aggression. At one point Pasenadi asks
about the value of gifts and to whom a gift should be given for the
gift to bear much fruit. The Buddha replies:
A gift bears much fruit if given to a virtuous person, not to
a vicious person. As to that, sire, I also will ask you a
question. Answer it as you think fit. What think you, sire?
Suppose that you were at war, and that the contending armies
were being mustered. And there were to arrive a noble youth,
untrained, unskilled, unpracticed, undrilled, timid,
trembling, affrighted, one who would run away -- would you
keep that man? Would such a man be any good to you? 
The Buddha thus uses similes from Pasenadi's military world to
indicate that virtue does not depend on birth but on qualities of
character. In fact, in a number of texts, illustrations drawn from the
context of the state, defense and martial arts can be found. Not only
does the Buddha make use of military metaphors, but the texts show
that he had extensive knowledge of the strategies of war, punishment
and political patronage. The Mahadukkhakkhandha Sutta, for instance,
uses graphic description to show that war and conflict spring from
And again, monks, when sense pleasures are the cause ...
having taken sword and shield, having girded on bow and
quiver, both sides mass for battle and arrows are hurled and
knives are hurled and swords are flashing. Those who wound
with arrows and wound with knives and decapitate with their
swords, these suffer dying then and pain like unto dying....
And again, monks, when sense pleasures are the cause ... having
taken sword and shield, having girded on bow and quiver, they
leap on to the newly daubed ramparts, and arrows are hurled and
knives are hurled and swords are flashing. Those who wound with
arrows and wound with knives and pour boiling cow-dung over
them and crush them with the portcullis and decapitate them
with their swords, these suffer dying then and pain like unto
In the next part of the sutta, a variety of horrific punishments
are described and a keen awareness of their nature is seen:
Kings, having arrested such a one, deal out various
punishments: they lash him with whips and they lash him with
canes and they lash him with rods, and they cut off his hand
... his foot ... his hand and foot ... his ear ... and they
give him the "gruel-pot" punishment ... the "shell-tonsure"
punishment ... "Rahu's mouth" ... the "fire-garland" ... the
"flaming hand" ... etc.
In another sermon handed down to us, two men are pointed out while
the Buddha is talking to a headman, Pataliya. One of them is garlanded
and well-groomed; the other is tightly bound, about to lose his head.
We are told that the same deed has been committed by both. The
difference is that the former has killed the foe of the king and has
been rewarded for it, whilst the latter was the king's enemy. 
Hence it is stressed that the laws of the state are not impartial:
they can mete out punishment or patronage according to the wish of the
king and his cravings for revenge or security.
It cannot be argued that the Buddha was ignorant of the political
realities of his day. He spurned frivolous talk about such things as
affairs of state  but he was neither indifferent to them nor
uninformed. On the contrary, his concern for the human predicament
made him acutely aware of the potential for violence within the
economic and political forces around him. The political milieu of
rival republics and monarchies in northern India forms a backdrop to
his teaching, whether the rivalries between the kingdoms of Kosala and
Magadha or the struggles of the republics to maintain their traditions
and their independence in the face of the rising monarchies. 
However, the violence attached to politics and statecraft forms one
section only of the picture which emerges from the texts. Violence is
detected in the brahminical sacrificial system, in the austerities
practiced by some wanderers, and in the climate of philosophical
dispute among the many //sramana// groupings as well as in the area of
social discrimination and the economic order.
Religion, to take this first, is seen as a cause of physical,
verbal and mental violence. The violence inflicted through sacrifices
is described thus:
Now at that time a great sacrifice was arranged to be held for
the king, the Kosalan Pasenadi. Five hundred bulls, five
hundred bullocks and as many heifers, goats and rams were led
to the pillar to be sacrificed. And they that were slaves and
menials and craftsmen, hectored about by blows and by fear,
made the preparations with tearful faces weeping. 
In contrast, the //sramana// groupings within this period eschewed
sacrifice. Denying the authority of the Vedas and a realm of gods to
be manipulated, their emphasis was on renunciation, the gaining of
insight and philosophical debate. Nevertheless, a form of violence was
present. The austerities practiced by some of those who came to the
Buddha were worse than any enemy might inflict as punishment. The
Buddha himself confessed to having practiced them before his
enlightenment. In the Mahasaccaka  and the Mahasihanada 
Suttas there is vivid description of the excesses undertaken. Taken
together, the two suttas cover the complete range of contemporary
Indian practices, which included nakedness or the wearing of rags,
tree-bark fiber, kusa grass, wood shavings or human hair; deprivation
of food to the extent of existing on a single fruit or rice grain;
self-mortification through lying on thorns or exposing the body to
extremes of heat and cold; copying the habits of animals such as
walking on all fours or eating similar food. It was the Buddha's view
that such practices were a form of violence, although undertaken in
the name of religion and truth-seeking. 
Undertaken also in the name of truth were verbal battles between
different groups of wanderers. The Buddha's followers, in fact, were
frequently at the receiving end of an aggressive campaign by other
groups to ridicule their beliefs. The description of these incidents
gives useful evidence of the prevailing atmosphere.  In the
Udumbarika Sihanada Sutta, Nigrodha the Jain claims:
Why, householder, if the Samana Gotama were to come into this
assembly, with a single question only could we settle him;
yea, methinks we could roll him over like an empty pot. 
In the Kassapa Sihanada Sutta, the Buddha speaks out:
Now there are, Kassapa, certain recluses and brahmins who are
clever, subtle, experienced in controversy, hair splitters,
who go about, one would think, breaking into pieces by their
wisdom the speculations of their adversaries. 
Violence of state and violence in the name of religion were two
faces of the Buddha's society. Violence within the economic order was
another. The sixth century B.C. in India witnessed urbanization and
commercial growth. Savatthi, Saketa, Kosambhi, Benares, Rajagaha and
Champa would have been some of the most important centers known to the
Buddha, who spent much time in urban environments. As Trevor Ling
argues in his study, //The Buddha//,  the growth of these cities
spawned individualism and competition in response to changing economic
patterns and social dislocation. The potentially violent tensions
generated are reflected in the Buddha's teachings through such themes
as the rightful gaining of wealth, the place of service and work, 
correct duties towards employees, and the wise choosing of friends.
For instance, a Samyutta Nikaya text contains a conversation between
Rasiya the Headman and the Buddha. The Buddha speaks out against those
who gain wealth by unlawful means, especially with violence. 
Then, in the Sigalovada Sutta, the Buddha outlines rights and duties
for the different social relationships in society.  An employer is
advised to: assign work according to the strength of the employee;
supply food and wages; tend workers in sickness; share with them
unusual delicacies; grant them leave. The same sutta comments on
friendship and says that four foes in the likeness of friends should
be avoided: a rapacious person, a man of words not deeds, the
flatterer and the fellow-waster.
The study of what the Early Buddhist texts say about violence must
be seen against this background of political violence and social
change. The empiricism of Early Buddhism also demands this -- the
Buddha's appeal to what is observed in society as a basis for
evaluating the truth of his teachings. 
The analysis of historical context calls into question whether any
philosophy or thought system can have universal relevance. Since the
human situation across the permutations of history is indeed subject
to change, the issue is a valid one. Yet there is also a continuity in
evolution such that parallels can be drawn between the forces at work
in the sixth century B.C. and those operating in the latter part of
the twentieth century. The sixth century B.C. is not identical to the
twentieth but neither is it completely different. The teaching of
Early Buddhism on violence, therefore, should not be used as if there
were either identity or utter separateness. In each new context and
historical period, there is a need for re-interpretation and
re-evaluation. At this point, it is enough to stress that the texts
reveal much about Indian society at the time of the Buddha and about
the Buddha's own breadth of awareness. It cannot be argued that he had
no knowledge of the violence within his own society or that his words
were divorced from the tensions around him. On the contrary, their
import drew urgency from contemporary observable reality.
The Buddha's Approach to Empirical Questions
Central to Buddhism's approach to the analysis of social phenomena is
the doctrine of //paticca samuppada// or dependent origination, which
can be expressed thus:
When this is, that is; this arising, that arises.
When this is not, that is not; this ceasing, that ceases.
//Imasmim sati idam hoti; imass' uppada idam uppajjati//.
//Imasmim asati idam na hoti;imassa nirodha idamnirujjhati//.
Events and tendencies within the material world are interpreted
from the standpoint of causality. Phenomena are conditioned. Buddhism,
therefore, calls for an analytical attitude in dealing with anything
to do with human life, including the question of violence. 
One consequence which flows from this is that generalizations and
statements based on categories of pure reason are suspect. Evidence
can be drawn from the suttas to show that the Buddha insisted on
making discriminations when presented with dogmatically held views.
For instance, in the Subha Sutta, Subha comes out with the view that a
householder is accomplishing the right path and one who has renounced
is not. The Buddha replies: "On this point, brahmin youth, I
discriminate, on this point I do not speak definitely." He stresses
that both householder (//gihin//) and the one who has renounced
(//pabbajita//) can be living wrongly; both can be living rightly. The
deciding factor is not the label, but rightness of action, speech and
A similar approach can be seen in the Esukari Sutta where the
Buddha speaks about service. In this case, the deciding factor as to
whether a person should serve is whether the one who serves is better
for the service in terms of such things as growing in moral habit and
wisdom.  Then, when faced with the question of sacrifice by the
brahmin Ujjaya, there is again discrimination according to condition.
Not every sacrifice is blameworthy. Where living creatures are not
killed or where the sacrifice is an offering for the welfare of the
family, there is no blame: "No, brahmin, I do not praise every
sacrifice. Yet, I would not withhold praise from every sacrifice."
 The deciding factor here is the presence of suffering for
//Paticca samuppada// opposes the human tendency to generalize and
encourages analysis on the basis of empirical data and moral values
applied to these.  It criticizes standpoints which use
inappropriate categories through insufficient observation and dogmatic
statements about right and wrong which do not take empirically
observed facts into account.
To understand Early Buddhism's analysis of violence, this
conditionality is important. When the Buddha speaks about the causes
and the remedies of violence, his approach is dependent on the
conditions prevalent in a particular situation. For instance,
psychological factors are not emphasized when the Buddha is speaking
to those in power about societal disruption; social and economic
causes are stressed instead.  Yet, in other contexts, particularly
when monks are addressed, it is the psychological factor which is
given prominence.  In contrast again, with King Pasenadi, the
Buddha does not condemn violence in defense of the realm but places it
within the larger context of impermanence and death to encourage
It is possible to hold together the above divergent emphases if we
bear in mind the full implications of conditionality and the
empiricism of Early Buddhism. We should not expect dogmatic,
non-empirical generalizations. For instance, if craving (//tanha//) is
to be posited as the root of much violence, it would not follow that
every situation was conditioned by //tanha// in the same way or that
the remedy in each situation would be identical. Likewise, it would
not follow that what was incumbent on one type of person in one
situation would be incumbent on all sections of society in all
* * * * * * * *
REASONS FOR BUDDHISM'S ATTITUDE TO VIOLENCE
Before looking more closely at what is said about the roots of
violence, it is worth drawing out reasons given in the texts for the
avoidance, questioning or non-espousal of violence. Interconnected
frameworks emerge: //nibbana// as the goal of the spiritual life; the
demands of //metta// and //karuna// (loving kindness and compassion);
the need for peace, concord and harmony within society.
Since the ultimate goal of the spiritual path for the Buddhist is
//nibbana//, attitudes towards violence must first be seen in relation
to it. //Nibbana// is the ultimate eradication of //dukkha//. It is a
possible goal within this life and, among other things, involves a
complete de-toxification of the mind from greed, hatred and delusion,
a revolution in the way the world is perceived, freedom from craving
and liberation from the delusion of ego. The //Therigatha// or Songs
of the Sisters contain some of the most moving testimonies to this
reality; they are paeans of joy about liberation:
Mine is the ecstasy of freedom won
As Path merges in Fruit and Fruit in Path.
Holding to nought, I in Nibbana live,
This five-grouped being have I understood.
Cut from its root, all onward growth is stayed,
I too am stayed, victor on basis sure
Immovable. Rebirth comes never more. 
//Nibbana// and //samsara// are antithetical. One is the ceasing of
the other. In the context of the goal of //nibbana//, actions,
thoughts and words can be evaluated as to whether they build
//samsara// or lead to //nibbana//: whether they are unskilled
(//akusala//) or skilled (//kusala//). Indulgence in violence is
normally deemed //akusala//. In other words, it cannot lead to the
goal of //nibbana//. In the Ambalatthika-Rahulovada Sutta, the Buddha
says to the Venerable Rahula:
If you, Rahula, are desirous of doing a deed with the body,
you should reflect on the deed with the body, thus: "That deed
which I am desirous of doing with the body is a deed of the
body that might conduce to the harm of self and that might
conduce to the harm of others and that might conduce to the
harm of both; this deed of body is unskilled (//akusala//),
its yield is anguish, its result is anguish." 
Harm to others is central to what is unskilled. In the Sallekha
Sutta advice is given to monks about the cleansing of the mind as the
basis of spiritual progress. Foremost among the thoughts which have to
be cleansed are those connected with harming and violence; both
represent unskilled states which lead downwards:
Cunda, as every unskilled state leads downwards, as every
skilled state leads upwards, even so, Cunda, does non-harming
(//avihimsa//) come to be a higher state for an individual who
is harmful, does restraint from onslaught on creatures come to
be a higher state for the individual who makes onslaught on
When the Buddha is in conversation with Bhaddiya, //sarambha// is
added to //lobha//, //dosa// and //moha// (lust, hatred and delusion)
as a defilement which flows from them. //Sarambha// can be translated
as "accompanied by violence." As the mind filled with //lobha//,
//dosa// and //moha// is led to actions which are //akusala//, so is
the mind filled with the violence which accompanies the triad. All
lead to a person's loss:
"Now what think you, Bhaddiya? When freedom from malice
(//adosa//) ... from delusion (//amoha//) ... from violence
(//asarambha//) that goes with these arises within oneself,
does it arise to one's profit or to one's loss?" -- "To one's
profit, sir." 
The point of the above suttas is that violent action and violent
thought, actions which harm and debase others and thoughts which
contemplate the same, stand in the way of spiritual growth and the
self-conquest which leads to the goal of existence. In this respect,
indulging in violence is doing to oneself what an enemy would wish. It
is a form of self-harming:
He who is exceedingly corrupt
like a //maluva// creeper strangling a //sal// tree
does to himself what an enemy would wish.
Dhp. v. 162
In contrast, abstaining from violence has personal benefit in the
present and in the future. It is part of the training of mind and body
which lays the foundation for spiritual progress.
The accusation has been made that the application of the terms
//kusala// and //akusala// are oriented only towards an
individualistic goal, making the motivation for abstention from
violence a selfish one. But it can be argued that the distinction
between altruism and egoism breaks down for anyone truly following the
Noble Eightfold Path. There are also many textual references to the
inherent importance of harmony, justice and compassion in society to
balance those passages which seem to be solely individualistic.
Harmony and justice are recognized as worthwhile in themselves as well
as a prerequisite for the spiritual progress of society's members.
Hence, in society, violence is to be eschewed because it brings pain
to beings with similar feelings to oneself:
All tremble at violence,
Life is dear to all.
Comparing others with oneself
One should neither kill nor cause others to kill.
Dhp. v. 130
On the level of personal analogy, men and women are to condemn
violence. It is an analogy which demands //metta// (loving kindness)
and //karuna// (compassion) of the human being.  They call on a
frame of mind which cannot remain insensitive to suffering in others
or untouched by the agony produced by violence. Non-violence,
therefore, arises through the urge to prevent anguish in others:
Comparing oneself with others in such terms as "Just as I am
so are they, just as they are so am I" (//yatha aham tatha ete
yatha ete tatha aham//), one should neither kill nor cause
others to kill.
Snp. v. 705
The Buddha, however, did not credit all people with this level of
awareness. He is recorded as saying that shame and fear of blame
protect the world, and if there were not these forces, the world would
come to confusion and promiscuity.  Not all beings rally to the
call for compassion on the grounds that others have like feelings to
themselves or that harmony in society is necessary. Therefore, some
texts invoke the concepts of heaven and hell, rewards and punishments,
to control violence. Vivid pictures are drawn of the agonies of hell:
Brahmin youth, here some woman or man is one who makes
onslaught on creatures, is cruel, bloody-handed, intent on
injuring and killing, and without mercy to living creatures.
Because of that deed, accomplished thus, firmly held thus, he,
at breaking up of the body after dying, arises in the
sorrowful way, the bad bourn, the Downfall, the Niraya. 
Even so, monks, that anguish and dejection that man
experiences while he is being stabbed with three hundred
spears, compared with the anguish of Niraya Hell does not
count, it does not amount even to an infinitesimal fraction of
it, it cannot even be compared to it. Monks, the guardians of
Niraya Hell subject him to what is called the fivefold pinion.
They drive a red-hot iron stake through each hand and each
foot and a red-hot iron stake through his breast. Thereat, he
feels feelings that are painful, sharp and severe. But he does
not do his time until he makes an end of that evil deed. 
Here, self-interest in terms of avoidance of future pain is
appealed to as a reason to desist from violence. This emphasis can
also be seen in the Petavatthu in which those fallen to the realm of
the //petas// speak to those on the human level about the reasons for
their suffering.  Falsehood, failing in the duties of wife or
husband, stinginess and fraud are some of the actions mentioned. Story
No. 32, however, speaks of a deerhunter who explains that he was "a
ruthless man of bloody hands": "Among harmless creatures, I, with
wicked mind, walked about, very ruthless, ever finding delight in
slaying others unrestrained," he declares in verse three. His
punishment is to be devoured by dogs during the daytime, the hours
when he used to be involved in slaughter. He is able to teach the
living that the First Precept should be kept and that it applies not
only to the killing of human beings but also to animals. The
deerhunter, therefore, is held up as an authoritative witness to what
happens to violent individuals. His story is useful as a deterrent to
socially disruptive elements and is confirmation of the importance
Buddhism places on non-violence within the social fabric. The threat
of future punishment is used to control potentially violent elements.
Two broad, interconnected areas, therefore, emerge in the reasons
for the condemnation of violence within the Early Buddhist texts.
Firstly, thoughts of violence and violent action are defilements and
must be eradicated if //nibbana// is to be reached. In this light,
//nibbana// is the highest ethical good. This stress alone, however,
can lead to distortion if //nibbana// is seen as a metaphysical state
above the empirical world and the path to it as divorced from society.
Early Buddhism was rooted in the empirical. Violence was to be
repudiated because it caused anguish to men and women and disruption
in society. The human person was seen as precious. Harming a being who
desired happiness and felt pain could rarely be right. If a society
was to be established in which people could live without fear and with
the freedom of mind to follow the Eightfold Path, violence had to be
The question of political, defensive violence, however, must be
mentioned here. Can violence be justified in a situation where the
state needs to defend its citizens against external and internal
threats? Is this a situation in which violence is not condemned? The
texts suggest Buddhism would here insist on discrimination. The
Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta gives this advice to the righteous king:
This, dear son, that you, leaning on the Dhamma, honouring,
respecting and revering it, doing homage to it, hallowing it,
being yourself a Dhamma-banner, a Dhamma-signal, having the
Dhamma as your master, should provide the right watch, ward
and protection for your own folk, for the army, for the
nobles, for vassals and brahmins and householders, for town
and country dwellers, for the religious world and for beasts
and birds. 
This passage implies that the need for an army and consequently for
the use of force in defense is accepted as a worldly necessity. But
the picture which emerges is not glorification of the "just" war but
an appeal for war and violence to be seen against a higher set of
Relevant perspectives on these political realities are seen in the
Buddha's advice to the Vajjians and to King Pasenadi. The Vajjians are
faced with vicious aggression from King Ajatasattu, King of Magadha,
who is bent on destroying them. The latter sends a brahmin to the
Buddha for advice and a prediction about how successful he will be in
war. The very fact that he does so shows that he does not consider the
Buddha either ill-informed or dismissive of such political conflicts.
The reply he receives is significant. The Buddha does not refer
directly to Ajatasattu but implies that the use of arms against a
people who are morally pure and in concord would be fruitless. His
words to Ajatasattu become words of advice to the Vajjians that they
should meet together in concord and give respect to their elders,
their ancient institutions, their traditions and their women. No
mention is made of the Vajjian military strength; only of their moral
strength. Moral strength is held up as defense against violence. Yet
it is not denied but implicitly understood that the Vajjians would
have to use force to repulse aggression, and also present is an
implicit condemnation of Ajatasattu's intentions. 
King Pasenadi is also seen in conflict with Ajatasattu, meeting
force with force. At first, Ajatasattu is the aggressor and the
victor. The reported response of the Buddha is significant:
Monks, the King of Magadha, Ajatasattu, son of the Vedehi
Princess, is a friend to, an intimate of, mixed up with,
whatever is evil. The Kosalan King Pasenadi is a friend to, an
intimate of, mixed up with, whatever is good. 
Thus Pasenadi's role as defender of the nation against aggression
is accepted as necessary and praiseworthy. In the next battle,
Pasenadi is the victor. Ajatasattu's army is confiscated but Pasenadi
is merciful enough to grant Ajatasattu his life. It is still
Ajatasattu who is condemned. His fate is seen in kammic terms:
A man may spoil another just so far
As it may serve his ends, but when he's spoiled
By others he, despoiled, spoils yet again.
So long as evil's fruit is not matured
The fool does fancy: "Now's the hour, the chance!"
But when the deed bears fruit, he fareth ill.
The slayer gets a slayer in his turn,
The conqueror gets one who conquers him,
The abuser wins abuse, the annoyer frets:
Thus by the evolution of the deed
A man who spoils is spoiled in his turn. 
In one respect, Pasenadi becomes an instrument of kamma for
Ajatasattu. At another level, acceptance of political realities
emerges. The king has a duty to protect his citizens from external
threats of violence. Therefore, the advice given to a king or those
with responsibility for government about reacting to the violence of
others is fitted to the situation, a situation in which the use of
violence may become a political necessity in a world governed by
craving (//tanha//). Yet, even with affairs of state, war is placed in
the perspective of a more important set of values. To Pasenadi,
burdened by responsibility, the Buddha says:
Noble and brahmin, commoner and serf,
None can evade and play the truant here:
The impending doom overwhelms one and all.
Here is no place for strife with elephants
Or chariots of war or infantry,
Nay, nor for war or woven spell or curse
Nor may finance avail to win the day. 
War is not presented as worthy of praise in itself. It is
recognized that battle cannot take place without hatred and the wish
to kill, in both the mind of aggressor and victim. A Samyutta Nikaya
passage illustrates this. A fighting man comes to the Buddha and
explains his belief that the warrior who is killed whilst fighting
energetically in battle is reborn in the company of the Devas of
Passionate Delight. The Buddha's answer condemns this idea as
perverted. A warrior is always led by the idea, "Let those beings be
exterminated so that they may be never thought to have existed." Such
a view can only lead downwards rather than to any heavenly world. The
Buddha thus rejects any glorification of war, since there can be no
glory when the mind is dominated by hate.
Another duty of the state is to punish. Punishment, although a
harming of creatures and a cause of pain to them, is nevertheless seen
as a social necessity because of the need to protect society from the
greater violence which would flow from undeterred greed. Fear of
punishment (//dandabhaya//) is described in vivid terms, with the
mention of specific punishments. A man sees them and thinks: "If I
were to do such deeds as those for which the rajahs seize a bandit, a
miscreant, and so treat him ... they would surely treat me in like
manner."  Important here is the fact that Early Buddhism would
make discriminations about the question of punishment. As a deterrent,
punishment has value. Meted out as an expression of hate, it is to be
rejected. Inflicted where social justice is the requisite, it is also
condemned, as seen in the Kutadanta Sutta, referred to in the next
* * * * * * * *
THE ROOTS OF VIOLENCE
The Attadanda Sutta of the Sutta Nipata is the voice of someone
overcome by despair because of the violence he sees:
Fear results from resorting to violence -- just look at how
people quarrel and fight. But let me tell you now of the kind
of dismay and terror that I have felt.
Seeing people struggling like fish, writhing in shallow water,
with enmity against one another, I became afraid.
At one time, I had wanted to find some place where I could
take shelter, but I never saw such a place. There is nothing
in this world that is solid at base and not a part of it that
I had seen them all trapped in mutual conflict and that is why
I had felt so repelled. But then I noticed something buried
deep in their hearts. It was -- I could just make it out -- a
The above is from a translation of the Sutta Nipata which attempts
to preserve the spirit of the text rather than the letter. Here it is
the spirit of dismay and fear leading to discovery which is of prime
importance. The speaker detects a common root -- the dart of craving
(//tanha//) and greed (//lobha//) -- a view directly in line with the
Four Noble Truths. Violence arises because the right nourishment is
However, it has been pointed out earlier that differences may exist
in the way in which //tanha// conditions situations of violence. On
analysis, two broad and mutually interdependent areas emerge: (1)
violence arising from an individual's maladjustment, and (2) craving
and violence arising from unsatisfactory social and environmental
conditions, caused by the craving of others.
The latter can be taken first with reference to the following
texts: The Kutadanta Sutta; the Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta; and certain
Anguttara Nikaya passages. The first weaves a myth within a myth. The
inner myth tells the story of a king, King Wide-Realm, whose land is
wracked with discontent and crime such that people are afraid to walk
in the streets for fear of violence.
The king's solution is to hold a sacrifice for the nation and he
goes to a holy man for advice. But the king is not given what he
expects. The sage tells the king that fines, bonds and death for the
wrongdoers would be self-defeating. Punishment is not the right path.
On the contrary, it would increase the malady because the root causes
remained untouched, in this instance, economic injustice and poverty.
King Wide-Realm is advised to give food and seed corn to farmers,
capital to traders and food to those in government service:
But perchance his majesty might think: "I'll soon put a stop
to these scoundrels' game by degradation and banishment and
fines and bonds and death." But their license cannot be
satisfactorily put a stop to so. The remnant left unpunished
would still go on harassing the realm. Now there is one method
to adopt to put a thorough end to this disorder. Whosoever
there be in the king's realm who devote themselves to keeping
cattle and the farm, to them let his majesty give food and
seed corn. Whosoever there be in the king's realm who devote
themselves to trade, to them let his majesty give capital.
Whosoever there be in the king's realm who devote themselves
to government service, to them let his majesty give wages and
food. Then those men, following each his own business, will no
longer harass the realm; the king's revenue will go up; the
country will be quiet and at peace; and the populace pleased
with one another and happy, dancing their children in their
arms, will dwell with open doors. 
The above analysis recognizes that men and women can be pushed to
violence if the prevailing conditions do not enable them to preserve
their own lives without it. The instinct to survive is credited with
enough strength to push people to struggle before they will sink into
need. In such a situation, it follows that to press down the hand of
the law will not be effective. In fact, it could encourage a growth in
This is what happens in the Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta, another
mythological story dealing with disruption in society. It has already
been mentioned with reference to the duty of kingship. But there is
one clause concerning his duty that has not yet been mentioned:
"Throughout your kingdom let no wrongdoing prevail. And whosoever in
your kingdom is poor, to him let wealth be given."  The kings of
the story who keep to this are blessed with peace. Yet a king
eventually arises who neglects the giving of wealth to the poor. He is
soon faced with a situation beyond his control. Poverty becomes
rampant and this leads to theft, since people would rather steal than
die. When the king realizes the cause, he starts by being lenient on
the wrongdoer, by giving him the means to live. Such kindness too late
leads others to see the only way to survive is turning to theft and
receiving a royal handout in return. The king has given charity, not
justice, and crime increases leading to a return to brutal
punishments. The brutality of the punishments encourages the people to
be more extreme in their own crime as they try to survive. Punishment
here fails to deter because of the desperation of the people.
The sutta presents a disturbing picture of how a society can fall
into utter confusion because of a lack of economic justice. The
extremes reached are far greater than anything envisaged in the
Kutadanta Sutta and they stem from the state's blindness to the
realities of poverty. Thus the sutta states in refrain after every
Thus from goods not being bestowed on the destitute, poverty
... stealing ... violence ... murder ... lying ...
evil-speaking ... immorality grew rife.
Theft and killing lead to false speech, jealousy, adultery,
incest and perverted lust until:
Among such humans, brethren, there will arise a sword-period
(//satthantarakappa//) of seven days during which they will
look on each other as wild beasts; sharp swords will appear
ready to their hands, and they thinking, "This is a wild
beast, this is a wild beast," will with their swords deprive
each other of life. 
In the Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta, the nourishment of the violence
is the state's neglect of the poor. The whole myth illustrates the
principle of //paticca samuppada//. Each state of degeneration is
dependent on the state before it. An evolutionary process is seen. An
inevitability seems to emerge, an inevitable movement towards
bestiality. It is significant that the sutta does not concentrate on
the psychological state of the people. The obsessive cravings which
overtake them are traced back to the failure of the state rather than
to failings in their own adjustment to reality. The root is the
defilement in the state -- the //raga//, //dosa// and //moha// in the
king which afflict his perception of his duty.
An Anguttara Nikaya passage states this principle in simple and
direct terms. If the king is righteous, his ministers will be
righteous, the country will be righteous and the natural world will be
a friend rather than an enemy. The opposite, of course, is also true
and is placed first in the sutta:
At such time, monks, as rulers are unrighteous
(//adhammika//), their ministers are unrighteous, brahmins and
householders are also unrighteous....
The above passages show that a change of heart is needed where
violence exists but this change is needed in those who wield power in
society. When a state is corrupt, the citizens become victims of the
state and their own wish to survive and they are then led to actions
they would never consider if they were free from want. There is an
understanding that, besides those who do evil, there exists a category
of people to whom wrong is done and whose reactions are conditioned by
the original wrongdoing.
To pass now to the psychological roots of violence, another myth
can be cited, the Agganna Sutta. Like the Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta,
it describes an evolutionary process which takes on its own momentum.
The root of the process is significant -- the craving of beings. The
sutta explains, in myth form, the process by which undifferentiated
beings come to earth from a World of Radiance to eat the earth's
savory crust, to the point where there is private property and the
division of labor. One of its purposes is to challenge the static,
non-evolutionary theory of a divinely ordained caste system but it is
significant also because evolution is guided by the growth of craving
and individualism. The whole sutta turns on the individual and his
craving as the root of violence. It depicts a situation before state
power is established. Craving first enters when the beings taste the
crust of the earth:
Then, Vasettha, some being of greedy disposition said, "Lo
now, what will this be?" and tasted the savory earth with his
finger. He thus, tasting, became suffused with the savor, and
craving (//tanha//) entered into him. 
The craving develops. The natural world evolves to accommodate the
beings, becoming ever less easy to manage. The bodies of the beings
become gross and individually differentiated into male and female,
comely and unlovely. Jealousy and competition enter. The savory crust
disappears. Vegetables and plant life evolve. An important point is
reached when the beings establish boundaries around their individually
owned rice plots. Individualism is therefore institutionally
consolidated and the consequence is violence:
Now some being, Vasettha, of greedy disposition, watching over
his plot, stole another plot and made use of it. They took him
and, holding him fast, said, "Truly, good being, you have done
evil in that, while watching your own plot, you have stolen
another plot and made use of it. See, good being, that you do
no such thing again." "Aye, sirs," he replied. And a second
time he did so. And yet a third. And again they took him and
admonished him. Some smote him with the hand, some with clods,
some with sticks. With such a beginning, Vasettha, did
stealing appear and censure and lying and punishment became
The sutta illustrates that //tanha// coupled with individualism
nourishes violence and conditions the necessity for state power to
curb excesses. As such, its teaching is directly in the mainstream of
Buddhist thought: craving and grasping lie at the root of negative and
unwholesome states in society. However, more needs to be said about
the causes and consequences of individualism.
The term "//puthujjana//" is used to describe the ordinary, average
Herein, monks, an uninstructed ordinary person, taking no
account of the pure ones (//ariyanam//), unskilled in the
Dhamma of the pure ones, untrained in the Dhamma of the pure
ones, taking no account of the true men, unskilled in the
Dhamma of the true men, untrained in the Dhamma of the true
men, does not comprehend the things that should be wisely
attended to, does not comprehend the things that should not be
wisely attended to. 
The term "//puthu//" has two main meanings: "several, many,
numerous," on one hand, and "separate, individual," on the other. The
usual definition of //puthujjana// is "one of the many folk," linking
it with the first of the above-mentioned meanings. However, a case can
be made for the second meaning also. In this analysis, the
//puthujjana// is one who believes himself to be separate from the
rest of humankind; one who believes he has a self to be protected,
promoted and pampered. It is this assumption which leads to so much
that is disruptive in society.
Violent tendencies link, at this point, with the defilement of
//moha// (delusion): delusion in terms of a misunderstanding of
//anicca// and //anatta//. The latter states that there is no abiding,
unchanging substance within the human being. Men and women are verbs
rather than nouns, causal processes rather than unchanging souls.
Buddhism does not deny that there is a person, but it reformulates the
definition of what constitutes a person to embrace continuity rather
than static entity. As the sound of the lute cannot be found within
the lute as it is taken apart, so the "I am" cannot be found in the
human personality when it is dissected into the five //khandhas//.
Much anger and violence stem from the felt need to defend what is
seen to be one's own or to grasp personal gain. It is a need which
sees the gain of others as a threat to personal power and the rights
of others as an attack on personal prestige. This is none other than
the fault of the //puthujjana//, a failure to see the truth of
//anatta// and the interdependence of all phenomena. It is this
failure which leads to the self becoming the touchstone and measuring
rule for every perception and judgment. It is the failure which leads
to the urge to be violent in defense of needs and seeming rights. The
Agganna Sutta shows this ego illusion manifesting itself in the form
of competitive individualism. That the ego illusion and //tanha// feed
on one another is a theme found in many texts:
Monks, I will teach you the craving that ensnares, that floats
along, that is far flung, that clings to one, by which this
world is smothered, enveloped, tangled like a ball of thread,
covered as with blight, twisted up like a grass rope, so that
it does not pass beyond the Constant Round, the Downfall, the
Way of Woe, the Ruin....
Monks, when there is the thought: "I am" -- there come to be
the thoughts: "I am in this world; I am thus; I am otherwise;
I am not eternal; I am eternal; Should I be? Should I be in
this world? Should I be thus? Should I be otherwise? May I
become. May I become in this world. May I become thus. May I
become otherwise. I shall become. I shall become otherwise."
These are the eighteen thoughts which are haunted by craving
(//tanhavicaritani//) concerning the inner self
One result of this interdependent feeding, the Buddhist texts
assert, is disruption in society.
Another important area of study is the mechanism through which the
"I" notion helps to generate unwholesome states. Buddhism sees a
danger in the view of some schools of psychology that there is a
creative use of the concept of self. In this respect, the Pali term
"//papanca//," commonly translated as proliferation, is important. The
Madhupindika Sutta declares //papanca// to be the root of taking up
weapons, and the defeat of //papanca// is the way to end such
This is itself an end to the propensity to ignorance, this is
itself an end of taking a weapon, of quarreling, contending,
disputing, accusation, slander, lying speech. 
As the previous analysis in this paper points out, discrimination
is central to the Buddhist approach and therefore generalizations such
as the above need to be studied carefully. There is no doubt, however,
that //papanca// is central to a Buddhist psychology of violence and
to an understanding of the danger in the "I am" notion.
A study by Bhikkhu Nanananda, //Concept and Reality//, gives
extensive coverage to the term "//papanca//". He puts forward the
view that it is linked with the final stage of sense cognition and
that it signifies a "a spreading out, a proliferation" in the realm of
concepts, a tendency for the conceptual process to run riot and
obscure the true reality of things. He makes much use of the
above-quoted Madhupindika Sutta and quotes the following:
Visual consciousness, brethren, arises because of eye and
visible forms; the meeting of the three is sensory
impingement; because of sensory impingement arises feeling
(//vedana//); what one feels, one perceives (//sanjanati//);
what one perceives, one reasons about (//vitakketi//); what
one reasons about, one turns into //papanca// (//papanceti//);
what one turns into //papanca//, due to that
//papanca-sanna-sankha// assail him in regard to visible forms
cognizable by the eye belonging to the past, the future and
the present. 
The same is said of the other senses.
Nanananda points out that a grammatical analysis of the above
reveals that the process of perception involves deliberate activity up
until //papanceti//. After this, deliberation vanishes. The subject
becomes the object. The person who reasons conceptually becomes the
victim of his own perceptions and thought constructions. So Nanananda
Like the legendary resurrected tiger which devoured the
magician who restored it to life out of its skeletal bones,
the concepts and linguistic conventions overwhelm the
worldling who evolved them. At the final and crucial stage of
sense-perception, the concepts are, as it were, invested with
an objective character. 
His analysis is of immense significance to the study of how certain
negative and destructive tendencies can grow in society; how objective
perception and reason can seem to fade before the force of what might
be irrational and obsessive. He roots the cause in the nature of
language in the minds of persons governed by //tanha//, //mana// and
//ditthi// -- craving, conceit (the tendency to measure oneself
against others), and views -- which in themselves flow from
ego-consciousness. //Papanca//, according to this analysis, manifests
itself through //tanha//, //mana// and //ditthi//. It underlies each
of these qualities and breeds conflict in society.
To look at the process in more detail: The conventions of language
enter near the beginning of the process of sense perception, at the
point where feeling gives rise to mental activity and concepts. The
mind, if unchecked, will attempt to place order on its feelings
through language. This language immediately introduces the duality of
subject and object, subject and feeling. The "I" enters with "I feel
aversion" or "I feel attraction" or "I like this" or" I don't like
this." This emphasis on the "I" is predetermined by the very nature of
language and reinforces the strength of the feeling and the tendency
for the person to identify completely with what is felt. What seems to
happen after that is that language takes on a dynamism of its own.
Concepts proliferate and leave the empirical behind, under the driving
force of //tanha//, //mana// and //ditthi//. For instance, the
observation, "I feel aversion" might lead to further thoughts such as:
I am right to feel aversion.... Therefore, the object is
inherently worthy of aversion.... So, the object must threaten
me and others.... Therefore the objects must be got rid of....
I cannot survive unless the object is annihilated from my
sphere of vision and feeling.... It is my duty to annihilate
this for my sake and the sake of others.
Thus the entrance of "I" leads to the urge to protect the wishes of
the ego and what is ego-based becomes a seemingly rational decision
about duty. The above is a purely hypothetical progression, yet it is
not an implausible one. It illustrates the way in which thought
progresses further and further away from what is empirically observed.
Speculation enters as the mind attempts to reason. Eventually, as the
thought process develops further, what might appear to be reason
cloaks obsession which, in turn, can make the person a victim of the
apparent logic of language.
Kant in his //Critique of Pure Reason//  seems to adopt a
similar point of view. He challenged the view that speculative
metaphysics using the categories of pure reason could extend our
knowledge of reality. He attacked particularly those theologians who
believed that the existence of God could be proved through logic
alone. There was, he claimed, an irresistible impulse of the mind
towards seeking unification and synthesis which led to the
illegitimate use of language. It is this which is particularly
relevant to this study. For instance, he posited that the mind assumed
an unconditional personal ego just because all representations were
unified by the "I think" construction. It also assumed a concept of
God because of the drive to find an unconditioned unity. Such
concepts, Kant felt, arose through the impulse of the mind and passed
beyond the legitimate purview of language. It passed beyond the
perceptions which could add knowledge and were not based on truly
empirical data. Therefore, they could not give statements with any
Kant grasped that there was an irresistible impulse which led to
concepts taking on an unwarranted life of their own. Buddhism says
that these concepts can generate obsessions, victimize the person who
believes he or she is thinking logically, and lead to disruption in
society. What is lost in the process is the ability to see objectively
and value the empirical through senses unclouded by craving, conceit
and views, or by greed, hatred and delusion.
//Papanca//, fed and generated by //tanha//, is therefore central
to the theme of violence in the thoughts and actions of human beings.
Buddhism suggests that the human person can become the victim of
obsessive actions, thoughts and inclinations. It holds that the drift
towards violence within one person or within society, especially if a
communal or cultural obsession has arisen, may become an inevitable
causal process unless the inner mechanism is discovered. Related to
this is the danger and motivating force of dogmatic and speculative
views as one of the roots of violence -- the //ditthi//, connected in
the above analysis with //papanca//. In his advice to the Kalamas and
to Bhaddiya, the Buddha said:
Be not mislead by report or tradition or hearsay. Be not
misled by proficiency in the Collections, nor by mere logic or
inference, nor after considering reasons, nor after reflection
on or approval of some theory, nor because it fits becoming,
nor by the thought: the recluse is revered by us. 
Here, logic and inference are deemed to be as dangerous as what is
passed on by doubtful report and tradition. The same approach is seen
in the Brahmajala Sutta  where a number of mistaken views,
according to Buddhist analysis, are discussed. //Tanha// is seen as
the root of these but logic and inference are also mentioned.
In the following, the question of conflict in relation to dogmatic
views is more clearly expressed. The Buddha points out the danger of
saying, "This is indeed the truth, all else is falsehood" (//idam-eva
saccam//, //mogham-annam//). For dispute is the result and: "If there
is dispute, there is contention; if there is contention, there is
trouble; if there is trouble there is vexation."  Adhering
dogmatically to views is a form of //papanca//, a particularly
dangerous form. Several suttas in the Sutta Nipata take up this theme:
the Pasura Sutta and the Kalahavivada Sutta,  for instance. The
former speaks of the person who goes forth roaring, looking for a
rival to contest with, filled with pride and arrogance over his
theories. A battle-like situation is implied, an attitude closely
allied to that which actually results in warfare and armed struggle.
Contemporary struggles in the world give ample evidence to prove that
war and struggle are caused by the conflict of ideas, ideologies and
concepts. They show how powerful and charismatic a force ideas can be.
Whether it is nationalism, ethnicity or religion, groups can be pushed
towards violence in defense of them. Buddhist analysis points out that
some ideologies which might appear logical could, in fact, be the
fruit of //papanca//. Adherents may be convinced of their truth but
they might have progressed far from analysis based on empirical data.
In the above analysis of the roots of violence, two broad areas
have been studied: the external and the internal, the environmental
and psychological. Yet the two are not separate. They interconnect and
feed one another, just as external sense objects interconnect with the
senses, giving rise to consciousness and psychological processes. If a
people's environment is unhealthy, corrupt or unjust, the seeds are
sown for violent resistance, through the growth of motivating
ideologies which take on a life of their own as they grip the minds of
those who are being oppressed. If the environment is excessively
competitive, consumer-oriented and materialistic, //tanha// will
quickly arise, develop and expand into obsessive patterns of greed,
taking over and dominating the perception of people who find
themselves victims of craving rather than masters of their own
perceptual processes. The step to violence is then small. If other
elements are present, such as a group without access to the wealth
visible in others, discrimination against minorities or racism, then
the drive towards violence will be more rapid.
* * * * * * * *
CAN VIOLENT TENDENCIES BE ERADICATED?
There is an optimism at the heart of Buddhism. The Four Noble Truths
and //paticca samuppada// present a doctrine of hope because they
affirm change and evolution. Men and women are not pawns of fate,
chance or a capricious metaphysical being.  They can be makers of
their own future. Applied to the issue of violence and disruption,
this means that violence within the individual and in society is not
intransigent, although the Buddhist texts make it quite clear that the
obstacles to transformation are large.
Buddhism has no concept of a worldly utopia. //Samsara// is
//samsara//, characterized by //dukkha//. //Nibbana// is a victory
over //samsara//, not a destruction of //samsara//. The doctrine of
//anicca// (impermanence), in fact, undermines any dream of a golden
future or a straight road of development towards harmony and peace.
Yet the worth of working for conditions for concord is never denied.
The important questions which emerge are: How feasible is the
lessening of violent tendencies in society? Can changes in the
individual affect society as a whole? When there is violence inherent
in the structures of society, what steps can be taken?
To take the possibility for change within the individual first,
certain passages from the texts suggest that the Buddha had rather a
low opinion of the //puthujjana// and his or her ability to change.
Verse 174 of the Dhammapada reads:
Blind is the world
Few are those who clearly see.
As birds escape from a net
Few go to a blissful state.
His sermons show that he recognizes that reaching people set on
material things with a new message is difficult because their
perception and ability to hear has been conditioned by the pattern of
But this situation exists, Sunakkhatta, when some individual
here may be set on the material things of this world
(//lokamisadhimutto//), and the talk of the individual who is
set on the material things of this world follows a pattern in
accordance with which he reflects and ponders, and he
associates with that man under whom he finds felicity; but
when there is talk about imperturbability (//ananja//) he does
not listen, does not lend an ear, does not rouse his mind to
profound knowledge, and he does not associate with that man
under whom he does not find felicity. 
A bad man, monks, is possessed of bad states of mind, he
consorts with bad men, he thinks as do bad men, he advises as
do bad men, he speaks as do bad men, he acts as do bad men, he
has the views of bad men, he gives gifts as do bad men....
And how, monks, does a bad man act as do bad men? As to this
monks, a bad man is one to make onslaught on creatures, to
take what has not been given, to enjoy himself wrongly...
In one passage, a prince, Prince Jayasena, is pictured in
conversation with a novice monk who speaks about aloofness and
one-pointedness of mind. On the evidence given, the prince declares
such an achievement to be impossible. Confused, the novice goes to the
Buddha, who says that such direct teaching could not possibly have
been understood by one of such a lifestyle as the prince:
That Prince Jayasena, living as he does in the midst of sense
pleasures, enjoying sense pleasures, being consumed by
thoughts of sense pleasures, burning with the fever of sense
pleasure, eager in the search of sense pleasures, should know
or see or attain or realize that which can be known by
renunciation, realized by renunciation -- such a situation
does not exist. 
The above passages might seem to imply the reverse of hope on the
very same ground as hope was confirmed in the introduction to this
section -- //paticca samuppada//. If perception is conditioned by a
person's lifestyle, the friends he or she chooses, and greed for
material objects, then appreciation of another set of values will not
arise from that nourishment. Such an argument would seem to be
realistic given the framework of conditionality. However, this realism
must be balanced with instances in the texts where change does take
place in the lives of individuals.
The case of Angulimala is one of the best known and most frequently
quoted. Angulimala is a multiple murderer, the terror of Savatthi. He
is described as having depopulated villages and districts through his
urge to kill. The Angulimala Sutta describes the story.  The
Buddha, ignoring the fear of the people, sets out by himself toward
where Angulimala is said to be. Angulimala, on seeing him, decides to
give him the same fate as others who had dared to walk the roads.
However, at this point, the Buddha uses a technique which slaps
Angulimala so hard that he gains sudden insight into the futility of
the path he had been taking. The Buddha uses his psychic power to
ensure that Angulimala cannot catch up with him, however much effort
he applies. This opens up the opportunity for the question of walking
and standing still to be raised. Angulimala is forced into the
realization that his life has been a futile chase, a fretful
searching, without peace or fulfillment. The tranquillity of the
Buddha contrasts sharply with his own turbulence and the destructive
state of his mind. The contrast makes him see the nature of his mind.
A revolution -- in its true sense of a complete turning around --
takes place. Angulimala, the murderer, becomes a completely changed
person. He asks the Buddha for ordination as a monk, and soon becomes
an Arahant, a saint.
Some interpretations have attempted to explain this in terms of a
form of grace coming from the Buddha to the murderer. No doubt the
person of the Buddha had a profound effect on the man. The sheer
contrast between the states of mind and consequent physical appearance
and bearing of the two would have shaped the event. Yet it is perhaps
more helpful to think of Angulimala as being ready to change, ready to
face what he was doing to his life. The Buddha's words acted as a
sudden jolt to shock him into realization and change. A similar
transformation can be seen at the end of the Cakkavatti Sihanada
Sutta, mentioned earlier, when bestiality has overtaken society to the
point that a reaction takes place. At the point when beings think of
one another as wild beasts, some begin to think:
Let us not slay anyone; nor just let anyone slay us. Let us
now, therefore, take ourselves to dens of grass, or dens in
the jungle, or holes in trees, or river fastnesses, or
mountain clefts and subsist on fruits and on roots of the
The depth of barbarism causes a reversal, a disgust with the
nourishment on which violent thoughts were feeding. Something new
seems to enter but it is nevertheless part of the ongoing causal
process. The important point is that there can be a stage at which the
unwholesome is recognized as such by those who are perpetrating it.
The process through which those who followed the Buddha saw the
household life as a fetter, a state in which it was difficult to avoid
greed, materialism and competitiveness, to a certain extent parallels
That it is possible for people to change accords with human
experience. It is also worth going back to the advice given to the
novice who had tried to instruct Prince Jayasena.  The story does
not end with the Buddha's words about the impossibility of reaching
the mind of the prince. An alternative method is stressed -- gradual
training. The Buddha explains that the prince might have understood if
told that the process of understanding was gradual. The simile of the
training of an elephant is used: At first, the elephant is brought
from the forest into the open; he is addressed with kindly words and
fed; then tasks are given to him, progressing from the simple to the
more complex up to the point where the animal can endure blows of the
sword and the din of war without flinching.
The stress on a gradual process of change and training, beginning
with moral habit, stretches like a thread across the Buddhist texts.
There is a firm belief that discipline, education and the taking of
one step at a time can lead people from a state of relative ignorance
to greater wisdom. The possibility of gradual change must be admitted
alongside the sudden change of Angulimala. The two are complementary.
In the Kevaddha Sutta, Kevaddha, a young householder, comes to the
Buddha and pleads with him to perform a mystic wonder.  The Buddha
names three wonders of which he has knowledge: the mystic, the wonder
of manifestation, and the wonder of education. The first two are to be
feared and abhorred. It was the latter which was to be praised as the
most worthy -- the wonder of education. Change through a gradual
process is, therefore, deemed possible but it is also recognized as
something of a wonder, given the strength of craving and grasping.
Evidence that groups of both lay and ordained people were following
the gradual training comes from the Mahaparinibbana Sutta. The sutta
speaks of the fourfold society being a reality -- the fourfold society
as composed of monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen. Mara is seen to
approach the Buddha, urging him to die because the task he had set
himself earlier had been completed:
Now is the time for the Exalted One to pass away -- even
according to the word which the Exalted One spoke when he
said, "I shall not die, O Evil One, until the brethren and the
sisters of the Order and until the lay disciples of both sex
shall have become true hearers, wise and well-trained, ready
and learned, carrying the doctrine in their memory, masters of
the lesser corollaries that follow from the larger doctrine,
correct in life, walking according to the precepts -- until
they, having thus themselves learnt the doctrine, shall be
able to tell others of it, preach it, make it known, establish
it, open it, minutely explain it and make it clear." 
In the above description, both lay and ordained are described with
the same adjectives. Lay people as well as ordained are credited with
considerable knowledge. There are grounds of hope here, since the
first stage of gradual training is morality, the foundation of which
is the Five Precepts. All of these are linked with abstaining from
different forms of violence: direct and indirect killing; theft; the
exploitation of women; the violence connected with speech; violence to
oneself through the use of drugs. The Early Buddhist texts are replete
with exhortations to keep the precepts. Heaven and hell, bliss and
torture, are held up and paeans of praise are given to those who
Faint is the fragrance of //tagara// and sandal
But the fragrance of the virtuous is excellent
Wafting even among the gods.
Dhp. v. 56.
There are examples, however, of lay people going beyond morality.
Pessa, the son of an elephant trainer, claims:
And, revered sir, we householders too, dressed in white, from
time to time dwell with our minds well applied to the four
applications of mindfulness (//catusu satipatthanesu//). 
Pessa receives the recognition and praise of the Buddha for this.
It is significant that mindfulness is crucial in halting the flow of
mind, in halting //papanca//, as described earlier, and the violent
thoughts which might consequently flow. The key to mindfulness is the
development of the ability to stand aside, detached from what is
happening to the body, to feeling, to thought processes and mental
objects,  so that ever arising and passing movement, feelings and
thoughts are carefully charted. It is an approach which recognizes
both //anicca// and //anatta//: //anicca// because what is attended to
is seen as an ever-changing process; //anatta//, because the elements
of the process are not assumed to belong to the person and therefore
are not clung to as unchanging truths. Mindfulness (//satipatthana//)
in fact can stop the mind before obsessions based on //tanha//,
//mana// and //ditthi// can grow.
Guarding the doors of the senses (//indriya samvara//) is one form
of practice of mindfulness, frequently mentioned as the second step in
the gradual training. The traditional way of describing this is:
Having seen a visible form with the eye, he is not entranced
by the general appearance, he is not entranced by the detail.
If he dwells with his organ of sight uncontrolled,
covetousness and dejection, evil unskilled states of mind,
might predominate. So he fares along controlling it, he guards
the organ of sight, he achieves control over the organ of
The same is said of the other sense organs. A guard is placed at
the point where contact between the sense and the sense object results
in feeling (//vedana//). Knowledge of how the mind works is gained.
Mindfulness is thus an antidote to //papanca// and stops the mechanism
through which //papanca// develops. It demands effort and discipline.
The texts show that such mind-culture is possible and suggest that it
would lead to the lessening of violence as an expression of personal
The example of the Sangha, the Order of Monks, must also be looked
at. No compromises were made concerning violence when it came to the
monk. The Sangha was intended to be a model of harmonious
interpersonal relationships. It was to provide an alternative set of
values to lay people, to present a pattern of sharing rather than of
competitive individualism.  If the Sangha had been able to carry
out successfully this role, a disturbing challenge would have been
presented to the communities among which the monks walked.
The Kakacupama Sutta is one of the best examples of the extent to
which violent retaliation was condemned for the monk. The key
sentence, repeated many times, speaks of the attitude to be cultivated
in the face of abuse or violence:
Neither will my mind become perverted, nor will I utter evil
speech, but kindly and compassionate will I dwell with a mind
of friendliness and devoid of hatred (//mettacitto no
What is significant is the extent to which this is to be taken:
Monks, as low-down thieves might carve one limb from limb with
a double-handed saw, yet even then whoever sets his mind at
enmity, he, for this reason, is not a doer of my teaching.
Herein, monks, you must train yourself: Neither will our minds
become perverted ... devoid of hatred. 
The Punnovada Sutta describes a monk who took this teaching to
heart. He intends to travel to a district where the people are known
to be hostile. The Buddha questions him about how he will deal with
abuse and violence. Possibilities are mentioned, increasing each time
in intensity from verbal abuse to loss of life. After each one, Punna
responds by saying that he would be thankful that the abuse was not
even more serious. When the Buddha finally mentions murder, he says:
If the people of Sunaparanta deprive me of life with a sharp
knife, revered sir, it will be thus for me there; I will say,
"There are disciples of the Lord who, disgusted by the body
and the life-principle and ashamed of them, look about for a
knife. I have come to this knife without having looked for
He is said to have made a thousand followers, suggesting that his
attitude became a true inspiration to a people who were characterized
In contrast to the above, there are examples of monks presenting a
harmful example to lay people. As the Sangha grew in number and in
reputation, the initial enthusiasm of the first disciples became
diffused. Evidence in suttas such as the Bhaddali Sutta, the
Kakacupama Sutta, the Kitagiri Sutta and the Anumana Sutta  shows
that there were forces of deterioration. Some monks were difficult to
exhort; some were rebellious towards the rules; some were incapable of
taking correction from others. In this way, their ability to provide
an example to lay people would have been weakened. Yet it would be
wrong to place too much emphasis on this weakness. Other suttas can be
quoted to show what an impact the Buddha's followers had on other
groups of wanderers and even on kings. 
The important point here is that hope for change in the Early
Buddhist texts also lies in the Sangha as example and educator. Lay
people were encouraged to show devotion to the Sangha and to listen to
its teaching. As outlined above, there is evidence that there was a
body of lay people who were very serious in their striving to
undertake the precepts and to train their mind so that //tanha// could
be reduced. That change in the individual is possible is confirmed by
a study of the early followers.
The above picture combines hope with realism. The obstacles
mentioned at the beginning of the section must not be overlooked; the
barriers to change are great. According to Buddhism the average person
(//puthujjana//) will often need the threat of punishment, either in
the present or in a future life, to be deterred from socially
disruptive activities. It has also been pointed out that it is not
enough to concentrate on the individual. A society is more than the
sum of its individuals. Just as the human person is such because of
the specific relationship between the five //khandhas//, so a society
takes on its character because of the way in which its parts are
organized through institutions, traditions and external influences.
The next question which must be looked at is how the individual can
affect society as a whole or, more exactly, what the consequences are
when a person follows the gradual training of Buddhism. As with the
other questions raised, the method of this paper is to discover what
the texts say, to uncover the guidelines or resources they provide for
the analysis of contemporary issues.
In a previous section it was suggested that one of the causes of
violence was the proliferation of concepts and ideas flowing from the
perceptual process when governed by //tanha//, //mana// and
//ditthi//. Is the answer, then, a retreat into silence and inaction
away from all concepts? The evidence suggests not. The Buddha was
quick to condemn any inference that he taught a doctrine of either
inaction or apathy. One example will illustrate this. The Buddha is
seen in conversation with a person called Potaliya. Potaliya declares
that the most worthy person is the one who speaks neither in dispraise
of what deserves not praise nor in praise of the praiseworthy. He
advocates what would seem a complete withdrawal from judgment and a
supreme detachment from the issues governing society. And the term
Potaliya uses to describe the frame of mind he is talking about is
//upekkha// -- equanimity.
The Buddha, however, disagrees with him. Far better is the person
of discrimination who speaks in dispraise of the unworthy and in
praise of the praiseworthy, saying seasonably what is factual and the
truth. In other words, he challenges the view that //upekkha//
(equanimity) means the quality Potaliya advocates. The Buddha puts
forward another quality:
Now, Potaliya, there are these four persons existing in the
world.... Of these four persons, Potaliya, he who speaks in
dispraise of what deserves not praise and in praise of the
praiseworthy, saying seasonably what is fact and true -- he is
the most admirable and rare. Why so? Because, Potaliya, his
discrimination of proper occasions (//kalannuta//) is
The Buddha mentions the quality of //kalannuta//, in place of the
word used by Potaliya -- //upekkha//. The translation given by the
Pali Text Society is "discrimination of proper occasions." The ability
to discriminate and make objective evaluations, not indifference, is
the consequence of curbing //papanca//. A certain silence of the mind
is indicated but it is not the silence of apathy. The proliferation of
concepts which is //papanca// results in an obscuring of the
empirical, since this proliferation moves one further and further away
from the empirical because of the linguistic edifice of "therefore"
and "therein" erected on top of the initial emotion of like or
aversion. Preventing the erection of this edifice on the foundation of
//tanha// leads to a clearer perception of the empirical and to
judgments and analyses being made with greater validity. The
conclusions reached through //papanca// may seem to be analytical.
They are not. Resisting //papanca// is not a moving away from analysis
but a moving towards objective analysis unclouded by emotional
responses. It is this kind of analysis which is so often lacking when
there is violence and conflict in society.
When perceptions, judgments and consequent action are governed by
the roots of //papanca//, there will be no objectivity but a danger
that obsessions will grow. When //papanca// is allayed, what is good
and bad, //kusala// and //akusala//, praiseworthy and blameworthy,
will be more clearly visible. The injustices in society, for instance,
will be more apparent. Judgments about those who are oppressed in
society or about those who gain wealth illegally through violence and
extortion will not be clouded either by the tendency to look down on
those who suffer or the wish to gain patronage from the wealthy. What
is wrong and what is right, what harms and what promotes happiness,
will stand out untouched by personal wishes or personal greed.
This clarity of judgment can be seen in the words of the Buddha. In
the Assalayana Sutta, the Agganna Sutta and the Madhura Sutta the
caste system is vigorously opposed.  The Esukari Sutta condemns
the kind of service which becomes slavery.  Meaningless ritual is
attacked in the Sigalovada Sutta.  Brahminical excesses are
uncovered in the Brahmajala Sutta, the Ambattha Sutta and the Tevijja
Sutta.  The violence and shame of sacrifices is condemned in the
Kutadanta Sutta.  These are not the only examples. The Buddha is
revealed as a person who was unafraid to point out wrong when he saw
it and to use uncompromising words. It is this kind of effective
speech and action which should flow when //tanha//, //mana// and
//ditthi// are reduced.
Abstention from the harmful or violent is not enough by itself. The
texts stress that the active cultivation of the opposite is necessary.
A replacement is needed as well as an annihilation. This is seen at
lay level as well as among the ordained. For instance, in the
Saleyyaka Sutta, addressed specifically to lay people, the two courses
of faring by Dhamma and not-Dhamma are explained. Malevolence is
explained by reference to the wish to kill:
He is malevolent in mind, corrupt in thought and purpose, and
thinks: "Let these beings be killed or slaughtered or
annihilated or destroyed or may they not exist at all." 
Faring by Dhamma is explained in opposite terms and yet the effect
is not merely a negation of or a restraining from not-Dhamma but the
practice of positive virtue. So, the one who abandons slanderous
speech becomes "a reconciler of those who are at variance and one who
combines those who are friends." The one who restrains himself from
malevolent thought is the one who thinks: "Let those beings, friendly,
peaceful, secure, happy, look after self."  Similarly, during
meditation, positive qualities are to be cultivated to replace the
five hindrances. For instance:
Putting away ill-will and hatred (//vyapadapadosa//), he
abides with heart free from enmity (//avyapannacitta//),
benevolent and compassionate towards every living being
(//sabbe panabhutahitanukampi//) and purifies his mind of
The Early Buddhist emphasis, therefore, indicates that the
eradication of the tendencies which cause violence leads to greater
realism, the growth of positive, wholesome qualities and more
effective speech and action against what is unjust and exploitative.
An important question, however, remains unanswered, the third question
mentioned at the beginning of this section: When there is violence
inherent in the structures of society as a whole, what steps can be
In many societies, violence is institutionalized in structures
which oppress certain sections of the people. Some would mention the
caste system in India in this context, corrupt trading practices, or
the forces which keep some groups of people poor. On the other hand,
violence can flow from the monarchy or state, from internal terrorist
groups or an outside threat. In these situations, violence is rarely
lessened by changes in a few individuals, unless these individuals
have considerable power. What strategies should be used to oppose such
violence? Is there any situation where violence should be met with
violence? Is there a different path for the lay person than for the
monk? Is there a situation where it might be justifiable to overthrow
the state? If so, could this lead to a changed society? If undeserved
suffering occurs because of the greed of others, do the demands of
compassion (//karuna//) ever involve what could be called violent
resistance to the perpetrators? These are crucial questions in the
light of current world tensions such as racial injustice, capitalistic
monopolies, terrorism and fascism. The question here is whether any
guidelines can be gained from the Buddhist texts themselves.
There is no doubt that the person who renounces the household life
is called to abstain from violence completely. It is one of the
hallmarks of the bhikkhu. Not to react in violent retaliation to abuse
was part of the training of the disciple. Where there was
state-instigated violence, the Early Buddhist position seems to have
been that the Sangha could act as advisers to rulers and, in this
capacity, could raise issues connected with righteous government, but
it could not become involved in violent resistance. As for the lay
follower of the Buddha, he or she undertakes to desist from harming
others through the first precept. To break this intentionally is to
risk serious kammic consequences. For the lay person, as for the monk,
the approved line of action would seem to be advice and non-violent
pressure or resistance towards those in a position to change violent
A different set of responsibilities, however, is laid on the state
itself. As previously discussed, rulers with the protection of their
citizens at heart were inevitably drawn into conflict when threatened
by aggression. The question can therefore be raised as to whether
non-violence is an absolute value in Buddhism. For instance, is a
father, as head and protector of the family, justified in using
violence against a person forcefully entering his house with the
intention to kill? Has an elder sister the duty to protect a younger
brother if he is attacked violently, by using similar violence? Has a
group of citizens the right to kill a dictator if, by doing so, they
might save the lives of oppressed minorities to whom the citizens feel
a duty? Should the terrorist gun be challenged with similar methods?
These are areas where absolutes seem to break down. As a ruler might
realize that some aggressor cannot be deterred by persuasion, so some
citizens might feel that violence or injustice in society cannot be
stopped merely by giving advice to those in power. That lay people
should never initiate violence where there is harmony or use it
against the innocent is very clear. That they should not attempt to
protect those under their care if the only way of doing so is to use
defensive violence is not so clear.
Guidelines about the consequences of violence, however, are laid
down. The danger of violence, even if it is defensive, is that it will
generate further violence. Non-hatred (//avera//) and loving kindness
are the powers which halt it. //Metta// (loving kindness) is shown to
have great power: it can turn away the poison of a snake or the charge
of an elephant;  it can render burning ghee harmless.  The
latter story concerns a wife, Uttara, who is married to an unbeliever.
A courtesan, Sirima, is given to her husband so that Uttara can be
released to attend on religious duties. A quarrel arises between the
two women which ends in Sirima pouring boiling ghee over Uttara. As
she prepares to do this, Uttara thinks: "My companion has done me a
favor. The circle of the earth is too narrow, the world of the devas
is too low, but the virtue of my compassion is great because by her
help, I have become able to give alms and listen to Dhamma. If I am
angry with her may this ghee burn me; if not, let it not burn me." The
ghee does not burn. Sirima tries again. Then the other women present
attack Sirima and throw her to the ground. Uttara continues to show
compassion by coming to her rescue, by preventing her from being hurt.
Responding to violence with //metta// and non-anger is deemed
superior to any other path. Non-violent resistance is clearly the best
path. Yet Buddhism cannot claim to be completely pacifistic. Absolutes
of that kind cannot be found and perhaps should not be sought for in a
teaching which spoke of the danger of claiming of a view, "this alone
is truth, all else is falsehood." The person who feels violence is
justified to protect the lives of others has indeed to take the
consequences into account. He has to remember that he is risking grave
consequences for himself in that his actions will inevitably bear
fruit. He or she has to be aware that there is a dynamism within
hatred and violence when the causal chain has not had its nourishment
removed. Such a person needs to evaluate motives in the knowledge that
violent tendencies are rooted in the defilements of //lobha//,
//dosa// and //moha//, and in the obsessions generated by //papanca//.
Yet that person might still judge that the risks are worth facing to
prevent a greater evil. Whether the assassination of Hitler would have
prevented numerous innocent deaths is still an open question.
In conclusion, it can be said that Buddhism lays down a form of
mental culture to lessen the mind's tendency to veer towards violence.
However, it is a culture which involves qualities of faith
(//saddha//) and effort (//vayama//) that many in society are unable
to cultivate. Therefore punishment either by the state or in an
after-life is seen as a valid deterrent for extremes of violence.
However, where violence flows directly and unjustifiably from the
state or from other groups or institutions, questions are raised which
are not dealt with directly by the texts. The drawing of conclusions
is therefore fraught with difficulty. Yet these questions must be
tackled if Buddhism is to provide guidelines in a violent world. What
seems to emerge from the above analysis is that non-violence in the
face of violence, although preferable for all and incumbent on the
monk, is not a moral absolute in all circumstances.
* * * * * * * *
It was claimed at the beginning that the advent of the nuclear bomb
had issued in a new era of violence and that Buddhism should be able
to address this development. The foregoing analysis started from a
study of the Buddha's awareness of violence in his own society and
passed to questions concerning the condemnation of violence, the roots
of violence, and the possibilities for its eradication or reduction.
Each of these issues has relevance for the present age, although it
has been pointed out that many conditions have changed between the
sixth century B.C. and the twentieth century A.D.
One area in which difference can be seen is in the nature of
warfare. In the Buddha's time, professional armies were used to settle
conflicts. Although civilians were no doubt killed as victorious
armies took their plunder, it was the army itself which bore the brunt
of the slaughter. Today the cost in civilian, animal and plant life in
any future nuclear war is thinkable only in terms of the most horrific
nightmare. The duty of the Cakkavatti King might be to defend his
people. Yet no nuclear weapon can be used in defense. If it was, it
would prove the Buddhist view that the use of violence leads to
escalation. The slim, ever-shaky defense that nuclear weapons provide
is MAD -- Mutually Assured Destruction -- an uneasy,
computer-controlled peace feeding on fear and the willingness to
annihilate millions in retaliation, if the other side dares to be the
It would seem that, in nuclear weapons, man has created something
out of his greed which now makes him victim. The analysis given
earlier about the effects of //papanca// and the process of perception
is relevant here. Some people might see the development of ever more
sophisticated weapons of destruction as the result of objective,
scientific probing into the nature of reality, in this case the use of
the atom. An approach more in accordance with Buddhism would be to see
the root as //tanha//, //mana// and //ditthi//: the craving for power
over the material world and over other people; the wish to protect
self and judge other groups as inferior; the clinging to one ideology
whilst condemning all others. The result of //tanha//, //mana// and
//ditthi// is //papanca//, the proliferation of ideas which turn the
so-called perceiver into the victim of obsessions bearing little
relation to the empirical. Nuclear and chemical weapons are horrific
projections of the human mind. It has come to the point where they
possess the mind rather than the mind the weapons. Humanity is now the
Within this atmosphere, one may ask how effective change in the
individual is and whether the few who work to conquer //tanha//,
//mana// and //ditthi// can act as leaven within the whole. The
obstacles are great today as they were in the Buddha's time. The
Buddha saw the //puthujjana// as a person hard to convince or change,
given the strength of craving and views. Today, ideas have a
charismatic force. Nationalism, ethnicity and religion, for instance,
push groups towards violence. They form ego-feeding, identity-creating
creeds which are hard to break down. In such situations, empirical
evidence shows that some who try to show the alternative force of
//metta// become the victims of violence, at least in the frame of
their present life.
Two insights from the foregoing study are relevant here: the
reaction which took place in the Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta and the
interdependent nature of the environmental and the psychological. In
the Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta, the truth that violence leads to
greater violence and crime to ever-deepening bestiality eventually
pierces the consciousness of some members of society as they see what
is happening around them. Some realize that change is possible through
a change in thought patterns. A reaction takes place after the trough
of bestiality has been reached. Today, there are those who are
"turning around," who are realizing how destructive and bestial is the
present and potential violence in the world. However, for just as long
as the external environment remains tension-creating, the rise of
violent tendencies will continue. Similar injustices exist today as
are mentioned in the Kutadanta Sutta, but their scope has altered and
widened to include relationships between blocks of countries as well
as within countries. In most countries of the world, the poor are
becoming poorer. Between countries, the richer nations are becoming
richer at the expense of the poorer. The warning which the Buddhist
texts give is that such conditions breed violence and that the arm of
the law or the gun will not curb it. Only change at the level of the
root causes will create more peaceful conditions. This is one of the
gravest challenges which the world faces, since it points to a
complete re-drawing of the world economic system. The formidable
obstacle in the way of such change is //tanha// in those with power or
economic might -- for profit, influence and a luxurious lifestyle.
One reaction of the individual to the above tension is complete
withdrawal into a life of inaction. This was evidently a temptation in
the sixth century B.C. It has been a temptation across all religions
throughout the centuries. The mistake is to confuse renunciation and
inaction, detachment (//viraga//) and apathy. The life of renunciation
aims at detachment from //raga//, //dosa// and //moha//, but the
result should not be apathy but rather greater compassion (//karuna//)
and loving kindness (//metta//). In the Samanamandika Sutta, a
wanderer, Uggahamana, declares that the one who does no evil deed with
his body, speaks no evil speech, intends no evil intention and leads
no evil livelihood is the recluse who has obtained the most worthy
end. The Buddha responds:
This being so carpenter, then according to the speech of
Uggahamana a young baby boy lying on its back would be of
abounding skill, of the highest skill, an unconquerable
recluse, attained to the highest attainments. 
In contrast, the Buddha lays down the importance of developing
wholesome qualities, not merely abstaining from what is unwholesome.
The demands of the Eightfold Path are stressed, demands incumbent not
only on the monk but on all followers:
As to this, carpenter, a monk is endowed with the perfect view
of an adept, he is endowed with the perfect intention of an
adept, ... the perfect speech ... the perfect action ... the
perfect mode of livelihood ... the perfect endeavor ... the
perfect mindfulness ... the perfect concentration ... the
perfect knowledge of an adept (//sammananena//), he is endowed
with the perfect freedom of an adept. 
In a violent world, therefore, the duty of the Buddhist disciple is
not inactive withdrawal or apathy but culture of the mind to root out
personal defilements so that perception and judgment can be unbiased
and objective; cultivation of positive qualities which will create
harmony and peace; and, most important, a readiness to speak out and
act against what is blameworthy and in praise of what is worthy of
* * * * * * * *
DN Digha Nikaya
MN Majjhima Nikaya
SN Samyutta Nikaya
AN Anguttara Nikaya
Snp Sutta Nipata
Textual references have been taken from the Pali Text Society's
editions of the Nikayas. Unless specified otherwise, English
translations have been taken from the PTS versions, though some have
been slightly altered.
1. Utilitarianism is a philosophy which claims that the ultimate end
of action should be the creation of human happiness. Actions
should be judged according to whether they promote the greatest
happiness of the greatest number. The most important exponent of
this philosophy was the nineteenth century British thinker John
Stuart Mill. One of the weaknesses of utilitarianism is that it
can be used to justify the violation of minority rights.
2. Reference may be made to many texts which stress that encouraging
others to do harm is blameworthy. AN ii,215, for instance, speaks
of the unworthy man and the more unworthy man, the latter being
one who encourages others to do harmful actions such as killing
3. MN 95/ii,167.
4. The Kosala Samyutta (Samyutta Nikaya, vol. 1) records the
conversations which this king had with the Buddha. The examples
mentioned have been taken from this section.
5. SN i,97.
6. MN 13/i,86-87.
7. MN 13/i,87.
8. SN iv,343.
9. In several suttas, the Buddha comes across groups of wanderers
engaged in heated discussions about kings, robbers, armies, etc.
(e.g. DN iii,37; MN ii,1). In contrast, the Buddha advised his
disciples either to maintain noble silence or to speak about the
10. See Romila Thapar, //A History of India// (Pelican Books UK,
1966), chapter 3.
11. SN i,75.
12. MN 36/i,227ff.
13. MN 12/i,68ff.
14. At the end of the Buddha's description of his austerities in the
Mahasaccaka Sutta he says: "And some recluses and brahmins are now
experiencing feelings that are acute, painful, sharp, severe; but
this is paramount, nor is there worse than this. But I, by this
severe austerity, do not reach states of further men, the
excellent knowledge and vision befitting the Ariyans. Could there
be another way to awakening?" (MN i,246).
15. The Mahasakuludayi Sutta (MN 77/ii,1ff.) reflects contemporary
realities when a town plays hosts to various groups of wanderers.
16. DN 25/iii,38.
17. DN 8/i,162.
18. Trevor Ling, //The Buddha -- Buddhist Civilisation in India and
Ceylon// (Penquin Books UK, 1973).
19. See Esukari Sutta, MN 96.
20. SN iv,330ff.
21. DN 31.
22. Reference can be made to the following:
(a) AN i,188ff. The Buddha's advice to the Kalamas.
(b) AN ii,167ff. The Buddha advises the monks to scrutinize
closely anything said to have come from his mouth.
(c) Canki Sutta: MN 95/ii,170-71. The Buddha says that belief,
reasoning and personal preference are not guarantees of
(d) Vimamsaka Sutta: MN 47. The Buddha urges his disciples to
examine his own conduct before deciding whether he is an
Enlightened One, and to investigate empirical evidence rather
than accept things through blind faith.
23. The following texts provide fuller discussions about //paticca
(a) Sammaditthi Sutta: MN 9.
(b) Mahatanhasankhaya Sutta: MN 38.
(c) Mahanidana Sutta: DN 15.
24. MN 99/ii,197.
25. MN 96/ii,177ff.
26. AN ii,42.
27. Reference may be made to the following:
(a) Assalayana Sutta: MN 93.
(b) Madhura Sutta: MN 84.
(c) AN ii,84. Here, four types of people are mentioned, two of
whom are bound for light and two of whom are bound for
darkness. Deeds, not birth, is the criterion for the
divisions between the two sets.
28. For instance, the Kutadanta Sutta and the Cakkavatti Sihanada
Sutta, to be discussed below.
29. The Mahadukkhakkhandha Sutta (MN 13) is an example.
30. SN i,100ff.
31. Therigatha vv. 105-6 (Sona).
32. MN 61/i,415-16.
33. MN 8/i,44-45.
34. AN ii,191.
35. //Metta// and //karuna//, as two of the //brahmaviharas//, are
mentioned at DN i,250-51, MN i,38, etc.
36. AN i,51.
37. MN 135/iii,303.
38. MN 129/iii,169-70. A similar approach is adopted in the Devaduta
Sutta: MN 130/iii,178ff.
39. The Petavatthu is one of the books of the Khuddaka Nikaya. It
contains 51 stories in four chapters, all concerning the
//petas//, a class of ghost-like beings who have fallen from the
human plane because of misdeeds done.
40. DN 26/iii,61.
41. DN 16/iii,72ff.
42. SN i,82.
43. SN i,83.
44. SN i,101.
45. SN iv,308.
46. AN ii,121ff.
47. Snp. vv. 935-38. Translation by H. Saddhatissa (Curzon Press,
48. DN 5/i,135.
49. DN 26/iii,61.
50. DN iii,73.
51. AN ii,74.
52. DN 27/iii,85.
53. DN iii,92.
54. MN 2/i,7. The description of the //puthujjana// is a stock passage
recurring throughout the Canon.
55. See SN iv,195.
56. AN ii,211.
57. MN 18/i,109-10.
58. Bhikkhu Nanananda, //Concept and Reality in Early Buddhist
Thought// (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1971).
59. MN 18/i,111-12.
60. //Concept and Reality//, p.6.
61. Immanuel Kant, 1724-1804. His major work, //The Critique of Pure
Reason//, studies the place of //a priori// ideas in the formation
of concepts and examines the role of reason and speculative
62. AN i,188; AN ii,190.
63. DN 1. See e.g. DN i,16: "In the fourth case, monks, some recluse
or brahmin is addicted to logic and reasoning. He gives utterance
to the following conclusion of his own, beaten out by his
argumentations and based on his sophistry...."
64. MN 74/i,497.
65. Snp. 824-34; Snp. 862-77.
66. AN ii,173ff. The Buddha here quotes three views which result in
inaction: (i) that all feelings are due to previous kamma; (ii)
that all feelings are due to a supreme deity; and (iii) that all
feelings are without cause or condition.
67. MN 105/ii,253.
68. MN 110/iii,21-22.
69. MN 125/iii,129-30.
70. MN 86/ii,98ff.
71. DN 26/iii,73.
72. A stock passage found in many suttas (e.g. MN 51/i,344) extols the
homeless life as the only way "to fare the holy life completely
fulfilled, completely purified, polished like a conch shell."
73. Dantabhumi Sutta: MN 125/iii,128ff.
74. DN 11/i,211.
75. DN 16/ii,104.
76. MN 51/i,340.
77. Body, feelings, thoughts and mental objects are the four
foundations of mindfulness (see DN 22, MN 10).
78. MN 27/i,181, and elsewhere.
79. This point is developed in Trevor Ling, //The Buddha//.
80. MN 21/i,129.
81. MN 145/iii,269.
82. Respectively MN 65, MN 21, MN 70, MN 15.
83. The Mahasakuludayi Sutta (MN 77) and the Dhammacetiya Sutta (MN
89) describe the impact which the general concord of the Buddha's
followers had respectively on groups of wanderers at Rajagaha and
on King Pasenadi.
84. AN ii,100.
85. Respectively MN 93, DN 27, MN 84.
86. MN 96.
87. DN 31/iii,181.
88. Respectively DN 1, DN 3, DN 11.
89. DN 5.
90. MN 41/i,287.
91. MN 41/i,288.
92. DN 2/i,71 and elsewhere.
93. See AN ii,71. A monk dies of snakebite, and the Buddha declares
that if he had suffused the four royal families of snakes with a
heart of //metta//, he would not have died. A story in the
Cullavagga of the Vinaya Pitaka relates how the Buddha's envious
cousin, Devadatta, tried to kill him by releasing a notoriously
ferocious elephant called Nalagiri at him in the streets of
Rajagaha. The Buddha is said to have subdued it by exercising
//metta// and //karuna//, so that the elephant lowered its trunk
and stopped before the Buddha. Hiuen-Tsang refers to a stupa at
the place where this is said to have happened.
94. Vimanavatthu, No. 15.
95. MN 78/ii,24.
96. MN 78/ii,29.
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TITLE OF WORK: Violence and Disruption in Society: A Study of the
Early Buddhist Texts (The Wheel Publication No. 392/393)
AUTHOR: Elizabeth J. Harris
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