Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
Contrary to popular views of Buddhist pacifism, this chapter holds that Buddhist laity have sometimes advocated violence or the threat of violence for specific social roles and in extreme historical situations. Like other political leaders, Buddhist rulers traditionally used physical force to protect their countries. Although governments with large Buddhist populations (such as Japan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Mongolia, and Thailand) reject the use of weapons of mass destruction, and the Tibetan government-in-exile has advocated a nuclear-free zone, Buddhist organizations in France, England, and the United States have largely acquiesced in national policies of nuclear deterrence. While this chapter acknowledges that the acceptance of WMD as a deterrent by some Buddhists during the cold war was not an anomaly in Buddhist history, the main point to emphasize is that neither practical arguments nor Buddhist principles can support the deployment of WMD today, and they should be rejected based on the ultimate Buddhist goals of nonviolence and the protection of all living beings.
Most Buddhists do not advocate the use of violence except as a last resort, if at all, and the thrust of lay Buddhist ethics is toward pacifism. Although I argue here that, in the light of modern history and Buddhist political experience, the deployment WMD might have been justified during the cold war, this policy should have been supported by efforts to build greater cross-cultural awareness, economic fairness, and political inclusiveness in the global community.