Ethical Implications of Tantric Buddhist Ritual

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 14, 2007

Compassionate Violence? On the Ethical Implications of Tantric Buddhist Ritual

David B. Gray
Santa Clara University

Buddhism is often presented as a non-violent religion that highlights the virtue of universal compassion. However, it does not unequivocally reject the use of violence, and leaves open the possibility that violence may be committed under special circumstances by spiritually realized beings. This paper examines several apologetic defenses for the presence of violent imagery and rituals in tantric Buddhist literature. It will demonstrate that several Buddhist commentators, in advancing the notion of “compassionate violence,” also advanced an ethical double standard insofar as they defended these violent actions as justifiable when performed by Buddhists, but condemned them when performed by non-Buddhists.

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