Volume 28, 2021
Aquinas and Mipham on Military and Punitive Violence: A Tribute to Michael Jerryson
Goldsmiths, University of London (Emeritus)
The claim that Buddhism is exclusively a “religion of peace” has been shown to be untenable. Buddhism now faces the challenge of explaining how the pacifist spirit of its teachings can be reconciled with its well-documented recourse to military and punitive violence. Buddhism is not the only religion to face this challenge, and we first consider the Christian stance on violence as formulated by St. Thomas Aquinas before turning to the views of the Tibetan polymath Jamgön Mipham. We consider to what extent the views of the two thinkers are compatible and conclude with a suggestion as to how what Michael Jerryson calls “the quandary of Buddhism and violence” might be resolved.
Volume 26, 2019
Buddhism and Capital Punishment: A Revisitation
University of Melbourne
The first Buddhist precept prohibits the intentional, even sanctioned, taking of life. However, capital punishment remains legal, and even increasingly applied, in some culturally Buddhist polities and beyond them. The classical Buddhist norm of unconditional compassion as a counterforce to such punishment thus appears insufficient to oppose it. This paper engages classical Buddhist and Western argument for and against capital punishment, locating a Buddhist refutation of deterrent and Kantian retributivist grounds for it not only in Nāgārjunian appeals to compassion, but also the metaphysical and moral constitution of the agent of lethal crime, and thereby the object of its moral consequences. Read article
Volume 25, 2018
Prison and the Pure Land: A Buddhist Chaplain in Occupied Japan
Melissa Anne-Marie Curley
Ohio State University
In November 1945, the United States military took over the use of Tokyo’s Sugamo Prison in order to house those charged by the Allied Powers with war crimes. For close to three years, Hanayama Shinshō served as the prison’s volunteer Buddhist chaplain, attending thirty-six executions. Hanayama did not protest the imposition of the death penalty but this essay argues that in his work as chaplain he nonetheless resisted the carceral logic shaping life and death inside Sugamo by mobilizing the ritual and narrative repertoire of Pure Land Buddhism. In Hanayama’s framing, Sugamo was a site of liberation as well as confinement, affording the condemned a unique opportunity to reflect upon the past and commit themselves to a different future, even in death. As Hanayama tells it, the peace discovered by the dead was an absolute peace, transcending politics; he also insists, however, on a connection between this absolute peace and the ordinary peace that the living might hope to secure. The article concludes with a consideration of the political and ethical implications of Hanayama’s reading of the dead as having “found peace” in light of larger conversations about how best to remember—or forget—the nation’s dark past, and what it means to share responsibility for crimes against humanity.
Volume 24, 2017
Capital Punishment: a Buddhist Critique
University of Melbourne
Capital punishment is practiced in many nation-states, secular and religious alike. It is also historically a feature of some Buddhist polities, even though it defies the first Buddhist precept (pāṇatipātā) prohibiting lethal harm. This essay considers a neo-Kantian theorization of capital punishment (Sorell) and examines the reasons underwriting its claims (with their roots in Bentham and Mill) with respect to the prevention of and retribution for crime. The contextualization of this argument with Buddhist-metaphysical and epistemological concerns around the normativization of value, demonstrates that such a retributivist conception of capital punishment constitutively undermines its own rational and normative discourse. With this conclusion, the paper upholds and justifies the first Buddhist precept prohibiting lethal action in the case of capital punishment.