Author Topic: Buddhists forced to address violence against monks in training  (Read 3298 times)


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I came across this article and thought about the parallel with the Vajrayana school where it is common knowledge that highly qualified Tibetan masters may slap a student to clear a particular karma and that the 'violence' is actually an act of compassion to spare the student from later suffering. There are many stories which are more like legends where for example, a teacher takes a piece of firewood and burns the forearm of one of his students and apparently by doing so, the teacher has purified a lifetime of being in a hot hell for that student.

Now, my question is - are these real stories or metaphors? For example, in Christianity, many stories in the Bible are seen as allegories and metaphors now (though many Christians do believe that the stories in the Bible are literal, including Genesis). What about in Buddhism? Can violence be justified for the greater good? Are Buddhist masters restrained by modern secular legal protection for students? Are students losing out by the extinction of traditional methods? Is there place for traditional methods in the modern era or is the loss of this method one of the steps towards the end of Buddhism in this degenerate age?

Buddhists forced to address violence against monks in training

April 12, 2014


As traditional Buddhist training programs suffer a rash of violent episodes, sects are being forced to reconsider the traditionally ambiguous line between instruction and physical punishment, and are attempting to change the way they think.

Others are demanding a debate on the nature of ascetic training.

At Sohonzan Zentsuji temple in Kagawa Prefecture, the head temple of the Zentsuji school of Shingon Buddhism, a 40-something monk, who was suspected of assault, had his case referred to the public prosecutor's office last November. He was punished with a fine at the end of last year.

As an instructor, the monk had caused injuries to the head and stomach of a 20-something monk during training by striking him with a small wooden board and slapping him.

It took the monk about two weeks to recover from his injuries.

"It seems the instructor was overzealous and took his instruction too far," said an official from the sect. "However, (that sort of behavior) certainly has no place in this day and age."

Masaomi Kaneko, a labor journalist and expert in workplace power harassment, was asked to give a talk at a workshop for a Buddhist sect last fall, where he sounded the alarm: "You cannot survive if you do not fit in with modern channels."

Concerning physical punishment in Buddhism, Kaneko's view is that, much like in judo and elsewhere, there is a strongly rooted sense that accepts putting up with such harshness in training.

He points out that if these problems are ignored inside sects and brought to light instead through police intervention, then the damage suffered by the sects will be ruinous.

Last September, two monks who were training at a Soto Zen temple in Iwate Prefecture were found guilty of assault that resulted in broken bones and other injuries against a younger monk who was living with them.

According to the sect's religious affairs office, the acts of violence continued for about a year, one of the reasons being that the victim was "slow to learn."

Some of their peers reportedly looked the other way.

This temple was a meditation hall, one of the 27 sect-approved training centers nationwide, but that authorization has been revoked.

At a meeting convened by the halls' head monks, they adopted a resolution to "always keep in mind that acts of violence are not permissible under any circumstance whatsoever."

However, some have expressed bewilderment over conforming so readily to such secular values.

According to Gentoku Kobayashi, who is in charge of the Shokoku meditation hall in Kyoto Prefecture that belongs to the Rinzai school's Shokoku-ji sect, the "Record of Linji," a collection of sayings by the school's founder, contains a story about a teacher enlightening a student by slapping him.

"If this sort of act becomes prohibited outright, then the school will have to shut down."

Zen Buddhism has a tradition of using a "keisaku" wooden stick--normally wielded to warn meditating students seated in the cross-legged "zazen" position--to punish infractions of rules pertaining to ascetic living and so forth.

At Kobayashi's meditation hall, instructor monks of a higher rank who enforce discipline cite a solid reason and impose punishment in the presence of many other monks.

"Inflicting injury is out of the question, but when upholding tradition, where do we draw the line?" Kobayashi asked, pointing out the problem. "Don't we need a debate on this?"

Kate Walker - a wannabe wisdom Being


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Re: Buddhists forced to address violence against monks in training
« Reply #1 on: April 14, 2014, 06:17:41 AM »
I think in this modern world there is no place for "violence" and that is unfortunate. We are in a degeneration age where perceived violence; even punishing one's own children may land one in jail. The laws of the country, while it need to be respected and followed are design to generally protect its' citizen and it includes various laws against violence. It is difficult for Buddhist Masters to justified these acts of violence in the eyes of the law, hence it is unfortunate.


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Re: Buddhists forced to address violence against monks in training
« Reply #2 on: April 14, 2014, 06:23:18 AM »
In Buddhism only the highest of Masters are regarded to have the ability to perceive karma clearly and to use "violence' to purify the karma of the students. Having said this, if these Masters have high attainments, then within the framework of modern laws and social norms, the acts of violence may not be necessarily the only way to "purify" the negative karma of the students. A Master can use other purification methods for or to the students. I think this is logical.

Kim Hyun Jae

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Re: Buddhists forced to address violence against monks in training
« Reply #3 on: April 14, 2014, 02:04:12 PM »
Buddha has taught 84,000 ways or methods or skillful means to eradicate certain issues or problems as a solution to help others overcome their negative karma or propensities.

I tend to agree with YontenJamyang. Buddhism need to evolve from the traditional ways of punishment or "violence" to fit today's world and laws of the respective country in order to train their students. BUT "violence" is definitely NOT the only way to help a dharma student. A Guru can use other methods to help the student to gain realization or transformation of their mind via certain work they need to do.

Even the slowest of the student like Chudapanthaka were given the opportunity to purify his karma and obscurations by sweeping the temple and developed perseverance. "Abandon dirt, abandon stains".

Freyr Aesiragnorak

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Re: Buddhists forced to address violence against monks in training
« Reply #4 on: April 20, 2014, 07:34:37 AM »
I agree with the sentiments of some of the others who have commented on this article. Violence can be used a form of purification  of karma as found in many stories of great masters, however in this day and age I feel a little that maybe this has been used by those in positions of authority to abuse their power maybe? It is an easy line that can be crossed. Maybe we should do without the institutionalised use of violence in learning institutions like the stick?


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Re: Buddhists forced to address violence against monks in training
« Reply #5 on: April 20, 2014, 10:00:55 AM »
It is wrong to inflict pain or cause harm to others. That is the basic principle of Buddhism. To cause harm to monks in training is considered violence.  Trainers involved must be skilful and know the acceptable limits when training the monks. The monks involved in the training must also be aware of their rights and speak up should they be mistreated.
Highly attained masters have the clairvoyance to know what is the best and skilful method including the "violent" method to use to train a student.  The said master definitely know through his clairvoyance and observation whether the student is capable of being trained using the "violent" method. Hence the violence issue does not arise when the said Buddhist master is genuinely concerned with the spiritual development of his students.
It is totally unacceptable if the motivation of the trainer is wrong, he abuses his authority and limits and he inflicts unnecessary harm on his student.
It is thus essential to ensure the rules and ethics of a monastery or Buddhist centre are complied with to stop any form of violence from occurring. Otherwise the victims will resort to the secular law to protect themselves from harm or violence.