The Carnage and the Catastrophe: The Japanese Militarization of Zen

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Throughout Buddhist scripture there is a great amount of articulation against violence. The Buddha actively speaks against violence, but at the same time Buddhism promotes the spread of the dharma. Within Zen at War Victoria highlights the Buddha’s words, “until all sentient beings are united together through the exercise of infinite compassion, there will never be peace” (29). This quote became incorporated into the Japanese military and the inevitable nature of war was molded into this normally peaceful message. Through this quote, Japan justified its violence by the idea of including others within the fold of Buddhism in order to ensure a peaceful future. Until the every individual is capable opening their minds to the words of the Buddha one is forced to continue to fight wars, and unless individuals open their eyes to the Buddha’s idea of compassion there will never be an end to war. Thus, as stated within Victoria’s work, Japan must fight for peace and “even if she goes to war, it is always a war of peace” (62). As stated above Japan pushed forward the notion that war can be justified within Buddhism when said war is a form of compassionate force that attempts to assure a future peace, but within this mindset this idea can be corrupted very easily. The question begins to arises, who dictates if a war is just or a means of gaining peace? As seen above Japan is a very nationalistic nation, and the emperor gains great power in dictating what wars are a means to a peace. This power can very easily be turned into a means of political advancement within the hands of a nation’s leader. This problematic element tends to be ignored within the context of pure devotion to the emperor; due to the idealization of the emperor. The empero...

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...een within the Christian Crusades All religion can in some way be interpreted to justify violence when introduced to politics and society itself, but at this time period Zen itself was more prone to this violence. During this time period within Japan Zen’s philosophy tended to avoid ethical retrospection and reflection. Due to the lack of ethical retrospection Zen was prone to be used unethically. This lack of reflection made Zen rather than the other sects of Buddhism more prone abuse by those with power.

Ives, Christopher. "Wartime Nationalism and Peaceful Representation: Issues Surrounding the Multiple Zens of Modern Japan ." Japan Studies Review Five (2001): 37-46. Print.
Victoria, Brian. Zen at War. 2nd ed. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2006. Print.
Victoria, Brian. Zen War Stories. London: Routledge Curzon, 2003. Print.

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