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Buddhadharma : Winter 2018
112 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY The point of this koan-like story is that, when analyzing violence on an individual, interpersonal level, we are often blind to the systemic violence in which we live, like fish blind to water. Jerryson begins, then, by studying the violence inherent in what he calls “Buddhist systems,” a task complicated by popular romanticized ideas about Buddhism. He also takes to task our tendency to focus on text and doctrine at the expense of studying the violence that pervades the real-world operations of Bud- dhist communities. Although the book is wide ranging, Jerryson frequently circles back to South Asia, more specifically Thailand, when illustrating the topics he explores. Some examples include what Jerryson calls the “systematic violence” of the Thai bhikkhu sangha’s refusal to accept the ordination of women as bhikkunis; the complicity of the Buddhist sangha in legitimizing the authoritarian state and its key charis- matic figurehead, the late King Bhumibol (1946–2016); the rise of the Knowing Bud- dha Organization, a lay Buddhist group dedicated to defending sacred Buddhist imagery from what they see as violent cul- tural appropriation and blasphemy; and an exploration of the Thai institution of the Buddhist military chaplain, who dis- robes before serving so as not to violate the monastic rule against involvement in violence. When applicable, Jerryson makes efforts to illustrate how his theme figures not only in Theravada but also Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. Alongside Thailand, the countries of Japan, Tibet, Myanmar, and Taiwan all figure prominently in his examination of the Buddhist relationship with violence. Throughout, Jerryson is con- cerned with the ways in which Buddhist systems contain structural violence, find ways to justify violence, hide violence from themselves, and even fail to adequately respond to the stress of violence. One thread examines the ways in which Buddhist monks across traditions use their unique social charisma to act as an author- ity with a political role distinct from both government and civilians. This role has the potential to empower critiques of Buddhist societies or, troublingly, to supply Buddhist rationales for violence that, while at odds with Buddhist doctrine, have the impri- matur of the monks’ unique social power as revered monastics, as in the case of the notorious Burmese monk U Wirathu, who has a history of inciting violence against Muslims in Myanmar. Throughout the book, Jerryson brings to light many issues that deserve serious attention from those who are concerned with the preservation of the buddhad- harma in the world. Many of the activities or beliefs he examines showcase examples of Buddhists embracing violence, whether overtly or subtly. As practitioners of a religion that holds nonviolence and com- passion to be central values across denom- inations, this should concern us all and motivate us to become educated and take countermeasures. Jerryson is concerned with the ways in which Buddhist systems contain structural violence and find ways to justify violence. As practitioners of a religion that holds nonviolence and compassion to be central values, this should concern us all.