about a religion is a dangerous thing. A generalization that had seemed safe
was that Buddhism is a peaceful religion. It's all about compassion, isn't
it—about renouncing desire and learning to empty yourself?

but that very project can turn violent. The Buddhist teaching of "no self" can
be used to justify killing the no self in front of you. Historically it has
been used in precisely that way, according to essays in the new book Buddhist Warfare.

The authors cite a
17-century Zen master who wrote: "The uplifted sword has no will of its
own, it is all of emptiness. It is like a flash of lightning. The man who is
about to be struck down is also of emptiness, and so is the one who wields the

What's most shocking, as reviewer Katherine
Wharton points
, is not that Buddhists have engaged in sustained violence. It's that
the killing has been defended with "with detailed reference to the Buddha's
central philosophical tenets."

a reminder that all religions have distorted ways of being practiced. And a
reminder that the connection between a particular religious belief and a
particular practice is not always obvious—or exactly what the religion textbook
writers say it is.

David Heim

David Heim is interim pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church in Park Ridge, Illinois.

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