The Carnage And The Catastrophe: The Japanese Militarization Of Zen

1997 words - 8 pages

In the modern day, a general Westerner usually pictures Buddhism as an idyllic peaceful religion that is withdrawn from society, but like all other religions Buddhism is interconnected within its own society. Buddhism also like many other religions, has an element of violence within itself and within different sects. Zen Buddhism specifically developed into a very violent religion during World War II and the wars that preceded it. Brian Daizen Victoria focuses on the militarization of Zen within his two works, Zen War Stories and Zen at War. Within Zen War Stories Victoria takes a retrospective look at stories from World War II and also talks with religious leaders after the demilitarization of Japan. Through this text Victoria brings attention to the aspects that lead to the militarization of Zen during the time frame. Through the story, “The Zen of Assassination” Victoria specifically focuses on how the ideals of Zen can be used to promote violence, and how the ideas of Zen can be used to deter blame for the faulty party. Through his other text, Zen at War Victoria examines the multiple elements which lead to a militaristic form of Buddhism. Those elements include but are not limited to nationalism, the idea of emptiness, and the bushidô code. Though Victoria does mention all the elements above and more, he pays specific attention to the interaction between Zen and the preexisting bushidô code, the samurai’s code of chivalry. Victoria’s arguments are controversial and have faced a great deal of criticism. One specific critic, Christopher Ives further delves into the analysis of the militarization of Zen through his article, “Wartime Nationalism and Peaceful Representation: Issues Surrounding the Multiple Zens of Modern Japan". Within this article Ives brings attention to Victoria’s argument, specifically focusing on Zen at War text, and incorporates a different perspective by probing the topic deeper and including his own thoughts on the main cause behind the militarization of Zen. Within his article Ives focuses on the historical and political aspects that influenced the militarization of Zen. He also draws a connection between the American interpretation of Zen and the propaganda that aided with the popularization of Zen within the West. Through this paper I will articulate the discussion on the militarization of Zen and specifically look into Buddhism’s relationship to politics, scriptural interpretations, and the immersion of Zen within the bushidô code.
The Western image of Buddhism is normally very peaceful and even Japanese Zen Buddhism is seen within this light. As described within Christopher Ives’ article, “Wartime Nationalism and Peaceful Representation: Issues Surrounding the Multiple Zens of Modern Japan", this Western mindset of Zen can relate to the propaganda of Zen within the West during the 1800s. During this time period “mystical representations of Zen” were sold to Western audiences as an alternative from the religious...

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