Venerable Ellawala Medhananda, a famous Sri Lankan Buddhist monk, doesn’t mince words. Speaking to Reuters in February, he declared: “If Prabhakaran is dead, Sri Lanka is a better place. He is the stumbling block to the peace process. We should take his influence out of society.”
Medhananda, the leader of a nationalist Buddhist political party, was calling for the assassination of Velupillai Prabhakaran, a chief architect of the religious and ethnic conflict that has killed more than 60,000 people in Sri Lanka.
But the author of the article makes good points:
Although Buddhism’s history is less checkered than that of Christianity or Islam, there are plenty of dirty little secrets that Westerners rarely learn about. Buddhist monks, for example, have marched with armies in nearly every Buddhist country. In some times and places, the monks were the armies: They clashed with rival sects, supported certain political figures, or enforced fealty on the part of serfs. Buddhism was used to justify Japan’s imperialism before and during World War II, with Buddhist monks praying for the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. One legend claims that in a previous lifetime the Buddha preemptively killed a man to prevent him from murdering 500 others. The slippery slope that this logic sets up is one that more than a few Buddhists have slid down to achieve their own ends...
One common mistake in attempts to classify religions of peace and violence comes from trying to find an authoritative spokesperson for a whole religion or imagining that religions are unitary things. In the West, Buddhism and Islam are relatively unfamiliar faiths, and so many people fall into the trap of thinking there is some single entity out there named “Islam” or “Buddhism.” In reality, there are many different Buddhisms, different Islams, different Christianities. There are Buddhisms of war and Islams of peace, just as there are militant and pacifist Christianities. Which is the true Buddhism, Islam, or Christianity? There is no way to answer such a question without reference to one’s own preferences, theological commitments, and prejudices—which are often informed by ethnicity, race, wealth, or other factors that impact our religious sentiments.