Elizabeth J. Harris is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow within the Cadbury Centre for the Public Understanding of Religion, Birmingham University; before this, she was an associate professor in Religious Studies at Liverpool Hope University. She holds a doctorate in Buddhist studies from Kelaniya University, Sri Lanka, and is currently President of the UK Association for Buddhist Studies. She has written widely in the disciplines of Buddhist studies and interreligious studies. Her latest monograph is Religion, Space and Conflict in Sri Lanka: Colonial and Postcolonial Contexts (Routledge, 2018).
craving; constructed realities; mental corruptions; papañca; possessiveness; views; empathy; shame and concern for consequences; external and internal discipline; Puṇṇa; Aṇgulimāla Sutta; Cakkavatti-sīhanāda Sutta; Madhupiṇḍika Sutta; Mahā-dukkha-kkhanda Sutta; Mahā-nidāna Sutta
This article argues, through examples drawn mainly from the Sutta Piṭaka, that the Pali texts are characterised by an empirical realism that avoids neither the grim realities of conflict nor the underlying forces that drive it. Suttas such as the Cakkavatti-sīhanāda Sutta and the Mahā-dukkha-kkhanda Sutta are obvious examples of this realism. So also is the Aṅgulimāla Sutta, which deals with the phenomenon of a serial killer. Other texts examine causation, the Mahā-nidāna Sutta, for instance, which applies Buddhist causation theories to conflict and other forms of disruption in society. All focus on the almost intractable nature of conflict, when greed, hatred and delusion are embodied within human cultures and communities, producing diverse constructions of reality, fed by papañca, proliferating thought. I will argue that the empirical realism shown by texts such as the above can throw light on some of the bitter contexts of armed conflict that Buddhists are caught up in within the contemporary world, as combatants, humanitarian workers or members of civilian communities. They point to the difficulties that can arise, for instance, when humanitarian workers seek to enter zones of armed conflict to protect civilians and to encourage compliance with international humanitarian law (IHL) as set out in customary law and treaties such as the Geneva Conventions and its Additional Protocols. The strength of the diverse constructions of reality present can mean that IHL, and also the demands of compassion, are subordinated to other concerns. This article therefore argues that Buddhism offers not only tools for effective compliance with IHL within situations of armed conflict, but also an analytical model for understanding why some contexts of armed conflict are resistant to the principles embodied in this law. It also suggests a primary initial role for external authorities in guarding against IHL abuses, before armed services personnel can cultivate mindful inner discipline in line with Buddhist ideals.
Abstract 144 Introduction 144 The empirical realism in the Pali texts 146 The doctrinal framework within which this realism is placed: a world enmeshed in craving 149 Constructions of reality and dis-ease of the mind 150 ‘Constructed realities’ as a threat to compliance with IHL 155 The regulation of armed conflict 157 Concluding thoughts 160 Notes 161 Abbreviations 162 References 163