The Belligerent Buddhist

William B. Turner
5 min readFeb 20
Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion

Nearly every Buddhist teacher I know of, okay, every Buddhist teacher I know of, presents themselves as very kind and mild mannered. Okay, Brad Warner is not at all mild mannered, but Zen does have its own, specific tradition of more flamboyant teachers. I appreciate his voice.

But the vast majority of Buddhist teachers sound very gentle in what they write. This is entirely consistent with the Buddhist path as a philosophy, or whatever you want to call Buddhism. Lovingkindness and compassion are chief virtues on the Buddhist path.

But there is the concept of tough love, or the idea that, if you really love someone, sometimes you have to tell them what they do not want to hear. The model in our society would be the intervention, in which a group of people get together to confront a person who suffers from some chemical dependency to try to persuade them to get help with that problem.

In general, teaching involves telling students when they are wrong. There are better and worse ways to do that, but no one wants to hear that they are wrong.

The Buddha’s message is ultimately a tough love communique to humans generally. At base, he tells us all that we are deluded for hoping that we can make our lives better. Clinging to ideals is just a matter of fooling ourselves.

I am engaging in exactly this self deception with my notion of belligerent Buddhism. It might make more sense to say, “militant Buddhism,” rather than “belligerent Buddhism,” but alliteration always allures, so I wanted to go with the alliterative alternative. The line between militancy and belligerence is exceeding fine, and everyone will choose to draw it in a different spot. African American civil rights demonstrators got pretty militant. Defenders of segregation essentially said they were just being belligerent.

That I know, the Dalai Lama, the leading exemplar of the Buddhist path currently walking the earth, has never uttered a belligerent word in his life. He is emphatically ecumenical and irenic, which I admire. He has explicitly taken the position that compassion is the motivating principle of every major religion in the world.

But as a practical matter, the Dalai Lama does not see, daily, the ugly actions of Christians in what they are pleased to call, “the…

William B. Turner

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.