Michael Jerryson discusses his new book Buddhist Warfare, co-edited with Mark Juergensmeyer, explaining “how the notion of a purely mystical and otherworldly Buddhism—promoted by some of the great interpreters of the tradition—denies its adherents’ humanity.”

He shares his own surprise and disillusionment in discovering the prevalence of armed violence among monks in southern Thailand, realizing the degree to which his own notions of Buddhism as a purely peaceable religion were informed by early twentieth century constructions:

It was then that I realized that I was a consumer of a very successful form of propaganda. Since the early 1900s, Buddhist monastic intellectuals such as Walpola Rahula, D. T. Suzuki, and Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, have labored to raise Western awareness of their cultures and traditions. In doing so, they presented specific aspects of their Buddhist traditions while leaving out others. These Buddhist monks were not alone in this portrayal of Buddhism. As Donald S. Lopez Jr. and others have poignantly shown, academics quickly followed suit, so that by the 1960s U.S popular culture no longer depicted Buddhist traditions as primitive, but as mystical.

Read the entire essay based on the book.