Does the dharma frown upon all violence or only that violence that is offensive violence. In other words, is defensive violence permitted?

Question: “Hello. I’ve been following your advice for some time and many things resonate with me. I know the Dharma does not condone a life of violence. I have meditated on this subject and find myself in a loop. I was wondering if you could qualify that for me. Does the dharma frown upon all violence or only that violence that is offensive violence. In other words, is defensive violence permitted? Should one be attacked, should one fight to preserve the culture or life? Thank you. Namasté”

The answer will vary depending on the school of Buddhism, however, most traditions will agree that all violence is frowned upon, because violence only creates more violence. Only love and compassion can subdue and defeat violence and hate.

There is a famous story about a zen monk that mastered dozens of forms of material arts, he could take out an entire gang of attackers with one hand behind his back. One day the monk left his temple and was accompanied by one student and they retreated to the forest. Because the monk was famous for his martial arts, there were always attackers and assassins after him, trying to kill him, they wanted to be the famous killer that took out this undefeated monk. One night while the monk and student were meditating, a man ran toward the monk with a sword aiming to cut off the head of the monk. The monk’s student, also a master of martial arts, quickly got up and knocked the sword out of the attackers hand and the student yelled at his teacher to run away. The monk, already a highly realized monk, knew this was his last life before he would attain full enlightenment, however, he also knew he had a karmic debt to pay; his life. The teacher commanded the student to release the attacker. The attacker then grabbed his sword and continued charging toward the monk. Content and peaceful, the monk sat there as the attacker stabbed him and ended his life.

Moral of the story: in Buddhism, causality is a fundamental part of the practice. So karma, whether good or bad, that we “get” or happens to us, is because that is what we “owe” in a way. So if we were to get attacked for any reason and our life was taken because of it, karmically it is a life that we owe because of a past life that we’ve taken. Even if we were to defend ourselves in an attack, if our life is the karmic debt that we owe, we eventually need to pay the debt, whether it’s in this life or in future lives.

So to avoid any life-owing debt, we abstain from violence and killing. Another story is about a Chinese monk who migrated West in order to spread Buddhism. He stayed with a husband and wife that had lost their only child. The monk later realized that the husband enjoyed hunting and killing for fun. During meditation one day, the monk had a vision of all the suffering the parents and offspring of the animals had because of the killings the husband has done, and because of that karma, his own child would pass away and cause his own family to suffer.

It’s a sad story, but it points out that all our actions have reactions, so we strive to do good actions so that the effects of those actions are positive outcomes.


Smile and be well!


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