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Zen at War Paperback – February 1, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0834804050 ISBN-10: 0834804050 Edition: 1st ed

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 227 pages
  • Publisher: Weatherhill; 1st ed edition (February 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0834804050
  • ISBN-13: 978-0834804050
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,172,934 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Praise for the first edition: Zen at War is a wake-up call for all Buddhists. Victoria has shown in a passionate and well documented way that Buddhism is not immune to the kind of distortions that have been used throughout human history by virtually all of the world's religions to justify so-called holy war.... (John Daido Loori, Roshi)

Praise for the first edition: In this carefully documented study, Brian Victoria discloses the incredible intellectual dishonesty of Japanese Buddhists who perverted their religion into a jingoistic doctrine of support for the emperor and imperial expansion during the period 1868-1945. Good job! We must face this dark side of our heritage squarely.... (Robert Aitken)

Zen at War is an incendiary book and an essential cautionary tale for anyone wanting to apply Buddhist teachings. Brian Victoria is a genuinely radical historian who asks followers of Zen–and by extension all Buddhists–to look beyond the pristine, other-worldly image the tradition has presented and understand the deep compromises that came from its relationship with power. Much more than an exposé, Zen at War challenges Buddhists to think through the ethical consequences of venerated doctrines and examine them in light of the Buddha’s original teaching. Despite the efforts of some Zen apologists to minimize the significance of Brian Victoria’s findings, the first edition lit a fire under Zen and the new edition adds fuel by extending the book’s critique back into Buddhist history. It is an important contribution to western Buddhism. (Vishvapani)

An important and well-written work . . . This new edition significantly expands the text . . . Especially important is Victoria's well-documented contention that Buddhist involvement with buttressing political establishments is not new but can be traced to the time of King Ashoka in ancient India. . . Finally the author calls all Buddhists to thoughtful consideration and repudiation of "Nation-Protecting Buddhism" as a betrayal of the essential teachings . . . Recommended. (Choice)

Victoria's extensive research- along with translations of lengthy quotations- substantially adds to our knowledge of the relationship between Buddhism and Japanese nationalism and imperialism....the content is often very interesting... (The Journal Of Asian Studies)

Praise for the first edition: Zen at War is a stunning contribution to our understanding of Japanese militarism and the broader issue of war responsibility as it continues to be addressed (and ignored) in contemporary Japan. Victoria's great sensitivity to the perversion and betrayal of Buddhism's teachings about compassion and nonviolence makes his indictment of the role played by Imperial War Buddhists in promoting ultranationalism and aggression all the more striking--and all the more saddening. (John Dower)

Praise for the first edition: Zen at War is a wake-up call for all Buddhists. Victoria has shown in a passionate and well documented way that Buddhism is not immune to the kind of distortions that have been used throughout human history by virtually all of the world's religions to justify so-called holy war. (John Daido Loori, Roshi)

Praise for the first edition: In this carefully documented study, Brian Victoria discloses the incredible intellectual dishonesty of Japanese Buddhists who perverted their religion into a jingoistic doctrine of support for the emperor and imperial expansion during the period 1868-1945. Good job! We must face this dark side of our heritage squarely. (Robert Aitken) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Back Cover

Zen at War is a wake-up call for all Buddhists. Brian Victoria has shown in a passionate and well documented way that Buddhism is not immune to the kind of distortions that have been used throughout human history by virtually all of the worlds religions to justify so-called holy wars.
John Daido Loori, Roshi, Abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery Author of The Heart of Being

Zen at War is a stunning contribution to our understanding of Japanese militarism and the broader issue of war responsibility as it continues to be addressed (and ignored) in contemporary Japan. Brian Victoria's great sensitivity to the perversion and betrayal of Buddhism's teachings about compassion and non-violence makes his indictment of the role played by Imperial Way Buddhists in promoting ultranationalism and aggression all the more strikingand all the more saddening.
Professor John W. Dower, Harvard University Author of War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War

In this carefully documented study, Brian Victoria discloses the incredible intellectual dishonesty of Japanese Buddhists who perverted their religion to a jingoistic doctrine of support of the emperor and imperial expansion during the period 1868-1945. Good job! We must face this dark side of our heritage squarely.
Robert Aitken, Roshi, Honolulu Diamond Sangha Author of The Mind of Clover and The Practice of Perfection


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Customer Reviews

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In that respect, the book seems achingly incomplete.
"paragate@neis.net"
Victoria's books are an object-lesson to anyone interested in buddhism.
J. Storey
It is just the way reality cuts through the heart of things.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

144 of 149 people found the following review helpful By "paragate@neis.net" on February 6, 1998
Format: Paperback
I was born a decade after the Japanese surrender to theAllies.
About ten years ago, when I was deep in the romanticperiod that every beginning Zen student goes through, I excitedly told my 96-year-old grandmother about my new-found religion. As I was gushing about the Japanese words and customs I was learning, Grandma interrupted, "If I saw a Jap, I'd shoot him!"
I quickly changed the subject.
I could not understand how my grandmother could be so poorly informed about the Japanese. "Japan is a Buddhist country," I assured myself. "Its culture has been heavily influenced by Zen itself. How could Grandma have acquired such bitterness about a people with whom she had had no real contact?"
In 1995, I became transfixed by the 50th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. "How could we possibly have incinerated 200,000 innocent Japanese civilians?" I asked myself. "What could my parents' generation have been thinking?"
A few months ago, I saw an advertisement in Tricycle magazine for the forthcoming publication of "Zen at War." On the cover of the book was an old photograph showing rows of black-robed Zen priests, marching in formation in front of their temple, rifles at their shoulders. As it turned out, the book would not be published for several months. Somehow, however, simply seeing the cover of "Zen at War" served as a warning that it was time for me to face the truth about my Japanese cultural/religious heritage.
I read "The Rape of Nanking," Ienaga's "The Pacific War," "Unit 731," and several other books about the conduct of the Japanese military and government during the 1930's and 40's. The effect was shattering.
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50 of 51 people found the following review helpful By sajala@infoasis.com on April 21, 1998
Format: Paperback
Every Zen student, scholar, and especially every Zen teacher should read this sobering, stimulating, excellent book. "Do not put any heads above your own." "A disciple of the Buddha does not kill," two Buddhist fundamentals, violated deeply by well-known, well-respected teachers in the Zen school in pre-1945 Japan. This book is an incentive to the reader to re-examine one's own life and daily actions and decisions. The incredible ability of the human mind to rationalize away behavior that is immoral, and to intellectually contort Buddhist teachings in the same service, is vividly brought forth in this book. I want to keep this book always visible on my desk or altar as a reminder to never forget about living with integrity, true courageous integrity.
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68 of 73 people found the following review helpful By qilin on June 19, 1998
Format: Paperback
The problem with this fascinating book isn't that it had any quarrel with Zen, but that it tries to point, from the spirit of Zen, at one application of that very Zen spirit that, in today's common understanding, is false and evil. The topic are the more or less hidden underpinnings between (not only Zen) Buddhism and Japanese militarism, but, too, the resistance against that unholy alliance. The author is a professor at Auckland University, and for 30 years an engaged priest of the Soto school of Zen. So his interest surely is more than just casual and distant, and one cannot shrug it off as some 'clearing up the dark sides of Zen' business.
It is essential that not only the historical facts are listed, but that one may have a look at their causal nexus - so it's possible to perceive how a number of rather prominent representatives of the Zen sect with subjectively good conscience came not only to defend, but to call things good and just which aren't compatible with the tenets of Buddhism, or those of any general humanity for that. And that they aren't viewed as bloodthirsty monsters, but as people also stricken with a (only??) Japan-immanent mechanism. When reading, again and again the atmosphere reminded me of the first book I ever read about Japan, and on the deep mutual understanding between Germans and Japanese - from Nazi times.
There's one figure very central in the book - the 'Zen-missionary' so eminent in the West, D. T. Suzuki, and his changes of viewpoint, depending on time and audience - whether before, during, or after the war, and speaking to Japanese or to Americans - his stock of upaya seems to have been inexhaustible.
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45 of 48 people found the following review helpful By The Cloudwalking Owl on February 14, 2004
Format: Paperback
What I found most disturbing about this book was not so much what Victoria had to reveal about the Zen culture of Imperial Japan, (don't get me wrong, that was pretty darn disturbing too)but rather the reaction that came from many, if not most, of North America's Zen masters. Almost to a one, they refused to even admit the core issue that the book arises: "If an _enlightened_ person can support an evil empire, what does it say about being enlightened?" No one doubts that Catholic Popes can committ evil acts (Dante fills Hell with them), but then the Catholic faith makes far lessor claims about the spiritual powers and insight of its clerics.
In contrast, Zen Buddhism makes the extraordinary claim that each and every Zen master is part of an intact person-to-person chain of direct mind contact to Bodhidarma, through to Guatama Buddha himself. Moreover, they maintain that this direct contact through the Zen transmission is essential to enlightenment, which cannot be learned "on ones own" or "through books". Moreover, Buddhist make the claim that Masters, and people they acknowledge as "awakened", have achieved some sort of real "awakening".
The cheesy responses that I have read and received from the Zen Masters I have read on the subject all invariably come up with the same sort of defence: cultural relativism.
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