Killing without anger in EBT

I have come across an article by a scholar, comparing some aspects of Buddhism with Western philosophy:

One of the points he make is on anger, which should be avoided, according to both Seneca and the Buddha. Then the author writes:

Owen…asked the Dalai Lama a question…: if I had a chance to go back in time and kill Hitler before he starts WWII and the Holocaust, should I not do it? Would it not be okay for me to be angry at the thought of what Hitler did/was going to do, and indeed use such anger as a motivator to kill him? …The response of the Dalai Lama could have just as well come out of Seneca: “[he] explained that one should kill Hitler (actually with some martial fanfare, in the way — to mix cultural practices — a samurai warrior might). It is stopping a bad, a very bad, karmic causal chain. So, ‘yes, kill him. But don’t be angry.’”

In fact there’s a well known argument that WWII with all its destruction was allowed to happen because people did not stand up firmly to Hitler earlier.

Is there anything in EBT that would support killing say a tyrant who can cause so much damage to society, provided it’s done without anger?

There was a recent Dhamma talk in which Ajahn Brahm talked about Buddhists in the army, implying - if I understood it correctly(?) - that the two things are not necessarily contradictory. So again the question is: can you be a Buddhist and carry out violent acts if that is to stop, for example, a very bad and deranged person who is in a position of great power, provided this is not coming from anger or other negative emotions, but from a concern for say democracy?


Not killing without Anger, but the killing of Anger.

"What is the one thing
whose killing you approve?”

“When anger’s incinerated you sleep at ease.
When anger’s incinerated there is no sorrow.
O brahmin, anger has a poisoned root
and a honey tip."


this is a nice quote. :grinning: :pray:
The question remains though: if at times when democracy is at risk, you prioritize sleeping over being vigilant and taking action, humanity might have to pay a huge price.

Personally I can’t imagine how I, with a heart full of kindness, could do harm to anybody.

Also, in retrospect we all know what Hitler did. But can anybody ever know for sure such things in advance? Is there a way to be really certain about which turns another person’s life will take, and what decisions they will make? I’ve heard something like … “the future is uncertain”. How high a probability would justify a killing?

To me it seems impossible to
a) kill a person without some sense of anger or ill will, and
b) be really sure this is the right thing to do.

Not claiming this is the right answer, but for me it’s the only way I can think about it.

And I am not aware of any sort of encouragement of killing in the EBTs, except for what @faujidoc1 already quoted.


I see your point :pray: A good thing about this website is that people are free to contradict His Holiness the Dalai Lama (and probably Ajahn Brahm too in the sense that he implied that you can be a Buddhist soldier).

I certainly agree that you cannot prove in advance that Hitler would not have done the damage he did. Not in a scientific way. (In the same way you could not prove with mathematical certainty that Mr Trump would have contested the election results though the media were correctly predicting that is might happen)

The conclusion I am coming is that EBT are for personal development, to attain some kind of inner peace. But they are not very helpful when dealing with the real world. Would you agree? I would suggest that this is why the Dalai Lama, who is also a political leader with responsibilities to his people, spoke on that occasion (and in other occasions too perhaps, for example on the legitimacy of nuclear weapons for India) in a different way from EBT teaching.

In the West we are usually taught that prioritizing our inner peace and not getting involved when there are problems in the real world is not necessarily the most virtuous behavior. It’s probably a cultural difference between our culture and that of the time of the Buddha?

When we speak of killing Hitler, who or what are we speaking of?

We know that there is no real, immutable ‘Self’ in the set of impermanent, codependent conditionalities represented by the conventional label ‘Hitler’. Doing away with the particular 5 aggregates represented by that term will not remove the causes which led ‘Hitler’ to manifest. Some other set of 5 aggregates will simply take up that place… ie. One might kill Hitler, only to have things turn out exactly the same way with some other person (eg Himmler) fulfilling that role.

So, if one truly wants to change history, one has to change a sufficiently large number of antecedent and simultaneously arising factors.


So if I understand you correctly, this means that removing dangerous people does not do any good? (I think the Dalai Lama spoke of killing Hitler because problably there was no other way of removing him from a position where he could be harmful).
Does your argument imply that for example it is useless to remove catholic priests who are guilty of sexual abuse by putting them in prison (thankfully in that case you can just imprison them - unlike in Hitler’s case) because you would imprison them

only to have things turn out exactly the same way with some other person

Does your argument mean that trying to protect people’s safety is useless in the end, because if you condemn some evil or dangerous person, there will be someone else that will take their place?

I am not contradicting anybody, I am just explaining my very personal feeling about this question. I’d just as well explain this in front of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, if he’d like to listen.

Besides this, things are not true or otherwise because of who says them. With all due respect for H.H. the Dalai Lama and Ajahn Brahm—which I truly have: It’s still possible they get something wrong.

In this case I have to say that my personal experience (again, personal, I’m not claiming this to be universally true) is very different. I’ve never encountered anything more helpful for my “real” life than the Buddha’s teaching.

Getting involved and taking a stance when there are problems does not automatically amount to killing. During the Nazi regime there have been many people, for example, who actively supported and protected Jews from prosecution, risking their own lives by doing so. I’ve heard about a Jew survivor saying that without this, not a single one would have survived the Holocaust! The Nazi extinction machine was extremely thorough and efficient.

I think we should not simply equate killing with other ways of removing someone from a position. It’s not the same! Killing a person is defintely a category of it’s own.

I agree that things are usually not as easy as they look like at first sight, but rather complex. Neither is it possible to consider all factors that would have to be changed in order for a specific desired outcome to happen; nor is it possible to know all implications that any particular act will have.

When looking at the practical aspects of the matter, things are in fact really complex.

It’s not that there has been no attempt to kill Hitler. There have been many. The most spectacular one was on 20 of July, 1944 by Claus von Stauffenberg and others.

The aim was to kill Adolf Hitler, and the outcome was

  • Hitler survives with minor injuries
  • Military coup fails within 5 hours
  • 7,000 arrested; 4,980 executed

A killing happened in fact, but not quite as intended … :cry:

This just adds to the insecurity that we must have with regards to the future of the person we are intending to kill. There are many more insecurities involved! Up to which degree of insecurities would a killing (or an attempt at killing) be justified?

In the history of Buddhism in Tibet, at least the version as I have heard it from Tibetan teachers, there has been a king who prosecuted the Dhamma, and at some point someone killed him. This person became known as a saint, practically. This story left me always with an uncomfortable feeling. But maybe when the Dalai Lama speaks of killing a tyrant, this is also what he has in mind? It’s what Tibetans grow up with, at least if they are Buddhists.


Haven’t rulers been incarcerating murderers, rapists and criminals of every hue from time immemorial? Yet has Crime come to an end? :worried:

I am not arguing that there is no personal responsibility…on the contrary, every being is the owner of their own kamma and will certainly suffer the consequences of their actions. What I am trying to point out is that for any meaningful change of circumstances to be made, one must look beyond the person to the societal and organizational shortcomings which facilitate the undesirable occurrence. Only then will we be able to achieve the better world we all desire. :slightly_smiling_face:


Very interesting points :pray:

That is fascinating. Perhaps by real world I meant more big practical decisions that have to be taken for example at a political level. These involve conflict and I don’t find EBT helpful in dealing with it (even at the level of the sangha some decisions involve conflict, like the bhikkhuni ordination).
I know that Ashoka is often mentioned, but from wikipedia you can read

According to the Ashokavadana, Ashoka resorted to violence even after converting to Buddhism. For example:[130]* He slowly tortured Chandagirika to death in the “hell” prison.[130]* He ordered a massacre of 18,000 heretics for a misdeed of one.[130]* He launched a pogrom against the Jains, announcing a bounty on the head of any heretic; this results in the beheading of his own brother – Vitashoka.[130]

I wonder if Ashoka understood these acts of killing to be in agreement with Buddhist principles? Does anyone have an opinion on this?

In practice I don’t see how one can just apply EBT principles when running a country - or when dealing with a tyrant running it.
And the Dalai Lama as a politician does not adhere to EBT as we have agreed.
In contrast people like Seneca, Cicero, Marcus Aurelius (to refer to the Stoics from my OP) did lead an active life based on Stoic principles, since violence was in some case considered virtuous in their system of thought.


Isn’t it strange that people feel that killing animals so that humans can eat their meat to live is so terrible, yet killing other humans can be justified by emotions, words and concepts… :thinking: :smiley:

Of course, they themselves wouldn’t ever hurt a fly… :laughing:

I’m ex military, with 20+ years spent treating the most horrifying injuries in war zones people only read about in the news, if at all. There are no winners… There is only unimaginable suffering on all sides.


Indeed that is strange :pray: if you live a secluded life with no responsibility, then indeed killing any living being doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.
But those who live an active life in the real word, even a Buddhist king like Ashoka or a Buddhist monk-politician like His Holiness the Dalai Lama, in some case consider killing necessary (see OP)

Well, Ven @sujato seems to have collected a resource to help out Buddhists facing the dilemma of military service! I haven’t been able to go through it yet, but here it is. Perhaps it can provide some food for thought!

resource-package-related-to-buddhist-chaplaincy.pdf (704.2 KB)


Interesting compilation, thanks for sharing!

thanks :pray: I am going to read it.
I was thinking about today’s geopolitical questions, and whether Buddhism can help in seeing what is right or wrong.
Things like the terrorist attacks we have in Europe at the moment, the strange things happening in the US election where there’s a big risk of people being inflamed by one of the candidates to commit acts of violence, of the risk of a US -China war in the coming years.
What does Buddhism teach in those real cases? Should one abstain from all violence in all cases? What does that even mean in practice when facing a terrorist like the ones in France and Austria in recent weeks?

Following the precepts is something one voluntarily takes on, they are not commandments. At the same time, there are consequences for our actions… bright, dark and in between kamma…the trick is to find a skilful path, in keeping with our ultimate goal.
The Buddha said that each person should endeavour to do their duty and fulfil their responsibilities as best as they can. Not everyone chooses to be a monk or to seek Nibbana after all… :wink:


The EBTs are our source of what the Buddha taught. Attaining some kind of inner peace will take place as one follows the Buddha’s teachings, but that isn’t the ultimate aim. As @sujato said in another discussion:

As for dealing with the real world, this quote from the Chinese parallel to AN 4.95 can guide us in many life situations::

There are four types of persons: one person aids himself without aiding others, one person aids others without aiding himself, one person neither aids himself nor aids others, and one person aids himself and also aids others.

The person who neither aids himself nor aids others is the most inferior person. [If] a person aids others without aiding himself, he is superior [to that]. If a person aids himself without aiding others, he is superior [to that]. If a person aids himself and also aids others, he is the highest; a person like this is supreme.


“The individual who practices for his/her own benefit and for that of others is, of these four, the foremost,”—AN 4.95

Practicing for the benefit of others means developing the practice so as to be in a position to better help others through wisdom, or perhaps teaching.
The following statement is frequently made at the closing of discourses:

“So, monks, I have opened up the safe, restful path, closed off the false path, … Whatever a teacher should do — seeking the welfare of his disciples, out of sympathy for them — that have I done for you.”—MN 19


[Edited to add: Irene, you asked

The citation you gave for the stories of Ashoka’s post-conversion violence sums up with this disclaimer

For several reasons, scholars say, these stories of persecutions of rival sects by Ashoka appear to be clear fabrications arising out of sectarian propaganda.


That has in fact been done. There is this French writer Éric-Emmanuel Schmidt who wrote a novel called “The Alternative Hypothesis” in English. He tells two life stories of Adolf Hitler next to each other, and develops the “alternative” life into a very moving story of a person who, due to a combination of various circumstances, manages to face the challenges posed by his fears and lack of self-esteem and who is able to go through an amazing development. A worthwhile read!

This is one of the reasons why in my earlier post I said that there is no way for us to know with certainty what course a person’s life will take.