Volume 4, Issue 2, 2016
Buddhism, Blasphemy, and Violence
Giving Milk to Snakes
A Socialist “Dharma Minister” and a “Stubborn” Monk on How to Reject the Dharma in Revolutionary Buryatia and Khalkha
This article explores the blasphemy concept in relation to the historical study of competing visions of doctrine and institutional modeling in revolutionary-era Mongolia and Buryatia (c. 1911–1940). I focus on a close reading of a previously unstudied letter exchange between a prominent socialist leader and Buddhist reformer named Ts. Zhamtsarano and a conservative (Khalkha) Mongol abbot that disputed reforms aiming to allow the laity to study alongside monks in monastic settings. In relation to those sources, I reject a straightforward application of “blasphemy” as an analytical category. However, noting that micro-encounters such as that of the reformer and the abbot not only reference, but actively produce, macro-level social registers and institutions (like Buddhism, “the monastic college,” Tibet, Mongolia, and the like), I argue that in these materials we do see the generative practices of rejection and extension of received tradition that the blasphemy concept (especially in its Islamic iterations) expresses. Such a process-based analytic, motivated by “blasphemy” but not a straightforward application of it to Buddhist case studies, is immensely useful in the comparative study of social and intellectual history in Buddhist societies, especially during periods of profound socio-political transition.