War, Zen Buddhism and Academia

Professor Frank S. Ravitch, IAFOR Executive Council Advisory Board Member, sits down for an intriguing and enlightening interview with Dr Brian Daizen Victoria, Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, Japan.

Dr Brian Victoria shares his personal journey, beginning with his experience as conscientious objector of the Vietnam War, which lead to him becoming a Zen Buddhist Priest and an anti-war activist, and has now seen him transition into academia. His story begins with the conflict he felt as a young Christian trying to rationalise the Church’s consent of the war effort. His participation in the war as a conscientious objector took him to Japan where he was introduced to the works of D.T. Suzuki and the non-violent, anti-war beliefs of Zen Buddhism. Dr Victoria became active in the anti-war movement which brought the ire of his Zen Buddhist mentors. Once again he was left to question the stances religion often takes when it comes to issues of war and violence. These experiences inspired him to write his seminal works in war and religion Zen at War (1997) and Zen War Stories (2003).

The interview then leads into a discussion on the origins of religion and the differences Dr Victoria sees between the functions it served in the ancient world versus that of modern times. He talks about the merits of Karl Jaspers’ work, the power behind the concept of the Axial Age and explains how his views on the development of religion differ with those of Jaspers’. Dr Victoria then further elaborates on religion’s relationship with war and his concerns for the roles it will play in future international conflicts.

The conversation ends with a brief discussion on interdisciplinarity and how it leads to a greater understanding of the world’s problems and provides a way to break through boundaries that inhibit dialogue and potential solutions.

Dr Victoria was a Featured Speaker at The Asian Conference of Ethics, Religion & Philosophy 2016 (ACERP2016) in Kobe, Japan.

Dr Brian Victoria

Dr Brian Victoria's major writings include Zen War Stories (Routledge Curzon, 2003); an autobiographical work in Japanese entitled Gaijin de ari, Zen bozu de ari (As a Foreigner, As a Zen Priest), published by San-ichi Shobo in 1971; Zen Master Dōgen, coauthored with Professor Yokoi Yūhō of Aichi-gakuin University (Weatherhill, 1976); and a translation of The Zen Life by Sato Koji (Weatherhill, 1972). In addition, Dr Victoria has published numerous journal articles, focusing on the relationship of not only Buddhism, but religion in general, to violence and warfare.

From 2005 to 2013 Dr Victoria was a Professor of Japanese Studies and Director of the AEA “Japan and Its Buddhist Traditions Program” at Antioch University in Yellow Springs, OH. From 2013 to 2015 he was a Visiting Research Fellow at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto, Japan where he is writing a book tentatively entitled: Zen Terror in 1930s Japan. Brian currently continues his research as a Fellow of the Oxford Center for Buddhist Studies and is a fully ordained Buddhist priest in the Sōtō Zen sect.

Posted by IAFOR