Friday, July 18, 2008

Buddhism on being a Soldier

"Buddhism and The Soldier"
By Army Major General Ananda Weerasekera

Different people have understood Buddhism differently. It is often debated whether Buddhism is a religion, philosophy or a way of life or not. Since Buddhism contains all these aspects one is justified in drawing any conclusion so long as one does not give an exclusive and rigid title. The Buddha-Dharma (Doctrine), as most of the scholars say, is a moral and philosophical system that expounds a unique path to enlightenment, and is not a subject to be studied from a mere academic standpoint. It is certainly to be studied, for the sake of practice, and above all to be realized by oneself.

All the teachings of the Buddha deal, in one way or another with the path, known as The Noble Eightfold Path. It was the path realized and introduced by the Buddha and it is as follows.

Right view
Right thought
Right speech
Right action
Right livelihood
Right effort
Right mindfulness
Right concentration

This is also known as the "Middle Path," since in actual practice it avoids extremes. This Noble Eightfold Path is discussed in detail in the Buddhist Texts. It is sufficient to state that it is a code of conduct clearly laid down by the Buddha to all four parts of Buddhist Society: bhikkhus (monks), bhikkhunis (nuns), upasakas (laymen), and upasikas (laywomen).

The disciples of the Buddha whether men or women belong to many walks of life from a King to a Servant. Whatever their civil status may be a code of conduct and moral obligations for each one has been clearly laid down by the Buddha. This code of conduct is collectively referred to as Virtue (sila) which encompasses disciplined speech, disciplined thought and controlled senses. A layman or a laywomen is advised to observe the five basic precepts as the minimum limit of their "discipline" in the society. The limits of "sila" are different for those who have renounced the lay life in search of liberation, Nirvana.

However the five precepts are not "commandments" but aspirations voluntarily undertaken by each one. The first precept is to abstain from taking life. This "life," according to Buddhism, covers the entire spectrum of living-beings. It is spelled out in the Discourse on Loving-kindness (Karaniya Metta Sutra) as follows:

Tasa-Tava- moving, unmoving
Rassaka- short,
Thula- fat
Addhitta-that cannot be seen,
Dure-which live far,
Avidure-which live near
Sambhavesi- seeking birth

The Buddha's teachings are quite clear in regard to the extent to which "love and compassion" should expand. Sabbe satta bhavanthu sukhitatta, "May all beings be happy!" The Buddha not only condemned the destruction of living-beings as higher virtue, he also condemned the destruction of the plant life. Buddhism being a "way of life" where plant, animal, and human lives are protected, how does one explain the destruction and suffering caused by war?

"Saffron Revolution" -- Burmese monks resisting soldiers (Ko Htike)
War is violence, killing, destruction, blood, and pain. Has the Buddha accepted these? According to the Buddha, the causes of war being greed, aversion and delusion are deep rooted in human mind. The milestones of the path being sila, samadhi, and panna (virtue, calm, and wisdom) make the human being realize the causes that contribute to warfare and the need for their eradication.

The Buddha said,
All tremble at violence,
All fear death,
Comparing oneself with others
One Should neither kill
Nor cause others to kill (Dhammapada)

Hence any form of violence is unacceptable. He goes on to say,
Victory breeds hatred
The defeated live in pain,
Happily the peaceful live,
Giving up victory and defeat (Dhammapada)

Victory and defeat are two sides of the coin of War. It is clear in Buddhism what breeds as a result of war.

Let us now deal with those having a direct involvement with War, the King or in today's context the Government and the Soldier. Does Buddhism permit the State to build and foster an Army? Can a good Buddhist be a soldier? And can he kill for the sake of country? What about the "Defense" of a country? When a ruthless army invades another country, does Buddhism prohibit a Buddhist King from defending his country and people? If Buddhism is a "way of life," is there any other way for a righteous king to battle against an invasion of an army?

The Dharma as a way of life is based on right view, livelihood, action, and so on, culminating in the supreme goal of Nirvana. However, it is a gradual process of training and progressing on the path through one's long samsaric journey until one has fulfilled the necessery conditions and is ready to let go the cycle of birth decay and death. Hence, until then the King has to rule, the farmer has to farm, teacher has to teach, the trader has to trade and so on. But they are expected to do it the Buddhist way in order to help them progress on the path... Read full text
PHOTO 1: Buddhist monks look on at Marine's funeral service who died in illegal war on Iraq, April 28, 2003. For the first time in memory, a Buddhist monk presided over an Arlington National Cemetery burial ceremony (; PHOTO 2: (from Burmese dissident Ko Htike's blog).

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