Sunday, September 23, 2007

Can a Buddhist Join the Army?

Hello All.....
Can Buddhist Join the Army?.
Ven. K. Sri Dhammananda

You can be a soldier of Truth, but not the aggressor.

One, Sinha, the general of the army, went to the Buddha and said, ‘ I am a soldier, O Blessed One. I am appointed by the King to enforce his laws and to wage his wars. The Buddha teaches infinite love, kindness and compassion for all sufferers: Does the Buddha permit the punishment of the criminal? And also, does the Buddha declare that it is wrong to go to war for the protection of our homes, our wives, our children and our property? Does the Buddha teach the doctrine of complete self-surrender? Should I suffer the evildoer to do what he pleases and yield submissively to him who threatens to take by violence what is my own? Does the Buddha maintain that all strife including warfare waged for a righteous cause should be forbidden?’

The Buddha replied, ‘He who deserves punishment must be punished. And he who is worthy of favor must be favored. Do not do injury to any living being but be just, filled with love and kindness.’ These injunctions are not contradictory because the person who is punished for his crimes will suffer his injury not through the ill-will of the judge but though the evil act itself. His own acts have brought upon him the injury that the executors of the law inflict. When a magistrate punished, he must not harbour hatred in his heart. When a murderer is put to death, he should realize that his punishment is the result of his own act. With his understanding, he will no longer lament his fate but can console his mind. And the Blessed One continued,’ The Buddha teaches that all warfare in which man tries to slay his brothers is lamentable. But he does not teach that those who are involved in war to maintain peace and order, after having exhausted all means to avoid conflict, are blameworthy.

‘Struggle must exist, for all life is a struggle of some kind. But make certain that you do not struggle in the interest of self against truth and justice. He who struggles out of self-interest to make himself great or powerful or rich or famous, will have no reward. But he who struggles for peace and truth will have great reward; even his defeat will be deemed a victory.

‘If a person goes to battle even for a righteous cause, then Sinha, he must be prepared to be slain by his enemies because death is the destiny of warriors. And should his fate overtake him, he has no reason to complain. But if he is victorious his success may be deed great, but no matter how great it is, the wheel of fortune may turn again and bring his life down into the dust. However, if he moderates himself and extinguishes all hated in his heart, if he lifts his down-trodden adversary up and says to him’ Come now and make peace and let us be brothers,’ then he will gain a victory that is not a transient success; for the fruits of that victory will remain forever.

‘Great is a successful general, Sinha, but he who conquers self is the greater victor. This teaching of conquest of self, Singa, is no t taught to destroy the lives of others, but to protect them. The person who has conquered himself is more fit to live, to be successful and to gain victories than is the person who is the slave of self. The person whose mind is free from the illusion of self, will stand and not fall in the battle of life. He whose intentions are righteousness and justice, will meet with no failures. He will be successful in his enterprise and his success will endure. He who harbours love of truth in his heart will live and not suffer, for he has drunk the water of immortality. So struggle courageously and wisely. Then you can be a soldier of truth.’


Jeanette Yuinen Shin said...

Thank you Chaplain Malasri for your post! This topic is important for us to understand carefully. I am often asked by other Chaplains what is a Buddhist "Just War" doctrine? Their "Just War" doctrine is systematized in their theology (first formulated by Augustine), but there is nothing comparable in Buddhism (and both the Theravada and Mahayana scriptures may take widely divergent views on this, depending on the teacher). In traditional Christianity, "Just War" discusses many aspects of the realities of war, not only whether war is justified and under what conditions, but also discusses how combatants and non-combatants should be treated, what kind of force may be used and under what conditions, and what are the responsibilities of the victors to the defeated. Obviously, these are concerns that touch upon Buddhists as well. We may not want to use the phrase "Just War" (and especially as it's become such a loaded phrase) but much of what is discussed in it should be understood and considered by Buddhists as well. Many Christians, Jews, and Muslims debate extensively over this as well, and they do not all agree either.

"Just War" theory can also discuss not just conflict but also the proper relationship between the citizens of a nation and its armed forces. We see examples of dysfunctional relationships around the world, right now most especially in Myanmar. We should always be mindful of our own responsibilities as Buddhists and as citizen-soldiers.

Anonymous said...

Does the Venerable know which Sutra contains this teaching?

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