Friday, June 13, 2008

Honor, Courage, Commitment: For Buddhists, Too?

Hello all!

It's been awhile since I've written a howa, and this topic will be about what we in the Navy cite as our Three Core Values: Honor, Courage, Commitment. These are required for every Sailor. I am writing about these today because I have recently been reminded of them in a couple of ways. Awhile back, I was at a chaplains' training conference and was in a discussion about these values, which had come up. I remember one chaplain stating clearly: "Unless you believe in God, how can you have Honor, Courage, and Commmitment?"

I was more recently reminded of this again when I encountered a Sailor who asked me if I had any salvia, or knew where to buy some. I said I had no idea what that was (I later found out it was a legal - as of this writing! - type of smokable herb). The guy then said, "You're Buddhist, right? Don't Buddhists get high during their services?"


Calmly (assuming he was for real), I explained, that no, Buddhists typically don't smoke anything during services (citing the precept against intoxicants!) and calmly sent him on his way out of my office. However, my mind was buzzing. Why would he assume that of Buddhists? Why not indeed, when almost every "head" shop or smoke shop sells those tacking-looking Buddha images (or other tchotkes) alongside bongs? So, why wouldn't a Christian think non-Christians have a problem with values, as many of them obviously believe that we are only a footstep away from crazy behavior? Don't they see that on E! all the time?

I am also reminded of something I read in the posthumously published autobiography, Combat Chaplain, by US Army Chaplain Israel Yost, who was a white Christian chaplain assigned to a segregated Japanese-American combat unit from Hawaii during WWII (I would like to take the time to review it more thoroughly later, since I don't have the book with me). In this book about his wartime service, he doesn't so much dwell on the religious identities of the soldiers as focus on how he could care for them: clearly, they were all equally important in his eyes (as should be for a military chaplain), but there was only one paragraph in the book where he mentions that some of his soldiers were Buddhist. He was complimenting one of his soldiers for something he did, and then was surprised when the soldier said he was Buddhist - this realization surprised him because as he had assumed, from knowing his good character, that the soldier was a Christian. The fact that Buddhists could possibly be of good and moral character is something that is just generally not assumed, perhaps.

Perhaps it is not as discussed as often as it should be, but the Buddhist teachings are implicitly concerned with morality and values. I am not speaking of a simple list of dos and donts and or-elses, but of what ought to be an acceptable standard of behavior, thought, and action. The Buddha at many times emphasized the importance of these, as a preliminary to even beginning to understand his teachings. Even if others do it, and get away with it (sometimes) should we? Are we accepting Buddha-dharma just because we think we can now do anything we want, unlike the Christians for example?

There is an interesting story that can be found in the Sumatidarika-pariprccha-sutra. Sumati, the daughter of one of the Buddha's great lay followers, the merchant Anathapindika, became married into a non-Buddhist family. The custom of her new family required an invitation to the wedding banquest of brahmin ascetics. These brahmins happened to be naked ascetics. Sumita's new family asked her to go out and greet them and pay respects, but she refused. Her father-in-law demanded to know why she refused, saying that these naked ascetics were wearing "clothes of Dharma." Sumita rejected this:

[Sumita said] 'To be naked cannot be being clothed in the clothes of the Dharma. My teacher, the World-Honored One, has taught that there are two things that are most sacred in this world. They are shame and modesty, and if these are lacking, the difference between mother and father, elder and younger brother, elder and younger sister, and among relatives will also be lacking. There would be no difference between oneself and a chicken or dog. These people here are without shame and modesty and are naked...How can I go and pay respect to them?' Her husband repeatedly tried to persuade her to go out and greet them, but she said that she would not fall into such a false doctrine even if they were to tear her from limb to limb; and thus she refused.

There are similar stories like these in the various sutras, all illustrating the point that as Buddhists we are guided towards living morally, and not expected to simply accept "anything goes" even if society allows it (maybe). Probably we are not in any danger of being forced to give offerings to naked ascetics, but at times we will be encouraged to do things we feel and know are not right, or even to assume that we are free to do whatever we want. But Buddha-dharma provides us with teachings to guide us away from harmful actions, towards living a truly blissful life. This attitude not common just to Buddhism, but in many other religions and philosophies today. Even though we may assume we are on the path to Enlightenment, we are still meant to be examples to others, as Sumita was, of what it means to truly live a moral life (the story later ends with Sumita eventually convincing her family to follow Buddha-dharma). We need honor to abide by what is proper, courage to live by it and demonstrate it to others , and commitment to keep to it and not simply be swayed by the "anything goes" mentality of samsara.

Honor-Courage-Commitment? Not a problem for Buddhists!
Namo Amida Butsu


Jerry said...

Wow, that's absolutely fascinating to me. I can't say I've actually ran into that type of thing persay, but I HAVE run into several Christians who believe us to be idol worshippers. I've always kindly explained to them the actuality of it, but yes, there is very definitely a perception about us, which thankfully, over the past few years, has begun to change in a positive way. But it doesn't stop it's occurances. I was always quick to jump on the defensive when things like this were said by anyone, but it is true, your actions do indeed speak louder than words. I will always strive to be mindful and aware but above all, compassionate... that alone speaks volumes.

Done correctly, happiness is an inevitable end.

Jeanette Yuinen Shin said...

Hello RP1!

I don't mean to suggest that this happens all the time, but it DOES happen, just not very often, thank goodness. But when we do openly say that we are Buddhist, we cannot control what other people may think of us - who knows what mental image they may have? Where did they learn these mental images? From church? From the media? For some Buddhists, this may not not a big deal and it makes sense - after all, who cares what people think? But for some lines of work, it does tend to matter. I know of more than one military Buddhist who always kept their religious identity under wraps, because it just wasn't worth the potential hassle to make it known, and get endless Goofball Comments (or unwanted invitations to accept Jesus) from their buddies, their command, their chaplain, whomever. It may not be fair, but it really is up to us to try to change that image, which we can do by setting the positive example, as in that story with Chaplain Yost. It may only have been an anecdote, but maybe he then understood that all Buddhists weren't evil-doing idolaters.

Creative Commons License
Buddhist Military Sangha by Jeanette Shin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at