Buddhists believe that war is akusala – unskillful, evil. However, Buddhists are still seen as part of war sometimes. But the question arises – Is war always immoral?
War and Buddhism, Can War Be Justified?
Scholars of Buddhism state that Buddhist teachings do not justify war in any manner. However, Buddhists haven’t remained away from wars. There is evidence in history indicating the involvement of 621 CE monks from the Shaolin Temple of China in a war that lead to the establishment of the Tang Dynasty. Additionally, Tibetan Buddhist school heads developed strategic agreements with Mongol warlords and benefited from the activities of the warlords.
Is War Always Incorrect?
Teachings of Buddhism ask us to look into more apart from the right/wrong dichotomy. In Buddhism, any action that basis a foundation for harmful karma is undesirable, even if it cannot be avoided. There are times when Buddhists fight for their nations, family and home. This is not considered as ‘immoral or incorrect’. Nevertheless, even in such a situation, developing hatred for one’s enemies is poisonous. Any action of war that sows the seeds of harmful karma in future is still evil.
Moral values of Buddhism are based on principles and not rules. The principles are described in the Precepts (Panch Shila) and the Four Immeasurable – loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. Moreover, principles like gentleness, tolerance, mercy and kindness are also imbibed by Buddhists. Even in the worse circumstances, violating these principles is not good.
Yet, it is not even righteous or good to maintain the principles and watch someone innocent getting slaughtered. Late Ven. Dr. K Sri Dhammananda, a Theravadin monk and scholar suggested that “The Buddha did not teach His followers to surrender to any form of evil power, be it human or supernatural being.”
Should Buddhists Fight or not Fight
According to the teachings of The Buddha, followers should not be the attackers even if they are trying to protect their religion, nation, family or any other thing. They need to try to avoid such violent situations. There may be instances in which they will be forced to enter into a state of war by those who do not believe in the concept of brotherhood of humans preached by the Buddha. Buddhists could be asked to defend their country from outside attack, and as long as they have not abandoned the worldly life, it is their duty to be a part of the battle for freedom and peace.
In such situations, they cannot be held responsible for serving as soldiers or being a part of defense activities. However, if every human born on this planet were to abide by the teachings of the Buddha, there would be no war or reason for violent acts. Every individual belonging to any culture is responsible for finding solutions and means to handle conflicts in a peaceful manner, without leading to war or the death of fellow human beings.
Today, over 3,000 Buddhists serve the U.S armed forces. They are involved in other military and army activities as well with their strong belief “Without compassion, war is a criminal activity. Sometimes it is necessary to take life, but we never take life for granted.”