Buddhist Opposition to War and Killing
|Buddhism, founded approximately 2,500 years ago is considered to be the oldest and is the third largest of the three world religionsChristianity and Islam are the other two. Buddhism has perhaps the strongest tradition of non-violence and peace of the three.|
|In the last centuryone of almost unremitting strifeBuddhism has been a champion of peaceful coexistence and non-violent resolution of problems. There were notable exceptions: some Nichiren sects and the co-opted Zen of mid 20th century militaristic government of Japan are two examples. On the other hand, the five decades-long largely non-violent struggle for the independence of Tibetans, under the leadership the Dalai Lama, is notable.
The founder of the Buddhist religion, Siddh_rtha of the Gautama clan in India, at the age of 35 renounced worldly ambition by becoming a wandering monastic to seek enlightenment and salvation. Once he achieved enlightenment he became known as the Buddha (The Enlightened One). The religion that the Buddha founded has among its core precepts a prohibition on killing.
A lay follower, upon becoming a Buddhist, is expected to follow five rules, usually called the Five Precepts. The very first precept simply states: I undertake to refrain from taking life. The Buddhist monastic, upon ordination, takes on ten precepts, of which restraint from killing is also the first one.
This precept is restated by the noted Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, for members of the Interbeing Order of Buddhism, founded in 1966:
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life.
The first precept of the new Peacemaker Order, co-founded in 1996 by Bernie Glassman with the expressed purpose of bringing together activists involved in living lives of creating peace, provides the following version of the traditional first precept:
Recognizing that I am not separate from all that is. This is the precept of Non-Killing.
The discouragement of killing is more than a mere statement of belief. Buddhism is a soteriological religion i.e., one focused on personal salvation. As such it is based on behaviors that promote actions that encourage salvation. Buddhism inherited from its Vedic Indian legacy the concept of karma. Karma, in essence, is the belief that all actions have consequences; these can be positive or negative. Killing is considered to create the most negative consequence (karma). From this it follows that in the Buddhist tradition killing is inimical to salvation in this life, and brings a promise of negative consequences in any possible future reincarnations.
We see, therefore, that the recommendation against killing is not only the first among the rules of Buddhism, but that it is central to effective practice of that religion.
|Despite the strength and centrality of the anti-killing message in Buddhism, governments of Buddhist countries have not been loath to wage war. It is also probably fair to say that, until recently, there have been virtually no popular Buddhist anti-war movements in traditionally Buddhist countries.
There are many historical, sociological and cultural reasons for that. The traditional focus on personal salvation and dependence of monks on support by the population and rulers have probably contributed to a reluctance by the monks to challenge the status quodespite possible personal condemnation of a state of affairs.
For further Information:
For peace writings and web site information regarding Thich Nhat Hanh
True Peace: Ending Violence in Yourself, Your Family, Your Community, and the World. Parallax Press, Berkeley, 2003.
A thorough study of SGI-USA is: Hammond Phillip E. and David W. MacHacke. Soka Gakkai in America: Accommodation and Conversion. Oxford University Press, London, Toronto and New York, 1999. The SGI has an extensive US web site and a wide-ranging English language Japanese web site.