Thursday, August 18, 2005

Buddhism and just war

Westerners have a habit of westernizing Buddhism; this is to be expected and probably a good thing, as Buddhism like anything has always taken on the trappings of native religions when it has arrived. The teachings, however, are a subject of controversy. When people imagine Buddhists they imagine people committed to pacifism. They will not fight, they only eat meat, in short, westerners see Buddhists as the ultimate pacifists. Yet there is ample evidence this is not the case.

There are also a fair number of people who look upon the past and say "see, we could have avoided that if we had thought it through." That is certainly the point of history; but with the benefit of hindsight, there is no shortage of people who think incredibly difficult decisions were easy and that had only THEY been President, WWII, Hiroshima, all of that could have been avoided. It has been said that reality has more imagination than we do. To those who believe that we have no enemy today, or that the enemy is us, I can only shake my head and wonder how many train stations, discos, synagogues and mosques need to explode into a pile of body parts before we conclude that we have become the vehicle for their Karma.

The Budhha Taught Nonviolence,
Not Pacifism
Paul Fleischman, M.D.

Paul Fleischman is a psychiatrist and a Teacher of vipassana meditation in the tradition of S.N. Goenka. He is the author, among other workss, of Cultivating Inner Peace and Karma and Chaos.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, I have found myself musing about nonviolence, its contributions, its limits, and its place in the Buddha’s teaching. I have also been surprised to hear many of my acquaintances confuse the Buddha’s teaching of nonviolence with pacifism (which I will here take to mean the objection to any kind of violence for any reason), so that, due to their confusion, they find themselves either rejecting nonviolence as hopelessly naive and inadvertently destructive, or embracing the politicized group allegiances of pacifism, which they imagine incorrectly to present what the Buddha taught.

The Buddha did not intend to form either a religious or political position, nor a philosophy of society. Historically, he lived before the era of organized, systematic theorizing about the human collective. He addressed himself as an individual to individuals. Even when he spoke to large groups, as he frequently did, he focused on individual responsibility. He understood every group - for example, the democratic states that existed in the India of his times – as resting upon the insight, conscience, and actions of each of its participants. He had no theory of, nor belief in, supervening collective structures of society or government that could amend or replace the bedrock of individual choice.
...Nonviolence as the Buddha taught it was directed at each interaction in each moment but was not a comforting myth for denying inescapable truths. Dhamma is a long path, a footpath, rarely culminated by the rare few, and not a fantasy exit from the exigencies of the human condition. There are no global solutions even hinted at anywhere in the Buddha’s dispensation of Dhamma. His followers practice non-violence because it anchors them in alertness and compassion, expresses and reinforces their own mental purification, builds identification with other beings, human, animal, even seeds; and because it is their most cherished realization: mind matters most; cultivation of love, peace and harmony is always the only irrefutable doctrineless meaning that people can experience.


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