War and Peace
By Ven. Dr. K. Sri Dhammanada - From the book "What Buddhist Believe"
The Following Sections are Covered in this Document
Contents Section
Why is there no Peace? 1
Can We Justify War? 2
- The Buddhist Attitude 2.1
Can Buddhists Join the Army? 3
Mercy Killing 4
- Killing for Self-Protection 4.1
The Buddhist Stand on the Death Sentence 5
Humans have forgotten that they have a heart. They forget that if they treat others kindly, others will treat them kindly in return.

WE are living in a world of really amazing contradictions. On the one hand, people are afraid of war; on the other hand, they prepare for it with frenzy. They produce in abundance, but they distribute miserly. The world becomes more and more crowded, but people become increasingly isolated and lonely. They are living close to each other as in a big family, but each individual finds him or herself more than ever before, separated from his or her neighbour. Mutual understanding and sincerity are lacking very badly. One person cannot trust another, however good the latter may be.

When the United Nations was formed after the horrors of the Second World War, the heads of Nations who gathered to sign the charter agreed that it should begin with the following preamble: ‘Since it is in the minds of men that wars begin, it is in the minds of men the ramparts of peace should be erected'. This very same sentiment is echoed in the first verse of the Dhammapada in which the Buddha states: ‘All [mental] states have mind as their forerunner, mind is their chief, and they are mind-made. If one speaks or acts, with a defiled mind, suffering follows one even as the wheel follows the hoof of the draught-ox. ‘

The belief that the only way to fight force is by applying more force has led to the arms race between the great powers. And this competition to increase the weapons of war has brought mankind to the very brink of total self-destruction. If we do nothing about it, the next war will be the end of the world where there will be neither victors nor victims—only dead bodies.

‘Hatred does not cease by hatred; by love alone does it cease.' Such is the Buddha's advice to those who preach the doctrine of antagonism and ill will, and who set men to war and rebellion against one another. Many people say that the Buddha's advice to return good for evil is impractical. Actually, it is the only correct method to solve any problem. This method was introduced by the great Teacher from His own experience. Because we are proud and egoistic, we are reluctant to return good for evil, thinking that the public may treat us as cowardly people. Some people even think that kindness and gentleness are effeminate, not ‘macho'! But what harm is there if we settle our problems and bring peace and happiness by adopting this cultured method and by sacrificing our dangerous pride? Many people cannot be satisfied without taking revenge for the mistakes done to them by others.

Tolerance must be practised if peace is to come to this earth. Force and compulsion will only create intolerance. To establish peace and harmony among mankind, each and everyone must first learn to practise the ways leading to the extinction of hatred, greed and delusion, the roots of all evil forces. If mankind can eradicate these evil forces, tolerance and peace will come to this restless world.

Today the followers of the most compassionate Buddha have a special duty to work for the establishment of peace in the world and to show an example to others by following their Master's advice: ‘All tremble at punishment, all fear death; comparing others with oneself, one should neither kill nor cause to kill.' (DHAMMAPADA 129)

Peace is always obtainable. But the way to peace is not only through prayers and rituals. Peace is the result of achieving harmony with our fellow beings and with our environment. The peace that we try to introduce by force is not a lasting peace. It is an interval in between the conflict of selfish desire and worldly conditions.

Peace cannot exist on this earth without the practice of tolerance. To be tolerant, we must not allow anger and jealousy to prevail in our minds. The Buddha says, ‘No enemy can harm one so much as one's own thoughts of craving, hate and jealousy.' (DHAMMAPADA 42)

Buddhism is a religion of tolerance because it preaches a life of self-restraint. Buddhism teaches a life based not on rules but on principles. Buddhism has never persecuted or maltreated those whose beliefs are different. The Teaching is such that it is not necessary for anyone to use the label “Buddhist” to practise the Noble Principles of this religion.

The world is like a mirror and if you look at the mirror with a smiling face, you can see your own, beautiful smiling face. On the other hand, if you look at it with a long face, you will invariably see ugliness. Similarly, if you treat the world kindly the world will also certainly treat you kindly. Learn to be peaceful with yourself and the world will also be peaceful with you.

Human kind is given to so much self-deceit that they do not want to admit their own weakness. They will try to find some excuse to justify their action and to create an illusion that they are blameless. If one really wants to be free, one must have the courage to admit one's own weakness. The Buddha says:

‘Easily seen are other's faults; hard indeed it is to see one's own faults.'

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The difference between a dogfight and a war between two groups of people is only in its preparation.

THE history of mankind is a continuous manifestation of people's greed, hatred, pride, jealousy, selfishness and delusion. During the last 3,000 years, we have fought 15,000 major wars. Is it a characteristic of humans? What is our destiny? How can we end this senseless destruction of one another?

Although human beings have discovered and invented many important things, they have also made great advances towards the destruction of their own kind. This is how many human civilisations have been completely erased from this earth. Modern human beings have become so sophisticated in the art and techniques of warfare that it is now possible for them to reduce entire cities to ashes within a few seconds. The world has become a storehouse of military hardware as a result of a game called ‘Military Superiority.'

We are told that the prototype of a nuclear weapon more powerful than the atomic bomb which was dropped at Hiroshima Japan in August, 1945 is being planned. Scientists believe that a few hundred thermonuclear weapons will chart the course towards universal destruction. Just see what we are doing to our world! Think what sort of scientific development it is! See how foolish and selfish we are! People should not pander to their aggressive instincts. They should uphold the ethical teachings of the religious teachers and display justice with morality to enable peace to prevail.

Treaties, pacts and peace formulae have been adopted and millions of words have been spoken by countless world leaders throughout the world who proclaim that they have found the way to maintain and promote peace on earth. But for all their efforts, they have not succeeded in removing the threat to mankind. The reason is that we have all failed to educate our young to truly understand and respect the need for selfless service and the danger of selfishness. To guarantee true peace, we must use every method available to us to educate youths to practise love, goodwill and tolerance towards others.

The Buddhist Attitude

Buddhists should not be the aggressors even in protecting their religion or anything else. They must try their best to avoid any kind of violent act. Sometimes they may be forced to go to war by others who do not respect the concept of the brotherhood of humans as taught by the Buddha. They may be called upon to defend their country from external aggression, and as long as they have not renounced the worldly life, they are duty-bound to join in the struggle for peace and freedom. Under these circumstances, they cannot be blamed for becoming soldiers or being involved in defence. However, if everyone were to follow the advice of the Buddha, there would be no reason for war to take place in this world. It is the duty of every cultured person to find all possible ways and means to settle disputes in a peaceful manner, without declaring war to kill his or her fellow human beings. The Buddha did not teach His followers to surrender to any form of evil power be it a human or supernatural being.

Indeed, with reason and science, humanity has been able to conquer nature, and yet they have to secure their own lives. Why is it that life is in danger? While devoted to reason and being ruled by science, people have forgotten that they have hearts which have been neglected and left to wither and be polluted by passions.

If we cannot secure our own lives, then how can world peace be possible? To obtain peace, we must train our minds to face facts. We must be objective and humble. We must realise that no one person, nor one nation is always wrong. To obtain peace, we must also share the richness of the earth, if not with equality then at least with equity. There can never be absolute equality but surely there can be a greater degree of equity.

It is simply inconceivable that five percent of the world's population should enjoy fifty percent of its wealth, or that twenty-five percent of the world should be fairly well-fed and some overfed, while seventy-five percent of the world is always hungry. Peace will only come when nations are willing to share and share equitably, the rich to help the poor and the strong to help the weak, thus creating international goodwill. Only if and when these conditions are met, can we envision a world with no excuse for wars.

The madness of the armaments race must stop! We must try to build schools instead of air force jets, hospitals instead of nuclear weapons. The amount of money and human lives that various governments waste in the battlefield should be diverted to build up the economies to elevate the standard of living.

The world cannot have peace until people and nations renounce selfish desires, give up racial arrogance, and eradicate egoistic lust for possession and power. Wealth cannot secure happiness. Religion alone can effect the necessary change of heart and bring about the only real disarmament—that of the mind.

All religions teach people not to kill; but unfortunately this important precept is conveniently ignored. Today, with modern armaments, we can kill millions within one second, that is, more than so called “primitive” tribes did in a century.

Very unfortunately some people in certain countries bring religious labels, slogans and banners into their battlefields. They do not know that they are disgracing the good name of religion.

‘Verily, O monk,' said the Buddha, ‘due to sensual craving, kings fight with kings, princes with princes, priests with priests, citizens with citizens, the mother quarrels with the son, the son quarrels with the father, brother with brother, brother with sister, sister with brother, friend with friend.' (MAJJIHIMA NIKAYA )

We can happily say that for the last 2,500 years there has never been any serious discord or conflict created by Buddhists that led to war in the name of this religion. This is a result of the dynamic character of the concept of tolerance contained in the Buddha's teaching.

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

ONE day, Sinha, a general of an 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 self­surrender? Should I suffer the evil-doer 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 favour must be favoured. 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 through the evil act itself. His own acts have brought upon him the injury that the executors of the law inflict. When a magistrate punishes, he must not harbour hatred in his heart. When a murderer is put to death, he should realise that his punishment is the result of his own act.

With this 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 deemed 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 hatred 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, Sinha, is not 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.'

There is no justice in war or violence. When we declare war, we justify it, when others declare war, we say, it is unjust. Then who can justify war? People should not follow the law of the jungle to overcome human problems.

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Mercy and Killing can never go together.

ACCORDING to Buddhism mercy killing cannot be justified. Mercy and killing can never go together. Some people kill their pets on the grounds that they do not like to see the pets suffer. However, if mercy killing is the correct method to be practised on pets and other animals, then why are people so reluctant to do the same to their beloved ones?

When some people see their dogs or cats suffer from some skin disease, they arrange to kill those poor animals. They call this action, mercy killing. Actually it is not that they have mercy towards those animals, but they kill them for their own precaution and to get rid of an awful sight. And even if they do have real mercy towards a suffering animal, they still have no right to take away its life. No matter how sincere one may be, mercy killing is not the correct approach. While the consequences of this killing are different from killing with hatred towards the animal, Buddhists have no grounds to say that any kind of killing is justified.

Some people try to justify mercy killing with the misconception that if the motive or reason is good, then the act itself is good. They then claim that by killing their pet, they have the intention to relieve the unhappy animal from its suffering and so the action is good. No doubt their original intention or motive is good. But the misguided act of killing which occurs through a later thought, requires some degree of cruelty or hard-heartedness which will certainly bring about unwholesome results.

Avoiding mercy killing can create inconvenience to many. Nevertheless, the Buddhist religion cannot justify mercy killing as completely free from bad reactions. However, we must add that to kill without any greed, anger or hatred has less bad reaction than to kill out of intense anger or jealousy.

It must be remembered that, a being (human or animal) suffers owing to his or her bad karma. If by mercy killing, we prevent the working out of one's bad karma, the debt will have to be paid in another existence. As Buddhists, all that we can do is to help to reduce the pain of suffering in others.

Killing for Self-Protection

The Buddha has advised everyone to abstain from killing. If everybody accepts this advice, human beings would not kill each other. In the case where a person's life is threatened, the Buddha says even then it is not advisable to kill in self-defence. The weapon for self-protection is loving-kindness. One who practises this kindness very seldom comes across such misfortune. However, people love their lives so much that they are not prepared to surrender themselves to others; in actual practice, most people would struggle for self-protection. It is natural and every living being struggles and attacks others for self-protection but the karmic effect of the aggression depends on their mental attitude. During the struggle to protect himself, if a man happens to kill his opponent although he had no intention to kill, then he does not create bad karma resulting from that death. On the other hand, if he kills another person under any circumstances with the intention to kill, then he is not free from the karmic reaction; he has to face the consequences. We must remember that killing is killing; when we disapprove of it, we call it ‘murder'. When we punish man for murdering, we call it ‘capital punishment'. If our own soldiers are killed by an ‘enemy' we call it ‘slaughter'. However, if we approve a killing, we call it ‘war'. But if we remove the emotional content from these words, we can understand that killing is killing.

In recent years many scientists and some religionists have used the expressions like ‘humane killing', ‘mercy killing', ‘gentle killing' and ‘painless killing' to justify the ending of a life. They argue that if the victim feels no pain, if the knife is sharp, killing is justified. Buddhism can never accept these arguments because it is not how the killing occurs that is important, but the fact that the life of one being is unnaturally terminated. No one has any right to do that for whatever reason.

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THE Buddhist concept on the Death Sentence is clear. We must not only respect the law of the country but we must also strictly obey it. Religion and law can be seen as two different aspects of life. Buddhism, as a religion teaches man to be good, to do good and do no evil. However, as a religion, none of its members have the power to punish anybody who has defied its precepts to commit evil—to steal, to rape, to commit murder or to traffic in drugs. Any Buddhist who chooses to defy the law of the country by committing serious crime will have to be punished by the laws of the country and not by the religious body.

As buddhists and as human beings, we are full of compassion for suffering humanity but compassion by itself does not go far enough to be of help. Compassion does not help to restrain a person who has chosen to go against the law of the country. The laws of the country must be respected and upheld to the very letter. If law stipulates that for committing a serious crime you must pay for it by having your life taken away from you, then the process of law must take its course. Buddhism cannot interfere with the normal enforcement of the law. The only line of action, members of our religion can take is to ask for compassion and plead for clemency to be extended to an accused

The laws of our country are democratically enacted by the people themselves through the certain electioneering process. The people elect their representatives to serve as Members of Parliament. In Parliament the Members debate and promulgate laws for the smooth administration of the country. Without specific laws, then we have to revert back to the law of the jungle where might is right. Al­though in effect, Members of Parliament enact the laws, they do so as representatives of the people. If we, the people, enact the laws, we have no choice but to comply implicitly with our laws. If anyone chooses to defy them, then they must pay for it.

This may sounds harsh but laws of such nature existed even in the time of our lord Buddha, well ever two thousand five hundred years ago. In those days there were kings and rulers who had to administer the country where good and bad people existed as they do now.

From time immemorial, human nature being what it is, society consisted of good people. Religion teaches and guides every hu­man being to lead a good and noble life to gain eventual spiritual attainments. Religion does not condone evil. Even though a reli­gionist may infringe a religious precept, religion should not advo­cate harsh punishment. Religion cannot sentence a person to death for any fault but the law can. It was reported that during the Buddha's time, even monks who committed serious crimes, were sentenced to death. The Buddha did not and would not interfere with the normal enforcement of the law. The Buddha's view was that if a ruler failed to carry out his functions to punish a criminal for committing a serious offence, the ruler would not be considered as one fit to administer the country. Similarly if a ruler was to be indiscriminate and punishe his subjects who were innocent with­out good reason, he would also be considered as one who would be unfit to rule. These qualifications were given a long time ago but the advice and injunctions given by the Buddha stand good even for the present day.

Buddhism does not subscribe to the taking of a life, human or animal, under any circumstances but if someone chooses to trans­gress the established laws of a country he or she has to pay the penalty—even if the penalty is a death sentence. One of the impor­tant moral codes of Buddhism is to obey the laws of a country. If the law decrees that a war is on and that all able-bodied men are to be conscripted as soldiers to the country, a Buddhist must comply with the law. If as a Buddhists, we feel strongly enough that we should saves lives and not to destroy lives, the channel open for us is the democratic process to approach political leaders to cause the affected laws to be amended but if the consensus was against any change, we have no choice but to obey the law. The law is supreme. Of course, f we do not wish to join the army, the other option is for us to become monks and nuns and retire into to a monastery and work for our spiritual advancement. If we choose to remain in society, then we must be prepared to sacrifice ourselves for the good of that society.

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Buddhist Teachings War and Peace