The Buddha and Modern Warfare. Part 1 of 2.
As a General in the Buddha’s army of the Sangha, I have taken the opportunity to write an 11,700 word essay titled The Buddha and Modern Warfare. It is the final essay for a slim book entitled The Political Buddha. I have drawn on some of the discourses of the Buddha where he addresses war. Here is the first half of the essay (6200 words) beginning with the Buddha’s views on suffering through conflict. Second half of the essay is in the next blog.
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In section one, the sub headings are:
The Madness of War
The Political Ego
Sacrifice and Suffering
The Army inspired the Buddha
Consequences of Conflict.
THE BUDDHA AND MODERN WARFARE
The Buddha expressed clear and unwavering views about his opposition to war leaving no room for any ambivalence. In the 10,000 discourses of the Pali Canon, he did not offer a single word of support for war, including the so-called ‘just war’ or ‘holy war.’ His teachings concentrated directly on suffering and the causes and conditions for suffering. He showed no interest in supporting the policies of the nation state, especially if the policies led to war.
The Buddha actively pursued alternative means to resolve human conflict rather than relying upon military assaults and the suffering of people to change realities. He advocated a strong moral imperative of wise action to end war and the nightmare depths of human suffering that war generates. He campaigned to change the conditions that start and perpetuate war.
The Buddha described it as “hell” to “take the life of another person, to order or encourage others to take the life of another (s) or to approve the taking the life of another”. AN V11 163. It is for a “person’s welfare and happiness not to kill, nor approve of it, nor to be overcome with vehemence or obsessed to harm others. We do not go by what is repeatedly said by others but by what is wholesome. ” AN V. 193 (3).
In the various Buddhist traditions, certain senior Buddhists have given support to the waging of war; some of these voices may view war as a necessary evil or a means to create good karma on behalf of a so-called noble cause. The Buddha’s discourses offered no such justification for the views of people who ignore a core teaching of the Buddha: namely to end the desire to cause suffering to others, as well as oneself.
The Buddha emphasised the profound importance of non-harming/non-aggression/non-hatred/non-violence in every area of life. This principle is a core ethic of the Dharma. He pointed out that the root (Pali: mula) of suffering shows itself in greed (such as lust for power and lust for control), aggression (whether by the State, organisation or individual) and delusion (transference and projections onto self and other).
The violence of the State, and the support for it, comes from the desire for politically motivated violence from a sufficient number of supportive and influential individuals and groups in society. In contrast, the Dharma disciplines and training include an unshakeable commitment to ethics, the treatment of all people as we wish to be treated and through staying true to such principles, regardless of the demands of the nation state.
The Buddha listed the cruelty inflicted on those caught up in violence and crime, including leaders and soldiers. Punishments were severe in his time. There were public executions. People were roasted alive, maimed, tortured, deprived of all possessions, speared to death, and paraded around the streets before execution with their head shaved. (D ii 321. Vin I 344. 345). Some were thrown into a pit of burning charcoal, strangled, boiled to death and cut up from the middle. (D iii 332—8, A I – 48, A ii 122, M I 87, M iii 164. Vin I 74). Others were left to suffer since medicine could not treat many of their wounds and traumas.
Today, people in cities, towns and villages find themselves enduring similar levels of pain, sometimes for weeks, years or for the rest of their lives, due to bombs, drone attacks, shells, mines and assault weapons. Those victims of war living in remote areas may be left without help, without safe water, food, access to doctors or medicine. Contemporary warfare targets hospitals, clinics, schools, mosques, churches, government buildings and locations where people gather on the ground and under the ground for safety. There is little indication to show that there has been any real evolution of human behaviour in the past 2500 years.
As a species, we sunk to the lowest possible levels before the time of the Buddha and our current leaders, the military and the armed militia, continue in similar fashion as numerous previous generations. Barbarism continues to be a means to resolve deep conflict between societies. The Buddha knew this and refused to give support to those who went to war.
The Dharma goes further than simply endorsing non-violence through a moral conviction. The teachings encourage reflection and inquiry into causes and conditions for war, the willingness to speak up, the application of compassion, the development of communication skills and wise action to resolve conflict, no matter how intense. Such conviction and practices have the power to enable the heart to stay steady, even when those around clamour for war with their host of rationalisations. It takes strength to stay true to the moral imperative to not say a word to endorse the slaughter of others. The violent demands of the nation state or political organisation have no place in the practice and application of the Buddha-Dharma.
The heart of the Buddha’s message on war and violence shows itself in a verse in the Dhammapada, a small book of 426 verses chapters in 23 chapters:
All tremble at violence,
All fear death;
Comparing oneself with others
One should neither kill nor cause others to kill. (Dhp 129)
The Madness of War
Far too many human beings share this propensity to kill or support such actions, wilfully and mercilessly, upon others because they think and act in a different way. The killing, maiming and traumatising takes place not only between the sworn enemies of the military class but the same armies will unleash their violence upon ordinary citizens, men, women and children, and their habitats. No other species engages in such destructive behaviour with the intention to make the other side suffer as much as possible until they eventually admit defeat.
Science and industry co-operate together to produce more and more sophisticated weapons to kill people from the skies, sea and land, destroy homes, institutions and demolish infrastructure through a range of bombs, shells, explosive devices and rapid fire artillery. They use weapons and explosives to make farmland unusable for crops.
Political leaders of the nation state, whether from a democracy or from the single party state, frequently share the same lust for power and desire for a place in history. They show a brutal determination to control the lives of others which often acts as one of the fuses that lead to persistent war that fades and then reignites.
One respected Dharma practitioner, a Palestinian living in Israel, emailed me: “If we want to really influence the external reality we live in, we need to get closer to it, open to it and get to know it from all aspects.
“That means leaving our comfort zone, which isn’t really comfortable, and to be ready and meet the other side in this decades long conflict – that means the Palestinian side.
“That means making room for the Palesinian narrative, the Palestinian point of view, and stop trying to erase, ignore and manoeuver. To do that, we need to be able to listen to the Palestinian story and pain.
“We (the Sangha) need to be able to listen to the Palestinian both personally and as a group. Obviously that requires courage, daring and dealing with something not easy. Reality is painful. This current war (on Gaza with rockets from Hamas) ended, leaving Palestinians with great loss and destruction. We know the next war is waiting around the corner. Are we going to wait for the next war? “
Modern warfare, whether within a nation or between nations, or between nations and organisations, frequently encapsulates a detachment from reality. The army, navy and air force press buttons on a computer screen in an office in order to bomb citizens, crouched in fear in homes and public buildings. The military that drop bombs, fires rockets or detonates property have to justify within themselves the terrible suffering their weapons inflict on the enemy, on the population.
They obliterate the formations of people and buildings appearing as shapes on the computer screen. Human beings endowed with consciousness and feelings become shadows on the screen that the military strategists can decimate in a split moment. There is a disconnection from reality.
Obsessed with staring at the screen, they appear in a trance that reveals a denial of consequences of their actions. This denial functions to enable military operators working on computer screen to survive emotionally and psychologically the launching of warheads onto people. It is as if they are playing a computer war game. They repress empathy and compassion for those they annihilate. These formations on the screen represent people, young and old, who the military have decided to obliterate as being unworthy of any present or future existence.
War produces an unholy alliance of the conflict of views and production of arm sales. These alliances mutually support each other through civil wars, wars between neighbours and wars between ideological adversaries from one side of the world to each other. This alliance works to harm people and their way of life. Many citizens, who regard these battle zones as abhorrent, find themselves equally marginalised in democratic and undemocratic states as the ferocious proponents and the harbingers of war ensure their destructive views takes predominance. They repeat a handful of endlessly repeated rationalisations to kill and maim people, in and out of uniform.
In the discourse on the Greater Mass of Suffering, the Buddha explained that war arise dues to unexamined desires and views, such as the lives of others matter less, or not all, compared to the lives of those in the same group as ourselves. Political leaders, who launch wars, frequently blame their enemies for ordering their army to bomb and decimate their enemies. They tell TV audiences worldwide that these countries brought the war upon themselves. Swamped in ignorance, such leaders try to absolve themselves from their heinous acts of widespread slaughter and terror. The actions of political leaders, who attack other nations or organisations, serve to humiliate, punish, harm, burn, maim and to kill families.
We live in an era of civil wars/neighbour wars with the ongoing coercion and division supported by foreign powers exploiting conflicts for ideological reasons and control over resources, or for no clear reason whatsoever. Armies, militias and armed units threaten each other, as well as rural and urban populations, with the varying prejudices taking sides that decimate entire communities.
The coercion of politicians, religious leaders and armed units engage in the routine slaughter to serve the vested interests of the power blocks within a nation state or from outside of the nations involved. Politicians and soldiers alike, whether from powerful nations or fledgling countries, seem like puppets, without any puppet master, owing to a diversity of political/military forces larger than an individual engaged in wilful destruction.
We witness through our news broadcasters the terror of events from one day to the next, along with the media distortions, and its submissive obedience to disinformation. Programmes blindly report the lies and manipulations of spokespersons for the government, as well political leaders. We cannot trust the media to inform society of truth, of the reality of what politicians and generals have set in motion. Politicians on both sides of the divide cannot take responsibility for their determination to decimate their enemies.
In these regional wars, whether in the Middle East, Africa or elsewhere, there is no morality, whether the rich Western block supports or ignores these conflicts. Politicians on both sides express worn out rhetoric while selling arms to the side that seems aligned to Western demands. The defenceless serve as the most common target of soldiers. Fuelled with aversion, the leaders of democratic and authoritarian regimes intensify social/ethnic/religious differences through blindly taking sides until the accumulated pressure spills over into violent conflict.
The two party states and the single party states spend vast sums of the nation’s resources on armaments including weapons and military training, mostly for the young, poor and powerless to go and kill others in the name of protecting the belief system of the old, rich and powerful. In the U.K., the military will often refer to serving ‘Queen and Country’ but the soldiers also need to ask themselves if they dutifully follow the demands of politicians waving the flag from the safety of their office.
Yet, a momentous day took place in British history in August 2013, when Parliament refused to endorse military action against Syria. The defeat of the government by 13 votes guaranteed that Britain would not play a part in a war on the Syrian government and its supporters. A Conservative MP said he hoped the vote would “relieve ourselves of some of this imperial pretension of a country of our size.” Historians believe it was the first time in more than 200 years that Parliament had resisted going to war. Yet, there is still no legal requirement for the British Parliament to ratify a government’s decision to launch a war. So much for democracy!
The Political Ego
Our leaders remain determined to punish those who show equal levels of extremism as they show. You get the impression we engage in war for the sake of war. A multiple death or a single death can accelerate aversion leading to the taking up arms against extremists. Western governments display as much extremism often employing more ferocious weapons from land, sea and air to kill and maim more people. A human life appears worthless in these constant bloodlusts in the name of stopping the bloodlusts.
Western democracies, especially the six nations of the Security Council at the United Nations, along with NATO, display a cynical regard for human life through their production, buying and selling of weapons. They promote their arms productions in arms sales around the world. They tell arms buyers that weapons used in the ‘theatre of war’ have proved their worth. Arms dealers will sell dated weapons to the poorer countries.
Everywhere we turn we can lay blame – on the power hungry leaders of nations who engage in civil war or neighbour wars, as well as Western political leaders, who launch war after war, We lay blame on global corporations and their exploitation of resources, on religious convictions, on an evolutionary interpretation of war to reduce populations, on fatalistic views on the violence of our species, on the collective passivity and despair of a so-called informed public.
In the West, we rush to interpret religious fanaticism as signals of inferiority, of mediaeval thinking and expressions of unresolved tensions running back centuries between tribes, religious sects and regional differences. None of these views shed any light or wisdom on the psychological/social dynamics.
Western leaders/analysts/academics display their own notions of superiority, whether in the guise of a conservative or liberal appearance. Our so-called experts display the same arrogance and feed the same divisions as they condemn. The West is not part of the cure. The West is part of the problem, as much as anywhere else. Obsessed with notions of progress, development and evolution, we confirm our collective lack of inner progress, inner development and inner evolution while treating other societies as inferior.
Supported by other Western nations, the USA acts like a mediaeval superpower unwilling to take responsibility for more deaths and decimation of societies since World War 2 than any other country on Earth. The world’s largest superpower seems riddled with a superego while the EU and other Western societies acquiesce to the USA rather than question the pernicious immorality of war.
Our fanatical belief in technological progress promotes a hierarchical scale of thinking. We treat non-Westernised people as backward thinking people. We exploit the world’s poor, disparage their traditions, religions and lifestyle until their resentment grows and explodes. The gap between the haves and have-nots increases decade by decade within Western countries and between the West and the rest. We engage in international economic colonialism hidden in the name of globalisation. This confirms the political superego, namely the desire to pursue, control and exploit regardless of the impact on poor nations.
Sacrifice and Suffering
The Buddha pointed out that advocates of war, and those who engage in war, get a certain heightened pleasure (kama tanha) from engagement in military conflict. Armed organisations and soldiers, as well as their leaders, experience a heightened sense of self, in declaring and making war on their enemies. The Buddha had no regard for leaders sacrificing the life of their soldiers. These decisions bring so much pain for the army leaving their family and friends filled with anxiety for their loved ones in the war zone.
The Buddha gave a clear illustration of the power of the view on heroes and terrorists. Two men stood side by side. One man assassinated a king. The people, who hated the king, saw him as a hero. The other man was caught trying to assassinate a king. So the king ordered him to be beheaded. One received a reward for killing and the other had his head cut off. (S. IV 343). One was considered a hero. The other was regarded as a terrorist. In war, praise and blame depends upon the particular desire of the authority figure or the people or both.
The issue of sacrifice plays an important role in matters of war when soldiers and militants can receive immense rewards and prestige for making great sacrifice. They can return home as heroes, receive medals, get promotion in military service and receive media attention. Some believe that if they die they will go straight to heaven, since they gave their life in a just or holy war – two terms widely used by those of a secular or religious persuasion.
Yodhjiva, a senior in the army, said to the Buddha that if a soldier dies in battle, he would go to heaven. What do you say about that?” he asked the Buddha. Three times the Buddha refused to reply and then he responded bluntly.
“One who exerts himself in battle, his mind is already low, depraved, misdirected by the thought ‘Let these people be slaughtered, annihilated and exterminated.’” The Buddha said such soldiers go to hell, not heaven.
Then the Buddha added another blunt point. He said that those who promote the view that soldiers killed in battle go to heaven will also go to hell for holding to such a view.
Yodhijiva starting to cry and said: “I am not crying because of what you said. I am crying because I have been tricked, cheated and deceived for a long time by religious leaders.”
For the Buddha, these views of personal sacrifice and subsequent rewards for military operations seem to confirm an unexamined inner life and the delusion in believing in the inherent reality of ‘us’ above ‘them.’ The greater the identification with the notion of ‘us’ then the greater the transference onto ‘them.’ This duality of us and them feeds fear, blame and ongoing dehumanisation, whether at war not.
The Buddha said: “I do not praise every sacrifice. I do not withhold praise from every sacrifice.” (MN 96 11/177). He praised those who made sacrifices to support not-violence and protect life. He admonished those who engaged in animal sacrifice, out of religious conviction, or soldiers willing to sacrifice their lives in the pursuit of killing others.
The State and religious justification for war dates back thousands of years, as a means to mobilise into a unifying thought, the fears and aggression against another group of people. Those who swallow the bait of views of their leaders, and remain obedient to institutional violence of their political/religious/military masters, have sacrificed moral integrity. They have submitted to their will, to the dark figures of authority, and given up their capacity to think for themselves to develop a foundation of empathy and wisdom. We must be willing to sacrifice the military objectives of the nation state to stay to true to wisdom and compassion.
In the Greater Discourse on the Mass of Suffering (MN 13), the Buddha also referred to social and economic causes for suffering without excluding the psychological factors. We cannot resolve the inner world of fear and blame in our political views without addressing the grasping of beliefs that support conflicts and killing. Violence follows on from belief in greed, aggression and delusion whether it is land grabbing by one nation or organisation, grasping and exploitation of resources or grasping after cheap labour. Such actions breed resentment that eventually leads to an uprising and more retaliation. Freeing ourselves from the poisonous mind clearly benefits society. Authentic sacrifice includes letting go of harmful actions.
Those who actively engage in war do to themselves what their enemy would wish for. The other side want their enemies to suffer and they, themselves, suffer. Their suffering may come through suicide, self-harm, domestic violence, clinical depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and addictive behaviour. They may well return home from war zones and inflict violence, suffering and death on their loves ones or strangers after a mild dispute owing to the damage to their psyche. The violence of self-other flows backwards and forwards. Men in military uniform find themselves rejected and forgotten when their inner world falls apart knowing the terror of what they have done to others or what they have witnessed or imagined. All of this contributes to the whole mass of suffering as a consequence of waging war.
Television news and reports of blood swept streets, wounded children in hospitals and horrifying stories from families and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) occupy our consciousness for a brief interlude. We hear politicians condemn nations and political organisations that wish to establish Sharia law in Islam because of its brutal treatment of criminals and subjugation of women, while ignoring countries like Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab state and the world’s largest exporter of oil. Run by an absolute monarchy, the sheiks in Saudi Arabia run the country in accordance with Sharia (Islamic law).
Saudi courts can impose capital punishment, such as beheading, stoning to death and amputations of limbs for theft and other crimes. The courts can execute its citizens for various offences including murder, rape, armed robbery, drug imports, apostasy, adultery, witchcraft and sorcery. Public beheading is the most common form of execution. The courts treat homosexuality as a crime punishable by flogging or death.
Western governments buy oil from Saudi Arabia, sells billions of $$$ of arms to Saudi Arabia and treat the monarchy with a level of shameful deference. The West remains mute when it comes to criticism of Sharia law in Saudi Arabia but condemns Sharia law elsewhere. In 1948, Saudi Arabia refused to sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that other member nations of the UN had agreed upon.
The Buddha also related a historical situation where the authorities arrested a thief and brought him to the King. The King asked him why he stole. The thief replied: “I have nothing to live on.” The King forgave him and gave him his basic needs. The same situation happened again. The thief told the King he had nothing to live on. Having absolved the first thief of a similar crime, the King felt the second thief had taken advantage of his previous generosity so he ordered the execution of this thief through beheading.
The Buddha said that other thieves would follow the example of the King. The thieves would rob and take to arms, including beheading their victims. The Buddha said that thieves would engage in copycat ways owing to the behaviour of the King. We see examples of this today. Our political leaders send young soldiers to wage war on other countries and military organisations. The same leaders express horror when hundreds of young men from their country join a foreign army or military organisation. Our politicians want to punish these home grown volunteers for foreign military forces. They cannot see any other solution, nor connection with their decision to send young men to fight their wars.
The UN Declaration supposedly guaranteed the right to life, to expression, thought, religion, work and health. These declarations have limited merit to them since they promote an ideology from a Western viewpoint. The poor and homeless might write a different set of human rights, such as the right to travel anywhere for work or the right to live in a another country to escape hardship, hunger, environmental destruction and war. After all, we are all sons and daughters of the Earth. These declarations have little relevance for the majority of the world’s population. The rich nations that claim to observe the UN Declaration show no qualms ignoring it, if it is in their interest, in matters of war, abuse of labour and exploitation of resources.
These universal statements lack substance, application and relevance when it comes to Western political and corporate interests. Countries in Africa and Asia have permitted more refugees from war and famine into their countries than any Western nations. As with human rights, the West regards hospitality and compassion in very selective ways.
The Army inspired the Buddha
We could conclude that the Buddha opposed the formation of an army but the Buddha does not take up this view. He accepted the presence of an army and its peace keeping responsibilities. He developed good relationships with the kings, leaders and tribal chiefs of neighbouring kingdoms and advised them on ways to develop a healthy and peaceful society.
King Bimbisara of Magadhi told the Buddha not to ordain soldiers who refused to go to war or he would behead the monks, have their tongues cut out or break their ribs for ordaining soldiers (M.1.40). While agreeing with the King not to accept deserters into the Sangha, the Buddha continued to speak on non-violence and right livelihood. He knew the Kings would not tolerate any undermining of the army as it could affect the affairs of State. King Pasenadi told the Buddha about his intelligence network that he used for spying on people, including the Sangha. (SN 3.2.1.)
We could assume that the Buddha would welcome into his Sangha of Dharma practitioners those men and women fleeing the army, the law, the debtors, jails or slave owners. The Buddha only allowed those men and women into his Sangha if he knew they were fully committed to the exploration of wisdom, compassion and an awakened life. He only allowed those with a strong motivation to join the Sangha.
There is every indication that the Buddha drew upon the disciplines for people in uniform of the king’s army to establish his non-violent “army” of the Sangha. The Buddha enunciated 227 rules ranging in gravity from serious offences to minor offences. Severe offences included killing and theft which could result in expulsion. He thus adopted a similar view as the army with a court martial on soldiers who violated the army’s code of conduct. The rules of discipline of the Sangha taught monks and nuns to behave mindfully and respectfully to each other and to citizens. Devotees of the Sangha, citizens, armies and political leaders respected the disciplined way of life of the Sangha. People, far and wide, acknowledged the Sangha’s integrity and deep sense of community.
If members of the Sangha behaved in ways that violated the rules, the assembly of seniors in the Dharma could suspend a monk or nun for a short period of days, weeks or months. This usually meant confinement to a marked off area in a monastery (a kind of monk’s prison without walls). For disregarding and disrespecting lesser rules, monks and nuns would confess to the assembly which would decide the course of action. The Buddha knew that the army adopted similar procedures when officers and soldiers ignored the rules of army behaviour. Officers and soldiers also had to pay a penalty for any disrespect shown to army discipline.
The king’s army wore a uniform and carried a weapon, the Buddha’s army wore ochre coloured cloth wrapped around the body and carried a begging bowl. Just as soldiers marched in silence in single file with the General at the head, so the Sangha walked in silence in single file on their Yatras (pilgrimages) with the Buddha (or senior) at the head. People knew the Buddha was from the warrior/military caste, who applied his military training and discipline to the Sangha but with a different strategy. He trained the Sangha to live in peace and express wise and compassionate lives. He made it clear that such an approach would give much security within a country and between countries.
The king’s army expected soldiers to obey orders or face disciplinary action. The army consisted of a tightly controlled hierarchy where soldiers deferred to their commanding officer, who, in turn, showed the same deference to their senior officers and up and through the ranks to the General-in-Chief. He showed the same deference to the King or President of a republic whose orders he carried out.
The Buddha provided a democratic institution for inquiry into the values and development of the Sangha with a minimal of hierarchical structure. Both Sangha and the Military employed the practice of daily disciplines, the application of rules and regulations, to ensure mindfulness of body, speech and mind for social harmony.
The Buddha would compare the military with the Sangha and point out the significant differences. (AN IV 133). He said a worthy soldier/warrior in the king’s army possessed three factors: the capacity to fire (an arrow) a long distance, a sharp shooter to hit the target and split the human form. He said the warrior in the Sangha also possessed three qualities: the capacity to go a long way into seeing the human form of the heart, mind and body with wisdom, the capacity to be a sharpshooter in seeing into causes for suffering and the capacity split up the great mass of ignorance to reveal wisdom. He said such a warrior in the Sangha is worthy of gifts, hospitality and of a reverential salute.
The Buddha referred to five qualities of a young man in the warrior caste who yearned to become the King and head of the army. “I am impeccable with respect to birth in the warrior/military caste. I am handsome with a beautiful complexion, pleasing to my parents and intelligent. I am pleasing to the people. I am trained in the military including elephant riding, driving a chariot, archery and swordsmanship. So why shouldn’t I yearn to become king?”
The Buddha said the dedicated practitioner in the Sangha has five qualities, too, so why shouldn’t he yearn for liberation.. “He has trust in the Buddha-Dharma, He has good health suitable for striving. He is open and honest and willing to reveal things about himself to his teacher and the Sangha. He has the energy to overcome the unwholesome and develop the wholesome. He has wisdom that is noble and penetrative that leads to the destruction of suffering.” (AN 5 135 (5).
In another comparison between soldiers and monks, he spoke of five kinds of soldiers in the world.(AN v 76 (6) Warriors (2)
A soldier goes into battle and is killed
A soldier gets wounded and his comrades carry him away from the battle. They try to bring him back to his relatives but he dies on the way.
A soldier gets wounded, soldiers carry him back home where he is nursed but he still dies.
A wounded soldier is nursed at home and recovers.
A soldier enters into battle and is victorious.
He then made an analogy of a Dharma practitioner going into a village and referred to five kinds of practitioners in the world.
A practitioner goes into a village where, said the Buddha, he sees women’s dress in disarray and loosely attired. With his mind invaded with lust, he has sex with them. The Buddha said it like going into battle and suffering a spiritual death because he gives up the Dharma training.
A practitioner has sex in the village and wishes to confess to fellow practitioners but cannot so he gives up the training.
He returns to the monastery and confesses but still leaves the Sangha.
The Sangha gives him teachings and practices so he can carry on.
The practitioner enters the village with mindfulness established so he does not grasp onto the marks and features of the women he sees. He guards his eyes, ears, nose, tongue and touch. He meditates afterwards to clear his mind of any doubt.
In the same discourse, the Buddha commented that there is “little gratification” in having sex.
In The Lion’s Roar on the Turning of Wheel (DN 26), the Buddha related a story of a certain King Dalhanemi, who renounced the throne to live a nomadic life in order to inquire into truth. In his talk, the Buddha gave support to the King’s former need for an army to offer security to the citizens of his kingdom but the Buddha also made crystal clear that the King should offer the Dharma of ethics, meditation and wisdom to all citizens to protect them from suffering.
The King told his son to “revere, cherish and venerate the Dharma as your badge and banner and as your guard and protection for your nobles, your army, Brahmins (priests), householders, spiritual seekers, animals and birds, then no crime prevails in your kingdom.”
Gurus held a similar position as Kings and Army Chiefs in terms of the power their wielded but the Buddha rejected this model of centralised authority and instead took inspiration from the republicans in the small countries, north of the Ganges. These republican countries had frequent debates to establish legislation, rules and social development.
The voices of wisdom of the elders in the Dharma (insights and realisations, not years) had a valuable role to ensure concord amidst differences. Like the republics, the Buddha empowered the Sangha to make decisions through assemblies that he said should be ‘held frequently and be well attended.’ He said as long as these meetings took place with wisdom and free from falling “prey to craving” the Sangha would “prosper and not decline.” (DN 16.1.6). Kings and leaders of republican countries were encouraged to adopt a similar model of assemblies with wise action so that countries could live in peace with each other.
Consequences of Conflict
With the refusal of the leaders to support the needy, the Buddha said then poverty will become rife. From the growth of poverty, the taking of what was not given increased. From the increase in theft came the increase in weapons, so the taking of life increased. Enmity will prevail for one another. He said ‘fierce hatred, fierce anger and thoughts act like the hunter who stalks the animal.’ We become addicted to harmful ways.
In his only statement on the next Buddha, named Metteya, the Buddha said he would also “teach the Dharma lovely in the beginning, middle and end, in the spirit and in the letter.” He said the Metteya Buddha will tell the future King Sankha “to give up his palace, and present it to the Brahmins, ascetics, Dharma practitioners, the beggars and the destitute.” This was a radical statement, bold, fearless, with a direct implication to all the royalty and rulers in the various regions where the Buddha travelled to end poverty. He, himself, had walked out on the royal palace to live a life of voluntary simplicity so markedly different from poverty due to war, exploitation and the greed of the wealthy.
The Buddha added: “The people of your kingdom come to you and consult you as to what is to be followed and what is not to be followed and what action will in the long run lead to harm and what leads to happiness. You should listen and advise.” It is said at the end of the Buddha’s discourse that the Sangha rejoiced at his words with his uncompromising support for social change.
In another discourse, the Buddha engaged in a conversation (A.iii 38, iv 79) with General Siha, an army commander, who sought advice from the Buddha. The Buddha instructed the army general on his responsibilities through the practice of the profound importance of generosity, ethics, happiness, the dangers of desire, the corruption of vanity and the benefits of letting go. At the end of the exchange, the general experienced the “pure stainless eye of the teaching.” It meant he had undergone a profound realisation. The commander wanted to join the Buddha’s army of the wandering community but the Buddha discouraged him from resigning his commission. Not bothering with the general’s title, he told him; with a little flattery:
“’Siha, it is proper for a popular person of your status to always reflect and examine when attending to affairs and making decisions.”
The Buddha insisted on the importance of examining karma, namely any questionable volitions that determine our actions of body speech and mind. With aggressive actions, he explained there are consequences that we can neither ignore nor postpone. He asked:
“Can you postpone to a future date the fruit of your harmful actions which ripen here and now?
Can you change a painful consequence of your harmful action into a pleasant result?
Can you make what ripens in the present not ripen in the present.
Can you cancel the fruit of your harmful actions?” M ii 220
We never know the hour and the day when we start to bear the consequences of the past or present harm we have caused others. We may have no idea of the impact our violent actions cause us, our family, friends and community. We cannot postpone the fruits of the suffering we caused until a later date when we feel ready. We cannot choose to make our grief and lamentation into happiness and joy. We cannot choose to stop immediately the experience of our guilt and anguish. We cannot choose to cancel out what we did in the past and ignore the present impact upon ourselves and others.
In another discourse, the Buddha said that our time on Earth gets less through killing, stealing, our refusal to share goods, along with violence and destruction. (A iii 369. A iii.372). We need to know a deep transformation within and without.
May all beings live in peace
May all beings live in harmony
May all beings live in peace and harmony
In Section two in the next blog, forming the second half of the essay (around 5800 words), the sub-headings are:
Conscription and Army Volunteers
Dahiya Doctrine of Israel and armchair existence
‘We have to defend ourselves’
The Buddha and the Nazis.
Corrupt in thought and purpose.
Reconstruction not Destruction