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 Post subject: Buddhist stand on war
 Post Posted: Tue Sep 06, 2005 1:01 am 
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Buddhist stand on war

by Bhikkhu T. Seelananda
Paramita International Buddhist Centre - Kandy


After reading some statements that had been made by some elites of our country including certain monks, I was motivated to write this article to express the Buddhist stand on war. My clear intention of writing this type of article is only to reveal the Buddhist stand . Buddhism from the beginning to the end is against war. It is obvious that, there is no single place where the Buddha at least, had given an indirect indication that supports waging a war. I am not using either a jargon or a slogan. There are very clear reasons why Buddhism directly opposes war and also why it does not commend war. The main reasons are the followings:

1. As a Religion which condemns any kind of harming or killing. (according to the dhamma, life is threefold, namely; human, animal and plants). War kills all three.

2. War even by any other name means to kill beings. Killing is, breaching the first precept of the five ,eight or ten precepts (panatipata).

3. For a layman, killing human beings is an offence but for a monk it is a grave offence which has been compared to a completely cutting off of the stem of a palmyra or a coconut tree (which never grows again).

According to our discourses, once while the Buddha was at Savatthi, there was a war between King Ajatasatthu and the King of Kosala. At war, the king of Kosala was defeated three times. He was ashamed and very much depressed over his defeat and lamented, "what a disgrace! I cannot even conquer this boy who still smells of mother’s milk. It is better that I should die". Due to his depression, the king refused to take any food, and kept to his bed. When the news about the king’s distress reached the Buddha, he commented. "Bhikkhus! in one who conquers, enmity and hatred increase, and one who is defeated suffers pain and distress" (Dh.Vr.201). Having heard this, the king realised that there is no victory in war, and was thus established in the Dhamma. The Buddha said that though one should conquer a million men in the battle field, yet he, indeed, is the noblest victor who has conquered himself. (Dh.Vr. 103).

At a later time, they fought again and the king of Kosala won and Ajatasatthu was imprisoned. As they were relatives, he was later released. But the king confiscated four kinds of his Army forces (elephants, horses, chariots and infantry). When the Buddha was informed, he said " The Killer will be killed in return and the conqueror will be conquered (S. N. Kosala Samyutta). War, whatever in its kind, begins because of greed of power, wealth and sense pleasure. Every war begins at heart (mind).

According to the Dhammapada, once there was a battle between the Sakyans and the Koliyans. They both were farmers. Their towns were situated on either side of the Rohini river. One year there was a sever drought. During this time their paddy fields and other crops were threatened and got almost dried. The farmers on both sides wanted to divert the water of the river to irrigate their own fields. As a result, there was much ill will and hatred on both sides. Then a war started between them and spread like fire and the matter was reported to their respective rulers. Failing to find a compromise, both sides prepared to go to war. The Buddha came to know that his relatives on both sides of the river were preparing for battle. For their wellbeing and happiness and to avoid unnecessary suffering, he decided to stop them. He appeared all alone, in the middle of the river. He said " O Kings!, what is more valuable water or blood?". They said" Ven. Sir. blood is much more valuable". Then the Buddha admonished them, "For the sake of some water, which is of little value, you should not destroy your lives which are of so much value. Why do you take this unwholesome course of action?".

They realised their folly and laid aside all their weapons and paid homage to the Buddha. The Buddha said " If I had not been here today, your blood would have been flowing like this river by now. You are living with hatred, but I live free from hatred. You are ailing with moral defilements, but I am free from moral defilements. You are striving to develop selfishness and enmity, but I do not strive for the development of selfishness". Both sides then became ashamed, realised their foolishness and thus bloodshed was averted. On this occasion, the Buddha intervened, and resolved this conflict not because of his relatives, but because of his boundless compassion for all beings. The Buddha never encouraged war of any type.

There is a belief in society that the soldier who dies in the battle field in the name of his religion, race and country goes directly to heaven. According to the Gamini Samyutta of the Samyutta Nikaya (S.N.IV.PTS.P.216), one day, the same question was put to the Buddha by a soldier . He said " I have heard, Sir, this traditional saying of teachers of old who were fighting-men:’ A soldier who in battle exerts himself, puts forth effort, and thus exerting himself and putting forth effort is tortured and put an end to by others, after death he is reborn in the company of the Devas of Passionate Delight (Saranjita)’. The Buddha said ‘Ask me not this question’. Then a second time he put the question. He got the same reply. Yet a third time he put it again. The Buddha answered " In the case of a soldier who in battle exerts himself ,puts forth effort, he must previously have had this low,mean, perverse idea:" Let those beings be tortured, be bound, be destroyed, be exterminated, so that they may be thought never to have existed". Then, so exerting himself, so putting forth effort, other men torture him and make an end of him. When body breaks up, after death he is reborn in the Purgatory of Quarrels. At these words, the soldier cried aloud and burst into tear. Then the Exalted one said: "That was why I disallowed your question". "But Ven. Sir, I am not lamenting for that ,but at the thought that for many a long time I have been cheated, deceived and led astray in the past by many teachers." the soldier lamented. The Buddha further said that this view (that those who die in the battle field will be born in the heaven ) is a perverted view (micchaditthi).

There is a concept of "just war" in some religions. But all kinds of wars are roundly condemned in Buddhism. In Buddhism there is nothing to gain through violence. War brings forth nothing but disasters. Finally, in short what we can state clearly is that Buddhism is totally opposed to war.


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