Sometimes I get more than one question on a single topic at the same time. What better way to know what needs to be covered!
I have been practicing Buddhism for about 5 years and I feel that this is truly my path but I also have a strong desire to also serve my country in the military, specifically the Army. Now, I realize that there are areas within the various branches of the military that don’t require the taking of life or things of that nature. I also realize that regardless of my position in the Army I will be in a profession that places me a great deal closer to combat and the taking of life, either directly or indirectly. I am resolved not to take life under most circumstances but there are several scenarios that I have recently meditated upon that I can say with relative certainty, I would shoot back. I don’t believe that I could watch the deaths of my fellow soldiers and not fight to defend them. And this is my conflict.
I truly feel that I was born to protect but doing so could lead me closer to taking life, if I choice this path. I am conflicted and was wondering what might be your view on this matter. The thoughts and comments from the other listeners would be great appreciated as well.
…AND another reader asks…
I struggle with the concept of nonviolence almost daily. As a rule I agree with and understand the negativity of taking life and doing harm. I’ve really internalized this concept, and that has led to a spiritual conflict. The problem is I am in a commissioning program to be an officer in the US Army. I have been since before I became interested in Buddhism. In the foreseeable future I will be in Afghanistan or Iraq, and will likely find myself in a situation where I will have to take another life to protect those around me.
The internal argument goes like this:
A) Get out, you don’t want to take another life, it is negative and wrong. Even those who terrorize and kill deserve to live because they are deluded and ignorant. “Forgive them for they know not what they do.”
B) You have a duty to protect the lives of innocent people, even if it would do harm to yourself. Getting out for some ideal when there is real work to be done protecting people is cowardice.
We did touch on this very topic way back in June. I strongly recommend reading the earlier post, including the comments that readers added at the bottom. Here is a link to the relevant post: http://www.dailybuddhism.com/archives/68
I have mixed thoughts on this topic. I had them back in June, and nothing has really changed.
Basically, there is no flat-out correct answer to this. Killing is wrong, but is killing always wrong? Some say that it is, and some say that it is sometimes can be justified. Usually if it’s “kill or be killed” in a one-on-one situation (a mugging for example), Buddhism would tend to lean to the “be killed” side of the equation. It’s better to give up your own life than take someone else’s, even if that someone else is a criminal. That being said, it’s sometimes considered acceptable to kill one person to save a larger group, but even then only in extreme circumstances.
The Dalai Lama has gone on record saying he is against war of any kind, and his actions when Tibet was overrun prove that he meant it; he and his followers didn’t fight back and have lived in exile for fifty years. I admit that my pessimistic, realistic side has problems with this concept. If all Buddhists refused to fight back, eventually the more aggressive groups would wipe out all the Buddhists. Pacifism in a war-torn world is not the best method for survival. In the case of the Dalai Lama, he has been homeless for fifty years, and that’s very likely not going to change; he let the “bad guys” win.
As you can probably tell, I’m not quite sure what I believe myself here. Nonviolence is to be advocated and desired, but in a realistic world, is it always possible? I honestly don’t think it can be.