http://www.UrbanDharma.org ...Buddhism for Urban America


The Urban Dharma Newsletter... March 4, 2003


In This Issue:

1. Buddhist Humor...
3. Can a Buddhist Join the Army?
...Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera
4. Buddhism & The Soldier
...Major General Ananda Weerasekera
5. The Buddha and the Four-Limbed Army: The Military in the Pali Canon
...Matthew Kosuta
6. Temple/Center/Website- of the Week:
Upaya Zen Center
7. Book Review: An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics : Foundations, Values and Issues
...by Peter Harvey
8. Peace Link: AlterNet.org


1. The Other Side

One day a young Buddhist on his journey home, came to the banks of a wide river. Staring hopelessly at the great obstacle in front of him , he pondered for hours on just how to cross such a wide barrier. Just as he was about to give up his pursuit to continue his journey he saw a great teacher on the other side of the river. The young Buddhist yells over to the teacher "Oh wise one , can you tell me how to get to the other side of this river"?

The teacher ponders for a moment  looks up and down the river and yells back "My son, you are on the other side".



Date Posted: Aug 08, 2002

First name: Angela

Gender female

Birthday (month-day-year) 8-31-1978

Country United States

Occupation Student, College

About me: I heard about a program to adopt a pagan soldier, but I found out too late. They only took the first 1000 people that signed up. Well, there have got to be more than 1000 of you guys and gals that are missing the summer solstice. I'd like to help you out. But don't think you've got to be a pagan soldier, any soldier will do. My significant other would like to support a Buddhist soldier too! Drop me a line anytime. As for me, well, I'm a college senior, and I am about to graduate with a BA in History. I like Anime and Bruce Lee and Jet Li. I like religion, spirituality, philiosophy, art, music, movies, and all things geeky. Be a geek and email me! You guys are doing a great job! One last thing: Most of all I love to laugh; I hope I can help you with that. Blessed Be! -Angela

3. Can a Buddhist Join the Army? ...Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera


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

One day, Sinha, the general of the 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 self-surrender? Should I suffer the evil-doer to do with 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 favor must be favored. 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 harbor hatred in his heart. When a murderer is put to death, he should realize that his punishment is the result of his own act. With his 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, 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 failure. He will be successful in his enterprise and his success will endure. He who harbors 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? Man should not follow the law of the jungle to overcome human problems.

4. Buddhism & The Soldier ...Major General Ananda Weerasekera


Different people have understood Buddhism differently. It is often debated whether Buddhism is a religion, philosophy or a way of life or not. Since Buddhism contains all these aspects one is justified in drawing any conclusion so long as one does not give an exclusive and rigid title. The Buddha-dhamma (Doctrine), as most of the scholars say, is a moral and philosophical system which expounds a unique path of enlightenment, and is not a subject to be studied from a mere academic standpoint. It is certainly to be studied, more to be practiced , and above all to be realized by oneself.

All the teachings of the Buddha deal, in one way or another with the path, known as The Noble Eightfold Path. It was the path realised and introduced by Buddha and it is as follows.

* Right views

* Right thought

* Right speech

* Right action

* Right livelihood

* Right effort

* Right mindfulness

* Right concentration

This is also known as the 'Middle Path', since in actual practice it avoids extremes. This Noble Eightfold Path is discussed in detail in the Buddhist Texts. It is sufficient to

state that it is a code of conduct clearly laid down by Buddha to all four sections of the Buddhist Society. That is Bikkhu (monks), Bikkhuni (nuns), Upasaka (laymen), Upasika (laywomen).

The deciples of the Buddha whether men or women belong to many walks of life from a King to a Servant. Whatever their civil status may be a code of conduct and moral obligations for each one has been clearly laid down by the Buddha. This code of conduct is collectively referred to as Virtue (seela) which encompasses disciplined speech, disciplined thought and controlled senses. A layman or a laywomen is advised to observe the five basic precepts as the minimum limit of their 'discipline' in the society. The limits of 'seela' are different for those who have renounced the lay life in search of liberation, The Nirvana.

However the five precepts are not commandments but aspirations voluntarily undertaken by each one. The first precept is to abstain from taking life. "The life", according to Buddhism covers the entire spectrum of living beings and are covered in 'Karaneeya Mettha Sutta' as follows.

* Tasa-Tava:- moving, unmoving

* Diga-long, Mahantha-large,

* Majjima-medium,

* Rassaka- short,

* Anuka-minute, Thula- fat

* Ditta-that can be seen,

* Additta-that cannot be seen,

* Dure-which live far,

* Avidure-which live near

* Bhuta-born,

* Sambavesi- seeking birth

Buddha's teachings are quite clear in regard to the extent to which 'love & compassion' should expand,. 'Sabbe satta bhavanthu sukhitatta', ie. 'May all beings be happy' Buddha not only condemned the destruction of living beings as higher seela, he also condemned the destruction of the plant life. Buddhism being a 'way of life' where plant animal and human lives are protected ,how does one explain the 'destruction and suffering caused by war.'

War is violence, killing, destruction, blood and pain. Has Buddha accepted these? According to Buddha, the causes of war being greed, aversion and delusion are deep rooted in human mind. The milestones of the path being seela, samadhi and panna make the human being realize the causes that contribute to warfare and for the need for the eradication of same.

The Buddha said,

All tremble at violence, All fear death,

Comparing oneself with others

One Should neither kill nor  cause others to  Kill' (Dammapada)

Hence any form of violence is not acceptable . He further says,

' Victory breeds hatred

The defeated live in pain,

Happily the peaceful live,

Giving up victory and defeat (Dammapada)

Victory and Defeat are two sides of the coin of War. It is clear in Buddhism, what breeds in war whether it is victory or defeat.

Let us now deal with those having a direct involvement with War, The King or in today's context the Government and the soldier. Does Buddhism permit the State to build and foster an Army?. Can a good Buddhist be a soldier? and can he kill for the sake of the country? What about the 'Defence' of a country.? When a ruthless army invades a country, does Buddhism prohibit a Buddhist King to defend his country and his people? If Buddhism is a 'way of life,' is there any other way for a righteous king to battle against an invasion of an army.?

The Damma is a way of life based on Right Thought, Right Livelihood, Right Action etc. culminating in the supreme goal of Nibbana . However it is a gradual process of training and progressing on the path through one's long samsaric journey until one has fulfilled the necessery conditions and is ready to let go the cycle of birth decay and death. Hence, until then the King has to rule, the farmer has to farm, teacher has to teach, the trader has to trade and so on. But they are expected to do it the Buddhist way in order to help them progress on the path.

In 'chakkavatti- sihanada sutta' (The Lion's Roar on the Turning of Wheel) of the long discourses of the Buddha, Buddha justified the requirement of the king having an Army to provide guard, protection and security for different classes of people in the kingdom from internal and external threats. It refers to a Wheel Turning monarch named Dalhanemi, a righteous monarch of the law, conqueror of the four quarters who had established the security of his realm and was possessed of the seven treasures. He had more than 1000 sons who were heroes, of heroic stature, conquerors of the hostile army. Explaining the noble duties of a righteous king, Buddha also pointed out the advice given to the king in regard to his obligation to provide security for its people. The advisor tells the king " my son, yourself depending on the Dhamma, revering it, doing homage to it, and venerating it having the Dhamma as your badge and banner, acknowledging the Dhamma as your master, you should establish guard, ward and protection according to Dhamma for your own household, your troops in the Army, your nobles and vassals, for Brahmins and householders, town and countryfolk, ascetics and Brahmins, for beasts and birds. Let no crime prevail in your kingdom"

Explaining further the duties of a righteous king, Buddha states, "…Son, the people of your kingdom should from time to time come to you and consult you as to what is to be followed and what is not to be followed, what is wholesome and what not wholesome, and what action will in the long run lead to harm and sorrow, welfare and happiness. You should listen and tell them to avoid evil and to do what is good for the country. This sutta clearly indicates that Buddhism permits a king to have an army since a righteous king, who is also the commander of the army, knows, the righteous way to engage the army and to protect his people.

'Seeha Senapathi Sutta' of Anguttara Nikaya-5 shows how, one of the army commanders named 'Seeha' went to Buddha to clarify certain doubts on the Dhamma and how the Buddha advised him without requesting him to resign from the Army or to disband the army. Having clarified his doubts on the Dhamma, Commander Seeha requested Buddha to accept him as a deciple of the Buddha. But Buddha instead of advising him to resign from the army advised thus

'Seeha, it is proper for a popular person of your status to always think and examine when attending to affairs and making decisions ' Seeha, the commander became a sotapanna (stream enterer = first fruit of the Path) having listened to the Dhamma, but remained in the army as a commander.

In this instance too one could see that Buddha did not advise Seeha against the Army or being a commander of an Army, but only advised to discharge his duties the proper way.

King Ajasattu, had a unsatiable desire to conquer other kingdoms. He even murdered his father for the throne and aided Devadatta who was plotting to kill the Buddha. Once Ajasattu having decided to conquer the kingdom of Vajjians sent his chief minister Vassakara to Buddha to find out Buddha's views about his decision to conquer the Vajjians. Ajasttu wanted to know whether he will gain victory, cunningly using Buddha's ability to predict the future with accuracy.

Once the usual complimentary greetings were exchanged, between the Buddha and Vassakara and the purpose of his visit was made known, Buddha turned to his chief attendant Venerable Ananda with praise of the Vajjians and their noble democratic confederacy. Buddha further inquired from Venerable Ananda whether the Vajjians are strictly following the conditions of Dhamma NOT leading to decline as taught to the Vajjians by Buddha to which Ven. Ananda replied 'yes'.

Then Buddha turned to venerable Ananda and declared thus, "As long as they would continue on these lines, taught them by Buddha earlier at Vasali, they cannot be defeated and not expected to decline but to prosper." The shrewd minister drew his own conclusion that the Licchavis of vajji state could not be conquered in battle at that moment, but if their unity and alliance is broken they could be defeated and ran back to his king with this news. In fact Ajasattu defeated vajjians not even three years after the Buddha's death purely by shrewdly creating disunity amongst the rulers of the Vajjians

Numerous conclusions could be drawn from this story too. Buddha knew that both States did have strong armies and that they are needed for the protection of their people. Buddha did not advice minister Vassakara that the concept on 'Army' is against Buddhism and that he should advice the king not to declare war against Vajjis but to desolve the army. Buddha at this instance also brought up important lessons in 'state craft.' It helped the crafty minister to adopt a different strategy to invade Vajji State, by using psychological approach first and then the physical assault next. Further, by having a conversation with Venerable Ananda Buddha indicated to minister Vassakara that even though king Ajasasattu has a mighty strong army, and have conquered several states he will not be able to defeat Licchavis so long as they adhere to the said noble policies. It is also an indirect advice to king Ajatasattu that it is in order having an army but that army will not be able to conquer people with virtuous qualities. It was also an indication to Ajasattu that he too should be a righteous king with an army where no other king could defeat him, by adhering to the said policies which will not lead a society to decline. These policies are referred to as 'saptha aparihani dhamma' and they are as follows:

* Having meetings and assemblies frequently.

* Rulers assembling in harmony, conducting their affairs in harmony and dispersing in harmony.

* Adhering to the accepted ancient noble traditions and not extirpating the accepted established norms and traditions by introducing new laws.

* Respecting the elders, worshiping them, consulting them, and believing that they must be listened to.

* Respecting and protecting the women folk and not living with them forcibly or molesting them.

* Paying respect to all internal and external places of worship, paying homage to those worthy of veneration and continue to make spiritual offerings traditionally done.

Soldiering was accepted by the Buddha as a noble profession.The soldier was known as " Rajabhata." Buddha did not permit rajabata to become monks whilst in service as a soldier.

Once Sidhartha Gauthama's father, king Suddhodana came to Buddha and complained,

"Gauthama Buddha, my son, when you were the most suitable for the throne of a Sakvithi King, you left all of us and became a monk. Then you insulted me by begging for meals, walking house to house along the streets in my own town. The relatives laughed at me and they insulted me. Now you are trying to destroy my Army."

" Why " the Buddha asked. " What has happened to your great Army, my father."

Then the king answered," Can't you see, my soldiers are deserting the army one by one and joining your group as monks."

" why are they becoming monks, great king and why are they leaving the Army." Asked Buddha.

" Can't you see " the king answered. " They know that when they become monks they get free food, free clothes, free accommodation and respected by all."

Buddha smiled and requested the king to go back to the Palace and said that he will settle the issue. Buddha then promulgated a law ( Vinaya ) for the monks to the effect that, No soldier could become a monk whilst in military service. This law is still valid to date. Accordingly even today unless a soldier is legally discharged from the army or unless a soldier retires legitimately, he is NOT ordained as a monk and will not be accepted into the order of monks. This ensures that soldiers do not desert the army even to join the Buddhist order.

Further in terms of the Vinaya ( the code of conduct for monks) monks permitted to visit the battle field but they were ordered to return before the sunset. Permission was also given to visit the injured relatives in the battlefield.

Further whilst the expressly referred to five occupations as unrighteous Soldiering is not included amongst those.

The Buddha once describing the qualities of a good monk, compared those to the essential qualities of a good king to be as follows:

* Pure decent

* Great wealth

* Strong army

* Wise ministers

* Glory

Once at the city of Savatti, Buddha describing five types of monks in comparison to the five types of soldiers in the world, (A.iii, duthiya yodhajeevupama sutta ) classified the soldiers as follows:

* A soldier who enters the battle field armed with sword and shield, bow and arrows and who gets himself killed by the enemy during battle. This is the first type of soldier.

* A soldier who enters the battle field bravely armed with sword and shield, bow and arrows but gets injured during battle and taken to his close relatives. But he dies on the way before he reaches his relatives. This is the second type of soldier.

* Soldier who enters the battlefield bravely armed with sword and shield, bow and arrows, gets injured and having taken to his close relatives, receives medical treatment with care. But he dies with the same ailment although he was surrounded by relatives. This is the third type of soldier.

* Soldier who enters the battlefield bravely armed with sword and shield, bow and arrows, gets injured and having taken to his close relatives, receives medical treatment with care. He recovers from the injury. This is the fourth type of soldier.

* Soldier who enters the battlefield bravely armed with armourments destroys and defeats the enemy. Having won the battle he remains in the battlefront victoriously. This is the fifth type of soldier.

Similarly in ' patama yodhajeevacupama sutta' Buddha explains five types of soldiers or warriors.

* Type -1- Tremble with fear, unsteady, afraid to get into the battlefield by seeing the dust and clouds created by fighting men, animals and vehicles.

* Type - 2 - Could withstand the dust and clouds. But tremble with fear, unsteady, afraid to get into the battlefield by seeing the Standards and Banners of the enemy.

* Type-3- Could withstand dust and clouds, the sight of the enemy Standards and Banners But tremble with fear, unsteady, afraid to get into the battlefield by hearing the frightening noises and the battle cries in the field.

* Type- 4 - could withstand dust and clouds, Standards and Banners of the enemy, the noises and the battle cries But Tremble with fear, unsteady, afraid to get into the battlefield by a small attack by the enemy.

* Type -5- could withstand dust and clouds, Standards and Banners of the enemy, the noises and the battle cries. He fights back and wins his battle. Having won, he victoriously enjoys the fruits seven days staying in the middle of the battlefield.

When the Buddha recognized a strong army as an essential requirement of the king he was also aware that the Commander in Chief of the Army was also the king of the country and that a strong Army four main divisions, then known as 'the caturangani sena', consisting of Cavalry (horses), Elephant force, Armed vehicles and the Infantry, each having its own functions in battle.

His knowledge of the battlefield is so evident for the similis frequently quoted by him from the battlefield. In Akkhama sutta of Anguttara Nikaya Buddha compares five weak qualities of elephants selected to go into battle with that of 5 weak qualities of monks proceeding through the battle of 'Liberation.'

In the Sutta the Buddha says, An elephant belonging to the 'caturangani sena' [four divisions of the Army of the ruler] will not be suitable if , it get frightened, trembles, unable to control and withdraws,

* merely by the sight of other elephants, horses, military vehicles and soldiers in the battle field,

* merely by hearing noises and sounds of the battle cries of elephants, horses, infantry and worrier drums in the field,

* merely by the body smell and the smell of urine etc of other majestic elephants in the battle field,

* merely for not getting its food and water for one day or few days in the battle field.

From the above it is clear that contrary to the popular belief the Buddha has not rejected or prohibited soldiering as a profession or occupation and the right of a king or a government to have an army and to defend one's country and its people. In the contrary the Buddha has expressly recognized the necessity for a king to have an army and providing protection to the subjects of a country has been recognized as a prime duty of the king .

The Buddha in his wisdom did not expect a nation or the rulers to be lame ducks in the wake of an enemy invasion. However Buddha's expectations from one who is training to be an Arhant whether monk or layman are different and it should not be mistaken with the Buddha's expectations from the laity burdened with numerous worldly responsibilities. It is also because the Buddha in his wisdom did not expect every 'Buddhist' to opt for Arahantship nor to become an ascetic renouncing the worldly affairs. To the majority Buddhism is a way of life rather than a faith, philosophy, or a religion.

However it should be stressed that a soldier like all others is subject to the law of Kamma and will not escape the Kammic fruits of "taking the Life"of a sentient being (panatipatha) even though he may have had the overall noble intention of protecting his country and his people.

While killing may be inevitable in a long and successful army career opportunities for merit too is unlimited for a disciplined and conscientious soldier.

A disciplined soldier fights his enemy in accordance with the best of traditions and norms maintained by an army. He doesn't kill a defenseless person. A good soldier provides medical treatment to the injured enemy captured. He doesn't kill prisoners of war, children, women or the aged. A disciplined soldier destroys his enemy only when his or the lives of his comrades are in danger.

Soldier is one who thrives for peace within because he is one who realizes the pain of his own wounds. He is one who sees the bloody destruction of war, the dead, the suffering etc. Hence his desire to bring peace to himself as well as to the others by ending the war as soon as possible. He not only suffers during the war but even after the war. The painful memories of the battles he fought linger in him making his aspire for true and lasting peace within and without. Hence the common phenomenon of transformation of brutal kings having an insatiable desire to conquer to incomparable and exemplary righteous kings such as Drarmasoka king of Mourian dynasty of India.

5. The Buddha and the Four-Limbed Army: The Military in the Pali Canon ...Matthew Kosuta Ph.D.


This paper is a summary of my masters thesis. I undertook this study in order to clarify what I saw as an apparent contradiction in Theravada Buddhism and its pacifist ethic. Pacifism constitutes a main and ever-present theme in the Theravada Pali Canon. It best expresses itself in ethical conduct (sila)[1], which is founded, on the concept of universal love and compassion. The practice of this ethical system is absolutely necessary in order to attain nibbana. Yet, after the introduction of Buddhism into the now Theravada countries, Sri Lanka and Buddhist Southeast Asia (excepting Vietnam), a strong military tradition has continued in these countries, remaining side by side with the Buddhist pacifist ideal.

The coexistence of a pacifist ethic and a military tradition creates an apparent contradiction. In an attempt to better understand this paradox, I studied the treatment of the military in the Pali Canon.[2] The general focus of my studies is the interaction between a pacifist religion, in this case Theravada Buddhism, and the military apparatus that protects the country within which this religion is found. Specifically, within the bounders of my thesis I examined the canonical texts relative to this question. My study had three objectives: first, examine how the Pali Canon treats the subject of the military; second find the attitude, whether implicit or explicit, expressed by this treatment; and third, verify the accuracy of the Pali Canon's description of the military by comparing it to contemporary sources also treating the ancient Indian military. I feel that an analysis of the military in the Pali Canon allows us to better understand Buddhism, pacifism, and militarism in their various contexts.

My working hypotheses were as follows: strong ties even inseparable ones can exist between a pacifist religion and the military; the canon must in some way, support military action; and a pacifist religion has no real means of affecting the military.

The theory framing this study states: Pacifism and militarism are diametrically opposed. The military references found in the Pali Canon were analyzed and contextualized both historically and philosophically. The historical context being the world of the kshatriya (Sanskrit, this term rather than the Pali khattiya will be used throughout as it is already well known) and the ancient Indian four-limbed army (caturangini sena), the four limbs being chariots, elephants, horses, and foot soldiers. The philosophical context being Theravada ethical and soteriological theory.

I found that the Pali Canon treats the military in a variety of different ways, which I arranged in six main categories. The first category I titled Scenery, Symbol and Security. This category contains the Doctrinally neutral references, ones in which the military appears as part of the background or scenery of the passage. It may appear as a symbol of the power and prestige of a king or as security for him or the state. The military may well be used in teaching a point of Doctrine, but it does not constitute the subject of the teaching. So, no opinion is given or a judgment rendered on the military, and its absence would cause more a loss of color than substance and in no way affect the meaning of the passage.

Next, comes the category of Mundane (lokiya) vs. Transcendental (lokuttara). Here are the references in which the Pali Canon places the military in the mundane; thus, military actions are the performance of mundane actions as opposed to being the performance of otherworldly or transcendental actions. Buddhist laity typically operate within the mundane, while someone performing Path actions, usually a monk, operates in the transcendental (Reynolds, 1979). The Canon makes it clear in numerous passages that military action is not conducive to following the Path; that it should be recognized as such and renounced. The Buddha himself, in his last life and in previous lives, renounced the apex of kshatriya life, that of a king. The skills and actions of a warrior are said to lead to a rebirth in a purgatory or hell. But, the military does not find itself singled out and condemned more harshly than any other mundane profession, action or skill. In fact, even when being condemned as ultimately unproductive, the Pali Canon often corroborates the high social status of the military within the mundane.

Not surprisingly, due to the mundane position of the military, a set of monastic regulations governing a monk's interactions with the military has been laid out in the Viniyapitaka (the Book of Discipline) and this makes up the third category: Monastic Discipline and the Military. Some of the more important rules include: a monk may visit an army that has marched out of its garrison only if he has sufficient reason and if his stay does not last longer that three days; monks are forbidden from viewing a mock combat, army deployment, or an army review. These regulations were necessary, for some monks still had the desire to witness the above activities. Idle gossip, which includes talking of military matters, has also been forbidden. One of the crucial references in this study concerns the regulation banning soldiers in the king's service from joining the sangha (the monastic community). This passage leads one to believe that the Buddha made a political decision in recognition of Buddhism's need for protection from physical dangers.

The military also figures in the category treating the utopic rule of the cakkavattin (a Wheel Turning King). Here, the military plays a strange role where the cakkavattin maintains a complete four-limbed army and his sons are described as "foe crushers"; yet, neither performs a military function. They seem to appear only as a necessary symbol of kingship.

The next category I termed The Metaphor: Nibbanic Action is War. Here the military plays an important role in serving as the referent in this metaphor. Striving for nibbana, i.e. performing Path actions, is so difficult that the Buddha expresses this endeavor in a series of analogies, which express the powerful metaphor Nibbanic Action is War. In order to explain the difficulties of Path actions, and the superior qualities and skills necessary to overcome them, a monk is frequently told that he must be like a warrior or elephant skilled in battle. The Canon frequently speaks of "conquering" various mundane elements, and just as a raja would have his senapati, his army leader, the Buddha had his second in command the dhammasenapati, Doctrine army leader. And finally, there is the Buddha's "battle" with Mara just before his enlightenment. The use of military elements in such a fashion expresses implicitly a favorable attitude towards the military.

The final category is titled The Bodhisatta[3] in Battle. Here we find militarily involved Jataka or past life stories of the Buddha. In them the Bodhisatta and future arahants participate in military conflicts. Several of these Jataka present the battlefield as an excellent place to perfect energy (viriya, often appearing as perseverance in translations). Several stories raise questions as to the kammic fruits reaped by the Bodhisatta because of his military actions. As we have seen these kammic fruits should be negative, but the Canon remains silent on the matter. From the Jataka we learn that being a soldier in no way negates one's ultimate ability to attain nibbana; and, in fact, being a soldier might be an aid, since, as seen in the category Nibbanic action is War, a superior soldier has the necessary qualities for a monk to succeed. The fact that the Bodhisatta and the future arahants were able to perform military actions and still reach the ultimate Buddhist goal could and can reassure any Buddhist soldier that with the right effort their ultimate well-being could and can be assured. Within the Jataka, the military and military actions come across as perfectly normal in ancient India.

The military appears frequently in the Pali Canon. In fact, if all the military sutta and passages were collected together in one text, they could form a separate volume of the Canon, as together they number over five hundred pages in length. However, if we place these references in the context of the entire Pali Canon, we see a minimal numerical representation. It is possible that these references have a greater impact than their numbers suggest. Also, given the wide variety of subjects covered in the Pali Canon, these seemingly small numbers may not be so in comparison to other subjects, should they also be numerically organized. The Jataka stands out as the division of the Canon, which contributed the most references. Of the one hundred ten references to the military collected nearly half of them came from the Jataka. This is important because the Jataka are the main source from which the laity obtain Buddhist instruction. Thus, there is an exaggerated importance of the Jataka in teaching the Theravada point of view on the military.

The Pali Canon's descriptions of the ancient Indian army fall in line with those of other contemporary sources. Some specific details remain uncorroborated, but these are the exceptions and not the norm. Given that the Buddha is said to have been a kshatriya and considering the number of kshatriya said to have entered the sangha, one would expect this kind of accuracy from the Canon when treating military subjects. As a whole, the military references lack in both technical details of the army and detailed descriptions of battles. The Canon never describes explicit scenes of blood, severed limbs, or the deaths of men, animals and supernatural beings, as does epic Indian literature. Whether this stems from the Canon's pacifist ethos or another source remains unclear. The Pali Canon does, however, echo the kshatriya ethos of duty and honor in battle.

In nearly all the military references women play a secondary role. Generally speaking, they represent one of two things: for kshatriya they are objects to be fought for; for monks they are objects to be avoided. In several Jataka, a king or prince, and even the Bodhisatta, fights to win one or more maidens. In the Anguttarnikaya, it is a monk's ability to resist the temptations of a woman (and thereafter gain release) that equates him with a warrior victorious in battle. The mother in the birth story of the Asatarupajataka (#100) stands out as a notable exception. It is she who suggests to her son the successful strategy of laying siege to a city, instead of fighting a pitched battle to take it.

During this study, while trying to draw out the Pali Canon's opinion of the military, an apparent contradiction arose: the Canon alternates between explicit condemnation and implicit praise of the military. For the Pali Canon, the military seems to represent several things, both positive and negative. On the positive side, the Canon frequently praises the military and accords it great prestige - in fact the military maintains its contemporary social status unchanged. The military provides one of the best examples for the type of man, qualities, and skills necessary for attaining nibbana. The battlefield proves excellent ground for perfecting and using certain of the Ten Perfection's (dasaparamita) [4], especially energy/effort (viriya). The battlefield also provides excellent ground for fulfilling of one's duty despite great personal danger.

On the negative side, war causes death and destruction and it engenders a cycle of revenge. The Canon considers dealing with the military as "ill-gotten". And finally, the most powerful condemnation: military life and skills lead warriors to rebirth in ahell or a purgatory. To understand this contradiction we must look to when and from where the praise and condemnation is coming from. It becomes clear that praise of the military appears in a mundane context and condemnation in a transcendental context. Explicit praise of the performance of military actions come from mundane figures, such as kings, warriors, backsliding monks, and even the Bodhisatta. Condemnation and avoidance of military actions come from transcendental figures, such as the Buddha, arahants, monks, and from the Bodhisatta, kings, warriors, etc., who have realized the truth of the world from a Buddhist point of view. Since the transcendental ultimately has precedence, the final opinion of the Pali Canon toward the military must be said to be a negative one.

Even the implicit praise surrounding the military as expressed in the metaphor Nibbanic Action is War can be reconciled under this distinction. Since the transcendental was the unknown, the Buddha had no choice but to refer to the mundane in an attempt to make the transcendental understood. The metaphor must be thought of in the same way as all the other training: it is a raft to take you to the other side, but once you arrive you do not carry it along, you must leave it behind. Yet, the question remains as to why a militaristic reference point was chosen for a pacific mode of behavior. I propose two main reasons in partial explanation for this choice. First, the aforementioned difficulties of performing Path actions. Only success under the most difficult mundane circumstances could be equated with striving for nibbana -- success in battle filled this perfectly. Second, since the Buddha and many monks were kshatriya, they were trained from infancy to consider war to be their natural calling, their dharma (sanskrit). Thinking of a difficult challenge in a military sense would have been second nature for these men.

On a final note, what did all this mean for a kshatriya of the era, and what has it meant for Buddhist soldiers through the ages? Any Buddhist soldier conversant in the Pali Canon's references to the military cannot have been or now be reassured about his profession. However, again there is a positive side. These soldiers can look at the various Jataka stories telling of the Buddha and future arahants victorious in battle and the rewards obtained therefrom. Other sutta and passages also express a favorable attitude toward the military, and the Buddha himself recognized the necessity of an army when he banned fighting-men in the service of a king from joining the sangha. Perhaps most reassuring is the fact that should a Buddhist be a model soldier he will also possess many of the important qualities necessary for a person to obtain nibbana. But, all this is outweighed by the condemnation the military receives when viewed with proper Buddhist insight. A soldier by virtue of his raison d'être violates many of the basic ethical principles of Buddhism. Professional soldiers are told that should they die in combat they will be reborn in a purgatory and the Bodhisatta at one point stated that his expert military skill would, in the end, lead to hell. It would seem that a professional soldier begins his carrier with a negative kammic balance sheet.

This study has shown that the Pali Canon indeed forms an explicit opinion on the military. The Canon recognizes that, in a mundane perspective, the military is ever present, of high prestige, and even necessary in some circumstances for the protection of Buddhism. But, ultimately it must be judged from the higher insight of the transcendental, the lokuttara, where it becomes evident that the military is not conducive to Buddhist ethics and thus not conducive to performing Path actions. From this point of view, the military even loses its value in the mundane, where military pursuits are seen as prideful, destructive, and in vain, engendering a cycle of revenge which only leads to more suffering.


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HARVEY, Peter. 1990. An Introduction to Buddhism: Teaching, History and Practices. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

LAKOFF, George, and Mark JOHNSON. 1980. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

LAMOTTE, Étienne. 1976. Histoire du bouddhisme indien: Des origines à l'ère Saka. Louvain: L'Institut Orientaliste de Louvain.

MACDONELL, Arthur A. 1976. A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

MASSON-OURSEL, P. 1951. L'Inde antique et la civilisation indienne. Paris: Éditions Albin Michel.

NA-RANSI, Sunthorn. 1976. The Buddhist Concepts of Karma and Rebirth. Bangkok: Mahamakut Rajavindyalaya Press.

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[*] Matthew Kosuta is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Religious Studies, Université du Québec à Montréal.

[1] All foreign terms are in Pali unless otherwise noted. [Due to technical reasons (notably in connection with the online edition of this journal), it has not been possible tu use the standard diacritic marks (viz., nibbåna, sa[integral]gha) for the transliteration of pali and/or sanskrit words and phrases. The Editor]

[2] The Pali Canon represents Theravada Buddhism's canonical literature. Some 85 volumes in length, it was maintained in oral form, with the first written copy not appearing till about the first century B.C.E., approximately 400 years after the Buddha's death.

[3] In Theravada Buddhism the term Bodhisatta designates someone destined to become a Buddha, this conception differs significantly from the Mahayana Bodhisattva and the Bodhisattva path.

[4] The ten qualities that a Bodhisatta must perfect in order to become a Buddha.

6. Upaya Zen Center


Upaya, Sanskrit for "skillful means" or "the craft of compassion," is a Buddhist study center nestled in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, just minutes from the plaza of Santa Fe. We offer courses and retreats on engaged spirituality and on contemplative care of the dying. We also offer Zen training, meditation retreats and international retreats. Groups and individuals may use our facility for retreats.

Joan Halifax, Ph.D. is a Buddhist teacher and an anthropologist.

Her academic teaching credentials include being on the faculty of Columbia University, the University of Miami School of Medicine, the New School for Social Research, the Naropa Institute and the California Institute for Integral Studies.

Her books include: The Human Encounter with Death (with Stanislav Grof), Shamanic Voices, Shaman: the Wounded Healer, The Fruitful Darkness, Simplicity in the Complex: A Buddhist Life in America and Being with Dying (forthcoming).

Joan has worked with individuals suffering from life-threatening illnesses since 1970. She has worked with indigenous healing systems in southern Florida and with indigenous peoples in Asia and the Americas on environmental and health issues.

In 1979, she founded The Ojai Foundation where she lived and worked until 1990.

At that time, she founded Upaya in Santa Fe, NM, where she now practices, teaches, and works in the New Mexico Penitentiary with maximum-security prisoners and men on death row, works with individuals who have catastrophic illnesses and is the founder of the Project on Being with Dying.

She has practiced Buddhism since the late 1960s and was formally ordained in 1976 by Zen Master Seung Sahn. In 1990, she received the Lamp Transmission from Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and is a Dharmacarya in the Tiep Hien Order. She is a Founding Teacher in the Zen Peacemaker Order of Roshi Bernie Glassman and the late Sensei Jishu Holmes and is a Soto Priest and teacher.

7. An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics : Foundations, Values and Issues ...by Peter Harvey


Amazon.com- Reviewer: Rajith Dissanayake- from Harrow Great Britain... This is an easy to understand account of the basis and content of ethical teachings in Buddhism as a global tradition.

Starting with the foundations of Buddhist ethics, Harvey then describes the major precepts in turn as they apply to ordinary practitioners.

He then looks at the implications of these ethics from the social and historical context in many countries from Sri Lanka to Japan. He gives special treatment to topics like Enviromentalism, Feminist issues, Economics and Homosexuality in a Buddhist context and gives an overview of many accounts expressed on these topics. The treatment is sometimes academic, always balanced and frequently too objective.

It is an important book for people who are interested in Natural Justice and the role of Human Rights vs Human Responsibilities in the context of human legal codes and religion. It is also a must for anyone who wants to know the difference between right and wrong and why from a non Theistic position.

8. AlterNet.org


AlterNet.org is a project of the Independent Media Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening and supporting independent and alternative journalism.

First launched in 1998, AlterNet's online magazine provides a mix of news, opinion and investigative journalism on subjects ranging from the environment, the drug war, technology and cultural trends to policy debate, sexual politics and health issues. The AlterNet article database includes more than 7,000 stories from over 200 sources.

The AlterNet Mission

AlterNet.org is an online magazine and information resource where pressing issues are subject to examination and debate.

By providing quality journalism, dependable research, issue-focused public interest content and passionate advocacy, we believe our readers will be better equipped to make informed decisions about problems that affect us all.

Overall, we seek to engage our community of readers in problem solving, community action and awareness of current events in the United States and abroad.


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