I read an interesting article today entitled World Religions: War and Peace, which asserts that religions can take one of three views regarding war:
- Pacifist: War (and violence) is wrong.
- Just War: War can be justified under certain circumstances.
- Holy War: War is justified if it is a Holy War, ordained by the god of the religion.
I'm impressed by the unbiased approach taken in the article. For instance, it correctly denotes that Buddhism is a pacifist religion, but does not shy away from noting that the Buddhist regime in Sri Lanka is seen as oppressing the Hindu minority.
The article got me thinking, where do I stand? I find myself in the pacifist camp, with a caveat. I, personally, feel it's ok to defend oneself if attacked. As Bodhisattvas, it is our responsibility to achieve awakening for the benefit of all beings and, in the process, imbue all of our thoughts, actions, and speech with generosity, ethical restraint, patience, joyous effort, concentration, and wisdom (Six Paramitas), for the benefit of others. But if we are attacked, it inhibits our ability to fulfill our Bodhisattva vows. Therefore, for the benefit of others, we are justified, I feel, in defending ourselves. However, there is a caveat to this, as well. We must NOT do so out of anger and hate. This would allow the unwholesome roots to rule our actions. We must defend ourselves out of compassion. In this way, we will do no harm beyond that which is necessary.
Buddhism is not dogmatic. Our precepts are not dictates—they are generalities based upon observation of actions-results and wisdom. "To do no harm" is our greatest precept, but, as in all things, the compassion that inhabits it must be tempered with wisdom. As a result, war is almost never black & white. Was our invasion of Iraq ethical? Pacifists would say no. The "Just War" camp might say yes, depending on their predilections. In my view, I lean toward no, because the information upon which we based our invasion was incorrect. We were truly in no danger from Iraq. Were the people of Iraq oppressed? Arguably, yes. Was invasion the best way to intervene? I don't think so.
1-Minute Contemplation: Is violence always wrong? If not, when is it justified?