Thursday, June 08, 2006

War, Ethics, and Religion

Vietnam War Memorial - The Three Soldiers or The Three Servicemen

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?


gautami tripathy said...

Violence is not always wrong. I feel for self defence we need it.

Travis Jay Morgan said...

What do we defend though...We defend attacks...Not all attacks are violent. So why would it be of to violently defend oneself against a nonviolent attack? Violence rebounds itself... I feel violence is always wrong. If there were no violence to begin with, for what reason would we still need violence? Think of a world completely without violence, why would we need to introduce violence into such a world? We wouldn't need to. The question should be, Is it ok to use violence against violence in order to remove it? I think people have been trying this and it is creating more rather then less.

Don Iannone said...

Excellent question, Mike.

I share your Buddhist inclinations.

Violence takes many forms. How about the violence we do to our own minds.

In my 55 years I have found that most violence I have encountered could be avoided. That says something to me.

Mike said...

Gautami: Thanks for stopping by and commenting! I appreciate your thoughts.

Travis: Good thoughts! I think you're right, meeting violence with violence is clearly getting us nowhere good. And no, there would be no need for violence in a world without violence. However, here is what comes to mind when I think about if it's ok to use violence against violence... what if I'm walking down the street and am mugged. I'm not likely to be able to talk my way out of it. So other than giving over my wallet, violence is the only option. It is that situation in which I think responding physically is ok, but under the motivation of compassion, not hatred. Perhaps that is the distinction—maybe responding physically under compassionate action is not violence, whereas doing so under hatred is. Thanks for responding!

Don: Thanks for dropping by! My experience matches yours, most violence I've seen could have been avoided. Rather easily, as well. My fiance once asked me if I had ever been in a fight, and I answered no. She was surprised, me being an athletic male (which are stereotypically susceptible to testosterone-filled responses). The "opportunity" has just rarely arisen. And in the few instances in which it did, I chose a peaceful response. It's almost like we're expected to be violent, and when we're not, it seems strange.

Travis Jay Morgan said...

If there were an attempt by someone to mug you...ask the mugger what they want, then give them what they ask for, and then even a bit more. Nobody gets hurt, your material items are replacable and, and your compassion will catch on just as violence does.

The Moon Cannot Be Stolen:

A Zen Master lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening, while he was away, a thief sneaked into the hut only to find there was nothing in it to steal. The Zen Master returned and found him. "You have come a long way to visit me," he told the prowler, "and you should not return empty handed. Please take my clothes as a gift." The thief was bewildered, but he took the clothes and ran away. The Master sat naked, watching the moon. "Poor fellow," he mused, " I wish I could give him this beautiful moon."

Mike said...

Great story Travis! Thanks for sharing. I'll be contemplating often on what you've written. It's one of the clearest lessons on compassion I've seen.

Travis Jay Morgan said...

I'm glad you liked it Mike!

Here is another thought based on your comment said,
Perhaps that is the distinction..."

Distinctions... good/bad, pretty/ugly, big/small, inside/outside, valuable/invaluable, ect... are all relative. When we realize our oneness with the world and clear our minds of our opinions and distinctions, than we can recieve the world unfiltered.

Dan said...

Thoughtful presentation and comments. Thanks, Mike, and thanks all!