Compassion for the Soldier

Is war ever justified? Buddhism, like most other religions, speaks of the sanctity of all life. The teachings tell us that we should avoid the killing of any sentient being. Does this mean that we should never defend ourselves?

An answer to this question is in the book ‘The Gospel of Buddha,’ a translation of ancient texts by Paul Carus. The story tells of a general who asks the Buddha, “Does the Buddha maintain that all strife, including such warfare as is waged for a noble cause, should be forbidden?” The Buddha speaks of how those who deserve punishment should be punished. He further points out that this is not contrary to the teaching that no harm should be done to any living thing and that one should act with love and kindness. The Buddha states, “The Buddha teaches that all warfare in which man tries to slay his brother is lamentable, but he does not teach that those who go to war in a righteous cause after having exhausted all means to preserve the peace are blameworthy. He must be blamed who is the cause of the war.” The Buddha then explains that to wage war for gain, or in self interest, is not a righteous cause. Furthermore, when one has conquered their enemy they should put aside all anger and treat this person as a friend.

At the start of the Iraq war one of our ministers gave a talk that touched on how we should look at the conflict. In this talk she pointed out that regardless of our feelings about the war we should have compassion for the soldiers on both sides of the conflict. Although as Americans we hoped for a quick victory with minimal loss of American lives, we should extend this compassion to our enemy. We should find sadness in the death of any person. After all, they are no different from our soldiers. They are fighting for a cause in which they believe. Hate war, love the warriors.

On a personal level for our temple, one of our young members is currently in Iraq. He recently was home on leave and attended service. He spoke of how proud he is to be doing a job he feels is right. His mission is to defend his country while bringing a better life to victims of oppression. Regardless of how members felt about the war they all felt compassion for this soldier. As a result of his visit we have started to collect items needed by the members of his unit. Our troops welcome even simple items like hand wipes, hard candy and eyedrops. Our plan is to regularly send packages so that our soldiers know we are thinking of them. I suggest that every religious group start a similar program. Hate war, love the warriors.

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