Buddhism and war

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(Host) Commentator Nick Boke has been thinking a lot lately about the idea of a Holy War.

(Boke) If we were a Buddhist nation, we’d think about foreign policy in a very different way. Countries whose cultures derive from the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions tend to use their theology to justify their politics.

For Muslims, for example, the question is whether an aggressive act is in keeping with the concept of jihad, or holy war, as outlined in the Kor’an. For Christians, the Book of Revelation can be used to show how some international situation is really about the struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. And for Jews, of course, Scripture is loaded with justifications for doing in Canaanites, Philistines and all the rest.

These come into play in the Middle East, birthplace of all three religions. Some Orthodox Jews insist their god gave the land to them. Militant Muslims, like members of the party of god, or Hizbollah, argue that their god gave them the same bit of land. And a millennium ago, European Christians set out to conquer the so-called Holy Land because their god told them to do so.

Which is why, of course, when George W. Bush called the war against terrorism a “crusade,” a lot of Muslims got real nervous. The word “crusade” you see, comes from the Latin for “cross,” and the term was created by Christians to justify attacks on Muslims. My god against yours.

But Buddhists just don’t have scripture that says a god thinks it’s a good idea to conquer a city, enslave or free a people, or overthrow a ruler. When Buddhists turn to their sacred texts, all they can get is guidance on is pretty basic stuff, like overcoming selfishness or being kind to other people. There are simply no tales of conquest in god’s name, no promises of reward for killing the heathen, no final battle to take place at Armageddon. So if a Buddhist wants to go to war, he’s going to have to fess up to what he’s really after. He’s just gonna have to admit that he’s fighting because he wants his people to control that river valley, or because he wants his people to own those olive groves.

Buddhist writings explain how to live, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. How to live in accordance with truths respectful of the needs of other beings; truths aimed at helping us inflict less harm on others, not more.

Seems to me Christians, Jews and Muslims are at a real disadvantage, because they don’t have to acknowledge what they’re doing when they go to war. Each has a history of believing that god has told them to conquer this or that people, so each has a propensity to believe that the war they’re engaged in now also has their god’s blessing.

Frankly, I can’t imagine the gods much care who’s ruling the oilfields, who’s got the trade routes. I’d like to think they’re mostly interested in how we live our daily lives. Sometimes you’ve gotta go to war. Let’s just make sure we’re honest about why we’ve chosen to do so. That’s what the Buddhists have to do.

This is Nick Boke in Weathersfield, Vermont.

Nick Boke is a reading consultant, minister and freelance writer.

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