War and Aggression

By Ven. K. Sri Dhammananda

The history and teachings of Buddhism demonstrate a consistent and principled stance against war and aggression, as well as a commitment to tolerance, understanding, and peaceful coexistence among different religious denominations. By cultivating inner peace and compassion, individuals can contribute to a more harmonious and just society, free from fear and superstition.

Ven. K. Sri Dhammananda

It is a matter of historical truth that throughout the 25 centuries of its existence, there has never been even one instance of religious persecution or war waged in the name of Buddhism. Of course, people calling themselves Buddhist have fought other people and killed and pillaged, but it has never been for the purpose of spreading Buddhism or for the glory of Buddhism. The most outstanding example of this is H.H. the Dalai Lama, who has struggled against the Chinese occupation of his homeland but who has consistently insisted that he loves his Chinese brothers and sisters and that he will only use non-violent means to achieve his aim. In this connection, we can quote Professor Rhys Davids who wrote: “There is no record known to me in the whole of the long history of Buddhism throughout the many centuries where his followers have been for such lengthened periods reigned supreme, of any persecution by the Buddhists on the followers of any other faith.” Buddhism was thus able to diffuse itself through a great variety of cultures throughout the world.

The Emperor Asoka conquered almost all of the Indian sub-continent with unimaginable ruthlessness and cruelty. However, after his last battle against the Kalingas where more than 100,000 men, women, and children were mercilessly slaughtered, he turned to Buddhism and was completely transformed from Candasoka (cruel Asoka) to Dhammasoka (righteous Asoka). He turned from violence to compassion.

Buddhists are not forbidden to give due respect to other religious teachers, nor are they restricted in visiting places of worship and attending religious services other than Buddhism. They can show their full cooperation while maintaining their basic Buddhist principles. Buddhism encourages cooperation and understanding amongst the various religious denominations. From the Buddhist point of view, religious labels are not the most important aspect for people to be considered religious, but any person leading a respectable and harmless way of life can be regarded as religious.

Those who find faults and criticise Buddhism can only do so at a very superficial level. They may criticise the traditional practices and customs but not the teaching as taught by the Buddha, as the religious principles taught by the Buddha are good for all time. They can be tried out by anyone who wishes to test them.

The methods used to introduce the teachings of the Buddha are peaceful and reasonable. The Buddha made his appeal through reason and experience. The teachings were presented with clear and impressive simplicity and kept free from religious and national narrowness and fanaticism. They have produced clear and sober-minded people. This method of presentation cleared doubts and removed superstitious beliefs. Thus did the teachings of Buddha convert the hearts and minds of the earnest seekers of truth. The Buddhist attitude of tolerance and understanding convinced many great thinkers, philosophers, rationalists, free-thinkers, and even agnostics to appreciate Buddhism as a peaceful way of life devoid of fear and superstition.

According to the Buddha, men are divided among themselves because of their strong sense of ego. When this is subdued by seeing the essential emptiness of a being, healthy human relationships will develop. The search for peace and a harmonious way of life, therefore, begins from within and not from the outside.

An understanding of this central teaching of Buddhism is very important to the discussion of our topic. With this understanding, we see that all human activities, including religion, are mind-made. The Buddha said that his teachings must be seen as a raft to cross a river; once we have used it to get to the other bank, we need not be burdened with it to climb the mountain, which is our real destination. Zen Buddhists say the teachings simply represent the finger pointing to the moon, they are not the moon itself. So the religion of Buddhism, which developed from the teachings, is merely a convenient vessel to help us reach our real destination. It is not the Ultimate Reality. As everything, including religion is mind-made and lacking in any ultimate reality there is no need to argue about the superiority of one’s beliefs over that of another’s.