A lively discussion followed a recent post here on the Army’s first Buddhist chaplain. The latest response comes from John Scorsine, a military officer in the National Guard and a newly ordained Buddhist minister, who writes, “This question of the reconciliation of Buddhism and being a professional at arms has been a defining matter of inquiry for me.” Scorsine continues, describing his discussion of this issue with the Dalai Lama:

When I asked HHDL what in his view was the karmic consequence for killing for one’s country or for being killed in battle he responed: “And over here, liturgically speaking, most important is motivation and goal. Now goal to serve interest for larger community and motivation – compassionate motivation. Genuine sense of care. And then, if the circumstances, there’s no other way, only the violent way, then violence is permissible. That’s why in Buddhism, they use—in tantric teaching they are wrathful deities. The appearance wrathful deities is—behind the philosophy is that out of sense of concern, out of sense of compassion, then wrathful method is permissible. So the wrathful deities also now happen there.”

The Dalai Lama cautions, however, that the problem is that once violence begins, it’s anybody’s guess how or when it will end. He also puts the onus on the victor to end the violence and to “protect all life.” Not long after 9/11, in the runup to the war in Afghanistan, Tricycle invited three teachers and a Buddhism scholar to discuss whether violence was ever permissible in the light of Buddhist teachings. You can read the roundtable here.

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