The Buddha and War

Intentions, Ethics, Action and Consequences.

A Dharma Perspective on wars and moral superiority

(6290 words)


Ignorance and Conflict

Ethics, Intentions, Actions and Consequences

Action and Suffering

Buddhists and War

Enquiry into so-called Cause and Effect

Powerfully armed countries, such as USA, UK, France and Israel, and military organisations, such as NATO, propagate our moral superiority over threats, real and imagined, from other nation states or political/pseudo religious organisations, such as found in the Arab/Islamic world.

The ‘other,’ defined currently as Islamic extremists, employ exactly the same viewpoint of moral superiority in their war against Western occupation, Western consumerism and Western exploitation of their societies and resources They adopt the morally superior position with the same level of absolute certainty. Both sides share an absolute conviction that they are on the side of the good in a battle against evil.

In the West, we continue to place a grossly exaggerated significance on our good intentions with regard to warfare to justify our invasions or bombing of various Arab nations in Asia and North Africa. The basis of this moral argument found in television political documentaries, news reports, political debates, political analysis and on YouTube runs as follows in the ‘Us and Them’ debate to claim the moral high ground. The argument runs along these lines:

‘We, the West, do not have the intention to kill, maim and traumatise innocent citizens. ‘They’ have the intention to kill, maim and traumatise innocent citizens. “Look at what they (ISIS, Al Quada, Bokul Haram and other militant organisations) do. They engage in mass killings, force people to dig mass graves and then execute them, cut the heads off of innocent people, execute soldiers and citizens at random, burn people to death and torture men, women and children, train suicide bombers and take hundreds of schoolgirls as hostage.”

“We, the West, are civilised. We don’t commit war crimes. We show restraint in the weapons we use. We discriminate in terms of who we kill and maim.” We don’t engage in mass killing, as they do. We don’t intend to kill innocent people.”

Our belief in moral superiority gives us emotional comfort through claims of a major difference between intentional acts to kill people and the accidental deaths and suffering of hundreds of thousands of innocent people caught up in the warfare between the West and Muslim countries. We refer to the deaths of innocent families from our attacks as “collateral damage.” This repugnant term describes the death and suffering of the innocent, of families, of non-combatants who were not the intended target. Collateral damage also refers to wilful destruction of homes, neighbourhoods, infrastructure, hospitals, schools, factories to store medicine and healthcare equipment, libraries, buildings of historic interest and government offices. This destruction increases dramatically the numbers of deaths and suffering of citizens long after a bombardment ceases.

You might have thought that the West has shown nothing but loving kindness, generosity and compassion to the Arab world before 9/11. You might have thought that the West never engaged in the selling of arms to Arab nations, never brought about the collapse of certain Arab democracies, never funded political tyrants in the Middle East, never provided the resources for weapons and training for Israel’s military invasions of neighbouring Muslim countries, never sowed conflict between Arab nations, never exploited Arab oil reserves, never bribed Arab politicians and never ignored the mediaeval living conditions of millions of Muslims, as well as having military bases on Muslim soil.

The Western invasions of eight or more Muslim countries since 9/11, along with the drone attacks, killing, maiming and traumatising men, women and children, have fuelled the rage. We have propagated a negative stereotype of Arabs for decades in the media and in movies, undermined their religion, condemned the Koran, made fun of Mohammad and mocked the conservative nature of the dress code of Muslim women. Yet, we still go on claiming our moral superiority. Is it any wonder that Muslims feel frustrated and angry with traumatised and hate filled Muslims joining pathologically violent organisations?

There is no higher morality in this conflict. Both sides deliberately cause suffering and death to others. We should not expect our leaders to show any depth of interest in their relationship to ethics, intentions, actions and the consequences. We should not expect our leaders to engage in any inquiry into the causes and conditions for this conflict. We should not expect our leaders to reflect on their actions or on the actions of those they try to annihilate.

Like Arab tyrant leaders, our leaders have to appear strong with a commanding voice and not show a quiver of a doubt about their determination to annihilate their perceived enemies. It is hard to see any distinction between the death and destruction that the West has heaped on the Muslims and the death and destruction in violent outbursts from militant Muslims on the West. We also witness the outburst of an intensity of hatred and violence between Muslims. No doubt, each militant organisation in the Arab world believes in their moral superiority to conduct their warfare.

There is a convenient desire in Western thought to believe that our moral superiority rests on a belief that everything depends exclusively on our intention. Our media constantly refers to the heinous crimes of ‘them’ with only an infrequent outcry at our occasional heinous crime that has come to surface, often through the noble efforts of a few individuals to expose the crime. Political journalists frequently have to repeat in their news reports the views of their government with all the pervasive distortions, projections and manipulation of truth. They feel obliged to report  fictional analysis and warped interpretation of évents from their government knowing full well the government aims to get the support of the maximum number of Western citizens and world opinion rather than share the truth.

We claim we hold our soldiers accountable for their behaviour. We do not hold the Commander-in-Chief in the White House accountable, nor our generals accountable for their sanctioning of war and terror on entire populations and the widespread suffering heaped upon one Muslim nation after another. The West makes every attempt possible to exterminate every political/pseudo religious Muslim leader who tries to mobilise a jihad against the West while our governments preach about the rule of law and Christian leaders sanction the belief in the “just war” and Christian ministers bless the troops.

Our leaders have no interest to seek out and arrest war criminals in the Arab world and take them to Holland to put them on trial in the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Instead, they assassinate as many extreme Islamic leaders as possible, rather than observe the rule of international law, as in the UN charter that we wrote and signed up to. We still continue to claim moral superiority.

Ignorance and Conflict

The Buddha made clear the mind of ill-will when the person (s) state such intentions as:

“May these people be slain and slaughtered.

May they be cut off.

May they be annihilated.

One who holds to this view has a wrong view, a distorted impression.” (MLD 41)

The relationship of action to result matters as much as intention to action. Millions of Muslims in Arab counties who died from the Western invasions surely take no comfort in the Western belief in their moral superiority. It is naivety to the extreme to imagine they would appreciate the death and destruction upon their families, communities and cities because the West claimed the high moral ground. “We didn’t mean to heap so much suffering on you Muslims. We only wanted to annihilate certain Muslims who follow Al Qaeda, ISIS and similar organisations.”

There is a common feature with intentions, namely to get what one wants. One believes it is good to get what one wants. In political terms, the action and consequences may well have a direct relationship to the pursuit of power, profit and control. There is pathetic pretense in the West to try to justify the killing fields of Arab nations as some kind of altruistic action, principled with noble intentions for the overall benefit of Muslims. This underlying delusion consists of the right of one’s belief and the evil of the beliefs of the other. The strength of the conditioning with a Western centric viewpoint or a Muslim centric viewpoint blocks inquiry into conditions for widespread suffering.

The Buddha said:  “People are owners of their action. People are bound to the actions. They take refuge in their actions. It is action that distinguishes beings inferior and superior. If a person kills others, is murderous, bloodied hand, given to violence, merciless to living beings, then through undertaking such actions s/he appears in a state of deprivation and unhappy condition in hell.”

Those who advocate war, killing and assassinations may well find themselves deprived of peace of mind through self-justification, sleepless nights and constantly in conflict with others, who see situations in a different way. The Buddha described those who support killing as “blameworthy.” He said they lack “moral shame (of the suffering they inflicted) and moral dread” (of the consequences, near and far, in terms of the suffering of others). “One abandons killing and having laid aside weapons, one abides compassionate to all beings,” he added. (MLD 27).

The Buddha stated that ignorance supports the intentions in the name of the “good” or the “right thing to do” or “we had no choice” or “we have a duty to annihilate this evil.” Those with a Western centric view and those with a Muslim centric view display a bias in their intentions with the roots of the bias in ignorance. Our leaders are deeply deluded people obsessed with power and control.  They are primitive beings dressed up in business suits. We should not vote for them. We should not offer them a word of support. Since these men of violence emerge out of democracy, then this form of democracy is a failed political system without any merit whatsoever. If the majority of people support this violence, then the majority support the delusion.

The Buddha teaches the end of karma, those unsatisfactory distortions impacting on intentions, actions and results.

Ethics, Intentions, Actions and Consequences

Our simplistic view of good intentions in military campaigns, then justifies the widespread “collateral damage.” The identification with the aims and objectives of the nation states of the West triggers the emotional contraction of loyalty to the Western viewpoint. This frequently obscures the opportunity to see and inquire in a non-dualistic way. Rather than project onto conflicts notions of good and evil, right and wrong, we need to look deeper than the underlying assumptions to determine the way ethics, intentions, actions and results work together.

The exploration of action reveals itself through body speech and mind. The actions of the body, as well as a variety of expressions of body language, can impact on another in helpful or harmful ways or somewhere in between. The same principle also applies to speech or the written word. Speech emerges from the range of concepts, perceptions and feelings in the mind forming together into a language that impact on the other (s). Finally the mind, namely feelings, thoughts, intentions and a variety of views, serve as primary conditions for what we say what we do. The conditions for these feelings, thoughts and intentions include ethics, impressions, memories, values and belief in the notion of good and evil.

At first glance, we might conclude that the unwise actions of the body can cause the most harm to others through acts of violence, the pulling of the trigger or pressing buttons to detonate bombs. The Buddha made it clear that the most reprehensible action of body speech and mind arises through the deliberate acts of the mind, of the will, of the forming and consolidation of harmful intentions in the mind. The mind takes priority since it determines speech and actions. The mind-set of our leaders, the army generals and their spokespersons deserve our attention, as well as our own mind.

The Buddha gave teachings on ethics, intentions, actions and the consequence. He made clear the link and the inseparability of the process from ethics to outcome, via intention and action. The teachings go much deeper into these issues concerning our intentions than our Western commentators, who accept far too much at face value. There is no indication of any relentless probing into the attitudes and intentions of our political leaders or any inner inquiry to explore a moral perspective from first-hand experience in terms of intentions-actions-results.

Our leaders do not make themselves available for any depth of inquiry into ethics. They only respond to random questions at press conferences or in Parliament without going any deeper, so they can glibly move onto the next question. Press conferences with senior politicians function as meaningless rituals, superficial and irrelevant to the extreme. Journalists must surely know this. Yet, they make no protest. They have their careers to think about.

To his credit, the Buddha investigated the dynamic process of action starting with the psychological construction and the way the inner movement leads to certain outcomes that impact upon others.

The Buddha made reference to four kinds of action using the metaphor of light and dark. It is important to acknowledge that much of human behaviour remains under the influence of intentions, of the will, and also remains intimately connected with the results, the outcome and the consequences. Before meeting with the Buddha, one Brahmin philosopher, Tapassi (MLD 57) boasted he would drag the Buddha around in circles like a strongman might seize a long-haired ram by the hair and drag the animal around when they met to explore action. Tapassi had no idea of the Buddha’s depths of exploration of action. Like our contemporary political philosophers, Tapassi was way out of his depth when looking into moral issues.

The Buddha made reference to four kinds of action.

  • Dark action with dark result. Based on the intention to cause harm and suffering, these dark actions result in suffering for others. The Buddha said that certain mental formations come together making the intention to inflict suffering. The knowledge that actions will cause immense suffering to families and non-combatants carry with it intention. Bombs, drone attack and urban and rural destruction display indiscriminate violence. It still takes an intention to continue such slaughter.
  • Bright action with bright result. Based on the intention not to inflict any suffering owing to the mental formations coming together in such a way. There is the intention to offer a wholesome response through the action for the benefit of others, as well as oneself.
  • Dark and bright action with dark and bright result. Based on intention, an action can bring about both pleasurable and painful consequences through a mixture of wholesome and unwholesome activities. A military unit goes to rescue a kidnapped citizen. Some soldiers and kidnappers get killed in a skirmish but they rescue the kidnapped person. A dark and bright result. An entertainer brings pleasure to an audience but also develops an insufferable ego. A bright and dark result.
  • Action without neither a dark nor bright result. This kind of action expresses a noble form of action. It is the action that leads to the end of karma and its consequences. The Buddha emphasised the fourth kind of action as it leads to the destruction of action influenced and affected through identification with notions of good and bad intentions or the mixture of the two.

There is nothing wishy-washy or lightweight about the meaning of karma. Karma refers directly to unsatisfactory influences, past and present, making an impact upon our intentions, speech and action. As distorted intentions and volitions, karma influences our actions and the way we perceive the consequences of our actions. Karma reveals itself in greed, violence and delusion. Blind spots, ignorance, psychological shadows, projections, conditioning, habits and addictions serve as the fuel for karma until it is resolved through clarity and insight. There is karma in the blind pursuit of the notion of the good and its shadow in the perception of the not good, the bad, the evil. Free from karma, wisdom serves as the important foundation for our engagement with the world.

The Buddha encouraged those who explore action to remain “diligent, ardent and resolute so that one could realise for oneself through direct insight that what has to be done has been done (including realising a liberating knowledge from harmful action).” This means the end to problematic seizing upon ego identification bound up with intentions, actions and their consequences. It is in these three primary regions of human existence that we experience dependency on approval and disapproval, praise and blame, success and failure, gain and loss. Action without clinging to a dark or bright result or both expresses freely and compassionately as acts of wisdom rather than unexamined belief in doing good and doing harm to others and reactions to the outcome.

It is valuable to bear in mind that these teachings consistently point the way to the resolution of suffering, a depth of inner peace and an unbroken sense of empathy for the circumstances of others. This wisdom goes far beyond the demands and expectations of the nation state with its nightmare military policies of defend and attack. As responsible global citizens, mindful of the human family, we do not have to submit ourselves to an unquestioning conformity to the intentions and violent actions of our governments.

The Buddha never used the language of detachment, though widely included in the 2600 year old Buddhist tradition, because it can easily conveys indifference, coldness and lack of connection with what dependently arises.  For example, the military intentionally detach themselves from their feelings in the so-called theatre of war. This intentional action to detach from feelings frequently leads to an explosion of feelings and emotions after the killing and maiming with the consequence of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), nervous breakdowns, uncontrollable physical violence, attempted suicide and suicide. The men and women in uniform function as an enemy to themselves and their families as much as an enemy to the enemy.

Nevertheless, we can say that a healthy detachment, namely a quiet standing back for an overview rather than taking sides, generates a greater opportunity for an even-handed view of conflict. The Buddha received much respect for his even-handed view. A householder, Upali (MLD 56.29) gave a description of the Buddha’s wisdom. We could develop our minds in the same way and demand that our politicians reflect in similar ways for their evolution as a human being. Having expressed immense appreciation to the Buddha, Upali referred to him as “the wise one, who has cast off delusion, who knows no anguish, is perfectly even minded, mature in ethics and without stain.” Secular and religious, political and non-political in the West, Arab world and elsewhere need to develop similar qualities.

Upali went on to say: “With no deceptive schemes, the Buddha has gained the triple knowledge, attained a pure heart, a master of discourse and the finder of a liberating knowledge. Endowed with mindfulness and penetrative insight, the Buddha leans neither forward not backwards. He is independent and altogether fearless.” Triple knowledge referred to the past influences on the present, the condition of the present and the conditions that shape the future.

It is this kind of approach to life that the Buddha offered as his teachings. It would be worthy of all of us to explore ways to develop such an approach. If our political masters, political commentators and international experts were totally committed to sharing insightful knowledge while being “perfectly even minded, mature in ethics, leaning neither forwards to one side or turning our back on the other, and independent,” it would have a major impact upon the activities of society.

Action and Suffering

“People are known by their actions (MLD 98). The truly wise see action as it really is. They see dependent arising and are skilled in actions and its results. Action makes the world go round. Action makes this generation turn. People are bound by action like the wheel of chariot is bound to the pin.”

The Buddha made it abundantly clear  that we have to go deeper than simply relying on our intentions to act as a justification for our harmful actions or our support for the harmful actions of others because we believe their intentions were good. He said those who engage in actions with harmful consequences do so because they do “not see in the unwholesome states, the danger, degradation and defilements.

He pointed out Four Kinds of People. Those who

  • torment themselves,
  • torment others, through a bloody occupation,
  • torment both
  • or torment neither.

“The ones who torment others force slaves, messengers and servants to make preparations to torment others since they have been spurred on by threats of punishment and fear.” (MLD 51). Today we could describe slaves in the West as the millions who live in the nightmare of debt. The messengers include the media, social media, journalists, public relations officers, lawyers and scholars. Servants include servants of the State – politicians, the army, employees in the public and private sector. Far too many torment themselves, torment others or both and live in fear of punishment. Bullying, harassment and vindictive behaviour has reached epidemic proportions in our society as well as in our foreign policies.

The Buddha stated (MLD 61) to engage in clear and wise action, it is necessary to repeatedly reflect.

  • Is this action leading to my own pain?
  • Is this action leading to the pain of another or both?
  • Is it an unwholesome action with painful consequences?
  • If one reflects, one does not engage in unwholesome/harmful action.
  • If I realises one did something wrong one confesses with the view to using restraint in the future,

 The Buddha remains consistent in his endorsement of the importance of inner reflection and, if necessary enquiry with another (s), to examine intentions, actions and the consequences. Will the consequences of our views, words and deeds bring suffering on others? If no one will suffer as a consequence, as far as we know, we can act. If we know our views, words and actions will bring suffering to others, then we do not act. Yes, we can think up hypothetical examples for intellectual entertainment that blurs the distinction. We need to address actual issues where we have the power to have some influence. If we find ourselves caught up in doubt, then we consult the wise.

We may have the capacity to convince ourselves and others of the right to inflict suffering due to our identification with the nation state. We take up an issue and then adopt a one-sided view. The rigidity and repetition of the standpoint to support war then rejects the enquiry into right intention. The Buddha made clear that right intention means “non non-harming, non-cruelty and non-exploitation.” It is important to remember that the teachings point to a wise and compassionate way of life.

Those who advocate suffering of others to support a cause might state that those who follow the Buddha-Dharma should reflect on their intentions and change their view. We follow a teaching/practise/way of life. Those who advocate killing and maiming others for the sake of political beliefs may well violently disagree with those who advocate the singularity of diplomacy, negotiation, litigation, hospitality and constructive aid programmes to resolve conflict.

The Buddha emphasised four kinds of litigation, namely to deal with a conflict, an accusation, a crime and to fine agreement on proceedings. A settlement to ligation, he said, occurs through those involved confronting the issue, ending memory of events, ending due to insanity, acknowledgement of the offence, the decision of the majority, addressing harmful character and agreement to move on from the issue. (MLD 104:12). He said we can “cover over with grass” meaning to plant new seeds and start afresh rather than keep digging up all the all hurts and pain.

Born into the military caste, the Buddha never shied away from his unshakable commitment to ending war and violence as the first step in the spiritual life as seen in the First Precept – I undertake not to take destroy life. There would seem to be little point in mindfulness/meditation or developing a spiritual life if the mind still gives priority to the intentional and willful support for the killing and maiming of combatants while treating the death and suffering of innocent families and non-combatants as collateral damage.

Buddhists and War

Numerous Buddhists find war utterly distasteful regarding it as the most uncivilised form of human behaviour. They no intention whatsoever to justify war, defend or label one country or organisation on the side of the good and the other as evil. Yet, there are influential Buddhists who support certain wars or hold to an ambivalent view. Other Buddhists never give consideration to the relationship to war. Others say they see both sides of the arguement in terms of the validity of war or otherwise but do not concern themselves one way or the other. There is nothing uniform among Buddhists on the views on war.

Many Buddhist have a deep wish to belong rather than inquire into major issues confronting our species. They may choose Buddhism because of its emphasis on tolerance, non-violence, kindness, mindfulness, meditation and inter-connectedness or born into this religious faith. Those who become Buddhists often have an appreciation for Buddhism for its absence of belief in a loving God. Some Buddhists appreciate the religious forms while other Buddhists adopt a secular approach. Some Buddhists meditation and some do not. The language of the heretic, used in monotheistic religions, has no significance in Buddhism. The absence of heretics provides a non-threatening environment for Buddhists, who can adhere to their cherished views and opinions. They know that Buddhists will take little or no notice of the questionable beliefs, barely giving them a second thought.

It is not easy to make sense of the diversity of beliefs in Buddhism in the various traditions, lineages as well as the difference between Buddhist teachers, monks, nuns and householders. Excommunication is anathema in the Buddhist scheme of themes. So Buddhists can think and say what they like, even when it bears little or no relationship to the Buddha’s teachings.

This approach allows Buddhists to believe what they want to believe, say and write what they want to say and write, without fear of retribution. It means they can conveniently ignore the teachings of the Buddha, even the core teachings of the Buddha, if the Buddha’s teachings collide with their own beliefs. Buddhists can and do go to war, support war, justify war, reveal their phobias against other religions and identify closely with the violent and exploitive purposes of their government. They can ignore the relationship to ethics, intentions, actions and consequences. Just as the teachings of Jesus seem far removed from the teachings of the Christianity, so the teachings of the Buddha often seem far removed from the beliefs of  influential Buddhists, monks, nuns and laypeople.

For example, the second link in the Noble Eight Path (familiar to most Buddhists of any Buddhist tradition) is right intention. The Buddha clearly defined the meaning. Right intention means letting go of the harmful intentions leading to harmful behaviour. There is no wish to hurt, to harm or to engage in any kind of callous or cruel activities of body, speech and mind. It could hardly be clearer. One could go even as far as to say that to train the mind on this single link in the body of the intentions, without any knowledge of the rest of the 10,000 discourses, would have a truly transformative influence on what we think, say and do. That is not going to happen among many Buddhists or elsewhere. The self opinion of the Buddhists and others will take priority, even while paying lip service to the words of the Buddha.

The Buddha offered his expositions on action (MLD 137) so that people in society would examine ethics, values, intentions, outcome as an expression of a compassionate way of life. This celebrated sutta shows some of the complexities of Kama and its results

There are four kinds of persons existing in the world. Some violate ethics, he said, and end up in hell.

  • the evil (harmful)-doer who goes to hell
  • the evil-doer who goes to heaven,
  • the good (beneficial) person who goes to heaven,
  • the good person who goes to hell.

The Buddha then showed that wrong views from the lack of understanding of action bring consciousness to a hellish state. It is as if we walked into hell, he said. He showed that action is more complex than first appears.

There are those who claim that evil-doers always go to hell. They develop a rigid view about this and seek to punish severely those who violate ethics and social codes. The authorities may refuse to recognise a transformation from an evil action to a person’s remorse, self-knowledge and the dissolution of previously unresolved formations of mind that led to harmful actions.

The Buddha stated that a person may engage in harmful action but not experience any suffering as a consequence. Perhaps a person gets on with their life, perhaps in denial of their abusive behaviour or repressed their feelings, or was devoid of feelings. Such people appear to enjoy life even while behaving in obscene ways. Such people can seize upon heavenly pleasures, through the senses, without a trace of remorse. They do not go to hell, even if we think they deserve a hell, for what they did.

A person may engage in countless actions of doing good but end up in hell. The do gooder may become intensely identified with their role and completely dependent on the results. This becomes a recipe for stress, anguish and other hellish states of mind.

The Buddha avoids absolutes about a person’s destination into heaven or hell, as if there was no invariability to causes and effect viewpoints. Direct experience and observation matters far more than simplistic thinking. One of the most profound statements of the Buddha serves as the foundation for deep reflection”

“When this is, that is; this arising, that arises.
When this is not, that is not; this ceasing, that ceases.”

In Pali, it reads:

Imasmim sati idam hoti; imass’ uppada idam uppajjati.
Imasmim asati idam na hoti;imassa nirodha idamnirujjhati.

The Sallyekha Sutta (MLD 41) offers teachings on the cleansing of the mind, as the basis of spiritual progress, through wise conduct A primary thought for cleansing is connected with addressing harming and violence; since these thoughts lead downwards, rather than upwards in terms of cultivation, development and fulfilment. The Buddha told Cunda, a novice, that non-harming (avihimsa) confirms a higher state of human evolution than a harmful or violent condition of the mind. “One comes to a higher state of development (or evolution), when one does not support the onslaught of people and animals.” Those who supper the onslaught of people and animals dwell in a lower state of evolution.

In conversation with Bhaddiya, he said that greed, aggression and delusion accompany violence. Selfish, greedy human beings easily become aggressive and violent when their corrupt states of mind become exposed. The delusion of self-importance supports the greed and aggression. Violence is never far away. The mind filled with the violent thought against others leads to a person’s loss. He asked Bhaddiya? When freedom from delusion (amoha), from violence (asarambha) goes from within oneself, does it arise to one’s profit or to one’s loss?”

“To one’s profit, sir.”.

Violent thought and violent action harm and debase others and stand in the way of spiritual growth, which leads to fulfilment.

One who is exceedingly corrupt
like a maluva creeper strangling a sal tree
does to himself what an enemy would wish
. (Dhp. v. 162)

A life dedicated to non- violent resolution of conflict has deep personal and collective benefit, as part of the training for spiritual evolution. The approach confirms the benefits to oneself and others, thus making a worthwhile contribution to a compassionate way of life, accompanied with social and political justice. The Buddha said to his son, Rahula:

  • “Whenever you want to do a mental action, you should reflect on it:
  • ‘This mental action I want to do — would it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both?
  • Would it be an unskilful mental action, with painful consequences, painful results?’
  • If, on reflection, you know that it would lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it would be an unskilful mental action with painful consequences, painful results.
  • Such mental action is unfit for you to do.
  • But if on reflection you know that it would not cause affliction, then you engage in action.”

That is a feature of Dharma training. This is the voice of the Buddha, as a father born into the military class talking to his son born into the military class.

Enquiry into so-called cause and effect

We need to be mindful of our enquiry into the conditions that bring about dependent arising. Strictly speaking, the Buddha does not offer the doctrine of causation, which is the belief in something causing to something else to act or exist. He teaches dependent arising. Dependent arising demands reflection on various primary and secondary conditions enabling something to arise, to stay or to end. The one who reflects on dependent arising must tread carefully to acknowledge the value and also the limitations of such a reflection. A genuine insight from reflection opens up the mind to fresh perspectives and also liberates it from the variety of projections and distortions. Distortions in perception through one sided views block the way to seeing what dependently arises.

It is not an easy task to reflect on the past and see its consequences in the present. Nagarjuna, the 2nd century commentator on the Buddha’s teachings, showed the limits of our views in terms of past and present. We need to be mindful to address these concerns about intentions, actions and result and their relationship to past, present and future. The teachings make it crystal that no position is worth holding onto in any absolutist way. There is no self existent truth in any position while finding the wisdom to resolve conflict and suffering. For example, we might detail various primary and secondary conditions, including beliefs and events, and conclude, and feel the effect is found in the combination of the conditions beforehand.

  • If the effect is already held in the past, then why could we not see it there and then?
  • How could the effect arise when it is already there in the past? How can an effect come from an effect?
  • If we claim that the consequences of our past beliefs and events only emerge as something else in the present, then how could causes and conditions create something different from itself?
  • What is the combination of conditions that seem to set in motion the whole mass of suffering between the West and the Muslim nations?
  • Why on earth were we unable to see clearly the ongoing outcome of the past conditions bearing fruit in recent times?
  • Why were we so blind?
  • Why were we unable to change the conditions to stop the ongoing suffering for Muslims and soldiers engaged in military service?
  • If the effect lies outside the prior conditions, what is the point of making reference to them since they are detached from the consequences?
  • If the effect lies inside the prior conditions, why did we not see them?
  • Why did we not see the conditions of the past gaining the momentum to produce in more and more suffering in the present?
  • What is the connection to the past combination of conditions leading to the present?

The teachings of the Buddha point to liberation from clinging while acknowledging dependent arising, staying and passing of conditions. Our meditations on the field of time can show us the emptiness of clinging. For example:

There cannot be a simultaneous arising of past and present. It would mean the past and present are both here, side by side.

There cannot be an effect before a cause.

The effect cannot arise simultaneously as the combination of various conditions.

If any of the combination of conditions ceased, then the effect would also cease.

The effect could not arise without the combination.

If we claim the combination reveals itself completely in the effect then the combination will endlessly recycle itself in the name of cause and effect.

A cause-and-effect requires some kind of connection, so the cause cannot produce an effect.

Cause and effect is clearly not the same. Everything would stay identical the same every single day. There would be no different from cause and effect.

If our mind swings to the other extreme and make truly effect different from cause, then there would be no difference between a cause and a non-cause. Clearly that is not the case either.

If we regard everything in the process of causality, then everything must have an effect. If something is not producing an effect, then we cannot place it in the process of causality.

We have the capacity to see the limits and the edge of the mind. It is similar for scientists. Scientists claim that the universe is infinite. They also state the universe is expanding and contracting. What is the universe expanding and contracting into? Scientists also claim the universe is finite. What is outside the finite? We cannot answer everything but we can resolve suffering especially the kind locked into intentions, actions and consequences.

We acknowledge dependent arising to explore and apply the necessary changes to end suffering. These primary and secondary conditions do not have inherent power to them because they also dependently arise owing to various combinations of conditions. As the Buddhist said: “The bitter neem seed becomes the bitter neem fruit with a pungent and disagreeable flavour.” (AN 314 (9).  The seed becomes the fruit as long as the condition supports the process. If there is no earth, water, light, nutrients, oxygen, then the bitter neem seed cannot become the bitter need fruit.

What are the conditions to dissolve to stop feeding the intentions, actions and consequences that bring about so much suffering upon so many people, combatants and non-combatants alike? That is the primary reflection, debate and public discourse to address.

May all beings explore dependent arising

May all beings live an ethical way of life

May all beings live with wisdom



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