Why Buddhism Opposes War

(Photo above by Cottonbro / Pexels)

Buddhist philosophy is rooted in the conviction that all life equally possesses dignity and deserves respect. Each life entity has the potential for Buddhahood. This is one of the essential messages of the Lotus Sutra. Therefore, the idea that a group of people have more value than another is fundamentally opposed to the ethics of Buddhism. The logic of war, of forcing others into submission for the prosperity and glory of a particular nation, cannot be justified from a Buddhist worldview.

The Buddhist teaching of dependent origination expresses the interdependence of life, holding that no being or phenomenon exists in isolation. Everything functions to support and be supported by others. Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda explained this concept during his second lecture at Harvard University, saying:

No person or thing exists in isolation. Every being functions to create the environment that sustains all other existences. All things are mutually supporting and interrelated, forming a living cosmos, what modern philosophy might term a semantic whole. That is the conceptual framework through which Mahayana Buddhism views the natural universe.

My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 345

Harming another equates to harming ourselves as we are deeply connected and dependent on one another. In this sense there are no true winners in war.

Based on this notion, harming another equates to harming ourselves as we are deeply connected and dependent on one another. In this sense there are no true winners in war.

Buddhism teaches the primary solution to resolving global and local conflicts is dialogue. Dialogue has been criticized for seeming to be a passive way of conflict resolution. Only dialogue, however, has the power to change people’s hearts, which is what Buddhism teaches is the essential solution to the world’s conflicts.

The 13th-century Buddhist reformer Nichiren Daishonin once wrote in a letter,

It also states that, if the minds of living beings are impure, their land is also impure, but if their minds are pure, so is their land. There are not two lands, pure or impure in themselves. The difference lies solely in the good or evil of our minds.

Nichiren Daishonin

In other words, true change requires a radical transformation in the hearts of people. It requires that we transform the deep-seated anger and greed within our hearts that justifies war and replace with a determination to respect the dignity of life.

Dialogue has the power to make such a change in people’s hearts, broaden their perspective and humanize the “other side.” Daisaku Ikeda writes on the topic:

In order to arrive at a fundamental solution to the problems facing humanity today, open dialogue aimed at developing mutual trust and understanding is essential. At the root of conflicts in the world today lie mistrust and hatred. In order to transcend conflict and division, the genuine power of dialogue is indispensable. To this end, while communicating our beliefs and convictions clearly to others, we must exert ourselves fully to respect the dignity of people’s lives and endeavor to understand them. Respecting our differences and learning from one another, we must tenaciously persist in talking with others, engaging them repeatedly in discussion. We must recognize that the fundamental path to solving these problems exists only in the process of substantial efforts at dialogue.

September 6, 2002, World Tribune, p. 2

Buddhability is a community where we learn to bring out our own Buddhahood and respect it in other people’s lives. It’s also a movement to create a society without war through dialogue and mutual understanding.

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