Engaging in Un-Buddhist Activities

Over on the other blog, a very thorny issue has reared its head. I thought I’d tow the question over here because I like to save longer posts for Dharma Folk.

Can a Buddhist serve in the military? The answer is No. At least for those who argue that soldiering is the profession of killing, in effect wrong livelihood. Anyone who’s serious about Buddhism, the precepts or bodhisattvahood could never be a service member. In fact, even in a non-combat role, you’re essentially an accessory to killing, and so this too falls under wrong livelihood. This line of thought is logical, reasonable and well-supported by centuries of Buddhist tradition. But that’s not to say that an alternative view isn’t.

Vesak in the South of Thailand

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Importance of Precepts

The five precepts were my first exposure to Buddhist virtue. I was pretty impressed that there were only five: refrain from taking life, from taking what has not been given, from sexual misconduct, from speaking falsely and from consuming intoxicating substances. And to boot, they weren’t hard and fast rules — at the very least, breaking a precept didn’t mean that I’d missed out on my chance for enlightenment. The precepts were simple and clear without being constrictive.

A leader to a Shambhala SunSpace post yesterday caught my eye: “But, says Zachary Bremmer, clinging to the five precepts as law can cause more suffering than it prevents.” He goes on to analogize the five precepts to training wheels.

Situations will come up in which the precepts will not be able to answer the question, “What should I do?”  The prescription that was once as clear as black and white becomes increasingly gray and the precepts fail us.  When failure of this type occurs, it forces us to look deeper into the nature of the system. The problem with using any type of training wheels is that after a certain point, they can no longer help us progress. In order to get any further, we must take them off and learn to balance on our own.  When the precepts fail to provide us with an answer, we need to find a more fundamental discriminating factor for moral action.

He gives no concrete examples, although he further extends the training wheels analogy, “Just imagine the reactions Lance Armstrong would have gotten if he raced the Tour de France with training wheels!” And perhaps this sentence frames just how inappropriate the training wheels analogy is. After all, Lord Buddha himself continually followed the five precepts all the way through to his final passing.

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