Taking lives as a good thing?

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  • anista
    Member
    • Dec 2009
    • 262

    Taking lives as a good thing?

    In the thread "A question on anger" Jundo said the following, which I have been thinking about for a while (and I don't want to hijack Christopher's thread, so I'm starting a new one).

    Originally posted by Jundo
    Most Buddhist teachers who spoke on the issue after 9-11 felt, for example, that some military action might be necessary, the taking of some lives to prevent a greater loss of life. However, I can think of none who spoke in terms of anger and revenge.
    Gassho, J
    I find this fascinating. Do you, Jundo, know if these teachers actually saw taking lives as a path or a goal (which it could be considered to be if you take lives in order to prevent a greater loss of life)? I have a hard time imagining support for this stance in any buddhist school (but I could be wrong!).

    Isn't the seed of violence always anger? Could you use violence, and still keep a peaceful mind? A loving heart? Wouldn't the karmic effects of this kind of action be horrible (= spawning more aggressive behaviour, more violence, more killing)? Or is it done JUST and ONLY to prevent something worse, thus being a kinda good action, or at least neutral, a 'necessary evil'?

    But that will lead us to the following: is ten people worth more than one person? That would be the logical conclusion to the aforementioned "killing in order to save more people".

    These are very difficult questions. May I ask for oyour opinions on this matter?
    The mind does not know itself; the mind does not see itself
    The mind that fabricates perceptions is false; the mind without perceptions is nirv??a
  • Jundo
    Treeleaf Founder and Priest
    • Apr 2006
    • 39074

    #2
    Re: Taking lives as a good thing?

    Originally posted by anista
    I find this fascinating. Do you, Jundo, know if these teachers actually saw taking lives as a path or a goal (which it could be considered to be if you take lives in order to prevent a greater loss of life)? I have a hard time imagining support for this stance in any buddhist school (but I could be wrong!).
    From the opinions of Buddhist teachers from various traditions which I have read, I would say that almost all who saw the need for some response involving the taking of life saw it as a "necessary evil" ... not as a path or goal in any positive sense. Sometimes we must break a Precept to keep a Precept. And given modern warfare, most of the teachers were aware that this might include the unavoidable taking of civilian and other "non-combatant" lives in order to save a much greater number of lives.

    I believe that the following responses, some by the Dalai Lama, are representative of the diversity of opinion.

    http://www.tricycle.com/p/1487 (the comments which follow are also very interesting)



    Thich Nhat Hanh may have been most representative of the "any violent response only leads to increased violence" opinion ...



    The Buddha also seems to have been of two minds on this. On the one hand, there are some writings in which he is framed to say that killing is never skillful.



    On the other hand, in other Sutta he did seem to countenance a nation having an army for certain limited purposes, and its discreet use.

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    Almost all the Buddhist teachers I can think of (including me too, for what it is worth) would say that we must also bear all the Karmic consequences of our volitional words, thoughts and acts, no matter whether we had a "reason" for killing or not.

    You may kill the cat, but you still likely have to pay the price in some way.

    A Tibetan teacher (Chagdud Tulku) relates this famous Jataka legend about a previous incarnation of the Buddha ...

    (In a previous life, the Buddha was Captain Compassionate Heart, sailing with 500 merchants. An evil pirate, Dung Thungchen (Blackspear) appeared, threatening to kill them all. )The captain, a bodhisattva himself, saw the [pirate]'s murderous intention and realized this crime would result in eons of torment for the murderer. In his compassion, the captain was willing to take hellish torment upon himself by killing the man to prevent karmic suffering that would be infinity greater than the suffering of the murdered victims. The captain's compassion was impartial; his motivation was utterly selfless.
    I am not sure about the effect of our Karma in lives to come ... but I do know that we likely will bear the effects of our actions in this life in some way. I have a friend, an ex-policeman, who had to kill someone in a perfectly necessary and justified act to save lives. Yet, my friend still carries that with him to this day.

    No, taking lives is never a "good" thing.

    Gassho, Jundo
    Last edited by Jundo; 06-23-2012, 08:21 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

    Comment

    • JohnsonCM
      Member
      • Jan 2010
      • 549

      #3
      Re: Taking lives as a good thing?

      I have to say that part of this is the intention. Aitken Roshi said in his book Taking the Path of Zen that if a deranged person came to his house seeking someone within, he might lie and say the person being sought wasn't there. This would seem to violate the Precept on Not Lying, but since the goal of all Precepts is to save all sentient beings, his action would be in keeping with the Precepts as a whole.

      The same can be said of a person who kills another person, if the person who was killed would have killed many people, had they not been stopped. While it is a sad and aweful event to take a life, is it better to have refrained from taking a life if that person kills you instead? What if they killed a hundred people? Perhaps no one life is of more "importance" than another, but if you view all people as one body, the wound left by the loss of one hundred as compaired to the wound of the loss of one is much deeper. And, as Jundo said, we must all bear the karma of our actions. I have a friend who by any standard can be called a hero. He served in Iraq and Afganistan, was part of the team sent into the prison to reclaim Michael Spann's body and return it home to America and his family, loves his country and the freedom his service brings to his people, received a Purple Heart, which I believe was pinned on him personally by the President of the US (I saw the picture, but not which of the numerous medals it was being pinned). Through his service, out of neccessity on the field of battle, he took the lives of some 200+ people in pitched battle and artillary fire direction.

      He is now divorced for the second time, unable to keep up with his children, and often unable to tell what portions of his stories are reality and fiction. He is on many forms of medication, was in a horrible vehicle accident (alchohol related, which in turn was likely to try and drown out the events of the preceding years) the result of which was several facial reconstructive surgeries, one of which was to re-attach his teeth to his gums, and regularly wakes up at night screaming from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

      I also served in the Marine Corps for 5 years. Though I in no way ever saw battle, and I thank Buddha for that every day, I think that my friend's thought process would be the same as mine; we willingly took that chance when we signed up in order to protect the people of our nation, and would accept the repercussions of karma for that reason. My friend killed. A horrible decission to have to make. He made it for reasons that he believed to be righteous and noble, but a death occured just the same, and his karma, perhaps reflects that.

      Was it a good thing? No. Even, or perhaps especially, he would tell you that, as well. But, his actions were not from a place of hate or anger, but of love for those he joined the service to protect. It was not a good thing, and karma has shown that there are still consequences to his actions - no matter the intent. But he accepted them in order to do what he felt was right.

      Perhaps he is a Bodhisattva in training........
      Gassho,
      "Heitetsu"
      Christopher
      Sat today

      Comment

      • disastermouse

        #4
        Re: Taking lives as a good thing?

        These idle discussions of ethics are distractions from the path, IMHO. Develop wisdom and insight and self-honesty and the precepts become invitations to pause before acting so as to inquire whether such action is harmful or not. Generally, killing is to be avoided - occassionally, it may be required. If it is, no amount of philosophical argument or discussion will be sufficient to make the decision. However, I think if we sharpen our wisdom, see through our self-rationalization - then maybe we can make the least harmful decision.

        Chet

        Comment

        • JohnsonCM
          Member
          • Jan 2010
          • 549

          #5
          Re: Taking lives as a good thing?

          Originally posted by disastermouse
          These idle discussions of ethics are distractions from the path, IMHO. Develop wisdom and insight and self-honesty and the precepts become invitations to pause before acting so as to inquire whether such action is harmful or not.......However, I think if we sharpen our wisdom, see through our self-rationalization - then maybe we can make the least harmful decision.

          Chet
          I must both agree and disagree with your statement here Chet. I believe you are correct that if we sharpen our wisdom, etc. than we can make the best (or at least non-worst) decision available to us. However, like all blades that need to be sharpened, you have to take it to a grind stone that will scrape away layers of the metal (delusion) until it comes to the razor edge. Perhaps these discussions are that whetstone, perhaps talking with others sharpens the wisdom until the mind becomes Mind.
          Gassho,
          "Heitetsu"
          Christopher
          Sat today

          Comment

          • anista
            Member
            • Dec 2009
            • 262

            #6
            Re: Taking lives as a good thing?

            Originally posted by JohnsonCM
            I also served in the Marine Corps for 5 years. Though I in no way ever saw battle, and I thank Buddha for that every day, I think that my friend's thought process would be the same as mine; we willingly took that chance when we signed up in order to protect the people of our nation, and would accept the repercussions of karma for that reason. My friend killed. A horrible decission to have to make. He made it for reasons that he believed to be righteous and noble, but a death occured just the same, and his karma, perhaps reflects that.

            Was it a good thing? No. Even, or perhaps especially, he would tell you that, as well. But, his actions were not from a place of hate or anger, but of love for those he joined the service to protect. It was not a good thing, and karma has shown that there are still consequences to his actions - no matter the intent. But he accepted them in order to do what he felt was right.

            Perhaps he is a Bodhisattva in training........
            Thank you for this, Christopher. Much appreciated. I agree with you, especially with the "accept the repercussions". If you accept that your actions are going to create bad repercussions, but still want to do them because you believe that that's the right thing to do, then that's a sacrifice that you yourself knowingly is doing. You're accepting bad karmic consequences for something that it bigger than yourself, and I can certainly respect that.

            Is your friend a buddhist? It makes a difference because if he's not, buddhist ethics doesn't apply to his situation (of course the karmic consequences would still be there, if there is such a thing). If he is, then that would, I think, be interesting, because then he would, as I said, be willingly taking on the karmic consequences for something that he believes in (e.g. the Nation, the People).
            The mind does not know itself; the mind does not see itself
            The mind that fabricates perceptions is false; the mind without perceptions is nirv??a

            Comment

            • anista
              Member
              • Dec 2009
              • 262

              #7
              Re: Taking lives as a good thing?

              Originally posted by disastermouse
              These idle discussions of ethics are distractions from the path, IMHO. Develop wisdom and insight and self-honesty and the precepts become invitations to pause before acting so as to inquire whether such action is harmful or not. Generally, killing is to be avoided - occassionally, it may be required. If it is, no amount of philosophical argument or discussion will be sufficient to make the decision. However, I think if we sharpen our wisdom, see through our self-rationalization - then maybe we can make the least harmful decision.

              Chet
              I must admit, I am a bit curious Chet. If these idle discussions, in your opinion, are distractions from the path, then why take part in them? Why do you let them distract you?

              Not critizising ya, just curious

              Anyway, I have to agree with Christopher (again). I do think these discussion are important, because they are at the heart of the problem. If there are no discussions, then the precepts, for example, can mean whatever you want them to mean. And that is not, IMHO, doing Buddhism a favour. Discussions are also vital for a sangha, so that we can work out differences. If this sangha is avoiding discussions in favour of a more direct approach to life, or even berating people who do want to discuss (not saying that this is so, though) then this sangha is perhaps not for me.

              There is a sutta where the Buddha is talking about "Dhamma-devotees" and "Jhana-devotees" (those who are more interested in learning the Dharma, talking about it, discussing it, reciting it - and those who are more interested in the meditation part). It says

              Thus, friends, you should train yourselves: 'Being Dhamma-devotee monks, we will speak in praise of jhana monks.' That's how you should train yourselves. Why is that? Because these are amazing people, hard to find in the world, i.e., those who dwell touching the deathless element with the body.

              And thus, friends, you should train yourselves: 'Being jhana monks, we will speak in praise of Dhamma-devotee monks.' That's how you should train yourselves. Why is that? Because these are amazing people, hard to find in the world, i.e., those who penetrate with discernment statements of deep meaning.
              I take this to mean that there is a place for both, even within the same sangha.
              The mind does not know itself; the mind does not see itself
              The mind that fabricates perceptions is false; the mind without perceptions is nirv??a

              Comment

              • anista
                Member
                • Dec 2009
                • 262

                #8
                Re: Taking lives as a good thing?

                Thank you for your reply, Jundo.
                Originally posted by Jundo
                The Buddha also seems to have been of two minds on this. On the one hand, there are some writings in which he is framed to say that killing is never skillful. l

                On the other hand, in other Sutta he did seem to countenance a nation having an army for certain limited purposes, and its discreet use.
                In my opinion, this is not so much that Buddha was of two minds, but rather that different ethics is valid for different people. The Buddha himself, and those who followed him, were not to kill anything. A king, however, has not accepted the same precepts, a king has other obligations. Which means that the war on terror, for example, may be justifiable for a nation, wanting to defend itself, but it is never justifiable for a person wanting to follow the eightfold path. The king would have to face up to his actions sooner or later, but if he's acting to ensure minimal damage, then he is to be reborn in a situation where he can live more in according to the Buddhist path. But this is just my view, as I said.

                Almost all the Buddhist teachers I can think of (including me too, for what it is worth) would say that we must also bear all the Karmic consequences of our volitional words, thoughts and acts, no matter whether we had a "reason" for killing or not.

                You may kill the cat, but you still likely have to pay the price in some way.
                I agree with this, and this kind of what I said to Christopher in an earlier post. To be prepared to accept responsibility for one's actions.
                The mind does not know itself; the mind does not see itself
                The mind that fabricates perceptions is false; the mind without perceptions is nirv??a

                Comment

                • Rich
                  Member
                  • Apr 2009
                  • 2587

                  #9
                  Re: Taking lives as a good thing?

                  Originally posted by anista
                  Thank you for your reply, Jundo.

                  In my opinion, this is not so much that Buddha was of two minds, but rather that different ethics is valid for different people. The Buddha himself, and those who followed him, were not to kill anything. A king, however, has not accepted the same precepts, a king has other obligations. Which means that the war on terror, for example, may be justifiable for a nation, wanting to defend itself, but it is never justifiable for a person wanting to follow the eightfold path. The king would have to face up to his actions sooner or later, but if he's acting to ensure minimal damage, then he is to be reborn in a situation where he can live more in according to the Buddhist path. But this is just my view, as I said.
                  Even a king who has taken the precepts must use his army to defend his people. I believe there was such a king in Buddhas time and will try to find the reference. In general, I agree with most everything you said in the last few posts.
                  _/_
                  Rich
                  MUHYO
                  無 (MU, Emptiness) and 氷 (HYO, Ice) ... Emptiness Ice ...

                  https://instagram.com/notmovingmind

                  Comment

                  • anista
                    Member
                    • Dec 2009
                    • 262

                    #10
                    Re: Taking lives as a good thing?

                    EDIT: whoops, I was going to link to an article by Thanissaro Bhikkhu that I felt was spot on, and expressed much more eloquently the point I was trying to make, but I noticed that it was the same article that Jundo linked to in his earlier post.

                    So, never mind
                    The mind does not know itself; the mind does not see itself
                    The mind that fabricates perceptions is false; the mind without perceptions is nirv??a

                    Comment

                    • disastermouse

                      #11
                      Re: Taking lives as a good thing?

                      Originally posted by JohnsonCM
                      Originally posted by disastermouse
                      These idle discussions of ethics are distractions from the path, IMHO. Develop wisdom and insight and self-honesty and the precepts become invitations to pause before acting so as to inquire whether such action is harmful or not.......However, I think if we sharpen our wisdom, see through our self-rationalization - then maybe we can make the least harmful decision.

                      Chet
                      I must both agree and disagree with your statement here Chet. I believe you are correct that if we sharpen our wisdom, etc. than we can make the best (or at least non-worst) decision available to us. However, like all blades that need to be sharpened, you have to take it to a grind stone that will scrape away layers of the metal (delusion) until it comes to the razor edge. Perhaps these discussions are that whetstone, perhaps talking with others sharpens the wisdom until the mind becomes Mind.
                      No, they won't. No amount of philosophical discourse will really 'sharpen the edge' when it comes time to make a decision like this. The precepts are a reflection of wisdom - using them as a path to wisdom is pointless if it sets up a huge internal struggle. A small struggle is okay, but when we talk about taking lives - we're not talking about a small struggle.

                      In the moment in which a decision to take a life or not would occur, I can't imagine a scenario whereby a philosophical discussion would affect you. Practice, wisdom, insight, and the curbing of delusion might possibly help....but a philosophical discussion about whether Buddhism sanctions the taking of life would be entirely irrelevant.

                      Were you to act in anger, without practice with anger, without insight into anger, and without dis-investment of ego in anger, a philosophical discussion would be unlikely to even be remembered.

                      If you were to act out of greed, insight into the nature of greed, the delusion upon which it is based, and practice with greed may help. Remembrance of a philosophical discussion would not.

                      If you were to act out of ignorance (and you would be in the examples above), without insight into ignorance and a general dis-investment in ego - a philosophical discussion would not help.

                      The only thing for which a philosophical discussion is useful is to inspire you to practice diligently...which we should all be doing regardless of philosophical discussions about whether Buddhism sanctions the taking of a life.

                      Chet

                      Comment

                      • JohnsonCM
                        Member
                        • Jan 2010
                        • 549

                        #12
                        Re: Taking lives as a good thing?

                        The only thing for which a philosophical discussion is useful is to inspire you to practice diligently...which we should all be doing regardless of philosophical discussions about whether Buddhism sanctions the taking of a life.
                        In my mind, you hit upon my very point. The discussion, which isn't entirely phliosophical but also practical, is the begining of or the reinforcement of the underlying morals of the act or the Precept. Without the discussion, people may not understand fully what is being talked about. You say that we aren't talking about a little thing, the taking of a life, and while I agree with you, it's the conceptions and delusions that a person is under that may make them believe it is ok. I'd venture to say that a person's life now is no less relevent or meaningful than it was in ancient Japan, but the samurai often took life, and sometimes for tiny indescretions. And the culture of the time that they were a part of was....sort of fine with that. I think if you asked Pol Pot or any of the other despots in history if they thought killing all those people was wrong, you might be surprised by the answer. While I don't think a mere discussion would have turned them around, the right type of many discussions may have gotten them thinking in a different direction.

                        My introduction to Buddhism was a discussion that I heard on T.V. and while that discussion didn't spring board me into Buddhism, it got me thinking enough to persue knowledge about it, the end result (if you could call it that since there is never really an end to practice) is that I am here and I now view the world through different "eyes".
                        Gassho,
                        "Heitetsu"
                        Christopher
                        Sat today

                        Comment

                        • disastermouse

                          #13
                          Re: Taking lives as a good thing?

                          Originally posted by JohnsonCM
                          I think if you asked Pol Pot or any of the other despots in history if they thought killing all those people was wrong, you might be surprised by the answer. While I don't think a mere discussion would have turned them around, the right type of many discussions may have gotten them thinking in a different direction.
                          A philosophical discussion will not end this sort of delusion. Not only that, but why are we even talking about Pol Pot or historical despots? The precepts and principles of Buddhism are designed to be guiding lights on your path, not necessarily Pol Pot's...

                          I don't even know why I'm arguing this. Sit. Don't sit. It's your realization.

                          Chet

                          Comment

                          • Jundo
                            Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                            • Apr 2006
                            • 39074

                            #14
                            Re: Taking lives as a good thing?

                            I wrote the following on another thread today (and, truly, the image is more appropriate to America than here in Japan, where the fellow is less likely to be carrying a gun) ...

                            If a robber is coming through the window of my house ... well, I hope in that moment that I will just do what needs to be done, and that it will be appropriate when viewed afterwards. I am sure that my years of Buddhist training will guide me in an important way in that moment, and I am sure that Buddhist training may be the farthest from my mind in that moment.

                            Our "Karma" arises from our volitional actions in this moment, whether we consider the future or not.
                            I can only hope it will never happen.

                            (But actually ... it did happen once while I was home in Japan, a fellow crawling through our kitchen window, not knowing that I was at home. This being Japan, when he saw me, he apologized profusely, complete with a quick bow while half hanging from our window ... before running off. The only thing he left behind ... his shoes, which he had kindly removed before trying to rob the house. True story. Hard to be too upset at a considerate robber like that. I stood my ground, a straw broom in hand. If it had been Miami ... where we used to live ... my fear and reaction in the circumstances would likely have been quite different. What would I have done to protect my family? Whatever I could. Would I take his life if I felt our lives were threatened, a snap decision were needed, and I had the means? Yes, most probably ... without much of a thought, if any thought. ).

                            Gassho, Jundo

                            PS -

                            There is a sutta where the Buddha is talking about "Dhamma-devotees" and "Jhana-devotees" (those who are more interested in learning the Dharma, talking about it, discussing it, reciting it ... and those who are more interested in the meditation part). ...

                            I take this to mean that there is a place for both, even within the same sangha.
                            We should never neglect Zazen, discuss and study Buddhist teachings when we can (both are vital to this Practice) ... yet realize that words and armchair philosophy about how one will react in a particular moment are just words and theory. It is all just "practice". All our sitting on the cushion, study of the Precepts and the like will likely be one of many factors when the "survival" instinct of the primitive brain takes control, and we are acting by that.
                            ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                            Comment

                            • will
                              Member
                              • Jun 2007
                              • 2331

                              #15
                              Re: Taking lives as a good thing?

                              And what if you believe the person is harmful, but in fact, you are not seeing clearly.

                              Our practice is to act out of clarity in situations like these. And it needs no further discussion.

                              Gassho

                              W
                              [size=85:z6oilzbt]
                              To save all sentient beings, though beings are numberless.
                              To penetrate reality, though reality is boundless.
                              To transform all delusion, though delusions are immeasurable.
                              To attain the enlightened way, a way non-attainable.
                              [/size:z6oilzbt]

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