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What Would Buddha Bomb? The New War on Libya.

I don't know how to reconcile Buddhist teachings with the realities of international politics and war. Given the current state of world affairs, I wonder if it's truly possible to practice the precepts or the four immeasurables if you're a world leader dealing with one foreign crisis after another.

I have no idea why certain situations warrant United States intervention while others don't seem to matter enough for us to get involved in. For some reason it's ok that government supporters in Yemen or Bahrain have opened fire on protestors but it's not ok that Qaddafi was doing the same thing in Libya.

So we're bombing the #%[email protected]! out of them and ignoring the rest.

Pro-war types argue that military action is appropriate whenever "United States interests" are at stake. So much for interdependence.

Wars are always entered into under the guise of righteousness, noble causes, and necessity. That's just the way they're spun. (Remember Operation Iraqi Freedom?)

Perhaps we'll eventually learn that the act of war is always sewing the seeds that eventually lead to future conditions that create other conflicts and more wars. Not to mention more shooting, more bombing, more death, more destruction, more suffering.

Most people in this world want peace just as they want happiness. But ultimately, peace can never be brought about by war. We've had wars that do seem to bring about a desired result, at least initially, but all we've done is kicked the can further down the road and eventually someone else ends up tripping over it.

It's cause and effect, plain and simple.

Maybe one day some world leader will launch an Operation Freedom campaign, sort of a war on war that emphasizes non-violence and encourages everyone to practice, realize the true nature of things, and to stop creating the conditions that lead to more discord and suffering.

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We disagree, Kim, but I know

We disagree, Kim, but I know your views are sincere. My views are my own, and they represent my own thoughts and insights into the matter. Great spiritual teachers differ on this (i.e., Sri Aurobindo believed Hitler had to be defeated or he foresaw centuries of darkness, Gandhi thought that non-violence would work even against someone like Hitler). I realize my views are also different from, say, the Dalai Lama's. But they are in line with those of my ancestors, the samurai, who were mostly Zen practitioners. My fundamental belief is it's too simplistic to think that you can know the long-term effects of anything without looking at the context, at the whole situation in a holistic way. In other words, I disagree with the tendency in nearly every spiritual tradition, at least in its simpler forms, to try to assign ethical values based purely on the action itself, rather than how the action is embedded in context. To me, context-free ethics causes many more problems than it solves.

So no, I do not agree that violence always has the same negative long-term effect no matter what the context. I believe that in many cases you are right, it can have that effect. But not always. So yes, in many cases violence creates blowback, it ends up causing more problems in the long run. But I just have to disagree that it would have been better never to defend people against the depredations of violent people. If you take this to its extreme, we shouldn't even have police to catch and imprison criminals --- because that takes some degree of use of force as well. In many cases I agree with you: war leads to more negative effects in the long run than it stops. But not in *every* case. I believe in this case, letting Qaddafi brutalize his people, kill and massacre civilians, and violently impose his will would lead to many very dark consequences for millions of people for decades and centuries to come.

I don't believe in war against every brutal leader: in many cases, like Iraq, it is a mistake. But in this case I believe it is warranted and will prove to have more beneficial impact than it will cost.

I think, however, if you imagine yourself in the position of the people being attacked here: you, yourself, under attack from the artillery of someone like Qaddafi, who is willing to indiscriminately target houses and homes... how would you feel? These people begged us to help them. I want to respond to their cries.

response to syntheticzero

In response to reading what you (syntheticzero) wrote I wanted to add that I've come to the conclusion in my life that if you are NOT willing to risk your own life to fight in a war/military action then in no way should you support it. I believe that if you support any type of military action/war then you must be willing to risk your life to engage in it, if not you are speaking from a place of privilege and viewing human life as some abstract concept. An example of this is when you made the abstract claim about putting yourself (or telling Kim to put herself) in the position of "people being attacked" by Qaddafi, when in reality to even think you or we can comprehend the type of oppression that the people have Libya have faced for over 30 years and over the past month coming from the Western world is highly arrogant. Let us make sure that coming from the West we do not think we know what the lives of third world peoples are like and thus not make inferences on what is "best for them."

Interdependence is about listening to others and working with each other side by side, never making inferences about what people need, never "helping" without being asked for help and being aware of how power dynamics play into our relationships on both the micro everyday life and macro socio-economic context of the world. Clearly you cannot agree that the decision that the US made to fight Quaddafi was based in these principles now do you? There are hundreds of oppressive dictators that are killing their peoples daily and have killed people (many supported by the US, trained in torture and killing throughout the middle east and latin America), yet the US intervenes with a "humanitarian intervention" only when there is a economic motive. Let us see clearly.

Online it's very easy to

Online it's very easy to project all sorts of things on people. But really, if we were sitting together in a practice room talking about this, I doubt you'd be so quick to throw around phrases such as "highly arrogant" when people are sincerely expressing their thoughts about matters of life and death. You don't know me and you don't know how carefully I've considered this, or what I know or don't know about the people involved here. You're making a lot of assumptions which are uncalled for.

You are, however, quite right that anyone who supports military action should be willing to die for it. I was just thinking about this, in fact. Of course I would die to support any cause I feel is worth fighting for. No, I am not going to join the Army. But if I were given a choice between helping these people and being shot in the head right now, and not helping them, I would choose the former. That is how strongly I stand behind any use of military force. Again, perhaps this comes from my samurai heritage, I don't know, but I certainly agree that you should be willing to put your life on the line.

Also, why do you assume I'm "making inferences about what people need"? The people in Libya have been begging us to help them. I could post link after link, video after video; I've been following the situation there very closely. There have been many people from all over the country talking to reporters, tweeting, marching, women marching in the thousands in Benghazi begging us to stop Qaddafi. This is not just me "assuming" they need our help. If you're really interested in this situation I suggest actually finding out what people are saying there, actual Libyans.

As for all the other oppressive dictators, the situation here is very different from "all the other" dictators. The other dictators are engaged in ongoing police state tactics; they aren't deploying armored divisions against their people. They aren't directly targeting and killing hundreds and thousands of unarmed civilians. And the cost of intervening would be terrible in most of those cases, on both sides. In this case, however, the military situation is different for various reasons. Intervening or not is a decision that depends a great deal on timing and context. It's a military and geopolitical issue as well as an ethical one.

I want to make clear that I

I want to make clear that I do not know you and was not trying to state “you” in particular. I was speaking to the “you” in general, which is why I think online communication is difficult. If we were speaking in person I think that one could perceive my intonation and intention behind was I’m trying to say and how it is coming from a place of trying to raise consciousness about the way WE as N. Americans form our views on international relations (not to ‘call anyone out’).

In reference to the statement on arrogance, I want to make clear I was not calling you arrogant, what I was trying to state was that WE must understand that coming from living in the United States WE are conditioned by a political consciousness that is beyond our spiritual practice and progressive politics. We cannot escape this conditioning- I deeply believe that what the United States government does on an international level, we have internalized in our own consciousness. Most of us come from a place of privilege just by pure fact that we are living in the US, which means we are functioning from a place of arrogance given how our lives are formed by the oppression of third world peoples regardless of our background. I was trying to make that point in reference to our beliefs (within the entire spectrum) regarding international relations. That was my reasoning for responding…I hope that makes my statements more clear. Thank you for responding, I do think that your points regarding the difference between LIbya and other dictators is a very good point and I would like to understand that more.

(By the way, Lawrence, I

(By the way, Lawrence, I apologize for calling you "Kim", above, I misread who had posted what.)

Anonymous: I completely agree with your comments regarding coming from a place of privilege. My views on this subject are generally in agreement with yours; as a country we've engaged in all sorts of terrible actions abroad, and I'm very aware of those; overthrowing Mossadeq in Iran, overthrowing Salvador Allende, supporting dictators like Pinochet, funding the contras in Nicaragua, our covert operations in Angola, and on and on. We've engaged in atrocities and massacres. Not to mention the probably unnecessary dropping of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, one of which killed my father's aunt and uncle and probably gave cancer to my uncle. We have a very chequered past when it comes to foreign involvements and in many if not most cases we've done much more harm than good.

Furthermore any use of violence is already at a point where things have deteriorated to a terrible phase. Contemplating all this I can't in any way find a way to think of the use of violence as something "good". It's always bad; weapons are, as the ancient saying goes, "instruments of ill omen". It's sad, regrettable, awful. At best I think violence is something which is only sometimes the least bad of a spectrum of bad options, and only warranted in the highly unusual circumstance where other options are likely to be worse.

As far as who gets to decide this: obviously there's no way you can know for certain. My only argument is that sometimes I do think, unlike some, that it is something that any civilization ought to hold in reserve, as a last resort, to protect people. Far better to avoid the need for it in the first place, far better to use any other option short of it, but in extremis, I think it should be there. There was a sad reason for samurai to exist, for warriors to exist, violence I believe is a part of nature. It is not necessarily a view which all Buddhist teachers would agree with and I respect those who disagree. This is my personal view.

Is a knife..

Is a knife that cuts through a vegetable and act of violence?   Is a bomb, haphazardly dropped an act of compassion?

I think the root of the conversation is skillful means, which like syntheticzero has stated is highly contextual.   So contextual that we might not ever be able to fully synthesize the mind states of those who make decisions about dropping bombs.

Is a surgeon who cuts out a tumor being violent towards the tumor, or being compassionate towards the body in which it is growing?

I have no answer, and I'm still contemplating my views in this area, but could certainly see how destruction is sometimes a necessary act.   Our cells in our bodies destroy microorganisms all the time.   "Destroying" is even one of the "Four Karmas" (enlightened activities) described by Trungpa Rinpoche in the Shambhala teachings.

The core contemplation for me right now is -- is this destruction rooted in defensiveness, ego-clinging, aggression, suppression, anger, or some form of non-acceptance? 

I don't know enough about the internal politics of Libya to know how these contemplations would manifest skillfully in this situation, but I feel that some form of precision is required in skillful destruction.

Any follow up thoughts?


Thanks Kim-

Syntheticzero: I appreciate your response. It sounds like you've considered this issue very seriously and it's interesting to hear your point of view.

However, I just don't think we can look at the immediate aftermath of any given military action to judge whether or not it was successful or more importantly, ethically correct in the first place.

Many would argue that 9-11 was a response to a decades long resentment of U.S. involvement in the Middle East. We bombed Afghanistan and then Iraq after that which seemed to solve the problem and then more problems have sprung from those actions--in terms of thousands of lives lost, injured civilians and soldiers, pollution, financial strain, and consequences that will take many years to manifest fully.

At least in this case, President Obama was wise enough not to approach this as yet another aggressive American intervention against an Arab country and he's even having the Arab League sign onto this action.

But bombing is still a form a violence and I don't think violence ever leads to peace. It's really pretty simple.





There's a Jataka tale in

There's a Jataka tale in which the previous incarnation of the Buddha killed someone who was about to kill many arhats, in order to save the criminal from the terrible karma he would have acquired had he gone through with that dark action. Although the action had a pure motive, it did cause the Buddha to have to incarnate another time.

My father once told me, the only reason they needed us samurai was because of the other samurai. That is, they needed us because there were other people with weapons who might attack innocent defenseless people.

There are people with weapons who can and will harm innocent people. Sometimes they need to be stopped. Better, of course, if you can do it without violence. Better still if you can do it with just understanding. Violence to stop violence is the worst possible method, but I believe it is sometimes needed to protect the innocent.

It all depends on the situation: fighting the British in India, I think Gandhi's approach was by far the best. Fighting Hitler in Germany, however, needed heavy weaponry to stop him from continuing his genocidal, fascist campaign. Sri Aurobindo is famous for having given spiritual help to the Allies during the war against Hitler, for example.

Qaddafi is someone with no compunctions, with heavy weapons. Understanding will not stop him, unfortunately.

Count Me In


Love your idea of "Operation Freedom campaign"!   Thank you for posting on such a relevant and important topic.   I am against the attack on Libya and its people.  



Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding.

~Albert Einstein

Count Me In


Love your idea of "Operation Freedom campaign"!   Thank you for posting on such a relevant and important topic.   I am against the attack on Libya and its people.  



Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding.

~Albert Einstein

(previous comment was by me,

(previous comment was by me, I didn't log in prior to posting it.)

War and peace

I'm a long-time Buddhist practitioner; at this point, close to thirty years. But my family has a samurai background, and in ancient Japan we were occasionally called to war. In samurai legend, instruments of war were always considered inauspicious; yet still, one occasionally would be called to use them, however reluctantly. Perhaps partly because of my heritage I am not a pacifist; yet I think I have a certain appreciation for the reluctance one ought to have before engaging in any sort of violence no matter what the cause.

There is a Taoist saying, "Conduct your victory like a funeral." I am reminded of an early Japanese emperor who defended Japan from an invasion from China. After the war was over he ordered a monument constructed honoring the dead of both sides equally.

I was strongly opposed to Bush's Iraq War, for many reasons, both geopolitical and moral. I believe in this case, however, not intervening would be a greater crime. When we didn't intervene in Rwanda we allowed genocide. Not intervning in Bosnia also created the conditions for horrific massacres of civilians.

Why intervene in one case but not another? There are lots of reasons one could adduce, strategic, ethical, and so on. The case for intervention must be very strong, nearly overwhelming. But I think the simplest argument boils down to just this:

If you were a citizen of the affected country, what would you want the world to do?

I think that while most Iraqis hated Saddam Hussein they did not invite the destruction and chaos that we visited upon them in the name of imposing democracy by force. If I had been an Iraqi at the time I would not have wanted the United States to come in, wreaking havoc. The situation might have been different if Saddam were unleashing a military campaign against massive numbers of civilians, however. But that wasn't the case at the time.

But in this case, in Libya, I watch the people there fighting for basic dignity, initially peacefully, and being met with tanks and mortar shells and indiscriminate attacks on civilians. Looking on at what they face, the death and destruction they face, I'd want the world to step in. As so many people there begged us to do, we finally did.

Is it something to be gleeful about? No, it never is. But I think in the long run this will deter other dictators from brutalizing their people, and I think it may have even had an effect already in Yemen where a number of officials have resigned and military officers have turned against the government. In the long run, this intervention has a good chance of saving more lives than it costs. In that case, I am somberly in favor of it.

please look at my response to syntheticzero

Once again, we cannot asked ourselves abstractly "If you were a citizen of the affected country, what would you want the world to do?" We do not know, we cannot know. In order to promote interdependence, we must ask the people of the "affected country" what they want us to do and work with them side by side. Clearly that is NOT what has happened here in this military intervention performed by the US and France. I am not a pacifist either, but we cannot engage in violence simply because we believe "we know what is best" as a country. We should work with the leaders of the uprising and ask them what they need from us strategically, not just begin bombing their country. We must understand that because we are conditioned by living in an first world imperialist culture/nation, (no matter how "spiritual" we believe ourselves to be) often times we are blind to the arrogance of our political beliefs. Our beliefs uphold an oppressive system, no matter how true we feel we live by spiritual ethics or how "radical" our politics are. We must constantly challenge ourselves to see clearly. Spirituality must be grounded in a clear vision of the socio-economic reality of our everyday lives and international relations. If it is not, then we cannot see clearly, thus further taking us away from being intimate with reality.

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