War: What Is It Good For?

War seems to be on everyone's lips lately with all of the violence that's happening in Syria.

The thing I find fascinating is how the media can focus all of our attention on whatever hot topic they choose. I would imagine very few of us are currently discussing the ethnic cleansing, genocide, and other human atrocities that are currently taking place in so many other parts of the world. This is not to negate those that are happening right here on U.S. soil.

Perhaps our minds actually have a limited capacity for human suffering, and the media helps us to focus our attention on one spot, thereby eliminating the need for any of us to have complete awareness and understanding (sati-sampajañña).

Likely we can all agree that war is not that answer and offers no good result for anyone, save the financial interests of a select few. And what a grave price we all pay for those financial gains that benefit a handful of governments and military contractors. Yes, war is big business for some, and can create billions of dollars in profits. And while we might all feel this is so horribly sad and wrong, it is an inescapable truth.

In the Buddhist practice, our entire focus is on peace, loving-kindness, harmony, and equanimity. And no war has ever been waged with these intentions as their foundation and motivation. But this world is a diverse place with so many different people, policies, traditions, and beliefs. And our loving intentions cannot simply make entire nations put an end to war. This then begs the question of what Right Action is when we become aware of others being harmed and killed.

I believe that a proper beginning is to look close to home for the answers. Imagine that your neighbor across the street was being attacked by a gang of thugs. Would any of us sit idly by and watch the family beaten and killed? No, of course we would act and act promptly! Some of us might go there ourselves in an effort to save and protect them. Others may call 911 and allow the police to intervene and save this family. But regardless of which choice, we would take action from a heart of goodwill and lovingkindness. And because it is right there in front of us, the compassion and empathy we would feel would likely be extremely powerful.

But if this same attack was happening a block away, and we heard about it from a friend, what action would we take if any? And if this occurred in the neighboring town or village, would our connection be lessened and dull us to the atrocity that is taking place?

Then again, I have heard too often in the news about some poor woman being attacked, beaten, even raped, while onlookers did nothing. And sadly this has happened far too often here and abroad. Human beings seem to be able to disconnect from horrific acts by simply thinking that it is not their business.

So I wonder if being "A protector for those without protection" is not only that which should be a foundation of our practice, but also just a basic function of human compassion. This is not anything that we can delegate to another; it is within ourselves that we must look to understand this.

I have to question whether there is ever a justifiable reason for war, and more importantly if there is a way to wage a peaceful war founded in love, kindness, compassion, and equanimity—one that holds no personal agenda, desires, or greed, but is solely for the purpose of peace and harmony. Does this seem impossible to you, like a pipe dream? I'm not so sure. Perhaps this is the war that we all wage with ourselves every day.

One example of a group that may be waging this kind of war is a group called "Bodu Bala Sena." This is a Sri Lankan organization made up of a group of monks who are fighting to protect the peace, culture, and practice of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. In this scenario, the word fight merely means to offer a voice to the community and perhaps the world. No arms are being taken up, no threats or demands are being made, this is a war grounded in observance of all precepts. Fundamentally this is always driven by ahimsa, the Pali that means to do no harm. Sadly, once again the media is involved and portrays many stories that are completely untrue and biased. While there are extremists groups out there, including in Sri Lanka, Bodu Bala Sena is not one of them by any stretch of the imagination.

There is no way to know what the outcome will be, but we are all so fortunate to have at least one group in this world to set an example for all of us, a way to offer peace and protection in a non-violent and compassionate way.

We should not close our eyes to the rest of the world and pretend that all is well so long as we are safe. Those of us who are safe, who have food, shelter, and water, have been given a tremendous gift. We are blessed to live a happy life and live joyfully in our homes and community. But we must also understand that this gift is the right of every living being, not just for us alone.