Saturday, May 05, 2012

War-like situation, peace and Buddhism

By Ven. Dr. Beligalle Dhammajoti (Courtesy - The Island)

University of Ruhuna

We have been experiencing a vast progress in science and technology, which paved the way for the arising of politically powerful nations. As a consequence of mechanical revolution, capitalistic civilization spread all over the world. Here, the emphasis is paid only about the ills of a Capitalistic economy. The foundation of politically powerful nations also can be considered to be an injudicious, unprincipled Capitalistic Market economy. The misguided capitalistic economy has created consumerism and cut-throat competition in the world today.


In no way can we can hide the truths of history and international phenomena.

With the strength of political power and riches, some nations are going to be the leaders of our global society. Once, Germany started showing their power by saying Kultur or culturization of the world. England also said that she was going to culturize men of the world highlighting their motto, ‘white man’s burden’. Then France started civilizing her mission. To civilize the world, many nations badly needed various kinds of forces and many ways of destroying or killing others. Therefore, it is obvious that the so-called Kultur or ‘Culturization’ was not meant bring happiness to any nation, but to destroy others. In the name of bounden duty and cultural burden, some powerful nations were to overpower others and damage them.

International hatred

While peace talks and peace conferences were going on between 1899 and 1907, some powerful nations prepared for war. With the rapid development of the armament industry and the continual increase of forces gave birth to bitter ‘international hatred’ among the politically powerful nations. And the horror of war spread in Europe. Therefore, in the twentieth century, all the powerful countries of Europe expected war, and it forced them to prepare for a war-like situation. When they prepared for war, no one was there to imagine or to take account of the horrible and terrible consequences of weapons and explosives.

The consequences of the Balkan wars of 1912-1913 were great losses, but not benefits as expected by some people. Nor were there mind-pleasing results. There were troubles, conflicts, divergences, murder, segregation and utter destructions of valuable equipment and property, and everyone suffered heavy losses.

Russian mobilization

In 1914, the people of Serbia and Bosnia were experiencing great trouble. On 28th July, 1914, Austria declared war on Serbia. This really was a misunderstanding of attitudes and feelings. Meanwhile, Russian troops received orders to mobilize for fear of a German attack. Unexpected news of this Russian mobilization alarmed Germany. Germany demanded that Russia should call a halt to mobilization, but it did not happen.

On 1st August, 1914, Germany made a decision to mobilize and declared war against Russia and France. But to get to France, the Germans had to smother Belgium. Then, England came on the scene and she declared war against Germany.


France wanted to take their troops across Belgium to crush Germany.

Midnight on August 4 was a turning point as England declared war against Germany. Powerful nations, i.e. France, Austria, Russia, England, and Germany were all involved in the war. Later, Italy also couldn’t escape from this competition of continuous unreasonable aggressive attitudes, and Italy joined the French-English-Russian side.

Trench warfare began between the French and German armies and continued for over three years. The Turks attacked the Suez Canal while Egypt was caught up in another problem. Britain attacked many places in Turkey. Iran, Syria, and Palestine were also in hot water.


In the meantime, German colonies in Africa were attacked by Anglo-French forces. Italy also joined the Anglo-French. In October 1915, Bulgaria joined Germany. The Astro-German army, with the support of Bulgaria, defeated Serbia. Rumania, after two years of silence joined the Anglo-French alliance. In 1915, the gigantic British ship the ‘Lusitania’ with a large number of people on board, was sunk by a German submarine. The city of London also was targeted for bombing.

In 1917, the United States declared war and they used their enormous resources.


These wars were extremely destructive and consumed millions of human lives. Some used poisonous gas against their enemies, aeroplanes changed into bombers, hundreds of huge machines were used for brutal killings, and family members of soldiers severely suffered from deprivation and terrible starvation. Life was full of dark feelings, sorrow, lamentation, grief, distress, torture, and agony. Every one experienced real discontent, displeasure and unhappiness. Normal people lost their mental balance and ordinary ethical behaviour and became half-criminals.

Central Asia

Many Buddhist cultural oases situated in Central Asia were demolished by extremists because of their misguided views (ditthis).

In 1219 AD, Genghis Khan destroyed great cities and killed millions of innocent people and Buddhist monks. The great cultural city of Bokhara, with a population of over one million, was reduced to ashes by him. In the ancient city of Samarkand, he killed nearly a million people.

All the arts and crafts that had flourished in Central Asia for hundreds of years disappeared. Civilized life seemed to cease in Persia and in Central Asia. Today, we can see the remnants of that great, peaceful civilization.

Genocide wars

During the Chinese Revolution in 1911, 2.4 million people died, and during Russian revolution from 1917 to 1921, five million people died. Twenty million people died during the First World War. In 1932-33, the Russian and Ukraine war killed 10 million people. The result of Stalin’s cleansing brought death to 13 million people. Between 1939 and 1945, there was the Second World War and it consumed 55 million people. Mao’s ‘Great Leap Forward’ in 1958-61 killed 38 million people and the result of Mao’s Cultural Revolution caused the death of 11 million people. In 1980-88, during the Iraq-Iran war, one million were killed.

Dogmatic views

The dogmatic views of so-called ill-conceived patriotism wiped out millions of young people in the prime of life. Can this outcome be considered to be a conquest or genuine victory or triumph of man?

Each side named the other the ‘aggressor’ or the ‘ill-behaved one’ and each party pretended to attack in self-defense only. The irony is that in the name of self-defense, they had to defeat or kill others. They were prepared to fight and were willing to defeat the other to celebrate victory.

Stories of the ill-treatment of certain pilgrims excited the whole of Europe and a ‘Holy War’ was declared in order to rescue of the holy city. For more than 150 years, war-like struggles continued between two sides. The result of the Crusades was to bring death and wretchedness to millions of religious followers.

Righteous reasons?

Powerful nations who were determined to defeat others said that they had righteous reasons for war.

Germany wanted to defeat her bitter enemies. Was it, in a way, to safeguard Germany and her dignity? Meanwhile, newspapers created a war-like atmosphere right through Europe.

The paradox is that even famous scientists, professors, writers and thinkers lost their mental balance and imitated others, and supported war.

Clergymen or peace-makers?

Clergymen who are supposed to be peace-makers also lost their peaceful mental balance and were in favour of blood-thirsty wars. Even socialists and peace-lovers forgot their principles and distorted their fundamental thinking system by analyzing everything through the telescope of war. Newspaper editors were able to deceive and mislead common people by putting forward perverted ideas and prepared the ground for war.

While genocide was taking place in many parts of Europe, people heard pompous phrases about the reason for the killings. It was a war to end war; war for the freedom of small nations; war for self-determination; war to safeguard of democracy and war for honour and they came up with ‘fine’ patriotic slogans and the young too were forced to jump into the furnace of war.

Needless to say, war is a terribly expensive business. It can, easily, gulp down millions of priceless materials. It directs man’s energy towards complete destruction. Many rich nations pay for war in order to gain glory or to satisfy their ‘conceit’ (m?na).

Buddhist view

When the Buddha was explaining the ‘Mahanidhana Sutta’ (The Great Causes Discourse) to Venerable Ananda, he said:

"Ananda, feeling conditions craving (tanha),

craving conditions seeking (pariyesana),

seeking conditions acquisition (labha),

acquisition conditions decision-making (vinicchaya),

decision-making conditions lustful desire (chandaraga),

lustful desire conditions attachment (ajjhosana),

attachment conditions appropriation (pariggaha),

appropriation conditions avarice (macchariya),

avarice conditions guarding of possessions (arakkha),

and because of the guarding of possessions

there arise the taking up of stick and sward (dand?d?na);

conflicts, quarrels, and disputes; accusations


divisive speech, and lies(pesuññamusavada).

Furthermore, the Buddha said:

"And this is the way to understand how it is that because of defensiveness, various evil, unskillful phenomena come into play: the taking up of sticks and swords; conflicts, quarrels, and disputes; accusations, divisive speech and lies.

"Thus, this is a cause, this is a reason, this is an origination, this is a necessary condition for the coming into play of various evils, unskillful phenomena - the taking up of sticks and swords; conflicts, quarrels and disputes; accusations, divisive speech, and lies - i.e., defensiveness. "Defensiveness is dependent on stinginess. Thus, it has been said. And this is the way to understand how defensiveness is dependent on stinginess. If there was no stinginess at all, in any way, of anything anywhere, in the utter absence of stinginess, from the cessation of stinginess, would defensiveness be discerned?"

"Thus this is a cause, this is a reason, this is an origination, this is a requisite condition for defensiveness, i.e., stinginess (tanha). Therefore, according to the ‘Mahanidana sutta’, stinginess is the cause for all social evils, including hostilities, confrontations and war."

‘Pathama-Sang?ma Sutta’

Addressing the monks, regarding the battle between king Ajatasattu and the king Kosala, the Buddha explains:

"Victory breeds enmity – (jayam veram pasavati)

The defeated one sleeps badly – ( dukkham seti parajito)

The peaceful one sleeps at ease – (upasanto sukham seti)

Having abandoned victory and defeat – (hitva jaya parajayam).

‘Dutiya-Sang?ma Sutta’

In the ‘Dutiya-Sangama sutta’ of the ‘Samyutta-nikaya’, the Exalted One categorically elucidates the results of killing or destroying others thus:

"The killer begets a killer - (hant? labhati hant?ram)

One who conquers, a conqueror - (jet?ram labhate jayam)

The abuser begets abuse – (akkosako ca akkosam)

The reviler, one who reviles - (rosetarañ ca rosako).

Thus, by the unfolding of kamma - (atha kammavivatthena)

The plunderer is plundered - (so vilutto viluppatiti)."

The Dhammapada

In the Dhammapada, we find some verses especially related to hateful mental concomitants and their effects. The fifth verse of the Dhammapada runs thus:

"Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world;

it is appeased by love. This is an eternal law."

(Nahi verena verani - sammanti’dha kudacanam,

averena ca sammanti - esa dhammo sanantano).

The ‘Dhammapada’ explains the reality of ineffectiveness of winning wars thus:

"One may conquer in battle a thousand times and a thousand men,

yet he is the best of conquerors who conquers himself."

(Yo sahassam sahassena - samgame manuse jine

ekañca jeyya attanam – save sangama juttamo)

Ten duties of kings

‘Dasa-raja-dhammas’ or ten duties assigned to kings do not pave the way for any violent struggle or war against others.

The king or the ruler should be a kind-hearted one and should practice gentleness (maddava). He should be free from hatred, violent volitions, and jealousy mental states (akkodha). He is supposed to be a non-violent one (avihimsa) and should avoid wars and should promote peaceful environment in his kingdom. He should practice patience and tolerance (khanti). Therefore, some of these duties directly show the path to peaceful co-existence of society and war-like actions are highly condemned by Buddhist teachings.


1. Nehru, J., ‘Glimpses of World History’, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1995.

2. The Mahanidhana Sutta, The Digha Nikaya vol. ii, Eds: T.W. Rhys Davids and J. E. Carpenter, PTS, London, 1966.

3. The Samyutta Nikaya vol. i, Ed.; M.L. Feer, PTS, London, 1973.

4. The Dhammapada, Tr.; Max Muller, Motilal Benarsidas, Delhi, 1965.