Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Precepts for Warriors Part II, On Killing

I will refrain from killing or harming beings

This training by far has been the most troublesome, and the least discussed in all the literature I have been able to find.  From my experience, when I committed to undertake the precepts, I realized that I may find myself in a position where I might need to take one life to save another.  This is strictly pertaining to human lives, but might also be extending to address life in general to encompass all sentient beings. According to Webster, Sentient is defined as

1 : responsive to or conscious of sense impressions
2 : aware
3 : finely sensitive in perception or feeling

For the purpose of this post I will rely heavily on an article entitled Buddhism and the Soldier, provided with kindness at the The Buddhist Military Sangha .   This wonderfully written piece puts Buddhism into a perspective that is useful for those of us with questions on how to practice our way of life in very challenging circumstances.

At the core of this training and each one that follows is learning to be present and mindful in everything we do.  We may not always have the time to consider thoughtfully the ramifications of a suspected insurgent reaching for a cell phone, or stepping on the gas while he speeds toward your check point.  We have a duty to protect our colleagues and bystanders, and may not have the opportunity to weigh the Karmic consequences of applying deadly force, never mind the results of our actions if our target turns out not to be a threat after all.  In these situations quick action is required.

What meditation on the first training has taught me, is at the core of my action there should be compassion.  By this term, I mean the concern for others' safety, security and welfare.  This mindset is focused outward for the benefit of all beings. If I am hateful, or fearful, or careless, the fruits of my action will be hurtful, and will generate undesired results.  If I am mindful of the welfare of my charges, then the results of my actions will do less harm.  I do not dispute that the taking of life or the harming of dangerous persons will give rise to karma, and will result in suffering.  However, if I have trained to my utmost to carry out my duty effectively, if my intention is to preserve life, then my action will be just.  When the dust is settled, and the thing is done, I will say a gattha for the fallen, and hope for the recovery of the injured, mindful of my adversary's suffering.

Since it is my duty to protect others, it is also my duty to prepare myself physically.  How can I expect to be able to carry out my responsibilities if I am out of shape, overweight and generally unhealthy?  I must be mindful of what I consume, and conduct my physical training and skills training with intense focus and concentration.  I should avoid alcohol (this will be discussed in a later post) since it dulls my senses and harms my body, and I should eat a healthy diet whenever possible.

This brings to mind the topic of meat consumption.  I must admit that I am deeply torn over this topic.  Is it possible to become strong and fit on a vegetarian diet?  If not, then where does my duty lie?  I would like to revisit this later.

The training of avoiding the taking of life further opens possibilities, providing additional tools with which to protect the public.  Through mindfulness and compassion, by looking deeply into the suffering of an individual who has committed a crime one might see means by which to take that person into custody, for their own safety as well as the public's.  This requires a very skillful practice, and admittedly one that I fall short on but work hard to cultivate.  I try to apply this practice in these terms:  It is better to convince someone it is in their best interest to give up without a fight, than to forcibly subdue them.  Together, with right intention, and through skillful means, this is practicing the Dharma.

Edit 10/6/2010:

I read this  Post on SSG Robert Miller's Congressional Medal of Honor award today.  SSG Miller saved the lives of his men through great skill and courage, thinking not of himself.  Out of compassion for his men, he exemplified right action and skillful means.  I don't believe anyone needs the tag "Buddhist" to be a Boddhisatva.  May his family live in peace, and may his memory and the way he lived inspire us all to save beings.

Precepts for Warriors

     Initially I wanted to think about meat eating in the context of the precepts, but it occurred to me that there are many more challenges for practitioners who happen to find their dharma on the battlefield or on the street.  In the following posts, I would like to explore each precept in this context.

      I humbly submit that precepts as they are commonly known would be more accurately referred to as "Training Rule."  I have checked numerous sources and pañca-sikkhāpada appears to be accurately translated as training rule.  As most of us are intensely dedicated to our fitness, since that is directly related to our ability to save lives, we undertake a number of different trainings, exploring various techniques and finally adopting those that work best.  In my opinion, the same mental energy, inquisitiveness and criticism should be applied to our dharma practice.  In this spirit, I will be exploring the trainings, retaining that which is helpful, and culling that which is obstructive.

     In order to break the ice, I will be using the trainings as described below.  There are many translations and versions, and I don't care to quibble over which parsing means what.  The point is to focus on intent, and to thereby derive understanding followed by application of the trainings in the daily life of a warrior.

     Also, the order of the trainings may be a starting point for practice, but ultimately they are interdependent, and support one another.  So the common order of the trainings are as follows:

I will avoid killing or harming beings

I will avoid taking that which is not given

I will avoid false speach

I will avoid sexual misconduct

I will avoid intoxicating substances

     If anyone would care to share their experiences related to the "Trainings" in the context of conflict, your comments would be most welcome.