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Civil War and the Purpose of Buddhist Prayers

Through out history, the only way for someone to forcibly takeover a country was through intrigue and bloodshed.

In fact, some of history's greatest rulers (Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun, Shaka Zulu, etc.) were also it's greatest killers; men who walked on the corpses of their enemies to reach the throne.

If one looks at the United States, they see more of the same.  The genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of black Africans,  and the mistreatment of women were all done to solidify power in the hands of a chosen few.

Thus, the fact that 46 men have been elected to become president of the United States and none of them had to kill or chase off their predecessor is remarkable.

Regardless of one's political stance, the fact that our country can pick a leader, and then pick a new one in four years in the same way that one might pick a melon in the super market is cause for celebration.  It's proof that we live in a functioning democracy, and that while our country isn't perfect, it's doing some things right.

Unfortunately, not everyone sees it that way.  Now that the election is over, and president-elect Joe Biden is slated to take office, there's a growing contingent of people calling for civil war. They're so incensed that the election didn't go their way, that they'd rather destroy our country than wait four years to run a different candidate for president.

I've been to war.  I served in both Iraq and Afghanistan during my time with the Marine Corps.  I've seen what wars do to people and societies.  Part of me wonders if these people know what war is, the other part wonders if they care.

The most likely answer is, "no".  Buddhism teaches us that desire is the cause of suffering.  When our mind is clouded by greed, anger, and ignorance (the three poisons that are birthed by desire), we don't see the world clearly.  We stop caring about the consequences of our actions, and we focus on getting what we want by any means necessary.

In his wisdom, Buddha planned for times like these.  He was the son of monarch, and he knew the terrible cost of war.  His homeland was invaded several times, and his family, the Sakya clan, was wiped out as a result.

So, Buddha made peacefulness a central part of his teachings.  At a minimum, if a person wants to join the Buddhist sangha, they must take the 5 lay precepts which go as follows:

  • I vow to abstain from killing
  • I vow to abstain from stealing
  • I vow to abstain from abusing sexuality
  • I vow to abstain from lying/ gossiping
  • I vow to abstain from abusing intoxicants

It's hard to imagine someone making war on their neighbors if they abided by these precepts!  However, Buddha's devotion to peace wasn't just an intellectual exercise.  

Over the centuries, his teachings have been codified in a series of rituals; involving chanting, sitting, prayer, and prostrations that work for the benefit of all beings.

Each time we bow to the Buddha on our altar we bow to the Buddha within our neighbor.  Each time we chant the Metta Sutta, praying that all beings be happy, healthy, and safe, we develop deep compassion.  

And as we use the power of prayer to create change in the world, we also create change within ourselves.  Transforming our bodies and minds until they're incapable of harming others.

This is important in today's political climate.  When news outlets and talking heads are calling for civil war, when people are fighting in the streets, that's when we must rely on the Dharma to sustain us.  We must put our faith in rituals that have been passed down for 2,600 years, so we don't succumb to the urge to fight.

As the rest of our country clamors for war, we must sit on our cushions, and pray for peace.

Namu Amida Butsu

 If you enjoyed this essay, you'll love my book!

Civil War and the Purpose of Buddhist Prayers


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