Do you know what is better than charity and fasting and prayer?

It is keeping peace and good relations between people,

as quarrels and bad feelings destroy mankind.

- Prophet Mohammed


Day 13

Of course, it got chilly again. It wouldn't be that big of deal, but I had to drive to the hospital to get a hepatitis shot. (Apparently, I had started the course several times as a teenager, but never completed it. Now, more than fifteen years later, I'm finishing it up.) Driving in Korea --for me-- means a perilous cruise on a mid-sized motor scooter through the dangerously lawless roads of Seoul. In fact, most Asian countries to tend treat traffic laws more like advice from a concerned mother rather than rules meant to alter behavior and save lives. I've had more than a few close-calls than I'd like. Road rage isn't an issue here. A pervasive lack of patience is more to blame. 

Lately, I've been trying to work on my patience. My wife often says that I'm losing my patience and becoming more and more like Koreans. I disagree, though. She usually says that while we're shopping and Korean men like shopping. I don't. In fact, whereas most American clothing stores have seats for men and bored children to sit while their wives browse, Korean stores offer nothing. The men are right there with their shopping bags in tow.

In my defense, I was ruined for shopping by my mother and sister who would make annual trips to Atlanta for the soul purpose of shopping. All day, my father and I would be forced to walk from store to store, restlessly pacing around each one only to leave empty-handed. In my mind, shopping equates to a scoreless baseball game; you keep running around the bases, but never making it home.  

The other day, a comment was left that read as follows:
What I wonder, though, is what that neutrality/passivity might turn us into.
This is a tricky part for me as well. History tells me that Buddhism Buddhists aren't neutral or passive. Buddhists have been intricate parts of protests and have always been powerful activists during times of war, dictatorships, invasions and other human rights violations. In Korea, it was the monks who repelled the Japanese invaders during The Seven Year War in the late 1500's. It's the monks in Tibet and Myanmar who are leading the charge for their independence. And, of course, who could forget the chilling images that came out of the early stages of the anti-Diem movement in what would be called in Vietnam, The American War.

You might be used to seeing the other image of monk self-immolation (popularized by Rage Against the Machine), but the monk pictured here was actually the first who protested Diem and the mounting American presence. What I find interesting is not that he was the first to do so in this conflict (self-immolation has long been a common practice in India for centuries), but the gentlemen in the right-side of the photo with his hands placed together in prayer. What are his thoughts?

The death of this monk is certainly going to cause suffering, so it would seem that Buddhism would be against it. After all, killing any living being goes against one of the key tenets of Buddhism. For this problem, I offer a conversation:
‘I have heard about many recent incidents where monks have been killed by PLA soldiers, is this true?’
Monk: ‘Yes, they are trying to get rid of us.’
‘Well, isn’t there anything that you can do? I mean, can the monks run away? Or defend themselves?’
Monk: ‘No. We cannot.’
‘But some of the monks at other monasteries told me that some monks run away? Some even throw rocks and resist, they said.’
Monk‘And those monks are bad Buddhists.’
‘Bad Buddhists?’
Monk: ‘Yes. A good Buddhist would accept the soldiers’ actions. Whether beaten or killed, it does not matter. They would not resist.’
 ‘So, if all the Buddhists in Tibet were to be killed by the Chinese government, they should do nothing to stop from being killed?’
It's a little frustrating to say the least, but the conversation continued and the monk gave a little more information.
Monk: It is never right to intentionally harm another.  This is one of the most fundamental things to a Buddhist.But imagine a shepherd who is in charge of sheep.  If a wolf is attacking his sheep, what should he do? Let the sheep be eaten by the wolf? No, the shepherd must do something to protect the sheep or else he would also be doing harm by letting the wolf attack the sheep.’
‘So, he would be a good Buddhist if he stopped the wolf?’
Monk: 'No.'
‘So, then he would be a good Buddhist if he let the wolf kill all his sheep?’
Monk: 'No.'
‘I’m confused.’
Monk: ‘You cannot be a good Buddhist by harming other living things. But to protect the sheep—though still harmful to the wolf—is the best way.’
‘But how?’
Monk: ‘Because, it does the least harm to fewest living beings.’
Make sure to read the rest of the paper that conversation was taken from. So, why is suicide acceptable in protest? Was that man praying because of the horror of the sight or because he understood and was supporting the burning monk?

It boils down to this: In theory, Buddhists practice non-violence. It's one of the most fundamental beliefs they have. That said, it seems that Buddhists are openly willing to justify the use of force or --to address the original comment-- practice their religion outside the stated goal of pacifism. Even the monk interviewed above started with a rather strict interpretation of what Buddha said, but after some thought, he admitted that Buddhists must fight for what's best for the most -very utilitarian indeed. 

Like all religious texts,  Buddhism is subject to interpretation and it seems that the First Precept of Buddhism has some wiggle room. The monk above chose his words wisely. Rather than saying "kill the wolf", he chose to say "protect the sheep". It's flexible, much like the First Precept.
[Being] aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life.
 Now, let me finish the rest of that previous comment about passivity...
 I don't really see why disliking or loathing what they [GOP and right wingers] stand for causes suffering for you and your family. I think they cause suffering for others, the poor and the the weak. That is reason enough to oppose them.
It causes suffering for my family because I might start taking politics too personally and begin to project my venom onto loved ones. Luckily, my wife and the majority of my family are all like-minded. I don't have to worry about many ideological or political clashes, however, a family that is politically divided will most certainly suffer more as a result of the petty comments, insults and attacks. The GOP and their far-right wing base certainly are causing suffering for other people, but rather than running my mouth and using divisive words within my family or group of friends, I should stand up and vote these problems out.

In the end, Buddhism is not too unlike other religions insofar that there is a great deal left open for interpretation. While the overriding message is clearly one of peace, history has proven that in times of oppression and invasion, even the most pious Buddhist will stand up in defense of what's right.


  1. Bingo about the politically divided family! It does cause suffering!

    I enjoyed this.

  2. Thanks for the explanations. They make sense. I guess that not living in a politically divided family helps me. In fact, we have no close friends who are right wingers. Birds of a feather!

  3. And you should be thankful for that. Living in TN certainly leaves you open on that front. Too bad for your sister. She's got it coming at her from old directions.