On November 11, I will be at the Florida Nature and Culture Center, an SGI-USA facility for a conference focused on veterans and active duty military personnel. SGI-USA has always had a large number of active duty military members because so many of the early members accompanied spouses from Japan. In more recent times, many Americans with no connection to Japan or Japanese-Americans have begun practicing Buddhism. With rare exceptions (seen mostly in martial arts movies of dubious relation to reality) Buddhism is a religious philosophy that doesn’t support or even condone war to resolve differences between nations. You will need to look hard to find any Buddhist terrorists anywhere in the world or point to any wars initiated by Buddhists. Nonetheless, there may be occasions that require combat. Shijo Kingo, devoted follower of Nichiren Daishonin, the 13th-century priest whose teachings I follow, was a samurai and a physician. Now there is an odd combination–along with being a Buddhist. If you read the writings of Nichiren, it is clear that Shijo Kingo had a hot temper but it is not suggested that he went around indiscriminately killing people.
Forty years ago I spent Veterans Day in Vietnam. I had been there only a little more than a month at that time. Two years later, I was out of the Army and protesting the Vietnam War. Although I hadn’t volunteered, I thought what we were doing there was the right thing. By the time I left, I realized I had been greatly mistaken. Not until I encountered Buddhism did I find a religion that would supply the moral compass critical to an effective military. The focus of a military force must inevitably seem to be on killing the enemy. Yet that has to be the last resort. The military must be capable of killing but must not wish to kill. The lethal, the near-lethal and the simply horrific consequences of combat desensitize human beings to the point that they often do get to the point of wishing death on others. When we honor those who have died or served in the military for their service, we need to keep that sacrifice of their soul in mind as well. Buddhism allows redemption of those thoughts and deeds that war brings to the veteran.