I live in the United States, where although unlikely, a draft could happen. There are also many other countries that require military service in some capacity.

I know Buddhism generally opposes killing and murder, so how does Buddhism see required or involuntary military service?


3 Answers 3


This question may be a duplicate of (already answered by) a previous topic on this site, such as:

I note that, in practice, all "Buddhist countries" too have a military -- and sometimes use them as well, sometimes infamously.

Wikipedia's article Buddhists in the United States military says there's some provision for Buddhists in the US military (I was wondering whether they had any Buddhist chaplains). That article suggests that the (few) Buddhists in the army tend/tended to be of Japanese descent and/or a Japanese school of Buddhism -- IMO Buddhism in Japan is historically a little different from in other countries: with "samurais" being Buddhist, and (more recently) priests who marry, and so on.

Note that as some alternative, even in WW2, the USA allowed "conscientious objectors" (often Christian pacifists) to serve as non-combatants -- so you might serve on the battle-field as a stretcher-bearer, for example, rescuing the wounded.

I'm not sure that Buddhist countries allow "conscientious objectors" to refuse conscription into the military service.

Looking through the list of countries with conscription, which you posted in the question:

  • In Singapore (which isn't officially Buddhist but where Buddhist is, at 33%, the most popular religion) I don't see that "conscientious objection" is an accepted reason.

  • In Thailand I see that "conscientious objection" per se isn't allowed, but that Buddhist monks are exempt (although this article implies that monks aren't exempt, so I don't know).

  • The situation in Myanmar seems confused, or at least confusing to me:

    Currently, there is no military draft. Thus, all service personnel are theoretically volunteers, but the People's Militia Law allows for conscription if the President considers it necessary for Myanmar's defence that the provisions of the law be activated. In practice, it has been claimed that the Tatmadaw conscripts adults and children and uses civilians as forced labour and even human mine-sweepers. The Tatmadaw has been engaged in a bitter battle with ethnic insurgents and the narco-armies since the country gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1948. However, in a 2014 survey conducted by the International Republican Institute across all Myanmar demographics shows military is the most favourable institution with 84% of respondents saying either "very favorable" or "favorable" ahead of other institutions such as media, government and Burmese opposition.

  • South Korea too seems keen on universal conscription -- I didn't find (using Google) an exception for monks.

There's a relevant newspaper article here -- It's not so strange for a Buddhist to endorse killing -- it's partly factual and partly opinion-based, so you may or may not agree with it.

There was also this factoid which was questioned on Skeptics.SE -- Did most of the American riflemen in combat during World War II avoid firing at the enemy? -- perhaps that suggests another "way out" for any individuals who refuse violence, even if they don't escape conscription.

  • 1
    Thank you for your insight. Recently I've been thinking about Myanmar as well as the conscription issue. Commented Dec 17, 2017 at 18:52

I am a thai. In thailand, they except a monk who has a degree of natinal buddhist educational background (นักธรรม-nakdhamma).

Generally, most of thai people know the way to do with the very religious people, because we have various religious in our country. So, if the buddhist person tells to a military's buddhist teacher "I can't not kill, because I am a religious person. If you send me to kill, I am surly that I can't help anyone by killing. You can send me to work in the other job instead. I can do everything, except precept-offending". He will test that buddhist person, then send him to work in the other position, such as the military medical assistant, instead.


Neither disrespect torward ones leader, parents, contemplatives and Brahmans, duties for certain relations one nurishes on and anarchy but also approve, leading and doing unskillful, taking life, taking what is not given, abuse and telling untrue finds place in the doctrine of the Awakened, Noble and wise. So is encouragement torward improper actions and politics for certain aims in the world not really in the sphere of a Dhammica.

Most of this leads like the actions by deeds into hell:

"Then the hell-wardens, seizing (such a being) by the arms, present him to King Yama: 'This is a man, your majesty, with no respect for mother, no respect for father [1], no reverence for contemplatives, no reverence for brahmans, no honor for the leaders of his clan. Let your majesty decree his punishment.'

"Then King Yama interrogates & interpellates & castigates the man regarding the first deva messenger: 'My good man, didn't you see the first deva messenger that has appeared among human beings?'

"There is what is given, sacrified, there are results of good and bad deeds..."

Don't, one should not, missuse those having abound their duties by abounding their desires for certain food to justify rejecting duties by not having given rightouse causes for it and just then when your fruits seems to rippe. Work on you liberation in times when there is plenty of way and peace for past merits and circumstances are not for sure.

Then again there comes a time when there is danger and an invasion of savage tribes. Taking power, they surround the countryside. When this happens, there are times when it so happens that a mother can get to her child, and the child can get to its mother. This is the third thing that is a mother-&-child-uniting danger, yet run-of-the-mill people describe it as a mother-&-child-separating danger.

Furthermore, the monk reminds himself of this: At present people are in harmony, on friendly terms, without quarreling, like milk mixed with water, viewing one another with eyes of affection. The time will come, though, when there is danger and an invasion of savage tribes. Taking power, they will surround the countryside. When there is danger, people will congregate where it is safe. There they will live packed and crowded together. When one is living packed and crowded together, it is not easy to pay attention to the Buddha's teachings. It is not easy to reside in isolated forest or wilderness dwellings. Before this unwelcome, disagreeable, displeasing thing happens, let me first make an effort for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized, so that — endowed with that Dhamma — I will live in peace even when there is danger. (That the True Dhamma Might Last a Long Time)

Dhamma is very individual issue, or better conditions are personally made. It leads to nothing to try to make conditions for all or many the same. Kamma of each being is different and each particular situation is also different.

If not having certain conditions, it's of use to work on them. If demanding there are debts. Letting go rightously and step by step of trade in this sphere, by letting go ones desires and objectiveshow it should be one gains freedom, freedom of duyties after liberating desire.

As for leaving home and walk the way of the Buddhas noble disciples, it's required to have no debts and being free of service duties for others (Government, King...). If such is not given, can not be obtained, it's very difficult, most not possible to ordain. It would be not allowed for a Bhikkhu to give ordination for one "who is in the kings service."

Rājabhaṭavatthu - The Case of One Who is in the King’s Service

Duty of servis is not only in regard of millitary service but also in regard of all other duties as not free housholder and citizen (one with duties). It would be a more peaceful world if people know and respect their duties in certain circumstances they are then if knowing rights and after demanding and increasing imbalance and wrong views all over the world. Only one having left behind the "benefits of bondage", home, citizenship, if being "stateless", not holding any rights in exchange with the world and it's sociaties, has no other dutiy then to strive for the end of all duties.


In rare cases(!), individuals may become stateless upon renouncing their citizenship (e.g., "world citizen" Garry Davis and, from 1896 to 1901, Albert Einstein, who, in January 1896, at the age of 16, was released from his Württemberg citizenship after, with his father's help, filing a petition to that effect; in February 1901 his application for Swiss citizenship was accepted[19]). People who subscribe to Voluntaryist, Agorist, or some other philosophical, political, or religious beliefs may desire or seek statelessness. Many states do not allow citizens to renounce their nationality unless they acquire another. However, consular officials are unlikely to be familiar with the citizenship laws of all countries, so there may still be situations where renunciation leads to effective statelessness.

This story (in the link above) might make Upasaka Bonn's answer maybe more understandable while, of course, making such depentend on a "paper" is again a low compromise.

If a government or a king allows it's/his citizens the going for, is again the merit or demerit of individuals, in the same way of cause and effect it meets also ones condition.

The way of Dhamma for liberation and upwards is clear and works also for ones conditions: generosity, virtue, wise reflection. What ever one gives he/she gains. The release from duties and not forcing to make unskillful deeds for ones sake will cause similar as effect.

After all it's a good question to think about certain things for oneself of how much freedom outwardly a "modern citizen" actally really has and how much he/she actually really gives, since such is of course related.

And it's good to focus on oneself so that conditions might become or stay conductive for ones future. So it's good to reflect many times on the highest blessings and to strive best possibly after them:

Maha-mangala Sutta: Blessings


And its good to seek for real refuge before becoming another time of the many refugees wandering around in Samsara, platant or unaware... leaving houselife is done good at proper time, best now if free of duties which bind ready to be given away in a possible auspicious but not lasting situation. Don't waste time and consume past merits away!

For those caught at the moment, which is also not for sure: Why it is important to value our Conditions?

Merits are what establish beings and their possibilities, also to reach the beyond.

[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma and not meant for commercial purpose or other low wordily gains by means of trade and exchange.]

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