What does Buddha and Buddhism say about fighting against an enemy who is hell bent on wiping out all buddhists in the name of religion? Should a buddhist actively participate in war against evil? I would like to have an answer both from a buddhist layman and a soldiers perspective. An active resistance to injustice in general. Thank you.

7 Answers 7


I personally find it difficult to accept that Buddhism is compatible with violence:

  • The first precept is I undertake the training rule to abstain from killing.

  • On the eightfold path, the definition of right and wrong livelihood (career) prohibits Business in weapons (also, slavery and prostitution, meat, intoxicants, and poison)

  • When you consider whether you should be "fighting against an enemy who is hell-bent", remember the verses at the very beginning of the Dhammapada,

    1. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.

    2. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow.

    3. "He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me." Those who harbor such thoughts do not still their hatred.

    4. "He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me." Those who do not harbor such thoughts still their hatred.

    5. Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.

    6. There are those who do not realize that one day we all must die. But those who do realize this settle their quarrels.

However, there are nominally Buddhist countries, which have soldiers. For example, In Defense of Dharma: Just-War Ideology in Buddhist Sri Lanka includes innumerable quotes, from people who are arguing for and against violence, including quotes like,

  • "Though some Sri Lankan Buddhist interpreters of Buddhism, including the Venerable Walpola Rahula, have claimed that “violence in any form, under any pretext whatsoever, is absolutely against the teaching of the Buddha,” and thus of Buddhism, some Buddhists that I interviewed in Sri Lanka during the summers of 1997 and 1998 suggested that war can be justified if certain criteria are met. In this chapter, I shall highlight the “just-war thinking” that a section of Sinhala-Buddhist Sri Lanka argues shaped Dutugemunu’s conscience, and examine what foundation there is, if any, for such thinking in Theravada Buddhism, in general."

  • "we have to peacefully fight our enemies"

  • "killing to defend the country or the sasana, therefore, brings few negative karmic repercussions, because the intention is to save, rather than to harm"

  • "As we determined in Chapter 2 of this study, due to monks’ perceptions of themselves as “sons of the soil,” or bhumiputras, the sangha perpetuates and reinforces the idea that Sri Lanka belongs to the Sinhalas who are Buddhist. As Professor Aryarasinghe’s political party’s platform makes clear, however, bhumiputra ideology is not the monks’ alone; lay Buddhists, too, deem themselves to be sons of the soil. As we have also seen, the commitment to the soil might allow for justifications of violence, even war, if certain conditions are met. At the same time, there are a number of lay people and, in particular, monks, who are committed to their other “historic” mission, that is, to being exemplars of the Buddha’s message of peace, to being sons of the Buddha, or Buddhaputras."

  • "Each of us should contribute to the cooling down process. If one individual is peaceful it means one less in the violent crowd."

    In my interview with Premaratne in 1998, he steadfastly argued that the civil war will not be solved in the battlefield; instead, according to Premaratne, we can find a resolution to Sri Lanka’s problems in the paradigm of the Buddha’s life and in Buddhist ideas about the self. In Premaratne’s view, Buddhism never justifies war, and the fact that the Buddha chose to be a universal teacher (world renouncer) rather than a cakkavati (world conqueror) demonstrates that peace is superior to war."

Specific, notable Buddhists including the Dalai Lama seem to say that it's sometimes "necessary".

So in summary it seems to be difficult to be completely clear about what "Buddhism says": because it's possible to find "mixed messages" on this subject.

I personally think that:

  • "Abstain from killing" as a number one precept is pretty clear. It reminds me of this article, published in a satirical newspaper (soon after September 11, 2001): God Angrily Clarifies 'Don't Kill' Rule.
  • Saying that "killing terrorists doesn't count as killing, they deserve it, they brought death upon themselves, they made me do it" seems to me very dubious logic. For example, quoting from the Mahavamsa as written in the "Just-War Ideology in Buddhist Sri Lanka",

    Dutugemunu asks them how he will ever find comfort, considering what he had done, that he had killed such a lot of people. The arahants respond with their own just-war thinking:

    Only one and a half human beings have been slain here by thee, O lord of men. The one had come unto the (three) refuges, the other had taken unto himself the five precepts. Unbelievers and men of evil life were the rest, not more to be esteemed than beasts. But as for thee, thou wilt bring glory to the doctrine of the Buddha in manifold ways; therefore cast away care from the heart, O ruler of men.

    Unfortunately this reminds me of the Nazi arguments/propaganda used to commit genocide in Nazi Germany: that people such as the Jews were "sub-human" and, also, were "a threat" (a threat to God's order; threat to German society; threat to German morality; threatening to enslave hard-working Germans; a deadly threat not only to the survival of the German people but to the survival of the world!)

  • I also don't see how Christians justify war: "Turning the other cheek" seems to me unambiguous. I know that people who are nominally Christian have tried to justify it with the theory of just war but that doesn't seem to me to be Christian: maybe it's life (and death), maybe it's the world, but it's not Christian, IMO.

  • Supposedly Buddhist doctrine such as,

    "The Buddha replied, 'He who deserves punishment must be punished. And he who is worthy of favor must be favored. Do not do injury to any living being but be just, filled with love and kindness.' These injunctions are not contradictory because the person who is punished for his crimes will suffer his injury not through the ill-will of the judge but through the evil act itself. His own acts have brought upon him the injury that the executors of the law inflict. When a magistrate punishes, he must not harbor hatred in his heart. When a murderer is put to death, he should realize that his punishment is the result of his own act. With his understanding, he will no longer lament his fate but can console his mind. And the Blessed One continued, 'The Buddha teaches that all warfare in which man tries to slay his brothers is lamentable. But he does not teach that those who are involved in war to maintain peace and order, after having exhausted all means to avoid conflict, are blameworthy."

    ... seems to me to come from a different tradition (a non-Buddhist Dharma), i.e. it's the central message of the Bhagavad Gita, that man-the-killer is an instrument of God ("Facing the duty to kill his relatives, Arjuna is counselled by Krishna to fulfill his Kshatriya (warrior) duty as a warrior and kill.") ... or in the quote above, a mere instrument of karma.

There's a saying, in the west, that "war is hell".

There is, similarly, quite a famous Zen story on that subject.

As for whether you should "actively participate in a war against evil", or how to participate if you must, my knowledge of non-Buddhist history suggests there have been a (relatively very few) people in the west who, calling themselves "pacifists" and "conscientious objectors", served in non-aggressive, altruistic, personally dangerous roles: for example disposing of unexploded bombs, or acting as medics, and as front-line stretcher-bearers (rescuing the wounded).


According to Buddhism the enemies are within us in the form of defilements and hindrances. We have to actively try to conquer them.

A military career is as as accepted profession. See BUDDHIST SPECTRUM.

Major General Ananda Weerasekera (later ordinated as Bhikkhu Buddangala Ananda) makes the some further observation about the topic in Buddhism & The Soldier and suggests that a government should have a strong army and the qualities of the soldiers.

Active resistance is inevitable in some cases. But this should be the last option. having said this our real enemies are within us not outside us.

Also see: Can a Buddhist Join the Army?, Right Livelihood: The Noble Eightfold Path in the Working Life

  • The "Buddhist Spectrum" reference which you quoted says, "Buddhism recognizes five vocations as right livelihood: ... 4. Service in the armed forces." Do you know which sutta defines these 5 vocations? I only found this reference to samma ajivo, which actually implies the opposite i.e. a warning against being a soldier.
    – ChrisW
    Sep 13, 2014 at 21:56
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    I found it: it is quoting the Dighajanu Sutta, which is in the Anguttara Nikaya.
    – ChrisW
    Sep 14, 2014 at 16:47

As I just said on Should one call oneself a Buddhist? rigid identification with anything, including a religious tradition, leads to conflict and suffering.

Instead of calling ourselves Buddhists, and going to war in the name of protecting Buddhism, we should properly follow Sat-Dharma and drop all clinging, including clinging to our identity as Buddhists.

Buddhism is a meme. Islam is another meme. When memes fight, people suffer.

If we stop being Buddhists and just be good people, there will be no reason for muslims to hate us. When there is no form -- there is no identity -- there is no enemy -- there is no war -- there is no suffering.

In a conflict, a good practitioner of Sat-Dharma does not take sides. Instead, he or she works on reconciling the sides.

  • 1
    What about King Ashoka? He was a practitioner of Buddhas teachings and still had a strong army to protect India from the forces outside at that time. A soldier with a mind to protect and willing to serve his country is following the sat-dharma as the volition is good even though killing might still take place at the battlefield. Sep 14, 2014 at 1:44
  • 4
    Passively letting yourself get killed is pretty stupid. Actively protecting yourself is better. Reconciling the conflict through diplomacy is even better. Preventing the conflict before it starts is still better. Managing the situation so that a conflict cannot possibly even begin to form, is the best.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Sep 14, 2014 at 13:12
  • @AndreiVolkov I agree with diplomacy part but what you say here "Passively letting yourself get killed is pretty stupid" is a bit different in Lord Buddha's perspective.Refer this en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kshanti . The very reason of conflict is the struggle to protect the "Me or what's Mine". As we practice the exact opposite you should understand - When there is no Me thereis nothig to protect (Anatta). The only thing you gain from a fight is bad karma to suffer many lives but If you get slayed it will be some suffering but only once.
    – Theravada
    Nov 24, 2015 at 23:33
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    Don't mix protect and defend, two different words.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Nov 24, 2015 at 23:45

I think we have modern day examples like the khmer Rouge that wanted to wipe out anyone that did not think the way they did. I did not see a mobilizations of Buddhists to go fight the Khmer Rouge. If there is such an enemy, often Buddhists lay down their lives rather than fight.

  • Short and sweet!
    – Theravada
    Nov 24, 2015 at 23:34

Really good question. I remember reading a Sutra where a king lay down his life fighting enemy for the sake of protecting Buddha dharma and die later on . Because the king did rightly, the king did not end up in hell. But it also do let me ponder that for us to do the same, we must be ready to end up in hell. Our intention maybe good, but there is no guarantee what we do are actually purely correct. Just like shakyamuni Buddha which one of his past life he commit suicide to feed the tiger and the tiger babies. Shakyamuni Buddha said he end up in hell. But because his intention is pure, he experienced happiness while in hell.

As far as I understood, there are prayers that help protect Buddhism. Such as Dharma protectors mantra. 4 Heavenly king mantra. Especially surangama mantra. Printing and distribute Buddha Sutra for free will help change the course. Most people misunderstood Buddhism badly.

This is dharma ending age. It is a matter of time
When Buddhism gonna completely gone. Some said it another ten thousand years before it is completely gone. I did a bit checking here and there, most likely Buddhism will stay another 1000 years because there is another religion war gonna break out around 200 years time.

I am just a beginner Buddhist who has very weak virtues at this moment of my life. I will probably pick up gun myself too. But I do make strong prayers at time asking Bodhisattva and Buddha so that I won't find myself picking gun at all. For me, the Buddha and Bodhisattva did come to my rescue many times.

But stronger Buddhists in spiritual development are supposed to be able to die without holding any grudges on their enemy. Instead they may even feel compassionate and pity toward their enemies because they know their enemies are gonna stay very long in hell.

Because destroy Buddha dharma has a very great and harmful effects, I think those who did this are likely to be in hell longer than those who commit suicide.


In DN16, the Buddha praises self-defense in the scope of protecting and guarding the arahats of the land.

"What have you heard, Ananda: do the Vajjis duly protect and guard the arahats, so that those who have not come to the realm yet might do so, and those who have already come might live there in peace?"

"I have heard, Lord, that they do."

"So long, Ananda, as this is the case, the growth of the Vajjis is to be expected, not their decline."


For a good Buddhist , is to always avoid any cause that will create bad effect, as we can see clearly in the 4 noble truths for example.

The above appears to be an inaccurate idea. Buddhist nations are not made up of "good Buddhists" but are generally made of ordinary people called "puthujjana" who superficially follow a superficial version of Buddhism.

For example, Burma & Thailand are two Buddhist nations that made war against each other for hundreds of years: Burmese–Siamese wars.

For example, it appears it was the Tibetans who violently breached the 17 Point Agreement with China. Regardless, the Tibetans were already training with the CIA.

Fight or get killed?

This was already answered. It is not the practising Buddhists that will fight a war.

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