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In situations involving lies and/or violence, does Buddhism teach siding with the good against the bad, or does it teach neutrality i.e. staying outside the conflict and not taking sides?

Specifically,

If someone (knowingly or unknowingly) spreads lies or misinformation, should a Buddhist challenge them to defend the truth OR is it preferable to remain uninvolved (to avoid provoking a conflict)?

If someone violently attacks someone else, does Buddhism teach fighting the aggressor and defending the victim, or does it teach staying out?

Are there examples of such situations in the Pali Canon and later texts?

I mean this question literally as written and am sincerely looking for answers - i.e. this is not a rhetorical question.

12 Answers 12

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In situations involving lies and/or violence, does Buddhism teach siding with truth and peace against lies and violence, or does it teach ethical neutrality i.e. not taking stance on such subjects?

IMO, your question dances around the delicate subject of "Should Buddhists go to war in defence of the side that is innocent?" Should Buddhists fight aggressors? The answer isn't simple, because what constitutes "a Buddhist" isn't simple. Which "Buddhist" do we mean when we ask this question? Do we mean the members of the Bhikṣusaṃgha? Do we mean "the four communities" of laypeople and mendicants? Do we mean just anyone who is "into" the Buddha and the Dharma?

Buddhism has difficult advice to-do with dealing with war, with conflict. When Virūḍhakarāja massacred the Śākyas of Kapilavastu, the Buddha watched passively from the top of a hill while shaded by the canopy of a sparse tree. He didn't rush down with his hand held out in the "stopping mudrā" in the manner that it is said that he supposedly stopped the elephant. That's a difficult look. It certainly seems "ethically neutral."

Yet, we know that Buddhism, that the Buddhadharma, is not actually "ethically neutral." Karma itself is predicated upon morality and ethics.

No Buddhist textual tradition records the thoughts of the Buddha while he watched the Śākyas of Kapilavastu, the members of his own family, die. Buddhist tradition passes down several accounts that give various hagiographical details, such as that those Śākyas were Arhats, and that they refused to fight, not taking up their weapons, meeting death gracefully. I read that hagiography in a Pāli source, but am having difficult finding it again at the moment. In the meantime, I also found this version of the events, which somewhat corresponds to the mythohistory that I had read previously...

Everyone was killed except those who entered the battlefield and symbolically rejected violence by holding blades of grass or reeds between their teeth. Everyone was killed: man, woman, child. The Buddha did not stop the slaughter. While returning home, Vidudabha and his soldiers slept on a dry riverbed. Ants came at night and carried those who were sinless to the riverbank. The rest, including Vidudabha, were drowned in a flash flood, and their bodies were swept away by the raging river into the sea.

(Devdutt Pattanaik summarizes)

I know a version of this which has the incredible (and rather unbelievable) detail that all of the Śākyas rejected violence, that all of them were holy, and that all of them achieved liberation. Either way we tell the story, the Buddha watched from either the top of a hill or from under a tree outside the city boundaries.

It's a very impressive hagiography, but it does little to help the massacred people.

Modern democracies are unlike the kingdoms of the Buddha's time as much as they are like them. Democracies are states, just like those kingdoms, but "kinghood" is participatory through the institutions of the democracy. When King Louis XIV was arrested by revolutionary soldiers in the name of the French State, he said, "L'État, c'est moi," or "The State? That's me." The king is the state, is the body politic, in such a system of governance. In a democracy, the body politic is diluted through several offices and institutions. When persons have a say in their country's politics, they become part of that body politic. When the ministers obey the will of the people, both the ministers and the people are the body politic.

When the Buddha speaks of kings and their ministers, he does not universally condemn them per se, even though talk of kings and ministers, etc., is talk of "lowly topics" (Sāmaññaphalasutta, DN 2, as translated by Venerable Ṭhānissaro). Concerning armies, he says that:

"When a warrior strives & exerts himself in battle, his mind is already seized, debased, & misdirected by the thought: 'May these beings be struck down or slaughtered or annihilated or destroyed. May they not exist.' If others then strike him down & slay him while he is thus striving & exerting himself in battle, then with the breakup of the body, after death, he is reborn in the hell called the realm of those slain in battle. But if he holds such a view as this: 'When a warrior strives & exerts himself in battle, if others then strike him down & slay him while he is striving & exerting himself in battle, then with the breakup of the body, after death, he is reborn in the company of devas slain in battle,' that is his wrong view. Now, there are two destinations for a person with wrong view, I tell you: either hell or the animal womb."

(Yodhājīvasutta SN 42.3 translated by Ven Ṭhānissaro)

This reads like a blanket condemnation of all soldiers, but is technically a condemnation of the "warlike mindset." Maybe it's a difference without distinction.

Kings are worldlings, worldlings entangled in the world, entangled in the geopolitics they were born into. These were, after all, hereditary monarchies. When an aggressor attacks a dominion under the care of a king, the Buddha says:

Here, bhikkhu, a wheel-turning monarch, a righteous king who rules by the Dhamma, relying just on the Dhamma, honoring, respecting, and venerating the Dhamma, taking the Dhamma as his standard, banner, and authority, provides righteous protection, shelter, and guard for the people in his court. Again, a wheel-turning monarch, a righteous king who rules by the Dhamma, relying just on the Dhamma, honoring, respecting, and venerating the Dhamma, taking the Dhamma as his standard, banner, and authority, provides righteous protection, shelter, and guard for his khattiya vassals, his army, brahmins and householders, the people of town and countryside, ascetics and brahmins, and the animals and birds. Having provided such righteous protection, shelter, and guard for all these beings, that wheel-turning monarch, a righteous king who rules by the Dhamma, turns the wheel solely through the Dhamma, a wheel that cannot be turned back by any hostile human being.

(Cakkavattisutta AN 3.14 translated by Venerable Bodhi)

Having provided righteous protection, the Cakravartin "turns the wheel" via the Dharma. There is a sequence of events there. Having provided the protection, having established the prosperity, the Wheel-Turner then rules by the Dharma and "turns the wheel." Compare:

in the royal capital of Ketumati a king named Saṅkha will arise, a wheel-turning monarch, a just and principled king. His dominion will extend to all four sides, he will achieve stability in the country, and possess the seven treasures. He will have the following seven treasures: the wheel, the elephant, the horse, the jewel, the woman, the treasurer, and the counselor as the seventh treasure. He will have over a thousand sons who are valiant and heroic, crushing the armies of his enemies. After conquering this land girt by sea, he will reign by principle, without rod or sword.

(Cakkavattisutta DN 26 translated by Venerable Sujāto)

After he conquers, the Wheel-Turner forsakes the rod and the sword. This one is a little more difficult, because it is about conquering, not about defending (like the other one was). I will point out, however, that what was conquered in this version of the Cakkavattisutta was "the armies of his enemies," implying, to me, that this is a situation of traditional perpetual warfare over territory. The Wheel-Turner needn't be an Alexander-like figure who conquers for the sake of conquest. Perhaps that is an unjustified reading on my part, softening this difficult passage by asserting that a Wheel-Turner would not strike an unprovoked blow against a neighbouring "non-enemy." Maybe that's naïve.

Either way, as in the previous example, the Wheel-Turning King must establish a peace before he can establish a Dharma.

This, IMO, is the closest the Buddha comes in the Pāli Canon (I've not yet read the Humane Kings Sūtra, but I have it on good faith that it also addresses these matters similarly) to a direct answer to the OP. In a democratic society, where "kinghood" is diluted, the widely-distributed composite body politic must work to establish peace and to diminish chaos and warfare. After that, focus can be re-aligned to "establishing the Dharma," such as the teachings of renunciation and inaction that are so fraught in times of war. The inaction of Gautama Buddha, who renounced the world and did not re-entangle himself in the world for the sake of saving the Kapilavastu Śākyas, is difficult if we look to the Buddha here as our direct guide. Certainly, an Arhat practicing for individual liberation might not take any measures at all to right wrongs. "Such is saṃsāra," we might imagine them dispassionately saying.

The path of world-renunciation is not the path of politics. The path that transcends the world is not the path of the world. The Buddha could not be both a Cakravartin Dharmarāja and a Samyaksaṃbuddha, despite the Brahmanical prophecy of the 32 marks being shared between the two.

In times of war, worldlings must defend themselves for the sake of the peace that makes practice possible. Certainly, it's not impossible to practice Buddhism in a country under attack, but it is not "ideal conditions" either. To suggest that all non-Buddhas must abstain from all violence is impractical and foolhardy advice. It is expecting all of the people of the world to be saints and sages, like the supposed saints and sages of Kapilavastu who met their death willingly. It is not humane to expect this conduct of persons who are not saints and sages and who are simply ordinary persons. It is extraordinary conduct, and to expect it of the ordinary is foolish. The ordinary man is not wicked, but he isn't a saint either. We oughtn't expect them to act like sages from a medieval Indian story. That's an example of getting one's wires crossed, if you're expecting a population of ordinary people to just lay down and let themselves be trampled.

IMO.

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  • If the Shakyans were virtuous, they would not have given Vidudabha a slave girl as a wife. Mar 6, 2022 at 2:20
  • My impression is the Buddha attempted thrice to stop Virūḍhakarāja massacring the Śākyas of Kapilavastu. "Towards the end of the Buddha's life, Vidudabha did become king and on several occasions he marched with his army towards Kapilavatthu, although on each occasion the Buddha was able to persuade him to turn back. Eventually though, Kapilavatthu and several other Sakyan towns were attacked and Vidudabha had the personal satisfaction of having many Sakyans massacred". buddhanet.net/e-learning/buddhism/disciples04.htm Mar 6, 2022 at 2:21
  • The version I know simply has Virūḍhakarāja turning his army away upon seeing the Buddha near Kapilavastu. Specifically, he turns them away (presumably second-guessing himself) when he inquires as to why the Buddha is not cold and hearing the Buddha state that the love of his family keeps him warm. Then, later when the king doesn't turn his army away, the Buddha watches passively while the clan is massacred.
    – Caoimhghin
    Mar 6, 2022 at 2:36
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For a global perspective, we should probably all review DN16. The wisdom that follows this introduction is worth reading in its entirety. It is subtle and not easily summarized. The problem, however, is summarized succinctly:

DN16:1.3.5: Master Gotama, King Ajātasattu wants to invade the Vajjis.
DN16:1.3.6: He has declared:
DN16:1.3.7: ‘I shall wipe out these Vajjis, so mighty and powerful! I shall destroy them, and lay ruin and devastation upon them!’”

For actions, let ethics guide us:

MN8:12.2: ‘Others will be cruel, but here we will not be cruel.’
MN8:12.3: ‘Others will kill living creatures, but here we will not kill living creatures.’
MN8:12.4: ‘Others will steal, but here we will not steal.’
MN8:12.5: ‘Others will be unchaste, but here we will not be unchaste.’
MN8:12.6: ‘Others will lie, but here we will not lie.’
MN8:12.7: ‘Others will speak divisively, but here we will not speak divisively.’
MN8:12.8: ‘Others will speak harshly, but here we will not speak harshly.’
MN8:12.9: ‘Others will talk nonsense, but here we will not talk nonsense.’
MN8:12.10: ‘Others will be covetous, but here we will not be covetous.’
MN8:12.11: ‘Others will have ill will, but here we will not have ill will.’
MN8:12.12: ‘Others will have wrong view, but here we will have right view.’
MN8:12.13: ‘Others will have wrong thought, but here we will have right thought.’
MN8:12.14: ‘Others will have wrong speech, but here we will have right speech.’
MN8:12.15: ‘Others will have wrong action, but here we will have right action.’
MN8:12.16: ‘Others will have wrong livelihood, but here we will have right livelihood.’
MN8:12.17: ‘Others will have wrong effort, but here we will have right effort.’
MN8:12.18: ‘Others will have wrong mindfulness, but here we will have right mindfulness.’
MN8:12.19: ‘Others will have wrong immersion, but here we will have right immersion.’
MN8:12.20: ‘Others will have wrong knowledge, but here we will have right knowledge.’
MN8:12.21: ‘Others will have wrong freedom, but here we will have right freedom.’
...

And if anger arises, let us all remember what the Buddha said:

SN1.71:2.3: What’s the one thing, Gotama,
SN1.71:2.4: whose killing you approve?”
SN1.71:3.1: “When anger’s incinerated you sleep at ease.
SN1.71:3.2: When anger’s incinerated there is no sorrow.
SN1.71:3.3: O deity, anger has a poisoned root
SN1.71:3.4: and a honey tip.
SN1.71:3.5: The noble ones praise its killing,
SN1.71:3.6: for when it’s incinerated there is no sorrow.”

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For my health issues, I recently worked with a healer who emphasizes a vegan diet.

[BTW he's also a staunch Buddhist, and no I've not been 100% successful as a vegan 🙃]

One day, while really enjoying my smoothie I had an epiphany:

Its not that veganism is not to eat this or that. But rather its a positive: to eat and enjoy and relish some wonderful things we neglect to remember/try.

I believe your question, like my vegan experience, suggests exploring a frame inversion from an implied negative to an actual positive.

I'm new here and its a bit strange that I am answering a moderator, especially to what certainly looks like a sincere question.

It is somewhat a truism but still reasonably true to take as a starting point: The Eastern religions are wisdom-oriented, the Abrahamic are faith-and-value oriented.

Of course one can find as many exceptions to this as one likes. eg

How much better to get wisdom than gold, to get insight rather than silver!
Proverbs 16.16 from Bible

Still if we allow the stereotype a little room it becomes possible to consider that your question has a framing problem:

Is Ethics/ethicality a central Buddhist concern or is Buddhism closer to wondering… What is ethics? Why ethics? Which then inches towards: /What/Whither/Whence suffering? And thence pragmatic answers to that.

And if we would tarry a little with the wisdom angle it may help to connect with one of the greatest figures of wisdom in the western world: Socrates.

Socrates famously said: I do not know. Or more strongly: I know that I do not know. But there's something about Socrates' attitude that is not in any mere words: He seems to enjoy and relish his un-knowing!

My own teacher [who BTW has a comprehensive book on Buddhism] once said to me:

Its not just that Socrates said that I do not know. He said that since I do not know what death entails, I cannot possibly fear death!!!

And this shows why the earlier quoted biblical proverb is so true: True wisdom saves from the greatest of all fears.

It is from this view that (I feel) we need to hear Buddha.

To me the Buddha does not say:

I am the authority, I am the ultimate, believe and obey me.

He seems more to say:

Ive pondered reflected suffered and researched the problem of human suffering. These are my findings. I invite you to reflect on them and then research them in your own frame of reference.

In short Buddhism is not a weak negative toward ethics but a strong positive towards wisdom.

Comes to the reason of this post

You have — I assume recently — assumed a name for yourself out here. That name conveys a strong view, an opinion, a conclusion on a matter that seems of great importance.

Does that conclusion leave room for a question?

Try this thought experiment. Lets assume some figure such as say the Buddha who you regard as unequivocally, vastly wiser than you were here with us today. Would he have agreed with you? Are you sure?

Let me end with again a quote from my teacher from his book on the Bhagavad Gita

The eastern religions are consciousness oriented;
the middle eastern religions are conscience oriented

Today we are all neither eastern nor western, or both eastern and western.

We all need to practice the good Samaritan, turning other cheek, forgiveness in the face of provocation — the conscience-angle

But also, we need to put aside all this, to put aside all relationing and take to our meditation seats — the consciousness angle.

We simply do not have the time for This? OR That?
It must be This AND That!

Even (and especially when!!) the bombs fall!

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should a Buddhist defend truth or is it preferred to remain uninvolved

Maybe it depends, on the topic perhaps?

When the topic is Dhamma there is for example MN 22:

Then those monks, desiring to pry the monk Arittha Formerly-of-the-Vulture-Killers away from that pernicious viewpoint, quizzed him back and forth and rebuked him ...

So when the monks were unable to pry the monk Arittha Formerly-of-the-Vulture-Killers away from that pernicious viewpoint, they went to the Blessed One ...

I'm not certain they did right; but then the Blessed One himself called, and rebuked, and corrected him.

Although, that's within the context of a pre-existing relationship: i.e. where the Buddha is formally the monk's teacher.

Outside of that relationship maybe what you do is "offer" the truth (especially but perhaps not only when asked), rather than being bossy about it. The Buddha himself started his mission only for "those with ears" in MN 26:

Then, having understood Brahma's invitation, out of compassion for beings, I surveyed the world with the eye of an Awakened One. As I did so, I saw beings with little dust in their eyes and those with much, [...] those with keen faculties and those with dull, those with good attributes and those with bad, those easy to teach and those hard, some of them seeing disgrace & danger in the other world.

"Having seen this, I answered Brahma Sahampati in verse:

'Open are the doors to the Deathless
to those with ears.
Let them show their conviction.

On other types of topic, "the truth" tends to be like an elephant (i.e. people's perception of it is subjective and partial):

  • "He started!" -- "No, he started it!"
  • "I am wronged!" -- "But what about [etc.]"

... which according to the Dhammapada might be "endless" if you're not careful, and which may call for a certain type of "neutrality".

Regardless, I think that Buddhism teaches that at least some things are an "absolute truth", and not only relative, for example (quoting from Getting the Message):

The early texts report that a group of wanderers, in a discussion with one of the Buddha's lay disciples, once accused the Buddha of not taking a position on any issue, and the disciple replied that they were mistaken. There was one issue on which the Buddha's position was very clear: what kind of behavior is skillful, and what kind of behavior is not. When the disciple later reported the conversation to the Buddha, the Buddha approved of what he had said. The distinction between skillful and unskillful behavior lies at the basis of everything the Buddha taught.

In making this distinction, the Buddha drew some very sharp lines:

"What is unskillful? Taking life is unskillful, taking what is not given... sexual misconduct... lying... abusive speech... divisive tale-bearing... idle chatter is unskillful. Covetousness... ill will... wrong views are unskillful. These things are called unskillful...

"And what is skillful? Abstaining from taking life is skillful, abstaining from taking what is not given... from sexual misconduct... from lying... from abusive speech... from divisive tale-bearing... abstaining from idle chatter is skillful. Lack of covetousness... lack of ill will... right views are skillful. These things are called skillful."

— MN 9

Killing is never skillful. Stealing, lying, and everything else in the first list are never skillful. When asked if there was anything whose killing he approved of, the Buddha answered that there was only one thing: anger. In no recorded instance did he approve of killing any living being at all. When one of his monks went to an executioner and told the man to kill his victims compassionately, with one blow, rather than torturing them, the Buddha expelled the monk from the Sangha, on the grounds that even the recommendation to kill compassionately is still a recommendation to kill — something he would never condone. If a monk was physically attacked, the Buddha allowed him to strike back in self-defense, but never with the intention to kill.

On the subject of "the elephant" I try to keep in mind:

  • Ud 6.4 (a war of words, "wounding with weapons of the mouth", arguments that generate more heat than light)
  • The definitions of "conceit" given by Ven. Yuttadhammo and by Wikipedia, given that canonically conceit is a major cause of dispute
  • A "young Quaker" telling me once, "I'll discuss anything with anyone; but as soon it turns into an argument then I [...] walk away"

And I should possibly reference Right Speech also.

If someone violently attacks someone else, does Buddhism teach pacifying the attacker and defending the victim, or does it teach staying out?

As I remember it, when someone was going to make war on the Sakyans, the Buddha tried to dissuade them (verbally) -- but when that failed he (of course) didn't participate in the war.

If you want to know about "violence" specifically, I think it's not completely unheard of -- the Vinaya says something like, that if a monk is (physically) seized then "they may, desiring freedom, strike a blow".

My personal experience (if that's on-topic) of intervening in a fight is not extensive, but in an immediate emergency my recollection is of acting without a lot of introspection: see or hear a commotion; perceive who's involved; feel it would be better for it to be more peaceful; move to act on that intention. And you do it because you're there and you can. And it doesn't feel personal, it feels (rightly or wrongly) like a case of "anybody would have done the same, or should have if they could", or (for better or worse) "instinctive" (maybe like this quote, "I would have no hesitation") -- like saving somebody else from danger, from drowning. There's one instance I recall vividly, I don't regret (feel remorse about) doing it. I'm not proud of how skilfully I did it -- I grabbed the attacker's hair from behind and dragged him off -- but other people were already standing around shouting, apparently I computed that "direct action" was the solution then, it was effective and mostly harmless.

As for "defending the victim" perhaps that's always an option too, especially for a lay-person. I mean it's traditional for concientious objectors now to go to war as "stretcher-bearers" i.e. to help the victims. It must be a bit different for monks -- they can't give money to the Red Cross, obviously. I suppose the Vinaya even technically forbids their giving medical assistance (but possibly "first aid" would be another case of "do it if you have to, confess it afterwards").


One more thing on the subject of "lies and violence", one of the first things they had me memorize from school was La Fontaine's "The Wolf and the Lamb". With that, and with what I know of causus belli historically, it's entirely unsurprising to me, old news, that violence is associated with lies -- see also, "ultima ratio regum".

Given that, and given how it's possible to become swept up in unproductive argument -- if "the Wolf" will not take "no" for an answer, and if you have yourself renounced the "last argument of kings" -- then sometimes "the only winning move is not to play". Or to do it elsewhere -- "right speech" being "spoken at the right time".

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Not exactly what you're looking for, though the Bodhisattva Never Disparaging story from chapter 20 of Lotus Sutra contains some similar elements. The story is popular where I live, but I haven't seen it around here much so I assume members of BSE might not all be familiar with it.

"At this time there was a bodhisattva monk named Never Disparaging. Now, Gainer of Great Authority, for what reason was he named Never Disparaging? This monk, whatever persons he happened to meet, whether monks, nuns, laymen, or laywomen, would bow in obeisance to all of them and speak words of praise, saying, ‘I have profound reverence for you, I would never dare treat you with disparagement or arrogance. Why? Because you will all practice the bodhisattva way and will then be able to attain buddhahood."

“This monk did not devote his time to reading or reciting the scriptures, but simply went about bowing to people. And if he happened to see any of the four kinds of believers far off in the distance, he would purposely go to where they were, bow to them, and speak words of praise, saying, ‘I would never dare disparage you, because you are all certain to attain buddhahood!’

“Among the four kinds of believers there were those who gave way to anger, their minds lacking in purity, and they spoke ill of him and cursed him, saying, ‘This ignorant monk—where does he come from, presuming to declare that he does not disparage us and bestowing on us a prediction that we will attain buddhahood? We have no use for such vain and irresponsible predictions!’

“Many years passed in this way, during which this monk was constantly subjected to curses and abuse. He did not give way to anger, however, but each time spoke the same words, ‘You are certain to attain buddhahood.’ When he spoke in this manner, some among the group would take sticks of wood or tiles and stones and beat and pelt him. But even as he ran away and took up his stance at a distance, he continued to call out in a loud voice, ‘I would never dare disparage you, for you are all certain to attain buddhahood!’ And because he always spoke these words, the overbearingly arrogant monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen gave him the name Never Disparaging.

This particular Bodhisattva (later revealed to be a previous incarnation of Gautama)

  • Spoke the truth but was perceived by others to be lying (which did nothing to hinder him).
  • Was subjected to many extreme reactions, often violent (which also did not hinder him).
  • Was always respectful to others and never stopped believing in the Buddha nature of all sentient beings.

Nichiren comments that, as the story is set in the age of set in the age of mappō, a lot of people, monks and lay alike, cannot discern what is or isn't authentic Dharma. Therefore those who say the absolute truth in the most direct and unobscured way is also the most authentic.

The Bodhisattva's way of dealing with extreme reactions is to have a healthy boundary - running away when necessary, but still comeback to enlighten beings when things are more cooled down. A form of non-violence that is not too naive or passive.

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The story of the Buddha stopping his relatives, the Sakyans and Koliyans, from getting into a war over water rights of the Rohini river, comes from the traditional commentary to Dhammapada 197 - 199.

The Buddha uttered Verse (197) to (199) of this book, in the Sakyan country, with reference to his relatives who were quarrelling over the use of the water from the Rohini river.

Kapilavatthu the town of the Sakyans and Koliya the town of the Kolyans were situated on either side of the Rohini river. The cultivators of both towns worked the fields watered by the Rohini river. One year, they did not have enough rain and finding that the paddy and other crops were beginning to shrivel up, cultivators on both sides wanted to divert the water from the Rohini river to their own fields. Those living in Koliya said that there was not enough water in the river for both sides, and that if only they could channel the water just once more to their fields that would be enough for the paddy to mature and ripen. On the other hand, people from Kapilavatthu argued that, in that case, they would be denied the use of the water and their crops would surely fail, and they would be compelled to buy from other people. They said that they were not prepared to go carrying their money and valuables to the opposite bank of the river in exchange for food.

Both sides wanted the water for their own use only and there was much ill will between them due to abusive language and accusations on both sides. The quarrel that started between the cultivators came to the ears of the ministers concerned, and they reported the matter to their respective rulers, and both sides prepared to go to war.

The Buddha, surveying the world with his supernormal powers, saw his relatives on both sides of the river coming out to meet in battle and he decided to stop them. All alone, he went to them by going through the sky, and stopped immediately above the middle of the river. His relatives seeing him, powerfully and yet peacefully sitting above them in the sky, hid aside all their weapons and paid obeisance to the Buddha. Then, the Buddha said to them, "For the sake of some water, which is of little value, you should not destroy your lives which are of so much value and priceless. Why have you taken this stupid action? If I had not stopped you today, your blood would have been flowing like a river by now. You live hating your enemies, but I have none to hate; you are ailing with moral defilements, but I am free from them; you are striving to have sensual pleasures, but I do not strive for them."

Then the Buddha spoke in verse as follows:

Verse 197: Indeed we live very happily, not hating anyone among those who hate; among men who hate we live without hating anyone.

Verse 198: Indeed we live very happily, in good health among the ailing; among men who are ailing we live in good health.

Verse 199: Indeed we live very happily, not striving (for sensual pleasures) among these who strive (for them); among those who strive (for them) we live without striving.

At the end of the discourse many people attained Sotapatti Fruition.

Dhammapada 197 - 199

On the other hand, monks are not allowed to participate in political activities which are divisive in nature.

Political activities often include divisive speeches to break people apart, and speeches where political opponents are belittled.

Political activities may or may not include false speech, transfer of money, possible bribery or deception, relaying of messages or running of errands for other people, making forecasts for political victories or failures, scheming, persuading, hinting and belittling.

"And how is a monk consummate in virtue? ....

"Abandoning false speech, he abstains from false speech. He speaks the truth, holds to the truth, is firm, reliable, no deceiver of the world. This, too, is part of his virtue.

"Abandoning divisive speech he abstains from divisive speech. What he has heard here he does not tell there to break those people apart from these people here. What he has heard there he does not tell here to break these people apart from those people there. Thus reconciling those who have broken apart or cementing those who are united, he loves concord, delights in concord, enjoys concord, speaks things that create concord. This, too, is part of his virtue.

"He abstains from accepting gold and money.

"He abstains from running messages... from buying and selling... from dealing with false scales, false metals, and false measures... from bribery, deception, and fraud.

"He abstains from mutilating, executing, imprisoning, highway robbery, plunder, and violence.

"Whereas some brahmans and contemplatives, living off food given in faith, are addicted to talking about lowly topics such as these — talking about kings, robbers, ministers of state; armies, alarms, and battles; food and drink; clothing, furniture, garlands, and scents; relatives; vehicles; villages, towns, cities, the countryside; women and heroes; the gossip of the street and the well; tales of the dead; tales of diversity [philosophical discussions of the past and future], the creation of the world and of the sea, and talk of whether things exist or not — he abstains from talking about lowly topics such as these. This, too, is part of his virtue.

"Whereas some brahmans and contemplatives, living off food given in faith, are addicted to running messages and errands for people such as these — kings, ministers of state, noble warriors, brahmans, householders, or youths [who say], 'Go here, go there, take this there, fetch that here' — he abstains from running messages and errands for people such as these. This, too, is part of his virtue.

"Whereas some brahmans and contemplatives, living off food given in faith, engage in scheming, persuading, hinting, belittling, and pursuing gain with gain, he abstains from forms of scheming and persuading [improper ways of trying to gain material support from donors] such as these. This, too, is part of his virtue.

"Whereas some contemplatives & brahmans, living off food given in faith, maintain themselves by wrong livelihood, by such "animal" arts as: reading marks on the limbs [e.g., palmistry]; reading omens and signs; interpreting celestial events [falling stars, comets]; interpreting dreams; ... ; making predictions for state officials; .....; casting horoscopes — he abstains from wrong livelihood, from "animal" arts such as these.

"Whereas some contemplatives & brahmans, living off food given in faith, maintain themselves by wrong livelihood, by such "animal" arts as [forecasting]: the rulers will march forth; the rulers will not march forth; our rulers will attack, and their rulers will retreat; their rulers will attack, and our rulers will retreat; there will be triumph for our rulers and defeat for their rulers; there will be triumph for their rulers and defeat for our rulers; thus there will be triumph this one, defeat for that one — he abstains from wrong livelihood, from "animal" arts such as these.

"Whereas some contemplatives & brahmans, living off food given in faith, maintain themselves by wrong livelihood, by such "animal" arts as [forecasting]: there will be abundant rain; there will be a drought; there will be plenty; there will be famine; there will be rest and security; there will be danger; there will be disease; there will be freedom from disease; or they earn their living by accounting, counting, calculation, composing poetry, or teaching hedonistic arts and doctrines [lokāyata] — he abstains from wrong livelihood, from "animal" arts such as these.

Samannaphala Sutta (DN2)

So, in conclusion, truth, non-violence, unity and peace is good. Lies, violence and divisiveness is bad. Speaking the truth and calling for peace, unity and non-violence is the right way in Buddhism.

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I don't know how helpful this will be in your situation but I'll make it short:

IF you know the truth and somebody lies it is right to call it out. If you witness violence it is right to stop it if you can without being violent yourself (main options are: help the victim get away or restrain the aggressor and then get away). But the reason might suprise you.

You do it for the lier and the attacker not for the lied to and attacked. It is unbeneficial to lie or be violent so if you can you should prevent people from lying and attacking for their own sake.

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I think everybody is siding with good, even evil is siding with good. So if everyone is siding with good, then perhaps it's not wise.

If someone (knowingly or unknowingly) spreads lies or misinformation, should a Buddhist challenge them to defend the truth OR is it preferable to remain uninvolved (to avoid provoking a conflict)?

here is an example: The monk visits Nigaṇṭha Nātaputta. He asks him what the fruits of the ascetic life are. The answer he gets is fourfold restraint. He thinks to himself, "when asked about a mango, answered with a breadfruit,.." Now rather than sow the seeds of discontent with argument, he gracefully exits. Now suppose later he thinks to himself, "Nigaṇṭha Nātaputta is obtuse. Did he mean, the reward of the way is the way?"

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Venerable Thanissaro once pointed out in a talk that the Western concept of justice with its retributive, restorative and distributive components requires a detailed accounting of who did what to whom from the very beginning. This is just not realistic nor helpful in putting an end to suffering.

The Buddha once said that it is hard not to encountered a being who has not been related to us as father, mother, brother, sister and so on at one time in the past (SN15:14). Left unspoken is that it is equally hard not to encountered a being who has not been an enemy, a foe, an opponent or nemesis who had harmed, lied, swindled, attacked or destroyed us in the past and vice versa.

My understanding of the Buddha’s approach had always been to focus on whatever will lead to the long-lasting wellbeing and happiness of all beings. When there are teachings that would lead to the opposite of such results, he had never hesitated to challenge his contemporaries. In the process, he had won over many followers and also created enemies in other faiths (MN56). Such actions arose from the Buddha’s compassion and wisdom for the wellbeing and happiness of all beings. This is very admirable and maybe worth emulating?

But it is not the lack of compassion, sometimes, that stops me trying to help, defend or guide those in need. Rather it is my lack of wisdom and foresight that worries me. Am I making the situation worse or harming (in some unforeseen ways) the person I am trying to help instead?

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Part 1)

Is Buddhism a teaching of neutrality or "siding with the good"?

Different people comes to the Buddhism have different intentions (different paths they prefer) as allowed / showed in Buddhism. Intentions as, showed as someone should / could fallow.

Obviously, this is my view.

  • neutrality

Buddhism advice on acting neutral to minimise social bounds, love, hate, like, dislike ect; if you (individual you) prefer to reach Nirvana immediately in this life. Like if someone like to reach Nirvana / free from suffering immediately, as suggested as one should do. (in theravada Buddhism) This is the path advised as one should fallow normally. ( theravada monks advice mostly this path, neutrality > reach Nirvana immediately as soon as possible in this life)

  • siding with the good / fighting the aggressor and defending the victim / defend the truth

Buddhism advice this siding with the good / fighting the aggressor and defending the victim / defend the truth and guiding people to good, if one don't wish to reach Nirvana in this life / immediately. That's because, siding with the good / fighting the aggressor and defending the victim / defend the truth involves oneself more with society and more problems.

Theravada Buddhism actually doesn't advise on actually fallowing this path, but rather show that one could fallow this path if they want.(shows that this path also available, but doesn't advise on fallowing for normal people)

Why it's not adviced generally ?

Because, unless if the one fallowing this path doesn't have enough strength / will he/she could lose the immediate opportunity to reach Nirvana and lost in the Samsara.

So, it's not really adviced on fallowing this path, rather, follower deicide to fallow this path for good of everyone / every other living being in the universe.

This one/being decide to fallow this path and fallow is called Bodisathwa. Which will achieve being,

  1. Lord Buddha

Or

  1. Pachcheka Buddha / Pasebudu

.

Other than that, it not advice to involve with more and more problems of the social world trying to siding with the good / fighting the aggressor and defending the victim / defend the truth and get lost in the Samsara.

So, in Buddhist society around the world, very rarely, people who fallow this path appear and guides world / people towards good.

Part 2)

If someone (knowingly or unknowingly) spreads lies or misinformation, should a Buddhist challenge them to defend the truth OR is it preferable to remain uninvolved (to avoid provoking a conflict)?

If someone violently attacks someone else, does Buddhism teach fighting the aggressor and defending the victim, or does it teach staying out?

Buddhism doesn't advice on hurting anyone, even the bad people. (because bad people do bad, because they don't know / understand the truth, when they understand the truth, they won't do bad anymore). Buddhism advice on taming them for good of both parties.

Thanks 🙏. ☸️.

Questions are welcome.

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As in regard of the Dhamma, right view, good householder gains a broad overview here: How to address wrong view?

Only if not harming or breaking precepts, one leaves neutrality, while inwardly, of course, right view, not left view or wrong view, always domains for the Dhammica.

Loss of everything, beginning with relations, isn't that bad as to lose right view, metta.

AN 1.071-080: Kalyāṇamittādivaggo: Good companionship and others

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The question here appears faulty. To suggest some rewording to generate an answer to the question:

In situations involving lies and/or violence, often Buddhism teaches (siding with truth) that lies and violence often beget lies and/or violence. For example, merely about speech, the Dhammapada says:

133. Speak not harshly to anyone, for those thus spoken to might retort. Indeed, angry speech hurts, and retaliation may overtake you.

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