October 28, 2009

Buddhifying the Military

At the Upaya Zen Center Newsletter, Rev. Alan Senauke responds to a sticky question posed to him regarding the Buddhist chapel at the Air Force Academy (via LT Jeanette Shin at Buddhist Military Sangha):
I’m of course concerned about its impact on CO [conscientious objector] clients for whom Buddhism is their route to their beliefs against participation in war in any form. The more deeply Buddhism becomes entrenched in military life, the harder it is for that to be the accepted religious source of a CO applicant’s beliefs. It is already such an uphill battle for Christians – I can see that happening how for those who articulate Buddhist values or beliefs in support of their CO applications. “Soldier, the Air Force has a Buddhist Chaplain and a Buddhist Chapel. How can you sit here and say to me that Buddhism is against participation in war in any form?”
Check out his full response. Earlier this year there was some heated back-and-forth on a couple of posts on the issue of Buddhism and the military. I don’t think it’s wrong to disagree with the notion of Buddhists serving in the military—but I will speak out loud and clear against those who would have the community turn our backs on our own.

6 comments :

  1. I will take a closer look at the links you provide to see what is being said, but initially, my reaction is that to say that being Buddhist should automatically be interpreted as being anti-war and anti-military seems a bit contrived. How does Thailand manage to have its Army? You can't tell me that none of its soldiers identify as Buddhist.

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  2. I have the deepest respect for Rev. Senauke, but I am quite frankly shocked by this narrow-minded response.

    It seems to me that the primary way that people can utilize the CO clause to be exempt from military service is to have one's minister or priest contact the Armed forces directly. This is precisely how my father-in-law got out of going to Vietnam. His Christian minister (can't recall right now which denomination) wrote him a letter explaining that he was in fact a conscientious objector, regardless of the fact that there are Christians serving actively in the military, regardless of the fact that there are Christian chaplains, regardless, even, of whether or not his specific Christian denomination had taken a stand one way or the other on the Vietnam War. And this was during an active draft.

    It seems very clear to me that what Rev. Senauke is suggesting is that since the military has "a Buddhist" in its midst, that particular Buddhist speaks for "all Buddhists." This, obviously, overlooks the wide diversity of opinion within American Buddhism and suggests that what one Buddhist believes or does somehow reflects on all Buddhists. That we have, in effect, no denomination, no separate traditions or schools, that we "all look alike."

    Having a Buddhist presence in the military does not, necessarily, mean that it will be harder to get out of service. If you're in the service and your commanding officer says something as trite and ignorant as "Soldier, the Air Force has a Buddhist chaplain!" I think the obvious response would be "Sir, yes sir. But I do not follow that school of Buddhism, sir, and the school I do follow will now allow me to be a commandant."

    Problem solved.

    I'm really shocked and a little bummed out by Rev. Senauke's response.

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  3. Rev. Senauke said:
    "Second, I have deep mistrust of any nation where “church” and state are aligned with each other. Could I call this an unholy alliance, one that inevitably corrupts the very religious principles it claims to uphold? If any of you can point me towards a historical setting—modern or ancient—where this has worked out, I would be interested."

    I think Bhutan might be of interest to him then.

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  4. Scott,

    Perhaps you meant "combatant" not "commandant" who is the head of the Marine Corps!

    A letter from a clergy or chaplain is not enough to help a servicemember break his or her contract or to be declared a conscientious objector (this is a common misconception). Also, just because there is a chaplain of a particular denomination or faith, that doesn't mean another of that faith can't apply for C.O. The ultimate decision is up to the applicant's commanding officer and (in the case of the US Navy and Marine Corps) the Naval Personnel Command (NAVPERSCOM) board to grant a discharge. Other factors may be involved. All a chaplain or clergyperson can do is attempt to verify the information provide by the servicemember applying for conscientious objector status, such as whether the applicant is an actual and practicing member of that particular faith. A "Buddhist chaplain" isn't necessarily in the position to evaluate Buddhists only - any chaplain can evaluate a conscientious objector claim. However, in my experience, this is very rare and difficult to obtain. In my 5 years of active and reserve service, I have only seen 1 application.

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  5. I’m really glad this conversation is happening.

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  6. Hi Jeanette,

    Thanks for your input. Like I tried to say (but probably didn't!) in my post, I really don't know what I'm talking about having never served in the military, but found Rev. Senauke's comment misguided for all the reasons you've listed here (and on your blog). My only experience with folks getting out the military are from my parent's generation, and according to my father-in-law, he used a letter from a clergy member to grant him an out during the Vietnam War when there was draft -- which, no doubt, is a different circumstance than folks who are already in active duty. And I'm sure the rules have changed in the 40 years since my father-in-law got out of Vietnam!

    So, in short, that's all I know. But, like Arun, I'm really glad this conversation is happening, too, and thanks for your perspective. It's much needed!

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