An interesting confluence of things came my way recently. Over the past couple of weeks I received three or four e-mails from people in the military saying how much they’d enjoyed my books. One was reading Hardcore Zen while stationed in Iraq. At just around the same time I received some other e-mails expressing concern over people in the military who practiced Buddhism. These other e-mailers seemed convinced that anyone in the military who got into Buddhist practice and philosophy would immediately be forced to go AWOL and quit the armed services. And here it is, Veteran’s Day, the perfect day to post a piece about the subject.

I feel very honored that people in the armed services are reading my stuff. I sometimes wonder how many other Buddhist authors have fans in the military. I’m sure some do. But a lot of Buddhist writers are so vehemently politicized I’d imagine they turn anyone involved in that line of work away from Buddhism. That’s a shame.

The title of this piece is a play on a bumper sticker you often see in the US that says, “Like your freedom? Thank a veteran!” Buddhism is a practical philosophy and practice for the real world, the one we actually live in, and not an idealistic religion that envisions the fantastic world we wish we lived in. I think we Buddhists ought to thank our veterans too.

You probably wish we lived in a world where our freedom to practice Buddhism was not underwritten by military power. I know I certainly do. But if wishes were tobacco-burst ’57 Gibson Les Paul guitars with coffee and cream PAF pick-ups I’d have a dozen of ‘em. The fact is Buddhism has only ever thrived in nations where the citizens’ right to practice it was guaranteed by a powerful military. The sad examples of Afghanistan and Tibet spring to mind.

I already wrote about this in a Suicide Girls piece called Buddhism Through Violence, so I don’t want to rehash all that here. But I do want to stress again, as I did in that article, that I’m not happy about the fact that our ability to practice Buddhism needs to be protected by violence, or at least the threat of violence. But whether I’m happy with it or not doesn’t change the fact. We can only make a difference in the world after we first come to terms with what kind of world we actually live in.

As for whether a person can continue to serve in the military after she or he starts practicing Buddhism, I don’t see why not. The job these people are doing is a necessary one. As long as the military continues to be necessary I want there to be a military. If military people practice zazen they’ll bring their own individual bodies and minds more into balance and they will do their jobs with greater efficiency and care. The outlook that develops as their practice grows will allow them to use the power we’ve given them in ways that will be more beneficial to everyone involved. They’ll be more interested in maintaining peace wherever they are and less interested in kicking butt. There will be less random violence, less drug and alcohol abuse and more individual stability in our armed services. This is a great thing.

Is there a chance that military people who practice Buddhism will be moved by its teachings of non-violence to leave the service? Some might. Some might not. But I don’t think it’s the place of those who think they know what Buddhism is all about to say that anyone who truly understands the philosophy of non-violence would certainly leave the military. That is a matter for each individual to decide for themselves. It ain’t up to you, no matter how well you think you understand this Buddhist stuff.

So on Veteran’s Day I’d like to extend my thanks to those who serve in our armed forces.

Sharing is caring! Tweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on StumbleUponDigg this

119 Responses

Page 3 of 3
  1. Jinzang
    Jinzang November 13, 2008 at 5:13 pm |

    I simply enjoy observing everything. And when I discovered that I could emotionally detach myself (thanks to zen among other things)from worldly phenomena, a sort of happiness unlike any I’d ever known arose in me.

    This sort of distancing from your experience, taking a step back and observing it, is a pretty common early result of meditation practice. Some people like it, some don’t, and it scares others. But it’s not the goal of Zen. Because as long as there’s a split between the observer and the observed there’s still more work to do.

    You heard the phrase, “living in a ghost cave,” Zen-boy? ‘Cause that’s what you’re doing.

    Actually, that’s another experience. When your meditation gets stronger, it’s possible to block all thoughts and enter a state of mental blankness. That’s doesn’t sound very appealing, but thinking all the time, even when we dream, is very tiring. And putting that aside is very peaceful and joyful. The problem is that there’s a subtle dullness associated with the absence of thoughts that facilitates that state, but also keeps you from seeing the mind as it is. So that state is a side track, a trap that can seem like the goal of Zen practice, since it’s easy to fall into the error that thought is the enemy. But it is not the goal and a good teacher will get you out of this trap.

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous November 13, 2008 at 5:20 pm |

    Naive idealism or not
    it was Veteran’s Day, ok?
    and Brad, who hadn’t blogged in a while, did
    and on this blog, on this, which was Veteran’s Day at the time, day he says Thanks!

    no more different than on New Year’s Day, his blogging something about “Happy New Year,”

    or on Mother’s Day (which, by the way started as an anti war protest one day by mothers wanting no more of their precious sons to be sent off to their deaths) Brad might very well blog Thanks Moms!

    I don’t think it was a particularly deep piece.

    He sat down and put a little sumptin’ up on the blog.

    It isn’t deep, people.
    It doesn’t always have to be deep.

    So we should thank all people everywhere all doing their jobs in the best way they can, paying attention to all things needing attention be paid, and being caring and kind in all their encounters

    Veterans are people too, on Veterans Day, hey–thank them–

    But really everyday, thank everyone, especially for all kindnesses shown to you, personally.

    Living itself, when it comes down to it, is just one GREAT BIG THANK YOU.

    who could possibly misunderstand ‘Thank you’

  3. Jinzang
    Jinzang November 13, 2008 at 5:27 pm |

    Here’s a radical thought: every time you’re tempted to use the word “always,” substitute the word “sometimes.”


  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous November 13, 2008 at 5:28 pm |

    Thank-you-Buddha, Fuck-you-Buddha…
    two sides of the same coin.

  5. Anonymous
    Anonymous November 13, 2008 at 5:40 pm |


    btw, joshu was right
    dogs do not have buddha nature
    (but cats do)
    watch out, nansen, you’re next

  6. Jordan
    Jordan November 13, 2008 at 7:00 pm |

    I heard a good quote today, I would like to share it with you all. It is from Franklin Covey, that Seven Habits guy…

    we like to think we see the world as it is, but really, we see the world as we are

    I thought that was nice and a helpful way to look inward when considering the wide range of comments here. Thank you all for being brave enough to share your thoughts.

    Take care,

  7. Anonymous
    Anonymous November 13, 2008 at 7:28 pm |

    That was another great comment, jinzang. Living in the Ghostcave is more of a danger to those doing shikantaza, just as conceptualizing is a danger for koan zen. The sects often misunderstand and denigrate one another: ‘Soto is just dead sitting, living in the ghost cave.’ Or ‘Rinzai isn’t real zazen, they just sit and think about koans.’

    If I manage to stop all thoughts, there’s still one thought left, though it’s the hardest to see. Suzuki roshi said that ‘to stop the mind does not mean to stop the activities of mind.’ That’s real stopping. Thankyou for your teaching.

  8. plaudertasche
    plaudertasche November 14, 2008 at 7:42 am |

    I do like Brad, even sometimes he writes like he has fallen “off the wagon” seeing things clear.
    But hey he is a human-bean after all, how can you blame him 🙂
    This article seems to be proof of it, at first glance.
    The only thing I can make off it, is that he likes to underline that he doesn’t judge people who think that violence and aggression is an unavoidable part of our existence, rather then a choice we make. All though, violence/aggression seem to be a necessity on the PATH of our existence….


  9. Alan A
    Alan A November 14, 2008 at 9:18 am |

    Jinzang quoted Alan A:

    “‘Here’s a radical thought: every time you’re tempted to use the word “always,” substitute the word “sometimes.”‘”


    Alan A. answers:

    Almost always!

  10. Rich
    Rich November 14, 2008 at 12:41 pm |

    Sometimes I’d rather read this blog than do anything else.

    But I could never substitute the word always or almost always.

  11. Alan A
    Alan A November 14, 2008 at 1:45 pm |

    Sometimes, then!

  12. Matt
    Matt November 14, 2008 at 4:07 pm |

    Thanks for sharing that Jordan.

  13. Rich
    Rich November 15, 2008 at 6:24 am |

    “If I manage to stop all thoughts, there’s still one thought left, though it’s the hardest to see. Suzuki “

    That’s world peace.

  14. Rich
    Rich November 15, 2008 at 10:44 am |

    Keep going, to the place of no idea then only what you do has substance and that’s only for this moment.

  15. Anonymous
    Anonymous November 17, 2008 at 12:30 pm |

    I very much disagree with the idea of following buddhism and being an active member of the armed forces. To think that using the argument that buddhism is situated in the real realm to back up the need to selfishly and the ego driven annihilation of other people is simple preposterous and even though i do not practice zazen or buddhism as a day to day religion i still cannot help to feel that if we simply sit and observe the reality around us and not put into action things that can change that reality into a more peaceful existence than all is lost. To tell soldiers that doing zazen to have a more peaceful mind while they are throwing bombs down residential alleys to protect themselves from suicide bombers is stupid. I am not in support of the ideology that continues our need for a military(as a world not nation), i love to support the men and women who go into battle only because they are humans not because they are soldiers. And might i add that the last true war fought for our freedom was WWII.
    Buddhism should be about not only understanding the real world but trying to make it the better place being Buddhist is about. That is at least how i feel.

  16. ihxel
    ihxel November 19, 2008 at 5:37 pm |

    i completley agree with what a few of the anonymousposts say. Brad just had an idea and posted it, he´s not only a buddhist, he´s also a guy w a personal political view, as we all are.
    I don´t agree with him at all, i believe that the military has only done wrong throughout the decades, and it´s not meant to protect a nation´s freedom or rights from other nations, it´s meant to ensure national economy by whatever means neccesary. The fact that soldiers/veterans believe they are putting their life´s in danger defending a country´s freedom is exactly what a government wants them to believe, it´s the only possible way to make sane citizens fight daily a war that is only protecting a minority´s economical interests.
    This being said, why not thank them? as someone else said, why not thank anyone anywhere anyday?

    It´s not their fault governments are a piece of shit.

  17. Anonymous
    Anonymous November 25, 2008 at 7:19 am |

    As a Veteran, an American, Buddhist and an aging punk; Thank you for this article.

  18. Anonymous
    Anonymous November 25, 2008 at 7:19 am |

    As a Veteran, an American, Buddhist and an aging punk; Thank you for this article.

  19. Anonymous
    Anonymous December 16, 2008 at 3:35 pm |

    Violence is icky. As a Soldier, I may have to commit violence against others at some time in my career. As a Buddhist, I will try to do so with compassion, and without hatred.

Comments are closed.