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Buddhadharma : Spri 2007
buddhadharma| 19 |spring 2007 Q aSk the teacherS SeNd your QueSTioNS By Mail or To TeaCherS@TheBuddhadharMa.CoM ZeNKei BlaNChe harTMaN iS forMer aBBeSS of The SaN fraNCiSCo ZeN CeNTer. riNgu TulKu riNpoChe iS a laMa iN The Kagyu order of TiBeTaN BuddhiSM. NarayaN lieBeNSoN grady iS a guidiNg TeaCher aT CaMBridge iNSighT MediTaTioN CeNTer. PHOTOSBY(l-R):BARBARAWENGER;UNkNOWN;MARYlANG QueSTioN: Since the age of eighteen I’ve been in the military, training for combat, engaged in combat, and training other sol- diers to do the same. When I was young, I thought peace came through aggression and never letting your defense down. But now I’m in my mid-forties, still young enough to do what has to be done but old enough to realize that peace and happiness are what make a life good. It’s that peaceful, happy feeling that I can’t seem to find. Do you believe a person can practice Buddhist ways and still maintain a job in the military, even though the military is by nature an aggressive orga- nization? As a Buddhist, must you always believe in “turning the other cheek” when something bad happens to you? ZeNKei BlaNChe harTMaN: This question is tough for me to respond to, so I can only imagine how tough it must be for you to ponder it after having devoted your whole adult life to a military career. I am reminded of a moment nearly forty years ago when I was participating in a peace demonstra- tion and suddenly noticed how aggressive my mind was. I realized with chagrin that I was fighting for peace. There was no peace in me. I was making enemies of those who disagreed with me and wish- ing them ill. The inherent contradiction stopped me in my tracks, and I began to question how I could work for peace with a peaceful mind. Fortunately, a friend told me about the Zen Center, although the idea of Zen Buddhism was so strange to me then that I didn’t go there for some months. When finally I did go for meditation instruction, it seemed very peaceful in the medita- tion hall, and the teacher’s calm mind was encour- aging. In all the stillness, however, my mind was thrashing about all over the place. I have found that cultivating a peaceful mind is the work of a lifetime. It is not something that I will finish and then “get on with my life,” as I first imagined. But that just means that I will never use up this practice or wear it out. To respond directly to your question about whether a person can practice Buddhist ways and still maintain a job in the military, I think it depends on what you mean by “practice Bud- dhist ways.” If it means practicing meditation and mindfulness, becoming more intimate with how your mind works and what mind states are con- ducive to happiness or unhappiness, to harmony and disharmony, then my answer would be yes. Anyone can profit by studying his or her mind with careful attention and can become more con- tent with a quieter mind. But it’s quite possible, and even likely, that you will begin to discover for yourself that respond- ing to aggression with further aggression does not lead to peace or happiness. “Turn the other cheek” was a teaching by Jesus of Nazareth, but you are correct in assuming that the Buddha gave similar teachings. One that comes to mind is, “Hate is never overcome by hate. Only by love is hate over- come. This is a law eternal.” If, as you practice, you come to feel such an affinity for Buddhism that you identify yourself as a Buddhist and wish to take refuge in the triple treasure and embrace the precepts as a guide for your life, it will be clear to you that a livelihood that might involve killing or training others to kill is not a suitable livelihood for you. riNgu TulKu riNpoChe: Dharma practice is not for any specific profession, gender, continent, color, nation, caste, or community. It is for everyone, and anybody can practice it to whatever degree one feels comfortable. A person in a military profession can practice