This article by Andrew Bartles-Smith examines Buddhist teachings relevant to the regulation of war and compares them with international humanitarian law (IHL) and the just war tradition by which it has been informed. It argues that Buddhist ethics broadly align with IHL rules to minimize harm inflicted during war, and that Buddhism’s psychological resources can help support IHL to improve compliance with common humanitarian norms. Indeed, Buddhist mindfulness techniques can support even non-Buddhist combatants by enhancing their psychological resilience and capacity to fight with skill and restraint.
While IHL is a legal regime that legitimizes violence under certain conditions, and lays down clear universally ratified rules, Buddhism is primarily an ethical and psychological system that addresses the motivations and inner roots of behavior and can be understood and interpreted in different ways. In this respect, Buddhism overlaps with the field of military ethics, and can contribute much to enhance military training.
However, while the centrality of non-harming (ahiṃsā) to Buddhism dictates that extraordinary efforts should be made to prevent war or otherwise minimize the harm inflicted, Buddhism’s consequent reluctance to legitimize and thereby institutionalize war, and the ambiguity of its teachings in this regard, have generally precluded it from developing clear just war guidelines for belligerents to follow, and Buddhist resources to improve the conduct of hostilities have remained largely untapped.
Mainstream traditions of Buddhist ethics must also be distinguished from more esoteric and localized beliefs and practices, and from the lived Buddhisms with which most lay Buddhists are more familiar, which do not necessarily embody the same degree of restraint. Belligerents might therefore have different conceptions or expectations of Buddhism depending on their culture and particular circumstances, or be unclear about what it says on the conduct of war.
Please read the article here.