War (yuddha) is a situation where two or more countries or groups engage in armed conflict with each other over an extended period. As war grows out of fear, greed or hatred and always involves killing, Buddhism considers it to be against the first Precept.
Buddhist philosophers and thinkers never compromised on the evilness of war and so never evolved the concept of a holy war – crusade or jihad – or of a just war. However, individual Buddhists may consider that at times participating in a war might be the lesser of two evils and thus unpalatable but necessary.
Other thoughtful Buddhists might refuse to be involved in war no matter what the circumstances. However, wars do not break out suddenly, they usually come at the end of a period of tension and fear. The most consistent Buddhist response to war is to deal with the causes of war before they get to the point where armed conflict becomes inevitable. The political history of Buddhists countries have been as full of wars as most other countries. However, wars fought for purely religious reasons or to promote Buddhism have not been common. Thailand has had national service for over a hundred years and during that time there has never been a single incident of conscientious objection. Paradoxically, in Burma many young men see the army as an alternative to becoming a monk.
- Buddhism, Nationalism and War, T. Ling, 1971.