thoughts on service

Shortly after I posted my last entry, wherein I talked about the Buddha’s compassion embracing everyone without distinction, I received an email forwarded to me from my lovely and talented wife. A friend of ours’ daughter recently married, and her husband is now serving in the Army Reseve. In point of fact, he is right now at boot camp somewhere in the South.

Without revealing too many personal details, he is not currently a U.S. citizen. Turns out that one way to fast-track your citizenship is to join the Army Reserve. (Add that to my list of things I’d never thought about and was surprised to learn.) The gist of the email was to ask folks to send him letters, postcards, care packages. Something about being in boot camp means not having regular access to the Internet or email. And something about being a newlywed far from home means missing your family.

And it got me thinking. It got me thinking about those who are suffering (in this case, the suffering caused by separation from those you love) and the proper response to that suffering, regardless of one’s Buddhist credentials, regardless of whether the person who’s suffering is even a Buddhist. (Not that it matters, but this particular friend is not a Buddhist.)

And it reminded me of conversations I’ve seen or had over the last few years about the appropriateness of Buddhists in the military. It reminded me of those who think Buddhists should never be in the military. As well as those who think otherwise.

And I got to thinking. Who cares? Is the proper response to the suffering of others to judge or condemn their actions? Or is it to simply help ease their suffering? In this case, in the case of a friend, I don’t particularly care about why he’s in the military. He’s made certain choices — perhaps choices out of necessity, choices from a limited set of options,or perhaps merely choices I wouldn’t chose, choices I may disagree with; regardless, who cares? They’re his choices, and what right do I have to decry him his choice, especially when he and his wife are suffering? How can that be the proper response? It seems to me that the proper response is to sit down and write a letter. Invite his wife over for dinner.

Like I said in my last post, the Buddha’s compassion embraces everyone. Without distinction. Who am I to argue with the Buddha’s compassion?

So, if you know someone who’s actively serving in the military, give them a little moral support and some good old fashioned Buddhist compassion today. (And for that matter, send some compassion to the peacemakers, to the community activists, to the social workers, to the chaplains of all stripes, whether they have stripes or not. And to all of those who have difficult, often thankless jobs.)

And for more perspectives on Buddhists in the military, I highly recommend Lt. Shin’s blog, an active-duty Navy chaplain. And a fierce Buddhist.

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4 thoughts on “thoughts on service

  1. I get the spirit of your post. But man! Can a system get any more evil than offering marginalized and oppressed people a chance to become un-marginalized and un-oppressed by agreeing to go off to a far away place and marginalize and oppress others in the service of imperialism? To be silent about this truth seems like a bad idea. To act like not pointing out this terrible fact is a spiritual (or Buddhist) act is strange.

  2. @ tim: I don’t think you have gotten the spirit on this post. I’m not talking about an abstract, intellectual issue. I’m talking about a friend. I’m talking about how best to be compassionate to a friend. And since that, and that alone, was the spirit of this post, I’ll not arugue with you about the role of the U.S. military in supporting Western imperialism. I’ll make ya a deal: we can discuss that when I write a post about that topic — one that is no less important to be sure.

  3. @ tim: no apologies necessary. Your point is a valid one, to be sure, if out of context for this post. And it may inspire me to write something, based on my earlier post about large-scale systems of poison, about U.S. military policy…. if I have wherewithal!

    Thanks for reading and for commenting. It’s always appreciated.

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