The Dalai Lama on the Reality of War

By His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet on Saturday December 5th, 2015

The Dalai Lama on the Reality of War

Why does war continue to this day?

Of course, war and the large military establishments are the greatest sources of violence in the world. Whether their purpose is defensive or offensive, these vast powerful organizations exist solely to kill human beings. We should think carefully about the reality of war.

Most of us have been conditioned to regard military combat as exciting and glamorous – an opportunity for men to prove their competence and courage. Since armies are legal, we feel that war is acceptable; in general, nobody feels that war is criminal or that accepting it is criminal attitude. In fact, we have been brainwashed. War is neither glamorous nor attractive. It is monstrous. Its very nature is one of tragedy and suffering.

All forms of violence, especially war, are totally unacceptable as means to settle disputes between and among nations, groups and persons. – Dalai Lama

War is like a fire in the human community, one whose fuel is living beings. I find this analogy especially appropriate and useful. Modern warfare waged primarily with different forms of fire, but we are so conditioned to see it as thrilling that we talk about this or that marvelous weapon as a remarkable piece of technology without remembering that, if it is actually used, it will burn living people. War also strongly resembles a fire in the way it spreads. If one area gets weak, the commanding officer sends in reinforcements.

This is throwing live people onto a fire. But because we have been brainwashed to think this way, we do not consider the suffering of individual soldiers. No soldiers want to be wounded or die. None of his loved ones wants any harm to come to him. If one soldier is killed, or maimed for life, at least another five or ten people – his relatives and friends – suffer as well. We should all be horrified by the extent of this tragedy, but we are too confused.

Children playing war game
Children playing war game

The seduction of war

Frankly as a child, I too was attracted to the military. Their uniform looked so smart and beautiful. But that is exactly how the seduction begins. Children start playing games that will one day lead them to trouble. There are plenty of exciting games to play and costumes to wear other than those based on the killing of human beings.

Again, if we as adults were not so fascinated by war, we would clearly see that to allow our children to become habituated to war games is extremely unfortunate. Some former soldiers have told me that when they shot their first person they felt uncomfortable but as they continued to kill it began to feel quite normal. In time, we can get used to anything.

It is not only during times of war that military establishments are destructive. By their very design, they were the single greatest violators of human rights, and it is the soldiers themselves who suffer most consistently from their abuse. After the officer in charge have given beautiful explanations about the importance of the army, its discipline and the need to conquer the enemy, the rights of the great mass of soldiers are most entirely taken away.

They are then compelled to forfeit their individual will, and, in the end, to sacrifice their lives. Moreover, once an army has become a powerful force, there is every risk that it will destroy the happiness of its own country.

War Cemetery
War cemetery

The intention to destroy

There are people with destructive intentions in every society, and the temptation to gain command over an organisation capable of fulfilling their desires can become overwhelming. But no matter how malevolent or evil are the many murderous dictators who can currently oppress their nations and cause international problems, it is obvious that they cannot harm others or destroy countless human lives if they don’t have a military organisation accepted and condoned by society.

As long as there are powerful armies there will always be danger of dictatorship. If we really believe dictatorship to be a despicable and destructive form of government, then we must recognize that the existence of a powerful military establishment is one of its main causes.

Militarism is also very expensive. Pursuing peace through military strength places a tremendously wasteful burden on society. Governments spend vast sums on increasingly intricate weapons when, in fact, nobody really wants to use them. Not only money but also valuable energy and human intelligence are squandered, while all that increases is fear.

Children with tankChildren playing with tank ruins

The ongoing opposition of war

I want to make it clear, however, that although I am deeply opposed to war, I am not advocating appeasement. It is often necessary to take a strong stand to counter unjust aggression. For instance, it is plain to all of us that the Second World War was entirely justified. It “saved civilization” from the tyranny of Nazi Germany, as Winston Churchill so aptly put it.

In my view, the Korean War was also just, since it gave South Korea the chance of gradually developing democracy. But we can only judge whether or not a conflict was vindicated on moral grounds with hindsight. For example, we can now see that during the Cold War, the principle of nuclear deterrence had a certain value.

Through violence, you may ‘solve’ one problem, but you sow the seeds for another. – Dalai Lama

Nevertheless, it is very difficult to assess al such matters with any degree of accuracy. War is violence and violence is unpredictable. Therefore, it is better to avoid it if possible, and never to presume that we know beforehand whether the outcome of a particular war will be beneficial or not.

For instance, in the case of the Cold War, through deterrence may have helped promote stability, it did not create genuine peace. The last forty years in Europe have seen merely the absence of war, which has not been real peace but a facsimile founded dear. At best, building arms to maintain peace serves only as a temporary measure. As long as adversaries do not trust each other, any number of factors can upset the balance of power. Lasting peace can assure secured only on the basis of genuine trust.



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9 Responses to The Dalai Lama on the Reality of War

  1. (Do not forget that there WAS a war in Europe not too long ago. Remember Serbia? Easy to forget for those who were not close or do not know anyone who is still suffering emotionally and mentally from the consequences…)

  2. Surprisingly, he missed the boat on this one.

    If you really want to know why mankind has been at war ever since its creation, read the book by William Bramley, “The Gods of Eden.” Bradley also tackled this question, spent 7 years researching it and kept coming back to the same conclusion, one that he did not expect or want. It’s extraterrestrials that are manipulating the human race that are behind all the conflict.

    If you’re wondering about two other things that have been around forever, slavery and our obsession with gold, it’s extraterrestrials behind those too. Read Michael Tellinger’s “Slave Species of the Annunaki.”


    • Hi Steve, in the case of WWII which was way out of control with lots of dead and already trapped and powerless suffering people, something had to be done to stop it. That is why intervention was necessary to save the rest of the people and prevent more suffering that would not have ceased otherwise. I believe that is what he meant. Avoiding it altogether is always best but sometimes bad people get out of hand and become insane monsters so unfortunately good brave people willing to die to save the lives of countless others have to intervene. It’s sad and horrible but true. As long as there are psychopaths there will be wars.

        • that’s not exactly the case. He isn’t talking about the specifics of the abuses of war, what he’s expounding upon is a basic buddhist tenet. To put it another way, in Buddhism there are two kinds of anger: justified and unjustified. JUSTIFIED anger is to the respond to negative and harmful action of another in a way where the intent is to stop the ACT of harm. It is no judgment of hatred, it’s simply to stop harm from recurring. Think of it as someone abusing your child in front of your eyes; of course you have to act to protect the innocent. There are any number of examples, but i’m sure this makes sense.

          War is the same and it is never a great resolution, however, protection of others and of self are acceptable in that they provide the best overall benefit for beings now and in the long term. If you can prevent genocide, battle is acceptable, though unfortunate (it’s also not to be celebrated). If you think in this way as an overarching theme, it is not evil as much as preservation of good and the innocent. One shouldn’t simply ALLOW evil. If someone attacks you, you have the right to defend yourself. You have the right to defend a child or an animal. As long as one never loses sight over what brings the most benefit to all sentient beings.

        • I should also say that the Dalai Lama is very much a realist. His life has been in danger for 65 years and he requires 24 hour armed guards for his safety. It’s difficult to believe that there are those who’d prefer he not remain alive and don’t want to wait
          . Unfortunately, good vs. Evil is an extremely complex ideal on this planet.

  3. We need to understand that violence cannot be the answer… Alternatives must be seen and taken. Trust built on mutual advantage is better, and always preferred.

    • OF COURSE he is implying when there is no other alternative. Life prevents many challenges and dangers that don’t fit into ideology and idealism. It’s important to understand both and be aware of the balance.

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