Doju Layton & Thich Nhat Hanh
Non-Violence : Buddhism & War
On Sunday, December 10, 2023, after meditation we listened to a talk from Dōju Layton about Buddhism and War, and the practice of non-violence.

Dōju was moved to give this talk by the recent breakout of war in the Middle East, but, rather than talk about current events, he focuses on Buddhist scriptures and what other Buddhist teachers have had to say about war in the past. Doju does conclude with some recommendations but leaves a lot for listeners to think about and decide for themselves.

Dōju says that the teachings make clear that those who follow the Buddha should not kill anything, and that this rule is about protecting others, but also about protecting one’s self. He offers several examples from the scriptures which urge non-violence, sometimes to extremes.

But what is non-violence? Dōju quotes from Thich Nhất Hạnh, when he was asked about non-violence, and whether it’s acceptable to act to protect others. Thich Nhất Hạnh’s answer focuses on one’s motivations — any action that comes from understanding and compassion is non-violent, he says. And violence could come from non-action as well as action. Being able to stop harm and not doing so could be a violent act. Dōju also quotes from the Buddha warning against anger, saying that it has a “honeyed tip and poisoned root”.

Another theme from the talk is that it’s not expected that people will be perfect at being non-violent. It’s a direction for practice — Thich Nhất Hạnh describes it as like the North Star. It sets the direction in which you travel, but you don’t expect to arrive there. And it’s better to be 80% non-violent than 10% non-violent.

Finally, Dōju gives some recommendations. Keep an orientation toward non-violence, and talk to others about it. Urge peace, even when most people urge war. And be wary of what you hear in the media and from the government.

In the discussion that followed the talk, we continued to grapple with the question of what is non-violence, and how we can continue to be engaged and a positive force in the world while being non-violent. One of the points made was that meditation can help us act from a place of compassion and avoid anger.

Scroll down to listen to Doju’s talk and a recording of Q&A with Thich Nhất Hạnh on the topic of non-violence. Happy Learning!


From the Teachers: War and Non-Violence

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Dharma Video 1:

Buddhism & War” by Dōju Layton*  


Dharma Video 2:

Can you ever respond to violence with violence?” by Thich Nhất Hạnh**

* Dōju Layton grew up in the Washington D.C. area. He received an undergraduate degree from the College of William and Mary and a master’s degree in evolutionary biology from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. While in the latter program, he began practicing zazen at the Missouri Zen Center in St. Louis after deciding against an academic career but lacking another clear direction. Inspired after reading Kōshō Uchiyama’s Opening the Hand of Thought, in 2015 he moved to Sanshinji in Bloomington to practice under Okumura Rōshi. Dōju was ordained as a novice priest in 2017. To supplement his priest training, Dōju studied Buddhism at Indiana University, receiving a master’s degree in Religious Studies in 2021. He is interested in the intersection of practice, ecology, and politics, and how to engage with these topics while being true to the Buddhist tradition.

** Thích Nhất Hạnh (1926 – 2022), was a Vietnamese Thiền Buddhist monk, peace activist, prolific author, poet, teacher, and founder of the Plum Village Tradition, historically recognized as the main inspiration for engaged Buddhism. In the mid-1960s, Nhất Hạnh co-founded the School of Youth for Social Services and created the Order of Interbeing. He was exiled from Vietnam in 1966 after expressing opposition to the war. In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Nhất Hạnh established dozens of monasteries and practice centers and spent many years living at the Plum Village Monastery, which he founded in 1982 in southwest France near Thénac, travelling internationally to give retreats and talks. Nhất Hạnh promoted deep listening as a nonviolent solution to conflict and sought to raise awareness of the interconnectedness of all elements in nature. He coined the term “engaged Buddhism” in his book “Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire.”

After a 39-year exile, Nhất Hạnh was permitted to visit Vietnam in 2005. In November 2018, he returned to Vietnam to his “root temple”, Từ Hiếu Temple, near Huế, where he lived until his death on January 22, 2022, at the age of 95.