Question: I remember you mentioned you were in the navy. Onboard the ships, there are some weapon control systems. If we are at war, would you operate those systems? Even in peace time, should we avoid involvement in the development of these ‘defence’ systems, if given a choice?
Answer: I was in navy as a seaman-gunner not by choice but by national obligation. Knowing I’m a Buddhist, an officer once asked what I would do in war. I replied, ‘We are likely to only defend; and not attack – right?’ He agreed (though an attack might be rationalised as defence). I will never use anything to kill, even in war, unless it is the last choice needed to save many more lives.
If there is no guarantee that the company you are thinking of working in will not create or sell weapons to those who might use them to kill, it is better not to play any part in it, as the Buddha taught trade in weapons to be an unwholesome livelihood. This is due to the simple fact that weapons are for destroying what is the most precious to sentient beings – their very lives.
In the Yodhajiva Sutta, the Buddha also clarified on the severe misconception of glorifying the so-called ‘rewards’ of war in the afterlife, from dying in battle, in the midst of hateful killing:
‘When a warrior strives and exerts himself in battle, his mind is already seized, debased, and misdirected by the thought: “May these beings be struck down or slaughtered or annihilated or destroyed. May they not exist.” If others then strike him down and slay him while he is thus striving and exerting himself in battle, then with the breakup of the body, after death, he is reborn in the hell called the realm of those slain in battle.
But if he holds such a view as this: “When a warrior strives and exerts himself in battle, if others then strike him down and slay him while he is striving and exerting himself in battle, then with the breakup of the body, after death, he is reborn in the company of devas [gods] slain in battle,” that is his wrong view. Now, there are two destinations for a person with wrong view, I tell you: either hell or the animal womb.’