Should Buddhists wear poppies?

I feel so grateful for having been born in the UK. It’s so easy to complain about our society and country, but compared to so many other places around the world we are incredibly fortunate. It is so easy to take for granted our ability to practice freely as Buddhists without persecution from the state or our fellow citizens. We only need to look at what is currently taking place in Tibet to see how different our lives could be. That we live in such a tolerant, free and open society is truly a blessing.

In my case, I have generally worn a poppy each year to show gratitude, specifically, to those who gave their lives in World War II – surely as close as one can get to a ‘just war’. I would not be able live this life of spiritual practice, I believe, had my grandparents’ generation not collectively and courageously taken a stand against oppression.

In recent years, though, it has become increasingly difficult to know whether I can wear a poppy with a clear conscience, given the Buddha’s ethics of non-violence. The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are, of course, much more problematic, politically, than WWII. But my main ambivalence arises from what I see as a seeping militarisation in our society and the fear that wearing a poppy tacitly signals support for this military mindset.

Something potent seems to have been in the air since 2007. The hugely successful Help for Heroes was founded in October of that year. H4H has since raised more than £100M for worthwhile causes aimed at alleviating the suffering of ex- and current servicemen. 2007 was also the first year in which poppies were worn on football club shirts in England and Scotland. It was also the year in which Royal Wootton Bassett, as it has recently been re-named, started honouring the dead returning from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps 2007 was, quite simply, the year in which consequences more fully entered the consciousness of the British public, with H4H, Royal Wootton Bassett and the poppy just natural and understandable expressions of the support, concern and gratitude for those engaged in those conflicts.

What I fear, though, is that these developments also indicate that an increasingly military mindset is becoming normalised in the UK – as further evidenced, to my mind, by the furore over poppies on the shirts of the England football team. Where does expressing gratitude for our political and social freedoms turn into something uglier – national pride to the exclusion of others, or even jingoism and tacit support for violence? Should we, as Buddhists, now avoid poppies? Should we be wearing white poppies instead?Share

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6 Responses to “Should Buddhists wear poppies?”

  1. Frances says:

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  3. narapa says:

    The Guardian article referred to by Manjusiha is very good. Many will remember George Orwell’s (supposedly by him) statement that the reason we can hold the views we do is because brave men are prepared to stand on the walls at night to protect us. We should wear poppies to remember those who died and their families, but more importantly to remind us that the fact that they die is due to our politicians inability to solve problems without violence, to remember the failure of diplomacy. We pay our politicians and diplomats much more than our soldiers, sailors and airman and the display of red poppies should serve to say to those who commit the lives of others ‘you failed’!

  4. Manjusiha says:

    Thanks for the comment Narapa. I love the Orwell quote. I think there’s a lot in that.

    On the inability and failure of our politicians, please see my piece on blame and fate here: In short, I think it’s so easy to blame others for failures – politicians, bankers, whoever. One of the things I love about the Dharma is the radical way in which it invites us to take responsibility for ourselves and our society – the way it shows us, in fact, that we are already responsible without, perhaps, fully realising it. So if our politicians are failing then I would say it’s because we are failing (although I wouldn’t personally use that word). Instead of ‘How have they got it so wrong?’, the questions for me would be something like ‘What can I do to improve things?’, ‘How can I be better?’ ‘How can I have a more positive influence on society around me?’

  5. f says:

    “If someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun.”

    ~ The Dalai Lama, (May 15, 2001, The Seattle Times) speaking at the “Educating Heart Summit” in Portland, Oregon, when asked by a girl how to react when a shooter takes aim at a classmate.

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