Home     Contact Us         Log in
May 28
Monday
Community Articles
Living in the Challenge

On serving in the U.S. Navy and being a Shambhala Buddhist

by Ben Biggs

I get a lot of questions from the Shambhala Buddhist community about what it’s like being in the Navy and why I joined… so here you go!

What it’s like: one person’s experience

Being in the military is an ordinary situation once you get used to it. Just the word “Military” invokes images of board rooms full of uniformed officers working up a complicated strategy or a Soldier employing great heroics, or some Sun Tzu quote …

“And so one skilled at employing the military –
Subdues the other’s military but does not do battle,
Uproots the other’s walled city but does not attack,
Destroys the other’s state but does not prolong.
One must take it whole when contending for all-under-heaven.
Thus the military is not blunted and advantage can be whole.
This is the method of strategy and attack”

Actually it’s a very ordinary situation with people going to work and going home, on deployment or stationed in the states, although I can’t speak for those in active combat. But unless you’re in a war zone it becomes just like any other job with people to relate to, bosses to deal with, and social choices to make. Wisdom like the above quote from The Art of War becomes employed just in daily life like anyone else. Although it tends to be more aggressive and generally offensive than civilian life, in my experience this is due to the totality of the Navy environment. The vulgar sailor moniker is definitely not undeserved. And there can be a lot of survival-of-the-fittest and one-upmanship. Social politics and hierarchy can get painful, and there is a lot of judging others and talking behind backs. And don’t get me started on the complaining (I never do that)… but hey, I’m not here to carve up the boys and girls in blue, there are a lot of great people with strength and decency in the Navy, and there is a lot of dignity and humor in the higher enlisted and officer ranks.

In many ways it’s easier than civilian life, we are all bonded to one cause, one mission at least in a vague patriotic sense. Of course there are different views on our actions but most people see themselves as serving their country, and regardless of what you think about that view or what our Military is doing, on a personal level it does give people dignity and strength. I’m not saying it’s the best way for them to get it, but the military does generally have a positive effect on it’s members.

In many ways it is much more challenging than civilian life. You get stretched to your limits (at least for someone more introverted like me) in your ability to deal with people, you are thrust abruptly into a situation (bootcamp as one example) where you don’t know anyone and raw personalities come to bare, and being in uniform doesn’t help this. You have to go by people’s personalities to get a feel for them, which can be maddening because as we all know, personalities clash.

This has been the biggest personal challenge for me – learning to accept and get along with people who I wouldn’t have chosen to be around before, just because of different personalities. It’s pretty much like high school (which was not a high point in my life). You are forced to just deal with it. If it were not for my Shambhala training, I may not have dealt with it as positively.

I feel like a lot of people do not deal with their challenges (emotional, social, family, etc) very positively because there tends to be rampant drinking and partying (like a college campus – surprise!), as well as the opposite side of that with people who seal themselves off from the world with TV and video games. The actual job is interesting and fun. My biggest challenge by far has been the people. Mainly my fears and my assumptions about people. My worldview as a Buddhist means I perceive things very differently from my peers, and there is challenge in that, and sometimes a “me and them” thingy creeps up.

But I do feel like I am in the right place for now. Why did I join? I’ve always been drawn to the Military, and my other options for going back to school were fast dwindling. Would I do it again? Absolutely. My goal is to set the tone for goodness wherever I go. We can’t just ignore and shun the dark places of our culture, we have to go there and manifest. Once people’s rough edges can be pried up a little bit – you can see glimpses of brilliance. I am addressing and working through many of my own fears and challenges, learning a lot about how to work skillfully with others, and sometimes not doing much of anything.

KI KI SO SO from San Diego

Check out The Last Days of a Civilian previously posted on the Shambhala Times – it is a short documentary that will give you some background to the Navy/Shambhala thing.

Post Tags: , ,
10 responses to “ Living in the Challenge ”
  1. Arthur Ramsay
    Jun 1, 2012
    Reply

    Well, interesting responses to my comments with some valid and insightful angles.
    However it seems like this to me, to further elucidate:
    If you think that training in military forms and styles can sharpen your mindfulness and awareness,and help to protect the three Jewels by adopting these forms, sure, I can see and have experienced that.
    If you think that joining the militaries of the setting sun just involves that, not so! A big NO!
    I can just about accept that it might be possible , having subdued one’s own aggression, that one could take action to destroy evil by engaging in defensive warfare as a Warrior in combat against such as Al Queda, Maoist and Nazi hordes or individuals.
    However that is still problematic on at least three fronts that spring to mind:
    a) Is there not a case for absolute ahimsa as propogated by Ghandi and practiced with great dignity by the Dalai Lama for the past sixty years?
    b) Even if you are persuaded that in extreme circumstances you have to fight back, you should definitely not involve yourself in actions that lead to the death of innocent civilians, especially when you consider that these might include individuals who agree with you but are powerless on the ground, children, elderly, disabled.etc etc I’m afraid that rules out bombing and air attacks and even quite a lot of ground activity. No Hiroshimas or Dresdens as they will morally comporomise your victory I would suggest. They are the actions of cowards. So if young Ben, who is a bright and thoughtful and gentle chap, has to help fire missiles or load bombers that are going to kill such non-combatants I cannot see how that can be Shambhalian and that is why I think it is naive of him and others.
    c) I appreciate that New York and London and other cities, not to mention Tibet, have been attacked by followers of ghoulish and wicked ideologies. Yet we must try to understand how these came about in order to defeat them. We cannot believe that the West has acted and does act with wisdom and compassion all of the time, either historically, as even a cursory examination of the inequalites, racism and slavery.imperialism, capitalist exploitation of working people both in our own countries and over the world, or currently as in the military and political occupation of oilfields and other resouces ,which has been masked by pretending that these foreign adventures are to protect and propagate democracy and civil rights alone, or even at all.
    So if we are to create enlightened societies based on the values we discover and propagate in meditation we cannot do so if we do not examine our participation in our current society. We cannot be awake while polluting out atmosphere, allowing other creatures to be imprisoned and tortured so we can eat them, and pretending the noble Kasung is good traning for at best dubious military actions.
    This includes myself of course. I am not on the moral high ground as I can be a selfish or stupid person like the rest of us.
    We need to discuss these matters and where we need to change or clarify we should.
    Arthur

  2. Ben,
    Well written and interesting article. What struck me was it’s timelessness. I was inducted into the US Army fourtyfive years ago and it seemed like I experienced the military the same as you describe. The fact of being stretched to one’s limits dealing with all kinds of people. The strict heirarchy of rank in the enlisted and commisioned officer corp was another interesting experience I’m sure you are having .
    Thanks Tom

  3. Dylan Smith
    May 31, 2012
    Reply

    Thanks for the article Ben. I appreciate your willingness to share your experiences here. I think a lot can be learned from the dignity and respect that exists in some military forms.

    Arthur: all of the questions you ask are important questions. However, equally important is the fact that there is no right answer to these questions. It’s more about the way you do things and your intention while doing them rather than what it is that you’re doing. I’ve met peace activists who are incredibly aggressive, and military personnel who are working to keep peace. There is nothing wrong with being a peace activist or a soldier. It’s all about how you choose to work within that role. Furthermore, from my experience, it is far easier to enact change from within than by trying to force it from the outside. I think that’s core to the whole Buddhist experience.

  4. Arthur makes a great point, worthy of serious discussion and contemplation by Shambhala members. For example, our group finishes a sitting meditation session with the dedication of merit, in which we express aspirations for the happiness of all “sentient beings.” Then we go out to eat together, and nearly every member orders a meat dish. At Shambhala training I’ve attended, the center’s kitchen actually serves meat at meals.I really don’t begrudge meat-eaters or soldiers. It’s not my place to judge others. But if we choose to identify ourselves as Buddhists with a capital B, aren’t we compelled to step back and at least question such practices? The Buddha never said practice was easy. I find the absence of even acknowledging an apparent (blatant?) contradiction as troubling as the practice itself.

  5. Is it possible for Shambhala members to have no moral compass or political intelligence, or even curiosity, at all?
    I suspect that it is. However, the content of this brief article by Mr. Biggs does not indicate to me that he is such a member.

    Can we eat meat while ignoring the suffering of animals in industrial agriculture?
    I have been able to do this occasionally, but less often as time goes by.

    Can we preach compassion while backing acceptance of the exploitation of unregulated capitalism both at home and abroad?
    I suspect that most of us do this to some degree, but not deliberately so.

    Are we really going to accept that American foreign policy is based on “Cowboys and Indians”?
    I don’t accept such a basis. More to the point, though, I don’t read such an acceptance in the article.

    Are we not going to study the political and military complexities of situations?
    I spend some time, but perhaps too little, trying to read enough about international and domestic affairs so as to formulate some slightly educated perspective on what is going on. It occurs to me increasingly often that I am hamstrung by the absence of any experience in the military or formal education in business/economics.

    Above all, are we going to proclaim Victory Over War by supporting this kind of naivete?
    This is a trick question. It precludes a direct answer where one disagrees that the article is an example of naïveté.

    Surely we are opposed to enrolling in the military completely, absolutely, and relatively?
    I am not.

  6. Arthur Ramsay
    May 31, 2012
    Reply

    Is it possible for Shambhala members to have no moral compass or political intelligence, or even curiosity, at all?
    Can we eat meat while ignoring the suffering of animals in industrial agriculture? Can we preach compassion while backing acceptance of the exploitation of unregulated capitalism both at home and abroad? Are we really going to accept that American foreign policy is based on “Cowboys and Indians”? Are we not going to study the political and military complexities of situations? Above all, are we going to proclaim Victory Over War by supporting this kind of naivete?
    Surely we are opposed to enrolling in the military completely, absolutely, and relatively?

  7. Dear Ben,

    I watched the mini-doc about you when it was originally posted. Glad to see you are healthy and practicing! Thank you for sharing your perseverance and perspective.

    Highest regards,
    David

  8. Thank you for the article! Are you also involved with the Dorje Kasung? I’ve always wondered how active servicemen and women would feel about Kasung practice.

    Thanks again,

    Alex

  9. Dawa Lhatso
    May 28, 2012
    Reply

    Dear Ben,

    KI KI SO SO!

    And thank you for sharing your story of everyday bravery. How inspiring to know that people like you exist. Please keep up the good work and know that you’re not alone.

    Yours from Gampo Abbey,
    Dawa

  10. Robert W French
    May 28, 2012
    Reply

    Great to read your story and here from you!
    All the best,
    Robert


Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.



Website Development by Blue Mandala using Wordpress MU.
All content and source Copyright © 1994-2019. Shambhala International (Vajradhatu), Shambhala, Shambhala Meditation Center, Shambhala Training, Shambhala Center and Way of Shambhala are registered service marks of Shambhala USA

Facebook

Get the Facebook Likebox Slider Pro for WordPress
Translate »