What is the Buddhist perspective on vaccine mandates? Buddhist practitioners deeply recognize the vast interconnectedness of life and strive to work for the common good and benefit of others. As such, we acknowledge that to promote the general welfare and common good of others, we must take care of our minds and bodies through the guidance of Buddhist teachings and the working of the Great Compassion. We cannot genuinely practice love and compassion, or assist others if our minds are not free to make personal choices and if our bodies are not healthy and strong. According to our teachings, the mind and body are one; if the mind is ill so too the body and vice versa. We must protect the freedom and health of our minds and bodies otherwise, we will not be able to skillfully adhere to and practice the Buddhist teachings for our families, society, and for the betterment of the world. For the average lay practitioner, without a firm foundation of mental, emotional, and physical freedom and well-being, the ultimate goal of our religious path, the realization of awakening, will be greatly hindered and made even unattainable.
Prefacing the above, the answer to this question rests on two fundamental Buddhist ethical teachings found in the Five Precepts, the First and Fifth Precepts, and the basic spirit of Right Conduct of the Noble Eightfold Path.
The First Precept says that we will practice love and abstain from harming and killing ourselves and other sentient beings. This training is based on the Buddha’s teaching of ahimsa or no harm, which refers to the avoidance of violence and other acts of aggression, whether it is self-afflicted or against others. This teaching covers all aspects of human life: personal, business, political, and includes the medical field.
Likewise, related to the teaching of ahimsa, the Fifth Precept trains us to abstain from substances that damage our minds and bodies. This Precept encourages us to be mindful of what we consume and refrain from intoxicants and harmful substances that corrupt our ability to effectively follow the path to enlightenment so that we can truly touch the beauty of life.
Although Buddhists are encouraged to take well tested and time proven vaccines for their own health, as well as, for the common good; potentially dangerous drugs of any kind, must be avoided at all costs. There are an increasing number of concerns regarding both the efficacy and safety of COVID vaccines and boosters. It has been widely documented that in countries with high vaccination rates, such as Israel and the United Kingdom, the jabs do not stop the spread of the disease or even illness. Additionally, worldwide scientific studies have demonstrated that, for some people and certain age groups, there can be debilitating side-effects or even death as a result from these experimental vaccines. With this in mind, the individual’s health must be considered to weigh the potential risks and benefits.
Let’s be clear, if any Buddhist practitioner chooses to accept the risks of any vaccine, then they have a right to take them. Every person has a different life situation; data and scientific studies have shown that the elderly and those who have multiple comorbidities should take the vaccines. However, for those who wish to refrain from the vaccines, any form of medical coercion disrespects and shatters their natural rights of conscience, bodily integrity, and personal choice. Right Conduct teaches us to use our reason, the Buddhist teachings, and personal choice when making any moral decision, which includes the decision to inject potentially dangerous drugs into our bodies.
In addition to being a form of violence, conformity to unwanted medical mandates necessarily involves the Buddhist practitioner in the promotion of violence, which is strictly prohibited by the Buddha and the law of karma. By acquiescing to unwanted mandates, one may become viscerally part of the wheel of suffering and oppression which patently contradicts our religious path. Finally, the Five Precepts are basic social values for creating a peaceful and harmonizing family and social life. By forcefully submitting to unwanted medical coercion, we lose our ability to maintain psychological, as well as, social harmony which is antithetical for leading an enlightened life. As Buddhists, it is our religious and moral choice whether to inject ourselves or not with any substance including vaccines. Therefore, those Buddhist practitioners who reject vaccination should not be condemned nor be forced into injecting any substance into their bodies. Considering the teachings of First and Fifth Precepts, Right Conduct and ahimsa, there is a case to be made for socially-engaged practitioners to peacefully object to anti-Buddhist demands.
Written by Rev. Daishin Senpai, M.A.