Last week, I became a war tax resister. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, and finally this spring my actions aligned with my intentions and I sent the following letter to the Internal Revenue Service:
April 17, 2012
Dear friends at the IRS,
For the past 20 years, I have been a Buddhist. This year I was ordained as a Buddhist chaplain. My religious beliefs include a commitment to follow the precepts as originally taught by Shakyamuni Buddha, the first of which is to not kill and not take life.
I have faithfully paid my federal income taxes for all of my working life. But this year my conscience will no longer allow me to continue to fund a war machine that is, to my mind, unethical in almost every way.
While I do understand the need for some kind of defense system, what I have seen, particularly over the last decade, is that the use of our military forces and budget goes far beyond any sane definition of “defense.” The money that I have paid in taxes has been used to invade countries that posed no imminent threat to us (case in point: Iraq), to build predatory drones and other weapons that have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians, to support soldiers who impose illegal torture tactics on those in their custody; I can no longer condone these nor other deadly and aggressive military activities through my tax money.
If there were an option to designate that these funds could go toward other much areas of the U.S. budget that invest in the health and wellbeing of our citizens, such as health care or infrastructure development, I would gladly choose that option (which is why I support HR 1191, the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill). Given that is not the case, I am withholding $108 from the money that is due for my 2011 tax and am diverting that money to an organization that helps to cultivate peace rather than war.
My sincere wish is that one day we can all work together to lessen the suffering impacted on both our own citizens and soldiers as well as the people of other countries who have been targets of our military actions.
cc: President Barack Obama
Senator Jeff Bingaman
Senator Tom Udall
Representative Ben Lujan
National War Tax Resistance Committee
The amount that I withheld does not come close to the amount allocated toward defense spending (take a look at this calculator to see how your taxes get divvied up to the military), but I wanted to start somewhere and $108 felt like an auspicious number.
I don’t know where this path will lead, but I am hoping that my meditation practice will help with readiness for whatever arises.
I have been inspired by a number of people who have gone down this road before me, and in the past week found this article from Jesse Jiryu Davis, member of the Village Zendo in New York City and a war tax resister since 2006, particularly helpful. These words from Jesse especially moved me:
I think the greatest danger to me is not that I’ll be punished by the government, but that I’ll forget my intention… I have to keep in mind that the reason I decided not to pay my federal taxes in the first place was because I refuse, as a Buddhist, to use violence to achieve my goals. As soon as I make enemies of those with whom I disagree, as soon as I take pleasure in winning a conflict, I’ve already lost. As Zen Master Seng T’san said, “A hair’s breadth difference, and heaven and earth are set apart.”