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Buddhist Concept of Governance

3.1 Introduction

Whereas Buddha has been considered to be mostly a philosopher

and an ethical teacher and not preoccupied with political or state-related
issues, in contrast to that, many recent scholars have analysed from, the
historical context of Buddha Gautama’s life that he was both a ‘social
reformer’ and political thinker. Among the scholars mentioned is Ilaiah
K. (2002).

The truth lies in the fact that Ancient Indian society had begun to
change when Buddha attained Enlightenment (Pali: maha parinippana).
Historically, that period was known as Vedanta (Skt.: Veda+anta, end of
Vedas). At that time, commerce with other states had begun and there
was a new merchant class in the territory who had expressed interest in
Buddha’s teachings. As reported in our earlier chapters, Buddha
challenged the divine origin concept from a very simple and acceptable
viewpoint: i.e., that the Brahmins like the other varnas had a common
human birth. This would make the Brahmins essentially equal to the
others. Jayasuriya is quick to point out that even in the Buddhist
literature, there was scant mention of political attitudes. Among
exceptional scholars on the subject are Jayatilleke (1967) and Omveldt

Jayasuriya adds that the advent of political attitude was Emperor

Asoka. Asoka’s predecessors maintained a treatment of political
prisoners, which must have shocked Asoka. The Samyutta Nikaya
described the physical condition of King Pasenadi’s prisoners. (Uma
Cakravarti, 1996; p.161-62) The Stone Edicts were an obvious testament
against barbarity (cruelty) towards prisoners, among other things. They
displayed a socio-political attitude based on and advocating non-violence
and compassion. In Chapter Two, we have mentioned some of Asokas’

Debate on Buddha’s preference of state has occurred. As we have

mentioned earlier, evidence exists that Buddha emphasises the
sangha or ‘tribal republic’ such as Vajja. In his fourth sermon to Ananda
bhikku and Vasakara the Chaplain of King Ajatasatru, Buddha mentioned
that tribal unity was a vital criterion for the survival of the state. Most
scholars of Asoka’s dharma accredit it as an ethical code. Beside the
foundation of hospitals, inns and rest homes, arboretums [parks
established for the planting and nurturing of plants and trees] and so on,
Asoka preached social equity and sectarian equality. He declared that he
was impartial to any sect of his time but his edict warned his subjects
against showing prejudice or hatred towards other sects. At the core of his
dhamma, like that of Buddha, was sila or conduct. Even today, it is still
easy “to fall into evil ways” and the highly-placed—i.e., public and
private administrators, etc—especially cannot always behave properly.
(Mahesh Tiwari, 1989; p.159)

Throughout Chapter Three, which follows, the researcher intends

to elucidate the Buddhist concept of governance as fixed at the time of the
dhamma and enlightenment, which was certainly ahead of our time and

modern principles. In so far as the sangha as a form of

governance displayed “democratic principles” such as freedom of speech,
equal representation of the masses and the solidarity and civility
demanded by Buddha Gautama, it can stand as a precursor of modern
democracy and researcher shall emphasise it in this light. On the opposite
side of the spectrum is the enlightened monarchy of Emperor Asoka.

In the next units of this chapter, the researcher shall analyse the
available data regarding the Buddhist concept of monarch—especially
those of Kosala and Magadha, being the principle and most important
historical monarchies of the time. From that, we shall endeavour to draw
the proper conclusion(s).

3.2 Buddhist Concept of King

Buddha Gautama had been an advocate of the or republican

system, as we mentioned earlier. However, among his many lay followers
were kings, especially of Magadha- e.g., Bimbisara and his heir
Ajatasatru. Monarchical states or kingdoms were conceivably numerous
in Chumpudveepa (Ancient India) and earned considerable reputations
historically. Buddha Gautama was frequently an honoured and invited
guest in their palaces.

Among Buddha’s ideals was that of the ‘ideal monarch’ or

“dhammaraja” who reportedly ruled over his subjects justly and
equitably. (S. Tachibana, 1975; p.264) Dhamma means righteousness and
includes such traits as equity and impartiality. Buddha discredited the
theory of divine origin and knew the basic, common origin of all living
beings barring plants. Therefore, a true, righteous monarch should

understand the equality of his subjects. Seeing the equality of all of his
subjects, a true monarch would rule them impartially. This concept shall
be discussed in the next unit.

Dhammaraja could have been a reaction to the despots who

exercised their control over people in Buddha’s time. Uma Cakravarti
(1996; p.158) speaks of “absolute exercise of power unrestrained by any
institutional controls.” However, the Pali literature of the period
acknowledged the social need for authority to maintain law and order,
referred to as “legitimate basis of kingship.” It has been expounded in the
Agganna Sutta. As with power generally, use of it for legitimate or
arbitrary purposes largely depended on the king—i.e., as he saw fit to
exercise it.

Chakravarti mentions two principle threats to the social order,

which may be still evident today: One is offences against the property and
the other is offences against the family. The subjects expected their
monarch to act effectively against these offences. Evidence of public
demonstration (protest) in Kosala, the domain of King Pasenadi,
mentioned a protest against the ravages of the famed robber Angulimala
(who later met the Buddha and became a bhikku). (Majjima Nikaya 11;
p.346 quoted in Uma Chakravarti, 1996; p.159)

Furthermore, Buddhism holds no concept of aristocracy except in

terms of intellect and morality. (S. Tachibana, 1975; p.264). The
Buddhist “aristocrat” was called “arya” or “ariya.”

On the Buddhist concept of kingship, there exists much

information. Besides describing the king as a public refuge
(patisaranam), Sidhi Budh-Indr reports that the king should possess both
virtue (sila) and wisdom, or intellect (pañña) to understand and
discrtiminate between good and evil statements (Siddhi Butr-Indr, 1995;
p.147) . Whereas many actual monarchs can be compared with thieves,
the ideal monarch is a “lord of men” (manussindo) and can neither equal
nor count as a commoner. His subjects deem him the “god of public
domain” (sammutideva). This is not a real god, as that would demand that
the king should die and ascend to paradise, but rather it is a term of
respect among his subjects. Furthermore, the king is empowered by five
strengths, as follows:

1.Physical strength, or power-agility and muscular strength, as

applied in governance and warfare.
2.Material strength-wealth and material resources.
3.Strength of court officials, providing they are united behind him
and know and perform their respective duties.
4.strength of nobility
5.wisdom or intellect

Budh-Indra mentions the Ten Royal Virtues (rajadhamman), which

we shall explain in detail in a later unit of this chapter. He agrees in
principle with the social contract theory, as far as he reports “Kingship is,
in a sense, founded upon and determined by public opinion.” (Ibid.
p.153), which, in its turn, depends upon righteousness. To this point, he
adds “the nature of kingship is essentially based on the concept of
righteousness (dhamma). The king is supposed to be the agent who
maintains the principle of righteousness in the worldly spheres.” (Ibid. p

155) The Digha Nikaya quotes Buddha Gautama himself as explaining

that a king (raja) ‘charms others by Dhamma or righteousness.’ (S.
Tachibana, 1975;p. 264) Oliver Abeynayake claims that Buddhism
prefers monarchy to republicanism, but the fact simply is that the
monarchies, despite possible despotism and abuses, were stronger than
the ganas. He continues to infer that “Buddhism prescribes a centralized
administration. Buddhism introduced the system of governance under the
Cakravarti king to centralise North India, which was divided into various
small kingdoms.”(Oliver Abeynayake, p.2) He continues to list the
characteristics of an effective ruler, as follow:

1. Reputation.
2. Economic prosperity.
3. Military strength.
4. Competent advisors.
5. Diplomatic acclaim.
6. Personality.
7. Parents’ affection.
8. Patriotism and popularity.
9. Competency and discipline.
10. Education, intelligence and intuition. (Ibid.)

Reputation usually precedes the person and acts as a tool in

attracting others towards him/her; so, we may conceive that a good
reputation, usually created through good actions towards the subjects of
the state, will enable the leader of that state to maintain his rapport with
the subjects. Economic prosperity is the result of sustaining a prosperous
state, since the king receives payment in various forms from his subjects,
such as foodstuff, gold, etc. As we have indicated in the unit on ten

virtues, a good ruler deems the prosperity of his subjects to be his own.
Military strength is the requisite for protecting the country from invasion.
A good king will need a strong and extensive army (sena) to defend his
territory. Competent advisors and diplomatic acclaim is needed in
peaceful and cooperative measures between states. In fact, Abeynayake
has reiterated and emphasized the qualities we have mentioned in earlier
chapters of our thesis.

3.3 The Normative King (cakkavati dhammiko dhammaraja) and

Ideal Administrative Office

To begin, the Pali concept of normative kingship, which we shall

explain in this unit, consists of two distinct but not separate ideals. Both
are ideals of Buddhism and the objectives of a true monarch in the
Buddhist consciousness. The first ideal is cakkavati. Cakkavati is derived
from the Sanksrit word cakra, which means several things: 1) a circle, 2)
a wheel or disk, 3) a centre of energy or power (ayurvedic, tantric and
yogic) and 4) world. “Cakkavati” or cakravartin is a universal monarch, a
world ruler who “would put an end to the petty tyranny of the many and
establish instead a universe where not only a social order but also a moral
order would prevail.” (Uma Cakravarti, 1996; p.164)

Since tyranny would be abolished, the new social order would

likely to be either spontaneous or promoted by righteous leadership, or
both. Petty tyranny mentioned above referred mostly to the historical
monarchs of Buddha’s lifetime.

The second ideal is dhammiko dhammaraja. The dhammaraja is

firstly a protector of his subjects (janapadatthaviriya patto: jana, people;
padattha, protection; viriya, effort) via righteousness and equity, rather
than by force, including military campaign. The dhammaraja or righteous
king is always expected to be just and impartial in the governance of his
people. The Cakavatti or universal monarch will rule his country justly
and impartially (dhammena samena). (S. Tachibana,1975; p.264). Sama
and dhamma are deemed to be synonyms as far as the description of the
ideal monarch is concerned. The subjects of the dhammaraja (will) live in
comparative comfort. Researcher takes exception to the term comparative
comfort because, whereas poverty should be eradicated, excess and
luxury should also be avoided. Comparative comfort is a relative term,
referring to the degree of comfort compared with previous living. E.g.,
when someone has lived in abject poverty throughout his childhood,
comparably, when he has the means to uplift his standards of material
existence, it can be deemed comparative comfort. However, the fact is
that we compare our living with those around us.

Under the rule of the dhammaraja, the subjects should expect to

live comfortably within existing means and limits. Cakravarti supports
this hypothesis by adding “dhammiko dhammaraja thus provides for the
basic needs of the people.” (Ibid, p. 165) Thus, in a general outlook, the
dhammaraja does not only protect the family and property of his subjects.
A fine example of such a king was Maha Sudassana. Maha Sudassana
gave to the needy whatever was truly needed: food to the starved, water
to the thirsty and even a wife to the man who wished to wed. Grants of
money were not the only necessities.

The dhammarājā had the high duty of eradicating poverty. He also

taxes his subjects fairly, whereas his historical counterparts taxed their
subjects unfairly and acted like thieves. This appears to be a subject of
both literature and history. From the Pali canon of Buddhism to the
legend of Robin Hood in Britain, kings were lumped together with the
thieves in their kingdoms.

Another vital characteristic of the dhammaraja was charisma. His

relationship to the subjects was like that to his family: father to sons and
daughters. His charisma compels him to be popular and he is obeyed
without coercion. Since all his subjects like him, no one would overthrow
him. Finally, the dhammaraja supports only the worthy samanas and
brahmanas, and aids them in achieving their goals.

Buddhist tradition placed the Dvaravati kings as cakravartins,

(Rhys Davids, 1899). Rhys Davids quotes that the Universal Emperor
appeared and ruled righteously in the manner of the Buddha. Buddha was
perceived as the foremost Cakkavatti in his style of leadership and others
attempted to follow him. The Buddhist kings were also described as
embarking upon the path of bodhisattva and both saving themselves and
their subjects, which is the action of a bodhisattva, according to
Mahayana Buddhism. Ernst Benz describes it as follows:

‘The Buddhist kings were regarded as the central personages on the

stage, themselves striving to be Bodhisattvas and expected to lead their
subjects on the way to salvation. As Bodhisattvas, they were not only
examples to their subjects, but actually helpful to them. The salvation
chrism of the Bodhisattva consists in using his own salvation to further
the efforts of others to achieve salvation.’ (Ernst Benz, Buddhism or

Communism: Which Holds the Future of Asia?, trans; Richard and Clara
Winston, Great Britain, 1966; p.97)

3.4 Buddhism and Communism

3.4.1 The approach of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar

The Buddha is generally associated with the doctrine of Ahimsa.

That is taken to be the be-all and end-all of his teachings. Hardly any one
knows that what the Buddha taught is something very vast: far beyond
Ahimsa. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in his The Buddha and His Dhamma has
analyzed Buddha’s approach to Ahimsa. Here he makes a distinction
between principle and rule. According to him ahimsa in Buddhism is
accepted not as a rule, but as a principle. Rule binds you and takes away
your freedom. Principle does not take away your freedom; you can
choose your course of action in the light of the principle. Secondly the
Buddha did not emphasise just the negative aspect of ahimsa (viz. ‘Don’t
kill’) but he also emphasised the positive aspect in the form of love and
compassion ( Metta and Karuna). But more importantly Buddha’s
primary concern was not himsa or ahimsa, but the problem of human
suffering, suffering which is natural and also the suffering which is
caused by human being. He tried to go the root cause of all sufferings and
find a solution to the problem of suffering. In the last two centuries social
philosopher who has been influential was Karl Marx, who was also
deeply concerned with the problem of suffering, mainly the problem of
poverty, exploitation and alienation.

The Buddha as a social thinker can be regarded as a scientific

thinker rather than utopian thinker. He developed the causal model of

dependent origination (Paticca-samuppada) and applied it to the problem

of suffering.

Hence both Buddha and Mark were concerned with the problem of
suffering; they accepted the ultimate social goal as the society without
suffering and exploitation, where human beings live as equal members of
the society and as free beings. Both of them approached the problem by
applying scientific method rather than following any religious dogma or
utopian ideal. But the conclusions they arrived at were different. This is
because the ways they approached the problem were different. Marx did
not consider the inner roots of the problem of suffering, but only the
external roots. Hence according to him human beings suffer, they are
exploited, they enter into conflicts, because of the contradictions in the
socio-economic structure, that is, the capitalist structure. Hence changing
socio-economic structure through revolution, though it could be a blooly
revolution is the solution of the problem of suffering.

Though the Buddha dealt with the problem of unjust social

structure and establishment of an alternative social structure, when he
thought about the root cause of suffering, he emphasised the inner root of
suffering rather than the external causes or occasioning factors. He spelt
out the internal cause of suffering in two ways. Sometimes he emphased
tanha- craving as the root cause. Because of craving people suffer, they
exploit others and are exploited by others; they enter into conflicts and
wars with others. People can get rid of suffering and experience peace
only by getting rid of craving. He further went into the root of craving
and found that Avijja, ignorance / misconception is the root cause of
craving. We are ignorant about the impermanent, soul-less and
unsatisfactory nature of all phenomena and misconceive them as
permanent, soul-possessing and satisfactory. Because of these

misconceptions we develop attachment and craving about those

phenomena. Hence the path towards cessation of suffering necessarily
involved threefold training (Trisika) viz.(sila), meditation (samadhi) and
wisdom (panna) through which one gets rid of craving and ignorance and
is finally liberated. The Buddha conceived of and executed an alternative
form of social structure – the order of bhikkus which gives institutional
support for developing the threefold training. The order of Bhikkhus had
no place for the caste-system, or exploitation, but followed egalitarian
democratic pattern. On the contrary, Karl Marx maintained that the way
to ideal social system went through revolution (which could be violent
revolution) and what he called dictatorship of proletariat. Sangha order on
the other hand was not imposed on the members but was willingly
accepted by them. Marx maintained that in ideal social structure the
private property will have been abolished. This idea of the absence of
private property was already practiced long back in the Buddhist order of

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in his article “Buddha or Karlmark” has

brought out clearly the contrast between the Marxian approach and the
Buddha’s approach as follows:

Karl Marx is no doubt the father of modern socialism or

Communism but he was not interested merely in propounding the theory
of Socialism. That had been done long before him by others. Marx was
more interested in proving that his Socialism was scientific. His crusade
was as much against the capitalists as it was against those whom he called
the Utopian Socialists. He disliked them both. It is necessary to note this
point because Marx attached the greatest importance to the scientific
character of his Socialism. All the doctrines which Marx propounded had

no other purpose than to establish his contention that his brand of

Socialism was scientific and not Utopian.

The means of bringing about Communism, which the Buddha

propounded, were quite definite. It can be devided into three parts. Part I
consisted in observing the Pancha Silas. The Enlightenment gave birth to
a new gospel, which contains the key to the solution of the problem,
which was haunting him.

The foundation of the New Gospel is the fact that the world was
full of misery and unhappiness. This was the fact that was not merely to
be noted but to be regarded as being the first and foremost in any scheme
of salvation. The recognition of this fact was made by the Buddha, the
starting point of his gospel. To remove this misery and unhappiness was
to him the aim and object of the gospel if it was to serve any useful
purpose. Asking what could be the causes of this misery the Buddha
found that there could be only two.

A part of the misery and unhappiness of man was the result of his
own misconduct. To remove this cause of misery he preached the
practice of Panch Sila.
The Panch Sila comprised the following observations: (1) To
abstain from destroying or causing destruction of any living things (2) To
abstain from stealing i.e. acquiring or keeping by fraud or violence, the
property of another: (3) To Abstain from telling untruth: (4) To abstain
from lust: (5) To abstain from intoxicating drinks.
A part of the misery and unhappiness in the world was according to
the Buddha the result of man's inequity towards man. How was this
inequity to be removed? For the removal of man's inequity towards man

the Buddha prescribed the Noble Eight-Fold Path. The elements of the
Noble Fight-Fold Path are:
(1) Right views i.e. freedom from superstition: (2) Right aims, high
and worthy of the intelligent and earnest men; (3) Right speech i.e.
kindly, open, truthful: (4) Right Conduct i.e. peaceful, honest and pure;
(5) Right livelihood i.e. causing hurt or injury to no living being; (6)
Right perseverance in all the other seven; (7) Right mindfulness i.e. with
a watchful and active mind; and (8) Right contemplation i.e. earnest
thought on the deep mysteries of life.
The aim of the Noble Eight-Fold Path is to establish on earth the
kingdom of righteousness, and thereby to banish sorrow and unhappiness
from the face of the world.
The third part of the Gospel is the doctrine of Nibbana. The
doctrine of Nibbana is an integral part of the doctrine of the Noble Eight-
Fold Path. Without Nibbana the realisation of the Eight-Fold Path cannot
be accomplished.
The doctrine of Nibbana tells what are the difficulties in the way of
the realisation of the Eight-Fold Path.
The chiefs of these difficulties are ten in number. The Buddha
called them the Ten Asavas, Fetters or Hindrances.
The first hindrance is the delusion of self. So long as a man is
wholly occupied with himself, chasing after every bauble that he vainly
thinks will satisfy the cravings of his heart, there is no noble path for him.
Only when his eyes have been opened to the fact that he is but a tiny part
of a measureless, whole, only when he begins to realise how impermanent
a thing is his temporary individuality can he even enter upon this narrow
The second is Doubt and Indecision. When a man's eyes are opened
to the great mystery of existence, the impermanence of every

individuality, he is likely to be assailed by doubt and indecision as to his

action. To do or not to do, after all my individuality is impermanent, why
do anything are questions, which make him indecisive or inactive. But
that will not do in life. He must make up his mind to follow the teacher,
to accept the truth and to enter on the struggle or he will get no further.
The third is dependence on the efficacy of Rites and Ceremonies.
No good resolutions, however firm will lead to anything unless a man
gets rid of ritualism: of the belief that any outward acts. any priestly
powers, and holy ceremonies, can afford him an assistance of any kind. It
is only when he has overcome this hindrance, that men can be said to
have fairly entered upon the stream and has a chance sooner or later to
win a victory.
'' The fourth consists of the bodily passions... The fifth is ill will
towards other individuals. The sixth is the suppression of the desire for a
future life with a material body and the seventh is the desire for a future
life in an immaterial world.
The eighth hindrance is Pride and ninth is self-righteousness. These
are failings which it is most difficult for men to overcome, and to which
superior minds are peculiarly liable contempt for those who are less able
and less holy than themselves.
The tenth hindrance is ignorance. When all other difficulties are
conquered this will even remain, the thorn in the flesh of the wise and
good, the last enemy and the bitterest foe of man.
Nibbana consists in overcoming these hindrances to the pursuit of
the Noble Eight-Fold Path.
The doctrine of the Noble Eight-Fold Path tells what disposition of
the mind which a person should sedulously cultivate. The doctrine of
Nibbana tells of the temptation or hindrance which a person should

earnestly overcome if he wishes to trade along with the Noble Eight-Fold

The Fourth Part of the new Gospel is the doctrine of Paramitas.
The doctrine of Paraimitas inculcates the practice of ten virtues in one's
daily life.
These are those ten virtues—d) Panna (2) Sila (3) Nekkhama (4)
Dana(5) Virya(6) Khanti(7) Succa(8) Aditthana(9) Mettaa-nd (10)
Panna or wisdom is the light that removes the darkenss of Avijja,
Moha or Nescience. The Panna requires that one must get all his doubts
removed by questioning those wiser than him self, associate with the wise
and cultivate the different arts and sciences which help to develop the
Sila is moral temperament, the disposition not to do evil and the
disposition to do good; to be ashamed of doing wrong. To avoid doing
evil for fear of punishment is Sila. Sila means fear of doing wrong.
Nekkhama is renunciation of the pleasures of the world. Dana means the
giving of one's possessions, blood and limbs and even one's life for the
good of the others without expecting anything in return.
Virya is right endeavour. It is doing with all your might with
thought never turning back, whatever you have undertaken to do.
Khanti is forbearance. Not to meet hatred by harted is the essence
of it. For hatred is not appeased by hatred. It is appeased only by
Succa is truth. An aspirant for Buddha never speaks a lie. His
speech is truth and nothing but truth.
Aditthana is resolute determination to reach the goal. Metta is
fellow feeling extending to all beings, foe and friend, beast and man.

Upekka is detachment as distinguished from indifference. It is a

state of mind where there is neither like nor dislike. Remaining unmoved
by the result and yet engaged in the pursuit of it.
These virtues one must practice to his utmost capacity. That is why
they are called Paramitas (States of Perfection).
Such is the gospel the Buddha enunciated as a result of his
enlightenment to end the sorrow and misery in the world.

It is clear from Dr. Ambedkar’s article “Buddha or Karl Marx”

(W&S, vol.3) how, the means adopted by the Buddha were to convert a
man by changing his moral disposition to follow the path voluntarily. The
means adopted by the Communists are equally clear, short and swift.
They are (1) Violence and (2) Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

The Communists say that there are the only two means of
establishing communism. The first is violence. Nothing short of it will
suffice to break up the existing system. The other is dictatorship of the
proletariat. Nothing short of it will suffice to continue the new system.

It is now clear what are the similarities and differences between

Buddha and Karl Marx. The differences are about the means. The end is
common to both. (Buddha or Karl Marx", (W&S vol. 3 p. 450)

3.4.2 Bhikku Buddhadasa’s approach

Another Buddhist response to Marxism can be seem in Bhikkhu

Buddhadasa, a contemporary Thai Buddhist thinker, who proposed his
social theory of dhammic socialism out of an Asian way of thinking,
within an Asian context. Since Thailand has never been colonized by a
Western power, Buddhist socialism can be interpreted as a struggle for

economic and cultural independence. Bhikkhu Buddhadasa, a

contemporary Thai Buddhist thinker, has interpreted Buddhism not only
from a religious point of view of his unique theory of Buddhist socialism
or “dhammic socialism” but also from a sociopolitical perspective. After
devoting most of his life to reforming Buddhism in Thailand, Buddhadasa
found it necessary to address sociopolitical issues from a Buddhist
perspective. In the 1960’s, he articulated his sociopolitical position in
terms of “dhammocracy” (dhammathipatai): the social and political order
should follow the law of Dhamma the teachings of the Buddha. Later on,
in the atmosphere of the student led Revolution in Thailand from 1973 to
1976, Buddhadasa presented (dhammika sangkhomniyom). Buddhadasa
bases his theory of dhammic socialism on nature. To him, nature
represents the state of balance for the survival and wellbeing of human
beings, animals, plants, and the ecology of the world. In the state of
nature, every being produces according to its capacity and consumes
according to its needs; no being, whatever form, hoards “surplus” for its
own sake. Buddhadasa calls this balanced state of nature socialistic.
Problems arise, however, when human beings begin to hoard a “surplus”
for the sake of their own profit; this leaves others facing scarcity and
poverty. According to Buddhadasa, human beings can and should
produce a “surplus,” but the “surplus” should be distributed for the
wellbeing of everyone, and Buddhism provides the ethical tools for this
fair distribution. Philosophically, dhammic socialism is based on this
principle: none of us should take more than we really need. We should
share whatever extra we have with those who have less. Social problems
are fundamentally a result of greed. In other words, greed is at the heart
of scarcity and poverty (Buddhadasa, Dhammic Socialism, 107).
Buddhadasa’s individualistic approach to social and economic problems
is implemented via the personal practices of generosity (dana) and self-

restraint, which consists of keeping precepts (sila) and being self

disciplined the global market economy.

In a later unit in this chapter, we shall explain more on that

concept. According to Buddhist tradition, a good ruler has ten virtues,
enumerated in the next unit.

3.5 Dasa Rajadhamman or Ten Royal Virtues

Buddhism is more than a religion or a life philosophy; it is a way of

life. It is broad in scope and perceptive of the lives of others. Henceforth,
Buddha Gautama taught the eradication of poverty and internal security
of a kingdom as well as other social virtues. Towards the eradication of
crime in a country, a leader should eliminate poverty. Although there
were perhaps not the same strata of employment then that we have today,
Buddha urged employers and national leaders to improve relations with
employees through the means of wage and incentives, and occasional
gifts. Furthermore, kings and governments should consider the happiness
of their people seriously. In respect of good monarchy, there is the dasa
raja dhamma, which follow:

According to Buddhadhamma, or Buddhasatsana, a true, good

monarch is or should be endowed with the following ten virtues.

1. As it is incumbent of the monarch to ensure the welfare and

prosperity of his people, the first of these virtues is dana or charity. Dana
comes from the Sanskrit root dan, to give, which also founded the Latin
word don- as in donor (giver) and donation. In Buddhism, dana includes

generosity and reward. It is incumbent for a good leader to give freely

from his resources to anyone who needs anything. Maha Sudassana gave
whatever the needy person demanded at the time. This entails an accurate
assessment of the person’s condiition: ‘This man is hungry’ etc. and the
suitable response.

2. The second virtue, very typically, was sila or morality. The raja
is himself a lay follower and lay followers were expected to follow only
five principles of moral conduct, whereas the bhikkus had many more.
The five principles, unlike their counterparts in other world religions,
were not rigidly enforced. This may have been due to Buddha’s
understanding of human weakness. These principles included the aversion
to kill meaninglessly, barring a war in the cause of national defence.
(Buddha taught ahimsa, or non-violence, but understood that war in self-
defense was hard to avoid for any nation.) The other precepts included
aversion to adultery (as it provokes rage and jealousy, and disharmony
among subjects), aversion to the use of harmful and improper speech such
as lies, slander, rumours and gossiping and aversion to intoxicating things

Buddha continued to advise the following eight virtues:

3. pariccaga (self-sacrifice for common good): Sidhhi Butr-Indr

(1995; p.150) claims that this included the sacrifice of life and limbs on
behalf of the people, which is a very grand and noble gesture for anyone
and therefore very scarce. It arises from the belief that the happiness of
others causes oneself to feel happy, which is true.

4. ajjava (honesty): this virtue encompasses sincerity and freedom

from fear (bhayamokka) while discharging royal duties. It is very
conceivable that any honest man or woman, regardless of birthright,
should have no cause to fear so long as his/her activity is honest and
sincere. Thus, a king who lives honestly and sincerely need not fear any
loss to himself; or his family. Additionally, a king is recommended to be
straightforward and avoid deceptive or ‘crooked’ recourse towards his
ends. To highlight this, the Sigalovada Sutta, Digha Nikaya, adds:
“Canda dosa bhaya moha—yo dhammam nativattati. Apurati tassa
yaso—Sukkha pakheva candima”. (If a person maintains justice without
being subjected to favouritism, hatred, fear or ignorance, his popularity
grows like the waxing moon.)

5. maddava (gentleness) includes politeness and friendliness.

Buddha apparently intended this as a tool in addressing the subjects. As
he must have known well that common men prefer to listen to kind,
sincere speeches.
6. tapa (austerity) is generally a quality of ascetics and therefore
uncommon in men of high birth and status in society. It requires the
monarch to simplify his ways of life, which seemed rare in those days as
well as in the present. The scriptures had mentioned reports of kings who
abused wealth and power and were ‘lumped together’ with the thieves
from whom they were expected to protect their subjects.

7. akkodha is good will. It is also translated as ‘non-hatred.’ Thus,

a ruler should not bear any grudge against anyone. Furthermore, he
should act with love and forbearance.

8. ahimsa (non-violence): Buddha taught non-violence even in the

case of war, although he was well aware that war was difficult to avoid.
As we have mentioned, he sanctioned war only when it was fought for the
preservation of the state and could avoid killing. He included the
promotion of peace through non-violent action, which is truly the only
way to peace. This virtue was best epitomised in Emperor Asoka.

9. khanti, or patience. The ruler is herein urged to bear all

hardships without losing his temper and should avoid yielding to his
emotions. In fact, Buddhists are generally advised to be thoughtful rather
than giving way to emotions, but a king or ruler should avoid this as well.
10. avirodha (non-opposition to the public demand) This includes a
commitment to public welfare and is a good twin to pariccaga. As a good
monarch will first deem the welfare and happiness of the people as his
own and then undertake to promote it. (Rahula, What the Buddha Taught

Butr-Intr (Ibid. p.151) discusses the nature of a good king along

these lines, and historically there were god examples such as Maha
Sudassana and Asoka. Maha Sudassana practiced dana in the manner
described; Asoka practiced dana, sila and ahimsa and originated many
institutions in his kingdom to promote the public welfare. He stands as
one of the best examples of a monarch in early history. However, while
the leader who possesses all of thee virtues is loved well, he is very rare.
Some kings or leaders have possessed only a few virtues and others have
abused wealth and power for self-interest.

In modern day, with many countries assuming a democratic stance,

a few of them maintain monarchical influences. In Asia, these are
principally Nepal, Bhutan and Thailand. Nepal has deposed its monarchs
for criminal offences concerning ascension. Bhutan has remained a model
monarchical state, as Robert Thurman averred recently.

Thurman refers to the interesting paradox that Nagarjuna points

out, that it’s very likely that a good and strong executive is an essential
thing to maintain the interest of individuals in a society. So there is an
interesting paradox that you need a strong central leader to guarantee the
rights of the people and therefore the idea of a constitutional monarchy is
pretty close to a Buddhist ideal. (Retrieved from http://www.kuensel on 22 March 2009. Date of Citation: 27 November 2007)

Speaking more precisely on the duty and nature of the dhammaraja,

Thurman pointed that a true Buddhist king should attain to the state of
bodhisattva and serve his people. Asoka tried in his lifetime to attain that
end and we shall discuss him in the next unit. Below are Thurman’s
words on the king:

Buddhism has a very interesting paradox and that is, yes, it’s very
important to be a bodhisattva and serve the people, but you can’t really
serve people well until you have wisdom, compassion and certain
qualities of an enlightened person. That’s the first thing of a Buddhist
King, the first duty is to himself, to develop full potential as a human
being. That’s the first principle.

The second principle is Non-Violence. This is very difficult for a

ruler or a King, because there are some criminals and they have to be

punished or there are some threats to the nation and it has to be taken care
of, so it may seem a little tough.

But Nagarjuna ruled out capital punishment. Even criminals should

not be killed, but you might kill someone if they try to harm your family,
but generally you try to correct criminals and educate them. The analysis
of self-defense is kind of tricky in Buddhism, you can’t necessarily be
perfect but you tend towards the principle of non-violence.

The third principle is difficult to explain in English because there is

no real word for it but I call it Educationalism. What this means is that the
primary industry of a Buddhist society is education of its citizens
because, for any human being, the most important thing they can do is to
learn. Buddhism is very different from any other religions because
Buddhism does not teach that you can achieve nirvana just by faith, faith
is not sufficient to be free from suffering. (Ibid.)

3.6 Buddhism and the Social Life

Buddhism has been an integral part of the life of Buddhists for it is

the root of culture and way of life of the people. In order to appreciate the
importance, role and influence of Buddhism on the way of life of the
Buddhist populace, it is necessary to understand other structures or
fabrics, which are integral parts of Buddhism. Important components are
the Buddha (Somdej Phra Nyanasamvara 2000, pp.6-7), the Dhamma,
the Sangha and the Wat (monastery) and lay disciples. The Dhamma or
the teachings of the Buddha has been most influential on the way of life
of Buddhists. The teachings are found not only in the Pali Canon and

Suttapitaka but also in such religious literatures as the Jataka, Buddhist

chronicles and myths. The Dhamma component is an abstract aspect and
serves as the heart of Buddhism. The Sangha or the community of monks
and the Wat are in close relation and proximity with the laymen and
interact with society in its daily life.

The close association and continuous relationship between

Buddhism and society is based on the concept that a society is a
conglomeration of tangible compositions and such abstract elements as
virtue, value, goodness, morality and ethics. There are continuous
interactions between the tangible and intangible components. In order to
maintain the society functionally and structurally, there must be an
interdependent and supportive relationship of different compositions of
Buddhism. Lacking any of them would cause imbalance in society. In a
village community, for example, not having a monastery and monks to
edify and guide the people would result in the low morality and spirit of
the inhabitants. Similarly, if the monks in the community do not strictly
adhere to the Dhamma and keep to their duties according to the code of
discipline (Vinaya), the people’s morality and spirit would become lax,
the community’s social relationships would also be weakened, unstable
and not in peace. Social relationships are not always in harmony.
Conflicts may arise from time to time. Resolution to such conflicts may
be achieved by means of adjustment and adaptation of the existing social
structure and function in order to maintain the society. Alternatively,
there might be a replacement of the structure and function of the old
society by a new one.

Interaction and the independent relationship of the Sangha and lay

society is another aspect of the relationship between society and religion.

The Sangha is the most important and traditional Buddhist institution,

which is in close association with the people. It plays an essential role,
both religious and secular, in the life of the people. It provides spiritual
sanctuary and serves as a field of merit for the people when they need
spiritual comfort. In the secular sphere, the monks render services to rural
and remote communities. The monks help in teaching the children,
healing the sick by traditional methods, and leading the villagers in
various development efforts. Reciprocally, the lay community provides
the monks with necessities for their living so that they need not worry
about earning their living. Such an interdependent and reciprocal
relationship contributes to a situation in which each party has to be
flexible and adaptable to changes. An accommodating and adaptive
ability is an indispensable quality of the structure within a society, which
make possible the maintenance of the society. The maintenance of the
structure and the regulation of social order are structurally and
functionally defined. It is a situation in which every component of the
society is interdependent, interacting and contributing to the system
maintenance. Generally speaking, there are a variety of components in a
society. The important ones are an economic structure, a political
structure and a belief system meaningful to people’s lives and thoughts.
The major element in this belief system is a religious structure.

3.7 Buddhist dharma and Society

The teachings of the Buddha are voluminous and classified into

groups. Each group serves a specific purpose. It explains an existing
phenomenon, its cause of arising and the effects thereof. There are also
prescriptions to overcome individual problems. The level of depth and

sophistication of the teachings are also purposely prescribed to suit

individual needs. Due to the differences in context and level of
sophistication of the teachings, there arise differences in interpretation of
the teachings. This concerns one’s perception and experiences,
occupation and education. Some political scientists may understand the
Buddhist concept Santosa (satisfaction with whatever is one’s own) as
not conducive to development. In contrast, conservationalists and
environmentalists would see the meaning of Santosa as contentment with
the maintenance of the existing status and conditions, which is supportive
to environmental conservation. Students of Buddhist Studies would view
such interpretations as not comprehensive. This signifies different levels
of understanding of the teachings of the Buddha by the Buddhists.
According to Robert Redfield’s concept of ‘Great and Little Tradition’,
people’s appreciation of Buddhism can be divided into two broad
categories, doctrinal and popular Buddhism. (Robert Redfield 1965,

Firstly, doctrinal Buddhism refers to the teachings of the Buddha

and practices contained in the Canon Sutta and related literatures.
Doctrinal Buddhism is thus believed to be original. Its followers will
refuse principles, teachings and practices, which are not contained in the
Canon and Suttapitaka. They view belief in spirits, deities, and other
forms of Animism including beliefs and practices adopted from other
faiths, as heresy. The followers of doctrinal Buddhism are few in number
but are well educated.

Secondly, popular Buddhism refers to a Buddhism which is

permeated by other religions and belief systems. It includes Animism,
Brahmanism, and beliefs in spirits and ghosts. The teachings and

practices of Buddhism and other belief systems are so interwoven that

only the well educated among the faithful can distinguish Buddhism from
the others.

Religious rites, an important structure and function of a religion

can differentiate between the intricacy of doctrinal and popular
Buddhism. The followers of popular Buddhism tend to rank ritual very
high. Their rituals are a combination of Buddhistic, Animistic and
Brahmanical elements. A wedding ceremony, for example, begins with
Buddhist merit making such as giving alms to the monks in the morning.
Late morning ritual involves the offering of sacrifices to the spirit house
and to the ancestors. In the evening Brahmanism is invoked to bless the
bride and the groom. The holiest part of the evening ritual is the pouring
of lustral water on the hands of the couple with blessings from the senior
guests. On the contrary, the followers of doctrinal Buddhism are more
concerned with Buddhist ritual and play down the non-Buddhistic ones.

The great majority of Buddhists in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia

follow popular Buddhism. This phenomenon can be explained in the
context of the belief system at every level of society. Amongst the most
primitive, there exists a belief system that human beings can hold on to.
Such a belief system may be Animism in various forms, including beliefs
regarding natural happenings. Certain communities have embraced an
established religion such as Brahmanism, which was well rooted in India
and propagated all over the world, and Taoism or Confucianism, which
spread from China. By the time that Buddhism was introduced to
Southeast Asia, there already existed belief systems and religious among
the people. When they accepted Buddhism they also kept their old beliefs.
Due to its flexible and liberalism, Buddhism easily absorbed certain

elements of existing belief systems into its mainstream. What developed

from this process is popular Buddhism.

The teachings of the Buddha display variety in its levels of

sophistication, purposes, content, and specialties. For example, the Four
Noble Truths explain natural phenomena, which will be with everyone
from birth to death. It describes the nature of suffering represented by
birth, old age, disease and death, including sorrow and frustration of
every kind; the origin of problems and suffering by way of causality; the
extinction of suffering; and the path leading to the extinction of suffering.
There are teachings that guide the people to live comfortably without
economic hardship. This teaching is called
Dittadhammikatthasamvattanika-dhamma (virtues conducive to benenfits
in the present).

It teaches the laymen to have energy; industry and watchfulness

concerning their properties; to associate with good people; and to live
economically. The Buddha also encouraged people to follow the path to
success. This appears in a particular teaching called Iddhipada (basis for
success). However, the over all purpose of the teachings of the Buddha
can be summarized in the following:

Firstly, it enlightens the laymen about the nature of life from birth
and existence to death. This includes an explanation of the origin of life,
existence after birth and survival until death. The teachings also deal with
ways to lead one’s life happily, in harmony with nature and how to
minimize and cope with suffering arising from sickness, death,
disappointment, separation and other misfortunes.

Secondly, it explains and prescribes ways for people to live

together mutually on a one to one level, as well as on national and global
levels. The teachings, to achieve this purpose, deals with the prescriptions
for social relationships between individuals, social relations within the
family, social relationships between family and family, between teacher
and students, between employer and employees, between religious
personnel and laymen, between government and subjects and between
state and state.

Thirdly, it gives guidance on the application of the teachings of the

Buddha to improve the daily life. The prescriptions are designed to be
workable according to the nature of problems and the level of
appreciation of the individual needs. Therefore, there are levels in the
teachings of the Buddha, i.e., basic truth, middle and sophisticated truth,
both in mundane and supramundane states (Lokiyadhamma and

The dissemination of the teachings of the Buddha to people at

different levels of appreciation requires specialized methods to suit each
group. So as to preach Dhamma to intellectuals and educated people who
are keen on Buddhism and who want to apply Dhamma to improve their
lives, sophisticated Dhamma must be selected. The Dhamma for the
followers of popular Buddhism, on the contrary, has to be simplified and
easy to understand. Simplified Laws8 of Kamma and stories from the
Jataka and Sutta are an effective means to edify them. However, Phra
Rajavoramuni points out that whatever the teaching methods are, all
teachings are related, for the essence of the teachings derives from the
same truth and the ultimate purpose is identical. In fact, these teachings

are identical in purpose but given different labels. The truth is

disseminated selectively and in different forms.

3.8 Buddhism: The Socio-political Changes and the Social Order

The principle of ever-changing nature or the impermanent

condition of the society is a very important to consider when one studies
the relationship between Buddhism and society. It is argued that at the
time when the Gotama was seeking enlightenment there had been rapid
socio-political changes in the homeland of Buddhism, i.e., present
Northern India (Phra Rajavoramuni 1983, pp.11-12). The Buddha
considered that the ever-changing or impermanent conditions were causes
of suffering and societal problems. He therefore devoted himself to the
search for truth to remedy human suffering. The suffering and problems,
which the Buddha perceived, were: (1) natural changes in human beings
and (2) changes caused by man.

Firstly, natural changes in human beings, these were the causes of

suffering inherent in human beings, for example, birth, sickness, death,
happiness, suffering, satisfaction, disappointment, etc. Though they are
the natural phenomena, yet they can cause suffering to people. The
Buddha believed that there must be a remedy to end or at least to
minimize those causes of suffering. Thus, he set forth in search of the
truth. Secondly, changes caused by man, includes: (1) political changes
and (2) socio-economic changes.

Firstly, political changes during the lifetime of the Buddha and the
political environment could be characterized as pertaining to two major
forms of government. The first one was absolute monarchy. The other

was a system based on co-operation between the ruling elites of small

principalities within the states. This form of government is said to be
equivalent to a loosely structured republican system and the mode of
government was democratic. The absolute monarchy form of government
had been adopted by the four northern states of India and they proved to
be very politically strong and stable. Among these states, two of them had
adopted democratic procedures in their government. Legislation, policy
making, and judicial processes were based on consultation in the
assembly of the assigned ruling elite. Majority opinion was adopted to
arrive at final decisions and resolutions. However, the democratic form of
government was gradually weakened by the stronger authoritarian
governments and finally became absorbed by the absolute monarchical

Secondly, it is the socio-economic changes. The expansion of the

absolute monarchical states contributed to the expansion of trade. The
growth of trade generated the bourgeois and capitalist classes. Those who
were economically strong became politically influential and dominated
the government (Phra Rajavoramuni 1982 pp.21-22).

The characteristics and nature of socio-political and economic

changes became integral parts of the teachings of the Buddha. Since the
Buddha gave heavy importance to the forces of socio-political and
economic change, this contributed to Buddhist ability to adjust to changes
without losing its essence.

In the context of socio-political changes, Buddhism has played a

very important role in regulating and organizing society for the survival

and continuity of the society. These functions can be summarized as


A. Socialization function. In Buddhist societies, culture, values and

customs are deeply rooted in Buddhism. Although there are normative
and substantive socializing agents, the monks and monasteries are another
important socializing institution. They have served as ethical and moral
socializing agents. They persuade the people to follow social rules and
regulations and to lead their lives according to the Buddhist way of life.
Such virtues as loving and kindness (Metta-Karuna), kind-heartedness,
being helpful to each other, courtesy and social relationships between
persons of different status constitute this way of life.

B. Social control function. Social control is indispensable for

human society. In order to keep society in order and its members
behaving correctly, so as to maintain peace and order, there must be laws
and regulations governing the society. It is necessary to have an
authoritative body, i.e., a government to enact and enforce such secular
laws and regulations. In addition there are also traditions and customary
laws that enhance the social control of any society.

However, those secular social control mechanisms are aimed at

regulating men’s activities and overt behavior. They will be effective only
when men feel morally obligated to follow the laws and regulations.
Religion can play a very important role in instilling in the people a sense
of morality and edifying them. The monks and monasteries are essential
religious socializing agents that train Buddhists to be good citizens.
Buddhist principles, which function as a social control mechanism, are,
for example, the Five Precepts, Brahmavihàra (sublime states of mind),

Sangahavatthu (virtues making for group integration and leadership and

principle of services), Nathakaranadhamma (virtues which make for
protection), Saraniyadhamma (virtues for fraternal living), Adhipateyya
(dominant influence, supremacy, Dithadhammikattha (sources of
happiness in the present life), etc. People, who are trained, edified, and
keep to the teachings of the Buddha will have shared norms and follow a
common way of life. Such a society will face minimal conflicts, people
will live together with reason and social problems are minimized.

C. Buddhism serves as a unifying force for the society. The fact

that the faithful follow the teaching of the Buddha, and adopt Dhamma as
guidance in their life, reinforces national integration and solidarity. Good
racial integration and a healthy religion enhance national security. In
addition to the teachings of the Buddha, religious rituals and calendar
festivals foster the unity of the people.

3.9 The Characteristics of the Rulers

Plato’s definition of philosopher king refer to one who is going to

seek the truth; And truth can only be won by knowledge and wisdom. The
best government for him is the one, which has a philosopher king in
power. The other virtue, which is stressed by Plato, is justice. He says that
justice is the whole duty of man. He further explains that it is justice went
each class does its own proper work. In each of us also, if our inward
faculties do severally their roper work, we will live in the virtue of
justice; we will do just men, and doers of proper work.

Aristotle (born 884 B.C.) wrote how the powers of government

should be expressed. According to him, the government would be good if
it worked in the interest of the community as a whole. And on the
contrary it would be bad if it worked for the governing body and for
selfish purposes. Aristotle focused on the practitioner of government who,
by his power, would make the common good, good of life for all.

He mentions that political justice exists among people who are

associated in a common life with a view to self-sufficiency and who
enjoy freedom and equality. Justice must be administered not merely for a
private group but for the whole world. Aristotle explains that government
will be best if it serves the common good for the people. The political
thinkers emphasize the moral virtues of the ruler who should do justice to
all and bring good to all, a government working for the public good.
(Macilwain, 1932, pp.83-85)

The basis of religion is morality and faith, while that for politics is
power. Religion was used to justify wars and conquest, persecutions,
atrocities, rebellions, destruction of works of art and culture. When
religion is used to pander to political whims, it has to forego its high
moral ideals and become debased by worldly political demands.

The thrust of the Buddha Dhamma is not directed to the creation of

new political institutions and establishing political arrangements.
Basically, it seeks to approach the problems of society by reforming the
individuals constituting that society and suggesting some general
principles, through which the society can be guided towards greater
humanism, improved welfare of its members, and more equitable sharing
of resources.

There is a limit to the extent to which a political system can

safeguard the happiness and prosperity of its people. No political system,
no matter how ideal it may appear to be, can bring about peace and
happiness as long as the no matter what political system is adopted, there
are certain universal factors which the members of that society will have
to experience: the effects of good and bad kamma, the lack of real
satisfaction or everlasting happiness in the world characterized by dukkha
(unsatisfactoriness), anicca (impermanence), and anatta (egolessness). To
the Buddhist, nowhere in Samsara is there real freedom, not even in the
heavens or the world of Brahmas.

Although a good and just political system which guarantees basic

human rights and contains checks and balances to the use of power is an
important condition for a happy life in society, people should mot fritter
away their time by endlessly searching for the ultimate political system
where men can be completely free, because complete freedom cannot be
found in any system but only in minds which are free.

To be free, people will have to look within their own minds and
work towards freeing themselves from the chains of ignorance and
craving. Freedom in the truest sense is only possible when a person use
Dhamma to develop his character through good speech and action and to
train his mind so as to expand his mental potential and achieve his
ultimate aim of enlightenment.

While recognizing the use fullness of separating religion from

politics and the limitations of political systems in bringing about peace
and happiness, there are several aspects of the Buddha’s teaching, which

have close correspondence to the political arrangements of the present


1) Firstly, the Buddha spoke about the equality of all human beings
long before Abraham Lincoln, and the classes and castes are artificial
barriers erected by society. According to the Buddha, the only
classification of human beings is based on the quality of their moral

2) Secondly, the Buddha encouraged the spirit of social co-

operation and active participation in society. This spirit is actively
promoted in the political in the political process of modern societies.
3) Thirdly, since no one was appointed as the Buddha’s successor,
the members of the Order were to be guided by the Dhamma and Vinaya,
or in short, the Rule of Law. Until today every member of the Sangha is
to abide by the Rule of Law, which governs and guides their conduct.

4) Fourthly, the Buddha encouraged the spirit of consultation and

the democratic process. This is shown within the community of the Order
in which all members have the right to decide on matters of general
concern. When a serious question arose demanding attention, the issues
were put before the monks and discussed in a manner similar to the
democratic parliamentary system used today.

This self-governing procedure may come as a surprise to many to

learn that in the assemblies of Buddhists in India 2,500 years ago and
more are to be found the rudiments of the parliamentary practice of the
present day. A special officer similar to “Mr. Speaker” was appointed to
preserve the dignity of the assembly.

A second officer, who played a role similar to the Parliamentary

Chief Whip, was also appointed to see if the quorum was secured.
Matters were put forward in the form of a motion, which was open to
discussion. In some cases it was done once, in others three times, thus
anticipating the practice of Parliament in requiring that a bill should be
read a third time before it becomes law. If the discussion shows a
difference of opinion, it was to be settled by the vote of the majority
through balloting.

The Buddhist approach to political power is the moralization and

the responsible use of public power. The Buddha preached non-violence
and peace as a universal message. He did not approve of violence or the
destruction of life, and declared that there is no such thing as a “just” war.
He taught: ‘The victor breeds hatred, the defeated lives in misery. He who
renounces both victory and defeat is happy and peaceful. Not only did the
Buddha teach non-violence and peace, but also he was perhaps the first
and only religious teacher who went to the battlefield personally to
prevent the outbreak of a war. He diffused tension between the Sakyas
and Koliyas who were about to wage war over the waters of Rohine. He
also dissuaded king Ajātaśatru from attacking the Kingfom of the vajjis.

The Buddha discussed the importance and the prerequisites of a

good government. He showed how the country could become corrupt,
degenerate and unhappy when the head of the government becomes
corrupt and unjust. He spoke against corruption and how a government
should act on humanitarian principles. The Buddha once said, “When the
ruler of a country is just and good, the ministers become just and good;
when the ministers are just and good, the higher officials become just and
good; when the higher officials are just and good, the rank and file

become just and good; when the rank and file become just and good, the
people become just and good.”

In the Cakkamatti Sihananda Sutta, the Buddha said that

immorality and crime, such as theft, falsehood, violence, hatred, cruelty,
could arise from poverty. Kings and government may try to suppress
crime through punishment, but it is futile to eradicate crimes through

In the Kutadanta Sutta, the Buddha suggested economic

development instead of force to reduce crime. The government should use
the country’s resources to improve the economic conditions of the
country. It could embark on agricultural and rural development, provide
financial support to entrepreneurs and business, and provide adequate
wages for workers to maintain a decent life with human dignity.

In the Milinda Panha, it is stated: ‘If a man, who is unfit,

incompetent, immoral, improper, unable and unable and unworthy of
kingship, has enthroned himself a king or a ruler with great authority, he
is subject to be tortured…to be subject to a variety of punishment by the
people, because, being unfit and unworthy, he has placed himself
unrighteously in the seat of sovereignty. The ruler, like others who violate
and transgress moral codes and basic rules of all social laws of mankind,
is equally subject to punishment; and moreover, to be censure is the ruler
who conducts himself as a robber of the public.’

In Jantaka story, it is mentioned that a ruler who punishes innocent

people and does not punish the culprit is not suitable to rule a country.
The king always improves himself and carefully examines his own

conduct in deed, words and thoughts, trying to discover and listen to

public opinion as to whether or been guilty of any faults and mistakes in
ruling the that they are ruined by the wicked ruler with unjust treatment,
punishment, taxation, or other oppressions including corruption of any
kind, and they will react against him un one way or another. On the
contrary, if he rules righteously they will bless him: ‘Long live His

The Buddha’s emphasis is on the moral duty of a ruler to use

public power to improve the welfare of the people had inspired Emperor
Asoka, a sparkling example of this principle, resolved to live and preach
the Dhamma and to serve his subjects and all humanity accordingly. He
declared his non-aggressive intentions to his neighbours, assuring them of
his goodwill and sending envoys to distant kings bearing his message of
peace and non-aggression.

He promoted the energetic practice of the socio-moral virtues of

honesty, truthfulness, compassion, benevolence, non-violence,
considerate behaviour towards all, non-extravagance, non-
acquisitiveness, and non-injury to animals. He encouraged religious
freedom and mutual respect for each other’s creed. He went on to
periodic tours preaching the Dhamma to the rural people. He undertook
works of public utility, such as founding of hospitals for man beings and
animals, supplying of medicine, plantation of the roadside trees and
groves, digging of wells, and construction of watering sheds and rest
houses. He expressly forbade cruelty to animals.

Sometimes the Buddha is said to be a social reformer. Among other

things, he condemned the caste system, recognized the equality of people,

spoke on the need to improve socio-economic conditions, recognized the

importance of n more equitable distribution of wealth among the rich and
the poor, raised the status of women, recommended the incorporation of
humanism in government and administration, and taught that a society
should not be run by greed but with consideration and compassion for the
people. despite all of these, his contribution to mankind is much greater
because he took off at a point which no other social reformer before or
ever since had done, that is, by going to the deepest roots of human ill
which are found in human mind.

It is only in the human mind that true reform can be affected.

Reforms imposed by force upon the external world have a very short life
because they have no roots. Not those reforms, which spring as a result of
the transformation of man’s inner consciousness, remain rooted. While
their braches spread outwards, they draw their nourishment from and
unfailing source the subconscious imperatives of the life- stream itself. So
reforms come about when men’s minds have prepared the way for them,
and they live as long as men revitalize them out of their own love of truth,
justice and their fellow men. (K.Shi Dhammananda, 1993, pp.231-236)

Kingship is generally regarded as a result of meritorious actions

performed in the past births. The pali texts generally insist that a king be
khattiya and belong to a family with a hoary lineage. This is in keeping
with the early Buddhist view that the Khattiyas are the highest among
classes and castes. Nor is a woman favoured as a ruler. Of course this can
be taken as the observation of the Buddhists of the contemporary
situation. This cannot be regarded as the general rule or even the main
emphasis of Buddhism. What is more important for Buddhism, is that a
good king is expected to have ten qualities such as charity, morality, and

spirit of sacrifice, justice, humility, penitence, absence of wrath, absence

of violence, patience and harmlessness. A good king, however, should do
more than merely possess certain qualities. He should sub-serve two
traditions namely those of attha and Dhamma. The terms attha and
Dhamma may be rendered, in our present context, as actions conducive to
prosperity and righteousness.

Owing to the fact that a leader is the most important and powerful
person. He, therefore, should know the price of leadership: emulation and
envy. A leader is envied. High and powerful positions are fervently
sought out for all the promise they hold. And what can be more alluring
than the highest post in the land?

To be good leader should be undaunted to emulation and envy

which are around us. In this case, the researcher agrees with S. Leelavathi
the famous columnist who in the column “The Speaking Tree” (Times of
India, Monday, May 31, 2004), mentioned the price of leadership by
saying, “Now that the “crown of thorns” has been placed on a leader’s
head, it is instructive to look at what leadership means, both for the leader
and the led. True, the lead of any huge corporation or country will have
almost boundless resourced at his word shall be law. And sycophants
there will be aplenty. However, it is also true that no leader can be free of
the baggage of leadership.”

In every field of human endeavour; first he must perpetually live in

the white light of publicity. Whether the leadership should be vested in a
man or in a manufactured product, emulation and envy are ever at work
in the art, in literature, in music, in industry, the reward and the

punishment are always the same. The reward is widespread recognition;

the punishment, fierce denial and detraction.

When a man’s work becomes a standard for the whole world, it

also becomes a target for the shafts of the envious few. Should his work
be merely mediocre, he will be left severely alone; if he achieves a
masterpiece, it will set a million tongues wagging. Jealousy does not
protrude its forked tongue at the artist who produced a commonplace

Whatsoever you write, paint, play, sing or build, no one will strive
to surpass, or to slander you. Unless your work be stamped with the seal
of genius. Long, long after a great work or a good work has been done;
those who are disappointed or envious continue to cry out that it cannot
be done.

It is as old as the world and as old as human passions namely;

envy, fear, greed, ambition and the desire to surpass. And it all avails
nothing. If the leader truly leads, he remains the leader.

In conclusion we may say that the ruler is considered as the center

of the society. Everybody has to follow him as the leader. He is the model
for common people and the virtues to be developed by the ruler and his
subordinates to be the good model of people. The staff and all officials of
the ruler should be men of wisdom and virtue. The economic glory and
prosperity and spiritual peace of the people and the state should be taken
care of strictly by the ruler. It is supposed to be the symbol of the well-
being of the people.

The qualities of life both of body and mind, both of the ruler and
the ruled, should be developed simultaneously. Happiness, peace security,
and confidence of the people will thus be widely spread. A good ruler is
beloved and popular among the domestic as well as the monastic
inhabitants: just as a father is near and dear to his children, even so is the
ruler beloved and regarded by the ruled; and just as the children are near
and dare to their father, even so are the ruled to a ruler. He instructs the
public in the threefold practice of well-doing in thought, word and deed
and encourages them to perform charitable deeds, to observe morality, to
engage themselves energetically in their occupation to educate
themselves, to gain wealth, to fulfill their respective duties.

A good ruler sets his whole heart upon promoting the welfare of his
people and makes righteousness the sole purpose of his actions. Being
devoted to the happiness and well-being of his subjects, he appears like
righteousness personified. As the embodiment of righteousness and the
promoter of what is good for his subjects, he realizes their welfare to be
the fruit of righteousness and knows no other purpose than this. A ruler,
therefore, must have righteousness to lead his country and his people to
peace and happiness. ( Khongchinda Chanya,1993 pp.96-7)

3.10 Social Justice in Buddhism

A virtue needed by all beings, both human and animal, justice is the
result of men’s treatment to their fellow human beings, other beings or
even their natural surroundings in the way believed to be fair in
accordance with the religious as well as the legal principles. However, it
is an abstract element, unable to be touched but able to be felt by heart.
The society, where there exists the justice, is assured to enjoy peace,

tranquillity and equality as well. In such society, the law can be enforced
in the full scale, and the religious teachings can be applied effectively.
But how justice arises and how justice can be achieved and implanted in
the global community are the ‘everlasting’ questions pending solution by
the religions, legal instruments, education systems as well as by human
beings themselves. This chapter is going to deal with the Buddhist
concept concerning justice, the Buddhist approaches to create justice and
the Buddhist contributions to social justice in the society.

3.10.1 What is Justice?

Although “justice” is sometimes used synonym for “law” or

“lawfulness,” it has a broader closer to “fairness.”

As it has been explained in the Encyclopedia of philosophy edited

by Paul Edward, Justice presupposes people pressing claims and
justifying them by rules or standards. This distinguishes it from charity,
benevolence, or generosity. No one can claim alms or gifts as a right.
However, although this account is appropriate to questions of distributive
justice, where the problem is to allocate benefits, it is not so obviously
true of corrective (or retributive) justice. It is farfetched to describe a
criminal trial as a conflict between an accused man’s interest in being let
alone and the community’s interest (if it has one) in punishing him.
Nevertheless, sentencing criminals and giving judgment in favor of one
party to a dispute rather than another have this in common with
distribution- that they all may involve overriding a claim and treating one
person more harshly that another. All presuppose general principles by
which such distinctions are regulated and justified.

Aristotle’s analysis of justice is the key to its meaning at the level

of the particular act or decision. Justice, he said, consists in treating
equals equally and unequals unequally, but in proportion their relevant
differences. This involves the idea like impartiality and right to equal

Mill sought to reconcile retaliataive justice with utilitarianism,

arguing that the natural impulse to retaliate is moralized as a sentiment of
justice by confining it to those cases where the injury is to society at large
and where retaliative justice has a useful deterrent function. However,
although the duty of reciprocity may spring from our recognition of other
men, just as much as ourselves, as persons with interests and claims
deserving of respect, we cannot infer from that a duty to attack their
interests whenever they attack either our own or even those of society at

Alf Ross, for instance, has declared that to use the word “just” as a
description of a rule or general order, rather than of a particular decision
in accordance with the rule is merely to express emotion, like “banging
on the table.”

Hobbes is often said to have been a positivist because he

maintained that “just” and “unjust” presuppose a coercive power capable
of enforcing obligations and that no complaint of injustice could be made
against the sovereign legislator. But since he admitted that the sovereign
may act inequitably, that is, contrary to natural law, canons of legal
criticism beyond positive law do exist; it is only that the subject is not
entitled to use them.

The strength of the conventionalist position is illustrated by

Rawls’s view of a just order as that body of principles that anyone might
recognize as in his interest to maintain, given that others on whose
acquiescence he depends, have interests that conflict with his own.
Although the rules might appear to discriminate against him on some
given occasion, he would be able to see the point, nevertheless, of having
those rules. This was, broadly, Hume’s opinion. Justice, he geld, was
conventional in the sense of being necessary to society. Though there
were discrepancies in detail, men’s ideas on justice corresponded in
essentials because they arose from needs common to all social
saturations. These rules were binding by custom and convention but were
justified by their public utility.

Rawls has challenged the view that a practice is just if it answer

most fully to wants and interests. Justice is not the outcome but is
presupposed by such a calculation. Any interest not compatible with
justice ought not to be counted. Classical utilitarianism is at fault,
according to the Rawls, because it permits one to give as a reason why
slavery is unjust that the advantage to the slave holder does not outweigh
the disadvantages to the slave and to society at large. Justice, understood
as fairness, would not admit to the calculation the advantages of the
slaveholder as such because hid role could not be mutually acknowledge
as part of an acceptable practice by all parties involved. It would not be
thought relevant for one person, engaged with another in a common
practice and accused by him of injustice, to answer that nevertheless it
allowed of the greatest satisfaction of desire.

Dr.B.R.Ambedkar, one of greatest political and intellectual

personalities of India, elucidated the concept of social justice as follows:
“Social justice as a guiding and evaluative principle is always dynamic
because it takes stock of the changing situation and suggests the abolition
or modification of unjust custom, tradition and social structures to
promote the welfare of the people and the preservation of rights of the
poor and weaker section of society” (Gokhale, Ed. 2008, p.87)

3.10.2 Buddhist concept of Justice

The term “Justice” is possibly equivalent to a Pali word of
“Yuttidhamma”or “Yuktidharma” in Sanskrit, which means ‘the principle
of impartiality’ or ‘the righteous principle on which the treatment of
either man-to-man or man to his fellow beings even his surroundings is
based and kept in balance’. Justice is abstract and difficult to understand.
To make clear what justice is requires the explanation in the opposite
term, i.e., to talk about ‘prejudice’ or ‘partiality’. According to Buddhism,
there are four kinds of prejudice, consisting of the prejudice caused by
‘Love’(Chandagati), ‘Hatred’(Dosagati), ‘Delusion’(Mohagati) and
‘Fear’(Bhayagati). This sounds quite different from the concept in
general which holds that there are just 2 kinds of prejudice, namely,
‘Love-based prejudice’ and ‘Hatred-based prejudice’. There is no need to
elaborate the first two kinds of prejudice as they have already been well
acquainted to all. It is worth to explain the last two kinds: the prejudice
caused by delusion and that caused by fear.

It is admitted that in the context of decision-making, the all-

embracing knowledge, experiences, perfect information and thorough
consideration (Yoniso manasikara) are needed, not to mention the
‘SWOT’ (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis,

which cannot be absolutely overlooked. In spite of this, some failures

sometimes still arise. Specifically, should discrete appraisal or Yoniso
manasikara is to be accepted, what will happen is very horrible to imagine
of. The delusion (Moha) or, in another word, lack of knowledge,
experiences and information that are sufficient and supportive, leads to
the rise of prejudice, either intentionally or unintentionally. Another
element that significantly influences the decision-making procedure is
‘fear’ (Bhaya), or the decision made under the pressure staged by an
influential person or group like political as well as interest groups that
exercise their power to the extent that the decision made is distorted.
These two kinds of prejudice, it can be said, may bring about, to the
society, negative effects which are more aggravated than those caused by
love and hatred.

As a matter of fact, Buddhism is the religion of ‘wisdom’. Thus, in

all the practical processes ranging from the beginning to the highest level,
wisdom is an inevitable agent, lack of which the result will be otherwise.
Moreover, ‘Bhaya’ or fear is, of course, nothing but an external power
that threatens the decision-making or Dhamma-practicing process. It can
be compared to an ‘ill-wisher’ or ‘Mara’ in Pali term, who is always
attempting to find chance to either tease or tempt the practitioners to go
astray and, at last, fail to achieve their goal.

Then it can be defined here that the treatment process that is

deprived of the above-mentioned four kinds of prejudice is called

As an atheistic religion, Buddhism denies the existence of God or

any external power that is believed to determine the fate of man as he

wishes, whilst guaranteeing human competency in respect of self-

development, self-reliance and future-shaping through man’s own action,
i.e., the ‘Law of Kamma’ or, in other word, the ‘Law of Cause and
Effect’. A Buddhist proverb says, ‘As a farmer reaps whatever crop he
grows, so man is due to receive whatever result of his own action, either
wholesome or unwholesome. If he does good action, he is due to receive
good result, and vice versa’. There are more of the Buddha’s sayings in
the Pali Text confirming the principle, for example,

-‘It is your duty to make your own effort. I am merely the pointer of
the way.’
-‘Have yourself as your own refuge, O Bhikkhus, and do not have
others as such. Have the Dhamma as theirown refuge, and do not have
others as such.’

In the Vasettha Sutta in Majjhima Nikaya (the Pali Text of Middle-

Length Discourses) dealing with two young Brahmans named Vasettha
and Bharadavaja who had a controversial attitude in respect of ‘pure
birth’ according to the caste system in Hiduism, and decided to take the
case to the Lord Buddha for judgment, the Lord Buddha said (in Pali),
‘Na jacca vasalo hoti na jacca hoti brahmano.
Kammuna vasalo hoti kammuna hoti brahmano.’
(Not by his birth man is an outcaste or a Brahman;
Only by his own Kamma man becomes an outcaste
or a Brahman.)

Moreover, it is unbelievable that even in the community of those

who believe in a theistic religion, there still exists a proverb saying like
‘God helps those who help themselves.’

3.10.3 Buddhist Approach to Justice

The introduction of the law of Kamma instead of the external power

exercised by god or gods, which was, at the inception of Buddhism, the
major powerful faith occupying the entire society emphasized the role of
the Lord Buddha in a courageous attempt to create the justice-based
society in the subcontinent. The first evidence can be detected from the
principle of belief laid down for the new-comers to Buddhism that starts
with (1) belief in Kamma or one’s own action, (2) belief in effect of
Kamma, (3) belief that one is due to reap the effect of Kamma he has
already done, and (4) belief in the Exalted One’s enlightenment. There
may be some argument that the last of the four beliefs is distinctively an
element of faith in external power, the answer to which is that Buddhists
are not taught to believe in the Lord Buddha as Almighty God who solely
possesses the power to determine man’s fate, but, on the contrary, taught
to believe in what had been enlightened by the Lord Buddha through His
insight-wisdom like the Four Noble Truth, the Noble Eight-fold Path and
so on.

Another example lies in the revolutionary teaching in aspect of the

caste system to be substituted by the virtue-oriented system as the Lord
Buddha once said in the Ambattha Sutta in Digha Nikaya (the Pali Text
of Lengthy Discourses) that ‘To those who are troubled with birth and
caste, the caste of monarchy is considered supreme. However, he who is
perfect in the principle of knowledge and the code of conduct is supreme
among celestial and human beings.’

Not only does Buddhism expect the availability of justice among the
human community, but even the animal world as well as natural

surroundings should also enjoy the virtue. Take for example the re-
interpretation of the five Brahmanical sacrifices in light of Buddhism.

1. Assamedha that means the horse sacrifice was changed to

Sassamedha, the meaning of which is the knowledge in the development
of rice or agricultural products.

2. Naramedha that means human sacrifice was reinterpreted as

Purisamedha meaning to render help to the people instead of killing them.

3. Sammapasa that formerly implied a series of sacrificial rites

in connection with a hoop or noose was re-interpretted as a philanthropic
movement implemented by the government or head of a community in
the form of a moral hoop or noose to fasten the minds of the people with.

4. Vajapeyya that means the immolation of seventeen kinds of

animal in the sacrifice, the meaning of which was changed to ‘drinking
the water of wholesome speech.

5. Niraggala formerly implying the wholesale slaughter of both

human beings and animals was newly defined as the abolition of all
obstacles or crimes to the extent that people are so peacefully content and

Above all, the justice in the Buddhist concept that transcends all
kinds of the justice as earlier mentioned is the justice toward one’s own
self, viz. the perfect liberation of one’s mind off the influence of
defilements or Kilesas, which is the ultimate goal of Buddhism. It is

considered an absolute prejudice toward his own self so far as man lets
himself fall under the yoke of defilements, the cruellest master, and
become their faithful servants. Once the Lord Buddha said, ‘Be hurry, O
Bhikkhus, to paddle your boat till it shall reach the other side of the river

3.10.4 Buddhist Contributions to Social Justice

Through its long history of over 2550 years, Buddhism has

contributed so much to the social justice, beginning with the destruction
of the caste system which resulted in the equilibrium of human beings in
consistence with the proverb that says, ‘All men are born equal’, and
introduction of the virtue-oriented system in its place, followed by the
challenging admission of ladies to get ordained as Bhikkhuni, which
means nothing but upgrading the status of females to be equal to that of
males, despite the fact that the problem of equal rights between men and
women still remains unanswerable so far in the age of globalization.

There exist more evidences in the issue, to mention just few as


-The establishment of the ‘Law of Cause and Effect’ implies the

denial of the existence of God, the source of the external power, that may
effect the prejudice because of love, hatred, delusion and fear as earlier

-The seniority system applied in the ecclesiastical circle, regardless

of whatever category of birth they belong to, guarantees the fundamental

nature of Buddhism that places a significant emphasis on the accumulated

virtues by means of doing good or wholesome actions.

-The self-development steps that begins with the control of physical

and verbal behaviors or Sila (Precept), followed by the control of mind or
Samadhi (Meditation) and culminating with Panna (Insight-wisdom)
ensures the self-purification process that must be performed by one’s own
self, not by others nor any external power, as says a Buddhist verse,
‘Suddhi asuddhi paccattam nanno nannam visodhaye’ (purity and
impurity is the matter of an individual; one can, by no means, purify

3.10.5 Buddhism and Human Rights

Notions of rights derive from ethical principles. There is a clear

convergence between Buddhist ethics and modern discussions on human
rights, particularly in the common focus on responsibility and
indivisibility/interdependence. The non-dual understanding of Buddhism
gives rise to an ethics of inter-responsibility, or Bodhicitta - what His
Holiness the Dalai Lama calls Universal Responsibility. In the Theravada
we speak of Samma-sankappa or Right Thought, which leads to Bodhi,
the Awakened Mind. This principle is expressed in everyday terms by the
teaching of loving-kindness, non-violence, compassion, and particular
responsibilities. For monks and nuns these are set down in the rule or
Vinaya; for lay people in the Sigalovada Sutta and for rulers in the

All human beings, according to Buddhism, are equal, and each has
the potential to realize the truth by his or her own will and endeavour, and

can help others to realize it. Buddhist concepts recognize the inherent
dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all human beings. The
teaching of the Buddha holds that all human beings are endowed with
reason and conscience. It recommends a Universal spirit of brotherhood
and sisterhood. Buddhist theory holds that the "three poisons" of hatred,
greed and delusion are at the root of violence in the world, and that the
solution is for us to see so deeply into these factors that we are no longer
dominated by them.

In the early, organic, societies the Buddha was addressing, these

specific responsibilities were assumed to be adequate guidelines for
human behaviour, with no need to identify the corresponding rights. In
modern, fragmented societies, however, where the fulfillment of
responsibilities cannot be guaranteed by the immediate community, these
guidelines or skillful means (upaya) have been supplemented by
corresponding rights. These are specified and protected by States and
International Organisations. In large part these bodies derive their
legitimacy from their promotion and protection of human rights. A State
which does not guarantee the enjoyment of human rights by its people
loses its claim to legitimacy.

Buddhism is widely regarded as the most tolerant of all religious

traditions. However, Buddhist countries like Sri Lanka, Burma, and
Cambodia have seen some of the highest levels of religious and ethnic
intolerance in the world, with Buddhists among the main perpetrators. In
other places it is Buddhists who are persecuted by the State, which fears
the influence of Buddhism on the people. In Burma, Tibet and Viet Nam,
for instance, thousands of Buddhists (especially monks and nuns) have
been persecuted, with well-documented instances of torture and

executions. In Tibet most of the country's monasteries have been


The depiction of rights as simply a Western invention fails to

understand the relationship of rights to responsibilities and ethical norms.
The central values of all societies are very much the same. All ethical
systems encourage people to respect each other, and discourage killing,
violence and so on. Rights are skilful means designed to assist the
implementation of these ethics.

Human Rights discourse has moved on during the past 50 years

and has expanded and enriched the somewhat individualistic principles
set out in the 'Universal Declaration of Human Rights' which was adopted
and proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10
December 1948. The dialectic of universalism and cultural relativism, for
instance, is an immensely creative process as well as a cause for countless
conflicts. The work since 1982 on the rights of indigenous peoples -
group rights - is another important development. The cultural, social and
political development of a nation is a dynamic process. The orientation of
the process should not only be based in our own roots and traditions, but
must also be shaped by innovative new ideas. Cultural diversity is a factor
that enriches the modern approach to human rights, rather than hindering
the universal respect for and observance of human rights.
( on 21/03/09)

3.10.6 Buddhism and political justice

The basis of political justice is that politically or economically

stronger people must not be empowered to violate legal system. Verily in
Buddhism there is no explicit body of social and political theory
comparable to its psychology or metaphysics. Nevertheless, a Buddhist
political theory can be deduced primarily from basic Buddhism i.e. from
Dharma. Buddhism is of the view that political power is essential to
fashion and sustain a society whose citizens are free to live in dignity,
harmony and mutual respect, free of the degradation of poverty and war.
In such a society of good heart, all men and women find encouragement
and support in making the best use of their human condition in the
practice of wisdom and compassion.

Political action, thus, involves the Buddhist ideal of approaching

each situation without prejudice, but with deserved circumspection in
questions of power and conflict, social oppression and justice. These
social and political conflicts are the great public samsaric driving
energies of our life to which an individual responds with both aggression
and self-repression. The Buddha Dharma offers the possibility of
transmuting the energies of the individual into wisdom and compassion.

This may indicate that Buddhist movement was mainly concerned

with ethical advancement and psychic illumination and not with political
affairs. Nevertheless, political repercussions did ensue from Buddhism. In
the Brahmajala Sutta, Gautama Buddha emphatically states that he is
vitally interested in social cohesion and co-operation and in the act of
reconciling those people who are divided. Early Buddhism did have
significant political consequences. From the evidence of the Buddha's

discourses, or suttas in the Digha Nikaya (Mahaparinibbana-sutta), it is

clear that early Buddhists were very much concerned with the creation of
political conditions favorable to the individual cultivation of Buddhist
values. An outstanding example of this, in later times, is the remarkable
"welfare state" created by the Buddhist emperor, Asoka (B.C. 274-236).
The Buddhist political justice enjoins special responsibility to the king.
As the head of state he must adhere to specific code of conduct, as he is at
the helm of affairs of the state. Buddha felt that the personal moral
conduct of the king, along with his officials, would be expressed in the
political affairs of the state. Thus, the righteous character of the state
would help in prevailing universal righteousness on earth. Hence,
deliverance through peaceful coexistence would become easily attainable
for all. In some passages of the Pali Texts a parallel has been drawn
between a Buddha and a monarch, as both held the same esteemed place
in the eyes of the people. The two have the same objective, i.e. the well-
being of people. Both are also an integral part of the ordinary empirical
existence, and the political good and well-being is assured through them.
The Kutadana sutta of the Digha-Nikāya explains that the safety of the
people and their economic, as well as material prosperity should be of
special concern for the state and the government. Political power may
manifest and sustain social and economic structures, which breed both
material deprivation and spiritual degradation for millions of people.

Buddhists are, thus, concerned with political action, first, in the direct
relief of non-volitionally caused suffering now and in the future, and,
secondly, with the creation of social karmic conditions favourable to the
following of the way that leads to the cessation of volitionally-caused
suffering, the creation of a society which tends to the ripening of wisdom
and compassion rather than the withering of them.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Buddhism is a single religion

that does recognize the competency of human beings to solve all the
problems confronting the world, no exception even to the problem of
prejudice or lack of justice. Justice can be developed through the
principle of the Buddhist Teachings. However, the propagation of
Buddhism is not effective enough in lack of active cooperation of all
Buddhist traditions and Sects. The Second World Buddhist Forum hosted
by the Chinese Buddhist Association with a strong support from the
Chinese Government, it can be said, will be accounted as a spring board
for the active and energetic spreading of Buddhist Teachings as ‘Message
of Social Justice’ to all corners of the world, with the joint attempt of all
Buddhists and Buddhist organizations, regardless of whatever tradition or
sect they are attached to. This is for the sake of peacefulness, happiness
and well-being of the world. ( retrieved on

3.11 The Righteous Rulers (of Buddhism)

To start, Buddha and Buddhism declared that righteousness

(dhamma) and morality (sila) were the best choices for rulers, as they

would ensure a long, successful and popular reign. Whereas many

monarchs of Buddha’s time exercised extreme and often arbitrary power
over their subjects, there were a few who followed his teachings. The
best-known examples were Bimbisara, and Asoka. Data on Asoka are
numerous and detailed, so the researcher shall concentrate on him.
Furthermore, Buddhism was proselytised by Asoka.

One of the greatest emperors of all times, Emperor Asoka was a

Mauryan ruler whose empire spread across the Indian subcontinent and
the present day Pakistan and Afghanistan thus covering a vast area. Born
in 265 B.C, the great king Ashoka was the grandson of the famous ruler
Chandragupta Maurya. He is known as Asoka the Great since he was one
of the most able rulers who ruled India. Under his rule, the whole of India
was united as one single entity with smooth administration.

After his father died, he was crowned as the king of Magadha

around 268 B.C. After being crowned as the king, he proved himself by
smoothly administrating his territory and performing all his duties as an
able and courageous king. After a period of eight years of being a king,
Ashoka planned to seize the territory of Kalinga, the present day Orissa.
He led a huge army and fought a gruesome battle with the army of
Kalinga. The battle of Kalinga made him pledge to never wage a war
again. The battle took place on the Dhauli hills that are located on the
banks of River Daya. Though Ashoka emerged victorious at the end, the
sight of the battlefield made his heart break with shame, guilt and disgust.
It is said that the battle was so furious that the waters of River Daya
turned red with the blood of the slain soldiers and civilians.

The sight of numerous corpses lying strewn across the battlefield


made his heart wrench. He felt sick inside. The battle ground looked like
a graveyard with bodies of not just soldiers but men, women and children.
He saw young children crying over the bodies of their dead parents,
women crying over the bodies of their dead husbands, mothers crying
over the loss of a child. This made him heartbroken and he made a pledge
to never ever fight a battle again. To seek solace, he converted to
Buddhism. He was so inspired by the teachings of the Buddhist monks
and Buddhist philosophies that he used his status to impart this
knowledge all over the world. He is credited to be the first Emperor to
make a serious attempt at developing Buddhist policies.

Ashoka’s endeavour to proselytise Buddhism is seen through his

fourteen stone edicts, which were erected throughout Northern India, and
the great stone statues of Buddha in Bhamiyan, Afghanistan. From the
start, as evident in Edict I, Asoka (who called himself Piyadasi, or
“beloved of the gods”) established a policy of love and compassion:
One must not, here below, kill any living animal by
immolating it, not for the purpose of feasts. The King Piyadasi sees
much that is sinful in such feasts. Formerly, such feasts were
allowed; and in the cuisine of King Piyadasi, beloved of the gods,
and for the table of King Piyadasi, beloved of the gods, hundreds of
thousands of living beings were killed every day. At the time when
this Edict id engraved, three animals only are killed for the table, two
pea-fowls and a gazelle, and the gazelle not regularly. Even these
animals will not be killed in the future. (Edict I, trans. by James
Prinsep. Romesh C. Dutt, 2004, p.92)

Edict II mentioned medicine within the empire and on the

frontiers thereof, “the Cholas, the Pandyas,” etc. and in the kingdom

of Antiochus, king of the Greeks.” (Ibid. p.93) Edict IV refers again

to the “slaughter of living beings.” Asoka also shows his gratitude
and respect to Buddhism “the religion spread by the King Piyadasi,
beloved of the gods:”

“Thanks to the instruction of the religion spread by King

Piyadasi, beloved of the gods, there exists today a respect for living
creatures, a tenderness towards them, a regard for relations and for
Brahmans and Sramans, a dutiful obedience to father and mother,
and obeisance to aged men, such as have not existed for centuries”.
(Edict IV, trans. by James Prinsep. Ibid.)

Edict V speaks of the difficulty in performing virtuous acts. It is

worthy to note that conversely Asoka acknowledged “to do evil is easy.”
Therefore, he established ministers of the religion or dharmamahamatras.
The dharmamahamatras were told to contact every sect in the empire and
with every race or tribe:

“They mix with all sects for the establishment and progress of the
religion, and for the well-being of the faithful. They mix with the
Yavanas, the Kambojas, the Gandharas, the Saurashtras, and the
Petenikas, and with other frontier (Aparanta) nations. They mix with
warriors and with Brahmans, with the rich and the poor and the aged, for
their well-being and happiness, and in order to remove all the obstacles in
the path of the followers of the true religion”. (Ibid. p.94) Edict VII
testifies to Asoka’s religious tolerance and pluralism. In this edict, he
declares sectarian freedom by granting protection; and in Edict VIII he
declares that his new livelihood is the visitation of aged and learned men,
as opposed to hunting, etc.:

“The King Piyadasi, beloved of the gods, ardently desires that all
sects may live (unmolested) in all places. All of them equally propose the
subjection of the senses and the purification of the soul; but man is fickle
in his attachments.” (Edict VII, Ibid. p.95)

“In past times, kings went out for pastimes. Hunting and other
amusements of the kind were their pastimes. Here below, I, King
Piyadasi, beloved of the gods, obtained true intelligence ten years after
my appointment. These then are my pastimes:-visits and gifts to
Brahmans and Sramans, visits to aged men, the distribution of money,
visited to the people of the empire, their religious instruction, and
consultation on religious subjects. It is thus that King Piyadasi, beloved of
the gods, enjoys the pleasure derived from his virtuous acts.” (Edict VIII,

The Asokan model of governance was informed by what Sen

(2005) terms a ‘foundational agnosticism and commitment to public
communication and discussion’ (Sen 2005: p.182). Unlike, Emperor
Constantine who made Christianity the official creed of the Roman
Empire, Asoka never made Buddhism a state religion. Furthermore, by
his willingness to accept dissent and commitment to tolerance of other
faiths, Asoka looked upon sectarianism with strong disfavor (Ling 1973).
Following the precedents set by the Buddha, Asoka strove to ensure
‘religious freedom by supporting not just the Buddhist monks but ascetics
of other religious sects’ (Harvey 2000; p. 116); and also by striving to
negotiate differences through participation and consensus building
(Laksiri Jayasuriya, 2008, p.25) Jayasuriya concludes that Buddha
faboured democracy over monarchy because of equity and freedom
incumbent in it. The Buddha favoured democracy not just as a question of

the constitutional or legal right of equality and ‘the absolute worth of

theindividual’ but more as an affirmation of the moral obligation cast on
the individual to act within a code of conduct based on such values was
the ideal of human dignity, equality of respect and worth of the
individual. (Ibid.)

At this juncture, researcher will explore the Buddhist viewpoint

and approach to democracy.

3.12 Buddhist Approach to Democracy

Democracy understood as a way of thinking and acting implies a

rational commitment to freedom, equality and tolerance in a pluralistic
society, profoundly open minded, if not agnostic. The Buddha saw that
life's very purpose is happiness. He also saw that while ignorance binds
beings in endless frustration and suffering, wisdom is liberating. Modern
democracy is based on the principle that all human beings are essentially
equal, that each of us has an equal right to life, liberty, and happiness.
Buddhism too recognises that human beings are entitled to dignity, that
all members of the human family have an equal and inalienable right to
liberty, not just in terms of political freedom, but also at the fundamental
level of freedom from fear and want. Irrespective of whether we are rich
or poor, educated or uneducated, belonging to one nation or another, to
one religion or another, adhering to this ideology or that, each of us is just
a human being like everyone else. Not only do we all desire happiness
and seek to avoid suffering, but each of us has an equal right to pursue
these goals. “Buddhism is essentially a practical doctrine. In addressing
the fundamental problem of human suffering, it does not insist on a single

solution. Recognising that human beings differ widely in their needs,

dispositions and abilities, it acknowledges that the paths to peace and
happiness are many. As a spiritual community its cohesion has sprung
from a unifying sense of brotherhood and sisterhood. Without any
apparent centralized authority Buddhism has endured for more than two
thousand five hundred years. It has flourished in a diversity of forms,
while repeatedly renewing, through study and practice, its roots in the
teachings of the Buddha. This kind of pluralistic approach, in which
individuals themselves are responsible, is very much in accord with a
democratic outlook”.(Statement of H.H. the Dalai Lama, from
http// /news.350.html April 1993)

As we have mentioned in Chapter Two, earlier, Buddha may have

based the structure of his Sangha on the principle which was
available. Data say that the republics attracted and interested him, so they
could have influenced him to form the Sangha. Recent information
supports this as democratic government was getting underway in Athens,
the First Buddhist Council convened in India. The Council, which met
about 480 BCE, give or take, was an exercise in democracy. (Retrieved
from on 17 March 2009. Date of Citation: 28 -10-

Robert Thurman, working in Bhutan, a Buddhist nation like

Thailand and Sri Lanka, affirms the similarities between Buddhism and
democracy as follows:

Buddhism has many principles that fit with democracy such as

individualism, allowing people to develop their own mind to the fullest

than having to serve whatever their duty is, parents, cast etc. This is very
much in consonance with democracy. Buddhism teaches each person to
have the opportunity to develop their own being towards enlightenment,
to the fullest extent in life. That is the highest thing in the society.
(Retrieved from http://www.kuensel on 17 March 2009. Date
of Citation: 21-11-2006).

3.13 Modern Democracies influenced by Buddhism

There is a consensus that Buddhism resembles democracy in

miniature. The Sangha, as we reported in Chapter 2, was based on the
republic system, which favoured Buddha Gautama and which he
taught a specific dharma. On this note, we shall look at Buddhist
approach to democracy. The principle countries we shall investigate are
Japan, Republic of Korea, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. Buddhism in these
countries appears to be more dynamic. Concerning Republic of Korea,
history shows that it had established a Republic several times and
Buddhism was interrelated. Korea was originally one state until it was
liberated from the Japanese after World War II. Buddhism was non-
evident in the North due to the government practice of Soviet Socialism.
In the 1950s, Buddhism in the South Korea, called Republic of Korea,
prospered. It became more political as it aligned with various political
parties in the country. By the decade of the 1980s, ROK established its
first Buddhist TV station. During the Third Republic, Korean Buddhism
echoed the national ideology of Japan. In the Fifth Republic, headed by
Christian leader Chun Doohwan, it was downplayed and even criticized
as unprogressive. The Sixth Republic, under No Taewoo, revived it and
Buddhism continued to prosper. Until the present, Buddhism has been

existing side by side with Christianity. To attest to this information there

is the Korean analyst Jae-ryong Shim, who has commented firstly about
the North-South divide and claims of demo racy in both states:

Thus far the governments or power holders in both North and

South claim that they run the countries in accordance with democratic
principles. But nobody believes the claims. Instead they are of the opinion
that the North is run by a dictatorship of the late Kim Ilsung and his heir
even after his demise, while the South is struggling to keep the balance
between the proclaimed democracy imposed upon it from the West and
the embedded tradition of paternalistic authoritarianism, perhaps the only
ideological contender to modern Western democracy. (Francis Fukuyama,
“Confucianism and democracy,” Journal of Democracy, April 1995, p.

Democracy was introduced only after the 1945 liberation from the
Japanese imperial-military rule by the occupying forces of the United
States of America, which happened to occupy and “democratize” the area
south of the 38th parallel in the Korean peninsula. Shin continues to
analyse/criticise the situation in a thesis, as follows:

“The Buddhist political institution originally promulgated by the

Buddha Sakyamuni for the resident monks in the Sangha, the Buddhist
community of religious practitioners, had some seminal ideas and
practices similar to democracy. But the ideally democratic position with
which Buddhism began underwent many transformations in the course of
history. It is my task to summarize some major transformations in the
history of Buddhism, and to assess the relationship between Buddhism

and democracy in modern Korea. The reason why we have to confine our
talk to modern Korea is evident”.

Sri Lankan Buddhism is very pro-active. Sri Lanka is traditionally

the home of the last Sanghas of Gautama Buddha. The island was known
as Serendipity and Ceylon respectively before being called Sri Lanka. Its
activity there resembles the Israeli Zionist movement, which emphasized
homeland. The Sri Lankan Buddhists claimed similar right in the island
and even the monks, who took vows of non-violence, resort to fighting
and violence in the conflict.

The two remaining entries, Thailand and Japan, are the most
significant countries where Buddhism has been active.

In Thailand, Buddhism endeavours to propagate an ideal

government through the analysis of Venerable Buddhadasa Bhikku.
Buddhadasa was a respected and honored bhikku in Thailand. He
analyzed politics into equality and unity, through interdependence.
Buddhadasa actually coined the phrase “spiritual socialism” wherein the
individual loses self-centeredness and becomes socially aware. Some
scholars thought that Nirvana was actually a selflessness of this type and
that it was an original state of being. Buddhadasa agreed with this. Herein
he is quoted as defining politics in the true sense: “spiritual or dharmic
socialism, namely a state where individuals act not out of self-interest but
out of regard for the common good.” (Donald K Swearer, p. 217-18)

In Japan, in contradiction to the state religion of Shintö, which was

a type of polytheism, Buddhism had established several socio-political
organisations. Shinto was a way of countering possible military

invasions but Buddhism asserted itself as the national religion and, in the
modern age, it sought reforms. Buddhism began to re-emerge after the
defeat of Japan, post World War II. However, the bhikkus practiced only
traditional measures. By the 1960s, new organisations developed. Among
them was the Nichiren Sokka Gakai.

Nichiren was a Buddhist saint who lived in Japan of the 13th

Century. Nichiren believed that national security depended upon
dhamma. He exemplified this in the Lotus Sutra. More recently, a modern
follower, Tanaka Chigaku, established that the Imperial Constitution
personified Nichiren’s teaching. In 1923, Seno Giro, another follower,
established the Buddhist Youth League based upon equality and
compassion. However, he disbelieved that Nichiren preached nationalism.
Nichiren’s Buddhism founded other new socio-religious organisations.
As mentioned above, one such organisation was the Sokka Gakai. The
protest against the US-Japan Treaty in the1960s heightened the
organisation’s political action. The president of the Sokka Gakai was
Ikeda Daisaku. Under Daisaku, the organisations started its political
wing, which emphasised Buddhist democratic ideals-e.g., equality, fair
elections, parliamentary democracy. By 1964, it merged and formed the
Komeito or Clean Government Party. This party earned 24 seats in the
House of Councillors, which was the Upper House of Japanese


Chapter Three can be summarised as follows: Predominantly,

Buddha Gautama was not directly a, political reformer because his most
important concern was social ethics. Buddha spent his life after
asceticism recommending proper social interaction towards the goal of
social cohesion, unity and peace, to both monarchies and republics.
However, scholars have highlighted his interest in and attraction for the
latter. Among these latter republics, the Vajjians were well documented.

Towards the above-mentioned goals, he warned that solidarity and

unity as well as adherence to his dharma would guarantee their survival.
In contrast, his monarchical supporters included King Bimbisara. We
have recorded earlier that Ajatasatru had referred to him, but he used
Buddha’s counsel to his won advantage against the Vajjians. However,
data do not mention whether Ajatasatru conducted a siege of the republic
or not. [Some data mention that he colluded with Devadatta against
Buddha]. King Pasenadi might have listened to him as well.

From the basic introduction, the researcher has discussed the

concept of Kingship and the ten royal virtues prescribed by Buddha, or
Das Raja Dhamma(m). Buddha prescribed them against the
licenciousness of monarchs probably, such as Ajatasatru or Pasenadi. In
this unit, researcher has added data recorded in Bhutan. Asoka was
discussed in the following unit.

Concerning righteous monarchs, Emperor Asoka stands out as the

most historical and most admirable. A full account of Asoka’s reign
including some important stone edicts is given in this unit. We

highlighted his compassion towards all living beings and his

magnanimity towards secular society under his rule. Asoka converted to
Buddhism due to his wartime experiences, which also induced him to act
more compassionately and to revile war and violence. However, due to
his fame, other monarchs had no data.

The researcher continued to examine Buddhist approach to

democracy, although the democracy of Buddha’s lifetime did not
outwardly resemble the “Republic” of Plato. As mentioned earlier, data
from other scholars indicated that Buddha both was interested in the
or tribal republics and was welcomed among them as a teacher.
Their success at democracy inspired him to structure and regulate the
Sangha. Like these republics, the Buddhist Sangha was autonomous and
the bhikkus had rights and freedom similar to the denizens of the
republics. Vijayvardhan rermarks that “in its original form the Sangha
was an organized brotherhood of earnest minded men--and later women
also-who had dedicated their lives to the service of mankind. The
Vinaya Pitaka recommends solutions for disputes as well as monastic
disciplines but does not impose them strictly. This suggests Buddha’s
humanism and pragmatism in contrast with the authoritarian regime of
other religions. Due to this similarity, the Asian democracies such as
Republic of Korea, Thailand, Bhutan and Sri Lanka, as well as Tibet,
have been investigated in this chapter. Bhutan and Thailand stand forth as
the closest in resemblance to Buddha’s concept of a republic governed at
the centre by a powerful but compassionate monarch, like Emperor
Asoka, or ‘dhamamraja.”