The Dharma Politic

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“Hatred is not appeased by hatred. Hatred is appeased only by Love”
(Dhammapada, 1.5)

Written by Randeep Singh

What role does politics play in Buddhism?

Buddhism originated at a time in India when the state was active in expansion, trade, war and diplomacy. The state is found in the Buddha’s ideas and his teachings have the following implications for politics.

First, like all phenomena in Buddhism, politics is imperfect, subject to change, interrelated and composite and conditioned by many interdependent factors, such as geography, history, inter-state relationships and how people relate to the ruler.

Second, politics is governed by the universal moral law or dharma. The ruler in Buddhism is appointed by the people (Maha Sammata) to protect their life, security and property.[1]  The moral law of Dharma requires such a ruler to be benevolent (adosa), moral  (sila) and not to act contrary to the will of the people (avirodha).[2]

Third, the “benevolent ruler” (dharma raja) is essentially the secular counterpart of the Buddha, a person who has realized his highest spiritual and ethical potential (buddha) and who directs that energy (chanda) to the people’s welfare. He improves their economic condition so they have a foundation upon which to pursue a good life.[3] He avoids harm to others in thought, word or action, particularly through the practice of non-violence (ahimsa).[4]

The purpose of Buddhism is to end human suffering. Government in Buddhist politics lays the foundation for such a life by enabling the people to fulfill their potential for goodness and happiness and, thereby, putting an end to suffering. The Dharma Politic is “for the good of the many, for the happiness of many, out of compassion for the world.”

 

 

[1] Digha Nikaya, 3.80.

[2] “Ten Duties of the King” (dasa raja dhamma). Jataka I, 260, 399

[3] “Kutadanta-sutta” in Digha Nikaya. Emperor Ashoka of India (r. 269-232 BCE) for instance provided public works and medical care. In China, Buddhism encouraged the building of orphanages, hospitals and rest homes for the elderly; see Buddhism in China: A Historical Survey, Kenneth Chen (Princeton University Press, NJ: 1985). 484.

[4] The Buddhist-influenced Gupta Empire (c. 320-551CE) for instance was noted for its minimal state interference in society and its abolition of capital punishment.

 

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