|Wednesday, 20 February 2002|
By earnestness Maghava rose to the lordship of the gods. Earnestness is ever praised, negligence is ever despised.Dhammapada (Appamadavagga)
Buddhist political thinking
by Sita Arunthavanathan
Buddha as a religious teacher confined his teachings strictly to religious discipline and questions involving eschatology and soteriology.
He refrained from making any pronouncement on the relative merits of the political systems or the political theories that existed in his time. However as Prince Siddhartha he was brought up to be a universal monarch and was given an extensive training in statecraft and military arts.
The Buddhist texts show that the style of language the Buddha used in his conversations with kings such as Bimbisara and Pasenadi savouring of military similes, metaphors, illustrations from the context of the state, defence and martial arts, evinced a thorough knowledge of war strategies.
Buddha appeared at a time of political evolution when the existing republics were being swallowed up by the powerful neighbouring rulers with the emergence of monarchies. The scattered references in the suttas help us to gain an insight into the political power, authority and duties of a temporal ruler.
Origin of kingship
The myth prevailing at the time of the Buddha was that kingship was of divine origin; it was war that necessitated a king to give leadership. But the Buddhist concept as given in Agganna Sutta (Digha Nikaya) is that kingship originated as a genuine political need of the society as opposed to the Brahmin theory of divine origin and divine creation of the society divided into four castes.
According to this sutta, at a certain juncture of evolution, the logical need to show what mother nature offered, to arrest the diminishing of natural resources due to greed, to stop stealing and other vices, prompted a genuine social need for a charismatic leader to arbitrate whenever such a situation arose.
Hence the king was a figure chosen and approved by the people (Mahasammata); a logical outcome of a social need.
Definition of a king
Definition of a king as a given in the Agganna Sutta is, "one who makes others happy by righteousness" (dhammena param ranjeti ti raja). Buddhist texts refer to rajas, maharajas and cakkavatti rajas but whatever the title was, a king had to honour, respect and hold righteousness in high esteem. (Cakkavatti Siha Nada Sutta - Digha Nikaya). Consensus among people gave authority to the king and all the power he had, was that of the people.
This was the emergence of democracy. Moral degeneration (adhamma) due to fighting and friction necessitated a ruler for moral regeneration (dhamma). There were unwritten norms, political law-givers, chaplains (purohita) and others to advise the king and keep him off from indulging in excesses or becoming a despot/dictator. In the Buddhist tradition of social evolution, king was the first among all equals and was not above the law.
Qualities of a king
A ruler was expected to have ten personal qualities such as generosity, liberality, virtue and so on. Four cardinal principles a king had to possess were generosity (dana), pleasant words (piya vacana), welfare of the subjects (atta cariya) and equal treatment of all (Samanatmata).
He was also to have the following five qualities: (1) Understanding things with a clear vision (attannu), (2) Knowing that which is righteous (dhammannu), (3) Having a clear idea of limit and measure with regard to punishment, fines and taxes, (4) Knowing the right time for action (Kalannu) and (5) Knowing the assemblages of men (parisannu).
Duties of a king
A king had to rule with justice and equity ensuring security from within and without. Here it must be stressed that moral responsibility lay not only with the ruler but also with the ruled. Each person in the society had a share of responsibility so that the community could present a united front. According to Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta a king's duty could be summarised as protection of the state, elimination of crime, effecting economic stability and ruling in consultation with the clergy (samana - brahmana). The Pali term 'dhammikam rakkhavaranam guttim' mean watch, ward and protection righteously.
According to this Sutta protection had to be provided not only to the subjects, army, religious bodies etc but even to beasts and birds. Here word 'dhammikam' is of importance because a ruler can give protection even by unrighteous means (adhammikam). There is an illustration in Sutta Nipata where two men who had committed murder being treated in two different ways. One was garlanded because he killed an enemy of the king; the other was bound with ropes because he was a foe of the king. This difference in treatment for the same charge - murder - shows that laws of the state were not always impartial.
Violence and crime
Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta and Kutadanta Sutta (Digha N) show that violence raises its head when the economy of a country is at a low ebb and the destitute are neglected, consequently crime increases and it is the king's duty to eliminate it. These two suttas say that there will be a gradual loss of values due to economic instability. Men and women would resort to violence if living conditions are not conducive to preserving their lives and they would take to stealing rather than perish.
"As a result of goods not being accrued to those who are destitute poverty becomes rife. From poverty becoming rife stealing.........violence ........murder.......lying.........evil speech........adultery........incest, till finally lack of respect for parents, filial love, religious piety and lack of regard for the ruler will result." (Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta)
Clearing the path
by Kingsley Heendeniya
The purpose of this article is to inform persons concerned privately with the existential problem of dukkha and who are willing to consult a rate book, "Clearing the Path", to get a frame of reference of the Dhamma different to the traditional Theravada exposition. It consists of "Notes on Dhamma" and 150 Letters, the main writings of Nanavira Thera of Bundala.
Hambantota. He attained Sotapatti in 1995 and died in his forest kuti at Bundala in July 1965 (from taking his life due to worsening chronic bowel disease, by inhaling from a vial of ethyl chloride, a local anaesthetic, I had given him to allay painful insect bites on his skin). In the Kannakattala, Sutta 90. Majjima Nikaya, he Buddha advises King Pasenadi on five factors of striving. The second one reads thus: Then he is free from illness and affliction, possessing a good digestion that is neither too cool nor too warm but medium and able to bear the strain of striving.
Nanavira Thera (Nv)
Herold Musson, an Englishman, a Cambridge scholar and mathematician, an only child renounced an inheritance from Coal Mines in Wales and came to Sri Lanka in 1948 with a colleague in the British Army and ordained under Venerable Nanatiloka Maha Thera of the Island Hermitage, Dodanduwa. He received higher ordination from The Venerable Palane Sri Vajiranana Maha Thera of Vajiraramaya to whose memory is dedicated "Notes on Dhamma" (1960-63) which was first printed locally by a friend.
Clearing the Path is researched and edited by a young American samanera, Bodhi Seka, with academic and financial support from the Council on Research and Creative Work of the university of Colorado, in 1987. Notes on Dhamma has been described as "arrogant, scathing... a fantastic system and the most important book to be published this century". Nv knew that the Notes may not be well received and wrote .... but I do allow myself to hope that a few individuals.... will have private transformations of their thinking.... The principal aim... is to point out certain current misinterpretations, mostly traditional, of the Pali Suttas, and to offer in their place something certainly less easy but perhaps also less inadequate.... They assume, also, that the reader's sole interest.... is a concern for his own welfare.... There is therefore nothing in these pages to interest the professional scholar.... (whose) whole concern is to eliminate or ignore the individual point of view.... seeking connections in space and time, and his historical approach to texts, disqualify him from any possibility of understanding a Dhamma that the Buddha himself called akalika, 'timeless'. Only a vertical view, straight down into the abyss of his own personal existence.... is a man... prepared to listen to the Buddha.
A summary of the note on Paticcasamupada (PS)
1. According to the traditional interpretation, vedana is kammavipaka. Reference to Vedana Samy. iii, 2 (S.iv, 230), there are seven reasons why bodily feeling is not kammavipaka. Only in the eighth place is kammavipakaja vedana limiting the application of PS to certain bodily feelings. Though some of these would be PS it would not accord with the passage "The Auspicious One, friend, has said that pleasure and unpleasure are dependently arisen". (Nidana/Abhisamaya Samy. iii, (S.ii.28).
2. In Anguttara II, vii,1 (A.i, 176) somanassa, domanassa and upekha are included in Vedana in the specific context of PS. But these are mental feelings and involve cetana. While the Commentary allows this, it must either exclude mental feelings as vedana or assert they are vipaka. This Sutta treats mental feelings as vedana and specifically states that to understand them as vipaka is to adopt a determinism - one is a killer due to past-actions - is wrong view. The Vissudhimagga excludes them from PS as vedana. Other Suttas define nama-rupa-traditionally taken as vipaka - as vedana and cetana and the Commentary is obliged to speak of vipakacetana, which is a self-contradiction. Every intention is perpetually revocable or modifiable.
3. The Buddha has said that the Dhamma is sanditthika and akalika. Though vinnana to vedana may be seen at present, the kamma of the past existence - avijja and sankhara - according to the traditional interpretation, cannot be seen and present avijja and sankhara are the cause of vinnana to vedana in the next existence. That is, sankharapaccaya vinnam cannot be seen, which means in effect: 'with cessation of this, this arises'. The problem disappears if sankhara is not regarded as kamma.
4. It is possible for a Buddha to directly see the re-birth that awaits at each moment who still has tanha but even an ariyasavaka who sees PS may have to accept the Buddha on trust. His own physical present birth may at best be only a memory. The fundamental upadana is attavada. While the puthujjana is a victim of upadana the ariyasavaka sees bhavapaccaya jati directly and the idea of re-birth is irrelevant.
5. The word sankhara means a thing from which some other thing is inseparable. It is a determination. In order that the puthujjana shall see Sabbe sankhara anicca, indirect methods are necessary.
He must first see that this thing is dependent upon some other thing; and that this other thing, the sankhara on which this thing depends is impermanent. When Sabbe sankhara anicca is seen, Sabbe sankhara dukkha and Sabbe dhamma anatta are seen. A determination is negative and exists as a denial of something positive; and cetana is negative.
6. Any given series of PS is an exemplification of a structural principle. It is not a specific chain of sankhara. Every formulation of PS exemplifies the principle and none states it. Any PS series depends on the fact that there are sankhara, and a fortiori, there would be no PS if there were no such things as sankahara.
The teaching of the Buddha is about a particular application or this principle - the arising and cessation of dukkha.
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