Emphasis on retribution alien to Buddhist concept of reconciliation
The Buddhist concept of reconciliation, developed with clarity in the
institutional texts, has a compelling rationale and is of special
relevance to issues relating to conflict in our time, External Affairs
Minister Professor G.L. Peiris said in Ayodhya, Thailand on Thursday.
He was invited by the Royal Thai Government to deliver an address at
the 9th United Nations Day Vesak celebrations hosted by the Thai
government with Chulalangkorn University as the principal organizer. The
theme of the address by Prof Peiris was "Buddhist Wisdom and
The retributive theory of punishment, he said, finds no support in
the Buddhist texts.
The axiom of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, is basically
incompatible with the essence of Buddhist teaching. The collective wrath
of society should not be the motivation for dealing with an offender and
regarding him as an outcast. On the contrary, the view advocated by
Buddhism is that the imperfection of human nature, which leads to
blameworthy behaviour, is always capable of being improved and refined
to serve society as a whole and to add to its strength.
Prof. Peiris laid stress on a principle underpinning the approach to
reconciliation in the Buddhist scriptures. Reconciliation, as expounded
in the Buddhist doctrine, requires that enmity and rancour arising from
events in the past, should not be allowed to spill over into the present
and the future.
There is a point at which the anguish of the past has to be left
behind, and the emphasis transferred to the pursuit of harmony and good
relations in the present and the future, he said.
The idea of vengeance is at variance with the promotion of goodwill
and the spirit of rapprochement, which lie at the core of
Buddhism strongly discourages judgmental postures, he continued. The
assuaging of wounded feelings by the principal means of imposition of
penal sanctions, and the infliction of pain in return for pain, is
counterproductive. According to Buddhist teaching, far from resolving
problems, this approach leads to the aggravation and prolonging of
conflict, he observed.
Prof. Peiris cited a range of Buddhist texts to illustrate these
The Minister referred to several instances where the Buddha mediated
in solving conflicts - for example, between the Shakyas and the Koliyas
with regard to the sharing of water, and between the Licchavi Princes.
The crucial nature of participatory values, integral to reconciliation,
is exemplified by the Buddha's exhortation to the feuding Licchavi
Princes - that the path to reconciliation lies in meeting, discussing
and dispersing in peace.
Buddhism also stresses the societal, as opposed to the individual,
role in reconciliation, Prof. Peiris said. The emphasis is on elevating
the threshold of solidarity and consensus within the community rather
than providing satisfaction in a narrow sense to an individual at the
expense of the community at large. There is positive value attached to
the concept of closure at the end of a period of exceptional discord and
turbulence, with a view to preventing further acrimony and divisiveness.
The focus in this regard is on consultation, compromise and consensus,
Prof. Peiris added that priorities and sequence are elements which
are central to the Buddhist notion of reconciliation. This is well
illustrated by the story of a woman who attended a sermon of the Buddha.
It become apparent to the Buddha that she was in great physical
discomfort because she had not eaten for several days. Before delivering
the sermon, the Buddha saw to it that she was provided with food and
other necessities. It was only then that she was able to benefit from
the wisdom imparted in the sermon.
The Minister pointed out that the programme of reconciliation being
carried out in Sri Lanka is entirely consistent with both these tenets
of the Buddhist theory of reconciliation - namely, the importance of
sequence and the relevance of economic factors. This is vindicated, he
said, by the acknowledged success with regard to addressing urgent
humanitarian issues connected with the resettlement of internally
displaced persons and the rehabilitation of ex-combatants, and economic
developments, especially in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka.
Prof. Peiris said that it is appropriate to pay special attention to
the Gigha Nikkaya which traces the cause of violence to poverty and lack
of balance in economic development. This underscores the importance of
an adequate level of economic contentment and wellbeing as an essential
component of reconciliation, he said.
He concluded that the Buddha dhamma is the repository of an approach
to reconciliation which is self-contained, persuasive and refreshingly
relevant to the challenges of our time.