Sunday, April 29, 2012

Society needs better leaders (sutras)

Sita Arunthavanatha, Seven, and Ashley Wells, Wisdom Quarterly
The Buddha was a teacher who did not confine his teachings to spiritual doctrines and disciplines. 

Bhikkhu Bodhi notes with amazement how broad and diverse the Buddha's instructions were over his 45 year setting up of this dispensation (sasana) of the Dharma. Socially engaged teachings existed from the start.

By and large the Buddha set aside questions of unprofitable philosophizing that does not lead to enlightenment and liberation from suffering. He set aside discussion of end times (eschatology) when it did not profit anyone to reflect on such issues in favor of the pursuit of salvation or soteriology by real emancipation (moksha).

In his time there were various systems of government, and he let them be, advising when asked for the betterment of societies under their own systems.  The relative merits of such systems or theories apart from being asked by a minister, brahmin, or king were not pronounced. There is no system set forth as they ideal. In India it was generally a time of "kings" and clans with janapadas or "territories" (loosely as kingdoms) held by extended family units.

Prince Siddhartha he was brought up to rule just such a territory held by relatives but with his warrior caste father's dream that he rise to expand their territory and become a universal monarch (chakravartin). As a prince he was given the best education with training in statecraft and military theories. 

Ancient Buddhist texts show that the language and style the Buddha used in discourses to and conversations with kings -- such as Bimbisara and Pasenadi, who were quick to understand military similes, metaphors, and illustrations -- exhibited the Buddha's thorough knowledge of statecraft, war, plundering, and defense strategies. 

Siddhartha was born at a time of political evolution when existing republics were being swallowed up by powerful neighboring rulers and the emergence of new monarchies and royal lines. Scattered references in the sutras give us some insight into the duties of temporal rulers.

Origin of kingship
The myth prevailing at the time of the Buddha was that kingship was of divine origin. It was vested from space (the heavens) by devas (gandharvas) and apparently titans (asuras) as well. 

These were messenger-angels of space rulers such as Sakka, ruler of the devas, and the Four Great Akasha Deva Kings under Sakka's rule.

War necessitated that a ruler lead. But the Buddhist concept as given in a Buddhist Genesis or origin myth (Agganna Sutta, DN 27) is that kingship originated as a genuine human societal need as opposed to the brahmins' (pre-Hindu Vedic Brahminical) teaching of the divine creation of four castes.

According to this story, as life on Earth devolved from its heavenly beginnings (yes both evolution and descent from space or heaven), needs arose. Visitors from space (abhassara devas, "shining ones" who originally fed on bliss) wanted to sample what Mother Nature had to offer on an early terraforming planet. They did this to their detriment because it was good and they became lazy. 

Latent defilements (greed, aversion/fear, delusion) led early populations of increasingly human, decreasingly deva, beings to exhaust natural resources. Lying, stealing, and other vices prompted a genuine social necessity for the election of a trustworthy leader to arbitrate when the need arose. 

So a "king" was chosen by the other earthlings, not by heavenly rulers, and approved by the people (Mahasammata). This was a logical outcome to deal with a social need, not something decreed by heaven, gods (devas), or Gods (brahmas), or GOD (Brahman). A council might have been a better solution, but it began with an individual for simplicity's sake for a very small population.

Definition of rulers
The sutra defines this person as, "One who makes others happy by righteousness" (dhammena param ranjeti ti raja). It was not for the benefit of this person that the election was made but for the benefit of others.

Buddhist texts refer to rulers or kings (rajas), great rulers (maha rajas), and emperors or world monarchs (cakkavatti rajas). (The word "world" cannot be assumed to mean what we mean by it; it seems to have been defined either in literal terms as "the known world" bounding the subcontinent or the planet bounded by seas of space). Whatever the title, a ruler had to honor, respect, and be righteous for the other earthlings. (Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta, DN 26). 

Consensus among the people gave one of them authority to serve as ruler. All the power possessed by the one elected was that of the people. 

This was the Buddhist emergence of "democracy," a concept that was fleshed out in detailed procedures for running the Sangha or Monastic Order. Nuns and monks have parliamentary-style procedures set by the Buddha so that they could function in the absence of some absolute leader, pope, or family descendent.  It is this way by design. 
  • Rahula, the Buddha's son who was a Buddhist monk, did not ascend to lead the Order or the lay community. The chief disciples -- Sariputra, Khema, Maha Moggallana, and Uppalavanna -- were not designated to lead when the Buddha passed into final nirvana.
The Buddha rejected the notion that he was Buddhists' or Buddhism's leader. This may seem shocking, but it is an impersonal system. This is in keeping with the Buddhist ideals of fairness, egalitarianism, and the fact that the Dharma (Dhamma) lives on long after a buddha has rediscovered it, made it widely known, and established a full community  of practitioners.

Degeneration in virtue (adhamma) due to fighting and friction necessitated a ruler for regeneration (dhamma).

Qualities of rulers
There were unwritten norms, political law-givers, chaplains (purohita), and others to advise a ruler to steer clear of excesses, self-indulgence, or becoming a despot/dictator. In the Buddhist tradition of social evolution, the "king" was the first among equals and was not above the law. 

A ruler is expected to have 10 personal qualities -- such as generosity, liberality, virtue, and so on. Four cardinal principles a king had to possess were generosity (dana), pleasant speech (piya vacana), welfare of the subjects (atta cariya), and equality for all (samanatmata). 
One was also to have the following five qualities: (1) Understanding things with clear vision, (2) knowing what is righteous (dhammannu), (3) possessing a clear idea of the limit and measure with regard to taxing, fining, or punishing subjects, (4) knowing the right time for action (kalannu), and (5) knowing the assemblies (parisannu).

Duties of rulers
A king has to rule with justice and equity ensuring security within and without. Moral responsibility lays not only with the ruler but also with the ruled. Each person in society shares that responsibility so that the community can remain united.

According to DN 26 a king's duty could be summarized as 
  • protection of the state,
  • elimination of crime,
  • effecting economic stability,
  • ruling in consultation with recluses and brahmins (samanas and brahmanas).
The Pali expression dhammikam rakkhavaranam guttim means watch, ward, and protect righteously. 

According to this same discourse, protection had to be provided not only to citizens and religious bodies and so on but also to beasts and birds (aka, the environment).

Here the word dhammikam is interesting because it can be abused: a ruler can claim to give "protection" by unrighteous means (adhammikam). There is an illustration in the Sutta Nipata, where two men guilty of murder are treated in differently as a result. One is garlanded because he has killed an enemy of the king; the other is bound with ropes because he is a foe of the king. This difference in treatment for the same crime illustrates that the laws of the state were not always impartial. 

Violence and crime
DN 26 (Cakkavatti Sutra) and DN 5 (Kutadanta Sutra) show that violence arises when the economy of a country is at a lull and the destitute are neglected. As a ordinary consequence, crime increases. And this is the ruler's responsibility. The economic inequity must be remedied and eliminated.
Both of these discourses state that there will be a gradual loss of values due to economic instability. Men and women will resort to violence if living conditions are not conducive to preserving their lives. People will normally resort to stealing rather than perishing.

"As a result of goods not being accrued to those who are destitute poverty becomes rife. From poverty becoming rife stealing... violence... murder... lying... harmful speech... sexual misconduct... incest, until finally a lack of respect for parents, filial love, religious piety, and a lack of regard for the ruler will result" (DN 26).

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