Buddha – Perspective on Good Governance

Buddha has been considered to be mostly a philosopher and an ethical teacher and not preoccupied with political or state-related issues. But in contrast to that, many recent scholars have analysed (from the historical context of Buddha’s life) that he was both a ‘social reformer’ and political philosopher.

Ancient Indian society had begun to change when Buddha attained Enlightenment. Historically, that period was known as Vedanta (end of Vedas). During that time as the commerce with other states began, there came a new merchant class in the territory who expressed interest in Buddha’s teachings. 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. It should be mentioned here that even in the Buddhist literature, there was scant mention of political attitudes.

The word “Dhammappasasana” in Pali means Good governance. (Dharamprasasana in Sanskrit)

  • Dhamma: – virtue/law/Righteous
  • Pasasana: – governance

Buddha as a Social Reformer and a Political Thinker

  1. The Buddhist expression of the concepts of rule of law and good governance are manifested in “Dasa Raja Dharma”
  2. Basic structure of governance in Buddhism
    Dhamma+ Vinaya =Nirvana
    a) Dhamma- truth
    b) Vinaya- rules ideals and standards of behavior.
    c) Nirvana- freedom from exploitative relationships. Free from personal ill motives and desires harmful for himself + others.
  3. Middle path approach continues to inspire us towards new paradigm of sustainable development and peaceful societies.
  4. Uplift the spirit of humanity.
  5. In Buddhist philosophy it is emphasized that evil and the good of a people depends on the behavior of their rulers.
  6. The king can be overthrown from kingship if he is later known to be immoral or incapable.
  7. Buddh denied biased nature. (Biased because of – like, dislike, delusion, stupidity and fear)

Buddha’s thoughts about the King can be summarized as :-

  1. Never regarded as incarnation of one and supreme creator.
  2. God only in public opinion.
  3. To be selected on account of their righteousness and ability.
  4. People have full freedom to choose the most virtuous and able man.

The 10 royal Virtues (Dasa Raja Dharma) of the king were :

  1. Dana:- Charity
  2. Sila :- (Morality) Being good example for others
  3. Parriccaga: – (Altruism) Being generous and avoiding selfishness.
  4. Ajjavan: – (Honesty) Absolutely straight forward.
  5. Majjavan/Maddava:- Gentleness
  6. Tapan:- (Composure) follow the middle path , Rulers must keep the five senses under control
  7. Akkodha:- Non-anger, Non-Hatred
  8. Avihimsa:- Non-violence
  9. Kanti:-Forgiveness
    1. denied barbarity towards prisoners.
    2. socio-political attitude based on non- violence and compassion.
  10. Avirodhna: – Uprightness. Respecting others opinions also.

If we look deeply we find many similarities between today’s and Buddhist governance concept. Some of these being:

  1. Participation
  2. Rule of law –Sila (Morality) refers to the law or constitution as well as other rules and regulation.
  3. Honesty – Ajjava(transparency)
  4. Responsiveness – must see the suffering of poor peoples.
  5. A consensus oriented approach (Buddh denied absolute power to monarch.)
  6. Equity and Inclusiveness – fair and impartial decision for every person (gender, caste, religion).
  7. Effectiveness and efficiency – corresponds to self-sacrifice.
  8. Accountability.

When we look at Buddha’s life we find that there were many reasons for considering Buddha as a Political thinker. This was because of the need for good governance due to :

  1. Complexities- advent of market economy, globalization, revolution
  2. Incapability- lack of knowledge
  3. Corruption

Buddha had approached the problem by applying scientific method. Finding the root cause of suffering as craving and misconception, the result being the emergence of training, meditation and wisdom

– –  Guest Post by Student of RMISG

Ms. Dinshaw

Raj Malhotra IAS Study Group.