"Non-Political World Sangha" only gratifying to authocratic rulers

by Visakha Kawasaki, Kolkata, West Bengal, India, The Buddhist Channel, April 16, 2008

I write in response to Lin Zi Yi’s letter, “No Apology Necessary.”

The Buddha taught many suttas to kings, urging them to govern righteously, to show compassion, and to develop wisdom. In particular, visits from King Pasendi, who seemed to need a lot of instruction, were the occasion for many talks on good governance.

The Buddha often reiterated ten duties of any king or leader, viz

  1. generosity (dana)
  2. morality (sila)
  3. sacrifice (pariccaga): willingness to sacrifice everything–comfort, fame, even his life–for the people
  4. honesty (ajjava): integrity, not fearing some or favoring others, never taking recourse to any crooked or doubtful means to achieve one’s ends
  5. kindness (maddava): Firmness must be tempered with kindness and gentleness so that a ruler is never too harsh or cruel
  6. austerity of habits (tapa): self-control. Shunning indulgence in sensual pleasures, a king must keep his five senses under control
  7. freedom from ill-will (akkodha): A king must bear no grudge against anyone and must act with forbearance and love.
  8. harmlessness (avihimsa): non-violence, a commitment to peace.
  9. patience (khanti)
  10. non-opposition or uprightness (avirodha): The king must rule in harmony with his people, without opposing their will. He must cultivate the spirit of amity among his subjects.

Lord Buddha also personally intervened to prevent a bloody war between the Sakyans and the Kolyans over water from the Rohini River.

It is historical revisionism to say that “it is not the Buddha Dharma to change the governments, to change society....”  The Buddha spoke out many times against the caste system, animal sacrifice, and sex discrimination, to mention only three social ills he addressed in suttas and in the Vinaya.

Lin Zi Yi’s concept of a Non-Political World Sangha can only be gratifying to the rulers of China and Burma. If Tibetan and Burmese monks and nuns became passive, who else would dare to stand up and highlight the appalling oppression and human rights abuses the people are suffering?

I am unclear about Lin Zi Yi’s intention when he wrote “It is quite obvious that one blade of grass can not change a tree. Not even millions of blades of grass can do it.”  If that means that we lay Buddhists in general, and members of the Sangha in particular, must be like blades of grass and passively and silently endure every injustice, I think he is wrong.

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