TODAY -

Buddhism and politics
- Part 1 -

Thangjam Sanjoo Singh *

Buddhist Temple in Bangkok, Thailand and surrounding areas :: March 2016
Buddhist Temple in Bangkok, Thailand in March 2016



The Buddha had gone beyond all worldly affairs, but still gave advice on good government.

The present political scenario signifies that since the last 15 years, the citizens of Manipur have been victimized in many different ways therefore, a lot of people have said or rather felt that it's high time for a change.

Manipur to vote for change and development. But who is going to change? Is it going to be BJP or CONGRESS or us, the people?

Since something is better than nothing, and therefore the people cannot deny the fact that the Congress, during the last 15 years of its regime had done some good, bad and ugly works and any Tom, Dick and Henry can see and feel that therefore the Congress definitely have at least done something good, bad and ugly works and for that reason, they are not scared of the opposition at all, of course if they win in this forthcoming general election, the congress have nothing to worry.

But, at the same time, I think it's high time that the Congress should also correspondingly start preparing answers for questions which, of course they will have no answers to answer for the uncountable number of questions that are going to be thrown upon them by whom? The Buddha knows and of course, we the public too also know to some extent.

Voluminous people of Manipur have stated that they have given enough chances to Congress government since independent but the Congress betrayed the people of Manipur in many ways; especially rising the corruption rate, lack of development in the state, rising of unemployment rapidly and totally breakdown of law and order situation in the state.

Many citizens of Manipur are saying that BJP deserves at least one chance in Manipur for political reasons. Let the Congress prepare to accept their mistakes and move forward for a change. However, it is also said that the people of Manipur will be happy to give a chance to Congress party when they realize their mistakes and when they are ready to serve the citizens of Manipur under the law of the land.

On the other hand, many people say that they will not regret for giving a chance to BJP in this election.

I appeal to all the people that The Buddha bless the people of Manipur and its resources!

The Buddha came from a warrior caste and was naturally brought into association with kings, princes and ministers. Despite His origin and association, He never resorted to the influence of political power to introduce His teaching, nor allowed His Teaching to be misused for gaining political power.

But today, many politicians try to drag the Buddha's name into politics by introducing Him as a communist, capitalist, or even an imperialist. They have forgotten that the new political philosophy as we know it really developed in the West long after the Buddha's time. Those who try to make use of the good name of the Buddha for their own personal advantage must remember that the Buddha was the Supremely Enlightened One who had gone beyond all worldly concerns.

There is an inherent problem of trying to intermingle religion with politics. The basis of religion is morality, purity and faith, while that for politics is power. In the course of history, religion has often been used to give legitimacy to those in power and their exercise of that power. Religion was used to justify wars and conquests, prosecutions, atrocities, rebellions, destruction of works of art and culture.

When religion is used to pander to political whims, it has to forego its high moral ideals and become debased by worldly political demands.

The thrust of the Buddha Dhamma is not directed to the creation of new political institutions and establishing political arrangements. Basically, it seeks to approach the problems of society by reforming the individuals constituting that society and by suggesting some general principles through which the society can be guided towards greater humanism, improved welfare of its members, and more equitable sharing of resources.

There is a limit to the extent to which a political system can safeguard the happiness and prosperity of its people. No political system, no matter how ideal it may appear to be, can bring about peace and happiness as long as the people in the system are dominated by greed, hatred and delusion. In addition, no matter what political system is adopted, there are certain universal factors which the members of that society will have to experience: the effects of good and bad kamma, the lack of real satisfaction or everlasting happiness in the world characterized by dukkha (unsatisfactoriness), anicca (impermanence), and anatta (egolessness). To the Buddhist, nowhere in Samsara is there real freedom, not even in the heavens or the world of Brahama.

Although a good and just political system which guarantees basic human rights and contains checks and balances to the use of power is an important condition for a happy in society, people should not fritter away their time by endlessly searching for the ultimate political system where men can be completely free, because complete freedom cannot be found in any system but only in minds which are free.

To be free, people will have to look within their own minds and work towards freeing themselves from the chains of ignorance and craving. Freedom in the truest sense is only possible when a person uses Dhamma to develop his character through good speech and action and to train his mind so as to expand his mental potential and achieve his ultimate aim of enlightenment.

While recognizing the usefulness of separating religion from politics and the limitations of political systems in bringing about peace and happiness, there are several aspects of the Buddha's teaching which have close correspondence to the political arrangements of the present day. Firstly, the Buddha spoke about the equality of all human beings long before Abraham Lincoln, and that classes and castes are artificial barriers erected by society. The only classification of human beings, according to the Buddha, is based on the quality of their moral conduct.

Secondly, the Buddha encouraged the spirit of social -cooperation and active participation in society. This spirit is actively promoted in the political process of modern societies.

Thirdly, since no one was appointed as the Buddha's successor, the members of the Order were to be guided by the Dhamma and Vinaya, or in short, the Rule of Law. Until today very member of the Sangha is to abide by the Rule of Law which governs and guides their conduct.

Fourthly, the Buddha encouraged the spirit of consultation and the democratic process. This is shown within the community of the Order in which all members have the right to decide on matters of general concern. When a serious question arose demanding attention, the issues were put before the monks and discussed in a manner similar to the democratic parliamentary system used today.

This self-governing procedure may come as a surprise to many to learn that in the assemblies of Buddhists in India 2,500 years and more ago are to be found the rudiments of the parliamentary practice of the present day. A special officer similar to 'Mr Speaker' was appointed to preserve the dignity of the Parliamentary Chief Whip, was also appointed to see if the quorum was secured.

Matters were put forward in the form of a motion which was open to discussion. In some cases it was done once, in others three times, thus anticipating the practice of Parliament in requiring that a bill be read a third time before it becomes law. If the discussion showed a difference of opinion, it was to be settled by the vote of the majority through balloting.

The Buddhist approach to political power is the moralization and the responsible use of public power. The Buddha preached non-violence and peace as a universal message. He did not approve of violence or the destruction of life, and declared that there is no such thing as a 'just' war. He taught: 'The victor breeds hatred, the defeated lives in misery. He who renounces both victory and defeat is happy and peaceful.'

Not only did the Buddha teach non-violence and peace, He was perhaps the first and only religious teacher who went to the battlefield personally to prevent the outbreak of a war. He diffused tension between the Sakyas and the Koliyas who were about to wage war over the waters of Rohini. He also dissuaded King Ajatasattu from attacking the Kingdom of the Vajjis.

The Buddha discussed the importance and the prerequisites of a good government. He showed how the country could become corrupt, degenerate and unhappy when the head of the government becomes corrupt and unjust. He spoke against corruption and how a government should act based on humanitarian principles.

The Buddha once said, 'When the ruler of a country is just and good, the ministers become just and good; when the ministers are just and good, the higher officials become just and good; when the higher officials are just and good, the rank and file become just and good; when the rank and file become just and good, the people become just and good.' (AnguttaraNikaya).

(To be contd......)


* Thangjam Sanjoo Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is President of an NGO called Population Health Institute (PHI). He can be reached at thangjamsanjoo42(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on January 11, 2017.


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