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Bhuddism And Its Political Thoughts Of Ancient India

Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, was a Kshatriya, son of Suddhodana, the Maharaja of the Sankyas of Kapilavasthu. He was born in about 566 B.C. He left his home in quest of truth and he became the Buddha and preached the Noble Eight Fold Path. According to Buddha, the ultimate end of life is Nirvana, the eternal state of peace and bliss.

Buddhism is a reaction against vedic religion. The political tradition of Buddhist India was in some respects antagonistic to the Hindu political ideas. Ethical basis of political ideas was a characteristic feature of Buddhist political tradition.

The important sources of the Buddhist political ideas are:

  1. The Palicanon and Jatakas.
  2. Late Canonical works written in Sanskrit and Mixed Sanskrit.
  3. The Buddhist poets and philosophers. The period of the study of the Buddhist political ideas of ancient India extends roughly from the 6th century B.C to the 3rd century BC.

Evolution of State or Kingship

In the original state of nature, human beings lived in a condition of God-like perfection. They were transformed into ordinary human beings due to greed and pride. The rise of the institution of property, the State and society was a consequence of the progressive fall of man. When the individuals were seized by the passions of sex and greed, they established the institution of property by mutual agreement. There appeared the four-fold evil of theft, lying, censure and violence among the people.

The origin of Kingship is given by a simple theory in a Jataka story. In the first cycle of the world, the people assembled together and having found a man handsome, auspicious, commanding and altogether perfect, selected him as their King. It is evident from the stories that the Origin of kingship was by a process of election by the people. The King was the symbol of the State. The King occupied the highest Social and political status.

They believed that one needed a King and a warrior for protection. Just as the tree is the refuge of birds, so is the King refuge of his people. It was the moral obligation of the ruler to give protection to the ruled in return for their obedience. According to Aryadeva, the King was a mere slave of the multitude, because the people paid him one-sixth share of their crops, and he was bound to protect his subjects.

Principles of Political Righteousness of Dharma

The most important contribution of the early Buddhist canonists to our ancient political thought consists in their ‘total’ application of the principle of righteousness to the King’s internal administration and to his foreign policy. The best King was one, who devoted himself to the welfare of the whole realm including animals. The King should avoid specified vices and practise specified virtues.

Righteousness of dharma imposed some principles and policies of State like protection of the good, impartial justice, friendliness towards neighbouring Kings, and temporal and spiritual benefits to all classes of people. According to Buddhist theory, ethical standards were applicable uniformly to the ruler and his subjects and equally upon King’s public and private acts. The Buddhist thinkers rejected the Brahmanical ethics in relation to statecraft such as treacherous war and questionable methods in war and diplomacy.

Principles and policies of Government

Jataka stories say that the King should avoid falsehood and anger and whatever he has done in the past under the influence of passion and sin, he should not repeat. The King should choose as his ministers and other officials, who are steady, learned in affairs and free from the vices of gambling, drinking and so forth. The King should, himself, examine the income and the expenditure. Punishments for wrongdoers and rewards for good and efficient should be promptly given.

To the Buddhist thinkers, the powers of rulers were:

  1. The strength of arms.
  2. The strength of wealth.
  3. The strength of officials.
  4. The strength of the high birth.
  5. The strength of wisdom.

In Saundarananda, reference is made to the King’s application of five expedients, namely:

  1. Conciliation (sama).
  2. Bribery (dana).
  3. Creating dissensions (bheda).
  4. Force (danda).
  5. Restraint (nigama) against his enemies.

In Jatakamala stories, descriptions of different Kings are given. The Kings were gifted with the strength of will, intelligence, material force and good fortune. They ruled their subjects like their own children. The King should adopt a comprehensive programme of benevolent rule over his subjects, the agricultural; the mercantile and industrial classes were to be protected, so that they might benefit the King by the payment of taxes. The King should also adopt sound canons of taxation.

The early Buddhist canonists described the aristocratic clan republics and the qualifications of the citizens of a republican community such as public spirit, a wise conservatism, moral rectitude and discipline, piety and mutual harmony.

Ideology of a World-Ruler

The early Buddhist canonists give a highly idealistic picture of the world-ruler (chakravarti). The attributes of the ruler comprised not only universal supremacy and successful administration at home and abroad, but also and above all, righteousness or dharma. The world-ruler was credited with seven jewels (or treasures) consisting of the wheel-treasure, the elephant-treasure, the house-treasure, the horse-treasure, the treasure of a woman, the treasurer and the adviser.

The privileges of Brahmans were rejected by the Buddhist philosophers. The spiritual world-teacher (Buddha) is repeated in the Sanskrit works belonging to the later Buddhist thinkers. The divine wheel, the palladium of the universal ruler (Buddha), is itself associated with the principle of righteousness.

  1. Edelglass, William; Garfield, Jay (2009), Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings, New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-532817-5
  2. Gombrich, Richard F. (1997), How Buddhism Began, Munshiram Manoharlal
  3. Kalupahana, David J. (1992), The Principles of Buddhist Psychology, Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications
  4. Kalupahana, David J. (1994), A history of Buddhist philosophy, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited
  5. Perdue, Daniel (1992), Debate in Tibetan Buddhism, Snow Lion Publications, ISBN 978-0-937938-76-8
  6. Vetter, Tilmann (1988), The Ideas and Meditative Practices of Early Buddhism, BRILL.

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