Today is Bak full moon; It marks Buddha’s second visit to the island for settling a dispute between two Naga kings -Chulodara and Mahodara. People of past generations believed in gazing the new moon, which appears 14 days before this day as a good omen.
‘Nava bag lasand dut - minisak – hunova ..janneyi’: -- [A man who has seen the tender moon of Bak (April), should not be rejected]
Homage paid by the Sinhala Buddhists to moon [nava sanda belima] in the present times though uninspiring and weak, seven centuries ago, a sightseer to Sigiriya marked his visit on its Mirror Wall with the above graffiti.
Curbing Crime Buddha way
In checking crime, rulers in ancient times, like the Governments today, used suppressive methods including punishment. The Cakkavatti Sihanada-sutta of the Digha-nikaya clearly states that poverty is the cause of crimes and immorality such as theft, violence, falsehood, cruelty and hatred.
Another sutra in the same Nikaya, Kuṭadanta-sutta explains how ineffective this is.
Buddha suggests that, in order to eliminate crime, the economic state of the people should be enhanced: Grain and subsidies for agriculture should be provided to farmers; and capital provided for those engaged in business; adequate wages to those who are employed. If people are provided for with prospects for earning a sufficient income, they will be pleased; with no fear or anxiety the country will be free from crime.
The Buddha did not take life in isolation, out of the context of its social and economic environment; he took it as a whole, in all its social, economic and political aspects. His teachings on ethical, spiritual and philosophical problems are fairly well known.
But little is known, particularly in the West, on his teaching on social, economic and political matters. Yet, there are numerous discourses dealing with these strewn throughout the ancient Buddhist chronicles.
The Buddha told lay people how imperative it is to improve their economic condition. This does not mean that he permitted of amassing wealth with attachment and greed, which is in opposition to his fundamental training, nor did he approve of each and every way of making one’s occupation. There are certain operations like the production and sale of armaments, which he denounced as immoral means of livelihood, as we saw previously. Let us look at an example.
A man named Dighajānu once visited the Buddha and said: “Venerable Sir, we are ordinary lay men, leading the family life with wife and children. Would the Blessed One teach us some doctrines which would be conductive to our happiness in this world and hereafter?”
The Buddha advised him on four things which were conductive to a man’s contentment in this samsara:
One: He should be efficient, skilled, energetic and earnest in whatever profession he is occupied, and he should know it thoroughly;
Second: He should look after his possession, which he has thus earned virtuously, with the sweat of his brow;
Third: He should have kalyāa-mitta or good friends who are learned, virtuous, faithful, liberal and intelligent, who will direct him along the correct path away from immorality;
Fourth: He should use up reasonably his expenses, in proportion to his returns— meaning he should live within his resources.
Emperor Asoka of India (c 3rd BC) first followed the example of his ancestors and wished to continue the conquest of the Indian neck of land.
He invaded and conquered adjoining lands killing hundreds of thousands. When he was converted to Buddhism, he was completely transformed by the teachings.
In his famous Edict, rock inscription referring to the occupation of Kalinga, Asoka expressed his regret, and publicly declared against any conquest, but that he ‘wishes non-violence, self control, the practice of serenity. He expressed his wish that ‘my children and grandchildren will not think of a new conquest as worth accomplishing … let them think of that invasion only which is the conquest by goodness. That is excellent for this world and the world ahead of.’
The Buddha on Excessive Taxes and Good Governance
The Buddha was just as clear on politics, on war and peace. It is too well known to be repeated here that Buddhism promotes and advocates peace as its widespread message, it disapproves violence or destruction of life.
According to Buddhism there are no ‘just wars’ – a false term put into motion to justify and reason violence, hatred, cruelty, and slaughter. Who decides what is just or unjust? My war is always ‘just’, and yours is always ‘unjust’.
Buddhism rejects this position. The utterances of attaining peace through the balance of power, or through threats is foolish.
The show of power can only produce fear, and not peace. It is impossible to achieve genuine and lasting peace through fear. Fear can develop hatred: suppression works for the time being only, will erupt and become violent later on.
True and genuine peace can prevail only through metta, amity; free from suspicion, fear, and danger. There were rulers who governed their states unjustly even in the days of the Buddha. People were exploited and oppressed, agonised and mistreated, excessive taxes were imposed and cruel penalties were imposed.
The Buddha was deeply moved by these injustices. The Dhammapadaha Katha says that he directed his mind to the issue of good governance.
He had revealed how a whole nation could become dishonest, corrupt, and discontented when the leaders of its government, the cabinet and administrative staff become corrupt and unreasonable. For a nation to be contented it must have just rulers. How this can be achieved he explained in Dasa-raja-Dhamma; the ‘Ten Duties of the King.
Some believe that Buddhism is involved only in superior ideals, lofty moral and philosophical thinking, and that it pays no attention to the social and economic aspects of people. This is a wrong view. To Buddha, happiness was not achievable without leading a life based on moral and pious principles. But he understood that leading such a life was difficult in adverse material and social situations.
Buddhism a way of life
Buddhism renounces struggle for power; rejects conquest and defeat; it denounces persecution of the innocent; respects those who conquer themselves more than those who conquer thousands by military warfare; profess conquer of hatred by kindness, and evil by goodness; promotes compassion as the driving force of action, where all living things are treated with fairness, consideration and love; peace and harmony in a world of material satisfaction—for the realization of the Ultimate Truth, Nibbāṇa.
Kutadanta Sutta—Enhanced Subsidies for Agriculture
Coming back toKūṭadanta— who inquired from the Buddha, how to conduct a sacrifice with its sixteen requisites; the Buddha referred to one of his past lives and said,
‘Brahmin, once upon a time there was a king called Mahāvijita who were musing in private; “I have acquired extensive wealth in human terms, I possess land which I have conquered. A great sacrifice would be to my benefit and happiness for a long time” And calling his minister-chaplain, he told him, “I was to make a big sacrifice, tell me, how this may eternally benefit me?”
The chaplain replied: “Your Majesty’s country is inundated by thieves, it is devastated, villages and towns are being shattered, and the countryside is infected with highway robbers and plunderers.
If Your Majesty were to tax this nation, that would be the incorrect thing to do. You may think; ‘I will get rid of this pestilence of thieves by executions and detention, or by elimination and intimidation’, the plague would not be appropriately ended.
Those who stay alive would later harm Your Majesty’s kingdom. However, you can completely eradicate the plague by sticking to the following plan. To those in the territory who are occupied in cultivating crops and animal husbandry, let Your Majesty dole out grain and fodder; to those in trade, give funds. Then the community, being intent on their career/ livelihood, will not harm the territory. Your Majesty’s income will improve, the land will be peaceful and not inundated by burglars, and the citizens, with joy in their spirits, will play with their children…’ the Chaplain counselor in the Jataka story was none other than the Buddha himself in a previous birth. [A lesson from Sutta Pitaka!]
The Buddha delivered a modified discourse to Kutadanta, on morality, on generosity, and on heaven, showing the risk, degradation of sense-desires, and the returns of renunciation. Knowing that Kutadanta’s mind was all set, flexible, free from the impediments, serene and calm, then he delivered a sermon in brief on the four noble truths. Like removing all stains from a clean cloth and receives the dye flawlessly, so in Kutadanta, there arose the uncontaminated and immaculate Dhamma-eye and he realised: “anything that have an origin, must has to an end.”
‘May all beings be happy’