The Buddhist Keys to a Happier Society

- through Francois Leclercq

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Although dating back more than 2500 years, the recommendations of the Buddha are still valid. Examples and explanations.

When I think of the lives of the great founders of religion, I have the impression that they have the common denominator of being wise nonconformists. Because they deliver a message that is unique by definition, they are often described as “revolutionary”. Don't they dare to question the dogmas and the established order? Thus, the Buddha, himself from the warrior caste, superbly ignores the caste system and the social origin of his followers. Consequently, he organized the monastic community in a way that was surprising, not to say scandalous in the eyes of his contemporaries. For example, he applies the criterion of seniority, not by civil age, but by date of ordination. Decisions are taken preferably unanimously, if not by majority. And, barely six years after the founding of the community (roughly at the same time as Jainism), the Buddha opened the doors to the nuns. Which is a great world first, all religions combined! The Buddha also has many lay disciples, including kings and ministers to whom he naturally addresses advice adapted to their functions. It teaches in particular that the thought prevails over the act, which is a priori neutral, and that it is thought that gives it a good or bad connotation. This means that the same activity, including politics, can be positive, negative or neutral, depending on the motivation which underlies it.

For example, Dasa-raja-dhamma, one of the major Jataka texts, sets out the ten duties of a king – but I guess it could apply to a president just as well:

1. Generosity, which involves using goods and wealth for the benefit of the population, and not for itself

2. High ethics

3. Self-sacrifice, which consists in giving priority to the interest of the population

4. Honesty and Integrity

5. Friendliness and gentleness

6. A simple lifestyle, without luxury or ostentation

7. Absence of hatred and rancor

8. Nonviolence

9. Patience, including the ability to endure criticism and insults

10. Concern for harmony, respecting the popular will

Another important point emphasized by the Buddha is economic stability. To achieve this, the Buddha believes that the policy of a State must contribute to four objectives:

1. Economic security

2. Economic prosperity

3. The absence of debts

4. The morality of manners and customs

Revolutionary and avant-garde

Moreover, the Buddha links crime to poverty, and advises improving the lot of the population rather than repressing it. In a sutra titled Digha Nikaya, he explains that due to the lack of provision of goods for the disadvantaged, poverty increases; that increasing poverty leads to theft, violence, murder, lying, sexual misconduct, false opinion about life, lack of respect for authorities.

In the universal emperor sutra, he describes in detail how the inadequate behavior of a king leads to a gradual disintegration of society. Tirelessly, he advocates the middle way, avoiding the extremes of laxity and rigorism.

Pandit Nagarjuna advocates establishing justice that aims to protect society, with a system of moderate penalties, excluding the death penalty, torture and life imprisonment.

Although dating back more than 2500 years, the recommendations of the Buddha are still valid. In the same spirit, in the second century, in a text entitled The garland of notices to the king, Pandit Nagarjuna also offers a whole series of advice based on common sense and, of course, the compassion. Focus on education, by valuing teachers and providing them with the necessary material resources. Establish a justice that aims to protect society, with a system of moderate penalties, excluding the death penalty, torture and life imprisonment, because driving someone to despair makes them potentially dangerous. Provide prisoners with decent living conditions, with proper food and access to health care. Take care of travelers by setting up large crossroads, rest areas where they would find food and drink, and could get a massage. Minimize taxes.

Eh yes ! At the beginning of the XNUMXst century, whether on the philosophical, political, economic or social levels, the teachings of the Buddha or of Nagarjuna retain all their force and their avant-garde dimension. May they one day come to fruition in concrete terms!

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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