Ven. Dr. M. Vajiragnana

Head of the London Buddhist Vihara and  Sangha  Nayaka  of  Great Britain.

The  word  ‘Justice’ is wrongly interpreted and improperly understood today.  The powerful man is regarded as  just,  and  the weak  as  unjust;  the  victor  or  the  winner is just,  and the defeated is unjust.  After a war,  war criminals are all  on  the defeated side; those who are on the victorious side have not committed  any  crime.  This is how justice and injustice are interpreted today. The winners decide what is right and what is wrong.  Therefore, the defeated are said to be unjust and criminals. This is a fact.

The concept of justice can be considered on two levels -  that of the individual and that of society.

On  the  individual  level Buddhism teaches us that we are entirely responsible for the consequences of our  own  actions  and indeed,  that our present circumstances are the just consequences of actions which we have performed in the past. “If one speaks or acts with a defiled mind,  then suffering follows on even as  the wheel  follows the hoof of the draught ox......  If one speaks or acts with a pure mind, happiness follows one as one’s shadow that does not leave one.” (Dhp.  ½) This is the  concept  of  Kamma, which is a Pali term more widely known by its Sanskrit equivalent

·         Karma.  This  means literally “action” and refers primarily to volition, which is then translated into acts of mind,  speech and body.

 Not everything that happens is the result of Kamma,  but Kamma is one of the five Laws of Cosmic Order (Niyama Dhamma).  It is a natural  law  like  the  force  of  gravity,  the changing of the seasons or the growth of a tree from a  seed.  These  take  place whether we want them to or not. Kamma operates without the inter-vention of any external,  independent,  ruling agency.  Wholesome actions produce wholesome effects,  unwholesome  actions  produce unwholesome  effects.  It is a natural law of justice,  which has nothing to do with the idea of punishment or reward meted out  by an   omniscient  and  omnipotent  law-giver,   or  even  an  all-compassionate Buddha.  The cause produces the effect,  the effect explains the cause. Action causes reaction. Kamma is always just, never unjust,  it neither loves nor hates, is never angry with us or pleased. Kamma knows nothing about us;  it is like fire - just burns.

Thus,  we  ourselves are entirely responsible for the state we are in. “By oneself the evil is not done,  and by oneself one becomes pure. The pure and the impure come from oneself; no man can purify another.” (Dhp.  16). We are free to mould our present and our future.  This is neither fatalism,  nor  predestination.  The past influences the present,  but does not determine it. We build our own heavens and we build our  own  hells,  but  justice  does prevail.

Turning  now to the concept of justice in its broader,  social context, Buddhism gives the term an unusually wide and deep mean-ing when it comes to settling world issues. Buddhism never admits any means which justifies violence in any form or bloody  revolution  to  bring about a just social order.  It clearly defines as just those deeds that are free from violence and conducive to the welfare and happiness of the individual and society.

Man is responsible for society.  It is he who makes it good or bad  through his own actions.  Buddhism,  therefore,  advocates a five-fold disciplinary code for man’s training in order to  maintain justice in society.  This code is to be observed on a voluntary basis by individuals as the minimum moral obligations of lay Buddhists.

These are complete abstention from all acts of violence,  from destruction  of  any  form of life;  abstention from all forms of breach of trust, bribery,  corruption,  cheating and misappropriation; abstention from sexual offences; abstention from falsehood, slander,  defamation,  gossip,  false information; and abstention from intoxicants which cause  disorderly  behavior.  These  five which  are  known as precepts are extremely important fundamental principles for promoting and perpetuating  human  welfare,  peace and justice.

Buddhism advocates that one should always take into consideration  the  example  to  be learned from the experience of others, “Here am I, fond of my life, not wanting to die, fond of pleasure and averse to pain.  Suppose someone should rob  me  of  my  life (fond  of  life as I am and not wanting to die,  fond of pleasure and averse to pain), it would not be a thing pleasing or delight-ful not wanting to die,  one fond of  pleasure  and  averse  from pain,  it would not be a thing pleasing or delightful to him. For a state that is not pleasant or delightful to me must  be  so  to him also: and a state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, - how  could  I  inflict  that  upon  another?  As a result of such reflection he himself abstains from taking the life of  creatures and  he encourages others so to abstain,  and speaks in praise of so abstaining.  Thus,  as regards bodily conduct  he  is  utterly pure.” (Kindred Saying v, P. 308) So as regards conduct in speech and  mental  attitude he makes himself pure and encourages others to do so. Thus,  Buddhist five precepts alone,  if practiced consciously,  are  capable  of establishing justice and fair-play in society.

We must all abide by the rules of social obligations to  maintain  a  just society.  Each one of us has a role to play in sustaining and promoting social justice and orderliness.  The Buddha explained  very clearly these roles as reciprocal duties existing between parents and children;  teachers and pupils;  husband  and wife;  friends,  relatives and neighbors; employer and employee; clergy and laity. (Sigala-sutta, Digha Nikaya,  No.  31).  No one has  been left out.  The duties explained here are reciprocal and are considered as sacred duties,  for - if observed  -  they  can create a just, peaceful and harmonious society.

The Buddha was very clear on political matters which concern a just government.  According to him, if a country is to have peace and justice,  the ruler should have  a  high  standard  of  moral virtue.

There  are  ten  qualities  explained in Buddhism which make a ruler  of  a  government  just.   They  are  called  the  tenfold governing-qualities  (dasarajadhamma)  for they make a ruler or a government just. Generosity (dana) is the first. The ruler should not crave for wealth and property,  but should give it  away  for the  welfare of his subjects.  It is this quality which makes him work for the wellbeing of the people,  introducing tax relief for the  needy  and subsidized schemes where necessary.  A high moral integrity (sila) is the  second  quality,  which  means  that  he should not destroy life,  steal and exploit others,  commit adultery,  utter falsehood and take intoxicants.  This keeps him free from corruption. The pure moral character of a leader gives him a position  of  high  authority and his subjects maintain full confidence in him.  A sense of commitment (paaiccaga) is  the  third one,  which  makes  him sacrifice his personal comfort,  name and fame, even his life,  in the interest of the people.  Honesty and integrity  (ajjava)  is the fourth one.  All his dealings must be carried out without any trace of fear of favor.  He must be sincere in his intentions, and he must not deceive the public. Kind-ness  and gentleness (maddava) is the fifth quality,  which makes him refined in his manners  and  free  from  arrogance,  so  that people can approach him. The sixth quality is self-control (tapa) which  makes  him lead a simple life and be considerate in making decisions.  Not being easily moved  by  anger  (akkodha)  is  the seventh quality.  He should bear no grudge against anybody.  Non-violence (avihimsa) is the eighth quality which helps him take  a harmless attitude in settling all issues.  Also, this quality in-duces him to promote peace by avoiding and  preventing  war,  and anything  which  involves violence and destruction of life.  Forbearance (kanti) is the ninth quality, which makes the person understanding and tolerant. He must be able to bear hardship, difficulties and  insults  without  losing  his  temper.  The  tenth quality is non-vindictiveness (avirodhata),  which makes him free from taking revenge on those who criticize him or oppose him.  He should  rule in harmony with his people.  These are the qualities which make a ruler or a government just.