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Buddha's Rules for a Leader

Ven. Dr. Am Koe Beighley Su

June 7, 2022

Every two years we have, in our country, an election, either a general election or a mod-term election, that includes the Presidency of the United States, Mayors, Congressmen and women, City Council Members and many more elected officials, 2022 is that year. Some of you have already voted, as I have, and some of you will vote by mail while others will go to the polls on election day to cast your ballot. Hopefully, all of you will vote, as we are fortunate enough to live in a democracy in which voting is an inherent right, although there seems to be at this time an abundance of people attempting to subvert that right. Typically, by this time in the process, we are weary of the political ads that flood our inboxes, messages, phone calls, and television screens. This year has been a particularly wearying year for many with the endless rhetoric, deceit, promises, additional stresses from Covid, isolation, homeschooling, unemployment, and great uncertainty. It is, indeed, a rather strange time to live on planet Earth. Tragedies most often bring us together, unite us for the greater good. But, when coupled with an acrimonious election, we seem to be more divided than ever. Not only that, but we appear to have devolved into political cults of personality. WE seem to be focusing on the individuals, not the issues, and, as a result, our moral compass no longer points true north.

Most of the subjects that the Buddha taught were intended for those following the Path, primarily monks and teachers. However, he did not ignore the family system, marriage, children, politics, or the rulers of kingdoms.

The Buddha was very clear on the issues of non-violence and peace as universal issues, and that there was no such thing as a “just war”…which is only a false term coined and put into circulation to justify and excuse hatred, cruelty, and violence. The Buddha not only taught non-violence and peace, there were occasions he went to the field of battle itself and personally intervened, preventing war. One such instance was the dispute between the Sakyas and the Koliyas, who were prepared to fight over the question of the waters of the Rohini. The Buddha’s words prevented King Ajatasattu from attacking the kingdom of the Vajjis.

And, in the Buddha’s day, as in current times, there were rulers who governed unjustly and cruelly, and people were oppressed, exploited, tortured, persecuted, and taxed beyond their means.

The Buddha was deeply moved and troubled by these inhumanities. In the Dhammapadatthatha, he directed his attention to the problem of good government, believing that good government resulted in better citizens. He gave this teaching in the Dasa-raja-dhamma in the Jakata Text. The word “raja” means “king” and should be replaced in our context with the term “government”. It this text, the Buddha set forth the “Ten Duties of a King”, or in our case, The Ten Duties of a Person In Power. These are taken from Walpola Rahula’s book, What The Buddha Taught. Please note that while these teachings of 2600 years ago are framed in the masculine, in today’s verbiage they apply equally to the feminine or non-gender. I am relating them using the words of the Buddha.

1. The first of the “Ten Duties of the King” is liberality, generosity, and charity or dana. The ruler should not have craving and attachment to wealth and property, but should give it away for the welfare of the people.

2. Second: A high moral character (sila). He should never destroy life, cheat, steal, or exploit others, commit adultery, utter falsehood, and take intoxicating drinks. That he must at least observe the Five Precepts of the layperson.

3. Third: Sacrificing everything for the good o the people, he must be prepared to give up all personal comfort, name, and fame, and even his life, in the interest of the people.

4. Fourth: Honesty and integrity (ajjava). He must be free from fear or favour in the discharge of his duties, must be sincere, and must not deceive the public.

5. Fifth: Kindness and gentleness (maddava). He must possess a genial temperament.

6. Sixth: Austerity in habits (tapa). He must lead a simple life, and should not indulge in a life of luxury. He must have self-control.

7. Seventh: Freedom from hatred, ill-will, enmity. He should bear no grudge against anybody.

8. Eighth: Non-violence, which means not only that he should harm nobody, but also that he should try to promote peace by avoiding and preventing war, and everything which involves violence and destruction of life.

9. Ninth: Patience, forbearance, tolerance, understanding. He must be able to bear hardships, difficulties, and insults without losing his temper.

10.Tenth: Non-opposition, non-obstruction, that is to say that he should not oppose the will of he people, should not obstruct any measures that are conducive to the welfare of the people. In other words, he should rule in harmony with his people.

It is interesting to note that the Five Principles or Pancha-sila in India’s foreign policy are in accordance with the Buddhist principles which Asoka, the great Buddhist emperor of India, applied to the administration of his government in the 3rd century B.C.

For an elected official to even consider these properties as valuable in the effort to lead the constituents would be miraculous, indeed. Unfortunately, not only the President, but we, as a people in general, seem to be headed in the opposite direction as a result of generations of conditioned, negative, and hostile notions and beliefs. That does not mean that the Buddha’s teachings, in general, are meaningless. What it does mean is that we need to pay closer attention and put in right effort now more than ever to elect individuals who mirror, or at least begin to strive for these principles.

I’m sure we all have different opinions, but in my lifetime I can only recall three Presidents who came close to these principles; Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, and George Bush, Sr. They all had battles to fight, none were perfect men or had perfect policies, but each had principles by which they led their administrations which resemble at least some of what the Buddha taught. I encourage you to think about who, in your lifetime, has followed these principles.

In the weeks ahead the Blog Posts will refer to the election. The White Sands Zen Center Teachers and Board of Directors are not looking for agreement on any level or for any candidate. That is not our purpose or job description as Spiritual Leaders of this Temple. Our job is purely to create an atmosphere of mindfulness and questioning as you prepare to go to the polls and vote in a little over three weeks.

Please create time to meditate on the "State of ALL Unions" having read this post.

May you be well, may you be at peace, may you be safe from harm...

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