top of page

The Buddha's Ten Rules for Leaders

Dr. David Am Koe Beighley, Sunim

Abbot/Head Monk

Every two years in the United States we have either a mid-term election or a general election. 2022 is that year and within the next two weeks the polls will open so we can cast our votes. Some have already voted absentee, early voting, or by mail. It is my hope that every eligible voter will participate, as we are lucky enough to live in a democracy in which voting is an inherent right.

These past few years have been particularly wearying as a result of the endless rhetoric, media ads, deceit, promises, scandals, and the multitude of criminal investigations into the dealings of our former President. If any of that is to be taken seriously, this would have to go down in history as one of the most acrimonious elections of my lifetime and many of yours. Not only is the election acrimonious, but we additionally seem to have divided our nation into political cults of personality. We seem to be focusing on INDIVIDUALS rather than ISSUES, and, as a result, our moral compass no longer points true north.

While most of the subjects that the Buddha taught were intended for those following the Path, primarily Monks and Teachers, 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 his tenet 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, but he would also, at times, enter the field of battle itself to personally intervene in conflict. On one such occasion, there was a dispute between the Sakyas and the Koliyas over a 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 era, there were rulers who governed unjustly and cruelly, and peoples were oppressed, exploited, tortured, persecuted, and taxed beyond their means...just like today!

The Buddha was deeply moved and troubled by these inhumanities. In The Dhammapadatthatha, he directed his attention to the issue 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 could be replaced with the term "government". In this text, the Buddha set forth "The Ten Duties of a King". Those duties are as follows:

  1. The first of the ten duties of a 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. A high moral character (sila). He/she should never destroy life, cheat, steal, or exploit others, commit adultery, or utter falsehood. In other words, he/she should at least observe the Five Precepts of the layperson.

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

  4. Honesty and Integrity (ajjava): he/she must be free from fear or favor in the discharge of his duties and must not deceive the public.

  5. Kindness and gentleness (maddava): he/she must possess a genial temperament.

  6. Austerity in habits (tapa): he/she must lead a simple life and not indulge in a life of luxury and possess self-control.

  7. Freedom from hatred, ill-will, and enmity: he/she must bear no grudge against anyone.

  8. Non-violence: he/she must harm no one, promote peace, avoid and prevent war and everything which brings violence and destruction of life.

  9. Patience, forbearance, tolerance, and understanding: he/she must be able and willing to bear hardships, difficulties, and insults without losing the temper.

  10. Non-opposition and non-obstruction: he/she should not oppose the will of the people, should not obstruct any measures that are conducive to the will of the people, and rule in harmony with the people

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

For a United States President to even consider these properties as valuable in the effort to lead the constituents would be miraculous, indeed. Unfortunately, not only the Presidents, but we, as a people in general, seem to be headed in the opposite direction as a result of generations of conditioned, negative, suspicious, and hostile notions and beliefs. Thet does not mean that the Buddha's teachings are meaningless. What is 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.

As a Buddhist Monk, it would be horrible decorum and in poor taste to even infer who you might vote for in this election. That is not in the job description. I would simply encourage you to look mindfully at your ballot and regard what you believe is good, right, and proper in a candidate considering the Buddha's rules for a leader.

May all be safe, may all be well, and may all be at peace...

28 views0 comments
bottom of page