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Buddhism and Brahmanism

by Gail Omvedt

Continued from 31.12.2007

Governance, the great theme of today, was also a preoccupation of Indian thinkers two to three millenniums earlier. The views that evolved during the first millennium B.C. of the duties of kings and of the nature of the State are another curicial difference between Brahmanism and Buddhism, one that has as tremendous significance today as the issue of caste. In the Brahmanical literature, the State is viewed as divinely created. The king is brought into being by the Gods to maintain law and order, and he is charged in particular with protecting varnasharma dharma.

This theme runs through all the sastras and puranas. In Manu, we have at the beginning of his chapter on kings an injunction to remember the divinity of kings, Even a boy king should not be treated with disrespect, with the thought, He is just a human being; for this is a great deity standing there in the form of a man. Fire burns just one man who approaches is wrongly, but the fire of a king burns the whole family, with its livestock and its heap of possessions.

He goes on to stress punishment, the danda, as the main feature of kingship; The rod is the king and the man, he is the inflicter and he is the chastiser, traditionally regarded as the guarantor for the duty of the four stages of life. The Rod alone chastises all the subjects, the Rod protects them, the Rod stays awake while they sleep; wise men know that justice is the Rod. The whole world is mastered by punishment, for an unpolluted man is hard to find. Through fear of punishment, everything that moves allows itself to be used.

The king was created as the protector of the classes and the stages of life, that are appointed each to its own particular duty, in proper order (Penguin edition, 128-130). The more liberal Arthasbastra also is preoccupied with the maintenance of power, with family members, neighbouring rulers, the collectively functioning oligarchies or gana sanghas, and the tribals are seen as threats. And everywhere in Brahmanical literature, the role of an ideal king included the duty of protecting the varna system, so that Rama was forced to kill the shudra Shambuk for attempting tapascharaya, and even the great Shivaji had to be depicted by Ramdas as particularly the protector of cows and Brahmans.

For Buddhism, in contrast, the king as a chakravartis ruler, is the social paralled to the Buddha himself. The king himself has to be moral-in the Tamil epic, Sliappadikaram, written under the influence of Buddhism and Jainism, the city of Madurai is destroyed by fire and the king himself commits suicide for the sin of injustice. Failure to be moral can justify popular rebellion; in a Jataka story, The Goblins Gift, a king and his priest steal and hide the state treasury to deceive the Bodhisattva, and when this is revealed, the people kill him and place the Bodhisattva on the throne.

In a Buddhist origin story recounted in the Anganna Suta the king also comes into existence to prevent the crimes due to the rise of private property and to maintain law and order, but the story has no hint of gods or divine action in it. Rather the king is chosen by the people themselves and so is called the maha-sammata or great agreement.

Further, it is always stressed that order in society is maintained through popular welfare. As the Kutadanata Sutta has it, Now there is one method to adopt to put a through end to this disorder. Whosoever there be in the kings realm who devote themselves to keeping cattle and the farm, to them, to them let his majesty the king give food and seed-corn. Whosoever there be in the kings realm who devote themselves to trade, to them let his majesty the king give capital.

Whosoever there be in the kings realm who devote themselves to government service, to them let his majesty the king give wages and food. Then those men, following each his own business, will no longer harass the realm; the kings revenue will go up; the country will be quiet and at peace; and the populace, pleased with one another and happy, dancing their children in their arms, will dwell with open doors (I, 176). Not punishment, but the provision of capital, the provision of fair wages, supplying seeds for the farmers-the prerequisites for a productive economy-were stressed. Further, in another sutra recited by Ambedkar in his last essay, The Buddha and Karl Marx, the failure of a ruler to provide wealth to the destitute is what leads to the downfall of the kingdom. The effort, after this, to prevent theft by punishment leads only to more and more violence, and to the final degradation of society. The story grapples with the dilemmas of welfare, but the clear message is that the prevention of poverty is a major duty of a State that wants to maintain order.

The model of relationship between the State and the economy contrasts also with the Brahmanical one, at least with that presented in the Arthshastra. This has no concern with welfare or the problems of the relief of poverty, but Kautilya presents us with an activist State, running factories, mines, and brothels; faxing prices; and maintaining a huge bureaucracy engaged in economic intervention and management. Almost a precursor of the Brahmanic Socialism of the post-Independence period! With this traders are seen as inherently wicked and thievish themselves, needing supervision. The image of the dirty bania begins here. In contrast, the Buddhist literature treats merchants and farmers, property holders and producers of all sizes, with great respect. The State does not attempt to replace their activities by engaging in production itself, but to set the conditions for production by providing capital, protection, and removal of poverty. Almost a precursor, again, of an Amartya Sen-type social liberalism!

Ironically, the Buddhist model of kingship probably worked against itself in the long run. After Ashoka, few rulers were fervent Buddhists; most, for a long time, patronised Buddhism, but were usually personally attached to Brahmanic rituals and beliefs. This is not too surprising, since Brahmanism asked much less of them than the moral rectitude and provision of popular welfare required of a chakravartine ruler, and treated them as semi-divine, ready to ratify their ksatriya status as long as they upheld the varnashrama dharma. Ashoka was a ruler who genuinely tried to follow the Buddhist model and treat popular welfare as his responsibility; it is his insignia that independent India has adopted as its own.

Unfortunately, the reality seems to be otherwise, and if kings and priests-or politicians and bureaucrats-treat the State treasury as their own and conspire to hide it, there is too little sign of popular resistance. India needs to return to the Buddhist ideal of governance, to recreate a sens of public order and community. This article was published in Indian Reporter in 2001.

උඳුවප්

අමාවක

උඳුවප් අමාවක පෝය ජනවාරි 07 වන දා සඳුදා අපරභාග 03.56 ට ලබයි. 08 වන දා අඟහරුවාදා අපරභාග 05.07 දක්වා පෝය පවතී.
සිල් සමාදන්වීම ජනවාරි
07 වනදා සඳුදාය.
 

මීළඟ පෝය ජනවාරි
15 වන දා අඟහරුවාදාය.


පොහෝ දින දර්ශනය

New Moonඅමාවක

ජනවාරි 07

First Quarterපුර අටවක

ජනවාරි 15

Full Moonපසෙලාස්වක

ජනවාරි 22

Second Quarterඅව අටවක

ජනවාරි 30

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