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Buddhist Justice? ~ Kaspa

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    • #496

      I’ve recently been invited to a interfaith day on the theme of justice. As well as various faith representatives, there will also representatives from the justice system present, police officers and so on.

      I’m not sure I can make the day, but it got me thinking about the place of justice in Buddhism. I haven’t done any research, but I wanted to share the few thoughts that floated up in response. Do share your own thoughts below.

      Karma. I don’t take this to be a simple case of you get what you deserve. More that internally we re-create the same habit patterns over and over again, and externally we are drawn to the same kind of circumstances again and again. If the habits are bad habits, the circumstances will usually be troublesome ones. But, each time we go around the cycle is an opportunity to break the cycle.

      Does this mean the universe is just or not? Maybe. I’m not sure it means the universe is fair though, or rather it doesn’t feel fair: we are born into different circumstances, with different habit patterns. Did we choose those? If so what did  the choosing?

      We inherit karma from somewhere. There’s no point worrying too much about where it comes from, the real question is, what are we going to do about it?

      Punishment. There are hells in Buddhism, but they are not permanent. This is, perhaps, another way of saying we are drawn to troublesome circumstances. I’m not sure this is punishment – as it’s our own actions and tendencies that take us here.

      The Buddhas want to create the best conditions for us to become liberated. This should be the goal of anyone joining the work of the Buddhas: create the best conditions for all beings to become liberated. A Buddha will go to hell to liberate a being, if there is a being there willing to be liberated.

      In the vinaya there are descriptions how to make amends if you cause trouble in the Sangha. If you discipline a trainee, for example, but you tip over into punishing the trainee, you should apologise. The trainee should also apologise for the initial mistake.

      There are some rules which, if broken, lead to expulsion from the order of monks and nuns. You could think of this as punishment, if you really wanted to, but it seems to be more about protecting both the reputation of the Sangha, and the conditions which allow Sangha members to move towards liberation.

      Once, not long after the Buddha had met Angulimala, the murdering bandit who had a spiritual awakening on meeting the Buddha, the king approached the Sangha.

      The king had heard Angulimala was hanging out with the Buddha, and wanted to take him away to be punished. The Buddha suggested a deal with the king, if he vouched for Angulimala, and took responsibility for him, the king would let him stay with the Buddha. The king knew the Buddha was trustworthy, and went for the deal. Angulimala became a monk in the Sangha.

      A little later Angulimala came to the Buddha for some advice. He was following all of the precepts, but still encountered the families of those he had killed. Those grieving, angry family members would throw stones, and chase Angulimala. What should he do, he asked the Buddha.

      The Buddha replied, “Endure, Anguliamala, endure.”

      Sometimes it takes the world a while to catch up with our internal changes. There is a kind of hangover that we have to wait out. If there is an opportunity in this, as Pureland Buddhists, it is to deepen our nembutsu. Our human nature has created this harm, and yet we are still loved.



    • #501

      Yes, nice thoughts. I also don’t like the idea of punishment – I tend to feel that unskilful/’bad’ acts inherently create their own punishment. We may repress our feelings of guilt etc, but they’re still in there somewhere, affecting us. The Buddha seemed to have boundaries, but didn’t use these to make people feel bad or make himself feel better. I’m thinking it might be interesting to go to that day if we can!

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