Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, was a Kshatriya, son of Suddhodana, the
Maharaja of the Sankyas of Kapilavasthu. He was born in about 566 B.C. He
left his home in quest of truth and he became the Buddha and preached the
Noble Eight Fold Path. According to Buddha, the ultimate end of life
is Nirvana, the eternal state of peace and bliss.
Buddhism is a reaction
against vedic religion. The political tradition of Buddhist India was in
some respects antagonistic to the Hindu political ideas. Ethical basis of
political ideas was a characteristic feature of Buddhist political
The important sources of the Buddhist political ideas are:
- The Palicanon and Jatakas.
- Late Canonical works written in Sanskrit and Mixed Sanskrit.
- The Buddhist poets and philosophers. The period of the study of the
Buddhist political ideas of ancient India extends roughly from the 6th
century B.C to the 3rd century BC.
Evolution of State or Kingship
In the original state of nature, human beings lived in a condition of
God-like perfection. They were transformed into ordinary human beings due to
greed and pride. The rise of the institution of property, the State and
society was a consequence of the progressive fall of man. When the
individuals were seized by the passions of sex and greed, they established
the institution of property by mutual agreement. There appeared the
four-fold evil of theft, lying, censure and violence among the people.
The origin of Kingship is given by a simple theory in a Jataka story. In the
first cycle of the world, the people assembled together and having found a
man handsome, auspicious, commanding and altogether perfect, selected him as
their King. It is evident from the stories that the Origin of kingship was
by a process of election by the people. The King was the symbol of the
State. The King occupied the highest Social and political status.
They believed that one needed a King and a warrior for protection. Just as
the tree is the refuge of birds, so is the King refuge of his people. It was
the moral obligation of the ruler to give protection to the ruled in return
for their obedience. According to Aryadeva, the King was a mere slave of the
multitude, because the people paid him one-sixth share of their crops, and
he was bound to protect his subjects.
Principles of Political Righteousness of Dharma
The most important contribution of the early Buddhist canonists to our
ancient political thought consists in their ‘total’ application of the
principle of righteousness to the King’s internal administration and to his
foreign policy. The best King was one, who devoted himself to the welfare of
the whole realm including animals. The King should avoid specified vices and
practise specified virtues.
Righteousness of dharma imposed some principles and policies of State like
protection of the good, impartial justice, friendliness towards neighbouring
Kings, and temporal and spiritual benefits to all classes of
people. According to Buddhist theory, ethical standards were applicable
uniformly to the ruler and his subjects and equally upon King’s public and
private acts. The Buddhist thinkers rejected the Brahmanical ethics in
relation to statecraft such as treacherous war and questionable methods in
war and diplomacy.
Principles and policies of Government
Jataka stories say that the King should avoid falsehood and anger and
whatever he has done in the past under the influence of passion and sin, he
should not repeat. The King should choose as his ministers and other
officials, who are steady, learned in affairs and free from the vices of
gambling, drinking and so forth. The King should, himself, examine the
income and the expenditure. Punishments for wrongdoers and rewards for good
and efficient should be promptly given.
To the Buddhist thinkers, the powers of rulers were:
- The strength of arms.
- The strength of wealth.
- The strength of officials.
- The strength of the high birth.
- The strength of wisdom.
In Saundarananda, reference is made to the King’s application of five
- Conciliation (sama).
- Bribery (dana).
- Creating dissensions (bheda).
- Force (danda).
- Restraint (nigama) against his enemies.
In Jatakamala stories, descriptions of different Kings are given. The Kings
were gifted with the strength of will, intelligence, material force and good
fortune. They ruled their subjects like their own children. The King should
adopt a comprehensive programme of benevolent rule over his subjects, the
agricultural; the mercantile and industrial classes were to be protected, so
that they might benefit the King by the payment of taxes. The King should
also adopt sound canons of taxation.
The early Buddhist canonists described the aristocratic clan republics and
the qualifications of the citizens of a republican community such as public
spirit, a wise conservatism, moral rectitude and discipline, piety and
Ideology of a World-Ruler
The early Buddhist canonists give a highly idealistic picture of the
world-ruler (chakravarti). The attributes of the ruler comprised not only
universal supremacy and successful administration at home and abroad, but
also and above all, righteousness or dharma. The world-ruler was credited
with seven jewels (or treasures) consisting of the wheel-treasure, the
elephant-treasure, the house-treasure, the horse-treasure, the treasure of a
woman, the treasurer and the adviser.
The privileges of Brahmans were rejected by the Buddhist philosophers. The
spiritual world-teacher (Buddha) is repeated in the Sanskrit works belonging
to the later Buddhist thinkers. The divine wheel, the palladium of the
universal ruler (Buddha), is itself associated with the principle of
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