What To Look For in Government Officials
A non-partisan political tip (dasa-rāja-dhamma)
Well, there is no question that this is a ‘political’ season. But it is not the first! Perhaps we can look to the wisdom of our predecessors for some guidance. Throughout history there have been rulers who governed their countries poorly. They lacked a vision of a just, peaceful and enlightened world. Far too often self-interest and cronyism were their guiding principles, resulting in the people being exploited and oppressed. Excessive taxes were levied without a view to the common welfare, and punishments were often cruel and excessive.
In the days of the Buddha, as today, there undoubtedly were rulers who governed their countries unwisely and unjustly. The Dhammapadatthakatha records that the Buddha offered some wisdom regarding the problem of good government. While his views should be appreciated against the social, economic and political background of his time, there might also be some application to our world today.
So, how might one who practices the Noble Path approach choosing a candidate? What would such a person look for in a candidate? The teaching of the ‘Ten Virtues of a King’ (dasa-rāja-dhamma) from the Jātaka texts (Jataka I, 160, 599; II, 400; III, 274, 320; V, 119, 378) give us some guidance.
First: the King (or in modern parlance, ‘the Head of State’) should exhibit liberality, generosity, charity (dāna). He or she should not have craving and attachment to power, status, wealth and property, but should give these away for the welfare of the people.
Second: A high moral character (sīla). He or she should strive to never destroy life, cheat, steal or exploit others, commit adultery or other sexual inappropriateness, utter falsehood or take intoxicating substances.
That is, the Head of State must at least observe the Five Precepts (pañca-sīla) which all who follow the teaching observe.
Third: Sacrificing everything for the good of the people (pariccāga), the ruler must be prepared to give up all personal comfort, name and fame, and even life, in the interest of the people.
Fourth: Honesty and integrity (ajjava). The Head of State must be free from fear or favor in the discharge of his or her duties, must be sincere in his or her intentions, and must not deceive the public.
Fifth: Kindness and gentleness (maddava). He or she must possess a genial temperament.
Sixth: Austerity in habits (tapa). He or she must lead a simple life, and should not indulge in the life of luxury. The ruler must have self-discipline; self-control.
Seventh: Freedom from hatred, ill-will, enmity (akkodha). He or she should bear no grudge against anybody.
Eighth: Non-violence (avihiṃsā), which means not only that the ruler should intend harm to no one, but also that he or she should try to promote peace by avoiding and preventing war, and avoiding and preventing everything which involves violence, or harm to or destruction of life.
Ninth: Patience, forbearance, tolerance, understanding (khantī). The Head of State must be able to bear hardships, difficulties and insults without losing his or her temper or composure.
Tenth: Non-opposition, non-obstruction (avirodha), that is to say that the Head of State should not oppose the will of the people, should not obstruct any measures that are conducive to the welfare of the people. In other words, he or she should rule in harmony with the people.
Something to think about.
Parts of the above were excerpted from “What The Buddha Taught” by Walpola Rahula,and distributed free by The Corporate Body of the Buddha Educational Foundation, 11F., 55 Hang Chow South Road Sec1, Taipei, Taiwan, R.O.C.