Dialogue with the International Criminal Court


Buddhist Defense on the Abolition of the Death Penalty

The Buddhist Law considers that torture and death penalty are the most terrible punishments implemented by States that violate human rights. These oppressive practices are often backed by religious views or nihilistic attitudes, as is the case with governments such as Iran. In fact, both metaphysics and materialism have enormous power within judicial systems. Therefore, the struggle against the death penalty is for Maitriyana an international project that goes against the current of the contemporary world, which confuses justice with revenge. Given that the mission of Gautama was that the entire humankind achieves the Cure (Nirvana) from suffering, the Path of Buddhist Law (Buddha-Dhammapada) assumes that the death penalty is the utmost negation of intrinsic dignity or dharmic nature (buddhata) of the human being. The vehicle of Maitriyana helps society to abandon greed, hatred and deceit, by teaching a daily life based on humility, solidarity and Truth. This means that Buddhist Law fights dogmatism and fundamentalism as social evils that poison the mind of the subject, seeking their evanescence through contemplation (dhyana), compassionate wisdom (karuna-prajna) and ethics (sila). In this sense, although the legal code (vinaya) of the spiritual commune (sangha) is wide, it certainly has five essential ethical precepts that imply abstention from murder, robbery, rape, lying and drugging. Thus, a model of Buddhic Civilization fully promotes the abolition of the death penalty, preserving life with spiritual love, simultaneously resorting to the rehabilitation of the criminal – as much as possible – to his/her expulsion and exile, which was used as punishment by some ancient cultures of Asia.[1] Thus, the Maitriyana teaches a pathway of justice without hatred, cruelty and vengeance, seeking goodness and Liberation for all beings. At the same time, the ethical precept of non-murder involves both humans and animals, insects and trees, demonstrating that Buddhist Law is a juridical movement which is a pioneer in human rights and environmental rights. However, when States have not followed these ethical precepts then the communes (sanghas) of spiritual apprentices and masters have been established themselves as sepárate communities that are autonomous and governed by their own spiritual law.[2] Indeed, the legal tradition of Maitriyana, with its political, economic, cultural and environmental influence, is a millenary custom that has been abandoned by the countries of the Southeast Asian civilization, which is why they maintain the punishment of dead penalty even if it is contrary to the principles of non-violence (ahimsa) and compassionate wisdom (karuna-prajna) of Buddhist Spirituality (Buddha-Sasana).[3]

In contrast to international human rights movements such as the Buddhist Law, the capitalist civilization is in favor of death penalty, even using this condemnation against mentally retarded individuals,[4] and also against underage youth.[5] These kind of events go against the natural evolution of International Law,[6] a progress that is clearly embodied by the Maitriyana, because even the capitalist civilization has shown that it often uses capital punishment against racial minorities and marginalized social classes.[7] This attitude on the part of materialism that violates human rights, paradoxically is also shared by many Christians, who ignore not only the compassionate wisdom (karuna-prajna) of Master Jesus but also the fact that he himself was executed with the death penalty.[8] For its part, the Path of Buddhist Law (Buddha-Dhammapada) has a position of strong spiritual condemnation against the death penalty, which is evident in its five ethical precepts.[9] In fact, Master Nagarjuna himself advised King Udayi to generate attitudes of compassionate wisdom (karuna-prajna) toward the murderous prisoners, expelling them or exiling them instead of torturing and murdering them.[10] But obviously, Maitriyana recalls that there is also the possibility of social rehabilitation for those who have murdered, just as Gautama showed with Angulimala,[11] teaching that this mechanism is possible within the framework of communities (sanghas) oriented toward learning and the evanescence of errors, trying to mend their damage to contribute to society. Thus, in the system of Buddhic Civilization of Ancient India the death penalty was abolished,[12] which has been evidenced by mendicants (bhikkhus) pilgrims from China, such as Fa-Hieh and Hye Ch’o.[13] The Buddhist Law favors all human beings to reach Awakening (Bodhi), by developing their latent intrinsic goodness, which is why their quest for spiritual rehabilitation and Cure (Nirvana) is structurally contrary to death penalty.

The Maitriyana denounces that States of the international community which are most reluctant to abolish the death penalty are those in which discrimination and violent racism persists.[14] While prisons take convicts away from the human community, instead, the death penalty separates them from the community of life. For its part, the tradition of Buddhist Law offers a practice and theory that allows the evolution of thought, word and action, religating the individual with the holistic field of Inter-existence. Libertarian meditation produces a transformation in the apprentice’s psychic and social attitude, allowing him/her to evade any vestige of abuse, violence or lies existing in his/her life. For this reason, in Maitriyana, any kind of criminals have the possibility of being redeemed if they follow the adequate means of life, considering the death penalty as a barbaric act on the part of the State,[15] since it eliminates that possibility of learning and redemption. The Free and Enlightened Beings (Arhats-Bodhisattvas) live in a state of ontological openness (Sunyata) to the suffering of others, and this obviously includes the suffering of criminals sentenced to capital punishment.[16] In addition, the spiritual master is someone who has understood that he/she is in complete connection both with the rest of human beings and with the whole system of life of which he/she is a part.[17] In this sense, the realization of Opening (Sunyata) of mind involves the recognition of the Empty Dynamic Ground of the True Self, not clinging to any personal position of the Ego. Therefore, it is a wise and compassionate response to the needs of others.[18] By being empty of the illusions of egoism, dualism and consumerism, the Free and Enlightened Being (Arhat-Bodhisattva) devotes its life to the mission of awakening both the victims and the aggressors, being totally open and without aggression toward others.[19] This compassionate wisdom (karuna-prajna) of detachment is the key and basic atmosphere of the Path of Cure (Nirvana).[20] The solidarity of Buddhist Law differs precisely from the state criminal law and the media, which often consider the perpetrators or killers as inhuman.[21] On the other hand, the Maitriyana affirms that it is a myth the excuse that the death penalty offers a sense of closure to the victims,[22] since hatred and revenge are poisons for the mind, spreading like a cancer that infects the whole cosmovision of the individual. In short, the death penalty reduces the murderer to a mere object,[23] violating the sanctity of life. States of the contemporary world have a duty to offer alternatives to this type of punishment, even allowing the rehabilitation and redemption of criminals, because forgiveness and reconciliation (maitri) are the true closure for suffering and dissatisfaction (dukkha) of victims. Respect for the intrinsic dignity of all living beings, together with the orientation of society toward learning, are the basis of the civilization of future.



[1]  B. E. McKnight, The quality of mercy: amnesties and traditional Chinese justice.

[2]  L. T. Lee & W. W. Lai, Chinese conceptions of Law: Confucian, Legalist and Buddhist.

[3]  D. P. Horigan, Of Compassion and Capital Punishment: A Buddhist Perspective on the Death Penalty.

[4]  E. F. Reed, The penry penalty: capital punishment and offenders with mental retardation.

[5]  S. D. Strater, The juvenile death penalty: in the best interests of the child?

[6]  W. A. Schabas, The abolition of the death penalty in the International Law.

[7]  A. Aguirre & D. V. Baker, Race, Racism and the Death Penalty in the United States.

[8]  D. P. Horigan, Of Compassion and Capital Punishment: A Buddhist Perspective on the Death Penalty.

[9]  Nandasenda Ratnapala, Crime and Punishment in the Buddhist tradition.

[10]  Maestro Nagarjuna, Rajaparikatha-ratnamala (The precious garland of advice for the king).

[11]  Angulimala-sutta.

[12]  J. Legge, A record of Buddhist Kingdoms: Being an account by the chinese monk Fa-Hieh of his travels in India and Ceylon (A.D. 399-419).

[13]  Hye Ch´o, The Hye Ch´o diary: memoir of the pilgrimage to the five regions of India.

[14]  D. Garland, Peculiar institution: America´s Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition.

[15]  M. Hamer, America´s Death Penalty is barbaric.

[16]  M. Davidson, Compassion and the Death penalty.

[17]  D.T. Suzuki, Passivity in the Buddhist life.

[18]  R. A. Ray, Indestructible Truth: the living Spirituality of Tibetan Buddhism.

[19]  C. Trungpa, The myth of freedom and the way of meditation.

[20]  C. Trungpa, Cutting through spiritual materialism.

[21]  C. Haney, Death by design: capital punishment as a social psychological system.

[22]  R. Greber & J. Johnson, The top ten Death penalty myths: the politics of crime control.

[23]  M. Davidson, Compassion and the Death penalty.

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