Towards the end of his life Buddha had a conversation with a politician about what makes for strength and stability in societies. When I look at our contemporary societies, it seems that the kind of things that make for strength and stability are much the same now as they where 2500 years ago. One of the factors that emerges strongly from what the Buddha says is respect.

There’s many areas of social life where respect plays a crucial part:

Do politicians respect each other?
If they do, then the affairs of state can be carried out in a dignified and rational manner. Whereas, if they endlessly trying to trick or demean one another, you can only expect that such acrimony will spread to the whole society.

Also, we see many instances where politicians defend actions by other members of their own group that they would condemn, if the same action were committed by members of the other group. This kind of bias is based on contempt. It is essentially a form of dishonesty.

A politician who rises above this kind of thing is statesmen-like more than just a party-man or party-woman.

Do the people respect the leaders?
If the leaders appear to have more lax rules for themselves than they impose upon the people, then the people lose respect and stop following the rules.
If the leaders use their position for personal gain and enrichment – same story.

One of the famous Buddhist politicians of history is Yelui Chu Tsai who was a minister in the government of Gengis Khan. When he died, it became apparent that he had hardly any wealth. He bequeathed a musical instrument and a few personal possessions. In his lifetime he’d saved whole populations from genocide and influenced the rulers towards fair courts of justice and religious toleration, but he had not used his position for personal enrichment.

Do different races among the people respect each other?
When there is persistent discrimination of one group against another, either through a caste system or racial prejudice,

  • where the courts are more likely to convict and impose harsher penalties on one race than another,
  • where police action is used to hold one race down rather than protect everybody,
  • where people are not equal before the law,

we know we’re looking at an unhappy and dysfunctional society.

The true measure of success of a society is not gross national product, the so called “size of the economy”. This is simply the measure of how often money changes hands.
Surer measures are things like

  • longevity,
  • low infant mortality,
  • low risk of death by violence,
  • absence of starvation and
  • absence of extremes of disparity between rich and poor.

All societies have leaders and followers. All have inequalities, but these things should not be allowed to run to an extreme.

The spiritual antidote to such malaise ultimately is mutual respect in the sense of objectivity, fair play. When these things are lacking, step by step, year by year, the society degenerates. Things go from bad to worse.

One of the main aims of the Buddha in establishing the Sangha was to create a cadre of people who live a life of deep respect – who live it themselves and who live it in such a way as to be worthy of respect by others. This is the basic meaning of the arahat. The arahats were intended to be a leaven in society: an example and an influence. They’re people who eschew personal gain and have the faith to live lives that are exemplary. They’re a living demonstration that peace of heart comes through the renunciation of greed, hate and delusion, not their cultivation, not their proliferation.

I hope that little by little we can all advance in such faith. Then we may soften the hearts of those who, out of fear, oppress others and can inspire the good actions of those who hesitate for want of a good example.

Thank you very much
Namo Amida Bu



Podcast #31 is about the Buddhist politician Yelui Chu Tsai.

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  • Definitely, my faith is advancing little by little. ^_^

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