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buddhism and capital punishment

Buddhism and capital punishment

This article looks at Buddhism and the ethics of capital punishment.

Because Buddhism exists in many forms, under many organisations, there is no unified Buddhist policy on capital punishment.
In terms of doctrine the death penalty is clearly inconsistent with Buddhist teaching. Buddhists place great emphasis on non-violence and compassion for all life. The First Precept requires individuals to abstain from injuring or killing any living creature.
The Buddha did not explicitly speak about capital punishment, but his teachings show no sympathy for physical punishment, no matter how bad the crime.

An action, even if it brings benefit to oneself, cannot be considered a good action if it causes physical and mental pain to another being.
The Buddha

If a person foolishly does me wrong, I will return to him the protection of my boundless love. The more evil that comes from him, the more good will go from me.
The Buddha

Buddhism and punishment:

Buddhism believes fundamentally in the cycle of birth and re-birth (Samsara) and teaches that if capital punishment is administered it will have compromising effects on the souls of both offender and the punisher in future incarnations.
As far as punishment inthis world is concerned, Buddhism has strong views:
*. inhumane treatment of an offender does not solve their misdeeds or those of humanity in general - the best approach to an offender is reformatory rather than punitive
*. punishment should only be to the extent to which the offenderneeds to make amends, and his rehabilitation into society should be of paramount importance
*. punishing an offender with excessive crueltywill injure not just the offender's mind, but also the mind of the person doing the punishing
*. it is impossible to administer severe punishment with composure and compassion
*. if the crime is particularly serious, the person may be banished from the community or country

Buddhist countries and capital punishment:

Despite these teachings several countries with substantial Buddhist populations retain the death penalty, and some of them, for example Thailand, continue to use it.
These are no states that have Buddhism as their official religion.
Alarid and Wang (see below) suggest that this apparent paradox partly stems from the difference between popular and monastic Buddhism. The majorityof lay Buddhists in these countries follow Buddhist practices and are entirely sincere in their commitment, but"the genuine study of Buddhism, its rituals, and carryover to daily life is superficial for most Buddhist followers."
Other reasons Buddhist countries retain the death penalty are:
*. belief by politicians that capital punishment is necessary for retribution, cultural customs, or for deterrence value
*. a long tradition of capital punishment in a particular country
*. keeping order in society is seen as more important than Buddha's teaching
*. reaction to long periods of political unrest or economic instability


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