Date: Wed, 04 Oct 1995 00:19:24 -0400
From: "Sally Clay" [email protected]
Subject: Four Happiness
I would say human rights are rights a person possesses by virtue of being human, in the sense that they are possessed by everyone regardless of race, colour, sex, religion, birth etc and are not conferred by–or removable by–a political or other authority.
As to what things should go on a list of human rights: things like life, liberty, freedom of speech, freedom of belief, equal treatment before the law, a right not to be tortured or persecuted, and a right to form political parties usually feature somewhere near the top. The UN Declaration goes further to mention a right to education and employment, and begins to sound a bit like a wish list or political manifesto than anything else. The Declaration seems to include personal safety (in some sense) in the right to "security of person" mentioned in article 3. If there are any activists out there, perhaps they could say what sort of rights they campaign for specifically.
You mentioned the rights of life and liberty, but not the right to the pursuit of happiness. If we look at the question of human rights from the point of view of one who defends the rights of others, it might be useful to consider the Four Immeasurables:
1) MAY ALL BEINGS BE HAPPY AND KNOW THE ROOT OF HAPPINESS.
2) MAY THEY BE FREE FROM SUFFERING AND THE ROOT OF SUFFERING.
3) MAY THEY BE ONE WITH THE GREAT HAPPINESS DEVOID OF SUFFERING.
4) MAY THEY ABIDE IN EQUANIMITY FREE OF ATTACHMENT AND AVERSION.
The first happiness corresponds to loving kindness, the second to compassion, the third to bodhicitta, and the fourth to justice. Similarly, they might be applied to a friend, a bodhisattva, a teacher, and a mediator/advocate.
I suggest that the fourth happiness, equanimity, is the one that best applies to a Buddhist view of human rights within the path of justice, and in the direction of enlightened government. An advocate in the Dharma is, in my view, a person who speaks for the happiness or against the suffering of others. As a mediator, the Buddhist advocate also promotes the happiness of both parties in a dispute and maintains a fair and even view of the issues.
A modern term for equanimity might be "unconditional respect." In my opinion, a good advocate is one who has an attitude of unconditional respect for all others without exception. Such an advocate speaks on behalf of a disenfranchised person (or cause) while at the same time respecting and considering the individual (or government) that is the agent of this disenfranchisement. This is, perhaps, another way of expressing satyagraha, or the priniciple of nonviolence. It is also another way of expressing the nature of justice–and why justice is represented by a set of scales and by a two-edged sword.
Justice might be said to be the expression of a a society that protects and defends the needs of all of the people within it. And the Dharma tells us that these human needs are the pursuit of happiness, the cessation of suffering, the vision of shared truth, and the openness of freedom.
Wherever there is disaffection, misery, dogmatism, or segregation — whatever their cause — then rights will be named to rectify them. There may be an infinite number of rights, but the motivation of the advocate remains the same, as do the qualities of enlightened society. Wherever the four happinesses are obstructed, then rights may be asserted and can be defended by right action.
(My apologies if this statement itself sounds dogmatic. I have tried to apply these principles within my work as peer advocate for psychiatrically labeled persons.)
Sally Clay, Zangmo Blue Thundercloud