Date: Mon, 02 Oct 1995 12:23:10 -0400
From: "Wayne R. Husted" [email protected]
Subject: Rights and the Buddhist ideal (from Peter Harvey)
Soraj Hongladarom’s Position Statement says: Phra Dhammapidok argues that human rights presuppose divisiveness and contentiousness, which then are not conducive to the ideal end of Buddhism. The first part of this claim od Phra Dhammapidok seems uncontentious: in an ideal (or even relatively ideal) world, one would not need to talk of human righs, which is only pertinent when good human relations break down. The first part of the claim is reminiscent of the part of the //Agga~n~na Sutta// which says that, when natural morality had reached a certain point in tis decline, people chose one person to rule over them end punish wrongdoers., or, one might say, protect people’s rights.
The second part of Phra Dhammapidok’s claim does not seem to follow from the first part. Until another relatively ideal state of society arises again (when the next Buddha is around!), it is skilful to have social institutions to protect people’s rights.
It does not seem necessary to go as far as Sulak Sivaraksa does, though, when he says that human rights are constitutive of the Buddhist ideal. The ideal goes beyond talk of rights, but talk of rights helps to protect people in their process of moving towards the ideal.
So, to put the above in terms of issues to debate, and to give my response to the issues:
a) Is talk of human rights unconducive to the goal of Buddhism? b) Is talk of human rights part of the Buddhist ideal?
To a), I would say: no (provided it is not done in an aggressive, angry way). To b) I would also say : no, though a spontaneous respect for other humans (without needing to talk of ‘human rights’) would be.
Date: Tue, 03 Oct 1995 20:17:33 +0100
From: "Damien Keown" [email protected]
Subject: Re: Rights and the Buddhist ideal (from Peter Harvey)
If I could just add a comment to this, I think both positions are compatible in the sense that rights BOTH help people move towards the ideal AND are constitutive of the ideal. The Buddha respected the rights of others (for example, by his observance of the precepts he refrained from doing them any injustice, which is basically what rights seek to secure), and since he represents the ideal in Buddhism, then respecting rights is part of the ideal.
People who are not yet enlightened and who are moving towards the ideal model themselves on the Buddha and come to respect the rights of others more and more until they do it spontaneously, like the Buddha did. For this reason I would say rights (in the sense of respect for the rights of others and just treatment of others) should not be though of as provisional or a "skilful means", but central to the ideal of enlightenment.
b) Is talk of human rights part of the Buddhist ideal?
I would also say : no, though a spontaneous respect for other humans (without needing to talk of ‘human rights’) would be.
I think we are probably in agreement on this — whether we use the terminology of "rights" or "human rights" is not in the end important, so long as we treat others with respect.