Panelist Statement: Peter Harvey

Date: Mon, 02 Oct 1995 09:28:53 -0400
From: "Wayne R. Husted" [email protected]
Subject: Panelist Statement: Peter Harvey
Peter Harvey
[email protected]
Sunderland

BUDDHISM AND HUMAN RIGHTS: SOME PRINCIPLES AND ISSUES

DUTIES TO ALL SENTIENT BEINGS

As all beings have been close relatives or friends in past rebirths (//Sa.myutta Nikaaya// II.189-90), they have all been good to one, and it is one's duty to respect them and never harm them or prevent their flourishing. As Emperor Asoka said: There is no better deed than to work for the welfare of the whole world, and all my efforts are made that I may clear my debt to all beings. I make them happy here and now that they may attain heaven in the next life (Sixth Rock Edict).

In all beings is the 'brightly shining mind' (//pabhassara citta//), known in the Mahaayaana as the 'Buddha nature'. This represents the potential for enlightenment in all and contains the seed of great lovingkindness and compassion. One has a duty to nurture this seed in oneself, which entails expressing these qualities in respect for others, and their potential.

If a being had a Self, it would be invulnerable, and in no need of protection by such things as 'rights'. As beings are composed of factors which are all not-Self, they are vulnerable, and share this vulnerability as a basic quality of being sentient. To abuse another being is to ignore this shared vulnerability.

At a basic level, all sentient beings are alike in disliking pain and wanting happiness (//Majjhima Nikaaya// I.341). One should therefore not inflict on another what one would not want done to oneself: Having traversed the whole world with my thought, I never yet met with anything dearer to anyone than his own [empirical, vulnerable] self. Since the self of others is dear to each one, let him who loves himself not harm another (//Udaana//47).

All tremble at punishment,
Life is dear to all.
Comparing others with oneself,
One should neither kill nor cause to kill (//Dhammapada//130)

For a state that is not pleasant or delightful to me must be to him also; and a state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how can I inflict that upon another? (//Sa.myutta Nikaaya//V.353-54). This is the principle of sympathy with other sentient beings (//anukampaa//), which all sentient beings have latent in their minds, however much it is masked or ignored.

Any suffering that one sees other sentient beings undergoing is something that one has oneself undergone in a previous life (//Sa.myutta Nikaaya// II.186); one therefore has no grounds to ignore or turn one's back on this, but has a duty to help.

To the extent to which one hinders the flourishing of another, one impedes one's own flourishing.

Non-human sentient beings should be respected to the extent that they can benefit from this.

DUTIES TO HUMANS
In a being's wandering in the round of //sa.msaara//, to be reborn a human is a rare event (//Dhammapada// 182, //Sa.myutta Nikaaya//V.475-76), which offers a great opportunity for moral and spiritual growth and flourishing. One should make the best use of this opportunity, and do one's best to aid the moral and spiritual flourishing of other humans, and never to hinder this. One should seek to help others' human rebirth be a truly 'precious human rebirth'.

As emperor Asoka emphasised, moral and spiritual growth is facilitated by conditions of social peace and lack of poverty.

HUMAN RIGHTS
To the extent to which one might say that human rights, in Buddhism, are founded in Dharma , this is primarily as the nature-of-reality, not the Hindu sense of a pattern of social roles. Those who abuse others can be said to be not right-with or true-to Dharma, as they ignore the sort of principles as those set out above.

As is made clear in one of the papers, not all duties entail corresponding rights.

To the extent that the five precepts encode moral norms that are incumbent on all humans, perhaps one can say that one has, at the very least, 'a right' to expect to be treated in accordance with these precepts, that is:
i) a right not to be deliberately killed or physically harmed
ii) a right not to have one's property respected
iii) a right to marry according to the customs of one's country, and have this respected by others, and a right not to be sexually abused.
iv) a right not to be lied to.
v) a right not to be subjected to loutish, drunken behaviour.

Put this way, such rights entail duties on all other humans. While it does sound odd to say one's 'human rights' have been abused if, for example, one is lied to, it is less odd to say 'you have no right to deceive me'.

GOVERNMENTS AND HUMAN RIGHTS
Human rights talk are relevant primarily in regard to how governments or quasi-governments (cf.civil war situations) treat their people. Historically, the idea of human rights arose in the West, and is often connected with the idea of the social contract as the basis of society and government legitimacy. It has been said that Buddhism has no notion of the social contract, but this seems not to be the case. In the //Agga~n~na Sutta// (//Diigha Nikaaya//III.92), the first ruler is said to have been chosen by the people, in a situation where natural morality was in decline, in order to punish wrong-doers and thus ensure social harmony. This surely implies that the legitimacy of a ruler rests one their carrying out their role of protecting people. To the extent to which they act immorally towards their people, they have no right to govern them. Not only do they abuse people's right to be treated in accordance with the precepts, but they abuse the right which people have invested in a ruler to rule.

Of course, a government's right to 'punish' can be abused. In Buddhism, to be culpable, one must have intended to do an act, and have done it. There are thus no grounds for arbitrary punishment of those who a) did not actually do an act or b) did not fully intend what they did. To punish someone for supposed threats to 'the state' or 'the government' , per se, does not make sense from a Buddhist perspective, 'The state' or 'the government;' is not a sentient being that can be harmed. Only individual sentient beings can be harmed. To the extent to which a person harms or threatens harm to sentient beings, they can be legitimately punished.

While Buddhism praises voluntary self-sacrifice, it has never endorsed the enforced sacrifice of a person or minority 'for the benefit of the many'. Even in cases, from Mahaayaana texts, of killing out of skilful means, this is only under VERY special circumstances, where compassion is the motive, and the one who is killed is not innocent, but involved in an act of killing others.

If a member of a government picks on someone who uncovers unsavoury truths about the government, such an act of persecuting is one aligned with, and based on, untruth.

Being a ruler /member of a government does not place one above Dharma-based rights. Indeed it places greater responsibilities on one, such as the ten qualities of a true king (Jat.III.274): generosity, virtue, liberality, straightness, gentleness, self-restraint, non-anger, non-injury, forbearance, and non-opposition. The last of these would seem to entail not interfering, without good grounds, in the liberty of subjects.

BUDDHISTS RELATIONSHIP TO HUMAN RIGHTS
Rights can be
a) negative: the right to freedom //from// something, eg. arbitrary arrest
or
b) positive: the right //to// something: eg. an adequate education. The first kind of rights are negated by being //abused//, the second by being //neglected//.
While Buddhism contains teachings to correct it, it has a tendency to emphasise non-harming (not abusing) rather than positively benefitting (not neglecting)

One aspect of human rights talk that Buddhists may be uncomfortable with is the aspect of 'demanding rights'. What is problematical, here, though, is not the concept of 'rights', but of //demanding//, with its flavour of anger and egoism. Rights are something that should be respected and protected, but righteous indignation just gets in the way of this. This even applies to //demanding// rights for others. The appropriate Buddhist way is to calmly and firmly point to abused rights and affirm, with determination, that they be respected.

Of course, as regards one's own rights, one may choose to forego them, but this can never be demanded of one by someone else.

Peter Harvey


Date: Mon, 02 Oct 1995 12:23:37 -0400
From: "Wayne R. Husted" [email protected]
Subject: Re: Panelist Statement: Peter Harvey (David Webster)

In the light of karmic operation, there appears no need for earthly punishments of any kind. Are we not only increasing our own future suffering by punishing others for that which they will suffer as a result of anyway? This applies to governments as well as individuals.

Does karma then preclude war-crime trials?

D.Webster.


Date: Mon, 02 Oct 1995 20:01:31 -0400
From: "williams" [email protected]
Subject: Re: Panelist Statement: Peter Harvey

Of course, a government's right to 'punish' can be abused. In Buddhism, to be culpable, one must have intended to do an act, and have done it. There are thus no grounds for arbitrary punishment of those who a) did not actually do an act or b) did not fully intend what they did. To punish someone for supposed threats to 'the state' or 'the government' , per se, does not make sense from a Buddhist perspective, 'The state' or 'the government;' is not a sentient being that can be harmed. Only individual sentient beings can be harmed. To the extent to which a person harms or threatens harm to sentient beings, they can be legitimately punished.

The statement "'The state' or 'the government;' is not a sentient being that can be harmed" gives me some concern here as it seems to me that social entities can very well be sentient beings. In this context I am concerned with the rights and responsibilities of one social entity in regard to another social entity. I'd prefer it if any principles developed regarding individual human rights and responsibilities can be transfered pervasively into the social realm.

This is not the same issue as that concerning individuals and social entities. Social entities are composed of individuals, and within this context all rights and responsibilities should be stated in terms of individuals.

Sphere.


Date: Tue, 03 Oct 1995 13:21:08 -0700
From: "Dan Zigmond" [email protected]
Subject: Re: Panelist Statement: Peter Harvey

In the light of karmic operation, there appears no need for earthly punishments of any kind.
Are we not only increasing our own future suffering by punishing others for that which they will suffer as a result of anyway? This applies to governments as well as individuals.

Does karma then preclude war-crime trials?

There are justifications for war crimes trials (and other criminal trials) that have little to do with punishment. I believe that in Buddhism (as, for that matter, in mots religions) there exists a mechanism for "punishment" that does not require human intervention. But we still may wish to try people who commit crimes and sentence them to prison if guilty, both to prevent them from doing such crimes again and to discourage others from doing so. Although we are "punishing" them, it is not out of a moral sense that justice must be done, but as a practical matter of how best to reduce the suffering of the world by minimizing these sorts of acts.

If we see such trials in this light, they may become a moral imperative. If war crimes trials actually do prevent future war crimes in some way, then they become part of a Buddhist's obligation not to allow others to be killed.

Dan Zigmond


Date: Wed, 04 Oct 1995 12:34:53 +0100
From: "david.webster" [email protected]
Subject: Re: Panelist Statement: Peter Harvey

In the light of karmic operation, there appears no need for earthly punishments of any kind.
Are we not only increasing our own future suffering by punishing others for that which they will suffer as a result of anyway? This applies to governments as well as individuals.

Does karma then preclude war-crime trials?

There are justifications for war crimes trials (and other criminal trials) that have little to do with punishment. I believe that in Buddhism (as, for that matter, in mots religions) there exists a mechanism for "punishment" that does not require human intervention. But we still may wish to try people who commit crimes and sentence them to prison if guilty, both to prevent them from doing such crimes again and to discourage others from doing so. Although we are "punishing" them, it is not out of a moral sense that justice must be done, but as a practical matter of how best to reduce the suffering of the world by minimizing these sorts of acts.

Is this really why such trials occur? In such a light, would the buddhist approve of the death penalty - it would seem to achieve the ends you ascribe to "punishment"?

If we see such trials in this light, they may become a moral imperative. If war crimes trials actually do prevent future war crimes in some way, then they become part of a Buddhist's obligation not to allow others to be killed.

But do they? There seems little evidence of this, people do not expect to get caught when they commit crimes.

D.Webster