Soraj Hongladarom's clarification

Date: Wed, 04 Oct 1995 14:06:44 +0100
From: "peter.harvey" [email protected]
Subject: Soraj Hongladarom's clarification

I'm not sure that the Buddha's parable of the arrow and the simile of the many leaves in the forest neceassarily mean that talk on the nature of human rights is a side-track from the Buddhist path. The above parable and simile were applied, specifically, to the asking the ten undetermined questions (is the world eternal?, or not? etc). In contrast, the Buddha said he focussed on whatever would help understand and overcome //dukkha//. Part of the path to overcoming //dukkha// is //siila//, and talk of human rights is surely consonant with this, even though not a traditional phrase for Buddhists.

The fact that Buddhism has thrived under a variety of modes of government need not show that it has not cared about human rights- only that a list of fundamental human rights drawn up by Buddhists might not insist on including the right to having democratic rule. One //could// see democracy as quite a godd way, but not necessarily the only way, of helping to protect truly fundamental right. That it, democratic rights might be seen as //instrumental// rather than fundamental.

Peter Harvey

Date: Thu, 05 Oct 1995 15:24:02 +0700
From: "Soraj Hongladarom" [email protected]
Subject: Re: Soraj Hongladarom's clarification

A short note on this. If anything, human rights seem to be drawn up just for the purpose of *protecting* individuals from abuse of power by those having authority or power. Some mechanism has to be in place for such protection to be realized, e.g., court of law having jurisdiction over all parties involved in the conflict. All parties need to respect the court and the law; otherwise the system just collapses. OK, one can argue that rights are inherent in human nature, but that seems to me rationalizations, and in order for such talks to have bite, actual institutions have to be in place. However, in an autocratic regime, the autocrat himself is both the wielder of state power and the chief judge of the land. It is as if he is the President, the Congress and the Supreme Court rolled into one. So how could the protection of individuals be effective in such a regime? Buddhists might draw up a list of human rights, but without effective rule of law how could the list be something other than words or a piece of paper? The most they seem to be able to do is to try to 'teach' the autocrat the value of compassion, and the like, and this has been the Buddhist strategy in Asian Buddhists states for as long as there is Buddhism. But the state whose autocrat remains on the path of compassion and selflessness does not seem to possess any institutionalized protection of individuals the concept of human rights requires.

When I said that Buddhism does not care for any particular type of government, so long as it remains righteous, I meant that Buddhism, in the Theravaada tradition at least, tries not to involve itself too much in politics; that is, it does not compete for power with all the feuding parties in a state. Its purpose is the opposite--to turn away from the hurly burly of mundate life and seeks individual perfection. What it does for the outside community is to teach, and only that. (Which by no means implies that by teaching it does not itself wield another kind of "power," i.e., moral power, the source of legitimacy, etc.)

Soraj Hongladarom
Department of Philosophy
Chulalongkorn University