BUDDHIST SOCIAL MORALITY
the Venerable Bhikku Maha Thera N. Jinaratana
People are the state; which is to say the state is a collection of people, and exists for the good of the people: people do not exist for the good of the state. Where the citizens are morally strong, upright, and industrious, the nation prospers; where the people are frivolous given over to pleasure, and disrespectful to those worthy of respect, the state decays and chaos results. The state begins with the people and consists of the people's relationships with one another; these relationships determine the health of the nation, its life and prosperity. In Buddhism the relationships between individuals and groups are given and analyzed. Buddhism puts reason in place of authoritarianism; it discards metaphysical speculation to make room for the practical realities of life; it sets up a spiritual brotherhood in place of priesthood; it replaces scholasticism by universally intelligible doctrines of righteousness; it introduces a perfect community life in place of isolated life; it infuses a cosmopolitan spirit against national exclusiveness; it instills faith unencumbered by dogmatism; it inspires enthusiasm free of fanaticism; it gives strength devoid of violence; it fosters natural living untrammeled by materialistic preoccupations. It allows liberty, avoiding license; it teaches self-sacrifice, rejecting selfishness. Love and purity are, therefore, the primary characteristics of wisdom in Buddhism.
CHILDREN AND PARENTS:
The solidarity of the family group is of great importance and value. In the Rukkadhamma Jataka, the united family is compared to a forest; there the trees are able to withstand the force of the wind, whereas a solitary tree is forever in danger of being toppled by the blast.1 The Buddha knew the importance of the family and exhorted all persons who chose to remain in the worldly life to maintain family ties together with the honor and dignity of the family as a social unit. Lord Buddha pointed out that parents do much for their children, bringing them up (apadaka), taking care of them (posaka), educating them, and smoothing their way into the world (lokassa dassetaro).2 The duty of supporting one's parents is included in the three good things proclaimed by the wise, the other two being the practice of charity, and going forth into the homeless life.3
The Sigalovada Suttanta gives five ways in which a child should minister to his parents. (1) He should support his parents since they at one time supported him; in fact, he owes his life to their loving care. (2) He should take upon himself the duties incumbent on them. (3) He should maintain the family line. (4) He should provide an inheritance for his heirs. (5) He should make offerings to the dead. In return the parents must ensure the welfare of the child (or children) by restraining them from vice, exhorting them to virtue, training them for a profession, arranging a suitable marriage, and in due course handing over the inheritance.4
Thus the duties of both parents and children are delineated, and if this advice is followed, there will be harmony in the home and favorable conditions for harmony in the state, for the strength of the state rests on the strength of the family.
HUSBAND AND WIFE:
No social institution has yet evolved to replace this essential relationship which exists for the safety and care of the children, the regulation of the moral life, companionship and help. Lord Buddha did not neglect this vital social institution which, in part, ensures the stability of the state and protects and preserves her future citizens.
In the Sigalovada Suttanta are given five ways in which a wife should be ministered to by her husband: by being courteous to her; by not despising her; by being faithful; by giving her charge of the household; and by providing her with the necessary clothing and adornments. In return, the wife must keep the household in good order, be hospitable to her husband's relatives, be faithful, preserve the family's wealth, and be industrious.5
If the relations between husband and wife are on this level, harmony, in the home will result. This harmony will spill over, as it were, into the greater family of the state.
The choice of one's friends is very important. One is known by the company he keeps. Lord Buddha has described the ideal friend as "The person who is kindly, who makes friends, welcomes them, is free from avarice, full of understanding, and is a conciliator; such a one obtains good repute. Generosity, kindly speech, doing good to others, fairness in all things everywhere, as it fit and proper"...such attributes make a person a good friend.6
When mutual friendship is established certain duties are performed. Loyalty to one's friends brings service and support, freedom from enemies, a welcome home after one's travels, and success in one's undertakings.7
In the Sigalovada Suttanta a genuine friend is described as one who is a help and a support, is the same in happiness and sorrow, who gives advice which promotes one's welfare, and who is sympathetic. As a help and a support he protects one's property when one is neglectful of it, guards one when one is negligent, acts as a refuge in anxiety, and is an ever constant source of help.8
But these are only descriptions of one's personal friends. How must one act towards the mass that make up the state? The Lord Buddha hereto has given a guide. A person who is inferior to oneself in morality, intelligence, and wisdom should be treated with compassion, but his advice and conduct should not be followed; a person who is one's equal in morality, intelligence, and wisdom should be adhered to, since both will derive benefit from the association; and a person who is one's superior in morality, intelligence, and wisdom should be followed, served and honored with reverence, because by this relationship one's own virtue, intelligence, and wisdom will increase and mature.9 One should not be angry with an ungrateful person but should avoid him. One should not loiter among enemies, for that will bring trouble and disharmony. But all must be treated with compassion, love, and understanding.
Thus we see how society must be brought to order. One must acquaint oneself only with the good and the righteous and shun the bad. By being surrounded by virtuous and wise companions, one will also gain in virtue and wisdom.
TEACHER AND PUPIL:
The relationship between teacher and pupil is of the utmost importance, for in Buddhism ignorance (avijja) is the worst evil. One who strives to dispel ignorance is worthy of all honor and respect.
The Sigalovada Suttanta gives five ways in which the pupil should act towards his teacher. (1) The pupil should rise from his seat in greeting the teacher. (2) He should be attentive to his words. (3) He should be ever desirous of hearing him. (4) He should render impersonal service. (5) He should hold him in honor. Thus the pupil should be attentive to all that the teacher teaches, should obey him, and should prepare and learn his work properly. In this way the pupil will grow in confidence based on knowledge well-learnt (saddha), will be disciplined (sila), will learn much (caga), and will develop wisdom (panna). These should be instilled by the diligent teacher in a pupil so that he becomes capable to take up the duties of society. He will grow to be a worthy citizen of the state, honored and respected by all.
CAPITAL AND LABOUR:
The social duty of the employer to the employee and of the employee to the employer is dealt with in the Sigalovada Suttanta.11 The delineation of these duties is of the utmost importance if a harmonious relationship between labor and capital is to be fostered and preserved. If this relationship is upset by either party there will be strife and bitterness in the state. A bad employer will create bad employees arid thus, in this suttanta the duties of the employer are laid down. The employer must conduct himself towards his workers in these ways: (a) arranging the work to each worker's ability and capacity; (b) providing them with a decent salary; (c) ensuring their welfare when they are sick; (d) sharing the profits with them (bonus); and (e) giving them adequate leave. In return the employees should (a) arrive at work at the appointed time; (c) be satisfied with their salary and bonus etc.; (d) work well; and (e) think well of the employer.
If these things are made the basis of the employer-employee relationship, there will be mutual respect and harmony both within the factory and the state.
Thus the Lord Buddha has laid down the basis for a harmonious society in which each member does his best and seeks the welfare of all. By improving himself morally, mentally, and physically, and by seeking the betterment of all, through inter-personal relationships he actively participates in the development of a harmonious, peaceful, righteous, and powerful state.