Dharma, the poor and fiscal policy

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Dharma, the poor and fiscal policy

Postby kirtu » Mon Jul 18, 2011 11:21 pm

From Josh Stanton's essay in Tikun

With the recent controversy over a compromise to extend all of the Bush-era tax cuts for two years, with Congress threatening to de-fund everything from AmeriCorps to NPR, and with fiscal battles raging at the state level, government spending and revenue have become surprisingly hot-button issues.

What’s even more surprising is how much classical Buddhist thinkers have had to say about taxes and fiscal policy. Now is a perfect time to survey some of their thoughts on these topics. Rather than serving as a liability, these thinkers’ cultural, political, and historical distance from us can give us some much-needed perspective on our own time and place.

In the Acts of the Buddha 2:43, the Buddhist philosopher-poet Asvaghosa (circa 80-150 CE, north India) praises the Buddha’s father, King Suddhodana:

43He did not wish to raise inordinate taxes,
he did not with to take what belonged to others,
he did not wish to reveal his foes’ adharma,
he did not wish to carry anger in his heart.

Two things jump out immediately. First, Asvaghosa equates wishing to raise inordinate taxes with wishing to take what belongs to others – in other words, theft. Second, taking inordinate taxes/theft appears alongside the much more obvious – and, many of us might think, much more serious – transgressions of defamation and hatred. The focus of the first line – especially with Asvaghosa’s emphasis on intention – seems to be not on taxes, per se, but on greed for them. And whether Asvaghosa’s concern is with greed for taxes or with the taxes themselves, he takes the matter just as seriously as the more personal shortcomings that we’re use to hearing about in dharma talks.

While it’s uncertain what role greed plays in Asvaghosa’s objection to excessive taxes, the Mahayana Buddhist Scripture Requested by Surata is painfully obvious. In the following excerpt, the bodhisattva Surata upbraids the corrupt king of Sravasti (I have written more about this scripture here):

Your Majesty, you levy harsh taxes
And punish the innocent for no reason.
Infatuated with your sovereignty,
You never heed
The future effects of yourkarmas.

Surata obviously objects to the king’s high taxes because they are a result of his greed – for power and for money – and also because they hurt Sravasti’s citizens.Perhaps the most famous Buddhist philosopher, Nagarjuna (circa 150 – 250 CE, south and north India) objects to high taxes in his Precious Garland 4:252-253, almost entirely for the latter reason:

252Provide stricken farmers
With seeds and sustenance.
Eliminate high taxes levied by the previous monarch.
Reduce the tax rate on harvests.

253Protect the poor from the pain of wanting your wealth.
Set up no new tolls and reduce those that are heavy.
Also free traders from other areas from the afflictions
That come from waiting at your door.

Here Nagarjuna isn’t just concerned about taxes’ financial effects, but also their emotional ones. He advises the king to whom he is writing to protect the poor from pain and to free traders from afflictions, both affective terms. This is hardly a liberal position. Neither is Nagarjuna laying out a strictly libertarian position; he clearly believes in government subsidies, as shown by the first two lines (and the rest of the Precious Garland, where he calls on the king to implement extensive education and social welfare programs). His sophisticated awareness of the needs of different constituencies – farmers, the poor, businesspeople – is also noteworthy.

So, Asvaghosa equates excessive taxation with more personal transgressions, especially theft; Surata objects to the covetousness that high taxes inflict on a king and the financial pain they inflict on the citizenry; and, Nagarjuna objects to the financial and emotional pain that the undue hardship of high taxes cause. The renowned Nyingma Buddhist philosopher and teacher Jü Mipham Gyatso (1846-1912, Derge, eastern Tibet) nicely sums up all of these sentiments in his Advice on the Way of the King, saying,

Forcefully taking a reasonable tax from the wealthy,
even when they haven’t offered it,
is like being compensated.
This is not “taking what hasn’t been given.”

Forcefully taking from the poor
can be either a wrongdoing or not a wrongdoing:
In order to prevent gamblers and prostitutes
from wasting the wealth obtained illicitly,
if you take from them, it is said to benefit both
and is not a wrong-doing.
When someone has lost property through fire, etc.,
tax them lightly.

If one doesn’t care for the sentient beings
who haven’t any means, this is a wrong-doing.

Later, he reiterates,

If one doesn’t collect taxes which are reasonable,
and not take equally from the rich and poor
according to their situation, is that just?
From all subjects who pay taxes
take in accord with their land,
the season, and their wealth, without harming their home.
Do not burden them unbearably.
In the manner of a cow eating grass,
one shouldn’t destroy the roots.
Kirt's Tibetan Translation Notes

“All beings are Buddhas, but obscured by incidental stains. When those have been removed, there is Buddhahood.”
Hevajra Tantra
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Re: Dharma, the poor and fiscal policy

Postby ronnewmexico » Mon Jul 18, 2011 11:37 pm

I agree in principal to what is stated but taxes in those days were not taxes in these days. All should pay equally with their ability to pay back in the day I would assume refers to appropriations of crops grown or livestock managed then rather to our customary taxes of today.
More a surflike relationship of lord to agricultural user for certain protections.
Some public service things were enlisted under Ashoka but they were to my opinion one of the first ever in humanities experience, and that was quite after the buddha.

Truth is big government has had a history of agenda against it depicted as inefficent and corrrupt. It is neither, but this project to label it, bears fruit....most americans think it so despite social security and medicare. It is ingrained in their psyche.

So americans loose, less taxes then less services then more suffering then less taxes then less services then more suffering and on and on.

Social security and medicare provide the ability of americans to spend more than they make. Remove them and they will become like the chinese having to save a significant proportion of their incomes and thusly spend less. So they spend less and save more and the economy based largly on general consumption faulters....so as taxes corrospond to things spent generally...tax revenues decline.
So they will then call for more tax cuts....which will lead...

So it goes..america faulters and is deminished by its own ignorance.
China in their long term plans are instituting social security and things like medicare...one nation rises and another falls.

It is so simple it is amazing but they don't see it. They are killing their golden laying egg goose before our eyes...it is so sad.
Such is their ignorance.
Small battles will be won here and there, but overall you can't fight the psyche.Wholescale tragedy like Katrina a bit displayed what happens without a effective government response, those type of things may prove out. But that is unlikely to prove out for long.

That final bit....speaks to a percentage based graduated income tax, which was efficient surfdom. In those days if you grew a thousand bushels of hay you may give a portion of what you grew, say 100 to the lord.Those of lesser view would have everyone giving a 100 bushels regardless of what they grew.
Say you grew 105 bushels you still had to give 100 to the lord as tax. That would lead directly to starvation and harm to the structure of society in nonproductive years.

You didn't and like as not you suffered physical harm.The lord was the holder of the weapons and weaponusers. Prohibitions against holding weapons followed many feudal societies as pepper follows salt .
"This order considers that progress can be achieved more rapidly during a single month of self-transformation through terrifying conditions in rough terrain and in "the abode of harmful forces" than through meditating for a period of three years in towns and monasteries"....Takpo Tashi Namgyal.
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Re: Dharma, the poor and fiscal policy

Postby mahabuddha » Mon Aug 08, 2011 4:49 pm

Do no harm. How can one support government violence to extract income taxes using violence? The root of government is violence. Therefore as a Buddhist I cannot support the violence of governments on people. I must use the dharma and try to counteract government.
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