"Killing" in Buddhism

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"Killing" in Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Sat Jan 01, 2011 1:46 pm

Huifeng wrote:
nirmal wrote:Buddhism never forbids its followers to continue with their customs.


Unless of course those customs are in direct conflict with Buddhist teachings.
eg. a culture which has a custom of executing people would be in conflict with the principle of non-harm and precept of not taking life.
That would not be "forbid" in the sense of some external agency enforcing such ideals upon others, but in the sense of how can one consider oneself Buddhist and still engage in, and actively support and justify, such actions?


Grand Master Xingyun of Foguangshan is a representative of Buddhism in the world and by his own admission he's fine with executing criminals. Is he a Buddhist?
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Re: Buddhism As World Religion

Postby Mr. G » Sat Jan 01, 2011 2:52 pm

Huseng wrote:
Grand Master Xingyun of Foguangshan is a representative of Buddhism in the world and by his own admission he's fine with executing criminals. Is he a Buddhist?


Hi Huseng, I didn't know that was his position. In all honesty, I don't see how believing it is fine to execute criminals to be representative of Buddhism. Is there a commentary I've missed or something? :shrug:
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Re: Buddhism As World Religion

Postby Indrajala » Sat Jan 01, 2011 4:50 pm

mr. gordo wrote:
Huseng wrote:
Grand Master Xingyun of Foguangshan is a representative of Buddhism in the world and by his own admission he's fine with executing criminals. Is he a Buddhist?


Hi Huseng, I didn't know that was his position. In all honesty, I don't see how believing it is fine to execute criminals to be representative of Buddhism. Is there a commentary I've missed or something? :shrug:


Some time ago I read in a study of Foguangshan his position on the death penalty. It said he was fine with execution and did not oppose it.

I don't think it means he actively encourages governments to executes criminals. Rather he doesn't oppose it and voices no opposition to it.

So, when I had the chance to pose the question to him in person I did. I asked, "Do you support or oppose the death penalty?" He paused for a few moments and then elaborated his position. He never said he opposes the death penalty. Part of his reasoning is "if you kill someone why can't you be killed?" Obviously this is completely contrary to what the Buddha taught, therefore there is no scriptural support for such a position, but on the contrary quite a lot of scripture to refute it.

I imagine this actually will have horrible unforeseen consequences. When politicians in Taiwan, as well as in other countries where leaders might take Venerable Xingyun's opinions into deep consideration, debate and consider the ethics of the death penalty they could see Venerable Xingyun's position of non-opposition and mistake this as being the Buddhist position on the matter as he is a representative of Buddhism not to mention a household name in Taiwan and elsewhere.

Unfortunately I doubt anyone in his organization would rise up to challenge him on this matter in public. In private perhaps it might be discussed, but it is unlikely that anyone with authority in the organization would criticize him in public given the strict hierarchy in the organization. Anything the Grand Master says is generally considered irrefutable and not subject to open criticism.
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Re: Buddhism As World Religion

Postby Indrajala » Sat Jan 01, 2011 4:57 pm

See page 144 of Stuart Chandler's study on Foguangshan entitled Establishing a Pure Land on Earth: The Foguang Buddhist Perspective on Modernization and Globalization:

http://books.google.com/books?id=OkEy4_ ... th&f=false

The relevant quote:
Capital punishment is also permissible in Master Xingyun's view. In fact, according to the law of cause and effect, executing a murder fulfils the natural consequence of that person's act. So long as the executioner holds no enmity or grudge against the person being executed, little individual karmic effect will adhere, for he or she is merely carrying out the country's law. Those involved in handing down the death penalty may even accumulate positive karma if their intentions are as pure as those of Shakyamuni Buddha, who, according to the Jakarta [Jataka] tales, had, in one of his previous lives, killed a bandit to prevent him from massacring five hundred merchants.


Again, I asked him in person about this and his position was the same as quoted here.
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Re: Buddhism As World Religion

Postby neverdowell » Sat Jan 01, 2011 6:20 pm

I go to FGS currently... wow. I'm surprised, although I was already iffy about "humanistic" buddhism, and I can see how this position ties into humanism... barely.

The Jataka tales analogy doesn't fit in my view. Executing a criminal already under custody is not the same as preventative measures. The Dalai Lama thinks it's OK to kill a leader (president, general etc) who is about to declare war, in order to prevent the war, as long as it's done with very pure compassion (he is clear about this). I think I agree with that, but definitely not with capital punishment.

To develop bodhichitta, which is the actual practice, you need to develop such compassion that you simply cannot bear others being tormented by suffering. But in order to develop this compassion, you must know exactly how you yourself are plagued by suffering. And you must understand that the whole of samsara is by nature suffering. But first you must fear the lower realms, for without this you will have no repudiation of celestial and human happiness. You must therefore train your mind in the small- and medium- scope parts of the path. -- Pabongka Rinpoche
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Re: Buddhism As World Religion

Postby Indrajala » Sat Jan 01, 2011 6:27 pm

neverdowell wrote:I go to FGS currently... wow. I'm surprised, although I was already iffy about "humanistic" buddhism, and I can see how this position ties into humanism... barely.


Most people in Foguangshan, especially the monastics, are benevolent individuals who live as true Bodhisattvas. Don't be discouraged from the organization just because of Venerable Xingyun's remarks. He's technically the Grand Master, but he's not the organization itself. FGS does a lot of good in the world and provides dharma to many people who otherwise might not have it or take any interest in it.
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Re: Buddhism As World Religion

Postby Mr. G » Sat Jan 01, 2011 6:47 pm

neverdowell wrote:The Dalai Lama thinks it's OK to kill a leader (president, general etc) who is about to declare war, in order to prevent the war, as long as it's done with very pure compassion (he is clear about this).


When and where did he say this? I completely disagree with this position.

On a side note, I can't stand when people use the story from the Jataka tales to justify killing as bodhisattva behavior. There must be a lot more practitioners that have achieved the first bhumi that I thought. :guns:
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Re: Buddhism As World Religion

Postby neverdowell » Sat Jan 01, 2011 7:07 pm

mr. gordo wrote:When and where did he say this? I completely disagree with this.

On a side note, I can't stand when people use the story from the Jataka tales to justify killing as bodhisattva behavior. There must be a lot more practitioners that have achieved the first bhumi that I thought. :guns:


In one of his books. It was a book in which he was discussing suffering directly caused by powerful entities like corporations and governments. He covered a number of topics including the gap between rich and poor, destruction of the environment, war, suppression of clean energy sources and medical technologies, etc. Many people would almost think he sounds like a "conspiracy nutter", but that's ok, people would think that about me too. I place most of the blame for the world's suffering in the same places he does. I could go further into what I know, but I won't in a public thread.

Sorry I don't have the title, I read it at the library. I will get the reference for you when I go back to the library tomorrow.

To develop bodhichitta, which is the actual practice, you need to develop such compassion that you simply cannot bear others being tormented by suffering. But in order to develop this compassion, you must know exactly how you yourself are plagued by suffering. And you must understand that the whole of samsara is by nature suffering. But first you must fear the lower realms, for without this you will have no repudiation of celestial and human happiness. You must therefore train your mind in the small- and medium- scope parts of the path. -- Pabongka Rinpoche
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Re: Buddhism As World Religion

Postby neverdowell » Sun Jan 02, 2011 9:07 am

Unfortunately the library at temple was closed today. Hopefully I will get back to you next week... I might do some googling in the meantime.

To develop bodhichitta, which is the actual practice, you need to develop such compassion that you simply cannot bear others being tormented by suffering. But in order to develop this compassion, you must know exactly how you yourself are plagued by suffering. And you must understand that the whole of samsara is by nature suffering. But first you must fear the lower realms, for without this you will have no repudiation of celestial and human happiness. You must therefore train your mind in the small- and medium- scope parts of the path. -- Pabongka Rinpoche
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Re: Buddhism As World Religion

Postby Huifeng » Sun Jan 02, 2011 10:03 am

Ven Master Xingyun grew up in Jiangsu during the Japanese invasion, he was very near Nanjing during the time of the Rape of Nanjing; and this area was also a major area during the civil war between the Nationalists and Communists that followed. My understanding is that his position on the death penalty is for those people who slaughtered huge numbers of unarmed men, women and children, including large numbers of clergy. He also indicates the attitude for such execution, as given above. I would just like to point this out, rather than a very broad statement of "fine with executing criminals". One could point to various positions within the Mahayana of a / the bodhisattva taking life to save others.

Personally, I do not support such a position, and would prefer to be without the death penalty altogether. But my own background is vastly different from that of my teacher, and I have never personally experiences two of the most barbaric slaughters that humanity has enacted in the last century, whereas he has. I have expressed this position in FGS, and I have never been told that I had to except Ven Master's position, or that only it is correct (vis your "Anything the Grand Master says is generally considered irrefutable and not subject to open criticism").

As mentioned above, some Buddhist literature does support this view. For example, some versions of the "merchant bodhisattva" story. (Vis your "this is completely contrary to what the Buddha taught, therefore there is no scriptural support for such a position, but on the contrary quite a lot of scripture to refute it".) There is scriptural support both ways, and we should at least admit this, even is we consider one side to be correct and the other inaccurate. You yourself also cite ". Those involved in handing down the death penalty may even accumulate positive karma if their intentions are as pure as those of Shakyamuni Buddha, who, according to the Jakarta [Jataka] tales, had, in one of his previous lives, killed a bandit to prevent him from massacring five hundred merchants." How can you say there is no scriptural support?

When neverdowell states "The Dalai Lama thinks it's OK to kill a leader (president, general etc) who is about to declare war, in order to prevent the war, as long as it's done with very pure compassion (he is clear about this). I think I agree with that, but definitely not with capital punishment." this is basically the same position. As noted above, Ven Master Xingyun is, IIRC, reserving this only for the worst of war criminals (such as which his has personal experience, and hence strong opinions about).

Regards the question "Is he Buddhist?", well, he holds a position that is also held by many other Buddhists, and is supported by some Buddhist literature. It is a position that other Buddhists and other Buddhist literature may not agree with though.

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Re: Buddhism As World Religion

Postby Huifeng » Sun Jan 02, 2011 10:05 am

Huseng wrote:
neverdowell wrote:I go to FGS currently... wow. I'm surprised, although I was already iffy about "humanistic" buddhism, and I can see how this position ties into humanism... barely.


Most people in Foguangshan, especially the monastics, are benevolent individuals who live as true Bodhisattvas. Don't be discouraged from the organization just because of Venerable Xingyun's remarks. He's technically the Grand Master, but he's not the organization itself. FGS does a lot of good in the world and provides dharma to many people who otherwise might not have it or take any interest in it.


And the position on the death penalty of either the leader or organization as a whole is but a tiny part of the whole picture. If I hear what you are saying here, I agree that it's best not to blow things out of proportion. Any Buddhist teacher anywhere will have some positions and views that are not accepted by some other large group of Buddhists.
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Re: Buddhism As World Religion

Postby neverdowell » Sun Jan 02, 2011 10:48 am

Thanks Huseng and Huifeng, points duly noted. :thanks:

To develop bodhichitta, which is the actual practice, you need to develop such compassion that you simply cannot bear others being tormented by suffering. But in order to develop this compassion, you must know exactly how you yourself are plagued by suffering. And you must understand that the whole of samsara is by nature suffering. But first you must fear the lower realms, for without this you will have no repudiation of celestial and human happiness. You must therefore train your mind in the small- and medium- scope parts of the path. -- Pabongka Rinpoche
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Re: Buddhism As World Religion

Postby Indrajala » Sun Jan 02, 2011 1:05 pm

Huifeng wrote:Ven Master Xingyun grew up in Jiangsu during the Japanese invasion, he was very near Nanjing during the time of the Rape of Nanjing; and this area was also a major area during the civil war between the Nationalists and Communists that followed. My understanding is that his position on the death penalty is for those people who slaughtered huge numbers of unarmed men, women and children, including large numbers of clergy. He also indicates the attitude for such execution, as given above.


I don't think any of this justifies condoning the execution of criminals no matter how horrible they are. If the individuals in question are truly guilty of massacres and creating untold misery then they will experience it in this life and probably many more to come. It is not for us to act as initiators of that karmic fruit.

If Ven. Xingyun thinks karma-vipaka is civil justice and firing squads, I think he is surely mistaken. The consequences of promoting such a position as well given his position and millions of followers is also likely to encourage the death penalty and violence rather than prevent it. What kind of monk would do such a thing?

I would just like to point this out, rather than a very broad statement of "fine with executing criminals". One could point to various positions within the Mahayana of a / the bodhisattva taking life to save others.


I don't think you can be sure the prison executioner and/or firing squad is made up entirely of Bodhisattvas. Ven. Xingyun makes it sound like the executioners will all have pure intentions, mechanical and unfeeling, when they take the life of a criminal. Quite the opposite. They probably feel satisfied in their killing of a murderer or some other type of criminal. The executioners will suffer the fruits of such karma themselves. If the whole death penalty system was abolished, the executioners would not be in such a position to kill someone by order of the state.

Moreover there are cases of Bodhisattvas taking life to save others, but that isn't executing criminals who are in jail and not of any danger to anyone outside.

Again, I think what Ven. Xingyun suggests is idealistic and dangerous. It is quite irresponsible on his part.


Personally, I do not support such a position, and would prefer to be without the death penalty altogether. But my own background is vastly different from that of my teacher, and I have never personally experiences two of the most barbaric slaughters that humanity has enacted in the last century, whereas he has.


I am not so sympathetic. Some people think he is enlightened and meanwhile it sounds like he is holding onto a lot of bitterness from his past. Where is the forgiveness? Where is the wisdom that allows one to forgive having insight into emptiness? Does he not have any of this?

I have expressed this position in FGS, and I have never been told that I had to except Ven Master's position, or that only it is correct (vis your "Anything the Grand Master says is generally considered irrefutable and not subject to open criticism").


Did you say Ven. Xingyun was wrong or just that you have a different opinion? There is a difference.


As mentioned above, some Buddhist literature does support this view. For example, some versions of the "merchant bodhisattva" story. (Vis your "this is completely contrary to what the Buddha taught, therefore there is no scriptural support for such a position, but on the contrary quite a lot of scripture to refute it".) There is scriptural support both ways, and we should at least admit this, even is we consider one side to be correct and the other inaccurate.


Those stories do not support the idea of executioners taking the lives of convicted criminals. Show me somewhere in a Buddhist canon somewhere where killing a criminal in jail is okay.

If such a character was perhaps standing in front of a line of monks with a machine gun ready to gun them down, that is a different case altogether. However, that is not the death penalty for a convicted criminal, but rather self-defence and the defence of others. Moreover from a Buddhist point of view it is potentially sparing the culprit from hell.


You yourself also cite ". Those involved in handing down the death penalty may even accumulate positive karma if their intentions are as pure as those of Shakyamuni Buddha, who, according to the Jakarta [Jataka] tales, had, in one of his previous lives, killed a bandit to prevent him from massacring five hundred merchants." How can you say there is no scriptural support?


I say there is no scriptural support for legislation condoning the execution of criminals in a prison.

Self-defence is entirely different from capital punishment.


When neverdowell states "The Dalai Lama thinks it's OK to kill a leader (president, general etc) who is about to declare war, in order to prevent the war, as long as it's done with very pure compassion (he is clear about this). I think I agree with that, but definitely not with capital punishment." this is basically the same position. As noted above, Ven Master Xingyun is, IIRC, reserving this only for the worst of war criminals (such as which his has personal experience, and hence strong opinions about).


That's still quite different from capital punishment and the death penalty. Killing a leader about to commit a genocide prevents the deed from occurring. Killing a leader who ordered a genocide when the deed has been done is just revenge driven by hatred. If the former leader is in prison he is no harm to anyone.

Regards the question "Is he Buddhist?", well, he holds a position that is also held by many other Buddhists, and is supported by some Buddhist literature. It is a position that other Buddhists and other Buddhist literature may not agree with though.


Are you retracting to your original statements then?

eg. a culture which has a custom of executing people would be in conflict with the principle of non-harm and precept of not taking life.
That would not be "forbid" in the sense of some external agency enforcing such ideals upon others, but in the sense of how can one consider oneself Buddhist and still engage in, and actively support and justify, such actions?


Following this statement's reasoning it would mean that since Ven. Xingyun is supporting and justifying actions which are in conflict the principle of non-harm, it would be difficult for he himself to be considered Buddhist or consider himself as such.


I am simply not sympathetic to his position and I think anyone who is is fostering the seeds for continued violence and hatred. Killing criminals in prison (the death penalty) is contrary to what Buddha taught on many many levels. It is disappointing that someone like Ven. Xingyun would teach such things. It actually takes way a lot of his credibility as a leader and teacher.
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Re: "Killing" in Buddhism

Postby Will » Sun Jan 02, 2011 4:55 pm

In the Indo-Tibetan list of bodhisattva vows, one of the minor ones says plainly that one can, with bodhicitta motivation, kill, steal etc. if for the benefit of beings.

As for capital punishment, virtually all Buddhist cultures did & do kill prisoners - some for non-capital crimes.
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Re: "Killing" in Buddhism

Postby Mr. G » Sun Jan 02, 2011 6:03 pm

"Having slain what does one sleep soundly?
Having slain what does one not sorrow?
What is the one thing, O Gautama,
Whose killing you approve?"

"Having slain anger; one sleeps soundly;
Having slain anger; one does not sorrow;
The killing of anger, O devata,
With its poisoned root and honeyed tip:
This is the killing the noble ones praise,
For having slain that, one does not sorrow."

SN I.VIII.71

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Re: "Killing" in Buddhism

Postby Huifeng » Mon Jan 03, 2011 4:25 am

Jeff, since you seem to think that Ven Master Xingyun is "surely mistaken", "idealistic and dangerous ... quite irresponsible", "holding onto a lot of bitterness from his past", and that his position "actually takes way a lot of his credibility as a leader and teacher", I would definitely encourage you to go out there in the world and cultivate the bodhisattva path in an even better manner than he has! Then you can rectify whatever problems you perceive. I hope that you can be an even more credible leader and teacher of Buddhism.

All the best in this task! (You'll need it.)
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Re: "Killing" in Buddhism

Postby meindzai » Wed Jan 05, 2011 2:00 pm

I can find a lot of reasons to oppose the death penalty, but primarily two. The first is that it violates the first precept - and even encouraging or approving such strikes me as an unwholesome course of verbal and mental action.

The second is that as long as there is a death penalty there will be innocent people that are murdered because they have been accused of a crime. We know that this has happened, and it may be happening more than we know. We have seen people released from death row after many years in light of newer evidence. So as long as there is any chance at all of it happening, how can we approve it? If we don't oppose the death of criminals, what of non-criminals?

Anyway, I do not understand Master Xingyun's viewpoint but it's not my practice to count others cattle, as it were.

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Re: Buddhism As World Religion

Postby neverdowell » Sun Jan 09, 2011 8:53 am

neverdowell wrote:Unfortunately the library at temple was closed today. Hopefully I will get back to you next week... I might do some googling in the meantime.


The library was open again. The book is called Ancient Wisdom, Modern World by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Chapter 14: Peace and disarmament, page 213-214

The reality of modern warfare is that the whole enterprise has become almost like a computer game. The ever-increasing sophistication of weaponry has outrun the imaginative capacity of the average lay person. Their destructive capacity is so astonishing that whatever arguments there may be favour of war, they must be vastly inferior to those against. We could almost be forgiven for feeling nostalgia for the way in which battles were fought in ancient times. At least then people fought one another face to face. There was no denying the suffering involved. And in those days, it was usual for rulers to lead their troops in battle. If the ruler was killed, that was usually the end of the matter. But as technology improved, the generals began to stay farther behind. Today they can be thousands of miles away in their bunkers underground. In view of this, I could almost see developing a 'smart' bullet that could seek out those who decide on wars in the first place. That would seem to me more fair, and on these grounds I would welcome a weapon that eliminated the decision-makers while leaving the innocent unharmed.

Because of the reality of this destructive capacity, we need to admit that whether they are intended for offensive or for defensive purposes, weapons exist solely to destroy human beings. But lest we suppose that peace is purely dependent on disarmament, we must also acknowledge that weapons cannot act by themselves. Although designed to kill, so long as they remain in storage, they can do no physical harm. Someone has to touch a button to launch a missile strike, or pull a trigger to fire a bullet. No 'evil' power can do this. Only humans can. Therefore, genuine world peace requires that we also begin to dismantle the military establishments that we have built. We cannot hope to enjoy peace in its fullest sense while it remains possible for a few individuals to exercise military power and impose their will on others.


To develop bodhichitta, which is the actual practice, you need to develop such compassion that you simply cannot bear others being tormented by suffering. But in order to develop this compassion, you must know exactly how you yourself are plagued by suffering. And you must understand that the whole of samsara is by nature suffering. But first you must fear the lower realms, for without this you will have no repudiation of celestial and human happiness. You must therefore train your mind in the small- and medium- scope parts of the path. -- Pabongka Rinpoche
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Re: "Killing" in Buddhism

Postby Mr. G » Sun Jan 09, 2011 9:02 am

Thanks for taking the time to dig that up neverdowell.
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Re: "Killing" in Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Sun Jan 09, 2011 10:07 am

Nâgasena's remarks might prove useful:

http://www.holyebooks.org/budhism/sbe35/sbe3514.html

[KINDNESS AND PUNISHMENT.]

35. 'Venerable Nâgasena, the Blessed One said:

"Doing no injury to any one
Dwell full of love and kindness in the world 1."

And on the other hand he said: "Punish him who deserves punishment 2, favour him who is worthy of favour." [185] Now punishment, Nâgasena, means the cutting off of hands or feet, flogging 3, casting into bonds, torture 4, execution, degradation in rank 5.

p. 255

[paragraph continues] Such a saying is therefore not worthy of the Blessed One, and he ought not to have made use of it. For if the first injunction be right then this must be wrong, and if this be right then the injunction to do no injury to any one, but to dwell full of love and kindness in the world, must be wrong. This too is a double-edged problem now put to you, and you have to solve it.'

36. 'The Blessed One, great king, gave both the commands you quote. As to the first, to do no injury to any one, but to live full of love and kindness in the world--that is a doctrine approved by all the Buddhas. And that verse is an injunction, an unfolding of the Dhamma, for the Dhamma has as its characteristic that it works no ill. And the saying is thus in thorough accord with it. But as to the second command you quote that is a special use of terms [which you have misunderstood. The real meaning of them is: "Subdue that which ought to be subdued, strive after, cultivate, favour what is worthy of effort, cultivation, and approval"]. The proud heart, great king, is to be subdued, and the lowly heart cultivated--the wicked heart to be subdued, and the good heart to be cultivated--carelessness of thought is to. be subdued, and exactness of thought to be cultivated--[186] he who is given over to wrong views is to be subdued, and he who has attained to right views is to be cultivated--he who is not noble 1 is to be subdued, and the noble one is

p. 256

to be cultivated--the robber 1 is to be subdued, and the honest brother is to be cultivated.'

37. 'Let that be so, Nâgasena. But now, in that last word of yours, you have put yourself into my power, you have come round to the sense in which I put my question. For how, venerable Nâgasena, is the robber to be subdued by him who sets to work to subdue him?'

'Thus, great king--if deserving of rebuke let him be rebuked, if of a fine let him be fined, if of banishment let him be banished, if of death let him be put to death.'

'Is then, Nâgasena, the execution of robbers part of the doctrine laid down by the Tathâgatas?'

'Certainly not, O king.'

'Then why have the Tathâgatas laid down that the robber is to be taught better?'

'Whosoever, great king, may be put to death, he does not suffer execution by reason of the opinion put forth by the Tathâgatas. He suffers by reason of what he himself has done. But notwithstanding that the doctrine of the Dhamma has been taught (by the Buddhas) 2, would it be possible, great king, for a man who had done nothing wrong, and was walking innocently along the streets, to be seized and put to death by any wise person?'

'Certainly not.'

p. 257

'But why?'

'Because of his innocence.'

'Just so, great king, since the thief is not put to death through the word of the Tathâgata, but only through his own act, how can any fault be rightly found on that account with the Teacher?'

'It could not be, Sir.'

'So you see the teaching of the Tathâgatas is a righteous teaching.'

'Very good, Nâgasena! That is so, and I accept it as you say.'
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