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Saneh Chamarik 

Preamble by Phra Rajavaramuni

Paper No. 12 
ISBN 974-572-182-4

Thai Khadi Research Institute
Thammasat University
Bangkok, Thailand

(Paper originally presented at the Expert Meeting on The Place of Human
Rights in Cultural and Religious Traditions, Bangkok, Thailand December 3-7,
Reprinted by the permission of the author.)

Preamble (by Phra Rajavaramuni (Payutto, Recipient of UNESO Prize for Peace
Eductation, 1994) 

 - - - - - 
Religion has come into existence as a result of the human struggle to solve
the basic problem of life, that is, suffering.  "If there were no birth,
decay and death," the Buddha says, "the Enlightened One would not have
arisen in the world and his teachings would not have spread abroad."  He
also proclaims again and again that a Buddha arises in the world for the
good and happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the
benefit, for the advantage and for the happiness of gods and men. This is
the same with the preaching of the Dharma, the lastingness of his
Dispensation and the solidarity of the Sangha. Thus, just as the worth of
medicine lies in the cure of the disease, so the value of religion is
ascertained by its efficacy in the alleviation and elimination of human

Broadly speaking, when a religion helps people to live together in peace and
helps the individual to be at peace with himself, it can be said to have
fulfilled its functions. However, that is still a vague picture of religious
functioning. The picture will become clearer only when we look deeper to see
what outlook the religion has on man and suffering and how it functions to
relieve or get rid of that suffering. 

All men are born equal, but only in some respects. In many other respects,
no man is born equal to any other man. Man's mistreatment of, or wrong
attitude towards, this equality and inequality has given rise to all kinds
of problems, from the social to the spiritual ones.

 According to Buddhism, all men are equal in that they are all subject to
the same law of nature. All are subject to birth, old age and death. The law
of Karma is binding on everyone. Everyone reaps what he sows and the world
keeps going on after the Karma activities contributed to by everyone. 

Man is the best of trainable or educable beings. He has the potentiality of
self-perfection by which a life of freedom and happiness can be realized. In
order to attain this perfection,  man has to develop himself physically,
morally, psycho-spiritually and intellectually. Right development of oneself
leads naturally and by necessity to self-perfection. This is the law of the
Dharma of which the law of Karma in turn forms a part and wherefrom the
latter is derived. By this law, it entails that every individual should be
let free, if not provided with the opportunity, to develop himself so that
his potentiality can unfold itself and work its way towards perfection.
Ideally, all conditions, both social and natural, should be made favourable
to and all kinds of help should be provided for the self-development of
every individual. As Buddhism fundamentally believes in this potentiality of
man and sets the perfection of freedom, and happiness as the goal to be
achieved by every individual, freedom of self-development and the
encouragement of opportunities for it have become a foundation of the
Buddhist ethics. This is to say, in other words; that every individual has
the right to self-development.  Hence, the Buddha's repeated teachings on
the refutation of the caste system of the Hindus, and his stress on the
equality of men of all classes before the law of Karma and, ultimately,
under the law of the Dharma.  The Buddha's standpoint is that good life is
open to everyone and the highest truth is the common treasure claimable by
everybody; there can be no restriction because of castes or classes.
Moreover, he teaches the goal of freedom that is to be reached by means of
freedom and a happy means that leads to a happy end. 

If the right to self-development is denied or restricted, it is right to
struggle for it. If help and favourable conditions are not provided for it,
it is good to make exertion towards the encouragement of the same. However,
there are some words of caution. That every human being has the right to
self-development and, thus, to freedom and happiness is an imperative of the
ethics which is based on the law of the Dharma. This law enjoins, as it
were, that let a man sincerely do what is right and the process will work
out of itself a corresponding result. This means that one should act out of
wholesome motivation.  If he is to struggle, he should do it for the sake of
the Dharma, that is, for the good and for the righteous, out of love and
compassion, not for personal gains or from any selfish motives, not out of
greed or hatred. Only in this way can man attain to his righteous goal,
achieving freedom without frustrating the freedom of his fellow-beings and
winning happiness without inflicting more suffering on the world.
Otherwise, the struggle to secure the human rights for some can become an
act of appropriating the human rights of others. By knowledge of, and
practice in accordance with, the law of the Dharma, man can fulfill the
basic requirement of, to use the words of a quote in the present paper, "the
intelligence in knowing how to wage the struggle for freedom without
destroying it in the process." 

In the present study, the issue of human rights is dealt with in the context
of, and as subordinate to, that of freedom.  Professor Saneh Chamarik, its
author, has delineated how important the place of freedom is in Buddhism and
how the path to freedom pointed out by the Buddha can lead, as a corollary,
to the right solution of the problem of human rights, avoiding the dead end
of the mere material interests and transcending the confines of the craving
self.  The work is an example of how Buddhism can be presented in such a way
as to speak meaningfully to the world of today.  Such pioneer works are
needed in the various fields of human activities and academic disciplines
through which Buddhism can prove itself the real guide and the true help in
the right solution of the problems or in the eradication of suffering of the
modern man.

Phra Rajavaramuni (Payutto)
October 12, 1982

- - - - - - -

Buddhism and Human Rights
by Saneh Chamarik 
Faculty of Political Science
Thammasat University

"It is important for those of us who love freedom to realize that love of
freedom alone is not enough; that freedom may well depend on our capacity to
realize a multiplicity of conflicting values simultaneously, in a
socio-economic and political setting that makes this possible, and that the
singleminded pursuit of a single value, or a single goal, is the greatest
enemy of freedom This struggle (for freedom) requires from ... the single
individuals who are not only willing to stand up for their own rights, but
also for those of their neighbors, a great deal of courage and tenacity, but
above all the intelligence in knowing how to wage the struggle for freedom
without destroying it in the process ... " 
		- Soedjatmoko, "Development and Freedom" 
		Ishizaka Memorial Lectures, 1979. 

The ideal of human rights, like that of democracy and many other
sociopolitical nomenclatures, has now become a beleaguered concept. It is
subject to conflicting interpretations and practices that have brought 
about confrontations around the world. The phenomenon is one of those human
ironies that seem to be much taken for granted and, worse still, with
resignation. It has become even an acceptable rule of thumb for one --
individual, class, or nation -- to preach human rights and yet act against
human rights. And this, out of strong but rigid and sectarian sense of
self-righteousness on all sides. Underlying such contradictions in human
behaviour are worldwide conflicting ideologies and class and national
interests.  Their threat to human life and dignity cannot be overemphasized.
It looms large in the forms of economic and political rivalries and
oppressions, militarism and armaments, all of which put humanity as a whole
in jeopardy.  The world today is indeed at a most critical crossroad. 

Soedjatmoko's words quoted above should very well serve as an ominous
warning to all those --earnestly -- perhaps too earnestly -- concerned with
the issues of human rights. They are articulated at a time that is in great
need of a hard rethinking, which is already long overdue, on the concept of
human rights itself.  The issues and contradictions cannot be settled by a
mere compiling of lists, however comprehensive, of human rights, such as
illustrated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International
Covenants of Economic and Social Cultural Rights, and of Civil and political
Rights.  While all these may be said to have been motivated by well-meaning
efforts to accommodate those specific issues and problems that did
empirically arise,  they seem to be lacking, in some kind of a holistic
worldview that needs to be investigated.. In the face of hard reality of
today's power politics, within and among nations, it would of course take a
long, long time indeed for the major conflicts of views and interests to
possibly come to terms with one another.  But before that comes about at all
and prior to any meaningful social and institutional innovations, there must
be a starting point, that is to say, a fresh look at the moral and spiritual
basis of the principle and practice of human rights.  Perhaps it is no mere
coincidence that serious doubts have now been raised, both in the East and
the West, as to the validity of the liberal conception of human rights.
C.G. Weeramantry, former Supreme Court judge of Sri Lanka, is one notable
example, who touching on the problem of "the inappropriateness of Western
concepts," sees the issue of inequality most relevant to the Third World's
real needs and problems, and thus stresses the need to "seek a view of
equality which means more than the perpetuation of inequality -- a view of
equality more substantial than one which means the equal right to remain
unequal." (Weeramantry, Equality and Freedom: Some Third World Perspectives,
Colombo, Hansa Publishers, 1996, p. 10)

This incidentally, only reminds one of what John Strachey some time ago
observed in Capitalism, the historical moving force of liberalism, "innate
tendency to extreme and ever growing inequality.'' (Quoted in Bottomore,
Elites and Society, NY, Basic Books, 1964 pg. 34)  

Also Fauad Ajami of Princeton University, while questioning the impartiality
or "completeness" of the concept of liberalism,  strongly and significantly,
points to the dire need for "the politics of love and compassion" as against
the conventional but now discredited politics of "realism".  (Fauad Ajami,
Human Rights and World Order Politics, NY Institute of World Order, 1978, pp

Taken together with Soedjatmoko's line of approach to the problem of
development and freedom, all this really strikes one with a deep sense of
relief and intellectual uplift. It certainly is not just an exercise in
futility to think and act in terms of "the politics of love and compassion",
and "the intelligence in knowing how to wage the struggle for freedom
without destroying it in the process". By the standard of today's politics
of realism so-called, one can imagine how revolutionary it would be if ever
love, compassion, and  intelligence come to serve as a guide to social and
political behaviour and action. But this is the crux of the whole matter.
The sad truth is that human mind is not always filled with love, compassion,
and intelligence. Whether one likes it or not, the mind always has priority
over the matter in the sense that all human behaviour and action are
basically derived from it, as the Buddha is so fully aware in His moral
precept:  "Cease to do evil; Learn to do Good, Cleanse your own heart; This
is the teaching of the Buddhas." 
And this is because: 
"All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our
thoughts and made up of our thoughts. If a man speak or act with and evil
thought, suffering follows him as a wheel follows the hoof of the beast that
draws the cart  
"... If a man speak or act with a good thought, happiness follows him like a
shadow that never leaves him."

So also with the concept and practice of human rights, which is no less
susceptible to do good or to do evil according to the states of mind on  the
part of particular individuals, classes, and nations. And, as with the human
heart, the concept of human rights no less needs to be cleansed of all the
parochialism and sectarian prejudices so as to be able to cease to do evil
and to learn to do good - the most basic problem with which Buddhism is

Contrary to what the title of this paper might suggest, there is no need at
all to search for a place of human rights in the Buddhist tradition. Freedom
is indeed the essence of Buddhism, as will be seen. Neither is Buddhism to
be presented here as another alternative ism or supplement to the current
schools of thought -- Liberalism, Socialism, and even Fascism in one form or
another -- all engaged in the crude struggle in the name of democracy and
human rights. To do so would merely add fuel to the conflicts and
contradictions already vastly harmful to the cause of human rights. But
amidst the uncompromising ideologies and forces, Buddhism could serve
positive purposes as conceptual synthesis drawing upon all the positive
values of both libertarian and egalitarian traditions, with moral and
spiritual contribution of its own. This, in Christmas Humphreys' view, "is
no weak compromise, but a sweet reasonableness which avoids fanaticism and
laziness with equal care, and marches onward without that haste which brings
its own reaction, but without ceasing."  (Christmas Humphreys, The Wisdom of
Buddhism, London, Curzon Press, 1960, pg. 21)  

In this sense, too, Buddhism is to be presented not so much in terms of
religious doctrine, but rather as a science of living whereby one can learn
to live one's life with objective understanding and the intelligence in knowing.
On Social Purpose and Progress 

However, since Buddhism, even as a science of living, tends more often than
not to be popularly prescribed and practiced with the sole concern for one's
own salvation or Nirvana, a preliminary explanation seems to be well in
order here by way of trying to examine and fathom the social and cultural
meaning of Buddhism. This is necessary for one to get a true perspective on
Buddhist thought. It goes without saying of course that this writer can
claim to be no authority on this great religion. Systematic and elaborate
treatment of specific points must be referred to scholarly sources
elsewhere. As a student of social and political affairs, the author ventures
the task, through somewhat rudimentary readings and reflection on the
subject mainly out of a growing concern for today's practical problems,
especially those problems associated with social change. Change, whether one
likes it or not, is part and parcel of our life. Life itself breeds
suffering and therefore problems the critical point is whether change could
be made for better or for worse, for more or less suffering.  Historically,
religion could play a very crucial role in this respect. Christianity
notably demonstrated its positive and innovative power in the great
reformation movement. If we are to believe in social progress, to be later
touched upon, as the criterion of human evolution leading towards a better
society and better life with freedom and justice (for an analysis of the
concept of progress see Wertheim, Evolution and Revolution, Penguin Books,
1974; for the role of Christianity in social transformation, see Tawney,
Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, Penguin Books, 1948)  

Buddhism, to this writer's mind, truly points the way. Setting out as a
social reform movement, it has its own dynamic attitude towards life and
great innovative potential. On the other hand, Buddhism, as an institution,
could also be vulnerable, again like Christianity in the Middle Ages, to a
relapse into a mere dogma incapable of living up to the new challenge, that
is, the crisis of change. There will then be a danger in that it would tend
to serve the status quo and the powers that be, instead of humankind which
is the central purpose of Buddhism. Then, again, there will be further
danger in that it could even degenerate into becoming a coercive and
oppressive instrument, instead of promoting the Path towards human
liberation which is the ultimate goal of Buddhism. If such is the case,
Buddhism, like any other religion, would need its own transformation to be
of true service to mankind. Many will no doubt frown upon this sort of
concern.  But the observation, to be sure, is in full agreement with a good
Buddhist's own norm of non-neglect of mindfulness, and seems not too far off
the mark in view of the actual situation nowadays. Such a gap between ideal
and practice, if left unbridgeable, cannot but help bring about
disintegrative effects on social and human life. 

Furthermore, we are living in a world of rapid technological change and
increasingly complex social and economic relations. In this new
environmental context, it is essential to develop a more positive social
orientation of Buddhism and translate this into practice. We have been
taught enough about how to behave ourselves morally, There is of course no
denying the fact that morally right acts and conduct are desirable and
beneficial. On closer examination, however, there is a vast difference
between doing morally good things from an individual and personal
standpoint, and from a social perspective. The two are to an extent
interacting. But if, as has been observed, in the course or historical
development, Theravada Buddhism under which many including this writer are
living, has become too oriented towards individuals' personal definition of
man's ideal rather than socio-cultural preference as stressed in Mahayana,
(see Guenther, Buddhist Philosophy in Theory and Practice, Penguin, 1972,
pp. 49-50) then one needs to rise above the past and superficial division in
order to search out the essence and the true purpose. In any case,
fortunately, the distinction here is more apparent than real. In truth,
concern for social and ethical value is fundamental throughout the Buddha's
teaching, as Phra Srivisudhimolee (presently Phra Rajavoramunee) asserts: 
"Buddha-dhamma (The Buddha's Teaching) looks into man's inner life in
relation to the external, i.e., social, value as well, and takes these twin
values as interrelated, inseparable and being in such harmony as to be one
and the same."  (Phra Srivisudhimolee, Buddha Dharma (translated from the Thai)

Finally in the field of social studies such as human rights and perhaps many
others, one can also find in the Buddhist system of thought a most objective
and relevant conceptual framework that, regrettably, tends to be overlooked.
It starts from a plain and simple premise as a pragmatic approach close to
everyday problems and presents an intellectual outlook that could serve as
an empirical basis for rational inquiries.  In the words of another leading
Buddhist scholar:

"Man has been the central problem of Buddhist philosophy.  Metaphysical
speculation concerning problems not related to human activities and the
attainment of Enlightenment -- such as whether the world is infinite or
finite, whether the soul and the body are identical or different from each
other, or whether a perfect person exists after his death -- is discouraged.
Admitting the transitoriness of everything, the Buddha did not want to
assume the existence of any metaphysical substance.  This attitude was
logically derived from his fundamental standpoint.  The Buddha reduced
things, substances and souls, to forces, movements, functions, and
processes, and adopted a dynamic conception of reality.  Life is nothing but
a series of manifestations of generation and extinction.  It is a stream of
becoming and change."  
(Hajime  Nakamura, "The Basic Teachings of Buddhism," in Dumoulin "Cultural,
Political, and Religious Significance in the Modern World, Collier Books,
NY, 1976)

 to be continued....