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by 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.)

"How is it that taking care of others means as well taking care of oneself?
It is by tolerance, by non-harming, by love, by compassion.  That is how
taking care of others means as well taking care of oneself.

"Monks. When thinking that 'We shall take care of ourselves' we also ought
to exercise Right Mindfulness.  When thinking that 'We shall take care of
others', we also ought to exercise Right Mindfulness.  Taking care of
oneself means as well taking care of others.  taking care of others means as
well taking care of oneself."  (Mahavagga Sangyutta-Nikaya, as cited in Phra
Srivisudhimolee, op.cit. p 187)

Thus the ideal goal "to know the self" is by no means a one-sided affair.
It always involves the two sides of the same coin: one's own life and p lace
and those of others, always bearing in mind that all are neither permanent
nor absolutely impermanent.  It means much further beyond the Utilitarian
type of "The greatest happiness of the greatest number" concept which is
based on the sole consideration of individuals' transient likes and
dislikes, i.e., pleasures and pains.  The Buddhist ideal always looks to a
pattern of social relations based on a type of morality that is none other
than "the outcome and corollary of knowledge grounded in freedom".  (H.V.
Guenther, op.cit., p 50)

Underlying this unique morality is the mutually positive and creative
attitude of mind, in inter-personal relationship, described as the Four
Brahmaviharas (Sublime States of Consciousness: metta (loving kindness),
karuna (compassion, forbearance), mudita (sympathetic joy), and upekkha
(equanimity).  Indeed, it is the intellect and moral ability to know and
perceive through the whole truth of human existence that determines an
individual's true deliverance and his shared value in society.  In his last
analysis, again, the Buddha makes it clear,

"Monks.  A dhamma, whenever born into the world, must needs be for the
benefit of the majority of people, for the sake of needs, interest, and
happiness of the majority of people."  (Itivattaka)


We have gone through the subject of freedom and human rights against the
background of the evolutionary concept of human progress and emancipation.
It is suggested that the emancipation principle is conceptually in line with
Buddhism's ultimate goal.  Buddhists do not conceive of human value merely
in terms of survival for survival's own sake which by itself hardly makes
human beings much different from other beings.  But both give a positive and
creative sense of purpose in human evolution, that is, progress and freedom.
The difference between the two is rather in degree than in kind but which is
nevertheless fundamentally significant.  The emancipation principle is
concerned with human liberation from the forces of nature and, like
Buddhism, from human domination.  Only that the concept of social evolution
sees the problem of human domination in terms of conflicts between
individuals, groups, classes, races, states, nations, etc.  And this is also
the general state and outlook of modern social sciences at present.
Buddhism goes further and deeper into the inner world of man himself: that
is, the problem of deliverance from the transient self to the true self.  A
suggestion has also been made that the basic approach of Buddhism could well
be introduced and integrated into the conceptual framework of our social

This paper has further dealt with some main streams of thought in connection
with the question of freedom and human rights: natural law and Plato's
prototype of the notion of master or ruling class.  It is observed that
these lines of approach succeed only too well in bringing about further
exploitation and domination of man by man.  The school of natural law seems
to be in alliance with Buddhism in its belief and faith in man as
individual, but then it starts with only a partial truth about human nature.
It is again pointed out that Buddhism could fill the gap and, in particular,
that Buddhism has as well a clear social purpose and morality based, not
simply on the acquisitive and destructive instinct of man as taken for
granted in the school of natural law, but essentially on man's altruistic
outlook and attitude that is the result of his own deliverance through
knowledge (Hajime Nakamura, op. cit. p 26) 

At this point, a question may arise in the readers mind: Are people actually
talking about the same thing, the same definition of freedom and human
rights?  The answer seems to be both yes and no.  No because different
schools of thought conceive of the problem at different levels and in
different lights.  Some simply, as has been observed of the school of
natural law, see man and his behaviour such as it appears to be and then
take it as reality.  Current social "scientists" also fall into this
category.  It is basically a static view of human nature and problems, as
exemplified for instance by the structural-functional approach.  It has
already been harmful in countries with "liberal" tradition.  When naively
transferred to the Third World countries, it only serves as retrogressive
intellectual force and outlook.  But it is a most easy and convenient way
out for "empirical" and 'behavioural" methods so-called.  Still many others
belonging to the school of master class compels of both extreme Right and
extreme Left, claim a brand of the dynamic conception of man and history and
look to the question of human freedom in terms of the bright sunshine far
into the future.  But then, knowingly or unknowingly, they turn out to be
the outstanding force of total subjugation of mankind.

The answer could also be yes, if it is admitted that various views represent
only various parts of the whole story.  It is like blind men in the Buddha's
familiar parable, being asked to touch an elephant to tell what it would be

"And to one man he presented the head of the elephant, to another the ear,
to another a tusk, the trunk, the foot, back, tail, and tuft of the tail:
saying to each one that was the elephant ...

"Then they began to quarrel, shouting 'Yes, it is!'
'No, it isn't!'
"'An elephant isn't that!' 'Yes, it is like that', and so on, till they came
to fisticuffs about the matter.
"Just so are those sectarians who are wanderers, blind, unseeing, knowing
not the truth, but each maintaining it is thus and thus."  (The Wisdom of
Buddhism, op. cit. p. 83)

Just so are those sectarian views on freedom and human rights of today.
Indeed the ideal of human rights has too long been suffering from all kinds
of parochialism and sectarianism, not to say of those diehard opponents who
set themselves against human progress and dignity.  Buddhism offers an
attempt at conceptualization and approach in order to see the whole truth,
and to show the path accordingly.  Far from being fatalistic about life, it
looks beyond what appears to be man's nature and inclinations, and into
creative and constructive potential within man from first to last stages of
human solution. All of which constitute the scope and meaning of human
liberation and human rights.

With this perspective in mind, this paper represents one modest attempt,
under the limitation both of space and scholarship, to inquire into the true
meaning and purpose of Buddhism from the standpoint of universal humanity,
as distinguished from institutional Buddhism as state religion.  The
presentation is no mere eulogy of this great religion (Why should it need
one, by the way?_, conceived of here a path, rather than doctrinal
postulates that tend to blind faiths and superstitions as well as
nationalistic chauvinism, at the expense of truth, knowledge, wisdom, and
enlightenment.  Human liberation and peace and hence progress -- is at the
heart of Buddhism throughout.  In the last analysis, however, it is
deliberately left to man's own choice; either man will elect, with fortitude
and perseverance, tot take the path of reason and dignity; or he will
deviate to that of ignorance and blind interests.  The freedom of choice
here may be regarded as both strength and weakness of Buddhism.  But there
lies also both the strength and weakness inherent in human nature itself
which has been so aggravated by misguided modernization and development from
the historical past.  At any rate, and in spite of it, Buddhism
perseveringly takes to an optimistic view of man for his aptitude for
goodness and hence for compassion which would incline him to the right path.
In fact this sense of optimism seems to be shared by a growing number of
those who struggle for freedom.  But to make the struggle truly meaningful
and constructive, that is, "with the intelligence in knowing how to wage the
struggle for freedom without destroying it in the process," the choice will
have to be made.  And this first and foremost calls for the sovereignty of
mankind; instead of materials things which by and large come to be enslaving
human mind and action in the present industrial and technological age.

Mankind!  What a majestic word, so ambiguous and so much abused!  It all
depends on how one sees and defines it.  Is it just to be seen in terms of a
quantitative entity, as tends more often than not to be referred to as the
aggregate of various races or peoples?  This kind of mental outlook will
forever justify the continuing division and discrimination between "the
superior few" and "the inferior multitude" in the Platonic sense and
therefore the continuing domination of man by man.  Unfortunately, in the
same industrial and technological age, that also means conflicts, unrest,
and violence.  Either way is endangering human and social existence.  There
is thus a great need for a more objective conception of mankind, as well
clarified by Professor Masao Abe of Nara University of Education, Kyoto:

"What is of paramount importance today, is to internalize and grasp
'mankind' as a qualitative concept.  We must grasp it as a single, living,
self-aware entity.  For without doing so, we can never overcome the
conflicts between nations which we are facing, and we cannot bring true
peace to the world.  Without doing so, we cannot build a profound and rich
human society which is permeated by individual freedom and special
characteristics of races and cultures, and wherein all men live in harmony
with each other."  (Masao Abe, Sovereignty Rests with Mankind: unpublished
paper, pp 2-1)

Indeed, this is typical of Buddhist way of appealing to reason.  The task of
internalizing and grasping 'mankind' as a qualitative concept is of course
no easy matter.  Abe's philosophical appeal may have the same kind of
weakness as Schumacher's concept of Buddhist economics which "suffers from
the fact that it is based more upon his interpretation of Buddhist ideals
than upon a knowledge of actual experiences of followers of Buddhism who
have to adapt these ideals to practical actions."  (Charles Keyes, "Buddhist
Economics in Practice (Visakha Puja, B.E. 2522, p 19)

This may be so.  But historically it was, and still is, the same dilemma
with any ideals that have anything to do with the problem of social
transformation required for restoring and promoting respect for human
dignity and human rights.  The fact is also that at least its intellectual
and spiritual forces are emerging and growing.  And, in the fact of the
widening gaps and disparities, conflicts and violence, such spiritual pleas
could well serve notice to the privileged and the haves how to initiate the
moves along the lines of reason and progress.  In particular they are in a
good position to make the farsighted call for the "truce on inequality" (C.
G. Weeramantry, op. cit. pp 1--11) peacefully come true.  This, again, is a
matter of human choice.  But, in addition to thinking and actions on
economic and political fronts, the real and long-term solution towards
internalizing and grasping mankind as a qualitative concept and the
intelligence in knowing how to wage the struggle for freedom without
destroying it in the process, certainly points to the primacy of education.
This is well expressed in the Kyoto Declaration recently adopted by the
First Conference of Scientists and Religious Leaders on the Shaping of the
Future of Mankind, which reads in part:

" 4.  Basic changes in the present educational system are necessary to make
the children more responsible for future.  To this end we urge that
education should be based upon true values that emphasize the dignity and
equality of human beings, reverence for life and nature, and the
interdependence of all things.  Religious values should be included in the
teaching where possible." (International Conference of Scientists and
Religious Leaders: Proceedings, 1979, p. 1.  Also similar emphasis on
education in the Gotemba Declaration, adopted by the First Pacific Regional
Conference of Amnesty International, Japan, 2-5 June, 1976; and in the
Declaration adopted by the Seminar for Human Rights Working Groups, Asia
Forum for Human Rights, Hong Kong, 23-30 April, 1978)

To such creative and objective educational and cultural purposes, Buddhism
can certainly make a great contribution.  In this connection, however, one
final point should be made clear.  Buddhism, as a science of living, always
aims at expounding the universal truth about human life and existence and
problems with a view to liberation and progress.  But, true to its spirit of
freedom and tolerance, Buddhism never lends itself to a claim for being a
superior or all-embracing religion.  And this presentation is not meant to
do so either.  To be also true to the spirit of Buddhism, one must guard
against turning oneself into another kind of sectarian, wandering, blind,
unseeing, knowing not the truth.  In short, Buddhism basically points to the
middle way between unity and diversity which constitute true humanity, and
which must be recognized.  As Joseph M. Kitagawa reminds us thus:

"...Basically, all religions address themselves to human existence, and as
such they share a concern with universal humanity.  And yet, religions must
address themselves not to human existence in abstracto but to
man-in-a-particular-society-and-culture, with the firm conviction that one
humanity has within it infinite possibilities which can be actualized in
various historic forms of societies and cultures, all of which must be taken
seriously.  Moreover, all religions, however universalistic their
orientations may be, have their own social bases, i.e., religious
communities, each with its own particularities.  (Joseph M. Kitagawa,
"Religion as a Principle of Integration and Cooperation for a Global
Community: in International Conference of Scientist and Religious Leaders,
ibid.  pp 84-85)

Saneh Camarik
Faculty of Political Science
Thamasat University
Bangkok October 1979