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"Buddhist" King is Violating Buddhist Ethics

Updated on October 1, 2009

If I were living in Thailand, I wouldn't dare to write this article. If so, it might have given me fifteen years in jail, for "lese majesty" - a concept found in Hinduism and in medieval Christianity, but actually not in Buddhism, which is supposed to be the country's state religion.

I am, however, living in a country - Sweden - which, unfortunately, is a monarchy as well; but where, fortunately, it is permitted to criticize the chief of state.

And why on earth shouldn't it?

The most basic moral principle of Thailand's official state religion, the first precept that every serious Buddhist is supposed to try to follow, is non-violence, the principle that intentional killing should not be done.

Not even by kings.

Especially not by kings.

Not by their own hands, not by giving orders to others, and not by neglecting to save a life when in a position to do so, for example by granting pardon to a condemned prisoner.

Original Buddhism was not very positive to monarchy, or to power in general. According to the traditional story, the Buddha himself was born a prince, but had to actually run away from home to avoid becoming a prince, finding it impossible to combine power and wisdom.

However, he was not in a position to change the world; so to minimize the damage caused by kings, there is a traditional list of ten royal duties (dasa-raja-dhamma). Number eight of the ten is non-violence.

Traditional Buddhist ethics does not care whether a killing is legal or illegal. If intentional, it is wrong; it does not matter whether secular law forbids it, permits it or even orders it to be done.

Killing in war is not better than killing in peace.

Murder is murder, even if legal.

And even if renamed "capital punishment".

So for a Buddhist ruler to permit a death sentence to be carried out just isn't possible. If a ruler is Buddhist, he doesn't permit it; and if he permits it, he isn't Buddhist.

Buddhism is supposed to be the state religion of Thailand. King Bhumibol is supposed to be a Buddhist, and a protector of Buddhism, and to rule in strict accordance with Buddhist ethics.

Which, unfortunately, he doesn't.

A time ago I read an article from the Bangkok Post, through Buddhist Channel, at,8497,0,0,1,0

The Bangkok Post is careful not to say anything about the king's personal responsibility - its editors may not want to spend fifteen years in jail - but it does mention the possibility of "individual Royal Pardon".

Because king Bhumibol has not granted such pardon, two men have recently been killed in cold blood by the kingdom of Thailand.

The Ten Duties of a King, as formulated in the Pali Jatakas, are:

1. Dana: Liberality, generosity, charity, concern with the welfare of the people.
2. Sila: High moral character, observing at least the Five Precepts.
3. Pariccaga: Willing to sacrifice everything for the people -- comfort, fame, even his life.
4. Ajjava: Honesty and integrity, not fearing some or favoring others.
5. Maddava: Kindness and gentleness.
6. Tapa: Austerity, content in the simple life.
7. Akkodha: Free from hatred, ill-will, and anger.
8. Avihimsa: Non-violence, a commitment to peace.
9. Khanti: Patience, tolerance, and the ability to understand others’ perspectives.
10. Avirodha: Non-obstruction, ruling in harmony with the will of the people and in their best interests.

Cited from

King Bhumibol of Thailand is not living up to these duties. He is letting people kill each other. He is sometimes in a position where he could stop it, but doesn't, and people die because of his neglect.

According to basic Buddhist principles, this makes him morally guilty of murder.


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