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The Positive Impact of Buddhism on Political (Governmental) Systems (佛教对政治的促进作用)December 2,2011



The Significant role played by Buddhism in assisting goverance of country

- Part I The Positive Impact of Buddhism on Political (Governmental) Systems 


1. India


In about 304 BC, the second emperor of the Maurya Dynasty in ancient India had a son. This son turned out to be the famous Emperor Ashoka, whose effect on history ranks first among the ancient Indian emperors, just as his popularity did. The outstanding achievements in his lifetime can be divided into two parts. In the first half of his life, Emperor Ashoka displayed his extreme, brutal imperiousness by starting the suppression of rebellions in order to establish his power and by killing his brother to seize the throne. After he ascended the throne, he ruled his kingdom internally with cruel officials and the practice of atrocities, while externally he expanded his territory by the sanguinary conquest of other countries, resulting in the period called the “Black Ashoka Era” by posterity. Emperor Ashoka’s way of doing things at this time resembled that of the First Emperor of Qin in China, the difference between them being that Emperor Ashoka held the throne much longer than the whole Qin Dynasty existed. This difference was due to his tremendous changes and deeds carried out in the latter half of his life, called the “White Ashoka Era.”


After he launched the war with Kalinga, Emperor Ashoka was shocked when he saw the scene filled with piles of dead bodies and blood being shed like water, and he deeply lamented. His inherent conscience was awakened by that moment’s deep sense of compassion. Besides, because of his repression of the people and the war against other countries for years on end, the country’s economy and the rebellion of its civilians were going to jeopardize his rule. At that time, the monarchy also cried out for a consensus of faith and culture to govern the people and bring about peace and stability, not only to this country but also to its neighbors. It was because of his deliberateness and exploration of the long-term safety and peace of his monarchy that Emperor Ashoka avoided a fate similar to that of the Qin Dynasty in China, wherein after a very short period of ruling, this dynasty was subverted by the populace for the sake of “overthrowing tyranny.”


After the war against Kalinga, Emperor Ashoka many times invited the Venerable Upagupta, the fourth generation Buddhist descendant of Sakyamuni, to discuss the strategies of governing his monarchy. Moved and inspired by Venerable Upagupta, Emperor Ashoka felt deep regret and concern about the Kalingans’ suffering during the war he initiated. Later on, he declared to his people that “the sound of war drums” had fallen silent and “the sound of Buddha dharma” took their place. Diplomatically, he frequently sent eminent Buddhist monks and sutras, and promoted Buddhist culture to his neighboring countries. Before long, Buddhism had spread throughout Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Egypt, Syria, Burma, China and other parts of the world, which helped him achieve a high international reputation during his rule of over forty years.


Afterwards, Emperor Ashoka declared Buddhism as the state religion of India. He also had the imperial decree and essential Buddhist precepts engraved on the precipice, which has become the famous Ashoka Imperial Orders of Cliff Inscriptions and Stalagmite Inscriptions. He himself made the pilgrimage to the holy remains of Sakyamuni Buddha, built stupas and visited eminent Buddhist monks in various places. He engraved the teachings of Buddha on the cliffs of scenic spots, which still stand erect. In addition, he instituted regulations to tolerate other religions, offered Jainism and Brahmanism their proper places in society and forbade them to attack each other. All these not only reflected the basic essence of Buddhism, but also embodied the governing strategies of Emperor Ashoka. Thus he effectively avoided a lot of conflict and crisis by being broad-minded enough to tolerate other religions while establishing Buddhism as the state religion.


Buddhist culture played the most magnificent and positive role in assisting in the long-term safety and peace of his monarchy. With the help of Buddhist “benevolence and wisdom,” Emperor Ashoka transformed himself from a tyrant into a wise king.


2. Tang Dynasty in China

In the fifth century AD, Bodhidharma (the 28th descendant of Buddha) brought to China the original essence of Buddha dharma. After going through the process of communication, collision and integration with Chinese Confucianism and Taoism, Zen of Mahayana gradually came into being through the process of going into the secular world to indoctrinate people. Since then, Zen has been passed on from generation to generation and has become an indispensable and substantial part of Chinese culture.


During the Tang Dynasty, China benefited from good political administration, people enjoyed religious freedom, Buddhism was wide-spread, the common people lived in peace and safety all over the country, and the neighboring countries came to pay tribute to the Chinese imperial court. The early Tang history recorded that, “only 29 people were sentenced to the death penalty this year, for which reason the criminal penalty was almost left unused. From each to west of the country, people didn’t have to lock their doors at night and travelers didn’t have to prepare their own food when they travelled around.”


In the nineteenth year of the Zhenguan Era, when Master Xuan Zang arrived in Changan after completing his great pilgrimage to India for Buddhist sutras, many monks and laymen rushed about, and all the shops in Changan were closed to celebrate this unprecedentedly grand occasion. Emperor Taizong of Tang himself wrote the preface for the holy indoctrination of Tang Triptaka in which he highly praised Master Xuan Zang and Buddhism. Emperor Gaozong of Tang was extremely mournful; as a result, he could not go to his imperial court for three days, and the title of “Great Enlightened Sage (Da Bian Jue)” was bestowed upon Master Xuan Zang.


From the time of Empress Wu Zetian to the time of Emperor Xuanzong of Tang, the different Buddhist sects sprang up like mushrooms following the rain, although each complemented the other. Buddhist sutras were expounded upon everywhere in the country. This widespread movement of Buddhism was unrivalled. Zen Master Shenxiu, the leader of the Zen sect in northern China at that time, was invited by Empress Wu Zetian to be the teacher of the country. He was called “Dharma-lord in Changan and Luoyang, the teacher of three emperors.” Master Shenxiu was not only proficient in Buddha dharma, but also in many doctrines, such as metaphysics, the Book of Changes (Zhou Yi), Qimen, the Yi numbers (Yi-shu), Liu-want and Lao Tzu. During that period, the high regard and pursuit of Buddhism was so powerful that Li Shi, the scholar-bureaucrat of the Tang dynasty, was prompted to say, “Only when people worship Buddha reverently can a monarch gain the loyalty of his subjects, parents gain the filial piety of their children, a country be well administered and a family be at peace.” He thought that Buddhism had made remarkable contributions not only in preaching to people to do good deeds and helping them engage in purified thought, but also in safeguarding the safety, peace and prosperity of the society as a whole.


3. Song Dynasty Of China

During the period of the northern Song Dynasty and the southern Sung Dynasty, different sects of Buddhism, especially Zen, evolved further on a localized basis. It was widely propagated among civilians with the popularization and spread of typography. In the seventh year of Qingli, during the reign of Emperor Ren Zong of Song, Eunuch Liyong ning wrote a petition to the throne to have his own residence transformed into a Zen temple. Following Emperor Ren Zong’s intention to encourage the spread of Zen in northern China, he named the temple “Shifang Jingyin Temple.”


The imperial court attached much support to the translation of Buddhist sutras and gave positive support to Buddhism. It had become common practice for both court officials and the common people to respect, explore and believe in Buddhism. At that time, Zen Master Yongming Yanshou combined the core ideology of Zen, namely “by passing on the exact experience of their own minds by Zen masters to their disciples without the use of words. Thus they could achieve complete enlightenment and the comprehension of the true nature of his life, while comprehending the theories and practical methods of other sects which he quoted in detail in order to “be proficient in Zen practice and the indoctrination of Buddhism, rating them both of equal importance.” This had a profound influence on the officials. The successive prime ministers (in feudal China), the Military Affairs Commissioners and assistant administrators in the Song Dynasty such as Mengzheng, Fubi, Zhaott , Fanzhongyan, Wangsui, Zhangfanoping, Wanganshi, Ligang, Zhangiun and some crucial officials in the imperial court including Wangshu, Yangi, Sushi, Huangfinigian, Zhangiucheng, etc., all had a strong connection with Buddhism. Even lay Buddhists (Grha-pati) frequently benefited from monks’ inspiring words. Through good integration connecting Confucianism and Taoism, Buddhism had been commonly accepted by the upper-class people in society. Meanwhile, the discovery of science and technology in China reached its culmination: three of the four Inventions in ancient China were completed during this period, which was regarded as “the rejuvenation period of Chinese culture” by some Western historians because of its extreme prosperity in economy and culture.


Because in the Song Dynasty, the imperial court attached great importance to the development of commerce and handcrafts, and tolerated and supported multiple cultures, it has become an incomparable era in Chinese history during which prosperity flourished, the peoples were well-off, Buddhism thrived and science and technology were being advanced.


4. Taiwan

In contemporary Taiwan, the theory of “earthly Buddhism” has advanced to the level of showing loving care for society from the early stage of adapting to the needs of society. Buddhist groups in Taiwan were so well-organized and capable of launching different activities beneficial to society that it is incomparable to any other religions, including Christianity. Buddhist newspapers and periodicals, radio stations, TV programs and popularized speeches on Buddhism can be found everywhere. The social status and cultural quality of Buddhism has reached an unprecedented height in history. It has become commonplace for monks to teach in universities by virtue of their own academic capacities. A benign interaction between Buddhism and society has been formed by means of scholarships promoting Buddhist theses, Buddhist organizations, summer camps for students, etc., which not only promoted the levels of these Buddhist groups in relation to Buddhism’s beliefs, organization and cultural standards, but also gave impetus to the cultural accomplishments of the populace as well as the stability and prosperity of Taiwan.


When an earthquake happened in Taiwan in 1999, among the non-governmental organizations providing disaster relief for the earthquake victims, the Tzu Chi Foundation and other Buddhist groups were the most efficient ones, arrived the earliest and were generally more easily recognized by the earthquake victims and society in general. Furthermore, Buddhism in Taiwan plays a very important role in higher education in that region. So far, a lot of universities have been established, such as Nanhua University, Tzu Chi University, Xuanzang University and Huafan University among others, which have a positive impact on universal education and inculcates moral ideas to the juveniles in society.


                           佛教对政治的辅佐意义- 第一部分:佛教对政治的促进作用










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