Remaking Law through use of Buddhist Jurisprudence
Posted on May 8th, 2014

by Senaka Weeraratna

In the pre ” colonial era, Asia had a number of highly successful civilizations that are the subject even today of intense academic discussion. They were based in India (Chola, Pandya, Chera, Pallava), Sri Lanka (Sinhala Buddhist), China(Sui, Tang, Ming, Song, Mongol Empire also called Yuan, and Qing dynasty), Korea (Goryeo), Tibet (Vajirayana Buddhist), Japan (Kamakura, Edo), Vietnam (L½ and Trần Dynasties), South East Asia (Champa, Anghor Cambodia, Pagan Burma, and Dvaravati, Sukhothai, Ayutthaya Kingdoms of Thailand) and Sri Vijaya, Sailendra, Mataram and Majaphai Kingdoms of Indonesia, among others.

Civilizations display intricate cultures, including literature, professional art, architecture, organized religion, complex customs associated with the elite and effective legal systems. Without a supporting legal system it is not possible to achieve a successful civilization. Asian civilizations produced enviable systems of jurisprudence that lasted over millennia and were heavily influenced by either Hinduism (e.g. laws of Manu) or Buddhism (e.g. Vinaya Code) or a combination of both schools of thought and Confucian thinking.

With the entry of European influence beginning from the 15th century into Asia, the economies of Asian countries began to collapse under the weight of aggressive foreign colonial expansion leading to the marginalization of Eastern wisdom and jurisprudence and its gradual replacement by European influenced laws and legal systems ( Roman ”Dutch law, Anglo ” American laws, German Civil Code and the French Code Napol©on).

Darkness fell on Asian legal systems running for over a couple of centuries during colonial rule and modern day legal education in Asia being more or less exclusively in the hands of closed minds trained in Western capitals it was unfashionable to think outside the box or even to suggest that our forebears and ancestors were legally smart and astute people with highly developed forensic skills and judicial and philosophical temperament replete with compassion, decisiveness and equity.

Imitating Western legal traditions and getting accepted by the Occident paid far more dividend than trying to discover your local jurisprudential roots lying buried in the distant past. It needs brave souls to go against the grain of received wisdom and say enough is enough. There is also another important pragmatic reason from a western point of view. As Professor David Loysays:

“In an increasingly globalized world it is important that our ( i.e. Anglo ” American) jurisprudence be no longer tied exclusively to a European worldview that is somehow dated but should instead be informed by the best that other cultures have developed. Among the best are the sophisticated religious and philosophical traditions of South Asia and East Asia”

Conference on Buddhist Jurisprudence in Sri Lanka 2014

In such context it is heartening to note that a band of Sri Lankan lawyers led by Mr. Prasantha Lal de Alwis, PC and Mr. Manohara de Silva, PC have embarked upon a pioneering mission namely to discover our laws and ancient legal systems based on Buddhist Jurisprudence and then strive to influence and enrich both domestic and international law with Buddhist legal concepts.

They have proceeded to organize with the support of the Lakshman Kadiragamar Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKCIRSS) a two day Conference entitled “UNIVERSALIZING BUDDHIST JURISPRUDENCE” which will be held at the Lakshman Kadiragamar Center on May 10 and 11th  2014.

The keynote speaker at the Conference will be the Chief Justice of Bhutan Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye.

The Programme which is attached covers a number of branches of the law ranging from Constitutional Law and Human Rights, Criminal Law, Family Law / Environmental Law, International Law / Theology and Commercial Law. Though much of the focus will be on remaking law to make the world a better place for humans, neither the environment nor its non ” human living creatures have been overlooked. The Buddhist moral community includes all living beings and they are all entitled to be protected by laws enacted and influenced by Buddhist jurisprudence.

In the Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta (Digha Nikaya of the Sutta Pitaka) the Buddha in spelling out the duties of an ideal ruler i.e. Cakkavatti King (man of virtue and righteousness inspired by Buddhist vision and ethics e.g. Metta, Karuna, Muditha and Upekkha), declared:

“The Cakkavatti King (Righteous King) will give protection, shelter and ward both to the different classes of human beings, and also to birds and beasts”.

Senaka Weeraratna

Attorney ” at ” Law

LL.B. (University of Sri Lanka), and Master of Laws (Monash University, Australia).

Diploma (Buddhist Studies) and Master of Arts (Buddhist Studies) from the Post ” Graduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka.

4 Responses to “Remaking Law through use of Buddhist Jurisprudence”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    Muslim law is part of SL law.
    Vesawalami law is part of SL law.

    But Buddhist law is NOT part of ANY law of SL. This is discriminatory. AT LEAST this should be fixed.

    There is NO HOPE even that will happen because our politicians CANNOT OFFEND Muslims and Tamils!!

    Buddhism gets supreme place in the CON-STITUTION but it is only name sake. NO politician had the guts to give MEANING to it.

  2. Nanda Says:

    There is no need for a “Buddhist Law”. No such law exists. There are no “Buddhist Extremists” ( this word created by some idiot).
    Instead, there should be anti expansion laws for Muslims, Tamils , Catholics, evangelists and you name it , all anti-Sinhala groups.

  3. douglas Says:

    Mr. Senaka Weeraratne: In referring to Conference on Buddhist Jurisprudence in Sri Lanka 2014, in that first paragraph your mentioned ….”Buddhist legal concepts”. I do not agree with that terminology. As I understand, there are no “legal concepts” except, of course, your reference is to a term named “VINAYA”, which again is not a “legal concept”. If you meant “Vinaya” it is nothing but “constructive adherence to conceived truths”. So it is all about a concept of conceivable capacity of each person. That is why the whole of Buddhist psychology is centered on the basics of “Intelligence and Mind”. In that concept, it is stated: “As you “see” – so you “feel”; As you “feel” – so you “think”; As you “think” – so you “will”; As you “will” – so you “act”.

    As Nanda said “There is no need for a “Buddhist Law” that does not exist. So what is needed is nothing but each person’s self realization, conceive the truth and adhere (experience) to that realized truth to achieve whatever the goal you are looking towards to. If at least the people understand and conceive correctly and adhere to the two words- “GACHCHAMI” and “SAMADIYAMI” that the Buddhists recite on a daily basis our Sri Lanka could be an example to the whole world. Unfortunately, our people led by most “Guardians of Buddhism – the Priests” and the Leaders, (both Political and Social) pay only “LIP SERVICE” to Buddha’s Teachings and have become great “EXHIBITIONISTS” resulting in bringing in “Misery” than “Peace and Happiness”.

    So in the circumstances anyone trying on a project of “Remaking Law through use of Buddhist Jurisprudence” must first show to the world by EXAMPLE OF SETTING UP A COUNTRY ON ADHERENCE rather than merely resorting to DISCOURSE.

  4. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    Lorenzo: I absolutely agree with you. Nanda is not right. Some of the first laws in ancient India that was written for all to see and those who can read to read was from the Buddhist Emperor Ashoka. He not only erected remarkable pillars (These massive extremely tall pillars were made out of a single boulder. They are unlike the Roman or Greek pillars which were made of blocks stacked on top of each other) across his vast empire which espounded on these laws, but had them carved on rocks.
    When Buddhism spread across India the “civic” nature of Buddhism put emphasis on the well being of the average person. tree lined Roads, rest homes, veterinarian hospitals, etc sprang up in Buddhist India. The civic nature of Buddhism in ancient Sri Lanka does not need further explanation. It was due to Buddhism that Sri Lanka emerged as one of two ancient nations (China being the other) with an unbroken written history of herself.

    The problem with our political leaders is that they have to appeal to all segments of the society. When they speak at any particular faith’s function they extol the virtues of it. It does not matter whether they are addressing Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims or Atheists, for in order to maintain control they have to pay lip service to their electorate. It comes with the job. They are not evil people, they are Politicians.

    But the Buddhist Sanga (order) is dedicated to one faith in particular. the faith that defined the culture of Sri Lanka through the ages. None of the others were central to Sri Lanka’s ancient civilization. Hindus and Muslims may have been a part of it but without them Sri Lanka’s history would not be altered. The Christian (British) Empire however went out of its way to alter the nations culture.

    The main contributing factor of the British Empire is it imparted the modern state, the modern city, and the modern way of governance. The rest such as the railways etc. could have been achieved without their rule as in the case of China, Thailand or Japan that never were Colonized in the manner the sub continent was and yet have emerged as dynamic economies of the 21st century.

    But as things always change Sri Lanka has to evaluate what role she is going to play after the longest war in modern Asian history. The Western notions of Secularism that allows abortion, minority rights over the majority, separation of church and state are failing in the very lands they were born. In this context and in the context of the post war on Hindu Tamil terrorism I personally believe the old Buddhist order that sustained Sri Lanka for 2500 years can sustain her for another 2500 years. Buddhism above all other faiths and philosophies is the most flexible and accommodating if left to flourish without outside attacks.

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