Buddhism on Justice and Injustice

The Buddhist approach to justice begins with individual behavior. The moral law of karma, in which good actions generate positive consequences and bad actions negative ones, is at its core. Buddhism has proved historically compatible with any number of different political forms. Because it has traditionally been centered on the monastery, Buddhism has limited itself to general social prescriptions—the five precepts of good conduct (not to kill, steal, lie, commit sexual wrong, or partake of intoxicants)—and tended to acknowledge the existing political regime. Rulers, in turn, have often patronized the sangha, providing a mixture of protection and resources, in return for the blessing of the monks—and the wider political legitimacy it afforded them. These basic arrangements go back as far as King Ashoka on the Indian subcontinent in the third century BCE and continue through many contemporary democratic and autocratic regimes in Buddhist-majority countries. The last two decades have seen the growth of socially engaged Buddhism in Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Burma), and support for the Dalai Lama and greater Tibetan autonomy from China among Buddhists based in North America and Europe.