A virtue needed by all beings, both human and animal, justice is the result of men’s treatment to their fellow human beings, other beings or even their natural surroundings in the way believed to be fair in accordance with the religious as well as the legal principles. However, it is an abstract element, unable to be touched but able to be felt by heart. The society, where there exists the justice, is assured to enjoy peace, tranquility and equality as well. In such society, the law can be enforced in the full scale, and the religious teachings can be applied effectively. But how justice arises, and how justice can be achieved and implanted in the global community are the ‘everlasting’ questions pending solution by the religions, legal instruments, education systems as well as by human beings themselves. This article is going to deal with the Buddhist concept concerning justice, the Buddhist approaches to create justice and the Buddhist contributions to social justice in the society.


What is Justice?


The term “Justice” is possibly equivalent to a Pali word of “Yuttidhamma”or “Yuktidharma” in Sanskrit, which means ‘the principle of impartiality’ or ‘the righteous principle on which the treatment of either man-to-man or man to his fellow beings even his surroundings is based and kept in balance’. As earlier mentioned, justice is abstract and difficult to understand. To make clear what justice is requires the explanation in the opposite term, i.e., to talk about ‘prejudice’ or ‘partiality’. According to Buddhism, there are four kinds of prejudice, consisting of the prejudice caused by ‘Love’(Chandagati), ‘Hatred’(Dosagati), ‘Delusion’(Mohagati) and ‘Fear’(Bhayagati). This sounds quite different from the concept in general which holds that there are just 2 kinds of prejudice, namely, ‘Love-based prejudice’ and ‘Hatred-based prejudice’. There is no need to elaborate the first two kinds of prejudice as they have already been well acquainted to all. That worth explanation are the last two kinds: the prejudice caused by delusion and that caused by fear.


It is admitted that in the context of decision-making, the all-embracing knowledge, experiences, perfect information and thorough consideration (Yoniso manasikara) are needed, not to mention the ‘SWOT’ analysis, which cannot be absolutely overlooked. In spite of this, some failures sometimes still arise. Specifically, should discrete appraisal or Yoniso manasikara be excepted, what will happen is very horrible to imagine of. The delusion (Moha) or, in another word, lack of knowledge, experiences and information that are sufficient and supportive, leads to the rise of prejudice, either intentionally or unintentionally. Another element that significantly influences the decision-making procedure is ‘fear’ (Bhaya), or the decision made under the pressure staged by an influential person or group like political as well as interest groups that exercise their power to the extent that the decision made is distorted. These two kinds of prejudice, it can be said, may bring about, to the society, negative effects which are more aggravated than those caused by love and hatred.


As a matter of fact, Buddhism is the religion of ‘wisdom’. Thus, in all the practical processes ranging from the beginning to the highest level, wisdom is an inevitable agent, lack of which the result will be otherwise. Moreover, ‘Bhaya’ or fear is, of course, nothing but an external power that threats the decision-making or Dhamma-practicing process. It can be compared to an ‘ill-wisher’ or ‘Mara’ in Pali term, who is always attempting to find chance to either tease or tempt the practitioners to go astray and, at last, fail to achieve their goal.


Then it can be conclusively defined here that the treatment process that is deprived of the above-mentioned four kinds of prejudice is called ‘Justice’.


Buddhist Concept of Justice


As an atheistic religion, Buddhism denies the existence of God or any external power that is believed to determine the fate of man as he wishes, whilst guaranteeing human competency in respect of self-development, self-reliance and future-shaping through man’s own action, i.e., the ‘Law of Kamma’ or, in other word, the ‘Law of Cause and Effect’. A Buddhist proverb says, ‘As a farmer reaps whatever crop he grows, so man is due to receive whatever result of his own action, either wholesome or unwholesome. If he does good action, he is due to receive good result, and vice versa’. There are more of the Buddha’s sayings in the Pali Text confirming the principle, for example,


-‘It is your duty to make your own effort. I am merely the pointer of the way.’


-‘Have yourself as your own refuge, O Bhikkhus, and do not have others as such. Have the Dhamma as their own refuge, and do not have others as such.’


In the Vasettha Sutta in Majjhima Nikaya (the Pali Text of Middle-Length Discourses) dealing with two young Brahmans named Vasettha and Bharadavaja who had a controversial attitude in respect of ‘pure birth’ according to the caste system in Hiduism, and decided to take the case to the Lord Buddha for judgment, the Lord Buddha said (in Pali),


‘Na jacca vasalo hotina jacca hoti brahmano.

Kammuna vasalo hotikammuna hoti brahmano.’

(Not by his birth man is an outcaste or a Brahman;

Only by his own Kamma man becomes an outcaste or a Brahman.)


Moreover, it is unbelievable that even in the community of those who believe in a theistic religion, there still exists a proverb saying like ‘God helps those who help themselves.’


Sir Rabindranath Tagore, a well-known Indian philosopher and a Nobel Price laureate, once said in his ‘Gitanjali’ under the topic of ‘Fruit Gathering’ as follows:


Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers,

but to be fearless in facing them.

Let me not beg for the stilling of may pain’

but for the heart to conquer it.

Let me not look for allies in life’s battle-field,

but to be my own strength.

Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved,

but hope for the patience to win my freedom.


Sir Edwin Arnold, an English poet, in his world-famous work ‘The Light of Asia’(page 138) also said:


‘Pray not! The darkness will not brighten! Ask

Nought from the silence, for it cannot speak!

Vex not your mournful minds with pious pains!

Ah! Brothers, Sisters! Seek.

Nought from the helpless gods by gift and hymn;

Nor bribe with blood, nor feed with fruits and cakes;

Within yourselves deliverance must be sought;

Each man his prison makes.’


Here is the principle of justice indeed! And this leads to a conclusion that ‘Buddhism is the religion of human beings, by human beings and for human beings’.


Buddhist Approach to Justice


The introduction of the law of Kamma instead of the external power exercised by god or gods, which was, at the inception of Buddhism, the major powerful faith occupying the entire society emphasized the role of the Lord Buddha in a courageous attempt to create the justice-based society in the subcontinent. The first evidencecan be detected from the principle of belief laid down for the new-comers to Buddhism that starts with (1) belief in Kamma or one’s own action, (2) belief in effect of Kamma, (3) belief that one is due to reap the effect of Kamma he has already done, and (4) belief in the Exalted One’s enlightenment. There may be some argument that the last of the four beliefs is distinctively an element of faith in external power, the answer to which is that Buddhists are not taught to believe in the Lord Buddha as Almighty God who solely possesses the power to determine man’s fate, but, on the contrary, taught to believe in what had been enlightened by the Lord Buddha through His insight-wisdom like the Four Noble Truth, the Noble Eight-fold Path and so on.


Another example lies in the revolutionary teaching in aspect of the caste system to be substituted by the virtue-oriented system as the Lord Buddha once said in the Ambattha Sutta in Digha Nikaya (the Pali Text of Lengthy Discourses) that ‘To those who are troubled with birth and caste, the caste of monarchy is considered supreme. However, he who is perfect in the principle of knowledge and the code of conduct is supreme among celestial and human beings.’


Not only does Buddhism expect the availability of justice among the human community, but even the animal world as well as natural surroundings should also enjoy the virtue. Take for example the re-interpretation of the five Brahmanical sacrifices in light of Buddhism.


1.Assamedha that means the horse sacrifice was changed to Sassamedha, the meaning of which is the knowledge in the development of rice or agricultural products.


2.Naramedha that means human sacrifice was reinterpreted as Purisamedha meaning to render help to the people instead of killing them.


3.Sammapasa that formerly implied a series of sacrificial rites in connection with a hoop or noose was re-interpretted as a philanthropic movement implemented by the government or head of a community in the form of a moral hoop or noose to fasten the minds of the people with.


4.Vajapeyya that means the immolation of seventeen kinds of animal in the sacrifice, the meaning of which was changed to ‘drinking the water of wholesome speech.


5.Niraggala formerly implying the wholesale slaughter of both human beings and animals was newly defined as the abolition of all obstacles or crimes to the extent that people are so peacefully content and happy.


Above all, the justice in the Buddhist concept that transcends all kinds of the justice as earlier mentioned is the justice toward one’s own self, viz. the perfect liberation of one’s mind off the influence of defilements or Kilesas, which is the ultimate goal of Buddhism. It is considered an absolute prejudice toward his own self so far as man lets himself fall under the yoke of defilements, the cruelest master, and become their faithful servants. Once the Lord Buddha said, ‘Be hurry, O Bhikkhus, to paddle your boat till it shall reach the other side of the river bank.’


Buddhist Contributions to Social Justice


Through its long history of over 2550 years, Buddhism has contributed so much to the social justice, beginning with the destruction of the caste system which resulted in the equilibrium of human beings in consistence with the proverb that says, ‘All men are born equal’, and introduction of the virtue-oriented system in its place, followed by the challenging admission of ladies to get ordained as Bhikkhuni, which means nothing but upgrading the status of females to be equal to that of males, despite the fact that the problem of equal rights between men and women still remains unanswerable so far in the age of globalization.


There exist more evidences in the issue, to mention just few as follows:


-The establishment of the ‘Law of Cause and Effect’ implies the denial of the existence of God, the source of the external power, that may effect the prejudice because of love, hatred, delusion and fear as earlier mentioned.


-The seniority system applied in the ecclesiastical circle, regardless of whatever category of birth they belong to, guarantees the fundamental nature of Buddhism that places a significant emphasis on the accumulated virtues by means of doing good or wholesome actions.


-The self-development steps that begins with the control of physical and verbal behaviors or Sila (Precept), followed by the control of mind or Samadhi (Meditation) and culminating with Panna (Insight-wisdom) ensures the self-purification process that must be performed by one’s own self, not by others nor any external power, as says a Buddhist verse, ‘Suddhi asuddhi paccattam nanno nannam visodhaye’ (purity and impurity is the matter of an individual; one can, by no means, purify another).




It is not an exaggeration to say that Buddhism is a single religion that does recognize the competency of human beings to solve all the problems confronting the world, no exception even to the problem of prejudice or lack of justice. Justice can be developed through the principle of the Buddhist Teachings. However, the propagation of Buddhism is not effective enough in lack of active cooperation of all Buddhist traditions and Sects. The Second World Buddhist Forum hosted by the Chinese Buddhist Association with a strong support from the Chinese Government, it can be said, will be accounted as a spring board for the active and energetic spread of the Buddhist Teachings as ‘Message of Social Justice’ to all corners of the world, with the joint attempt of all Buddhists and Buddhist organizations, regardless of whatever tradition or sect they are attached to. This is for the sake of peacefulness, happiness and well-being of the world.


By the Graces of the Triple Gem, may the Conference be successful and fruitful, and those who are organizers and supporters achieve the highest goal in Buddhism. May all beings be happy in the spirit of the Dhamma.

‘Ciram Titthatu Buddhasasanam : May Buddhism last long for ever.’

(Author: Thanom Butra-Ruang, Professor of Mahamakut Buddhist University, Bangkok, Thailand)

Thanom Butra-Ruang