Law and Order

H.W. Schumann

Thanks to Gotama's clear delimitation of the spheres of activity, a triangular relationship was soon established between the king, the Sangha, and the laity: the people supported the Sangha by giving alms and the king by paying taxes; the Buddha and the Sangha reminded the king to rule justly and the people to live in peace and discipline; the king provided for the safety of the country, for impartial justice, and for material conditions for the population sufficient to enable them all to give alms. He had the exceptional opportunity to gain more than average religious merit by establishing parks, dams, tanks, wells, and homes. Though abuse of power by the ruler and his officials occurred, and some bhikkhus were too demanding on their alms-round, the majority of the population was sufficiently content with what the king and the Sangha did, not to rebel against church or state. As far as we can tell, people felt themselves to be neither exploited nor the victims of an unjust system. True, voices were occasionally heard raised against the "lazy scroungers" and "idle priests," but these were more the result of momentary annoyance than of any general dislike towards monasticism.

The model adopted by the Buddha for the organizational structure of the Sangha was that of the republics north of the Ganges. Having been brought up in the center of power in one such republic, he had been familiar with the system of debates in the council chamber from an early age, and adopted this as a matter of course for the Sangha. He himself, as legislator and leader of the Order, resembled the raja of a republic, however with the difference that he had not been elected but, as founder of the Order, had automatically grown into its leadership.

Excerpted from The Historical Buddha (Arkana, 1989), first published in Germany, under the title Der historische Buddha (Eugen Diederichs Verlag, 1982) and translated by M. Walshe.

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