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Buddhism in the News


Saturday, March 14, 2009

New Mexico, USA will Abolish the Death Penalty.

The New Mexico Senate voted to abolish capital punishment, a measure already approved by the lower House that Governor Bill Richardson must sign before it goes into effect, the Senate said on its website. Supporters of the measure argue that replacing the death sentence with life in prison without parole would save the state more than one million dollars a year. There are about 10 US states currently considering repealing the death penalty, which is applied in 36 of the 50 states in the union.

James: The death penalty has no place in civilized society and in my opinion not in Buddhism either. Consider this tale from the Rajaparikatha-ratnamala, which was advice given to King Udayi from the great Indian-Buddhist philosopher Nagajuna:

The Rajaparikatha-ratnamala or The Precious Garland of Advice for the King is a treatise attributed to the famous South Indian Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna (2nd or 3rd century AD). In this work on Buddhist statecraft, Nagarjuna gives King Udayi of the Satavahana Dynasty advice on a variety of matters. Here is how Nagarjuna handles capital punishment:

O King, through compassion you should always< style="font-weight: bold; color: rgb(102, 102, 102);">Even for all those embodied beings Who have committed appalling sins. Especially generate compassion For those murderers, whose sins are horrible; Those of fallen nature are receptacles Of compassion from those whose nature is great.... Once you have analyzed the angry Murderers and recognized them well, You should banish them without Killing or tormenting them.

Banishment or exile has been employed as a form of sanction in various pre-modern Asian legal systems. Indeed, banishment has also been employed at times in the West. Although banishment obviously entails psychological and physical hardships, it is certainly to be preferred to death. Moreover, it can protect the convicted defendant from the possible wrath of friends or family of the victim.

James: I see banishment and exile today as life in prison without the possibility of parole, which is a very humane yet punitive way to deal with murders and other serious felons. I think whether we kill prisoners or not says more about us than the prisoners. As I've said here before the death penalty is excessive and continues the cycle and energy of anger, hatred and lust for violence and revenge.

Attention must be focused upon the person having to do the actual killing of these prisoners--the executioners. It is probably nearly impossible to kill people over and over and not be negatively effected emotionally and possibly karmically. I have seen several anti-death penalty videos showing former executioners who are still tormented with the visions of a botched electricution of a prisoner or of seeing their faces before being the one to administer the punishment. In these videos many of these executioners are now against capital punishment.

The Dhammapada states:

Everyone fears punishment; everyone fears death, just as you do. Therefore do not kill or cause to kill. Everyone fears punishment; everyone loves life, as you do. Therefore do not kill or cause to kill.

Knowing this, how can we Buddhists support state sanctioned killing in our names? Being o.k. with someone having to be the official executioner is "causing to kill." We go about our lives often not thinking of the burden that someone has of killing people in our names. Just because we don't think of it nor are we personally involved in the killing doesn't mean that we as a society are immune from heavy, less skillful karma.

~Peace to all beings~

P.S.~To the Michael who was selected from the drawing for the Enso-Zen t-shirt. I need to hear from you so that I can send it to you. If I don't hear from you by this coming Friday then I'll have to give it to someone else.

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Tim said...

From my days in Sociology class, "It is not the severity of punishment that is a deterrent but the certainty of punishment that is a deterrent."
Sometimes I think that the world of crime and punishment would prove less chaotic if the rules were simplified. 1 plus 1 equals 2.....It is quite possible today that 100 people charged with the same crime could receive 100 different sentences. The guesswork and frustration of the justice system has me believing that people want the death penalty because it has a sense of finality to it...although that is seldom true...death row and the appeals process is a lengthy march.
Regardless, the death penalty does appear to lack any merit and should be abolished.

Dhamma81 said...

I agree, the death penalty has no place in the hearts of Buddhists. If we kill then according to the Buddha there are consequences and it might mean being killed in a future life. What gets me is the MD's who sit in for executiions. That is against the Hippocratic oath and betrays their status as healers in the worst way. Also, there is something creepy about the state sanctioning murder. Nice one James.

equa yona(Big Bear) said...

Good post. I have been opposed to the death penalty since I was in my teens. There are a number of reasons to oppose this barbaric practice, although for those who follw the Buddha's teahing, that is reason enough. I know that many followers of Jesus also stand against this evil.

BillK said...

Agreed, however the inhumanity perpetrated by the United States prison system IN OUR NAME has got to go as well. End the for profit system, release the innocent victims of the War on Drugs.

reymiland said...

Why do we kill people who kill people to show people that killing people is wrong?

Capital punishment is barbaric.

dcanon said...

See also the Angulimala Sutra, which depicts a serial murderer who, upon hearing the teachings of the Buddha, becomes a bhikkhu. The king, who was formerly set on capturing the criminal, relents when he sees that he has reformed. The sutra ends with a verse from the Dhammapada, as recited by the reformed killer: “Who checks the evil deeds he did/ By doing wholesome deeds instead,/ He illuminates the world . . .”

The passage not only shows that Buddhists should reject drastic criminal punishments, but also provides a rationale - anyone is capable of reform under the right circumstances.

They call him James Ure said...


Yeah the drug war is a failure and drugs should be treated as a health issue rather than a criminal issue.


That story is one of my favorites is reminding me that even the most hardened criminal DOES have the potential to offer something good back to society.

I remember a gang leader that wised up in prison (on death row) and wrote books to urge kids not to join gangs. And instead of keeping him alive to continue his educating our youth as an example of what can happen if you follow that road--we killed him.


Samuel said...

In all of my research as a sociology/criminology major; all data indicates the death penalty has no effect on deterring crime.

In other words, capital punishment does not prevent crime any more than life in prison.
A side note on corrections/the justice system, have you seen the documentary on Vipassana in prisons? I believe it is called "the Dhamma brothers" or something of the sort.

They call him James Ure said...


I haven't seen that video but I'll look for it. Yep. It doesn't deter crime. I would say most people who commit murder are mentally ill and the mentally ill often aren't in a state of mind able of listening to reason and being afraid of dying themselves should they kill.

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