Leanne Fiftal Alarid, PhD, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and Hsiao-Ming Wang, PhD, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Houston-Downtown, wrote the following in their Mar. 22, 2001 article "Mercy and Punishment: Buddhism and the Death Penalty," published in Social Justice:
"Buddhist doctrines hold nonviolence and compassion for all life in high
regard. The First Precept of Buddhism requires individuals to abstain
from injuring or killing all living creatures and Buddha's teaching
restricts Buddhist monks from any political involvement. Using
historical documents and interviews with contemporary authorities on
Buddhist doctrine, our research uncovered a long history of political
involvement by Buddhist monks and Buddhist support of violence. Yet,
there seems to be limited Buddhist involvement in Southeast Asian
countries in death penalty issues...
The death penalty is inconsistent with Buddhist teachings, since
philosophically, capital punishment and Buddhism are a false paradox.
Yet, evidence suggests that most Southeast Asian countries practiced
capital punishment long before the Buddhist influence emerged in India
in 400 to 500 B.C."
The Dîgha-Nikâya (Dialogues of the Buddha) is a sacred Buddhist text, translated from the Pâli by T.W. Rhys Davids in 1899. The following statement from this text is a portion of the Buddha's First Precept, found in "Part I. The Brahma-gâla Sutta (The Perfect Net), Chapter 1," which is often referenced to support Buddhist objections to the death penalty:
"'Putting away the killing of living things, Gotama [Buddha] the recluse holds aloof from the destruction of life. He has laid the cudgel and the sword aside, and ashamed of
roughness, and full of mercy, he dwells compassionate and kind to all
creatures that have life.' It is thus that the unconverted man, when
speaking in praise of the Tathâgata, might speak."
[Editor's Note: Despite extensive research
ProCon.org was able to find only one Pro argument indicating Buddhist support of the
death penalty. We encourage our
readers to send us any credible research they may have demonstrating Buddhist
support of capital punishment so that we may better balance this presentation.
Leads and referrals should be sent via our online contact form.]
Tenzin Gyatso, PhD, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, wrote in his statement titled "Message Supporting the Moratorium on the Death Penalty," which was read by Kobutsu Malone, Zenji at the Apr. 9, 1999 "Creating a Legacy" event sponsored by peaceCENTER:
"The death penalty fulfills a preventive function, but it is also very clearly a form of revenge. It is an especially severe form of punishment because it is so final. The human life is ended and the executed person is deprived of the opportunity to change, to restore the harm done or compensate for it. Before advocating execution we should consider whether criminals are intrinsically negative and harmful people or whether they will remain perpetually in the same state of mind in which they committed their crime or not. The answer, I believe, is definitely not. However horrible the act they have committed, I believe that everyone has the potential to improve and correct themselves. Therefore, I am optimistic that it remains possible to deter criminal activity, and prevent such harmful consequences of such acts in society, without having to resort to the death penalty."
BuddhaNet, a not-for-profit organization affiliated with the Buddha Dharma Education Association Inc., posted the following definition of "Capital Punishment" on its website (accessed Aug. 4, 2008) in its glossary of Buddhist terms:
"As capital punishment entails killing and therefore requires breaking the first Precept it is incompatible with Buddhist ethics and Buddhist social and legal philosophy. The Buddha described the judges of his own time as practicing wrong livelihood as they often handed down cruel or lethal punishments."