Last updated on: 8/20/2008 9:54:00 AM PST
Does Buddhism Support the Death Penalty?
General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
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 Using historical documents and interviews with contemporary authorities on Buddhist doctrine, our research uncovered a long history of political involvement by Buddhist monks and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."
Mar. 22, 2001 - Leanne Fiftal Alarid, PhD
Hsiao-Ming Wang, PhD
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."
1899 - Dialogues of the Buddha (450 KB)
Tomoko Sasaki, a former member of the Japanese parliament, stated in a Jan. 16, 2005 article "Why Japan Still Has the Death Penalty," written by Charles Lane and published in the Washington Post:
"A basic teaching [in Japanese Buddhism] is retribution. If someone evil does something bad, he has to atone with his own life. If you take a life, you have to give your own."
Jan. 16, 2005 - Tomoko Sasaki
[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.]
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."
Apr. 9, 1999 - Tenzin Gyatso, PhD
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."
Aug. 4, 2008 - BuddhaNet
The Buddhist Peace Fellowship, a California-based Buddhist social activist organization, wrote the following in an Oct. 2006 article posted to its website, titled "Buddhism and the Death Penalty":
"As Engaged Buddhists, we believe that social and personal transformation are always possible, and that even wounded people can change contribute to life...
We believe that capital punishment not only fails to serve as deterrence to violence and murder, but that it nourishes the seeds of violence that exist within each of us.
We believe that there is no fair or practical way to arrive at a sentence of death...
To continue with capital punishment in its present state means that more innocent people are bound to die."
Oct. 2006 - Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF)