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The Moral Order and its Upholders

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von Sangharakshita

... what is unlawful, a destroyer of evil deeds, he would establish beings in good activity in order to send them to the abode of the gods. Whether a man or a god, a Gandharva, a lord of men, a Raksasa, an untouchable, he removes evil deeds.... The king has been blessed by the gods in order to show their fruition and fruit. The king has been blessed by the gods as belonging to the present world to show the fruition and fruit of deeds well done and of deeds ill done. For when a king overlooks an evil deed in his region and does not inflict appropriate punishment on the evil person, in the neglect of evil deeds lawlessness grows greatly, wicked acts and quarrels arise in great number in the realm.

There then follows a graphic description of what happens when the king overlooks an evil deed, when he does not inflict the appropriate punishment. We'll come back to that shortly. Meanwhile, I want to take Brahma's more rational explanation of the nature and function of kingship sentence by sentence.

First, though, a word about devas or gods. In the Vedas, that is to say in the most ancient Hindu sacred books, or what were later on written down as books, the devas are on the whole personifications of natural Lecture 130: The Mo ral Order and its Upholders - Page 5 __________________________________________________________________________________________________ phenomena. There is, for instance, Suriya the sun god; there is Indra the god of rain, in particular the god of the violent thunderstorm. There is Ushas) the goddess of the dawn, and again there is Agni the god of fire, particularly the sacrificial fire. There are the Maruts, the wind gods; all gods, goddesses, of natural phenomena, personifications of natural phenomena. Later, however, there arose gods that personified ethical and spiritual qualities, gods like Mitra and Varuna; even deities that personified human activities and human functions like the goddess Vac, speech, to whom reference was made in the fifth lecture on `Buddhism and Culture'.

Now when we meet some of these gods a few hundred years later, in the Buddhist scriptures, we find a great change has taken place. The gods in the Buddhist scriptures are no longer personifications of natural phenomena. They are no longer to be feared, no longer to be propitiated. The gods in the Buddhist scriptures are beings like ourselves, only happier, more powerful, and much longer-lived. So what has happened? What has brought about this change? Well, the change has been brought about by the introduction of the law of karma, by an understanding of the law of karma, or if you like by an extension of the law of karma. It is not always realised, I think, that the law of karma was not known to the most ancient Ariyans. Apparently it wasn't known in the Vedic period. It is briefly referred to in one of the most ancient pre-Buddhist Upanishads, but it's referred to as an esoteric teaching, the teaching about karma. It is only in Buddhism, and perhaps in Jainism too, that karma is placed in the forefront of the teaching and described in a full and detailed manner.

The law of karma is, of course, one form of the still more comprehensive law of conditionality. The law of conditionality applies to all conditioned existence whatsoever, to all compounded existence, to everything that is not the absolute. The law of karma applies to all sentient existence. It applies wherever there is consciousness, that is to say wherever there is mind and will. Briefly stated, the law of karma says that skilful action is productive of happiness and unskilful action is productive of suffering. Skilful actions are those which are free from greed, free from hatred, free from delusion; which are, on the contrary, accompanied by content, friendliness and wisdom. Unskilful actions are those which are not free from greed, hatred and delusion; which are accompanied by them, even which spring from them. Traditionally, as I think everybody knows, the law of karma is not envisaged as operating just within the context of the present life. It is envisaged as operating over a whole series of lives; that is to say the law of karma, traditionally speaking, is bound up with the fact of rebirth. Traditionally, the two always go together.

The law of karma also operates at all levels of conditioned existence. A human being can therefore be reborn as a god, can be reborn as a god as a result of performing skilful actions while on earth, and a god can be reborn as a human being. Human beings can also be reborn as asuras, infernal beings, hungry ghosts and so on. According to the popular version at least of the teaching, human beings can even be reborn as animals, that is to say as a result of performing unskilful actions. Now all this is depicted in the so-called Tibetan Wheel of Life, which is very well known, so that I don't really need to elaborate. It's time that we returned to chapter 12 of the Sutra of Golden Light.

We are now in a better position to understand Brahma's second explanation of why kings are addressed as `deva', that is to say the more rational explanation, the explanation in more rational terms. As I said, we'll take it sentence by sentence.

First of all, Brahma says, in his second, more rational, explanation or reply to the question of the Four Great Kings: `For the sake of suppressing what is unlawful, a destroyer of evil deeds, he would establish beings in good activity in order to send them to the abode of the gods.' As we have already seen, the king has come from heaven; the king is a god reborn o earth as a man. This is common ground to both of Brahma's explanations, the mythical and the rational. In the mythical account, however, there is no explanation of how the god became a god. No explanation, in fact, is needed. A god is a personification of natural phenomena.

In the rational account, however, an explanation is needed, and this explanation is given within the framework provided by the law of karma. A god has become such as a result of skilful actions. Originally he was a man, but he performed an extraordinary number of skilful actions, so after death he was reborn in a higher heavenly world, reborn as what we call a deva, a god; and in that higher heavenly world he enjoys greater happiness and greater power, and he also lives for a very long time, even for thousands of years. But eventually the karma that caused him to be reborn as a god is exhausted, and he is reborn again Lecture 130: The Mo ral Order and its Upholders - Page 6 __________________________________________________________________________________________________ on earth. However, as a kind of secondary result of all his skilful actions, he is not reborn as an ordinary man. He is reborn as a very prominent man, a leading man, reborn as a king.

Now all this is common ground to all forms of Buddhism. There is not one, perhaps, that would not accept it in total, though they might place on it varying degrees of emphasis. But the Sutra of Golden Light has a point of its own to make. As a result of his past history - we could even say his previous positive conditioning - the king has a natural inclination towards skilful actions. He performs skilful actions himself, and he encourages others to perform them. Not only that; as king, he suppresses what is unlawful, what is against the moral order. He destroys evil deeds. He establishes beings in skilful, meritorious activities.

Why does he do this? He does it, we are told, so that as a result of such activities they may be born, beings may be born, reborn, in the world of the gods: that is to say, in the world from which he himself has come.

I want to point out here a rather interesting parallel. It's a parallel with the Bhagavad Gita. So far as I am aware, it's not been pointed out before. The Bhagavad Gita, of course, is a dialogue between Sri Krishna and Arjuna; it is part of the great Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. It consists of 18 chapters, and in chapter 4 Sri Krishna explains to Arjuna that both of them have been born many times before. The difference is, he, Krishna, remembers his previous lives, his previous births; Arjuna does not. And then Krishna says: `When righteousness declines, when unrighteousness increases, then I appear for the protection of the good, for the destruction of the wicked, for the establishment of Dharma, I am born age after age.' This is perhaps, at least in India, the most famous verse in the entire Bhagavad Gita. It is the foundation of Hindu avataravada or the belief in the successive descents, or as we might say incarnations, of God, that is to say God here with a capital G.

But there are two important differences between this text and the Sutra of Golden Light. In the Bhagavad Gita it's the Supreme Being himself who descends, descends according to general Indian tradition as Rama, Krishna and so on; and he descends of his own free will. In Buddhism, of course, there is no supreme being. The descent takes place within the framework of conditioned existence. It's from a higher to a lower plane of conditioned existence, from heaven to earth, and it takes place under the law of karma.

Moreover, Sri Krishna speaks of himself as coming `for the destruction of the wicked'. Brahma, however, speaks of the king as `the destroyer of evil deeds'. I notice, by the way, that in the Penguin Classics translation of the Bhagavad Gita, Juan Mascaro translates `for the destruction of the evil in men'.

However, the original definitely says `for the destruction of the wicked', duskritan.

But let us go on. Let's go on to the next sentence in Brahma's speech, in Brahma's more rational account.

He says: `Whether a man or a god, a gandharva, a lord of men, a raksasa, an untouchable, ...

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