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The Moral Order and its Upholders

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by Sangharakshita

... he removes evil deeds.' The connection here is not quite clear; the grammar, in fact, is not quite clear. `He' could refer to the king. In the previous sentence, Brahma has been talking about the king. He says: `he would establish beings in good activity' etc. - `he' would establish, the king would establish. In this case, the present sentence would mean that the king discourages all classes of sentient beings from performing unskilful actions. However, it's more likely that the sentence is a sort of interjection: `he removes evil deeds' is to be understood more as `one removes evil deeds'. In other words, it doesn't matter what class of beings one belongs to, doesn't matter what position in society one occupies, whether one is a man or god, gandharva etc.: one can still perform skilful actions, one can still remove evil deeds. In other words, one has the possibility of a higher heavenly rebirth. Understood in this way, the sentence is an affirmation of the basis on which Brahma's rational explanation of the nature and function of kingship rests. In other words, it is an affirmation of the law of karma.

It is also possible to understand the sentence in another way. It doesn't matter what the king's origin is, doesn't matter what caste he belongs to by birth. The main thing is that he removes evil deeds. If he does that, he is a king. This, of course, is very much in accordance with the whole general spirit of Buddhism as a universal religion. According to orthodox Hinduism, only one who belongs by birth to the kshatriya caste should be king, just as only one who belongs to the brahmin caste by birth should teach.

The next sentence is very short: `The king is the parent of those who do good deeds.' What does that mean? It means that those who do good deeds have nothing to fear from the king. The king will look after them and protect them. More than that: by encouraging people to perform good deeds, the king becomes Lecture 130: The Mo ral Order and its Upholders - Page 7 __________________________________________________________________________________________________ their father in righteousness. Morally speaking, he stands in a sort of parental relation to them. I'll probably have something more to say about the parental function in a more literal sense later on.

The following two sentences say practically the same thing in different words, so we'll take them together.

Brahma says: `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.' Now these sentences comprise the essence of Brahma's speech, the essence of the whole speech, the essence of the Instruction concerning Divine Kings, the essence of King Balendraketu's advice to his son King Ruciraketu. The matter is expressed still more clearly later on in Brahma's speech, when he says: `He is called king because he acts in various ways in order to demonstrate the fruition and fruit of acts that are well done or ill- done.' Now what does this mean? It means that the social order should reflect the law of karma. The social order should be the mirror of the law of karma. Under the law of karma, skilful actions result in happiness; unskilful actions result in suffering. It should be the same within the social order: skilful actions should be encouraged, unskilful actions should be punished. In other words, the social order should be a moral order, and the upholder of that moral order is the king. Each king is responsible for upholding it in his own region. We can now see, perhaps, why the lecture is entitled `The Moral Order and its Upholders'.

Now at this point a question arises. Why should the social order be a moral order? Why should the social order reflect the law of karma? There is quite a lot that could be said in reply to this question. I am simply going to deal with it from the standpoint of the Sutra of Golden Light. We will then return again to chapter 12 of the sutra and see what happens when the king does not uphold the moral order; see what happens when he overlooks an evil deed.

First, however, I want to draw your attention to a very simple principle, even more simple and fundamental in a sense than the law of karma. Actions have consequences. Actions have consequences. We often forget this. We do things without thinking; perhaps we do them on the spur of the moment. We don't realise that what we are doing will have consequences, consequences for our own self, consequences for others; perhaps even very serious consequences.

Now to act without thinking of the consequences of actions is irresponsibility. To act bearing in mind the consequences of actions is responsibility. To the extent that one acts responsibly, to the extent that one is responsible, one is an individual; to the extent that one acts without responsibility, one is not an individual.

If one wants to be an individual, wants to become an individual, then one must learn to act responsibly; must remember that actions have consequences; must be mindful of the law of karma; should understand why the social order should be a moral order. So why should the social order be a moral order? I have already answered this question to some extent. If the social order is a moral order, then by observing that moral order we are at the same time performing skilful actions. Such a social order is a training ground, as it were, in skilful actions. If we perform skilful actions we shall accumulate merit, and if we accumulate merit we shall be reborn in a happy heavenly state, that is to say be reborn as a god.

Now suppose the social order really is a moral order. Suppose the king really does his duty, in other words does not overlook any evil deed. Suppose all his subjects observe the moral order, suppose they all perform skilful actions. What will be the result? What do you think? They will all go to heaven. They will all be reborn as gods. And what will that mean? The ranks of the gods will be strengthened. We mustn't forget that there is a constant battle going on in the universe between the gods and the asuras, battle between the positive and the negative forces, that is to say positive and negative forces within the conditioned, within the samsara. Sometimes the gods are victorious, sometimes the asuras are victorious. The gods, therefore, have a sort of vested interest, as it were, in human beings performing skilful actions, because if they do this they will be reborn as gods and the ranks of the gods will be strengthened. They will be then more likely to overcome the asuras.

So the traditional Buddhist point of view is that the maintenance of the moral order on earth is of cosmic significance. It helps keep the balance in favour of the positive forces in the universe - one could even say, in favour of the spiritual forces in the universe. Now as we saw in our third lecture in this series on `The Spiritual Significance of Confession', the spiritual is not the same thing as the Transcendental, so we shouldn't confuse this battle between the gods and asuras with the conflict between the Golden Light on the one hand and the darkness on the other, the conflict between nature on the one hand and Enlightenment Lecture 130: The Mo ral Order and its Upholders - Page 8 __________________________________________________________________________________________________ on the other. As I said, the first is a battle within the conditioned, but the second is the conflict, the much more serious and radical conflict, between the conditioned and the Unconditioned; or rather, the conflict between the negative part of the conditioned and the Unconditioned. The positive part of the conditioned is on the side of the Unconditioned, as it were. The gods are on the side of the Buddha, skilful actions are on the side of Enlightenment, the ethical is on the side of the Transcendental, sila and samadhi are on the side of prajna, the moral order is on the side of the spiritual community.

However, I am going too fast too far. Let's go back to the individual, to the responsible individual, the individual who performs skilful actions; or rather, let us go back to individuals in the plural. The moral order can be described as a network of ethically responsible individuals, of people who act responsibly towards their own selves and responsibly towards one another; people, that is to say, who try to do what is best, truly best, for themselves and others. It's a society in which everyone acts in an ethically responsible manner. It's a society which is totally a moral order, which clearly, faithfully, and fully reflects the law of karma. Perhaps no human society has ever been totally a moral order; certainly no large human society. A few small societies might have been, at least for a short time, but large or small all human societies are to some extent moral orders.

This means that we are obliged to act in an ethically responsible manner, at least to some extent; obliged to perform skilful actions, obliged to pay some heed to the law of karma. In other words, we develop as individuals. And this is why the social order should be a moral order, because it helps people to develop - ultimately helps them to develop spiritually. We cannot develop without becoming ethical individuals, without developing some sense of responsibility towards self and others. But it's difficult, very difficult, to be an ethical individual in an unethical society, so society must help the individual; society must be a moral order. In other words, it must reflect the operation of the law of karma.

Now what is the first human society with which we come into contact when we enter this world? Well, we all know, or we should ...

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