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Integrity is the Foundation of Governance

September 6, 2013

Q: Every day now there are more revelations about how governments spy on their own people and lie about it. People are saying, “My heart is broken by the revelations.” What do you think of this?

The Arahant: My or any individual’s opinion is irrelevant. We should seek out the opinion of the Dhamma, and especially on questions of morality, of the Vinaya. In brief, integrity is the foundation of governance. What governments are doing breaks their social contract with the citizens. They will have to deal with the kamma, the consequences of their betrayal of the citizens’ trust.

Government exists—must exist—because most people are not human beings in the full sense of the term. A true human being has integrity; he does not harm other beings, because he knows full well the consequences. Therefore he maintains mettā, a well-wishing attitude toward all. A child does not know; he is asleep, selfish, more or less an animal. And most people are immature like children—hence the need for governance to prevent childish misbehavior.

But if the government must play the role of a parent to childlike people, then they also have the responsibility to provide a good example of moral leadership. When they are caught lying, doing things to the public underhandedly, making policies that affect the public’s well-being without their knowledge or permission, they are setting a very poor example. They are acting the part of a bully instead of a parent. That is a perversion of authority, an act of betrayal toward those for whom they are responsible. They are breaking the hearts of the people under their care.

The Buddha was involved in government, not only as prince Śākyamuni, but also in earlier existences. Here is a history of one such previous life:

Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was king of Benares, the Bodhisatta was conceived by his Queen Consort … on his father’s death he became king in his stead, and ruled with uprightness and all rectitude, administering justice with no regard to his own will or whim. And as he ruled thus justly, his ministers on their part were also just; thus, while all things were justly done, there was none who brought a false suit into court. Presently all the bustle of suitors ceased within the precincts of the palace; all day long the ministers might sit on the bench, and go away without seeing a single suitor. The courts were deserted.

… From that time he tried continually to find some one who would tell him of a fault; but of all who were about him at court he could not find one such; nothing could he hear but good of himself. “Perhaps,” thought he, “they are all so much afraid of me that they say no ill of me but only good,” and so he went about to try those who were outside his walls. But with these it was just the same. … All the country he traversed, even to the frontier; but not a faultfinder could he light upon; all he could hear was only his own praises. So back he turned from the marches, and set his face homewards again by the high road. — Rajovada-jataka

There is no other ruler in history with such an unimpeachable record. Even the famous King Rāma of India, when he similarly went abroad in disguise, heard people whispering against him. And in fact, the morality of the Buddha’s Vinaya remains unmatched by any civilization of the world. It is the first to introduce democratic principles; the first designed not to depend upon the integrity of any single man; the first to introduce appeals and a totally nonviolent system of justice.

There is a lot of wisdom in the Suttas about integrity, truthfulness and advanced concepts of morality. We will have much to say on this subject. Along with education and leadership, the practice of integrity is a major issue in the world today. We shall address all of these topics in their proper sequence.

A government without integrity is no government at all, because their poor example misleads the innocent public into a hellish condition. A government without integrity does not deserve to rule; due to the kamma created by its misdeeds, sooner or later it will fall of its own accord. Unfortunately, this causes the people much unnecessary suffering.

On the other hand, the people get the government they deserve according to their kamma. If people find themselves oppressed by authoritarian government, then they better take a good hard look at their own activities and ethics as well. For example, the senseless killing of millions of animals for sport and food is creating a huge kammic debt that must be paid somehow. The indiscriminate use of intoxicants is also very bad, since it distracts people from the suffering that eventually brings them to the Dhamma.

But regardless of the sins of the people, a government with integrity is respected and obeyed by everyone—even the rascals—because it acts as a good parent to the childlike citizens. Our intention is that everyone should experience their life under the protection of a worthy government. That will help greatly to reduce the suffering in the world.

From → Q&A

One Comment
  1. marinoklisovic permalink

    Everyone is attached to the gains which come from pretending. People assume all kinds of positions and responsibilities, but they actually belong somewhere else (somewhere way below – mental asylum or elementary school).

    We don’t want to look stupid, or unskilled, so we rather pretend to be smart and this is how we suffer. I think it is time to grow up and become honest. Could you please speak on how it is better to chose for integrity, so that we can understand and make this hard choice.

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