Influence of Buddhism on Indian Constitution

Speech by 

Indian constitution is based on the higher human values of Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. These human values give completion to human life are supposed by many a contribution of Revolution of France in 1789. But its source is more ancient than this. Buddhism is the source of these ethics which the Buddha had established and propagated the same twenty-five centuries ago. The father of the Indian constitution Dr. B.R. Ambedkar had studied Buddhism deeply in his life and its essence was inculcated by him in the Constitution of India. Because of this, India, after seventy years of its democratic journey, has strongly established in democratic systems and has never shaken from its stand as compared to its other Asian counterparts.

In modern age, Greece and England has been given credit of being mothers of modern Democracy, but introspecting into Indian history deeply, we discover that Vaishali was the first republic of the world. Dr Ambedkar cites Buddha’s love for democracy and republic. “He was born a democrat and he died a democrat. At the time he lived there were 14 monarchical states and 4 republics. He belonged to the Sakyas and the Sakya’s kingdom was a republic. He was extremely in love with Vaishali which was his second home because it was a republic. Before his Mahaparinirbban he spent his Varshavasa in Vaishali. After the completion of his Varshavasa he decided to leave Vaishali and go elsewhere as was his wont. After going some distance he looked back on Vaishali and said to Ananda. “This is the last look of Vaishali which the Tathagata is having”. So fond was he of this republic.”

Dr Ambedkar also reminds of the existence of Democratic practices in Buddhist brotherhood. “The Bhikshu Sangh had the most democratic constitution. He was only one of the Bhikkus. At the most he was like a Prime Minister among members of the Cabinet. He was never a dictator. Twice before his death he was asked to appoint someone as the head of the Sangh to control it. But each time he refused saying that the Dhamma is the Supreme Commander of the Sangh. He refused to be a dictator and refused to appoint a dictator”. The Anguttaranikaya discusses about the seven essential doctrines, the Buddha advised to the Vajjis for strength of their republic. Vaishali was the first republic of the world which ran its administration according to the seven essential rules preached by the Buddha. As well as it discontinued to do so, it lost its existence as a democratic republic and gone under the rule of Madagha. The founding father of Constitution warns Indian to preserve and protect the democracy and reminds the historical mistakes by which they had lost the democracy from their land. “It is not that India did not know what Democracy is. There was a time when India was studded with republics, and even where there were monarchies, they were either elected or limited. They were never absolute. It is not that India did not know Parliaments or Parliamentary Procedure. A study of the Buddhist Bhikshu Sanghas discloses that not only there were Parliaments-for the Sanghas were nothing but Parliaments – but the Sanghas knew and observed all the rules of Parliamentary Procedure known to modern times. They had rules regarding seating arrangements, rules regarding Motions, Resolutions, Quorum, Whip, Counting of Votes, Voting by Ballot, Censure Motion, Regularization, Res Judicata, etc. Although these rules of Parliamentary Procedure were applied by the Buddha to the meetings of the Sang has, he must have borrowed them from the rules of the Political Assemblies functioning in the country in his time.”

Not only Dr. Ambedkar but also other members of the Constituent Assembly highlighted the existence of the Democracy in ancient Indian and its legacy to the modern Indian republic. Shri Vishwambhar Dayal Tripathi a member representing United Provinces remarks, “even during the time of Buddha, democracy flourished in India. It is an oft-quoted phrase which I want to repeat here and it is this: that certain traders went from northern India to the south. The King of southern India asked them as to who was the ruler of northern India. They replied: “Deva, Kechiddesha Ganaadhinah Kechid Rajaadhina” It means: some of the countries in the north are governed as republics, while there are others which are governed by kings. Then, coming down to the period of Alexander, we find that the historians of Alexander have praised very much the city-states of northern India which were governed on democratic lines as republics.”

In his last speech of the Constituent Assembly, Dr. Ambedkar produces the account of democratic republics at the time of Buddha and also after him. “We cannot say that the republican tradition is foreign to the genius of this country. We have had it from the beginning of our history. Panini, Megasthenes and Kautilya refer to the Republics of Ancient India. The Great Buddha belonged to the Republic of Kapilavastu. Much has been said about the sovereignty of the people. We have held that the ultimate sovereignty rests with the moral law, with the conscience of humanity. People as well as kings are subordinate to that. Dharma, righteousness, is the king of kings. Dharmam Kshatrasya Kshatram.”

Lord Buddha has exposed the judicial procedure to be followed to solve the disputes among the Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis in the Vinaya Pitaka. The fathers of the Indian constitutions too lay emphasis on the constitutional way to attain their rights. The laws and codes are for the welfare of all of us citizens and we need to honour them for the benefit of all of us. These codes are firmly based on the moral characters, in other words they are Sila as preached by the Buddha. The Panchasilas exhibit the essence of the constitution. The way of morality rejects the violence and promotes the way of democracy. The Buddha calls this the way of Bahujana Hitaya, bahujana sukhaya, where as the Indian constitution simply entitles it the ‘Constitutional ways.’

Scientific outlook, which the Constitution promotes in its fundamental ditues, paves another discussion between religion and science. The science is always fact based, truth, experiment based; whereas religion is trust based. Here we may anticipate a conflict between religion and science. For Buddhism; science is dhamma and dhamma is none but science. Experience is the first test of the Buddha’s Dhamma, not beliefs or traditions. Buddha declares in the Kalama sutta, “Kalamas! Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias toward a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, ‘The monk is our teacher.’ Kalamas, when you yourselves know: ‘These things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,’ enter on and abide in them.” Thus for the omniscient Buddha, science is the litmus test of the true dhamma. Thus, the Buddhism promotes scientific outlook which is one of the fundamental duties of the citizens as given by the constitution of India.

The Buddha’s love for democracy was seen by his deliverance of seven essential rules to be observed by the Vajjians for the straight of their republic. It they will continue to follow this, they will be victorious forever. These are, “(1) as long as the Vajjians meet frequently and hold many meetings; (2) as long as they meet together in unity, rise in unity and perform their duties in unity; (3) as long as they enact nothing not enacted, abrogate nothing that has already been enacted, act in accordance with the already established ancient Vajjian principles; (4) as long as they support, respect, venerate and honour the Vajjian elders, and pay regard to their worthy speech; (5) as long as no women or girls of their families are detained by force or abduction; (6) as long as they support, respect, venerate, honour those objects of worship — internal and external — and do not neglect those righteous ceremonies held before; (7) as long as the rightful protection, defense and support for the Arahants shall be provided by the Vajjians so that Arahants who have not come may enter the realm and those who have entered the realm may live in peace — so long may the Vajjians be expected not to decline, but to prosper.” The ‘Panchashila’ promoted by Jawaharlal Nehru clearly show the above virtues in India’s foreign policy.

Let’s discuss each of these with reference to the constitution of India. The commentary on Dighanikaya mentions that there was a siren in the city of Vaishali. This was an alarm of emergency. It was expected to all parliamentarians to gather in the Vajjian parliaments when it rings, regardless what one is doing. If any member of the parliament is having meal, he should keep away his palate and be present at the parliament house. All members shall come together and solve the problem of the republic with integrity. They shall leave house together only after the solution of the problem. It calls for regular meetings of the sessions of both the houses of the Indian parliament namely the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha. This virtue emphasis the importance of discussions in parliament and the harmony between the members of the houses of the parliaments.

Likewise the third doctrine suggests the fare imposition of taxes on the citizens by the parliaments. In its absence the citizens may help the foreigners in case of external invasion. The fourth doctrine calls for the honor the elders or in other words the scholarship. It would guide in the time of an emergency. The fifth suggestion for Vajjian republic is to respect for women by the parliament. This would strengthen the confidence in state by the citizens and they would stand firm with their republic in a time of an emergency. The sixth one represents the idea of secularism. This is at the heart of Indian constitution and is enshrines in the very preamble of constitution. The seventh and last is the advice to honor the saints and holy people belonging to different religious beliefs and cultures. It again reminds us unity in diversity. Thus, the seven aparahaniya dhamma advocated by the Buddha for the protection of the republic it true in ancient as well as modern context of the Indian Republic. The article 51 of the Indian constitution provides for the fundamental duties of the citizens of which protecting the ancient monuments is one of the duties of the citizens.

It should be noted that the Republic of Vaishali was victorious for the forty five years by following these rules strictly. It is the Vassakara Brahman, the minister of king Ajatashatru who made the Vajjians to break these rules and easily conquered the republic after they stopped to follow it. The architect of the Indian constitution, in his last speech in the constituent Assembly mentions the same threat for the modern and new born republic and warns Indian to repeat the same mistakes. “This democratic system India lost. Will she lost it a second time? I do not know. But it is quite possible in a country like India – where democracy from its long disuse must be regarded as something quite new – there is danger of democracy giving place to dictatorship. It is quite possible for this new born democracy to retain its form but give place to dictatorship in fact. If there is a landslide, the danger of the second possibility becoming actuality is much greater.” The bliss of Buddhism is nurturing India in the form of Buddhist religion as well as through the Constitution which spreads the messages of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. May all citizens of India understand the message of its pro-Buddhist constitution and discern it to consolidate it, strengthen it for their benefit as well as the future generations.



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