Nation Special

 From vinaya to judiciary

Buddhist sign in the development and evolution of world judicial system

By Stanley Samarasinghe
The origin of judiciary, anywhere in the world, can be traced back to ‘Aganna Sutta’ of Digha Nikaya. vinaya (discipline), one of the most important aspects of Buddhist philosophy, lays down the judicial procedure used when dealing with offences committed by Bikkhus. This judicial procedure has paved the way for modern day judicial system, says Ven. Medagoda Abhayatissa Thera, (BA Hons. Royal Pandit M.A., M.Phil), Chief Incumbent of Sunethra Maha Devi Viharaya, Pepiliyana. The Thera is a lecturer at Lanka Buddhist and Pali University and Sunethra Maha Devi Theravada International Buddhist Centre.

The Thera explains Sri Lanka has a long history of judicial proceeding running beyond the years of the Common Era. Also according to Abhayatissa Thera, it was Ven. Abhi Dhammika Godutta Thera, then Chief Incumbent of Isurumuniviharaya of Anuradhapura who was the first Chief Justice in the country, appointed by King Bahathika Tissa who ruled the country in 32BCE.

Following are excerpts:
Q: How did the judicial system initiate in this world?
According to Buddhism, the origin and development of society and man’s place in it, is described in the ‘Agganna Sutta’ of ‘Digha Nikaya.’ It started with the idea of private property in society. Before the institution of private property system, there were no owners of lands.
People continued to feed on the paddy they harvested from the fields. When the institution of family came into existence, their requirements were shifted. When they began to live as husbands and wives they started indulging in sexual intercourse and built houses.

Every morning and evening they went to the fields and gathered paddy for the day. Lazy persons thought they could save the journey of going to the field every morning and evening and therefore, gathered sufficient paddy for several days.
As a result of this, there arose the difference between have and have not. Then they wanted to divide the fields between them. That is how present private property system began.

So, the land that had hitherto been owned commonly became privately owned.
Thereafter, greedy persons while enjoying their fields started steeling the harvests of lands belonging to others. Then aggrieved parties assaulted them with sticks and hands. This was the beginning of stealing, lying, censure and punishment.
In order to prevent these evil tendencies spreading among them, they recognised the need to maintain a certain moral standard. They selected one among them to function as the guardian of morals.

They decided to select the most capable, popular and handsome person for the post of guardian. His functions were to carry out the responsibility of dispensing justice. He was required to censure and punish those who deserved such punishment. Also, when he consented to accept the post, he was promised a share of their produce as a reward for his services. Since he was selected by the whole society he was called ‘Maha Sammata.’

H was known as the lord of the field, and he had the last word in disputes relating to paddy fields. He was conferred with the title ‘Raja.’ Thus, the idea of government originated with the judicial function.
It is the humankind’s evil tendencies, and thoughts that created the necessity for a judiciary in the world.

Q: Could you explain the Buddhist meaning of judiciary?
An examination of vinaya rules and discipline for monks, derived basically from five precepts or five basic moral injunctions of Buddha in the vinayapitaka.
It is interesting to note that the philosophy behind the vinaya and ethics for monks is the continued existence of the Sangha Society.

The punishment meted out to the culprits in Sangha Society appears corrective and never retributive. According to Buddhist vinaya, there are two types of offences; minor and major.

Those who commit minor offences were given the opportunity to correct it. In respect of major offences, the Judge Vinayadahara is asked to examine following six points carefully: Facts of the case (vatu) (2) vinaya rules relevant to the facts of the case (malika) (3) correct interpretation of the relevant rules (padabhajanya) (4) threefold groups of rules (tikapriccheda) (5) minor offences contained in the definition of major offences (6) circumstances in which one is not liable to punishment (anapatti).

Q: Can you cite a case from Buddhist history where such a punishment was put to practice?
The case of Bikkhu Sudinna is a good example. Sudinna became a Bikkhu giving up his layman’s life. Members of his family continued to pressure him to give up the robe and lead a layman’s life. He refused. But finally, his former wife came to him and requested to impregnate her with a child, for the existence of their clan. After numerous requests Suddinna agreed to have sexual intercourse with her.
The case was taken up before Buddha. After considering all six points, Buddha acquitted Suddinna. However, after this, Suddinna became addicted to sex and he had started having sexual intercourse with female monkeys. Buddha then pronounced him guilty. Thereafter, Buddha prohibited all Bikkhus to have sex with human being or animal. When Buddha laid down this law, it was reported that some monks in the remote areas of India were in the habit of having sex with female monkeys.
All those monks were disrobed and expelled from the sasana.

Q: That is an example from Lord Buddha’s days. Can you cite an example from Sinhala King’s days?
King Bhathika Tissa who ruled the country during the Anuradhapura period appointed a chief priest of Isurumunivihara Ven. Abhi Dammika Godutta Thera as the Chief Justice. I believe this priest is the first Chief Justice in this country.
Godutta Thera gave a very fair judgment in a dispute case between two monks, over an alms bowl made out of a coconut shell. A monk who was living at Kalpitya Samudra Viharaya made this arms bowl out of a very big coconut shell. It was carved with murals.

The monk one day noticed his alms bowl missing. His efforts to find the alms ball were not successful. One day he left for Anuradhapura Isurumuniviharaya and there he saw the alms ball, and a certain monk who visited Kalpitiya Samudra Viharaya was using the bowl.

The first owner made a complaint to the chief priest and stated that his arms bowl was stolen by the priest who was using it. Godutta Thera heard the case the second owner said that. He did not have any intention of stealing it but brought it when he came to Anuradhapura.

Then Ven. Godutta Thera summoned some merchants who came from Kalpitiya to Anuradhapura and asked the value of an alms bowl made out of a coconut shell.
They said it was not considered valuable. Since there was no evidence to prove that it was stolen and the priest also did not have any intention of stealing it, Ven. Priest came to the conclusion that the monk was not guilty. When the King heard about this judgment, he appointed Ven. Abhi Dhammika Thera as the Chief Justice.

Q: What is your comment on the punishment given to Arahath Priest Kelani Tissa by King Kelani Tissa over a message send to the Queen by the King’s brother?
The King was wrong there. It was not a decision taken according to Buddhist judicial principles. King Kanira Janu who ruled Anuradhapura was a very reasonable king. He settled a dispute among Bikkhus of Segiri at Mihintale. However, 61 Priests did not accept his settlement. The King then treated them as traitors and killed those Bikkhus by pushing them down a mountain called Kanira.
This act is entirely against Buddhist judicial principles.