Buddhism and the Mosaic of Laws It Competes With…

Repay every aggression with kindness, sooner rather than later. Because in this way, not only can society progress and history advance, but wounds can heal, and toxic attitudes can change. This is one of the prime conceptual bases of religion, of course, all the best ones, that you don’t have to respond “eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth,” lex talionis, Roman if not Christian. Because that predates Jesus Christ and his subsequent Christians, going way back to the early Jews, Moses, and the Mosaic law that sits there like concrete, composed of gravel and mud, shards and pieces, cobbled together in an elaborate composite of moral, civil, and ceremonial considerations not unlike the various bodies of law(s) and customs that have subsequently been handed down from the example of it.

There’s only one problem: that ain’t religion, not most of it. That’s law and politics and culture and custom, almost everything BUT religion, except the parts of it that can be considered ‘moral law.’ And those are almost indistinguishable from the Buddhist precepts: Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, etc., and even then, the attitude most truly religious that they can muster is for the Christians to have no other god before God (Allah), and for the Buddhist to not claim any form of enlightenment that they really can’t deliver–boom. It was up to Jesus to bring true religion to the Jews, just like it was up to the Buddha to bring true religion to sanatana dharma (Hinduism).

The Muslims kept the ‘eye for an eye,’ famously, of course, and in that sense distinguish themselves form Christians. The Jews did likewise for most of history, only shifting to the more liberal Christian orientation recently, c. 1948. The rest is history. But that’s politics. We want religion. And the lex talionis doesn’t preclude that, of course, it only limits its reach, which is not so bad, all things considered. And the main thing to consider is that it is NOT a proclamation of revenge, in fact just the opposite. Because it limits retribution to the original damage, and, in effect, prohibits the punitive damages that could be considered as revenge, i.e. more than simple punishment, and far more than actual damages. But true religion always tries to heal the transgressor with love and kindness, not revenge or even justice. Religion transcends justice. It should be better than that.

Note: the word ‘dharma’ has often been translated as ‘law’…