Buddha’s Political Philosophy

Was the Buddha a Political Philosopher?

The general (perhaps only the Western) view is that there is little to no contribution to ancient political thought from Asia. In recent scholarship, Indian and Chinese scholars have argued that Kautilya’s Arthashastra (some include Manu’s Laws) and Confucius’ Analects have much to contribute to ancient political thought and even contemporary relevance, and have reconstructed them so.

Besides Confucianism and Hinduism, does Buddhism or the Buddha has anything to say about socio-political organization? Some have asserted that the Buddha was a political realist, i.e. even though he favored some kind of a tribal democratic republic (as shown in how the sangha was structured), a colossal socio-political transformation was taking place in Northern India during his time, where powerful monarchical systems were emerging, and the Buddha made his attempts to influence its development in a certain direction (The Pali Canon, Digha Nikaya presents some evidences to this).

Others have tried to place the Buddha next to Marx or Nietzsche, offering various fragmentary arguments and problematic claims (pointing out his emphasis on moral egalitarianism or existential nihilism). Some “facts” like the Buddha’s challenge to Brahmanical traditions like the caste system or inclusion of women in his sangha seem highly progressive, but are these really part of a larger political doctrine? Are his doctrines like the selflessness or shunyata are antithetical to a society or political organization? Are there any recent attempts made in trying to conceptualize a Buddhist political theory?


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