Buddhism exists in so many forms, under many organisations, so there is no unified Buddhist policy on capital punishment.

However, in terms of doctrine the death penalty is clearly inconsistent with Buddhist teachings. Buddhists place great emphasis on non-violence and compassion for all life.

The First Precept requires individuals to abstain from injuring or killing any living creature.

The Buddha did not explicitly speak about capital punishment, but his teachings show no sympathy for physical punishment, no matter how bad the crime.

An action, even if it brings benefit to oneself, cannot be considered a good action if it causes physical and mental pain to another being. The Buddha

Buddhism believes fundamentally in the cycle of birth and re-birth (Samsara) and teaches that if capital punishment is administered it will have compromising effects on the souls of both offender and the punisher in future incarnations.

As far as punishment in this world is concerned, Buddhism has strong views:

  • inhumane treatment of an offender does not solve their misdeeds or those of humanity in general – the best approach to an offender is reformatory rather than punitive
  • punishment should only be to the extent to which the offender needs to make amends, and his rehabilitation into society should be of paramount importance
  • punishing an offender with excessive cruelty will injure not just the offender’s mind, but also the mind of the person doing the punishing
  • it is impossible to administer severe punishment with composure and compassion
  • if the crime is particularly serious, the person may be banished from the community or country

Despite these teachings several countries with substantial Buddhist populations retain the death penalty, and some of them, for example Thailand, continue to use it.

(Content sourced from BBC: Ethics)


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