Capital punishment

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Capital punishment (brahmadaõóa) is the infliction of death as a judicial punishment. The Tipitaka describes a number of gruesome ways criminals were executed during the Buddha’s time (Majjhima Nikaya 1. 87). The Buddha objected to capital punishment mainly because it involves cruelty and killing, thus contravening the first Precept. He said that judges who hand down cruel punishments, tormentors and executioners, all practice wrong, literally ‘bloody-handed’ livelihoods and create much negative kamma for themselves (Samyutta Nikaya 2. 257). Buddhism would also say that it is better to try to reform criminals and make them productive members of society rather than execute them. This point was made by the great Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna in the 1st century CE. ‘Just as a son is punished out of the desire to make him worthy, so punishment should be inflicted with compassion and not through hatred or greed. Once you have judged angry murderers you should banish them without killing them.’ Today all Buddhist countries have the death penalty although there were occasional periods in the past when it was abolished.

References

  • Buddhism A to Z. Ven. Dhammika, 2007.