Crime

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Crime (aparàdha) is an act or actions that violates the law prohibiting it and for which a court can impose punishment. Crimes are usually divided into two types – those like murder or rape which are wrong in themselves (mala in se) and others like gambling or taking drugs which are wrong because society seeks to regulate them for its own well-being (mala prohibita). The first type of crime usually contravene the Precepts while the second type may or may not. Crime, its causes and prevention and the treatment of those who commit it have long occupied the minds of philosophers, jurists and sociologists although the Buddha seems to have been the first person in history to try to give a theory of the origins of crime. In the famous Agga¤¤a Sutta he says that it was only after the development of the concept of private property that crime arose (Digha Nikaya 3. 92). In the Mahàdukkhakkhanda Sutta he dealt with the issue more precisely by making this observation, ‘With sense pleasures as the cause, source and basis, people fight with each other, go to war, break into houses, plunder, burgle, commit highway robbery, seduce women and are punished for it’ (Majjhima Nikaya 1. 86-7, condensed). In other words, reduced to its most basic elements, people are driven to destructive anti-social behaviour primarily by the desire for personal gratification which in turn is related to their sense of self. Pleasure is sought after because it is felt to enhance and buttress the self. Thus from the Buddhist point of view, while poverty alleviation is good in itself, it will not necessarily solve the problem of crime. Buddhism would suggest two strategies for minimising crime - education that encourages gratification postponement (i.e. restraint and contentment) and a deeper self-understanding.

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