Whose Proverbs Covered a Broader Range of Topics: Buddha or Solomon? (What About Government?)

The following is a continuation in the series which began with: Whose Proverbs Covered a Broader Range of Topics: Buddha or Solomon? (What About Women?)

When Solomon taught on something, an amazing 48% of the time the Buddha was silent! Interestingly, those topics on which the Buddha was silent are totally predictable and expected. The Buddha was raised as a prince and totally renounced his wealth, status and family to give up everything in search of wisdom. So on what matters was the Buddha nearly silent? All the things he renounced: wealth, government, power, business, women, family, and children!

Let’s look at some topics on which the Buddha was silent, or nearly so. Of the 423 proverbs of the Buddha, the following ones pertain to government (Kings):

He who inflicts pain on innocent and harmless persons, will soon come to one of these ten states: He will have cruel suffering, loss, injury of the body, heavy affliction, or loss of mind, or a misfortune coming from the king, or a fearful accusation, or loss of relations, or destruction of treasures, or lightning-fire will burn his houses; and when his body is destroyed, the fool will go to hell. (Dhammapada 137-140)

There is bad reputation, and the evil way (to hell), there is the short pleasure of the frightened in the arms of the frightened, and the king imposes heavy punishment; therefore let no man think of his neighbour’s wife. (Dhammapada 310)

A true Brahmana goes scatheless, though he have killed father and mother, and two valiant kings, though he has destroyed a kingdom with all its subjects. A true Brahmana goes scatheless, though he have killed father and mother, and two holy kings, and an eminent man besides. (Dhammapada 294-295)

In Dhammapada 137-140 and 310, the Buddha states that inflicting pain or harm on innocent people or pursuing an evil path in life results in the king or government causing misfortune and or punishment on the guilty party. In Dhammapada 294-295, he states that a true Brahmana will go through life untouched by harm, even if he has killed the king or his parents. The underlying assumption here is that the Brahmana (Brahmin) has committed these acts while adhering to the highest teachings of the ancient Indian texts.

It would appear that the Buddha had some misgivings about kings and the government. On the one hand he states, if you do evil the king will punish you, but on the other hand he states that if you live up to the highest standard, you will be unharmed even if you kill the king or your parents. With no further comment on kings or the government, it would appear that the Buddha felt that his teachings were sufficient for the individual to conduct his or her life by, and that there was no need to teach on the individual’s relationship to or attitude toward the government.

Solomon was a king, so what did Solomon have to say about government? Passages on kings are contained in Proverbs 8, 14, 16, 19, 20, 21, 22, 24, 25, and 29. Also in Ecclesiastes 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, and 10. Consider these proverbs:

By me [God] kings reign and rulers issue decrees that are just; by me princes govern, and nobles—all who rule on earth. (Proverbs 8:15-16, NIV)

The lips of a king speak as an oracle, and his mouth does not betray justice. Honest scales and balances belong to the Lord; all the weights in the bag are of his making. Kings detest wrongdoing, for a throne is established through righteousness. Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value the one who speaks what is right. A king’s wrath is a messenger of death, but the wise will appease it. When a king’s face brightens, it means life; his favor is like a rain cloud in spring. (Proverbs 16:10-15, NIV)

And this passage from Ecclesiastes:

Obey the king’s command, I say, because you took an oath before God. Do not be in a hurry to leave the king’s presence. Do not stand up for a bad cause, for he will do whatever he pleases. Since a king’s word is supreme, who can say to him, “What are you doing?” Whoever obeys his command will come to no harm, and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure. For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a person may be weighed down by misery. (Ecclesiastes 8:2-6, NIV)

These are a small sample of the verses where Solomon discusses kings (government). He outlines that God places leaders and kings in their positions and that they should be honored as such. He talks about the value of obedience and honoring the king, and he describes the reward of obtaining the king’s favor being like “a rain cloud in spring.”

Even though the Buddha was born a prince with wealth and status, he seems to have very mixed feelings about kings. However, Solomon is unswerving in his attitude that kings are placed in power by God, and ought to be honored and obeyed, with resulting blessings on the obedient soul.