Buddhism on the Death Penalty, Mercy & Punishment

Buddhists work to demonstrate love and compassion toward everyone.
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Buddhism teaches practitioners to search for an end to suffering by divorcing themselves from the world's greed and desires, and instead focusing on universal truths. Basic tenets of the religion include causing no harm, and showing compassion and love toward living creatures. These philosophies extend to Buddhist views on punishment, as Buddhist practice forgiveness and compassion, not retribution.

1 Death Penalty

The core philosophies of Buddhism contradict capital punishment. Buddhists follow five precepts, or rules about actions to avoid. The first of these precepts specifically prohibits harming or killing any living thing. Buddhists attempt to lead a life that causes the least amount of harm possible; executing even people who are guilty of heinous crimes defies this concept. The Buddha taught followers to return acts of evil with acts of compassion, which further contradicts the death penalty. Buddhists perceive any intense punishment as detrimental not only to the recipient, but to the executioner as well. While Buddhism philosophically opposes the death penalty, some countries with significant Buddhist populations still practice it as of 2013; Thailand is such an example.

2 Mercy

One of the principle teachings of Buddhism is showing compassion toward others. While Buddhists acknowledge all life involves suffering, they seek to find a means of ending the suffering. Showing compassion to fellow humans, which includes showing mercy to people who have done wrong, helps Buddhists develop spiritually. The Buddha advocates expressing mercy to others, and instead of wishing enemies or wrongdoers ill, wishing them well. The Buddhist meditation of loving-kindness involves one stage in which people meditating wishing love onto someone who they dislike.

3 Punishment

Buddhism opposes any severe punishment, as Buddhists see it as an affront to both the recipient and the person conducting the punishment. A person is incapable of delivering any extreme punishment with compassion, a trait all Buddhists must show to all living things. The aim of punishment should not be retribution, but rehabilitation; it should help a person grow and recover to better fit into society. In the most extreme cases, people can be banished from the town or city if no hope of rehabilitation is possible.

4 Karma

While Buddhists oppose cruel punishments and support showing mercy to others, they do not feel that people can act in any way they wish without consequences. Instead, they believe that people's actions will result in either positive or negative consequences in the future, a concept known as karma. Buddhist precepts instruct followers to avoid things like killing, lying, stealing, and consuming drugs and alcohol. If a person lives an immoral life, they will receive bad actions returning to them. If people have bad karma in this life, it extends to the next life.

A resident of Riverside, California, Timothy Peckinpaugh began writing in 2006 for U.S. History Publishers, based in Temecula, California. He graduated magna cum laude from the University of California, Riverside, with a bachelor's degree in English.