By "Buddhist" countries I do not mean just countries with a large number of Buddhists, but countries whose governments operate according to the principles of Buddhism. These countries do not have the death penalty.


The most obvious reason is the First Precept which says, "do not kill."

The concept of revenge is totally foreign to Buddhist mindset. Buddhists believe in the Law of Karma, not in the law of an eye for an eye.

But there is a more subtle reason not to execute violent criminals. According to Buddhism, the conditions of the next life time (reincarnation) depend on the last thoughts, the last state of mind of the one dying. A violent criminal's mind is not exactly in a peaceful state. Subjecting him/her to an execution is going to make his state of mind even more violent, fill him with anger. As a result, he is going to be reborn even more violent than he is now. And no one is going to know the newborn baby is actually the guy who murdered the girl next door (or whomever). So, he is going to grow up, completely free to commit even worse crimes than he did before (has anyone noticed that crimes in countries with the death penalty are getting more and more violent as time passes by, has anyone wondered why).

Hence, it makes more sense, from the Buddhist viewpoint, not to execute criminals, as doing so only increases the problem. It makes more sense to keep them alive and give them a chance to come to a realization that what they have done is not a good thing. That gives them a chance to mature and grow, and eventually become non-violent. Even if it takes them several life times, it does speed up the process of growth and understanding, while killing them slows the process down, and makes them worse than before.

That is the main reason Buddhist countries do not have the death penalty.

At last count, there was only one real Buddhist theocracy last time I looked, and that was the Tibetan buddhist dictatorship before China took over. And that "government" had no qualms using torture and execution to keep the peasants in line. Hey, Dalai Lama, I'm sure you missed your gold-plated temple-palace! After all, your cronies did rob generations and generations of Tibetan peasants to build it. And you definitely miss the dank prison/torture chamber. Don't you love how your monks carve up rebelling peasants? Wait, aren't you a buddhist? Benevolence? Love? Oh, power comes first. That's right. Damn, I'm drifting again.......

I don't think it is possible to have a government based on buddhist ideals. It is too vague, too idealistic, and has way too many holes open to intepretation by the people making the government, who turn out all too often to be fanatical dictators. I remember a certain Indian dynasty where the conquering prince was a devout buddhist. I forget the exact name, but it was way back. He set up a system of government based on his buddhist principles. And it turned out his laws were pretty draconian.

China's Tang Dynasty back in 800AD was predominantly buddhist, and they used execution widely. China has always used the death penalty. Thailand, a very buddhist country, executes criminals by the dozen. Japan, which is also somewhat buddhist, also uses the death penalty, although very rarely. The latest people to be dished out with the death penalty in Japan were the Aum cult members, I think.

I'm no expert on buddhism, but it seems all these buddhist countries use capital punishment. I still don't know of any countries with a government based on buddhist ideas. In any case, reincarnation isn't exactly a certain thing, so sparing a violent criminal who could be let loose in the future to kill more people on a risky bet that the person will be reincarnated as a nicer person decades later isn't exactly a good idea. Just my $0.02.

has anyone noticed that crimes in countries with the death penalty are getting more and more violent as time passes by, has anyone wondered why

See "causal fallacies". It's rather more likely that the death penalty is an effect of violence -- that it's used to reduce the number of repeat violent offenders -- than a cause.

note: this is not an endorsement of the death penalty, nor a decrial of Buddhist philosophy. I simply have a pathological hatred of flawed logic used to promote one's spiritual and political agendas.
I agree with the logic presented here, in that killing a even violent criminal creates some serious bad karma for the killer, and reduces the potential for a peaceful death for the criminal.

But it should be pointed out that it would be very unlikely for the criminal to be reborn human. Rebirth as a human is a very special thing, it is by no means guaranteed, or even likely (especially for a violent person). I read in "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying", by Sogyal Rinpoche that:

Tibetans imagine a single turtle swimming in the ocean. And a single wooden hoop floating on the surface of the ocean. The turtle surfaces every thousand years or so. Tibetans liken the frequency of a human rebirth to the turtle surfacing with its head in the hoop.
So while I don't dispute that there is a karmic connection between the death penalty and other kinds of violence within society, I don't think it is quite as simple as the writeup makes it seem.

I'm also interested in the other writeup, by DMan. Did the Dalai Lama really have a torture chamber in his palace? It seems totally out of character at any rate. How can I find out more?

From whizkid's writeup: "has anyone noticed that crimes in countries with the death penalty are getting more and more violent as time passes by, has anyone wondered why"

The implicit assumption here is that a person is reincarnated to the same country they die in. Does this make sense? Do political borders matter in the afterlife (or rather, between-lives)? Does geography matter to spirits (assuming they even have a choice in whether or where they are reborn)? daani points out that a reincarnated human's soul need not be reborn into a human, and indeed, it rarely is. Countries with death penalties should therefore also watch out for murderous mice, psychopathic squirrels, and the like…

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