Human Rights: A Success Story will Depend on Linkage to Constructive Ethics

22 September 2541

Human Rights: A Success Story will Depend on Linkage to Constructive Ethics

As for the Buddhists, we can certainly benefit from the UDHR which in itself contains good principles for sound practices. Comparing the UDHR to the Five Precepts1, we will see that the Five Precepts serve as principal social pillars. If human beings act in accordance with the Five precepts, then there is no need for the UDHR. Looking in detail, several provisions stated in the UDHR also can be seen within the framework of the Five Precepts and, beyond that, the Six Directions2 on relations between social members, e.g., relations between employers and employees. The UDHR, in this regard, supports the principles of the Lord Buddha’s teachings by:

1. Translating the teaching into precise standards to give effects to the practice of the Five Precepts in real life, with control mechanism so that the Five Precepts yield concrete results;

2. Introducing greater detail for practice, for example, the First Precept (on abstaining from taking life or doing bodily harm) or the Second Precept (on abstaining from taking what is not given) was modified into 4-5 standards and to suit with time.

The Five Precepts are neutral, for example the First Precept on abstaining from killing or the Second Precept on abstaining from violation of other’s properties But as time rolls on, the context keeps changing and the relations between human beings and their behavior change accordingly, so there is a need to design clear and appropriate standards for practicality so that we can achieve maximum benefits and attain the real objective more confidently.

By translating the Five precepts and other teaching into precise standards such as the UDHR, the sense of ownership is created. Each individual will feel that the UDHR belongs to him or her and that it can be used as a legitimate claim to prevent oneself from being violated by others and as a legal protection. It equips oneself with a shield, a weapon to defend oneself. But should we stop at that?

Comparing with Buddhism, the provisions contained in the UDHR have similar nature with the Five Precepts and the Six Directions. It can be clearly seen that either the Five Precepts and the Six Directions are not considered sufficient. They serve as minimum requirements or social standards which, at least, protect the world from setting on fire, enable people to live together and develop life to even a higher plane. In doing so, we need to go beyond the Five Precepts, the Six Directions, and the Six Channels to Ruin3, we need to develop ourselves further through the Sila, Samadhi, Panna4. Similarly, human rights is at the Sila level.

One caution to take is that the Five Precepts or Sila is at ethical level. As for the concept of human rights, it is often looked at from the angle of protecting ourselves from violations by others, with emphasis on protecting and demanding rights. With that kind of perception, the human rights ethics then remains as a negative one.5 For that reason, there is a need to develop such negative ethics into a positive, a constructive one.

In conclusion, the UDHR is a basis, a foundation, to enable human beings to lead a virtuous life and to live in peace and harmony. But we must not stop ourselves at that. The UDHR must be applied to serve its righteous objective and, moreover, for higher ends.

In safeguarding human rights and in strengthening the ability of human beings to take further steps from a society based on compliance with human rights rules and regulations to a society in which people care about one another, a “caring society,” self-development of human beings is needed and must be striven for.

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