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Crime and the control of crime : an ethical analysis from a Theravāda Buddhist point of view

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Elamaldeniye, Sarananda Thero




Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies


Shakya, Miroj
Gabriel, Victor
Long, Darui


This dissertation represents a systematic study of Theravāda Buddhist texts and their discussions of crime and criminal behavior. Theravāda Buddhism does not exercise any legal authority, nor does it claim to enforce the law within the social realm. However, Theravāda Buddhism does include a monastic code of conduct meant to regulate the behavior of the Sangha. Upholding a monastic code of conduct is not only a good ethical example, but also promotes universal harmony among fellow citizens. Insomuch as proposed in the Nikāya and other Buddhist discourses, Theravāda Buddhism is meant to guide human beings towards a happy and a peaceful life and includes an inherent analysis of criminal behavior and a system of ethics. The purpose of this study is to bring to light this analysis and its relation to the concept of human crime.

Applying as a theoretical basis the Buddhist notion of dependent origination (Paṭiccasamuppāda), known as the law of cause and effect, this dissertation will investigate the psychological roots responsible for criminal behavior, such as greed (rāga), hatred (dōsa), and delusion (mōha), as well as the psycho-ethical prescriptions as to how to reduce these “three poisons” in the human mind. The intent of this study is to bring to focus the ways through which Theravāda Buddhism presents the theory and practical implications of controlling crime in society. The present study will also examine the role of punishment with respect to the reduction of crime as discussed in Pāli Buddhist discourses, viz., Cakkavattisīhanāda Sutta and the Aggañña Sutta of the Dīgha Nikāya. Pāli sources emphasize a reformative approach over a punitive one, and also propose the importance of addressing socio-economic issues that contribute to criminal behavior.

In total, this dissertation seeks to explore the connection between the religious laws of the Theravāda Buddhist tradition and human social laws. The project will also give a deep understanding of human nature and possibly offer more humane strategies in dealing with crime and addressing criminal behaviors, based on the relevant teachings of the Vinaya and Sutta in the Theravāda Buddhist tradition.

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University of the West



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