Cakkavattisīhanāda Sutta

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In this sutta the Buddha declares that the ideal ruler (cakkavatti) should rule in accordance with the universal moral law (Dhamma). Thus there is a universal  principle of righteousness and justice that should be applied in governing a country. In the application of this principle one can see interesting parallels with the principles of Human Rights as they have been articulated in the declarations of the United Nations.


But what, sire, is this Noble duty of a Wheel-turning Monarch?[i]

This, dear son, that you, leaning on the Dhamma honouring, respecting and revering it, doing homage to it, hallowing it, being yourself a Dhamma-banner, a Dhamma-signal, having the Dhamma as your master, should provide the right watch, ward, and protection for your own folk, for the army, for the nobles, for vassals, for brahmins, and householders, for town and country dwellers, for the religious world, and for beasts and birds.

Throughout your kingdom let no wrongdoing prevail.

And whosoever in your kingdom is poor; to him let wealth be given.

And when, dear son, in your kingdom men of religious life, renouncing the carelessness arising from the intoxication of the senses, and devoted to forbearance and gentleness, each mastering self, each calming self, each perfecting self, shall come to you from time to time, and question you concerning what is good and what is bad, what is criminal and what is not, what is to be done and what left undone, what line of action will in the long run work for weal or for woe, you should hear what they have to say, and you should deter them from evil, and bid them take up what is good.

This, dear son, is the Noble duty of a Wheel-turning Monarch.

From Dīgha Nikāya 26 Cakkavatti­sīhanāda Sutta

Text in Pali language


[1] Four Principles for the Government (from undated notes from lecture by Prof. Oliver Abeynayake) According to the Cakkavattisīhanāda Sutta, there are four principles to be adopted and followed by the government. They are called ariyaṃ cakkavatti vattaṃ (noble principle of the universal king):

◌ (1) dhammikaṃ rakkhāvaraṇaguttiṃ samvidahassu: it is the duty of the government to make arrangement of the defense of the country and its living beings;

◌ (2) mā ca te vijite adhammakāro pavattittha: measures to be taken to stop all unlawful and criminal activities;

◌ (3) ye te vijite samaṇabrāhmaṇā te kālena kālaṃ upasaṅkamitvā paṭipuccheyyāsi: there are samaṇas and brāhmaṇas in the country; they should be consulted;

◌ (4) ye ca te vijite adhanā assu tesaṃ dhanamuppadeyyāsu: there are poor people in the country; they should be given the wealth.

(1) dhammikaṃ rakkhāvaraṇaguttiṃ samvidahassu: defense should be carried out righteously; therefore, the word dhammikaṃ is used. It is said that even the four-footed animals and birds should be protected under this principle. There are three terms: rakkhā (care), āvaraṇa (shelter), and gutti (protection). So, in the name of defense of the country, care, shelter and protection should be provided.

The rakkhā is mutual care; one who cares for others would be cared for by others. In this regard, the Buddha says that the four qualities should be cultivated: forbearance, non-violence, loving kindness, and compassion. Only when these four qualities are maintained by individuals, can mutual care be established.

The āvaraṇa is shade and shelter: the government should give the shelter for the head and body of the people. For the shelter of the head, the government should give houses; housing problem should be solved. And clothes should be given to cover the body; the term āvaraṇa also means covering; so both head and body should be covered by giving houses and clothes. Thus, the government should solve those two problems in the name of defense.

The gutti is protection: the citizens should be protected from robbers, terrorists, gangs, and dacoits. It is natural that people love what they have earned; so government’s duty is to look after what is earned by the people. That is called gutti.

In the Dīghanikāya Commentary, there is a long discussion about rakkhā, āvaraṇa and gutti in various aspects. Firstly, the needs of each categories of people should be provided by the government. There are various categories of people such as government servants, soldiers, religious, traders, so on. The government should provide all the needs of those groups of people. Secondly, the government should instill discipline in the people. It is said that the rulers should discipline themselves; not only themselves but also their wives, children and relatives should be encouraged to observe discipline. Thirdly, the government officials who look after the remote area of the country should be given the provisions so that they could administer their own provinces well. If they need vehicles, the central government should provide vehicles; if they need capitals, the central government should provide capital expenses. It is under the cakkavatti that the decentralized system of government is established; the kingdom of cakkavatti has both the central government and provincial government under the one plan. The provincial government should be looked after by the central government.

(2) mā ca te vijite adhammakāro pavattittha: there should not be crimes, violence and unlawful activities in the country. The criminals should be punished; it is what is given as the provision in the contract between the king and the citizens. Now, cakkavatti rule comes into operation by amalgamating the existing nation states. When these nation states are amalgamated under one rule, they are given independence to rule their states as they wish. The representatives of the cakkavatti (the central government) visit each of nation states and advise them to be good by following the five precepts. When the five precepts are followed, then the crimes and unlawful activities will disappear. Therefore, it is said that mā adhammakāro pavattittha: you should not allow the crimes to flourish in your country.

(3) ye te vijite samaṇabrāhmaṇā te kālena kālaṃ upasaṅkamitvā paṭipuccheyyāsi:  there are samaṇas and brāhmaṇas in your country; occasionally you should visit them and ask the questions on ethical matters. The rulers should consult all the religious leaders (samaṇas and brāhmaṇas). The Sangārava Sutta (MN) defines the term samaṇabrāhmaṇā; the traditionalists, rationalists, and experientialists are included in this term. These are the three categories of religion that existed in the 6th century B.C. in India. The governors should visit all these categories of religious leaders; the sutta says that there are various representatives of the particular religions; the governors should go and consult those leaders who enter the religion in correct way (sammāpaṭipanna).

(4) ye ca te vijite adhanā assu tesaṃ dhanamuppadeyyāsu: there was a king who put the first three into practice, but the problem of the country did not disappear; they became worse because the fourth one is not taken into consideration. Therefore, the fourth is the most important, that is, the wealth should be given to the poor. There are poor people who do not have wealth (adhanā); among them you should generate wealth. The generation of wealth is emphasized; it is not a distribution of wealth. It can be done only by giving all adults the job opportunities. The word used in this context is sakammapasuta, that is, all the adults are employed; all the adults have their own way of livelihood; there is no idleness in this society.