New Website about Buddhism and Human Rights

Nalin Swaris

I have just finished preparing a new website for the writings of the Sri Lankan human rights activist Nalin Swaris, whose book on Buddhism, Human Rights and Social Renewal I previously published through this blog. Now there is a dedicated website, which contains not only that work, but also a couple of his essays, and with the possibility that the material can be added to as and when I have the opportunity and/or permission.

Included for now in the new site are his book on Buddhism, Human Rights and Social Renewal, and two essays, one on Karma, drawn mainly from his thesis, and another, an occasional essay on Maitriya (mettā), which was published in Meeting Rivers. There is also an appraisal written shortly after his death by his friend and Buddhist scholar Prof. Asanga Tilakaratne on the front page.

Nalin was born a Catholic and studied and qualified for the priesthood, but eventually became dissatisfied and left; nevertheless he profited from his training, as his studies had been very broad and he was very familiar with both ancient and modern philosophy. He wrote his thesis on the social philosophy of Buddhism, which was published in 1999 as The Buddha’s Way to Human Liberation: a Socio-Historical Approach, and looked at such matters as the theory of rights, brahminical political theory, the Buddha’s perspective of humanity, statecraft and economics.

Like many another who came to Buddhism afresh, he was not content to accept the traditional interpretations, and reinterpreted the teaching, especially as it must have appeared in the social context of the 5th century BCE, and drew out the implications for the present day.

Nalin was a very engaged figure, and was known as a partisan of human rights, while understanding that the very concept of rights has arisen in a specific western context. His chapter on the Foundations of the Western Philosophy of Right in the book Buddhism, Human Rights and Social Renewal is a masterly study and critique of the same.

Nalin’s work is not above criticism and I am trying to obtain release of a long critique written by Asanga Tilakaratne on his published thesis to provide some more context; but having said that he also brought out a side of the Buddha’s teaching which is often overlooked: the radical social critique he brought to the society of his time.

We would do well to look again at this side of the teaching and orientate ourselves in society according to the radical teaching the Buddha gave on many aspects of life, instead of beings victims to the globalisation of society which nearly all Buddhist countries and peoples have, implicitly or explicitly, accepted, seemingly ignorant of this aspect of the teaching.


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1 comment to New Website about Buddhism and Human Rights

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    In addition, according status to priests is not regarded as an indispensable condition of enlightenment in the tradition of Mahayana Buddhism. Even less do we encounter discrimination in the form of differences between priests and laymen. A concept that would differentiate people in a spiritual hierarchy does not agree with the modern theory of human rights.

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