Sages of the New Covenant
The human being tin this world are children of Manu (Noah), the family that survived the Great Deluge, about which we get reference in all great religions of the World. From the Tosefta, one can understand that the children of Manu (Noah) were given seven commandments which are listed by the Tosefta and in the Talmud. The Second commandment is the prohibition of murder (Capital punishment is nothing but a legal murder) and the Seventh one is requirement of maintaining courts to provide legal recourse.
Taking a strong stance against the death penalty is a logical outgrowth of any religion or philosophy based upon nonviolence. Most major religious groups support abolition of the death penalty.
"My overriding belief is that it is always possible for criminals to improve and that by its very finality the death penalty contradicts this. Therefore, I support those organizations and individuals who are trying to bring an end to the use of the death penalty."
-- His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama, Spiritual Leader of Tibet.
"A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform.
I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary." - Pope John Paul II
"Capital punishment is an absolutely crazy idea. It’s a spiritual impossibility and a cruel hoax that is sold to the families of victims. They are so vulnerable; the easiest thing to sell them is anger. It’s the biggest disservice we do to them. It guarantees them a life of pain. The only possible healing comes through forgiveness. The hard choice is the only one that works."
- Rabbi Alan Lew, Congregation of Beth Shalom, San Francisco
"I do regard death sentence as contrary to ahimsa. Under a State governed according to the principles of Ahimsa. Therefore, a murderer would be sent to a penitentiary and there given a chance of reforming himself. All crime is a kind of disease and should be treated as such."
- Mahatma Gandhi (The Harijan, 19th March 1937)
“Having lost my father and grandmother to gun violence, I will understand the deep hurt and anger felt by the loved ones of those who have been murdered. Yet I can't accept the judgment that their killers deserve to be executed. This merely perpetuates the tragic, unending cycle of violence that destroys our hope for a decent society.”
— Rev. Bernice King (daughter of civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.)
Among the major four divisions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Baha’i) of Abrahamic religions, Judaism is the oldest, which retained the earlier scriptures for other faith communities of Manu’s (Noah) descendants. Hence, it is imperative to understand the basic faith of the Abrahamic religions, one need to understand God’s instructions to Moses, which became the base for Judaism.
When Cain murdered Abel, God put a mark on him, lest anyone finding him should kill him. From this, one could be clear that God did not believe in punishing Cain with death penalty or revenge; God only cursed Cain. In addition, God told Moses to build forty eight separate cities of 90, 00,000 sq. feet (3750 grounds) of land for the priestly (Levites- first born in a family and the lineage of Aaron) communities in the common land of all other eleven communities in Canaan. Among the 48 cities allotted for the Levites, six cities have to be apportioned as ‘Cities of Refuge’ – three on the sides of the Jordon (river) and three inside the Canaan mainland. These Cities of Refuge would serve as asylum for any fleeing ‘manslayers, where one could live and return to his land of possession after the death of the High Priest. In addition, God has said:
“So you shall not pollute the land where you are; for BLODD DEFILES THE LAND, and NO ATONEMENT CAN BE MADE for the land, FOR THE BLOOD THAT IS AHED ON IT, EXCEPT BY THE BLOOD OF HIM WHO SHED IT. Therefore do not defile the land which you inhibit, in the midst of which I dwell; for I the Lord dwell among the children of Israel.”
If we have to interpret this instruction to Moses by God, one could understand that the manslayer do have a right to live safely in the Cities of Refuge and is eligible to come back to his land of possession, without further punishment, once the High Priest dies. These Cities of Refuge are nothing but the prison. Possibly the High Priests were expected to serve as mentors / probationary officers. More over God was not interested in defiling the land with blood; as atonement can be made for the land only by the victim who had shed the blood on it; but not by an avenger. From this it is clear that Judaism does NOT support Capital Punishment.
Though instruction to Moses is very clear that no ransom for the life of a murderer, should be received by the State, The Qur'an seems to be suggesting ‘blood money’ payment should be made to him in a good manner; this is an alleviation from your Lord and a mercy; may be as a Social Security measured for the victims’ family.
Many seem to be mis-quoting the sayings of Jesus to favor Capital Punishment. In Matthew Chapter 7 verse 2, is said by Jesus to warn people not to be judgmental about others; but definitely not to suggest “a tooth for tooth”. This verse is suggestive that if one becomes judgmental, they too will be judge accordingly during the final judgment. Some seems to be mis-quoting Matthew 15:4. Whenever Jesus spoke about Death, it was not the physical death He was referring to; but the spiritual death.
Supporters of abolition include: Church of South India, National Council of Churches - India, American Baptist Churches in India, Thamizh Nadu Evangelical Lutheran Church, Mennonite Church, Presbyterian Church India and The United Methodist Church of India. The Mennonites, Church of the Brethren and Religious Society of Friends cite Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (Matt. Chap. 5-7) and Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:17-49) to oppose the practice of death penalty. In both sermons, Jesus tells his followers to TURN THE OTHER CHEEK and love their enemies, which these groups believe mandates nonviolence, including opposition to death penalty.
According to Christianity, freedom from one’s deeds (Karma) is through mere repentance and salvation is through Faith in the Grace of God. One of the tenets of Christianity is FORGIVING. That is why, when Stephen was stoned to death, he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord do not charge them with this sin.” (Acts 7:60). When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he asked them to say: “… And forgive our trespasses (debts), as we forgive the trespasses of others (debtors).” When forgiveness is one of the tenets of Christianity, it is understood that the teachings of Jesus Christ and scriptures of the Bible support the abolition of Capital Punishment.
Supporters of abolition include: Church of South India, National Council of Churches - India, American Baptist Churches in India, Thamizh Nadu Evangelical Lutheran Church, Mennonite Church, Presbyterian Church India and The United Methodist Church of India.
On 6th July 1415, Jan Hus was given death penalty by the Pope, as Hus translated the Bible in his vernacular language. This was one of the several great mistakes committed by the papacy, during their un-Christian sovereignty they had on all the European nations. Nearly six centuries later in 1999, Pope John Paul II expressed "deep regret for the cruel death inflicted" on Hus. Can a mere regret reverse the history? Life executed is lost.
Baha’is believe is the case, human nature has the potential for goodness, then people tend to be most deeply motivated when they are provided with the opportunity to express the physical, moral and intellectual potentialities that characterize this nature and reflect the attributes of its Creator. In the words of the Baha’i Scriptures, "some souls are ignorant, they must be educated; some are sick, they must be healed; some are still of tender age, they must be helped to attain maturity, and the utmost kindness must be shown to them." So retaining Capital Punishment as a deterrent by the State will not go well with the tenets of Baha’i faith.
The epic Mahabharata contains passages arguing against the use of the death penalty in all cases. An example is a dialogue between King Dyumatsena and his son Prince Satyavan (section 257 of the Santiparva) where a number of men are brought out for execution at the King's command.
Prince Satyavan says: Sometimes virtue assumes the form of sin and sin assumes the form of virtue. It is not possible that the destruction of individuals can ever be virtuous.
King Dyumatsena replies: If the sparing of those who should be killed be virtuous, if robbers be spared, Satyavan, all distinction between virtue and vice will disappear.
Satyavan responds: Without destroying the body of the offender, the king should punish him as ordained by the scriptures. The king should not act otherwise, neglecting to reflect upon the character of the offence and upon the science of morality. By killing the wrongdoer, the King kills a large number of his innocent men. Behold by killing a single robber, his wife, mother, father and children, all are killed. When injured by wicked persons, the king should therefore think seriously on the question of punishment. Sometimes a wicked person is seen to imbibe good conduct from a pious man. It is seen that good children spring from wicked persons. The wicked should not therefore be exterminated. The extermination of the wicked is not in consonance with the eternal law.
According to Satyavan, the offence is done by the mind; hence only mind need to be punished; not the body. In addition, when death penalty is given to the offender, the State is punishing not only the offender, but his parents, wife and children. Satyavan is hopeful of a mental transformation. If Satyavan’s theory is accepted as a norm, then Hinduism do not support Death Penalty.
Abolition of the death penalty is a regular theme in Buddhism, as we shall see below.
A logical starting point from which to begin considering a Buddhist perspective on the death penalty would be Buddhism's most basic set of training rules for personal spiritual development known as the panca-sila or five precepts. These basic rules of good conduct are for all Buddhists, lay or ordained.
The first of the Five Precepts, (Panca-sila) is to abstain from destruction of life and arguably most important, precept is the training rule of abstaining from taking life. The four other training rules are: abstaining from taking what is not given; abstaining from sexual misconduct; abstaining from false speech; and abstaining from intoxicants.
Abstaining from the destruction of life encourages the development of compassion (karuna) for all beings. Moreover, Buddhism teaches that all sentient beings (sattva) are fundamentally good. All sentient beings possess what is known as Buddha-nature (buddhata). Having Buddha-nature means that all sentient beings can eventually realize enlightenment/awakening (bodhi) and thereby become Buddhas i.e., Awakened Ones. Everyone has great spiritual potential waiting to be unleashed no matter how depraved they might look. This notion supports nonviolence/non-harming (ahimsa).
One of the most important religious texts for Buddhism is a poetic collection of aphorisms known as the Dhammapada or Dharmapada. This work is preserved in Pali and in other ancient languages. In the Chapter 10, clearly indicates that Buddhism is quite against Capital Punishment, as we see in the following lines:
“Everyone fears punishment; everyone fears death, just as you do. Therefore do not kill or cause to kill. Everyone fears punishment; everyone loves life, as you do. Therefore do not kill or cause to kill.” – Chapter 10 of Dhammapada
The final chapter while describing who is ‘Brahmin’ says the following:
“Him I call a Brahmin who has put aside weapons and renounced violence toward all creatures. He neither kills nor helps others to kill.” - Chapter 26, of the Dhammapada
Jataka is a story said to be told by the Buddha to the King of Kosala It tells the tale of a certain Prince Janasandha, the son of King Brahmadatta of Banaras:
When [Prince Janasandha] came of age, and had returned from Takkasila, where he had been educated in all accomplishments, the king gave a general pardon to all prisoners, and gave him the viceroyalty. Afterwards when his father died, he became king, and then he caused to be built six almonries.... There day by day he used to distribute six hundred pieces of money and stirred up all India with his almsgiving: the prison doors he opened for good and all, the places of execution he destroyed....
The Rajaparikatha-ratnamala (The Precious Garland of Advice for the King) is a treatise attributed to the famous South Indian Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna (2nd or 3rd century AD). In this work on Buddhist statecraft, Nagarjuna gives King Udayi of the Satavahana Dynasty advice on a variety of matters and the following is the manner Nagarjuna handles capital punishment:
O King, through compassion you should always
Generate an attitude of help
Even for all those embodied beings
Who have committed appalling sins.
Especially generate compassion
For those murderers, whose sins are horrible;
Those of fallen nature are receptacles
Of compassion from those whose nature is great....
Once you have analyzed the angry
Murderers and recognized them well,
You should banish them without
Killing or tormenting them.
Although banishment obviously entails psychological and physical hardships, it is certainly to be preferred to death. Moreover, it can protect the convicted defendant from the possible wrath of friends or family of the victim.
Angulimala-sutta is a famous sutra dealing with the power of rehabilitation. The text is known as the Angulimala-sutta or the (Discourse with Angulimala). It is a part of the Majjhima-nikaya, or Medium Length Discourses, of the Pali Canon.
Here the reader meets a much-feared robber and murderer by the name of Angulimala which literally means - Garland of Fingers. The namesake garland was said to have been made by using the fingers of his victims. Understandably, the locals are all afraid of Angulimala.
Nonetheless, the Buddha, who is staying in the area at the time, insists on heading alone down the road where Angulimala is believed to be hiding. Through his unique persona, the Buddha manages to convert Angulimala and ordain him as a monk.
Urged by the public, King, heads out with large entourage to find Angulimala. He comes across the Buddha and explains his situation. The Buddha then shows him the reformed Angulimala living peacefully as a monk. The King is quite taken back by all this. He is amazed at how the Buddha was able to change Angulimala.
This story points to a Buddhist notion of rehabilitation. Naturally, rehabilitation and capital punishment are mutually exclusive concepts. In Buddhist terms, a rehabilitated offender, even a murderer, will remember his or her Buddha-nature. For society, reforming a wrongdoer means regaining a productive member who can somehow contribute to the general welfare.
The aspect of ahimsa rooted in Jainism is because of the notion of karma / action or deed. At the risk of oversimplification, there is good as well as bad karma. Jains are influenced by the teachings of karma from the past and they create new karma in acts of free will as they live their lives. Killing in any form is simply bad karma according to Jainism. In simple terms one can say. Live and Let Live.
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Sages of the New Covenant