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Can we find a concept of "Dignity" or "Human Dignity" in Buddhism? My understanding is that in the Western World the concept of Human Dignity is used to justify that each of us deserves to be not only treated with respect but also valued as a part of humanity whatever our origin or our place in society.

I read that each of us has the nature of Buddha. Could this be considered as the foundation of Human Dignity or a similar notion in Buddhism? What would be the closest(s) equivalent(s) in Buddhism?

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Dignity in Buddhism is not built-in, it is to be earned. A realized person is respected because they deserve to be respected. If someone can control one's emotions, does not fall victim to one's weaknesses, has deep vision and wise judgement, flexible mind, and clear moral - then one can be respected. The word "arahant" ("arhat") is a Buddhist term for a realized person - it means "worthy" (of respect). The word "arya" is another such term which means "noble" or "civilized" in the highest sense.

Then there is compassion. This is when someone does not deserve to be respected, but nevertheless we don't disrespect them either, out of compassion. Compassion reminds us that at fundamental level we are products of our environment, our experience, and our choices - so no one is fundamentally better than another because they "are actually" better. They could be better off due to luck or circumstances or their own good karma or someone else's compassion etc. So compassion tells us to not disrespect those whom we can't respect.

And then of course on the personal level, for one's own perspective on oneself, the notion of Buddha-Nature reminds us that we have the same right to be here as the stars and the trees, that at the most fundamental level we are the heirs to Buddha-Dharma, and that we are not less worthy of Enlightenment than the closest students of Buddha, if we make the effort to take it.

So these are the three sides of Dignity in Buddhism. Dignity of the unlucky - thanks to compassion, Dignity of the aspirant to Enlightenment - thanks to the Buddha nature, and the fully deserved Dignity of the winner.

  • "If someone can control one's emotions, does not fall victim to one's weaknesses, has deep vision and wise judgement, flexible mind, and clear moral - then one can be respected.". These are wise words. Thank you for sharing. – Lanka Feb 26 '16 at 12:59
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each of us deserves to be not only treated with respect but also valued as a part of humanity whatever our origin or our place in society

That may be true, for at least three reasons:

  1. It's not "a person's place in society" that makes a person valuable: for example verse 396 in the Dhammapada (there are other examples in the suttas) say that it's not a person's caste (place in society) that would make them holy.

  2. Buddhism teaches that being born human is of itself valuable (because humans are able to work towards enlightenment, whereas being born an animal makes that more difficult or impossible).

  3. Compassion and loving-kindness is arguably a (if not the) prime motive of Buddhism.


Also, and I'm not sure whether this counts, at least in its original form Buddhists were encouraged to renounce the ties of having close family and the responsibilities of having a household to support -- in exchange, I think that monks and nuns acquire broader or more universal social relationships, i.e. to the whole Sangha and to (all) members of lay society.


To be fair I can also think of some Buddhist beliefs (not that all Buddhist have these beliefs) which might be counter-examples to your "(valued as a) part of humanity whatever our origin" definition:

  • It's better to be born in a country/society where the Buddha-Dharma exists
  • It's better to give Dana to the Sangha than to other people
  • One should avoid being too anthropocentric (seeing people as special just because they're human), and one should consider animals and so on too under the category of "sentient beings"
  • The Sigalovada Sutta (which describes "the six directions") says to behave differently towards different members of your society depending on their 'place' (though maybe each with dignity in their own way)
  • Buddhist doctrine might identify (shine a light on) human foibles (a.k.a. "defilements"): greed, anger, laziness, ignorance, and so on. To that extent maybe it doesn't assume that humans are all always especially dignified all the time.

These 'counter-examples' don't necessarily mean that Buddhism has no concept of human dignity; but if these contradict your definition of human dignity, then maybe it wasn't a fool-proof definition.


I read that each of us has the nature of Buddha. Could this be considered as the foundation of Human Dignity or a similar notion in Buddhism?

Yes, I'm pretty sure it could.

The Buddha deserves respect so by recollecting the Buddha one feels respect (IMO).

The Buddha taught (or Buddhism teaches) people to behave themselves -- minimally the five precepts e.g. don't kill people, don't lie to them or steal from them -- or in more detail, much advice on how to talk respectfully.

The "nature of Buddha" is (it's written) difficult to define. Part of its meaning is, apparently, the "seed, embryo, or womb" of Buddha, i.e. the potential for being Buddha.

Speaking of potential etc., my opinion (and this isn't necessarily Buddhism) is that something like this is an argument for, for example, treating children with dignity. You may prefer relationships with people that are not stained by anger, greed, coercion, nor indifference.

Being a little bit disrespectful of people's vanities might be enlightening sometimes (see e.g., I don't know, the Calling Card or the Nothing Exists stories for examples of that), but doing that kind of thing deliberately is maybe something that only a teacher should do.

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    I didn't add a reference for every sentence of this answer: please post a comment to let me know if you'd like references or 'texts' for any specific statements in this answer. – ChrisW Feb 26 '16 at 11:06
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In the time of the Buddha there was a cast system whereby people were segregated by cast. The Buddha mentioned that it is not by birth but through conduct that a person would become superior or not.

In addition, women did not have equal place in society. The Buddha did eventually allowed the Bhikkhuni ordination.

Also there were animal sacrifices in India during this time. The Buddha mentioned that the animals also should be treated humanely and did not endorse these practices. Therefore the Buddhist philosophy did go beyond human dignity and it promoted respect to life itself.

Also the Buddhist teaching revolves around the 4 Noble Truths. Regardless of race, caste or any other factor all being get stressed and unsatisfied. One of the pillars of the part to alleviate stress is morality and living in harmony with others and society. Being moral you have to have self dignity and also treat others in a dignified way.

In Buddhism you have the concept of Karma. This encourages one to treat others the way you would like to be treated, i.e., in a dignified way.

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Thats what it's all about.

When practicing metta I usually feel this profound sense of dignity I suppose because all my defilments are temporarily gone.

The Buddha's teaching guides those who are willing to listen to dignity, selflessness and beyond.

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Human dignity is built into all religions of Earth. Religion says we are all same on higher plane though grosser and different on lower plane. We are all different shadows of One. Since Buddha remained silient about God and stressed on nothingness, people mistake it for non existence of God.

God is another name for the force which is inherent in living and nonliving beings. In this universe nothing is dead. Ask any physicist and he/she will confirn it. Therefore everything needs to be respected whether living or nonliving. It is just level of animation is different for different beings.

  • Do you have to earn respect? everyone including murderers have dignity and you have to respect not the murderer but godliness inside. Dignity/ respect for others cannot be conditional. It goes against Buddha. Earning respect and dignity sounds more christian. Only one thing needs to be earnrd i.e Buddhahood nothing else. – Shashank Khare Feb 26 '16 at 6:22
  • I guess this was meant as a comment on Andrei's answer. When your 'reputation' is '50' then you'll be able to post comments on other people's answers. – ChrisW Feb 26 '16 at 11:02

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