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Each religion has their own values and its – compulsory or recommended – rules. Tolerance begins where the rulings of the religions differ.

To what extent should a Buddhist follow the rules of a country, and where is the limit when Buddhists have to protest or to disobey? Which rights for a Buddhist should be observed by all countries?

I am asking for rights that are needed to grant religious liberty in particular to Buddhists, maybe signed as the absolute minimum (limit when Buddhists have to protest or to disobey) and fair treatment (rights for a Buddhist should be observed by all countries).

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  • This question is too broad. It could be improved by giving examples of what you might have in mind. Some example countries and the laws thereof which you are wondering about. Which buddhist rules are you envisioning and which countries rules? Even if you have no specific country or rules in mind, examples would be very helpful in forming an appropriate answer. – Yeshe Tenley May 2 at 12:27
  • I am sorry not to be able to become very specific because I am a Muslim not knowing much about the highest priorities. I have put the same question on the Islam SE site islam.stackexchange.com/questions/68069/… and I would like to get a scope for necessary tolerance of all religions – Jeschu May 2 at 12:38
  • Ok, well this is a good example and thank you for it! You're asking if there are compulsory or recommended rules that would compel a Buddhist to act in a certain way even if it was in contradiction to the rules of a country of predominantly Islamic faith. This is a good question. Thank you for the update. – Yeshe Tenley May 2 at 12:43
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As in Yeshe Tenley's answer, the first thing that comes to mind for lay Buddhist are the 5 precepts. Perhaps no country would have a problem allowing this. Except that the first precept may conflict with military conscription (and historically some countries or rulers had a problem with that), so some Buddhist might want to be exempt from military conscription. Many countries don't have military conscription any more, and of those which do or did, some countries allow that exemption, not for Buddhists in particular but for "conscientious objectors" and "pacifists" in general.

Buddhist monastics usually need to be supported by lay society, for example via alms rounds. Again a country sometimes has a problem with that -- disapprove of people begging and being untaxable. And again it's tolerated by liberal western democracies, not only for Buddhists but for other religions too -- for example there's provision in the tax laws for people who have made "a vow of perpetual poverty".

There might be problems if a country has blasphemy laws. Buddhist doctrine might not be considered orthodox according to Islam, and vice versa. So far as I know, Islamic "blasphemy" laws (where these exist), apply more strictly to Muslims than to non-Muslims (e.g. the Dhimmi) -- similarly "apostacy". As well as blasphemy, fundamentalists may also take exception to the iconography of other religions (leading to the destruction of the Bamiyan statues, for example). Alternatively many countries guarantee "freedom of religion" as a right, allowing people to choose any religion or none.

Some totalitarian governments have a problem with alternative social or political structures. Correct me if I'm wrong, I think I read for example that Christianity is allowed in China, but only of a form that's permitted by the government or Communist Party -- and not for example Roman Catholicism, to avoid a church that's headed by the Pope in Rome (and may be opposed to local authorities) -- perhaps you see that also, in their treatment of Buddhists and Muslims.

Civil wars and so on also happen because it isn't only religion but ethnicity and so on -- and nationalism. Sometimes it's what I think of as an over-reaction or a wrong reaction, for example:

  • A (social, religious, ethnic) minority is persecuted or just disadvantaged
  • There's some incidents of violence (motivated by poverty, revenge, terrorism), by some members of the minority
  • The reaction is, "[all] the members of minority is violent, therefore we must remove them from the country"

The members of the majority religion might find articles of doctrine which justify that "defence of the faith". It seems to me that's a bit extremist though, and that different religions co-exist peacefully in secular democracies.

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One way self-proclaimed Buddhists identify themselves as such is by taking refuge in the Triple Gem of the Dharma, the Buddha, and the Sangha. Usually when a lay follower takes refuge they are advised to take a vow to follow the five precepts:

  • to refrain from killing
  • to refrain from stealing
  • to refrain from lying
  • to refrain from improper sexual conduct
  • to refrain from consuming intoxicants

It is important to note that the decision to undertake these five precepts is completely voluntary. Moreover, it is not compulsory to take all five... many Buddhists only undertake some of these precepts while omitting others. Many Buddhists do not take the fifth precept of refraining from consuming intoxicants.

It is also important to note the scope of these precepts and that they too can be voluntarily widened or shortened. For instance, some will only take the first precept as vowing not to kill other human beings. Others will take the precept with all sentient beings in mind; vowing not to kill even an ant or a fly.

Lay followers are generally encouraged to take as many of the precepts and in as wide of scope as they can faithfully undertake. It is always possible to widen the scope or undertake more precepts at a later time.

Further, when one takes refuge in the three jewels, it is advised that one should give up taking ultimate refuge in a creator god or other religion. It is also advised that one should give up associations with people who would actively harm one's refuge by disparaging the Dharma for instance.

This does not mean that one is barred from following the practices of another religion where they are beneficial and non-contradictory!

Rather, it just means that one is advised not to take refuge in the Triple Gem while also believing in the salvation of a creator god. The reason is because these two are not generally compatible and will cause confusion when confronted with the necessary contradictions involved.

So to answer your question, I would say an Islamic country - for instance - should respect these precepts and allow non-majority Buddhists to follow them as well as take refuge in the Triple Gem. I would also say that the Islamic country should not ban the ability of the Buddhists to form Sangha communities and to pass around Dharma literature and actively practice their faith and religion.

The forming of Sangha communities (monks and nuns living in commune or in solitary areas) and the precepts that monks and nuns (voluntarily) undertake involve more proscribed precepts. And it is important to note that Dharma teaching and literature will also necessarily involve pointing out the contradictions between what Buddhists believe and what is implied by a creator god bestowing liberation. This is where I think it most likely that tension could be found between Buddhist rules/precepts/beliefs/practices and the rules of a dominant Islamic country. I do believe it's possible for the two to live in mutual respect and tolerance, but it will involve kind acts and giving the benefit of the doubt and respect for the views of others on both parts.

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  • Among your five precepts, only the first - to refrain from killing - may conflict with legislation when military service is obligatory. Would this precept imply refusion of military service? (side question: is this respected in Buddhist countries?) – Jeschu May 2 at 13:08
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    It would def. conflict to the extent that you are obliged in military service to kill others. However, I do not believe it would be in conflict with this precept if one were compelled to work as a doctor or nurse to save lives in military conflict for instance. I do not know of any contemporary Buddhist countries that would compel its citizens to kill others and if there were any such countries I would object to them calling themselves Buddhist as they'd be in direct contradiction to the Buddha's teachings. – Yeshe Tenley May 2 at 13:10
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We should respect other religions if they think it's right. As you also think ''your's'' is. There are many good people doing good

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