How Buddhism relates to the U.S. legal system

Lama and the law: how Buddhism relates to the U.S. legal system

NY Daily Record Staff

nIn his first visit to a U.S. law school conference, the 14th Dalai Lama will publicly share for the first time his thoughts on how religion, particularly Buddhism, can influence law and bring about social change.

The conference, “Law, Buddhism and Social Change: a Conversation with the Dalai Lama,” will be Sept. 20 to 21 at the University at Buffalo Law School. A two-hour discussion with the Dalai Lama, legal practitioners and scholars from around the world will open the conference on Sept. 20.

“This will be one of the first times the Dalai Lama has been asked about legal subject matter,” said Buffalo Law School professor and conference organizer Rebecca French, an international authority on Tibetan law and author of The Golden Yoke, the first book on Buddhist legal traditions in Tibet. “It will be fascinating to hear the Dalai Lama describe the best way, from a Buddhist perspective, to think about punishment, rehabilitation and retribution, and I suspect the conversation will address how Buddhist beliefs might influence the U.S. legal system.”

French said the Dalai Lama had participated in a series of similar public forums on the subject of science and the mind.

French expects the conversation between the Dalai Lama and scholars in attendance to be expansive, covering issues ranging from how constitutions provide social order, the purpose of criminal punishment and the karmic consequences of legal decisions.

The Dalai Lama also may discuss his thoughts on governmental control of personal freedoms. He has spoken before on the detrimental effects of television on U.S. society and may comment on whether the government has an obligation to restrict unhealthy behaviors, French said.

The Buffalo Law School is home to the Law and Buddhism Project, the world’s first and only center for the study of law and Buddhism. A goal of the conference and the Law and Buddhism Project, directed by French, is to introduce Buddhist legal concepts to the U.S. legal system, Law School Dean Nils Olsen said.

“U.S. law schools and universities have a long tradition of studying legal principles found in Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism,” Olsen said. “The serious study of Buddhist legal traditions in the U.S. is long overdue. Buddhism, like other world religions, can have a very positive effect on our understanding of morality and law.”

French, a legal anthropologist who has spent several summers studying Tibetan law at the Dalai Lama’s compound in India, said Buddhist concepts of karma, human interconnectedness and reincarnation could have a positive effect on the U.S. legal system and should be studied.

“Buddhists believe that you can’t have closure in a case unless all parties are in agreement with the decision and unless the whole network of people affected by the case is compensated,” she said. “From this process, you have a social catharsis; you have a feeling that society has been healed.

“In the U.S. legal system, one individual gets into friction with another individual, and from that spark of friction one person wins, and one person loses,” she said. “Very little thought is given to interconnectedness of people and how the decision affects all the individuals involved in the case. This process often produces anger, social isolation and unhappiness with our legal system.”

This article was originally published in The Daily Record, Rochester, N.Y., another Dolan Media publication.

Copyright 2006 Dolan Media Newswires

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