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The Legal Order of Gyalpo Melongdong’s Royal Court of Justice

I. Introduction

This article attempts to narrate the words of Buddha based on Kangyur-Duel Wa with particular reference to Gyalpo Melongdong’s (Skrt. Adasamukho) Royal Court of Justice and its dispute resolution.  The methods of dispute resolution and the decisions rendered in different cases shed interesting dissect as to how Buddhism and Law intersect in the Royal Court of King Melongdong. One cannot deny that the provisions reflected in our procedural, substantive and the constitutional laws pivot around Buddhist philosophy. In this respect, the dispensation of cases by King Melongdong will be explored as the legal basis of decision making in our courts today and compared with some of the parallel legal principles in western jurisprudence.

The Buddha’s doctrinal treatise was originally translated from Sanskrit into Choekey. It consists of Duel Wa or Vinaya (rules governing the Sangha); Dho or Sutras; Bjued or Tantras; and Nyeonpa or Abidhidharma (སྡེ་སྣོད་གསུམ). The Vinaya Pitaka or Duel Wa is the original translation of the words of Buddha from Sanskrit into Choekey-Kangyur Duel Wa. For the purpose of this article, I have primarily referred the original words of Buddha as reflected in “Gyalwai Kangyur Yidzhin Norbu” which profoundly narrates case laws decided by Gyalpo Melongdong also known as Thirmdragpa. These narratives are confined within the bounds of the Shangha and other religious practitioners who often through the recitation of Kangyur Duel Wa read about the narratives but can be hardly deciphered through common platforms.2 

II. Source of conflicts in Buddhism

Buddha pointed out six fundamental causes of personal conflicts that ultimately cause sufferings: (i) being hateful and grudging; (ii) being contemptuous and aggressive; (iii) being envious and miserly; (iv) being fraudulent and hypocritical; (v) having mean desires and wrong opinions; and (vi) holding with tenacity to one’s own dogmatic opinion and having difficulty in letting go of one’s own mistaken opinion. Therefore, the highly potent source of conflict is due to dogmatic clinging to views, opinions and ideologies which may be religious dogmas, political ideologies, moral opinions, philosophical theories and strong attachments to views by people.3  

The very source of conflict as pointed out by Buddha has to do with potent natural conflicts that stem from core human nature, while the sources of conflict in the contemporary context have become more pronounced due to complex and interconnected nature of society. The interconnectivity among individuals, groups, organizations (such as political) and the global netizens (such as social media) prognate emerging conflicts and poses jurisdictional challenges to resolve such conflicts.  

The Vinaya (འདུལ་བ་བམ་འདུལ་ཁྲིམས་) provides the monk body or Sangha (དགེ་འདུན་) the highest legal code and methods of dispute resolution. The Vinaya and its rules are authoritatively followed by the Buddhist communities and practitioners with much reverence as they are the very words of Buddha himself.  The chapter in the Vinaya on the origin of the laws and the resolution of the dispute by Gyalpo Melongdong which was narrated by Buddha to the disciples provides fascinating legal principles of “contributory victimization”, “negligence of the parties”, “circumstances beyond one’s control” etc,.  where Gyalpo Melongdong adjudged that both the parties were at fault (གཉིས་ཀར་རྫུན་པ་); both the parties were right (གཉིས་ཀར་བདེན་པ་); both the parties were neither right nor wrong (ཁབ་སོ་ནང་པའི་ཁྲིམས་); where either party is adjudged right or wrong or decision based on merits (ཞལ་ལྕེའི་ཁྲིམས་). 

III. Gyalpo Melongdong and dispute resolution

The narratives of Buddha revolve around five cases which were disputed, heard and resolved by Gyalpo Melongdong: (i) the case related to the hiring of an ox; (ii) the fallen axe of a carpenter in the river; (iii) the runaway horse; (iv) the death of a child in a bar; and (v) the death of a husband while weaving.    

Eigpachen (དབྱིག་པ་ཅིན་), the accused in the narratives of Buddha, is the sole defendant in all the cited cases against different parties. He hired an ox from his neighbor and returned it while the owner was having a meal. The owner saw that his ox was harnessed in the usual place but Eigpachen did not inform about it. Later it was found that the ox was missing and could not be traced. The owner claimed replacement of his ox. In the second case, Eigpachen wanted to cross the river but could not fathom its depth. He solicited the help of the carpenter by asking him the depth of a river. The carpenter was carrying a load of wood on his back with an axe clutched in his mouth.  While trying to answer, he lost his axe in the strong current of the river. He blamed Eigpachen for the loss of his sole bread earning equipment and asked for replacement. In the third case Eigpachen, came across an owner chasing after his fleeing horse and solicited his help to stop the horse. Eigpachen, while trying to stop the horse with a stone, hit the horse and caused its death. The owner claimed the replacement of his horse. In the fourth case, Eigpachen visited a bar run by a lady who had a child sleeping in a corner fully covered with blankets. In the state of drunkenness, Eigpachen sat on the child who suffocated and died. The lady asked her child back. With all these charges, he was taken to Gyalpo Melongdong.  Fearing consequences, Eigpachen attempted to escape by jumping over the boundary wall. Not knowing that there was a man weaving on the other side of the wall, landed directly and killed the man. The wife claimed her husband back. 

IV.  Buddhist Philosophy and its legal principle

(a) Equal fault principle (གཉིས་ཀར་རྫུན་པ་)

After hearing the arguments exhaustively from the parties (བདེན་རྫུན་སྒྲོ་འདོགས་གཅོད་པ་), Eigpachen’s tongue (ལྕེ་ཆོད་ཅིག་) was ordered to be cut for not verbally informing the owner while returning the ox. Similarly, the owner’s eyes (མིག་ཕྱུང་ཞིག) were ordered to be removed for having seen the ox being harnessed but for not confirming that it was properly secured. Fearing his fate, the owner submitted that he would not pursue the matter since it was also his fault and that he does not want to suffer the loss of his eyesight as well as his ox and that Eigpachen’s tongue need not be cut. This case demonstrates dispute concerning both the parties’ fault. Hence, this Buddhist legal principle (དབང་ཆེན་བཅད་ཀྱི་སྤྱི་ཁྲིམས་) can be construed parallel to “equal fault principle” or “in pari delito or et partes in culpa” in Latin.   

(b)  Both are not at fault principle (གཉིས་ཀར་བདེན་པ་)

In the second case, it was adjudged that Eigpachen could always solicit and ask help from others. However, he should have been mindful that the carpenter could not have opened his mouth while clutching his axe in the mouth unless he released his axe. For that Eigpachen’s tongue (ལྕེ་ཆོད་ཅིག་) was ordered to be cut. Also the carpenter was not bound to answer knowing that he was clutching his axe so two of his teeth were ordered to be removed (སོ་གཉིས་ཆོད་ཅིག་). However, the carpenter requested the King that his tooth may not be removed besides losing his axe and that Eigpachen be liberated as he was also not at fault. Hence, this Buddhist legal principle  (ཁབ་སོ་ནང་པའི་ཁྲིམས་) can be construed parallel to  “not at fault principle” or “et non sint in culpa” in Latin        

(c) Cases based on merits principle (མདོ་ལོན་ཞུ་བཅད་ཀྱི་ཁྲིམས་)

In the third case, the owner solicited Eigpachen to stop his fleeing horse. Eigpachen while trying to stop the horse, hit it with the stone and killed it. It was adjudged that since the owner himself solicited the help by shouting; his tongue (ལྕེ་ཆོད་ཅིག་) should be cut. Similarly, Eigpachen’s hand (ལག་པ་ཆོད་ཅིག) must be cut for using unnecessary force. However, the owner submitted that his tongue may not be cut as he has also lost his horse and requested the king to grant mercy to Eigpachen as it was his own fault to solicit his help. Hence, this Buddhist legal principle (མདོ་ལོན་ཞུ་བཅད་ཀྱི་ཁྲིམས་)  can be construed parallel to “case on merits” or “ex causa meritis” in Latin.   

(d) Contributory negligence or Victim precipitation principle (རྟོགས་མེད་གདོང་ཐུག་གི་ཁྲིམས་)

In the fourth case, Eigpachen sat on the child and killed the child without knowing that the child was sleeping in a corner fully covered with blankets. The King adjudged that the bar lady should have realized the danger associated with it and could have made the child sleep in a safe place or in a place easily visible to the customers while Eigpachen should have been careful while sitting. Therefore, Eigpachen was asked to marry the lady.   However, the lady submitted that Eigpachen was not solely responsible as she too was responsible. Hence she pleaded not to be married off to Eigpachen and thus liberated him. This legal principle is known as contributory negligence where the offender himself may not be held solely accountable for a fault that the victim has some degree of participation. The legal principle based on the legal order of Gyalpo Melongdong is reflected as (རྟོགས་མེད་གདོང་ཐུག་) which is reflected in the provision of Thrimzhung Chhenmo as well in the Penal Code. The equivalent legal principle in Latin is “res ipsa loquitur or volenti non fit injuria”.

(e) Justice based on right or wrong  (ཞལ་ལྕེའི་ཁྲིམས་) 

In the fifth case, Eigpachen was adjudged to be completely unaware and the death was caused accidentally. However, the king directed him to serve as the husband of the deceased’s wife for which she prayed that Eigpachen be relieved from staying with her. This case is the basis of the Buddhist legal principle of upholding justice (ཞལ་ལྕེའི་ཁྲིམས་) where any wrongdoing must be accompanied with guilty mind or intent (mens rea).  

V. Conclusion  

Many religious texts and Gyalwai Kanjur record that the Buddha himself has presided over thousands of cases during his lifetime establishing enormous resources on Buddhist legal jurisprudence.  The narrative of Gyalpo Melongdong’s decisions as cited in this article encompass and draw on several legal principles that are applied by the modern courts. Buddhism never disowns crime and punishment. Obedience to rules (Vinaya) with authority enables a Sangha to make spiritual progress as well as to maintain peace in the society through dispute resolution (རྩོད་པ་ཞི་བར་བྱ་བ་). 

In Buddhist Philosophy there are generally seven legal principles (རྩོད་པ་རྣམས་པར་བདུན་): (i) No crime or penalty without law; (ii) protection for insanity or mentally disorder; (iii) differentiation between an intentional act and negligence; (iv) degree of offenses; (v) crimes and their circumstances (complete investigation); (vi) equality of individuals besides ranks; and (vii) decisions based on consensus if not with majority.4 

These seven legal principles prescribed in the Vinaya by any modern criminal justice system are profound and timeless. The decisions rendered by the Royal Court of King Melongdong demonstrate that no guilty shall escape and no innocent should suffer. These case laws with many legal principles are parallel to western equivalents. It is only appropriate to supplicate that legal research related to Buddhism and law, which is drawing the interest of the scholars will invariably help in finding just solutions in this age of complex world. May the transcendental wisdom of Buddha continue to bless all sentient beings.      

1  King Melongdong was the son of an ancient Indian King called Gawoo and said to be the descendent of “Mangpo Kurwai Gyalpo or Samatha Raja”   

2  “Gyalwai Kangyur Yidzhin Norbu” Dharma Manglam Press, Dharma Publishing, USA (2012) at pp. 677 to 708.

3  For details see, Dr. P. D. Premasisi, ‘Buddhist Response to Social Conflict: Some Practical Buddhist Suggestion for the Resolution of the Problem of Social Conflict’ Buddhism and world crisis, the 12th of International Buddhist Conference on the United Nations Day of Vesak, 28th – 30th May, 2015, Thailand at pp. 13 to 22.

4  For details see, P. K. Puzul, ‘What the Vinayas Can Tell Us about Law’ Buddhism and Law: An Introduction, edt. By Rebecca Redwood French and Mark A. Nathan, Cambridge Uni. Press, 2014 at pp. 46 to 61.

Contributed by Justice Lungten Dubgyur

Royal Court of Justice

High Court

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