Indian Laws follows Buddhist Philosophy – Change for the Better

Lipika Lakhani

The author of this blog is Law Student, School of Law Jagran Lakecity University, Bhopal

“The essence of man is really his paradoxical nature, the fact that he is half animal and half symbolic.” – Ernest Becker
The above statement highlights the nature of man who carries twin identities in his mindset one of which is ideal behaviour which is appreciated by the society and the other one is pure evil. Now, it depends upon that man which of his nature he wants to depict in the society, through his actions. The laws are made to punish the person for his evil or wrongful acts and to protect the interest of the victims.
Indian legal system provides the various theories of punishment and one of which is Reformative Theory of Jurisprudence which is given with the intention to change a person into a better human being. This particular theory can be related with the philosophies of Gautama Buddha, as the common element is to reform the convicted person through the methods of individualization. Even the purpose of imprisonment is not only to isolate the criminal from the society but also to bring positive change in the mental attitude of criminal. In the case of Narotam Singh v. State of Punjab[1], the Supreme Court observed that – “Reformative approach to punishment should be the object of criminal law, in order to promote rehabilitation without offending community conscience and to secure social justice.” Therefore, Section 360 of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 empowers the court to order the release of convicted person on probation of good conduct or after admonition. Some of the modern reformative techniques of punishment for the treatment of offenders are as follows – Probation, Parole, Pardon, Admonition, and Indeterminate Sentence.
While tracing the foundation of reformative theory, it leads back to the period of Buddhism. At that time, Angulimala who had killed 999 people and was told that if he killed 1000 people then he would be the most prolific killer. His name is derived from two words i.e. ‘Anguli’ means Finger and ‘Mala’ means Necklace, as he used to wear the necklace of many fingers of those he had slain after committing decoit. And when he was killing his own mother, he came across the Buddha and decided to kill the Buddha instead. He ran towards Gautama Buddha, who was walking at normal speed. Despite running so fast, Angulimala was unable to catch up with the Buddha, and then he called after the Buddha, demanding that he stop. Then, the Buddha explained that he had already stopped and told Angulimala to do the same. After hearing this statement Angulimala got confused, and asked the reasoning behind such statement. The Buddha explained that – By renouncing the killing of all living things he had stopped, unlike Angulimala who was obsessed with killing of innocent people and thus would never be able to stop. This incident and teachings of the Buddha changed Angulimala completely, and he became a monk.
As monks used to collect alms from people, he did the same but the people were still afraid of him and due to that, no one gave him any food or penny. The people demanded their King to kill Angulimala, and for that purpose the King came to the Buddha. The Buddha asked the King – “Would you kill him if he were dressed as a monk? If he has renounced violence and has become a virtuous man?” The King answered – No. then the Buddha revealed that the man sitting next to him is Angulimala and explained the King to see Angulimala in the present moment.[2]
This story coveys the message that even the most violent and cruel person can also be changed for the better and also that the positive karma can neutralise the negative i.e., the bad karma.[3]
It means that if the guilty person has realised his offence and is ready to compensate for that then those positive karmas of compensation will contribute in reduction of his bad deeds. This will bring positivity and eventually transform the person. On the contrary, it does not mean to leave the offender without any punishment. It depends upon the facts and circumstances of each and every case. Laws are considered as a process which breaks the cycle of offences by revealing the true nature of dharma. The teachings of Buddhism bring ease in the legal system, which is the need of the hour as it is beneficial not only to the perpetrators of violence but to the victims also. And it also contributes to the restoration of social equilibrium.

[1]Narotam Singh v. State of Punjab AIR 1978 SC 1542 (India).
[2]Morten Bergsmo and Emiliano J. Buis, Philosophical Foundations of International Criminal Law: Correlating Thinkers, Torkel Opsahl Academic EPublisher, Brussels, 30th Nov. 2018,
[3]Gunapala Piyasena Malalasekera, Dictionary of Pali Proper Names, Pali Text Society, London, 1960