WHY THE BUDDHA HAS NO RIGHTS
Peter D. Junger
As has been often noted, the concept of "human rights" tends to be based on modern Western European assumptions that, to a large extent, can be traced to earlier Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman concepts; 1 assumptions that are alien to many, if not all, of the innumerable Buddhist traditions. It is not so often noted that it is difficult, if not impossible, to make sense of the concept of human rights — as opposed to some of the particular items that are lumped together under that rubric — within the common law tradition that prevails in England, in the English speaking nations of North America, in the British Commonwealth, and in other countries whose political and judicial institutions have been inherited from England, a legal tradition that can be traced back without interruption to feudal practices and that is based on centuries of judicial precedents, not on rational deductions drawn from positive legislation or abstract principles.
As Eugene Kamenka has pointed out:
The belief in human rights as a great moral value, a UNESCO symposium characteristically insists, is not a specifically western or Judeo-Christian contribution to the world. It is to be found in all the great moral documents of mankind, and in all its aspirations since primitive times. If the concept of human rights is to have any specific meaning, is to be seen as implying a view of man and society, this is untrue. The concept of human rights is a historical product which evolves in Europe, out of foundations in Christianity, Stoicism and Roman law with its jus gentium, but which gains force and direction only with the contractual and pluralist nature of European feudalism, church struggles, the rise of Protestantism and of cities. It sees society as an association of individuals, as founded — logically or historically — on a contract between them, and it elevates the individual human person and his freedom and happiness to be the goal and end of all human association. In the vast majority of human societies, in time and space, until very recently such a view of human society would have been hotly contested; indeed, most cultures and languages would