What exactly do we want to see in a leader? What characteristics make a person stand out from the rest? What do we seek in one that makes us believe in and trust one as a leader? What does society expect from someone so accepted? According to contemporary thinking, you would be presented with a [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

A good leader according to Buddhist teachings


What exactly do we want to see in a leader? What characteristics make a person stand out from the rest? What do we seek in one that makes us believe in and trust one as a leader? What does society expect from someone so accepted? According to contemporary thinking, you would be presented with a plethora of qualities that would both be expected of and considered instrumental in the making of a leader. As a leader, you would be expected to be visionary. A proactive person would be better than a reactive one for leadership. A leader would have to be well-educated, for knowledge is power.

Experience in his chosen field of expertise is considered critical. You would essentially have to be a good communicator, for you have to communicate your intentions and vision.

The list could continue. You would be expected to be flexible and adaptable. You would have to be open-minded and consider all viewpoints and facts when making a decision. As a leader you have to delegate effectively and have faith in your subordinates, to care about and groom them for future leadership, and so on and so forth.

You could wonder if these qualities would in fact make you a good leader according to Buddhist doctrine. It must be said that some of these qualities have been advocated by the Buddha whilst others have been found in Buddhist Literature such as the Jataka Stories. For one, the practice of the Eightfold Noble Path especially Samma Dhitti – Right View – is important for a leader. For another, it is also important that as a leader, you adhere to the layman’s code of conduct (Vinaya) discoursed in the Sigalovada Sutta and set an example to whoever follows you. Leadership qualities such as being skilled in judgement, fairness and impartiality, and protection of his people are also depicted in the Ummagga Jatakaya. The Buddha in his Bodhisattva birth as the Prince Mahausada – Advisor to the King, showed his ability to resolve problems and arguments with wit and intelligence.

However, the most prominent and the most important of teachings of the Enlightened One on leadership come in the Dasa Raja Dharma – the Ten Royal Qualities. They have been termed the Royal’ Qualities firstly because of the exalted nature or the greatness of the qualities and secondly, because these qualities are most relevant and necessary for the exercise of leadership.

But to comprehend the true worth of these Ten Royal Qualities, you need a deeper understanding of the Proximate and Root causes related to leadership. When you go through a process of learning through numerous educational or professional institutions and through on-the-job training processes, you acquire certain perceptions and skills related to leadership and the attainment of objectives. This kind of learning is relevant to acquire the kinds of perceptions and skills that were mostly listed and explained above as the qualities deemed necessary for leadership by contemporary thinking. However, such learning also has its limitations. Though being learned is a necessary condition for the fulfilment of objectives for a leader, learning is only a proximate cause for the realisation of those objectives. We experience that in spite of much effort directed towards learning and training, results are not up to our expectations. Sometimes the results end up in disaster.

This is because whilst great effort and concentration has gone towards the fulfilment of those necessary proximate causes, insufficient attention has been paid to the fulfilment of certain essential conditions at root level. The Ten Royal Qualities of leadership go to make up those root conditions, and will provide you as a leader with a strong foundation to build up your path. A good leader must acquire, develop and make much of such root conditions. With these root causes well established, the proximate causes will fall into place easily and the results of your efforts will be as you anticipate.

So what are the Ten Royal Qualities? Have you as a leader become endowed with such qualities? The first is Dana – Generosity, Charity or Gifting. It is the quality that the leader should not have craving or attachment for wealth and property, but should be generous in giving it away for the welfare of the followers.

Dana is followed by Sila, which means Virtue. Virtue involves safeguarding the Five Precepts at the least. The leader should abstain from taking sentient life, from taking that which is not rightfully his and from sexual misconduct. He should not utter falsities and should avoid intoxicants. But a good leader would be correctly expected to do more; he should abstain from harsh speech, abstain from engaging in idle chatter and make no malicious talk. If you were a leader who practises Dana and Sila in this manner, you too would be considered a good leader.

Parithiyaga or Sacrifice is the third. You should sacrifice your wealth, time and energy for the wellbeing of your followers. You should be willing to sacrifice all the pleasures of life too, for the same.

Fourth is Thapasa which means Austerity. You should practise Austerity; you should be capable of being satisfied with what you have. The person who practises such a manner finds it easy to sacrifice his comforts and pleasures for the welfare of the others. Irju or Uprightness is the fifth, and is considered to be a most vital characteristic of a good leader. In that he is prepared to uphold the truth no matter what the cost. He always identifies the truth in any given situation, in any manner and takes all measures to safeguard it at all times. He never gives it up nor does he compromise it.

Murdu or Softness follows next. Contrary to what you might be inclined to think Murdu does not mean a weak leadership. It refers to softness, a gentleness of mind that has been achieved through tranquilisation of unwholesome qualities such as anger and ill-will. It is a kindness and humility of mind against one that is haughty, arrogant and full of resentment. The espousal of Parithyaga, Thapasa, lrju and Murdu would make you an exemplary leader who has the confidence and trust of his subjects.

The next two qualities are Avihimsa and Akrodaya. Avihimsa relates to non-harm while Akrodaya means freedom from ill-will or envy. They relate to setting aside unwholesome qualities such as enmity, anger, ill-will, jealousy, envy, hatred, fear and resentment. It means the development of certain wholesome qualities (the Four Divine Abidances) namely kindness, compassion, joy at others well being, and equanimity. If you were a good leader you would be kind and compassionate; you would be happy at the wellbeing of others and you would be strengthened with equanimity when the occasion calls for it.

The ninth Royal Quality is Kanthi: patience or forbearance. A good leader will realise that nothing is achieved without patience; that he needs to be patient to achieve his targets. He would also realise that he has to be patient when upholding the truth as in some instances truth only prevails after a lengthy period of time. The tenth Royal Quality is Avirodita meaning non-conflict. It means that you avoid confrontational situations; that you keep away from unnecessary debate or argument. It means as a good leader you do not suppress the view of others, that you do not force your will on others. You would be expected to be patient and practise non-conflict when there is disagreement as a good leader knows that everyone does not realise the truth at the same time.

Thus Ten Royal Qualities form the Root conditions that if developed and made much of would form the strongest foundation for your leadership. Moving on with these qualities well established, you would also make the best out of the proximate causes such as training, education and experience with the consummate ease. You would shine as a good leader among your subordinates and peers, and bear the fruits of your efforts well according to your expectations,

There remains however one more thing to bear in mind if you are to be considered a good leader. You would come to notice that all these Royal Qualities will be of no use if you are dishonest unto yourself; that you do not admit to error as soon as you realise that you have made a mistake. Many are the so-called leaders that purport to have wisdom, genuineness and integrity, who lay claim to wit and intelligence and fair judgment, but are secretively indifferent to their own faults. The truth is that if you preach good leadership, you must be open to constructive criticism, to people who wish that you would be a better leader tomorrow than which you are today. Such an attitude of openness, of admitting to your own mistakes and rectifying them with humility would be the best path. You would be endearing yourself to everyone else as a good leader.

The Writer is Joint Secretary, All Ceylon Buddhist Congress and Asst. Secretary General – World Fellowship of Buddhists.

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