Nagarjuna on Prisoner Reform

Buddhist Advice for Living and Liberation

O Lord of Humans, since in this world nowadays
Most are prone to wreak havoc on each other,
Listen to how your governance
And your practice should be.

Let there always be around you many persons
Old in experience, of good lineage,
Knowing good policy, who shrink from ill deeds,
Are agreeable, and know what should be done.

Even to those whom they have rightfully fined,
Bound, punished, and so forth,
You, being moistened with compassion,
Should always be caring.

O King, through compassion you should
Always generate just an attitude of altruism
Even for all those embodied beings
Who have committed awful ill deeds.

Especially generate compassion
for those whose ill deeds are horrible, the murderers.
Those of fallen nature are receptacles
Of compassion from those whose nature is magnanimous.

Free the weaker prisoners
After a day or five days.
Do not think the others
Are not to be freed under any conditions.

For each one whom you do not think to free
You will lose the [layperson's] vow.
Due to having lost the vow,
Faults will constantly be amassed.

As long as prisoners are not free,
They should be made comfortable
With barbers, baths, food, drink,
Medicine, and clothing.

Just as deficient children are punished
Out of a wish to make them competent,
So punishment should be carried out with compassion,
Not through hatred nor desire for wealth.

Once you have analyzed and thoroughly recognized
The angry murderers,
Have them banished
Without killing or tormenting them.

In order to maintain control, oversee all the country
Through the eyes of agents.
Always conscientious and mindful,
Do what accords with the practices.

Continually honor in an exalted way
Those who are foundations of good qualities
With gifts, respect and service,
And likewise honor all the rest.

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To read this wonderful translation for yourself, you can obtain it from Buddhist Advice for Living and Liberation: Nagarjuna's Precious Garland translated by Jeffrey Hopkins. Snow Lion Publications: Ithaca, NY. 1998. pp. 78, 137-139.

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