Buddhism, the Law and Legal Practice

Ten days ago, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama came to the Buffalo Law School to speak about Law, Buddhism, and Social Change.

This was the first time that the Dalai Lama has ever visited a law school and indeed the first time he has addressed legal themes. A video of his remarks is availableHis Holiness’ remarks start around 28 minutes into the video.

Buffalo has pioneered scholarship into how Buddhist thought intersects with and informs the law. Professor Rebecca French is teaching in Buffalo this term, the first course on Buddhist law that has ever been taught in the world. Students study Buddhism, and look at how Buddhism is structured in terms of secular legal systems all over the world. Since 2003 she has directed the Project for Law and Buddhism funded by the Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy in the University at Buffalo Law School. The aim of the project is to investigate the intersection of law and Buddhism in various countries. This initiative, headed by Professor Rebecca French (Law), is the first such project in this sub-discipline.

The project secured a grant to have a Law and Buddhism Conference March 6-11 at the Rockefeller Center in Bellagio, Italy. The papers concern many countries in Asia from Mongolia and Bhutan to Sri Lanka and Burma while the topics range from detailed studies of cases of theft to broad overviews of Buddhism and Law in Japanese History. Professor French plans to put the papers together in an edited volume on Law and Buddhism.

“Buddhists believe that you can’t have closure in a case unless all parties are in agreement with the decision, and unless the whole network of people affected by the case is compensated. From this process, you have a social catharsis; you have a feeling that society has been healed.

“In the U.S. legal system, one individual gets into friction with another individual, and from that spark of friction one person wins and one person loses,” French explains. “Very little thought is given to interconnectedness of people and how the decision affects all the individuals involved in the case. This process often produces anger, social isolation and unhappiness with our legal system.

“Ultimately, I would like to coordinate all of the Buddhist lawyers in the U.S. and help bring people together to introduce compassion and Buddhism to the American legal system,” she said.

Dalai Lama


  1. Native people in North America have been saying alot of the same things for a lot longer.
    Let’s use the home grown version instead.

  2. A couple of write-ups of the Dalai Lama’s visit:

    Doing Right By the Law by Jay Rey, The Buffalo News

    The Dalai Lama Comes to the University at Buffalo by JD/MLS student Lauren

  3. I’m a practising buddhist and a law student currently studying in Hong Kong. I’m trying to write a paper at the moment about ‘law’ and ‘buddhism’ and how they might interact, focussing primarily on how law is applied in buddhist countries. I would really appreciate any resources that anyone may be able to suggest…

    By the by, I find His Holiness’ comments strange in light of the fact that he was part of an institution of practically slave-owning feudal theocracy, where any notion of ‘law’ as we know it had no place as far as I can tell. EVEN under the chinese system things are better than under the previous so-called buddhist system (and that’s saying something).

  4. Try looking at
    Christmas Humphreys: A Buddhist Judge in Twenties Century London by Horigan, Damien P., 24 Korean J. Comp. L. 1 (1996)
    Case of the Missing Discipline: Finding Buddhist Legal Studies, The by French, Rebecca R. 52 Buff. L. Rev. 679 (2004)
    Thai Law and Buddhist Law by Sucharitkul, Sompong
    46 Am. J. Comp. L. Supp. 69 (1998)

    Of Compassion and Capital Punishment: A Buddhist Perspective on the Death Penalty by Horigan, Damien P. 41 Am. J. Juris. 271 (1996)

    Being a Buddhist and a Lawyer by Kanazawa, Kinji 66 Fordham L. Rev. 1171 (1997-1998)

    Daishonin’s Path: Applying Nichiren’s Buddhist Principles to American Legal Education, The by Teeter, John W. Jr.
    30 McGeorge L. Rev. 271 (1998-1999)

    All are at Hein Online

  5. I attended an interesting talk last year where Darryl Robinson used Buddhist philosophy in the context of international conflict resolution.

  6. Wow, thankyou so much. I am truly indebted. These articles are perfect.