World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts

Editor, Andrew Wilson


Leadership By Example And Honest Government

Government should operate impartially and with integrity. Its leaders should be honest, moral, and virtuous people, who will not take bribes or act corruptly. Because people look up to a nation's leaders as role models, they should set a good example for the people.

The notion that a leader may rule by moral force is widespread in many religions, but it is particularly central to the Confucian ideal of government. On the other hand, the Islamic view of leadership is more pessimistic: people should not expect the ruler to be any different from themselves; they should rather look to God for guidance.

God has promised such of you as believe and do good works that He will surely make them to succeed the present rulers in the earth, even as He caused those who were before them to succeed; and he will surely establish for them their religion which He has approved for them.

Islam. Qur'an 24.55

Duke Ai: "May I ask what is the art of government?" Confucius: "The art of government simply consists in making things right, or putting things in their right places. When the ruler himself is 'right,' then the people naturally follow him in his right course."

Confucianism. Book of Ritual 27

Book of Ritual 27: The Confucian doctrine of Rectification of Names teaches that people at every position of life should live up to the proper responsibilities of their offices. It should begin with the ruler. See note to Analects 12.11, p. 614; also Doctrine of the Mean 14, p. 615; Mencius I.B.8, p. 887.

Chi K'ang-tzu asked Confucius about government, saying, "Suppose I were to slay those who have not the Way in order to help those who have the Way, what would you think of it?" Confucius replied, saying, "If you desire what is good, the people will at once be good. The essence of the gentleman is that of wind; the essence of small people is that of grass. And when a wind passes over the grass, it cannot choose but bend."

Confucianism. Analects 12.19

Concerned alone with the upholding of the world, You should act. Whatever the best man does, others do that also. The world follows the standard he sets for himself.

Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 3.20-21

When the king is deceitful, who will not be deceitful? When the king is unrighteous, who will not be unrighteous?

Jainism. Somadeva, Nitivakyamrita 17.183

Confucius said, "Those rulers whose measures are dictated by mere expediency will arouse continual discontent."

Confucianism. Analects 4.12

Confucius said, "If a ruler himself is upright, all will go well even though he does not give orders. But if he himself is not upright, even though he gives orders, they will not be obeyed."

Confucianism. Analects 13.6

When cattle are crossing, if the old bull swerves, They all go swerving, following his lead. So among men, if he who's reckoned best Lives not aright, much more do other folk. If the ruler be unrighteous, the whole land dwells in woe.

When cattle are crossing, if the bull goes straight, They all go straight because his course is straight. So among men, if he who's reckoned best Lives righteously, the others do so too. The whole land dwells in happiness if the ruler lives aright.

Buddhism. Anguttara Nikaya ii.75

Analects 12.19: On not propagating one's religion by force, see Qur'an 2.256, p. 586. The position that the state has the right and duty to use the sword in order to enforce correct thinking has had a long history in China, from the Legalists of the Ch'in dynasty to Mao Tse Tung in the twentieth century. Analects 13.6: Cf. Analects 4.5, p. 807.

Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God's church?

Christianity. 1 Timothy 3.2-5

Emperor Kotoku proclaimed to his ministers, "In governing, let us do truly as was done by the emperors of old in ruling the realm. Let us govern with true sincerity."

Shinto. Nihon Shoki 25

The God of Israel has spoken, the Rock of Israel has said to me: When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, He dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth upon a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth.

Judaism and Christianity. 2 Samuel 23.3-4

Nihon Shoki 25: Cf. Kojiki, Preface, p. 897. 2 Samuel 23.3-4: These are from the last words of King David. Cf. Joshua 1:1-9, pp. 891f.; Deuteronomy 17.14-20, p. 898.

The Emperor Yao was reverent, intelligent, accomplished, sincere, and mild. He was sincerely respectful and capable of modesty. His light covered the four extremities of the empire and extended to Heaven above and the earth below. He was able to make bright his great virtue, bring affection to the nine branches of his family... and harmonize the myriad states. The numerous people were amply nourished and prosperous and became harmonious....

The emperor said, "Oh you Chief of the Four Mountains, I have been on the throne for seventy years. If you can carry out the mandate, I shall resign my position to you." The Chief of the Four Mountains said, "I have not the virtue. I would only disgrace the high position." The emperor said, "Promote someone who is already illustrious, or raise up someone who is humble and mean." They all said to the emperor, "There is an unmarried man in a low position called Shun of Y." The emperor said, "Yes, I have heard of him. What is he like?" The Chief said, "He is the son of a blind man. His father is stupid, his mother deceitful, his half- brother Hsiang is arrogant. Yet he has been able to live in harmony with them and to be splendidly filial. He has controlled himself and has not come to wickedness." The emperor said, "I will try him; I will wive him and observe his behavior towards my two daughters." He gave orders and sent down his two daughters to the bend of the Kuei River to be wives in the House of Y. The emperor said, "Be reverent!"...

The emperor said: "Come, you Shun, in the affairs on which you have been consulted, I have examined your words; your words have been accomplished and capable of yielding fine results for three years; do you ascend to the imperial throne." Shun considered himself inferior in virtue and was not pleased. But in the first month, on the first day, he accepted the abdication of Yao in the Temple of the Accomplished Ancestor. Then he made lei sacrifice to the Lord-on-High; he made yin sacrifice to the six Venerable Ones.... He delimited the twelve provinces and raised altars on twelve mountains and he deepened the rivers.

Confucianism. Book of History 1.1.3 and 2.1.2-3

As you are so will you have rulers put over you.

Islam. Hadith of Baihaqi

Refrain from exalting the worthy So that the people will not scheme and contend; Refrain from prizing rare possessions, So that the people will not steal; Refrain from displaying objects of desire, So that the people's hearts will not be disturbed.

Therefore the sage rules his people thus: He empties their minds, And fills their bellies; He weakens their ambitions, And strengthens their bones.

He strives always to keep people innocent of knowledge and desires, and to keep the knowing ones from meddling. By doing nothing that interferes with anything, nothing is left unregulated.

Taoism. Tao Te Ching 3

By God, any official who takes anything from the public funds without justification will meet his Lord carrying it on himself on the Day of Judgment.

Islam. Hadith of Muslim

Bribery is the door through which come all manner of sins. Those who live by bribery cut off their mother's breasts.

Jainism. Somadeva, Nitivakyamrita 17.184

Book of History 1.1.3 and 2.1.2-3: Yao and Shun were revered by Confucius as among the ideal rulers of ancient China because of their personal righteousness. Tao Te Ching 3: This Taoist passage disagrees with the Confucian wisdom that the route to honest government requires that men of ability be sought out and promoted. The Taoist sages recognized that rivalry between 'worthy' advisors was a serious corruption in the state. To feed ambition is to bring out the worst in people and is contrary to the Tao. Cf. Tao Te Ching 12, p. 801; 18-19, p. 260.

He who receives office in order to profit from it is like an adulterer, who gets his pleasure from a woman's body. God says, "I am called holy, you are called holy; if you have not all the qualities which I have, you should not accept leadership."

Judaism. Midrash, Pesikta Rabbati 111a

Neither for the sake of oneself nor for the sake of another, not desiring son, wealth, or kingdom, should a person seek his own success by unjust means. Then only is a man indeed virtuous, wise, and righteous.

Buddhism. Dhammapada 84

Do not ask for the position of authority, for if you are granted this position as a result of your asking for it, you will be left to discharge it yourself; but if you are given it without asking you will be helped [by God].

Islam. Hadith of Muslim

"Your Majesty," answered Mencius. "What is the point of mentioning the word 'profit'? All that matters is that there should be benevolence and rightness. If Your Majesty says, 'How can I profit my state?' and the counsellors say, 'How can I proft my family?' and the officials and commoners say, 'How can I profit my person?' then those above and those below will be trying to profit at the expense of one another and the state will be imperiled. When regicide is committed in a state of ten thousand chariots, it is certain to be by a vassal with a thousand chariots, and when it is committed in a state of a thousand chariots, it is certain to be by a vassal with a hundred chariots. A share of a thousand in ten thousand or a hundred in a thousand is by no means insignificant, yet if profit is put before rightness, there is no satisfaction short of total usurpation. No benevolent man ever abandons his parents, and no dutiful man ever puts his prince last. Perhaps you will now endorse what I have said: 'All that matters is that there should be benevolence and rightness. What is the point of mentioning the word "profit"?'

Confucianism. Mencius I.A.1

Mencius I.A.1: Cf. Book of Ritual 7.1.2, pp. 259f. Asa Ashtapadi M.1: Nanak attributed the invasion by the Mughal conqueror Babur to God's judgment on the misrule of the kings of India. See Asa, M.1, p. 920.

Rulers lost their senses in levity and frivolity; [Therefore] Babur's command has gone abroad, That even princes now go about without a crust of bread.

Sikhism. Adi Granth, Asa Ashtapadi M.1, p. 417

You will be eager for the office of commander, but it will become a cause of regret on the day of resurrection. It is a good suckler but an evil weaner.

Islam. Hadith of Bukhari


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