I wish I could say “you can’t be serious”, but I’m sure you are!
This is just childish sub-Ayn Randism. Collecting taxes isn’t against the precepts. Failure to pay taxes that you owe is. You’re in a contract and have a legal and moral obligation to keep your end of the bargain.
Sure, governments do a lot of horrible things with their taxes, but in a democracy you have at least some say in this. That’s the deal. Taxes are also used for lots of good purposes: education, roads, health, welfare, justice, aid and rescue services, and so on. It’d be a wonderful world if we could pick and choose where our tax dollars went, but that world is not the world we live in.
The Buddha never told people not to pay tax; rather, he advocated that rulers tax in moderation and spend on social services to redistribute wealth and reduce inequality.
We should all do what we can to make our country and our world a better place. Participate in democratic processes, protest where it’s called for, and work with others in an effective and meaningful way. Move people’s hearts and minds, and change things for the better. Tax the rich and give money to the poor.
You know what’s a really dumb way to bring about change? Don’t pay taxes. You will get caught, and no-one will have any sympathy for you, and you will discredit your message forever.
See, here’s the thing, and Bob Dylan said it best: “To live outside the law you must be honest.” If you don’t want to pay taxes, it’s simple: don’t use money.
If you promote an “ethical” argument to avoid paying taxes, you know who will benefit? The rich. The rich always benefit. They already use their money to avoid paying what they should. And the more the idea that taxes are unethical is floated around, the more they’ll be empowered to rip off the poor even more. Tax is the only effective means that we as a society have to counter the utterly obscene situation where 8 men have as much wealth as the poorest half of humanity. The really effective change we can bring about is to ensure that the rich pay their proper taxes, and you can’t do that if you undermine the very legitimacy of the notion of taxation.
This is true, but the “kings” it’s talking about in such contexts are, it seems, acting illegally. The contexts are not very explicit, but it seems that some kings—remembering that the term was not too different from what we might call “chieftain”—abused their powers, essentially going to the villages and extorting or stealing money.
Here is the relevant passage, which occurs in a number of places, eg AN 8.54:
kinti me ime bhoge neva rājāno hareyyuṃ, na corā hareyyuṃ, na aggi ḍaheyya, na udakaṃ vaheyya, na appiyā dāyādā hareyyun
‘How can I prevent my wealth from being taken by rulers or bandits, consumed by fire, swept away by flood, or taken by unloved heirs?’
Notice the verb here, harati. This means “take”, and the same word is used for what the “rulers” and the bandits do. It’s not the same word that’s used for legitimate taxation as below. The PTS Dictionary correctly says that in such contexts it means “to take away by force, to plunder, steal”.
So sure, if authorities come to your house and try to forcibly take money or property that they have no legal right to, or if they extort you to pay them bribes, then if you can, don’t pay. And if you have been taxed improperly, use whatever legal redress you have to get your money back.
Here’s some relevant passages.
Iti mameva tattha accayo accagamā suṅkadāyakaṃva bhaṇḍasmin
Thus the transgression is mine alone, like one who owes taxes on their goods.
This assumes that paying legitimate taxes is expected, and taken for granted to such an extent that it can be used as the basis for a metaphor.
Bhavaṃ kho pana rājā evaṃ sakaṇṭake janapade sauppīḷe balimuddhareyya, akiccakārī assa tena bhavaṃ rājā.
But if the king were to extract more taxes while his realm is thus harried and oppressed, he would not be doing his duty.
Here it is clear that collecting taxes is a normal and legitimate part of kingship, but one that the king should exercise in moderation, and with consideration for the welfare of his citizens.
Yo hi koci manussesu,
Anyone among humans
gāmaṃ raṭṭhañca bhuñjati;
who taxes village and nation,
Evaṃ vāseṭṭha jānāhi,
know them, Vāseṭṭha,
rājā eso na brāhmaṇo.
as a ruler, not a brahmin.
The word I’m translating as “taxes” here is bhuñjati, which more normally means “use, enjoy, eat”. The idiom might be loosely rendered as “enjoys the revenue from village and nation”, or “makes use of the revenue from village and nation”.
This idiom for tax harks back to a simpler time, and a notion of taxation that lies much closer to the original roots.
In very small-scale societies, such as hunter-gatherer cultures, where the prime social group is the extended family, there is essentially no surplus of wealth and hence no inequality.
As larger groups start to form into villages growing crops, a surplus is generated; and at the same time it becomes necessary to manage the society by putting someone in charge. So you get the emergence of the “big man” or the “chief”.
The interdependence of these notions of land use, food, inequality, and rulership are laid out quite nicely in DN 27 Aggañña Sutta.
The earliest taxes were foods, especially grains, as they could be stored easily, although in the ancient Indo-European society cows and horses were also valuable.
So the “chief” would be owed a portion of the food or wealth of the land, given to him by right. This might be conferred in a ritual form as a sacrifice, or a communal event like a potlatch, but as time went on it became a mere accounting measure. We could stand to learn something from how potlatches were done; if you want to make people happy about paying taxes, throw a party!
Anyway, so this digression hopefully illustrates why the same word for “use, eat, enjoy” was applied also to “tax”.
In fact the English word “use” has the same meaning historically, as “the benefit or profit of lands, especially lands that are in the possession of another who holds them solely for the beneficiary”.
pāṇo na hantabbo, adinnaṃ na ādātabbaṃ, kāmesu micchā na caritabbā, musā na bhaṇitabbā, majjaṃ na pātabbaṃ, yathābhuttañca bhuñjathā
‘Do not kill living creatures. Do not steal. Do not commit sexual misconduct. Do not lie. Do not drink alcohol. Maintain the current level of taxation.’
This is the exhortation by the Wheel-Turning Monarch to the local kings. Here, bhuñjati is used in the same sense as above, a detail that escaped earlier translators of this passage. (I don’t claim credit for this; it was mentioned to me by Prof Dhirasekera Dhammavihari in a discussion on Walshe’s DN translation many years ago.)