Is Universal Justice the ultimate pipe dream?

I think one of the core concepts of all religions is a sense of universal justice, whether dished out and served by a god or a mechanism of the mind or conditionality.

Injustice is everywhere in the world. While anything from fairy tales ending with “happily ever after” to the media releasing daily click-baity news articles about justice being served, what is the reality? How many good people are robbed of their dignity evey day around the world? Whether in the workplace, defamed, stolen from or their lives taken, or died simply because their parents didn’t believe in vaccines and they were too young to do anything about it. Is universal justice just a pipe dream? a delusion fed to us by religions and cultures to keep us complacent and working?

The dhammapadda states “Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.”, which I take to mean that someone eventually has to stop the back and forth swinging cycle of retribution and accept and receive injustice for the benefit of society without society even being aware of it, the ultimate utilitarianism. But such actions are a drop in the bucket and rare, that these heroes are considered black swans by philosophers.

So the reality is we’d like to believe that black swans are the norm, that there is universal justice, that everything will turn out equal, but what if that’s not true at all? What if everything is rather random and chaotic, not everyone gets what they’re owed, that universal justice is a comfortable and convenient lie we tell ourselves just like telling kids that they’ll get a gift from Santa if they behave or coal if they don’t. And what are the implications if people no longer believe in universal justice, can society even function, why work if you may not get paid or fed? We act on expectations, and inherit in those expectations is that society is dependent on justice.

I know I certainly would like universal justice to be true, and it is to an extent because the average person likes and dislikes the same things such as not wanting pain, not wanting to be lied to, cheated on and stolen from, but is this all we have propping up universal justice, a fickle wishful thinking, that often fails us but we’re unaware of due to the black swan effect until we’re the ones to win the injustice lottery and become the invisible black swans.

Anyway, that’s my rant and ramblings, what are your thoughts?

Dear Thito, I’m sorry to say (like blowing the cover on santa clause), but the way I see it, the Law of Dependent Arising basically is at odds with any concepts of universal justice. It is such a comforting idea, but it’s removal is akin to ripping off the band-aid… short pain but part of recovery.

If suffering is expecting from the world, what the world can’t give, then being realistic is the beginning of reducing suffering.

The great news is that it’s only hurtful on the surface levels though, as the bubble of illusion is popped :slight_smile: As soon as one understands conditionality, then one can make wise decisions that will lead to good outcomes for oneself and those in ones orbit. The rub is, that one has no control over external conditions (including other people). But one can exert effort on those things that will lead to good states, rather than exerting effort on things that are impossible :smiley: (eg. I wish other people would behave the way I want them to, then everything would be great! or - I wish everyone in the world was wise ) …
So it is much better to be realistic and look at the truth of things directly :dharmawheel:

So the motivation for acting well - sila - is that it yields good things for all involved, here and now and into the future. The Buddha illustrates this over and over and over. It isn’t rocket science or magic - just beautiful cause and effect - conditionality. Just those pesky defilements that get in the way, and those ‘handy’ delusions :smile: This is the difference between wisdom and ignorance - not good and bad, but wise (leading to benefit) and stupid - leading to detriment for self and others here and now and in the future…

Be happy and well and rather focus on Unconditional Kindness :sparkling_heart:


The law of kamma, across many lifetimes is the ultimate universal justice system.

Just that since it operates across lifetimes and people tend to not have past life memories, it turns out to become injustice.

And even if for people who can recall past lives and knows the dhamma, the preferences is not to stay in samsara to enjoy this universal justice. It’s to get out. Thus universal justice, while a nice idea, it is ultimately tied up with suffering, oppressive, not worth having.

Buddhism doesn’t teaches the law of kamma to keep people in samsara, it’s to get people out of samsara, see this universal justice? It’s so dangerous, oppressive, cannot be reasoned with, unlike a God based punisher system, where at least those God believers can still pray for mercy. Even psychic powers cannot prevent the results of kamma to be ripened.

So in a sense, the aim of Buddhism can be said to escape from the law of universal justice, for it is also oppression.


I think some dhamma (justice) is required for a society to function.

Also some dhamma (moral code) seems to be required if one society is to prevail unjustly over another society. So one society (nation) oppressing another society (nation) may appear unjust but if the oppressor society has dharma for its own society then universal justice may not occur. For example, I imagine the most brutal conquerors in history, such as the Mongols, had a strict moral/social code pertaining to their own society. Whether Mongols conquering Eurasia or Nazis invading the Soviet Union, a strict code of conduct is required for any worldly success. For example, why can’t the USA win a war? Probably because the quality, conduct & dhammic incentive of its military personal is poor. Obviously the Viet Cong had more dharma on their side than the young American conscripts.

It seems only when the oppressor society breaks down in its own dhamma that the eventual retribution (such as the fall of the Roman Empire) will occur. For example, probably a leading factor of the success of the Roman, Islamic or Ottoman Empires was their recruitment, assimilation & reward of people into their armies & bureaucracies in the lands they conquered. This required some dharma, however worldly. If the Nazis did this in the Soviet Union, for example, with the anti-Soviet Ukrainians, Estonians, Latvians & Lithuanians they possibly could have prevailed.

For example, DN 16 has the teaching of ‘Welfare of a Nation’, to prevent the downfall of a society.

Again, for example, Genghis Khan shared the spoils of war with his troops. This allows injustice to prevail because some justice is maintaining the injustice. Or, for example, today the USA appears extremely divided and dysfunctional as a nation however there are like-minded people chosen to fill the ranks of the bureaucracy who are rewarded therefore this bureaucracy can prevail, unless some chaotic event causes the downfall of the whole system, such as excess debt & inflation, due to mismanagement & faulty foreign policy.

Thus WW2 bankrupting Great Britain (causing the loss of its Empire) or the recent & current Western policies towards Ukraine (which are now causing massive economic repercussions because Russia & Ukraine are huge food & energy exporting nations to the West) are examples of universal justice coming into play; even though you/we may not view it as “justice”. :dizzy_face:

For some reason, the above thoughts came into mind. My point is history seems replete with examples of injustice, such as Europeans conquering and even genociding in the Americas, over technologically more primitive peoples. But still these Europeans required some justice within their own society for their own society to prevail. Thus the illusion of external injustice seems to be caused/upheld by some prevailing internal justice. In other words the illusion of a lack of universal justice does not seem totally random. :face_with_spiral_eyes: :grimacing:

For example, the Sutta cosmology includes upapattis (‘rebirths’) such as the Four Great Kings. We may not know what the Four Great Kings is supposed to represent but for secular minded Buddhists these may refer to worldly kings. Therefore, even if these Kings unjustly conquered some lands, the Suttas say their upapatti is attained by skillful kamma. Even a conquering king must do some skillful worldly kamma, otherwise his troops will desert him. :mask:

Therefore, we see when Ashoka brutally conquered India, he converted to Buddhism. This probably helped him improve his public image and maintain his power. Or when the often Buddhist Mongols brutally conquered Islamic Persia, they converted to Islam to maintain their conquest rather than try to be alien foreign rulers. These are examples of skillful worldly karma that seem to prevent the fruition of universal justice. :face_with_spiral_eyes:

For example, the on-going mostly one-sided Palestine-Zionism saga since 1947. Some may view this as an injustice but one side is extremely loyal, united, organized & savvy and the other side extremely historically disorganized & disparate. Therefore, the side with the best dhammas for the ‘Welfare of a Nation’ prevails, even though it may seem unjust & even though many of these worldly dhammas are unwholesome from a spiritual perspective. In short, it does not seem random. :worried:

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On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling among the Kosalans in a small forest hut in the Himalayan region. Then, when the Blessed One was alone in seclusion, a reflection arose in his mind thus: “Is it possible to exercise rulership righteously: without killing and without instigating others to kill, without confiscating and without instigating others to confiscate, without sorrowing and without causing sorrow?”

Then Mara the Evil One, having known with his own mind the reflection in the Blessed One’s mind, approached the Blessed One and said to him: “Venerable sir, let the Blessed One exercise rulership righteously: without killing and without instigating others to kill, without confiscating and without instigating others to confiscate, without sorrowing and without instigating others to cause sorrow.”

“But what do you see, Evil One, that you speak thus to me?”

“Venerable sir, the Blessed One has developed and cultivated the four bases for spiritual power, made them a vehicle, made them a basis, stabilized them, exercised himself in them, and fully perfected them. And, venerable sir, if the Blessed One wishes, he need only resolve that the Himalayas, the king of mountains, should become gold, and it would turn to gold.”

And the blessed one rejected this idea aka… Universal Justice as being Mara’s trap. He had been a wheel turning emperor many times previously and he knew that it just wasn’t possible! :grin:


the thoughts in my post never occurred before. they just popped out spontaneously yesterday when i thought about why does universal justice often not occur. in the Suttas there is the notion of mixed kamma (MN 136, AN 4.233) :face_with_open_eyes_and_hand_over_mouth:

And what are dark deeds with dark results? It’s when someone makes hurtful choices by way of body, speech, and mind. Having made these choices, they’re reborn in a hurtful world, where hurtful contacts strike them. Touched by hurtful contacts, they experience hurtful feelings that are exclusively painful—like the beings in hell. These are called dark deeds with dark results.

And what are bright deeds with bright results? It’s when someone makes pleasing choices by way of body, speech, and mind. Having made these choices, they’re reborn in a pleasing world, where pleasing contacts strike them. Touched by pleasing contacts, they experience pleasing feelings that are exclusively happy—like the gods replete with glory. These are called bright deeds with bright results.

And what are dark and bright deeds with dark and bright results? It’s when someone makes both hurtful and pleasing choices by way of body, speech, and mind. Having made these choices, they are reborn in a world that is both hurtful and pleasing, where hurtful and pleasing contacts strike them. Touched by both hurtful and pleasing contacts, they experience both hurtful and pleasing feelings that are a mixture of pleasure and pain—like humans, some gods, and some beings in the underworld. These are called dark and bright deeds with dark and bright results.



I think it is possible, though not likely in the short term.

I would rather try for global universal healthcare, literacy, food security, and peace first.

justice itself is a characteristic of nibbana. what you see the justice here and there in this world is manifestation of nibbana in this world (sandiṭṭhika), but not innate quality of this world. in fact, such kind of values core to our civilization is at odds with the laws of nature, and this universe. by penetrating such human phenomena, you may see immense powerful forces clash with each other. this world is never a peaceful place. Buddha’s life story and many others, have shown that for us, the solution is out. nibbana is the final destination for humans who seek liberation from the worldly dukkha.

What drew me to Eastern religions originally was the idea of universal justice, and the lack of any logic in explaining our birth in christianity. If we have only one life, one chance, to get to heaven… why are some born in the lap of luxury and some thrown away in the gutter? “Mysterious ways” only goes so far. At least karma & reincarnation tried to justify it. Karma and reincarnation made more sense, and seemed more fair. It appealed to my sense of justice.

But that was 40 years ago. I no longer worry about justice, universal or otherwise.

In this life, there needs to be rules to keep society functioning, and some kind of justice system… but that is definitely a temporary, and usually arbitrary, system. Seriously, how many human systems have historically been fair? In the grand scheme of things - is karma really a punishment?

When someone is running around killing people (or having their army do it) the real crime is not so much the actual killing. By killing others they are denying them their chance to make progress. There may be some karmic debt to pay, but rarely is there any real justice in this life. We can lock them up in jail or execute them, but that is really just getting them out of the way of society. It is hardly about justice.

If you are born into a bad position or a good position, perhaps your karma got you there. But what is actually important is what you do with this life. If someone is a horrid person, yeah I guess karma would be a good thing (instant karma always sounds good, doesn’t it), but that honestly has no effect on my life - today (or should not). So I simply try not worry about it anymore.

As for taking someone’s dignity, look at Nelson Mandela. They locked him up, they took his freedom for many years. Did they take his dignity? No. He did not allow it. Would they have taken my dignity? Probably…

We all have to make our own path. If we are compassionate we would like to assist others as we can, but ultimately we are on our own path alone.