Not paying a fine = Stealing?

Hello everyone,

I’m wondering if not paying a fine is considered as stealing. Say you smoke a cigarette in a public area and you get punished with a fine of 50 $.

If you don’t pay, is it considered as stealing ?

@Brahmali @sujato @NgXinZhao

Are you looking for answers from everyone or just the three you mention? Are you looking for an answer in a specific context for instance monastic rules? Lay vows you might have taken? :pray:

From anyone. Both from the lay practice and monastic practice. Actually, to get into these details, it’s necessary to look at the monastic code as the lay precept doesn’t give much details.

Thank you very much Yeshe

I believe lying about taking goods through a government checkpoint to avoid paying duty falls under stealing. However there are distinct actions happening.

With not paying a fine, I guess a distinct action would be when you gave up any intention to pay the fine. But I don’t believe that comes under the Vinaya. Will be interested to hear other answers.

If the punishment was having a finger cut off and you could escape before that happened, would you be breaking the precept by stealing your own finger?

Not all laws are fair. We aren’t meant to be slaves to money. In fact, the opposite. However, smoking cigarettes in the wrong place can in itself be a problematic juncture, even without the fine.

What I learned from Na Uyana, is the debt issue. If one destroys a property of a lay person, or saṅgha on purpose one has to repay the damage, via one’s own requisites, giving up the intention to repay is pārājika if the value is high enough.

I think it’s similar enough to being fined. Anyway, it’s not EBT, so SBS don’t regard it as pārājika to not repay damaged properties of others as we don’t have money.

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What do you call “SBS” ? (Are you practicing in Burma ?)

**In making these judgments, the Commentary is probably following the civil law of its day, for the Canon contains no reference at all to the concept of bhaṇḍadeyya, and some of its judgments contradict the Commentary’s. As we noted above, the Vibhaṅga states that if a bhikkhu breaks, scatters, burns, or otherwise renders unusable the property of another person, he incurs a dukkaṭa. When the Vinīta-vatthu discusses cases where a bhikkhu takes an item on mistaken assumptions, or where he feels compassion for an animal caught in a trap and so sets it free, it says that there is no o ense. Thus it seems strange for the Commentary to assign a pārājika to an action that, according to the Canon, carries a dukkaṭa or no penalty at all. Of course, it would be a generous policy to o er the owner reasonable compensation, but it is by no means certain that a bhikkhu would have the wherewithal or liberty to do so. ** (BMC)

Technically, the definition of stealing is taking that which is not freely given. What you describe does not seem to fit that description to my limited mind. However, that does not mean that refusing to pay the fine is necessarily skillful activity or virtuous. :joy:

Rather than asking whether this is technically stealing or not maybe better trying to analyze the intention behind this activity - not paying the fine. Is the intention virtuous? Is the intention not virtuous? Does it involve ego? Does it involve the defilements? Does it involve compassion? Is it altruistic? Are you looking to relieve suffering?

BTW, what is the intention behind asking the question about whether this is stealing? Is it to assuage guilt? Is it to understand dhamma? Is it a virtuous intention or somehow non-virtuous?

Like that.

I’m probably just assuaging my own ego pretending that I have a good answer for this question. Probably a good idea for me to shut up a bit more and quit pretending like I have any answers. I’m no teacher and have very little virtue. The best that might be said is that perhaps this might be a little helpful and is not completely mistaken with regard to reflecting what far more virtuous teachers have tried to teach out of their compassion.



Similar to Yeshe: I think the Sila is not justified by itself, it is justified by what it stands for and what result/purpose is intened by it.

It seems to me that the overall goal of the Sila of not stealing is to not create any bad kamma that can be avoided by the right action. So if you really did smoke in a non-smoking area, and you have no trouble coming up with the $50, then I would say that the Sila applies.

If you are however pushed into a corner or treated unfairly by some tyrant, then it seems to me to not necessarily appy. Still it would look to me that abiding by it, if somehow manageable, would still be the wiser choice than revolt or put any more coals into an already burning fire.

I too am just a lay follower and about 10x as unwise as @yeshe.tenley could ever be, so this too is just an oppinion. Cheers, Lunky

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From a lay perspective, IMO the answer lies in the intention behind the act.

What was the intention behind the offence in the first place? Did one know that it was a non smoking zone? Does one agree that the rule/ law is fair and for the common good?

What is the intention behind not paying the fine? Is it just the defilements at work - “I don’t wanna pay”? Or is there some noble purpose behind it- aka Gandhi, Martin Luthor King and the civil disobedience movement practice of publicly and pointedly disobeying ‘unfair’ laws to prove a point of principle.


Overall it was a good answer, but I just cannot agree with this! I have no real wisdom. If it appears otherwise it is from less skillful echoing of far wiser teachers. :joy: :pray:

no. I am in Malaysia now

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