32. The Enlightened Sovereign

Buddhism and Kingship in India and Tibet

  1. Steven M. Emmanuel
  1. Georgios T. Halkias

Published Online: 5 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781118324004.ch32

A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy

A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy

How to Cite

Halkias, G. T. (2013) The Enlightened Sovereign, in A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy (ed S. M. Emmanuel), John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Chichester, UK. doi: 10.1002/9781118324004.ch32

Author Information

  1. Ruhr University, Bochum, Germany

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 5 FEB 2013
  2. Published Print: 25 MAR 2013

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9780470658772

Online ISBN: 9781118324004



  • Buddhism;
  • enlightenment;
  • kingship;
  • political philosophy;
  • renunciation;
  • social philosophy;
  • sovereignty


Many Buddhist rulers attained the cultic status of divinity as buddhas or celestial bodhisattvas and were expected to exercise their power in accord with Buddhist principles. The bodhisatta is depicted as perfecting both the virtues of kingship and the virtues of renunciation, thus preparing the way for his supreme enlightenment in which the two strands of sovereignty and renunciation “receive their final synthesis and fulfilment”. Politics was realistically seen as an unavoidable exercise of power that can and ought to be used to promote righteousness, while the philosophical interpretation of Buddhist doctrines reflects the pragmatic nature of Buddhist ethics, which, unlike the deontological and absolutist ethical traditions, allows for the expression of multiple and variant attitudes towards the state and the role of religion in shaping and being shaped by social and political conditions.