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A-to-Z Photo Dictionary of Japanese Buddhist Statuary


Prince Shotoku Taishi, Patron of Japanese Buddhism (Edo Period Painting)

spacerSeventeen Article Constitution
of Early Japan Attributed to
Prince Shoutoku Taishi


Regent Shotoku attempted to apply Buddhist and Confucian ethics to government. He did not indict the known murderer of the previous emperor but tried to persuade him of his wrong. In 603 this prince devised a system of twelve court ranks distinguished by caps of different colors based on Korean models; the ranks in order were named after six Confucian values, greater and lesser: virtue, humanity, propriety, integrity, justice, and knowledge. The next year it was said Shotoku wrote the Seventeen Article Constitution, although scholars believe the document was written later. Its ethical policies may be summarized as follows:

  1. Harmony is to be valued and an avoidance of wanton opposition to be honored.
  2. Sincerely reverence the three treasures-Buddha, the Law, and the Priesthood.
  3. Scrupulously obey imperial commands.
  4. Ministers and functionaries should make propriety their leading principle.
  5. Abandoning gluttony and covetous desires, deal impartially with suits.
  6. Chastise the evil, and encourage the good. Do not conceal the good qualities of others, nor fail to correct wrongs.
  7. Find the right man for each job. Unprincipled men in office multiply disasters.
  8. Let the ministers and functionaries attend the court early in the morning and retire late.
  9. Good faith is the foundation of right.
  10. Let us cease from wrath and refrain from angry looks, nor let us be resentful when others differ from us.
  11. Give clear appreciation to merit and demerit, and deal out to each its sure reward or punishment.
  12. Do not let provincial authorities tax the people, for the sovereign is the master of all the people in the country.
  13. Let all persons entrusted with office attend equally to their functions.
  14. Be not envious.
  15. Do not let private motives and feelings interfere with the public interest.
  16. Let the people be employed at seasonable times, not when they are busy with agriculture for food or mulberry trees for clothing.
  17. Important decisions should not be made by one person but in consultation with others.


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