The seventeen-Article Constitution is the oldest Japanese law in existence.
It was authored by Prince Shotoku and was enacted by Empress Suiko in 604A.D.
Unlike the current constitution, it consists of morals.
Article 1 (translated from Nihon-Shoki, Chronicles of Japan)
Harmony should be respected and order should be valued.
Human beings with the same opinions and thought tend to gather and start making a group.
Also it’s rare to be a master of the art of living.
Therefore, human beings are disobedient to their masters and fathers.
Instantly, human beings are in discord with neighbors.
However, when people keep harmony with their seniors, keep in peace with juniors, and have concert in discussion, things will be going well naturally.
There is no way things can’t be done.
Respect three treasures.
Three treasures are Buddha, Dharma and Buddhist monks.
In other words, these are universal precepts that are considered as an anchorage for
all living things that had come into existence in four different ways (viviparity, oviparity, hydrarch, and metaplasia).
No period or no person does not respect these universal precepts.
There are a few people who are extremely bad. People follow teachings when people are taught well.
There is nothing that can fix the crooked mind if it’s not founded in these three treasures.
The imperial rescript should be received with honor.
If the emperor was considered as the sky, the subordinates would be considered as the ground.
The sky covers everything, while the ground supports all things.
Therefore, four seasons repeat in an orderly manner and everything goes well.
When the ground (subordinate) wants to ravage the sky (the emperor), it results to destruction.
That’s why the subordinates have to sincerely receive what the emperor says.
When the upper ranks take action, the lower ranks would be influenced.
So, when the subordinates receive the imperial rescript, they have to follow it respectfully.
Otherwise, they would ruin themselves.
The officials who work for the emperor should follow the rules of courtesy.
The basics of ruling the people exist in the rules of courtesy.
When the upper ranks lack the rules of courtesy, there is disorder among the lower ranks.
When the lower ranks lack the rules of courtesy, the crimes can not be avoided.
That’s why order is not disturbed, when the officials follow the rules of courtesy.
While the people practice the rules of courtesy, the country is automatically at peace.
Stop having a feast, throw greed away, and address the lawsuits fairly.
There are thousands of commoners’ lawsuits daily.
Every day it is like this. Needless to say, cases pile up year after year.
People who have to settle the lawsuits always receive benefits and judge the lawsuits based on the bribes.
The lawsuits of the rich seem to be influential and result in wishes being granted, as easy as throwing a stone into the water.
On the other hand, the poor seem to have their efforts come to nothing, like water being thrown at the stone.
So, the poor do not know the reason why their lawsuits are rejected.
The official’s moral principle is lacking in these cases.
To punish the bad and encourage the good is a good lesson from the ancient period.
So, good deeds should not be hidden and bad deeds must be rectified.
If there are people who use flattery and deceive others, they would be like sharp weapons to destroy the nation (country) and sharp swords to cut the ties of race.
Also, people who butter up explain well about their subordinates’ mistakes to their supervisors. And they disgrace their supervisors about its failures to their subordinates.
All the people like those mentioned above have neither loyalty for the emperor nor love for the nations (people).
It would cause a huge chaos.
Each person has a role.
Fulfilling a role should not be confusing.
When the enlightened person is assigned to an official position, the nation chant a hymn to celebrate its prosperous politics.
When the insincere person is assigned to the same position, calamities and rebellions occur a lot.
Although there are a few people who have moral principle by nature, continuing to have it in mind makes person a sage.
Matters are neither big nor small.
When the right person runs the government, matters are solved smoothly.
Time is neither fast nor slow.
If an enlightened person is able to manage the time, time seems to be enough.
With the right person, the nation is stable forever and the deities of the land and food are also secured.
That’s why an ancient king needs a suitable person for an official position and he dose not want to create an official position for somebody he knows.
The officials who work for the emperor should come to work early in the morning and get home late.
Since all the government practices and imperial ceremonies should be conducted impeccably, it’s difficult to finish everything even for one whole day.
So, when you come to work late, you don’t have enough time to catch up.
When you get home early, you surely don’t finish the tasks.
Integrity is a fundamental part of love with justice.
Integrity should exist in all the tasks.
Integrity decides what is good, bad, success, and failure.
There is no way things can’t be done when the officials have integrity with each other.
Ten thousands of things would fail when the officials don’t have integrity.
Stop getting mad and give up showing your anger through your face.
Don’t lose your temper just because others are different from you.
Everyone has different minds. And every mind has different beliefs.
Others think something is right, however, I think this is wrong.
On the other hand, what I think is right, but may be wrong for others.
I can not consider myself as the enlightened and others as foolish.
Both are only people who don’t understand the teachings of Buddha.
No one is able to decide the principles of what is right or wrong.
We are both the enlightened and the foolish like a ring without an end.
So, when others get angry at me, I should reflect on myself and be afraid of making mistakes.
Even when I understand the teachings of Buddha, I should respect others and act in the same way that others do.
Accomplishments and delinquencies should be clearly distinguished. And rewards and punishments should be given correctly.
Most of the time, rewards are not given to those who accomplish something, and punishments are not given to those who commit crimes.
The officials who give rewards and punishments must judge them fairly.
The officials who are dispatched from the central government to the countrysides must not impose the citizens of additional tax.
The country does not have two emperors and the citizens do not have two masters.
All people who live in the land (where the emperor heads) consider the emperor as their only master.
All officials are the subordinates of the emperor.
The officials can not impose additional taxes to the citizens as the country already imposed the taxes.
The officials who assign various positions should equally have a detailed knowledge about their tasks.
They are sometimes not able to conduct their tasks properly due to diseases or other missions.
However, when they return to their tasks, they should act harmonious like they have known everything since old days.
They must not disturb public duties by saying that they do not hear anything about these.
The officials who work for the emperor should not be jealous.
When I am jealous of others, others are also jealous of me.
The negative effects of jealousy are endless.
Therefore, when you encounter a person who is smarter than you, you can not be pleased. When you see a person who is more talented than you, you come to be jealous.
Even though you have already met a mentor (whom you can meet once in five hundred years), you try to wait for a sage whom you can meet once in one thousand years.
It result to miss the opportunities to meet both a mentor and a sage.
The nation can not be managed without a mentor and a sage.
The way of the subordinates is being disinterested and focusing on public matters.
In general, when a person is selfish, people hold a grudge against him.
People who hold a grudge definitely avoids to concert with others.
In the end, selfish people become an obstacle to address public matters.
People who hold a grudge against others ignore humans’ duties and break the laws.
Therefore, as mentioned in Article 1, people should keep the harmony regardless of ranks.
Selflessness is the key of harmony.
Making the people work for the government by choosing a suitable season is a good lesson from the ancient period.
Since people have enough time during winter, the government can oblige people to work for some public projects.
During spring to autumn, people farm and produce cocoons, the government must not oblige people to work.
If people do not farm, we can not eat anything.
If people do not produce cocoons, we can not wear anything.
Originally, things must not be unilaterally decided.
Be sure to discuss things with others.
But trivial things are not important. So, you don’t need to discuss these with others.
When we discuss the important issues, we should have self-doubt and think we might make some mistakes.
Therefore, when we discuss things together, words become rational.
The original one from Nihon-Shoki, Chronicles of Japan;
一曰 以和爲貴 無忤爲宗 人皆有黨 亦少達者 以是或不順君父
乍違于隣里 然上和下睦 諧於論事 則事理自通 何事不成
二曰 篤敬三寶 三寶者佛法僧也 則四生之終歸 萬國之極宗
何世何人非貴是法 人鮮尤惡 能敎従之 其不歸三寶 何以直枉
三曰 承詔必謹 君則天之 臣則地之 天覆地載 四時順行 萬気得通 地欲覆天 則至懐耳 是以君言臣承 上行下靡 故承詔必愼 不謹自敗
四曰 群卿百寮 以禮爲本 其治民之本 要在乎禮 上不禮而下非齊 下無禮以必有罪 是以群臣禮有 位次不亂 百姓有禮 國家自治
五曰 絶饗棄欲 明辨訴訟 其百姓之訟 一日千事 一日尚爾 況乎累歳 須治訟者得利爲常 見賄廳讞 便有財之訟如石投水 乏者之訴似水投石 是以貧民則不知所由 臣道亦於焉闕
六曰 懲惡勸善 古之良典 是以无匿人善 見悪必匡 其諂詐者
七曰 人各有任 掌宜不濫 其賢哲任官 頌音則起 姧者有官
禍亂則繁 世少生知 剋念作聖 事無大少 得人必治 時無急緩
遇賢自寛 因此國家永久 社禝勿危 故古聖王 爲官以求人 爲人不求官
八曰 群卿百寮 早朝晏退 公事靡盬 終日難盡 是以遲朝 不逮于急 早退必事不盡
『日本書紀』第二十二巻 豊御食炊屋姫天皇 推古天皇十二年