Journal of Buddhist Ethics

An online journal of Buddhist scholarship related to ethics.

Archive for the ‘Volume 25 2018’


Social Inequalities and the Promotion of Women in Buddhism in Thailand

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Social Inequalities and the Promotion of Women in Buddhism in Thailand

Manuel Litalien
Nipissing University

Studies have shown that religion can support or hinder social development (Haynes 2007; Tomalin 2013). This article makes a case in favor of how, in Thailand, the demands for greater justice and gender equality have engaged groups of women to seek higher Buddhist ordination as a means to better promote human and social development. Equal religious philanthropic contribution between men and women is presented as a component to democratic participation in the struggling political Kingdom of Thailand. The study finds that the women’s Buddhist movement in Thailand capitalizes on the limited welfare resources offered by the government, along with the current institutionalized politics of religious diversity, as defined in the Thai constitution. To present the inequalities and challenges faced by Thai Buddhist women, the function of the Thai Buddhist monastic community (saṅgha) will be portrayed as an organization promoting an “inequality regime.” The governing structural configuration of the saṅgha will be presented as reinforcing social roles divided by oppressive gender conceptions. The Buddhist institution’s inequality regime will be depicted in light of its refusal to ordain bhikkhunīs. The exclusion of Thai Buddhist nuns is situated in eight different lenses: namely, biological, ritual, scriptural, cultural, political, institutional, historical, and legal contexts. Finally, the vital sustainable core to these women is introduced as both a global and a local network of Buddhist women. This is better known as a glocalization strategy for the promotion of gender equality in Theravāda Buddhism.
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The Place of Socially Engaged Buddhism in China

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

The Place of Socially Engaged Buddhism in China: Emerging Religious Identity in the Local Community of Urban Shanghai

Weishan Huang
Chinese University of Hong Kong

This article aims to analyze a realization of socially engaged Buddhism outside of Buddhist monasteries in China by using the case studies of Tzu Chi Foundation. Since the 2000s, state-led religious charities have been gradually implemented among Han Buddhist monasteries in China. With a renewal of the religious idea of “Humanistic Buddhism,” temples have set up guideline to conduct their charitable work. At the same time, Buddhist communities have become more diversified due to the international immigration of Buddhist groups. While social service is the central focus of Tzu Chi Foundation worldwide, I raise the question of how a global movement of moral reform and social service can help us re-think the normative account of “public engagement” in a highly regulated and censored society such as China. Based on the ethnographic work, I argue the successful structural adaption of the Tzu Chi movement corresponding with, first, the promotion of socially engaged Buddhism, which aligns with state policy and interests. Secondly, the timely change of organizational missions corresponding with the shift in social identity of urban residents from “Work Units” to “Communities” in urban Shanghai.
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Self-immolations, Human Security, and the Violence of Nonviolence in Tibet

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Burning for a Cause: Self-immolations, Human Security, and the Violence of Nonviolence in Tibet

Antonio Terrone
American Theological Library Association

In Tibetan areas of the People’s Republic of China, more than 150 Tibetans have immolated themselves in the past decade to protest what they perceive as limited religious, cultural, and civil rights. Revered as national heroes in exile and compassionate human rights fighters among Euro-American audiences, Tibetan self-immolators are considered mere terrorists in China. This article brings studies in terrorism into its analysis of the Tibetan self-immolation crisis, examining the ways in which both are heightened by modern communication technology and media. Rejecting any interpretation that aligns self-immolation with suicide terrorism, I argue that although Tibetan self-immolators uphold Buddhist scriptural principles of bodhisattvic self-sacrifice, their martyrdom is nevertheless a form of violence with far ranging causes, both political and religious.
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The Politics of Buddhist Relic Diplomacy Between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

The Politics of Buddhist Relic Diplomacy Between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka

D. Mitra Barua
Cornell University

Buddhists in Chittagong, Bangladesh claim to preserve a lock of hair believed to be of Sakyamuni Buddha himself. This hair relic has become a magnet for domestic and transnational politics; as such, it made journeys to Colombo in 1960, 2007, and 2011. The states of independent Ceylon/Sri Lanka and East Pakistan/Bangladesh facilitated all three international journeys of the relic. Diplomats from both countries were involved in extending state invitations, public exchanges of the relic and a state-funded, grand scale display of the relic.

This article explores the politics of such high profile diplomatic arrangements. For the Bangladeshi Buddhist minority, these international relic exchanges help them temporarily overcome their marginalized position in a predominantly Muslim society and generate religious sympathy among the Buddhist majority in Sri Lanka. Such Buddhist fellowship and sympathy results in sponsorship for Bangladeshi Buddhist novices to attend monastic trainings in Sri Lanka and the donation of Buddhist ritual artifacts like Buddha statues, monastic robes, begging bowls, and so forth, for Buddhist institutions in Bangladesh.

But how do the relic exchanges benefit the Islamic state of Bangladesh and the Sri Lankan government? That question leads to an analysis of the relic exchanges in relation to global and trans-national politics. I argue that the repeated exchanges of the relic are part and parcel of creating “good” governance images for both Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi governments for both a domestic and transnational audience respectively.
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Geopolitics of Buddhism

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Geopolitics of Buddhism

André Laliberté
University of Ottawa

This article argues that Buddhists still lack an international organization that could help them present a unified voice the way that the World Council of Churches does for non-Catholic Christians, or the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, for all Muslims, whether they are Sunni or Shia. There exist international organizations that claim to speak on behalf of Buddhists the world over, but they compete against each other. The basis of this competition has little to do with the differences between the Mahāyāna, Theravāda, and Vajrayāna schools, but owes a lot more to competition between Asian great powers, in particular China and India. The article will demonstrate this by first presenting an historical account of the different attempts to create a unified Buddhist international organization, along with different transnational Buddhist institutions. Then it will review the divisions that have prevented, so far, the creation of such an organization.

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Prolegomenon to Thinking about Buddhist Politics

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Prolegomenon to Thinking about Buddhist Politics

André Laliberté
University of Ottawa

Introduction to a special issue of the Journal of Buddhist Ethics: “Buddhism and Politics.”

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Review: Theravāda Buddhist Encounters with Modernity

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Theravāda Buddhist Encounters with Modernity. Edited by Juliane Schober and Steven Collins. Routledge, 2017, 168 pages, ISBN 978-1138192744 (hardback), U.S. $138.01.

Reviewed by Ananda Abeysekara

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Is Buddhaghosa the Author of the Vinaya and Abhidhamma Commentaries?

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

The Authorship of the Vinaya and Abhidhamma Commentaries: A Response to von Hinüber

Ven. Pandita (Burma)
University of Kelaniya

Von Hinüber claims in his recent article, “Early Scripture Commentary,” which is included in Brill’s Encyclopedia of Buddhism, that: (1) Buddhaghosa is the author of the commentaries on four nikāyas, but (2) not of other commentaries traditionally attributed to him. I agree with (1) but not with (2). On the contrary, I believe it is highly probable that the Vinaya and Abhidhamma commentaries have come from Buddhaghosa. I will give in this article the reasons for this belief.

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Mindfulness and Ethical Dogmatism

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Mindfulness and the Psychology of Ethical Dogmatism

Josef Mattes
University of Vienna

Motivated by recent controversies concerning the relationship between modern mindfulness-based interventions and Buddhism, this article discusses the relationship between mindfulness and dogmatism in general, and dogmatism in ethics in particular. The point of view taken is primarily that of the psychology of judgment and decision making: Various cognitive illusions affect the feelings of righteousness and certainty that tend to accompany ethical and moral judgments. I argue that even though there is some evidence that mindfulness practice improves judgment and decision making, this improvement is rarely as strong as is implied in various contributions to the above-mentioned controversies. In addition, I reflect on claims that “the original teachings of the Buddha” justify the moral stances taken. I argue that these stances likely arise, at least in part, due to the cultural transmission of cognitive dissonance of early Christianity rather than being inherent in the Buddha’s teachings.

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The Atipada Problem in Buddhist Meta-Ethics

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

The Atipada Problem in Buddhist Meta-Ethics

Gordon F. Davis
Carleton University

We can express a wide range of objections to philosophical views by saying a view “goes too far”; but there is a more specific pitfall, which opens up when a philosopher seeks to generalize some form of anti-realism in such a way that it must itself be pronounced groundless or incoherent by its own standards. In cases where this self-stultification looks impossible to overcome without revising the view in question, it can be called the atipada problem. Signifying a risk of “overstepping,” this Sanskrit label reflects a particular relevance to Mahāyāna ethicists who seek to enlarge the scope of compassion by enlarging the meaning of emptiness (śūnyatā) to the point where all truths and ideals are pronounced ultimately empty, and likewise, at least ipso facto, the ideal of compassion itself. This incarnation of the problem is left unresolved by several recent defenders of Madhyamaka ethics, as well as by one recent interpreter of Vasubandhu; meanwhile, some Buddhist ethicists who try to avoid theorizing at this “ultimate” level run into the same general problem nonetheless. More than a specialized meta-ethical puzzle, this problem threatens to undermine central Buddhist ideals in precisely those contexts where philosophical ethics is invoked to vindicate them; however, rather than disposing us to foreswear meta-ethics in an attempt to avoid the problematic views in question, the problem should lead us to expand the scope of Buddhist meta-ethics.

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A Buddhist Chaplain in Occupied Japan

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Prison and the Pure Land: A Buddhist Chaplain in Occupied Japan

Melissa Anne-Marie Curley
Ohio State University

In November 1945, the United States military took over the use of Tokyo’s Sugamo Prison in order to house those charged by the Allied Powers with war crimes. For close to three years, Hanayama Shinshō served as the prison’s volunteer Buddhist chaplain, attending thirty-six executions. Hanayama did not protest the imposition of the death penalty but this essay argues that in his work as chaplain he nonetheless resisted the carceral logic shaping life and death inside Sugamo by mobilizing the ritual and narrative repertoire of Pure Land Buddhism. In Hanayama’s framing, Sugamo was a site of liberation as well as confinement, affording the condemned a unique opportunity to reflect upon the past and commit themselves to a different future, even in death. As Hanayama tells it, the peace discovered by the dead was an absolute peace, transcending politics; he also insists, however, on a connection between this absolute peace and the ordinary peace that the living might hope to secure. The article concludes with a consideration of the political and ethical implications of Hanayama’s reading of the dead as having “found peace” in light of larger conversations about how best to remember—or forget—the nation’s dark past, and what it means to share responsibility for crimes against humanity.

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Buddhist Leadership

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Beyond Precepts in Conceptualizing Buddhist Leadership

Phra Nicholas Thanissaro
University of Warwick

Monastic saṅgha members may be seen as monopolizing leadership in traditional forms of Buddhism. The usual Theravādin justification for this is that monastics keep a greater number of precepts than laypeople and therefore provide a higher standard of ethical leadership as well as being symbols of their religion. Such allocation of authority to monks breaks down where the monastic-lay distinction blurs. This paper presents a review of the literature of anthropological and attitude research findings to explore how the demand for alternative modes of leadership, such as charismatic, visionary, servant, facilitative, strategic, or participative leadership or management, has opened up opportunities for lay people to take more prominent roles in Buddhist leadership in Western Buddhism as well as contemporary Asian contexts.

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Who Are the Chabbaggiya Monks and Nuns?

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Who Are the Chabbaggiya Monks and Nuns?

Ven. Pandita (Burma)
University of Kelaniya

Modern scholarship has chosen to treat the chabbaggiya monks and nuns, commonly found in Vinaya narratives, as of fictitious nature. In this article, I argue against this modern contention.

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Is a Buddhist Praxis Possible?

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Is a Buddhist Praxis Possible?

Charles R. Strain
DePaul University

The question that forms the title of this essay may well evoke an instant response: “Of course, why not?” This answer assumes a vague and quite elastic understanding of praxis. Latin American Liberation theologians saw praxis, to the contrary, as arising from a dialectic of critical reflection and practice. Following the example of Liberation Theology, this paper argues the thesis that the pieces of the puzzle of an adequate critical reflection on Buddhist praxis exist but they have yet to be put together into a Buddhist theory of political transformation akin to any number of Liberation Theologies. The following definition of praxis serves as a heuristic device to examine engaged Buddhist theoretical contributions to a Buddhist praxis: Praxis is action that is: (1) symbolically constituted; (2) historically situated; (3) critically mediated by a social theory; and (4) strategically and politically directed. After examining each of these components in turn, the article concludes by asking what might be the “vehicle” of a distinctively Buddhist praxis.

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Animals as Lamas in Sikkim

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Foxes, Yetis, and Bulls as Lamas: Human-Animal Interactions as a Resource for Exploring Buddhist Ethics in Sikkim

Kalzang Dorjee Bhutia
Occidental College

Sikkimese Bhutia language oral traditions feature an abundance of stories related to human-animal interactions. In order to begin to critically consider the significance of these interactions, this article will engage with these oral traditions and what they can tell us about local traditions of Buddhist ethics. Although some of these tales seem anthropocentric because humans overpower and outwit animals, others are more ambiguous. In this ethical universe, foxes, yetis, and magical bulls all act as agents and, at times, religious teachers, reminding humans of the Buddhist theme of interconnectedness in their interactions with the environment. This article is a starting point for considering how such tales can act as a rich resource for negotiating ambiguous forms of ecocentrism in local Buddhist practice and narrative in the Eastern Himalayas.

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Laughter and Transmission of the Dharma

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Language, Reality, Emptiness, Laughs

Soraj Hongladarom
Chulalongkorn University

Laughter, especially in connection with philosophy, reality, or language, is not much discussed in the vast literature of Buddhism. In the few places where it is discussed, however, there are two strands. On the one hand, laughter is frowned upon when it is seen as an attraction that leads one astray from the path. This is evident in the Tālapuṭa Sūtra, where the Buddha says that actors and comedians would find it very difficult to enter the Path. It is also found in the Vinaya, where the emphasis is on the proper behavior of monks. The Buddha often rebukes monks who laugh out loud in the villages where householders can see them. The other strand views laughter more positively. This strand is found more in the Mahāyāna literature, where the Buddha laughs when he realizes emptiness, that nothing is substantial. The attitude of Buddhism toward laughter is conditional. Laughter and playfulness have a soteriological role to play as a skillful means, and Buddhism is not always serious.

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The Ruination of a Dead Nun’s Stupa

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

The Ruination of a Dead Nun’s Stupa: Does This Really Evince the Suppression of Nuns?

Ven. Pandita (Burma)
University of Kelaniya

It is firstly Horner, and later Schopen, who have expressed negative opinions on a story in the Vinaya. I argue, however, that the aforesaid story, at least its Pāli version, is not so bad as it sounds if we interpret it properly.

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