Journal of Buddhist Ethics

An online journal of Buddhist scholarship related to ethics.

Archive for the ‘Volume 27 2020’


A Tibetan Regent’s Economic Reforms and the Ethics of Rulership

Volume 27, 2020

The Saṃgha and the Taxman: A Tibetan Regent’s Economic Reforms and the Ethics of Rulership

William K. Dewey
Rubin Museum of Art

This article examines how Tibetan Buddhists believed a state should be governed justly by considering the political agenda of the regent Ngawang Tsültrim (1721–1791) and how he was influenced by the Indian nītiśāstra tradition and similar indigenous traditions of ethical rule. Nītiśāstra originally, under Kauṭilya, promoted wealth and power. Later proponents (both Hindu and Buddhist) more strongly emphasized the primacy of Dharma and justice for the poor, and in this form it most influenced Tibetan Buddhist political thought, including the legislative decrees of Ngawang Tsültrim. He tried to relieve the Tibetan peasants from the heavy tax and labor obligations of the Tibetan social system, and otherwise pursued economic justice. In so doing, he also wanted to ensure that resources continued to flow to the Saṃgha, the supreme field of merit. Accordingly, the decrees targeted aristocratic rather than monastic corruption. They prioritized the maintenance and reform of existing economic obligations over economic development or redistribution of wealth. Ngawang Tsültrim’s decrees demonstrate a tension within the nītiśāstra tradition which can also be found when today’s religions (including socially engaged Buddhism) pursue goals of social justice. These goals may conflict with the goal of spreading the faith, and especially with the social and financial structures that support religious institutions, but may be responsible for social ills. Read article

Review: Postmodern Buddhism in the U.S.

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 27, 2020

American Dharma: Buddhism Beyond Modernity. By Ann Gleig. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2019, 362 + xii pp., ISBN 978-0-300-21580-9 (Hard Cover), $35.00.

Reviewed by John Pickens

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Review: Morality and Monastic Revival in Post-Mao Tibet

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 27, 2020

Morality and Monastic Revival in Post-Mao Tibet. By Jane E. Caple. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2019, 232 pp., ISBN 978-0-8248-6984-7 (Hard Cover), $65.00.

Reviewed by Annabella Pitkin

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The Buddha versus Popper: When to Live?

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 27, 2020

The Buddha versus Popper: When to Live?

Jongjin Kim
Korea University
Rohit Parikh
The Graduate Center and Brooklyn College, City University of New York

We discuss two approaches to life: presentism and futurism. We locate presentism within various elements of Buddhism, in the form of advice to live in the present and not to allow the future to hinder us from living in the ever present now. By contrast, futurism, which we identify with Karl Popper, advises us to think of future consequences before we act, and to act now for a better future. Of course, with its emphasis on a well-defined path to an ideal future ideally culminating in enlightenment, Buddhism undoubtedly has elements of futurism as well. We do not intend to determine which of these two approaches to time is more dominant in Buddhism, nor how the two approaches are best understood within Buddhism; but simply we intend to compare and contrast these two approaches, using those presentist elements of Buddhism as representative of presentism while contrasting them with those elements of futurism to be found in Popper and others. We will discuss various aspects of presentism and futurism, such as Ruth Millikan’s Popperian animal, the psychologist Howard Rachlin’s social and temporal discounting, and even the popular but controversial idea, YOLO (you only live once). The primary purpose of this paper is to contrast one with the other. The central question of ethics is: How should one live? Our variation on that question is: When should one live? We conjecture that the notion of flow, developed by Csikszentmihalyi, may be a better optimal choice between these two positions. Read article

Can an Evil Person Attain Rebirth in the Pure Land?

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 27, 2020

Can an Evil Person Attain Rebirth in the Pure Land? Ethical and Soteriological Issues in the Pure Land Thought of Peng Shaosheng (1740-1796)

Hongyu Wu
Ohio Northern University

In Pure Land literature in China, it is not uncommon to find accounts about morally flawed or evil persons attaining rebirth in the Pure Land. The rebirth of evil persons in the Pure Land, in fact, is an issue that can work both for and against Pure Land proponents. On the one hand, the soteriological inclusiveness of evil persons can be employed by promoters to prioritize Pure Land belief and practice over other forms of Buddhist thought and practice. On the other hand, belief in the saving power of Amitābha Buddha might discourage people from doing good or, even worse, legitimize evil behavior—a point that critics both within and outside the Buddhist community were quick to point out. The moral failures of Pure Land practitioners surely garnered criticism and hostility that were directed both toward the individual and toward the Pure Land teachings—and, as Pure Land beliefs and practices in China were not sectarian, the misconducts of the Pure Land practitioners could eventually damage the reputation of the whole Buddhist community. This paper focuses on Peng Shaosheng, a Confucian literatus turned Buddhist layman and a prominent advocate of Pure Land practice, to examine how he employed a syncretic approach by drawing on concepts such as karmic retribution, sympathetic resonance (ganying), no-good (wushan), and ultimate good (zhishan) to develop a scheme that neither denied the saving power of Amitābha Buddha and supremacy of Pure Land practice nor endorsed “licensed evil.” Read article

Review: A Yogācāra Buddhist Theory of Metaphor

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 26, 2019

A Yogācāra Buddhist Theory of Metaphor. By Roy Tzohar. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018, 296 pp., ISBN 978-0-19-066439-8 (Hardcover), $105.00.

Reviewed by Joy Brennan

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Review: Anticaste Activism in India and the Awakening of Justice

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 26, 2019

Identity, Rights, and Awareness: Anticaste Activism in India and the Awakening of Justice through Discursive Practices. By Jeremy A. Rinker. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2018, xi + 211 pp., ISBN 978-1-4985-4193-0 (Hardcover), $95.00.

Reviewed by Gajendran Ayyathurai

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