Journal of Buddhist Ethics

An online journal of Buddhist scholarship related to ethics.


Buddhism and Capital Punishment: A Revisitation

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 26, 2019

Buddhism and Capital Punishment: A Revisitation

Martin Kovan
University of Melbourne

The first Buddhist precept prohibits the intentional, even sanctioned, taking of life. However, capital punishment remains legal, and even increasingly applied, in some culturally Buddhist polities and beyond them. The classical Buddhist norm of unconditional compassion as a counterforce to such punishment thus appears insufficient to oppose it. This paper engages classical Buddhist and Western argument for and against capital punishment, locating a Buddhist refutation of deterrent and Kantian retributivist grounds for it not only in Nāgārjunian appeals to compassion, but also the metaphysical and moral constitution of the agent of lethal crime, and thereby the object of its moral consequences. Read article

Buddhist Approach to Restorative Justice

ISSN 1076–9005
Volume 7, 2000

How to Reform a Serial Killer: The Buddhist Approach to Restorative Justice

David R. Loy
Bunkyo University

This article considers how Buddhist perspectives on crime and punishment support the contemporary movement toward restorative (in place of retributive) justice. It begins by examining the two Pāli suttas that most directly address these issues: the Angulimala Sutta, about the reform of a serial killer, and the Lion’s Roar Sutta, about the responsibility of a ruler. Then it looks at the Vinaya, which has many implications for our understanding of motivation and reform, and finally at traditional Tibet to see how its criminal justice system embodied these Buddhist perspectives. It concludes with some reflections on why our present criminal justice systems serve the purposes of the state better than the needs of offenders and their victims.

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