Journal of Buddhist Ethics

An online journal of Buddhist scholarship related to ethics.

Vinaya Principles for Assigning Degrees of Culpability

Volume 6, 1999

Vinaya Principles for Assigning Degrees of Culpability

Peter Harvey
University of Sunderland

The Buddhist literature that goes into most explicit detail on factors affecting degree of culpability in wrong actions is the Vinaya. While this includes material that goes beyond the scope of ethics per se, it contains much of relevance to ethics. Focusing on overt physical and verbal actions, it also has much to say on states of mind which affect the moral assessment of actions: knowledge, perception, doubt, intention, carelessness, remorse, etc. These factors interact in sometimes complex and subtle ways, and their relevance varies according to the type of action being assessed, rather than being applied in an indiscriminate blanket fashion. The sources used for the article are primarily the Pāli Vinaya and its commentary, with some reference to the Milindapañha, Kathvātthu, and Abhidharma-kośa-bhāṣya when they discuss Vinaya-related matters.

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