Journal of Buddhist Ethics

An online journal of Buddhist scholarship related to ethics.


Buddhist Self-immolation and Mahāyānist Absolute Altruism, Part Two

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

Thresholds of Transcendence: Buddhist Self-immolation and Mahāyānist Absolute Altruism, Part Two

Martin Kovan
University of Melbourne

In China and Tibet, and under the gaze of the global media, the five-year period from February 2009 to February 2014 saw the self-immolations of at least 127 Tibetan Buddhist monks, nuns, and lay-people. An English Tibetan Buddhist monk, then resident in France, joined this number in November 2012, though his self-immolation has been excluded from all accounts of the exile Tibetan and other documenters of the ongoing Tibetan crisis. Underlying the phenomenon of Buddhist self-immolation is a real and interpretive ambiguity between personal, religious (or ritual-transcendental), altruistic, and political suicide, as well as political suicide within the Buddhist sangha specifically. These theoretical distinctions appear opaque not only to (aligned and non-aligned, Tibetan and non-Tibetan) observers, but potentially also to self-immolators themselves, despite their deeply motivated conviction.

Such ambiguity is reflected in the varying historical and current assessments of the practice, also represented by globally significant Buddhist leaders such as His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and the Vietnamese monk and activist Thích Nhất Hạnh. This essay analyses the symbolic ontology of suicide in these Tibetan Buddhist cases, and offers metaethical and normative accounts of self-immolation as an altruistic-political act in the “global repertoire of contention” in order to clarify its claims for what is a critically urgent issue in Buddhist ethics.

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The Politics of “Compassion” of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

The Politics of “Compassion” of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama: Between “Religion” and “Secularism”

Masahide Tsujimura
Kobe University
Koyasan University

Since 1959, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama has expressed the view that democratic reforms should be gradually carried out in the Tibetan political system. He did this by enlarging the connotation of the traditional Tibetan concept of chos srid zung ‘brel (union of dharma and polity). This paper will examine how the Dalai Lama succeeded in maintaining the traditional political concept of chos srid zung ‘brel in a modern Tibetan democracy by employing the idea of “compassion” to link “religion” and “secularism.”

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The Dalai Lama and the Nature of Buddhist Ethics

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 20, 2013

The Dalai Lama and the Nature of Buddhist Ethics

Abraham Vélez de Cea
Eastern Kentucky University

This article clarifies the nature of Buddhist ethics from a comparative perspective. It contends that the Dalai Lama’s ethics is best understood as a pluralistic approach to virtue ethics. The article has two parts. The first part challenges Charles Goodman’s interpretation of Mahāyāna Buddhist ethics as an instance of consequentialism. This is done indirectly, that is, not by questioning Goodman’s reading of Śāntideva and Asaṅga, but rather by applying to the Dalai Lama’s ethics the same test that Goodman uses to justify his reading of Mahāyāna ethics as a whole. The second part examines the Dalai Lama’s ethics in comparison to Christine Swanton, a representative of a pluralistic approach to virtue ethics in contemporary analytic philosophy. By comparing the ethics of the Dalai Lama and Swanton, the article does not wish to suggest that her pluralistic approach to virtue ethics is the closest western analogue to Buddhist virtue ethics. I use comparison, not to understand the Dalai Lama’s ethical ideas from the perspective of Swanton’s ethics, but rather to highlight what is unique about the Dalai Lama’s approach to virtue ethics, which is pluralistic in a characteristically Buddhist way.

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Review Essay: Destructive Emotions

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 11, 2004

Destructive Emotions: How Can We Overcome Them? A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama. Narrated by Daniel Goleman. New York: Random House, 2003, xxiv + 404 pages, ISBN 0-553-80171-6 (hardback), $28.00.

Reviewed by Christian Coseru

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Review: Tibet, China and the Dalai Lama

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 6, 1999

The Snow Lion and the Dragon: Tibet, China and the Dalai Lama. By Melvyn C. Goldstein. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997, xiii + 152 pages, : 0-520-21254-1, US$19.95.

Reviewed by Toni Huber

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