Journal of Buddhist Ethics

An online journal of Buddhist scholarship related to ethics.


Report: Conference on Buddhist Ethics

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 23, 2016

Inaugural Conference on Buddhist Ethics

Daniel Cozort
Dickinson College

A report on the Conference on Buddhist Ethics held at Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, on June 14-16, 2016.

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Ethical Implications of Upāya-Kauśalya

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 22, 2015

Ethical Implications of Upāya-Kauśalya: Helping Without Imposing

Kin Cheung
Temple University

Upāya-kauśalya has been examined as a hermeneutical device, a Mahāyānic innovation, and a philosophy of practice. Although the paternalism of upāya-kauśalya employed in the Lotus Sūtra has been analyzed, there is little attention paid to bringing these ethical implications into a practical context. There is a tension between the motivation, even obligation, to help, and the potential dangers of projecting or imposing one’s conception of what is best for others or how best to help. I examine this issue through various parables. I argue that ordinary people can use upāya-kauśalya and that the ethical implications of upāya-kauśalya involve closing two different gaps in knowledge. This has potential applications not just for individuals, but also for organizations like NPOs or NGOs that try to assist large communities.

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Review: Daniel Berrigan, Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Ethics of Peace and Justice

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 22, 2015

The Prophet and the Bodhisattva: Daniel Berrigan, Thich Nhat Hanh and the Ethics of Peace and Justice. By Charles R. Strain. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2014, ISBN 978-1620328415 (paperback), $32.00.

Reviewed by Peter Herman

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Review: Innovation and Activism in Contemporary Japan

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

Experimental Buddhism: Innovation and Activism in Contemporary Japan. By John K. Nelson. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2013, 292 pages, ISBN: 9780824838980 (paper-back), $32.00.

Reviewed by Erez Joskovich

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The Role of Deterrence in Buddhist Peace-building

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

The Role of Deterrence in Buddhist Peace-building

Damien Keown
University of London, Goldsmiths

This article proposes that military deterrence can be a legitimate Buddhist strategy for peace. It suggests that such a strategy can provide a “middle way” between the extremes of victory and defeat. Drawing on evidence from the Pāli canon, notably the concept of the Cakkavatti, it argues that the Buddha did not object to kingship, armies or military service, and that military deterrence is a valid means to achieve the social and political stability Buddhism values.

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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 Ethico-Political Significance of Mindfulness

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

Towards a Dialogue Between Buddhist Social Theory and “Affect Studies” on the Ethico-Political Significance of Mindfulness

Edwin Ng
Deakin University

This article stages a conversation between an emergent Buddhist social theory and current thinking in the humanities and social sciences on the affective and visceral registers of everyday experience—or what falls under the rubric of “affect studies.” The article takes the premise that prevailing models of Buddhist social theory need updating as they remain largely confined to macropolitical accounts of power, even though they argue for the importance of a mode of sociocultural analysis that would anchor itself on the “self” end of the self–society continuum. The article will thus explore ways to develop a micropolitical account of the ethical and political implications of Buddhist spiritual-social praxis—specifically mindfulness training—by formulating some hypotheses for dialogical exchange between Buddhist understandings and the multidisciplinary ideas informing the so-called “affective turn.”

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Review: Cruel Theory/Sublime Practice

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 20, 2013

Cruel Theory/Sublime Practice: Toward a Revaluation of Buddhism. By Glenn Wallis, Tom Pepper, and Matthias Steingass. Roskilde, Denmark: EyeCorner Press, 2013, 211 pages, ISBN 978-87-92633-23-1 (paperback), $29.95.

Reviewed by John L. Murphy

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Śāntideva on Gifts, Altruism, and Poverty

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 20, 2013

The Compassionate Gift of Vice: Śāntideva on Gifts, Altruism, and Poverty

Amod Lele
Boston University

The Mahāyāna Buddhist thinker Śāntideva tells his audience to give out alcohol, weapons and sex for reasons of Buddhist compassion, though he repeatedly warns of the dangers of all these three. The article shows how Śāntideva resolves this issue: these gifts, and gifts in general, attract their recipients to the virtuous giver, in a way that helps the recipients to become more virtuous in the long run. As a consequence, Śāntideva does recommend the alleviation of poverty, but assigns it a much smaller significance than is usually supposed. His views run counter to many engaged Buddhist discussions of political action, and lend support to the “modernist” interpretation of engaged Buddhist practice.

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Review: Prebish, Modern Dharma Pioneer

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 18, 2011

An American Buddhist Life: Memoirs of a Modern Dharma Pioneer. By Charles S. Prebish. Toronto: Sumeru, 2011, 266 pages, ISBN 978-1-896559-09-4 (pbk), $24.95 US/CAD; £17.50.

Reviewed by Nicole Heather Libin

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Review: Essays of Rita Gross

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 18, 2011

A Garland of Feminist Reflections: Forty Years of Religious Exploration. By Rita M. Gross. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2009, viii + 340 pages, ISBN 978-0-520-25586-9 (paper), US $24.95; ISBN 978-0-520-25585-2 (cloth).

Reviewed by Ravenna Michalsen

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On the Distribution of Wealth

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 18, 2011

Can Buddhism Inform the Contemporary Western Liberal Debate on the Distribution of Wealth?

Caroline Mosler
Dhaka, Bangladesh

The contemporary Western liberal debate on the distribution of wealth revolves around whether the right to property may be subordinated to the good of society. Both Liberal Egalitarians and Libertarians make various negative assumptions concerning individuals, rights and duties. Buddhism, on the other hand, can offer the debate, and thereby the topic of human rights, a different perspective on the role of rights and duties and can introduce to the debate the issue of social, economic and cultural rights (“socio-economic rights”), as laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) or the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

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Socially Engaged Buddhism in the U.K.

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 13, 2006

The Sociological Implications for Contemporary Buddhism in the United Kingdom: Socially Engaged Buddhism, a Case Study

Phil Henry
University of Derby

This article addresses Buddhist identity in contemporary settings and asks what it means to be Buddhist in the West today. This is the overarching theme of my doctoral research into socially engaged Buddhism in the United Kingdom, which addresses the question of how socially engaged Buddhism challenges the notion of what it means to be Buddhist in the twenty-first century. The scope of this article is to portray part of that work, and, in so doing, it suggests methodological approaches for students of Western Buddhism, using my research into the identity of socially engaged Buddhists in the United Kingdom as a case study.

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Review: Social Ethics of Engaged Buddhism

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 13, 2006

Being Benevolence: The Social Ethics of Engaged Buddhism. By Sallie B. King.  Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, 2005, 291 pages, ISBN 0824829352 (paper), US $28.00.

Reviewed by Ethan Mills

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Zen Social Ethics in Japan

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 12, 2005

What’s Compassion Got to Do with It? Determinants of Zen Social Ethics in Japan

Christopher Ives
Stonehill College

Judging from pronouncements by contemporary Engaged Buddhists, one might conclude that historical expressions of Zen social ethics have rested on the foundation of compassion and the precepts. The de facto systems of social ethics in Japanese Zen, however, have been shaped largely by other epistemological, sociological, and historical factors, and compassion should best be understood as a “theological virtue” that historically has gained specificity from those other factors.

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Review: A Buddhist Social Theory

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 12, 2005

The Great Awakening: A Buddhist Social Theory. By David R. Loy. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2003. 228 pages. Paperback. ISBN 0861713664.

Reviewed by Dan Arnold

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Review: Engaged Buddhism in Burma

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 8, 2001

The Voice of Hope. Edited by Aung San Su Kyi with Alan Clements. New York: Seven Stories Press, 1997, 304 pages, ISBN 1–888363–83–5 (paperback), ISBN 1–888363–50–9 (hardcover), US $14.95 (paperback), US $24.95 (hardcover).

Reviewed by Barbara E. Reed

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Review: Engaged Buddhism in the West

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 8, 2001

Engaged Buddhism in the West. Edited by Christopher S. Queen. Boston: Wisdom Publishing, 2000, 544 pages, ISBN: 0–8617–1159–9, US $24.95.

Reviewed by Mavis L. Fenn

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Review: Socially Engaged Buddhism

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 7, 2000

Socially Engaged Buddhism for the New Millennium: Essays in honor of the Ven. Phra Dhammapitaka (Bhikkhu P. A. Payutto) on his 60th birthday anniversary. Edited By Pipob Udomittipong and Chris Walker. Bangkok: Sathirakoses–Nagapradipa Foundation and Foundation for Children, 2542/1999, 531 pages, ISBN: 974–269–154–2, US$38.00 (paper), US$60.00 (cloth).

Reviewed by Donald K. Swearer

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Review: Structural Violence, Social Development, and Spiritual Transformation

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 7, 2000

Global Healing: Essays and Interviews on Structural Violence, Social Development, and Spiritual Transformation. By Sulak Sivaraksa. Bangkok: Thai
Inter-Religious Commission for Development and Sathirakoses-Nagapradipa Foundation, 1999, 164 pages, ISBN: 974-260-156-9, US $15.00.

Reviewed by Donald K. Swearer

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Buddhist Approaches to Social Change

ISSN:1076–9005
Volume 6, 1999

Changing the Way Society Changes: Transposing Social Activism into a Dramatic Key

Peter D. Hershock
East-West Center
Asian Studies Development Program

While many Buddhists are rightly committed to working in the public sphere for the resolution of suffering, there are very real incompatibilities between the axiomatic concepts and strategic biases of (the dominant strands of) both current human rights discourse and social activism and such core Buddhist practices as seeing all things as interdependent, impermanent, empty, and karmically configured. Indeed, the almost startling successes of social activism have been ironic, hinging on its strategic and conceptual indebtedness to core values shared with the technological and ideological forces that have sponsored its own necessity. The above-mentioned Buddhist practices provide a way around the critical blind spot instituted by the marriage of Western rationalism, a technological bias toward control, and the axiomatic status of individual human being, displaying the limits of social activism’s institutional approach to change and opening concrete possibilities for a dramatically Buddhist approach to changing the way societies change.

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Review: Engaged Buddhism in Asia

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 5 1998

Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist Liberation Movements in Asia. Edited by Christopher S. Queen and Sallie B. King. New York: State University of New York, 1996, xii + 446 pages, ISBN 0-7914-2844-3, $24.95.

Reviewed by Mavis L. Fenn

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Social Engagement in Western Buddhism

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 2 1995

Practicing Peace: Social Engagement in Western Buddhism

Kenneth Kraft
Lehigh University

This essay examines some current concerns of socially engaged Buddhists in the West. How does one practice nonviolence in one’s own life and in the world? How can the demands of “inner” and “outer” work be reconciled? What framework should be used in assessing the effects of Buddhist-inspired activism? Today’s engaged Buddhists do not refer extensively to Buddhism’s ethical tradition, and some of their activities may not appear to be distinctively Buddhist. Nonetheless, their efforts reflect a longstanding Mahāyāna ideal — that transcendental wisdom is actualized most meaningfully in compassionate action.

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Typology of Buddhist Environmentalism

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 2 1995

Getting to Grips With Buddhist Environmentalism: A Provisional Typology

Ian Harris
University College of St. Martin

This paper offers a survey of current writing and practice within the area of Buddhist environmental ethics. Consideration of the manner in which sections of contemporary Buddhism have embraced a range of environmental concerns suggests that four fairly distinct types of discourse are in the process of formation, i.e., eco-spirituality, eco-justice, eco-traditionalism and eco-apologetics. This fourfold typology is described and examples of each type are discussed. The question of the “authenticity”, from the Buddhist perspective, is addressed to each type in turn.

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