Journal of Buddhist Ethics

An online journal of Buddhist scholarship related to ethics.


Dependent Origination and the Value of Nature

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 24, 2017

Dependent Origination, Emptiness, and the Value of Nature

David Cummiskey and Alex Hamilton
Bates College

This article explains the importance of the Buddhist doctrine of dependent origination to contemporary environmental ethics and also develops a Buddhist account of the relational, non-instrumental, and impersonal value of nature. The article’s methodology is “comparative” or “fusion” philosophy. In particular, dependent origination and Nāgārjuna’s doctrine of emptiness are developed in contrast to Aldo Leopold and J. Baird Callicott’s conception of deep ecology, and the Buddhist conception of value is developed using Christine Korsgaard’s Kantian analysis of the distinction between intrinsic/extrinsic value and means/ends value.

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Review: Buddhist Reflection on a More Equitable Future

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 23, 2016

Valuing Diversity: Buddhist Reflection on Realizing a More Equitable Global Future. By Peter D. Hershock. Albany: SUNY Press, 2014, vi + 332 pages, ISBN 978-1-4384-4458-1 (paperback), $29.95.

Reviewed by Seth D. Clippard

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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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Holistic Eco-Buddhism and the Problem of Universal Identity

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 22, 2015

Nature’s No-Thingness: Holistic Eco-Buddhism and the Problem of Universal Identity

Marek Sullivan
University of Oxford

“Holistic eco-Buddhism” has been roundly criticized for its heterodoxy and philosophical incoherence: the Buddha never claimed we should protect an “eco-self” and there are serious philosophical problems attendant on “identifying with things.” Yet this essay finds inadequate attention has been paid to East Asian sources. Metaphysical issues surrounding eco-Buddhism, i.e., problems of identity and difference, universalism and particularity, have a long history in Chinese Buddhism. In particular, I examine the notion of “merging with things” in pre-Huayan and Huayan Buddhism, suggesting these offer unexplored possibilities for a coherent holistic eco-Buddhism based on the differentiating effects of activity and functionality.

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The Eco-Buddhism of Marie Byles

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 22, 2015

The Eco-Buddhism of Marie Byles

Peggy James
University of Tasmania

Marie Beuzeville Byles (1900–1979) was a key figure in the historical development of Buddhism in Australia, and the nation’s conservation movement. From the 1940s she began to develop an eco-Buddhist worldview and Buddhist environmental ethic that she applied in her day-to-day conservation activities and articulated over the course of four books on Buddhism and dozens of published articles. She is recognized in Australia for her Buddhist environmental thought, the influence that her ideas had in a key environmental debate of her day, and her international profile as a Buddhist. Most histories of modern eco-Buddhism, however, do not mention Byles’s work, and there has thus far been little scholarly analysis of her writings. This paper examines Byles’s eco-Buddhist ideas and activities in detail, and assesses the historical significance of her contribution.

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Everyday Religion and Public Health in Kathmandu

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 22, 2015

Puṇya and Pāp in Public Health: Everyday Religion, Material Culture, and Avenues of Buddhist Activism in Urban Kathmandu

Todd Lewis
College of the Holy Cross

In the dense settlements of old Kathmandu city, an urban ecology is fueled by abundant natural resources and sustained by a complex web of predator and prey species, all in a space dominated by human presence and practices. These include everyday activities in temples, roads, and homes that are rooted in Buddhist and Hindu doctrines. Both traditions emphasize non-violence (ahiṃsā) to all living beings, and adherents seek merit (puṇya) daily from feeding some of them. In light of the still chronic outbreaks of diseases like cholera, and especially in light of the threat of future avian-vector epidemics, a new avenue of doctrinal interpretation favoring human intervention might be developed based on the Bodhicaryāvatāra, an important Mahāyāna Buddhist text. In the spirit of “engaged Buddhism,” the discussion concludes with suggestions on how Newar Buddhist teachers today can use their cultural resources to shift their community’s ethical standpoint and take effective actions.

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Review: A Green Odyssey

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 22, 2015

Pad Yatra: A Green Odyssey. Directed by Wendy J. N. Lee; Executive Producer, Michelle Yeoh; Narrator, Daryl Hannah. 2013, $549 (Campus Screening License and DVD), $499 (Digital Streaming License), $299 (College and University DVD), and $129 (K-12, Library, and Non-Profit DVD).

Reviewed by Adam T. Miller

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Buddha’s Maritime Nature

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 20, 2013

Buddha’s Maritime Nature: A Case Study in Shambhala Buddhist Environmentalism

Barbra Clayton
Mount Allison University

This paper describes the Buddhist environmental ethic of Windhorse Farm, a Shambhala Buddhist community in Atlantic Canada supported by ecosystem-based sustainable forestry and organic farming. The values, beliefs and motives for this project are described and contextualized within the Shambhala Buddhist tradition, and these results are discussed within the context of the debate in scholarly discussions of environmental Buddhism over whether interdependence or virtues such as compassion and mindfulness are more significant for a Buddhist environmental ethic. The results of this study suggest that both areteic features and the metaphysical position of interdependence play key roles in the Shambhala approach to environmentalism. Results also suggest that the Shambhala environmental ethic defies the theoretical demand for a fact/value distinction, and that this case study may indicate why Buddhist traditions tend to lack systematic treatments of ethics.

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Resources for Buddhist Environmental Ethics

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 20, 2013

Resources for Buddhist Environmental Ethics

Christopher Ives
Stonehill College

In recent decades Buddhists have been turning their attention to environmental problems. To date, however, no one has formulated a systematic Buddhist environmental ethic, and critics have highlighted a number of weak points in Buddhist arguments thus far about environmental issues. Nevertheless, Buddhism does provide resources for constructing an environmental ethic. This essay takes stock of what appear to be the most significant of those resources, including the Buddhist anthropology, the tradition’s virtue ethic, elements in Buddhist epistemologies, doctrines that make it possible to determine the relative value of things, the Four Noble Truths as an analytical framework, and bases for action if not activism.

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Reimagining Buddhist Ethics on the Tibetan Plateau

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 20, 2013

Reimagining Buddhist Ethics on the Tibetan Plateau

Holly Gayley
University of Colorado, Boulder

This article examines the ideological underpinnings of ethical reform currently underway in Tibetan areas of the PRC, based on a newly reconfigured set of ten Buddhist virtues and consolidated into vows taken en masse by the laity. I focus on texts of advice to the laity by cleric-scholars from Larung Buddhist Academy, one of the largest Buddhist institutions on the Tibetan plateau and an important source for an emergent Buddhist modernism. In analyzing texts of advice, I am interested in how lead-ing Buddhist voices articulate a “path forward” for Tibetans as a people, calling simultaneously for ethical reform and cultural preservation. Specifically, I trace the tensions and ironies that emerge in their attempts to synthesize, on the one hand, a Buddhist emphasis on individual moral action and its soteriological ramifications and, on the other hand, a secular concern for the social welfare of the Tibetan population and the preservation of its civilizational inheritance. In doing so, I view ethical reform as part of a broader Buddhist response to China’s civilizing mission vis-à-vis Tibetans and new market forces encouraged by the post-Mao state.

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Strategies for Buddhist Environmentalism

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 18, 2011

The Lorax Wears Saffron: Toward a Buddhist Environmentalism

Seth Devere Clippard
Arizona State University

This article argues for the reorientation of eco-Buddhist discourse from a focus on establishing textual justifications of what Buddhist environmental ethics says towards a discourse in which Buddhist rhetoric and environmental practice are intimately linked through specific communal encounters. The article first identifies and assesses two different strategies used by advocates of Buddhist environmentalism in Thailand, one being textual and the other practical. Then, after laying out the deficiencies of the textual strategy, the article argues that the practical strategy offers a more meaningful basis for a discourse of Buddhist environmental concern—one that accounts for the differences in Buddhist communities but does not discount the importance of key Buddhist concepts. This article will suggest that a rhetorical interpretation of environmental practices offers the most effective means of articulating the ethical foundations of religious environmentalism.

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Review: A Virtues Approach to Environmental Ethics

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 18, 2011

Environmental Ethics in Buddhism: A Virtues Approach. By Pragati Sahni. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2007, 224 pages, ISBN: 978-0415396794 (cloth), US $160.00.

Reviewed by Deepa Nag Haksar

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Response to David Loy

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 17, 2010

Moving Forward by Agreeing to Disagree: A Response to “Healing Ecology”

Grace Y. Kao

This paper was the subject of discussion at the American Academy of Religion national meeting in Atlanta, October 31, 2010 on “Nondualist Ecology: Perspectives on the Buddhist Environmentalism of David Loy.” Co-hosting were the Buddhist Critical-Constructive Reflection Group and the Comparative Religious Ethics Group.

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Healing Ecology

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 17, 2010

Healing Ecology

David R. Loy

This paper was the subject of discussion at the American Academy of Religion national meeting in Atlanta, October 31, 2010 on “Nondualist Ecology: Perspectives on the Buddhist Environmentalism of David Loy.” Co-hosting were the Buddhist Critical-Constructive Reflection Group and the Comparative Religious Ethics Group.

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Buddhism and Speciesism

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 15, 2008

Buddhism and Speciesism: on the Misapplication of Western Concepts to Buddhist Beliefs

Colette Sciberras
University of Durham

In this article, I defend Buddhism from Paul Waldau’s charge of speciesism. I argue that Waldau attributes to Buddhism various notions that it does not necessarily have, such as the ideas that beings are morally considerable if they possess certain traits, and that humans, as morally considerable beings, ought never to be treated as means. These ideas may not belong in Buddhism, and for Waldau’s argument to work, he needs to show that they do. Moreover, a closer look at his case reveals a more significant problem for ecologically minded Buddhists—namely that the Pāli texts do not seem to attribute intrinsic value to any form of life at all, regardless of species. Thus, I conclude that rather than relying on Western concepts, it may be preferable to look for a discourse from within the tradition itself to explain why Buddhists ought to be concerned about the natural world.

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Review: Deep Ecology and Buddhist Economics

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 15, 2008

Business within Limits: Deep Ecology and Buddhist Economics. Edited by Laszlo Zsolnai and Knut Johannesssen Ims. Bern: Peter Lang Publishing, 2006, 324 pages, ISBN 3039107038, US $62.95 (paperback).

Reviewed by Jason McLeod Monson

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Buddhist Ethic of Intention and the Environment

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 14, 2007

Avoiding Unintended Harm to the Environment and the Buddhist Ethic of Intention

Peter Harvey
University of Sunderland

This paper reflects on how the mainly intention-based ethics of Buddhism relates to issues of causing unintended harm across a range of issues of relevance to environmental concern, such as species protection, resource depletion and climate change. Given our present knowledge, is environmental concern to be seen as morally obligatory for a Buddhist or only a voluntary positive action? Writers sometimes simply assume that Buddhist ethics are supportive of the full range of environmental concerns, but this needs to be critically argued. The paper reflects on a range of principles of traditional Buddhist ethics, both Theravāda and Mahāyāna, and concludes that, in the present world context, Buddhist considerations urge not only that we should not deliberately harm any living being, but that we should also look after the biosphere-home that we share with other beings, by using our knowledge of unintended effects of our actions to modify our behavior, and that we should act positively to benefit others beings, human and non-human, and enhance their supportive environment. The paper also considers issues such as Buddhism’s attitude to wild nature, industrialization and “progress.”

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Buddhism on Science and Technology

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 14, 2007

Leaf Blowers and Antibiotics: a Buddhist Stance for Science and Technology

Will Tuladhar-Douglas
King’s College, University of Aberdeen

Sustainable technology, like mindfulness, requires cultivation. It is a process of constantly attending in the face of considerable distraction, a process that leads to a self-balancing wholesome state that has beneficial properties for both self and others. This brief essay begins with a consideration of science, scientism and technology. I will then use a handful of examples to consider how technologies appear to behave autonomously, often perverting the good intentions of their inventor or revealing unexpected opportunities for wholesome behavior. In many cases, it seems that apparently neutral technologies fit together with unwholesome tendencies, locking humans and machines into an accelerating and apparently unstoppable destructive dance. I will then propose a general strategy for engaging technologies which draws on traditional Buddhist practices, with two particular objectives: to gain insight into, and maintain awareness of, the actual bias of any particular technology, and to discover tactics for interrupting the destructive cycles which are the cause of the ecological crisis in our world.

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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: Zen Environmental Ethics

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 12, 2005

Zen Buddhism and Environmental Ethics. By Simon P. James. Hampshire, UK: Ashgate, 2004. 142 pages. ISBN: 0754613674.

Reviewed by Eric Sean Nelson

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Society, Urgency, and the Study of Asia

ISSN 1076–9005
Volume 7, 2000

Saving the Rainforest of Ethics: Society, Urgency, and the Study of Asia

William R. LaFleur
University of Pennsylvania

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Review: Environmental Philosophy and Ethics

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 7, 2000

Environmental Philosophy and Ethics in Buddhism. By Padmasiri de Silva. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1998, xviii + 195 pages, ISBN: 0-333-67906-7, £50.

Reviewed By Pragati Sahni

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Early Buddhism and Ecological Ethics

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 4 1997

The Early Buddhist Tradition and Ecological Ethics

Lambert Schmithausen
University of Hamburg

This paper is concerned with ecological ethics, and examines the contemporary ecological crisis from the perspective of early Buddhism.
Through an examination of early texts (mainly the Pāli Canon) it asks to what extent ecological ethics has formed part of the teachings of Buddhism and whether contemporary ecological concerns can be integrated into this tradition. A range of divergent opinions held by modern authors are critically reviewed in the first section, followed in section two by a discussion of nature in the light of the Buddhist evaluation of existence. Section three considers the adequacy of the doctrine of Origination in Dependence as a basis for ecological thics, and section four discusses early Buddhist spirituality and ethics in the context of ecological concerns. Section five is devoted to evaluations of nature versus civilization and section six discusses the status of animals. The conclusion is that early Buddhism was impressed not so much by the beauty of nature as by its sombre aspects. It seeks not to transform or subjugate nature but to transcend it spiritually through detachment. However, although Buddhism does not romanticize nature it does not mean it is altogether impossible to establish an ecological ethics on the basis of the early tradition.

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Review: Buddhism and Ecology

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 5 1998

Buddhism and Ecology: The Interconnection of Dharma and Deeds. By Mary Evelyn Tucker and Duncan Williams. Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions, 1997, xlii + 467 pages, ISBN: 0-945454-13-9 (cloth, US$29.95), ISBN: 0-945454-14-7 (paper, US$19.95).

Reviewed by Paul Waldau

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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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The Problem of Buddhist Environmental Ethics

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 1 1994

Causation and Telos: The Problem of Buddhist Environmental Ethics

Ian Harris
University College of St. Martin

Environmentalist concerns have moved center stage in most major religious traditions of late and Buddhism is no exception to this rule. This paper shows that the canonical writings of Indic Buddhism possess elements that may harmonize with a de facto ecological consciousness. However, their basic attitude towards the causal process drastically reduces the possibility of developing an authentically Buddhist environmental ethic. The classical treatment of causation fails to resolve successfully the tension between symmetry and asymmetry of relations and this has tended to mean that attempts to inject a telos, or sense of purpose, into the world are likely to founder. The agenda of eco-Buddhism is examined in the light of this fact and found wanting.

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Buddhist Economic Ethics

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 17, 2010

Sufficiency Economy and Santi Asoke: Buddhist Economic Ethics for a Just and Sustainable World

Juliana Essen
Soka University of America

Mainstream economic thought and practice has resulted in wide-spread socioeconomic disparity and environmental devastation in all corners of the world, unmitigated by a multi-billion dollar development industry informed by these same economic models. To reverse this trend, the dominant forms of economic thought and practice must be reunited with ethics that are more caring of the human-nature base. Such ethics may be found in alternative economic models based on religious, spiritual, environmental, or feminist values. This essay considers one such alternative: Buddhist economics. After outlining a theory of Buddhist economics, this essay considers two models: the Royal Thai Sufficiency Economy Model and the approach adopted by the Santi Asoke Buddhist Reform Movement of Thailand. Both are conducive to economic activity that is more socially just and environmentally sustainable, particularly due to their ethics of self-reliance, moderation, and interdependence.

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