Journal of Buddhist Ethics

An online journal of Buddhist scholarship related to ethics.


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: The Religion of Falun Gong

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

The Religion of Falun Gong. By Benjamin Penny. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012, xiii + 262 pages, ISBN: 9780226655017 (cloth), $50.00.

Reviewed by Paul Hedges

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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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Buddhism, Equality, Rights

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 20, 2013

Buddhism, Equality, Rights

Martin T. Adam
University of Victoria

How might rights be grounded in Buddhist doctrine? This article begins by attempting to demonstrate the conceptual link between the idea of equality and the ascription of rights in Western philosophic thought. The ideas of Thomas Hobbes are taken as an example. The paper then proceeds to examine the possibility that Buddhist ideas of equality could serve as grounds for the attribution of rights in a similar manner. A number of senses of equality in Buddhism are identified. I argue that while these ideas of basic equality clearly underlie Buddhist morality, any attempt to found rights on such grounds should lead to a conception of rights that is truly universal in scope, notably including the animals. For a Buddhist believer in rights, rights-possession cannot be limited to human beings.

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Buddhism, Punishment, and Reconciliation

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 19, 2012

Buddhism, Punishment, and Reconciliation

Charles K. Fink
Miami Dade College, Kendall Campus

One important foundation of Buddhist ethics is a commitment to nonviolence. My aim in this paper is to work out the implications of this commitment with regard to the treatment of offenders. Given that punishment involves the intentional infliction of harm, I argue that the practice of punishment is incompatible with the principle of nonviolence. The core moral teaching of the Buddha is to conquer evil with goodness, and it is reconciliation, rather than punishment, that conforms to this teaching. I argue that a commitment to nonviolence requires not only that we refrain from inflicting intentional harm, but that we refrain from inflicting unnecessary harm, and that this has important implications concerning the practice of incapacitation. I analyze the concept of harm and argue that the Buddhist understanding of this notion leads to the conclusion that none of the standard justifications for punishment are compatible with the principle of nonviolence, properly understood.

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A Reexamination of Buddhist Teachings on Female Inferiority

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 19, 2012

Right View, Red Rust, and White Bones: A Reexamination of Buddhist Teachings on Female Inferiority

Allison A. Goodwin
College of Liberal Arts
National Taiwan University

Hundreds of psychological and social studies show that negative expectations and concepts of self and others, and discrimination based on the idea that a particular group is inferior to another, adversely affect those who discriminate as well as those who are subject to discrimination. This article argues that both genders are harmed by negative Buddhist teachings about women and by discriminatory rules that limit their authority, rights, activities, and status within Buddhist institutions. Śākyamuni Buddha’s instructions in the Tripiṭaka for evaluating spiritual teachings indicate that because such views and practices have been proven to lead to harm, Buddhists should conclude that they are not the True Dharma and should abandon them.

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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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Human Rights Founded on Buddha-Nature

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 17, 2010

Founding Human Rights within Buddhism: Exploring Buddha-Nature as an Ethical Foundation

Anton Luis Sevilla
Ateneo de Manila University

In this article, I hope to suggest (1) a fertile ground for human rights and social ethics within Japanese intellectual history and (2) a possible angle for connecting Dōgen’s ethical views with his views on private religious practice. I begin with a review of the attempts to found the notion of rights within Buddhism. I focus on two well-argued attempts: Damien Keown’s foundation of rights on the Four Noble Truths and individual soteriology and Jay Garfield’s foundation of rights on the compassionate drive to liberate others. I then fuse these two approaches in a single concept: Buddha-nature. I analyze Dōgen’s own view on the practice-realization of Buddha-nature, and the equation of Buddha-nature with being, time, emptiness, and impermanence. I end with tentative suggestions concerning how Dōgen’s particular view on Buddha-nature might affect any social ethics or view of rights that is founded on it.

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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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Buddhism and Aristotle on Human Rights

ISSN 1076—9005
Volume 8, 2001

Why the Dalai Lama Should Read Aristotle

Stephen McCarthy
Northern Illinois University

The purpose of this paper is to discover a classical foundation for the establishment of universal human rights in Buddhism. Such a foundation must necessarily overcome the modern barrier imposed by the Asian values rhetoric and its claims that “Western,” Lockean, and essentially private ideas of rights have no place in Asian “family-oriented” culture. To facilitate its purpose, this paper will consider the modern, Lockean understanding of “rights” as the source of much of the Asian values’ argument, and proceed to an examination into the compatibility of a Buddhist understanding of human rights with Aristotle’s understanding of ethics and natural law. If it is possible to discover the source of universal human rights in Aristotle’s writings, as well as discover a compatibility to Buddhist beliefs and practices, then we may ground a case for the idea of human rights existing prior to their modern Lockean origins and accessible to Buddhism.

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Review: Buddhism and Human Rights

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 5 1998

Buddhism and Human Rights. Edited By Damien V. Keown, Charles S. Prebish, and Wayne R. Husted. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 1998, xxi + 239 pages pages, ISBN: 0-7007-0954-1, US $40.00.

Reviewed by Donald K. Swearer

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“Human Rights” in Buddhism?

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 2 1995

Are There “Human Rights” in Buddhism?

Damien Keown
Goldsmiths College, University of London

It is difficult to think of a more urgent question for Buddhism in the late twentieth century than human rights. Human rights issues in which Buddhism has a direct involvement, notably in the case of Tibet, feature regularly on the agenda in superpower diplomacy. The political, ethical and philosophical questions surrounding human rights are debated vigourously in political and intellectual circles throughout the world. Yet despite its contemporary significance, the subject has merited hardly a footnote in mainstream academic research and publication in the field of Buddhist Studies. Why is this? One reason would seem to be the lack of a precedent within Buddhism itself for discussing issues of this kind; scholars, by and large, continue to follow the tradition’s own agenda, an agenda which appears to some increasingly medieval in the shadow of the twenty-first century. If Buddhism wishes to address the issues which are of concern to today’s global community, it must begin to ask itself new questions alongside the old ones.

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Buddhism on Human Rights

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 2 1995

A Buddhist Response to the Nature of Human Rights

Kenneth Inada
State University of New York, Buffalo

It is incorrect to assume that the concept of human rights is readily identifiable in all societies of the world. The concept may perhaps be clear and distinct in legal quarters, but in actual practice it suffers greatly from lack of clarity and gray areas due to impositions by different cultures. This is especially true in Asia, where the two great civilizations of India and China have spawned such outstanding systems as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Yoga, Confucianism, Taoism and Chinese Buddhism. These systems, together with other indigenous folk beliefs, attest to the cultural diversity at play that characterizes Asia proper. In focusing on the concept of human rights, however, we shall concentrate on Buddhism to bring out the common grounds of discourse.

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Bibliography of Buddhism and Human Rights

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 2 1995

A Bibliography on Buddhism and Human Rights

Damien Keown
Goldsmiths College, University of London

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