Journal of Buddhist Ethics

An online journal of Buddhist scholarship related to ethics.

Changes in Buddhist Karma

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

Escaping the Inescapable: Changes in Buddhist Karma

Jayarava Attwood

Early Buddhist karma is an impersonal moral force that impartially and inevitably causes the consequences of actions to be visited upon the actor, especially determining their afterlife destination. The story of King Ajātasattu in the Pāli Samaññaphala Sutta, where not even the Buddha can intervene to save him, epitomizes the criterion of inescapability. Zoroastrian ethical thought runs along similar lines and may have influenced the early development of Buddhism. However, in the Mahāyāna version of the Samaññaphala Sutta, the simple act of meeting the Buddha reduces or eliminates the consequences of the King’s patricide. In other Mahāyāna texts, the results of actions are routinely avoidable through the performance of religious practices. Ultimately, Buddhists seem to abandon the idea of the inescapability of the results of actions.

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Act and Result in Nikāyan Ethics

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

Act and Result in Nikāyan Ethics

Stephen Evans

Scholars continue to debate the ethical priority of act versus result in Buddhist ethics. The present essay looks at the issue as an approach to exploring the connection between act and karmic yield: Why there should be such a connection at all? The priority question was not asked in the Nikāyas (or commentaries) and it seems to have been the same thing to say that an act was good and that it had happy karmic yield, suggesting a kind of identity between the two. Given the necessity and specificity of the connection—the yield must accrue and must accrue for this person—and the analogical resemblance between act and karmic yield, a causal explanation seems unsatisfactory. Suspending such assumptions, the connection appears simply as an indissoluble unity. It is hypothesized here that the unity is grounded in a primordial cosmic order, which I call the “sacral dimension,” conformity to which is by definition right and of necessity beneficial, violation of which is by definition wrong and of necessity harmful. Evidence for belief in such an order is found in the Nikāyas and supporting similarities noted in the Upaniṣads.

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Karma and Female Birth

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

Karma and Female Birth

Bhikkhu Anālayo
Numata Center for Buddhist Studies, University of Hamburg;
Dharma Drum Buddhist College, Taiwan

With the present paper I examine the notion that birth as a woman is the result of bad karma based on selected canonical and post-canonical Buddhist texts.

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If Intention Is Karma

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 19, 2012

If Intention Is Karma: A New Approach to the Buddha’s Socio-Political Teachings

Ven. Pandita (Burma)
University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka

I argue in this paper that early Buddhist ethics is one of absolute values and that we can consistently use those absolute values to interpret some early teachings that seemingly show an ethic of context-dependent and negotiable values. My argument is based on the concept of intention as karma, the implications and problems of which I have also discussed.

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Conference: Revisioning Karma

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 12, 2005

Papers from the JBE Online conference

on “Revisioning Karma”


Honorary Chairman and Convener: Dale Wright
Occidental College, Los Angeles


Critical Questions Towards a Naturalized Concept of Karma in Buddhism

Dale Wright
Occidental College

Groundwork for a Metaphysic of Buddhist Morals: A New Analysis of Puñña and Kusala, in Light of Sukka

Martin Adam
University of Victoria

Merit Transfer in Mahāyāna Buddhism

Barbra Clayton
Mt. Allison University

Reflections on Kant and Karma

Bradford Cokelet
Northwestern University

Karma, Rebirth, and Mental Causation

Christian Coseru
College of Charleston

Is the Buddhist Doctrine of Karma Cognitively Meaningful?

James Deitrick
University of Central Arkansas

Valuing Karma: A Critical Concept for Orienting Interdependence with Wisdom, Attentive Mastery and Moral Clarity

Peter Hershock
East-West Center

Karma, Rebirth, and the Problem of Evil

Whitley Kaufman
University of Massachusetts, Lowell

Karma, Character, and Consequentialism

Damien Keown
Goldsmiths College, University of London

Karma in the Later Texts of the Pāli Canon

Jessica Main
McGill University

Karma: Buddhism and the Phenomenology of the Ethical

Eric Nelson
University of Massachusetts, Lowell

Dark and Bright Karma: A New Reading

Abraham Velez
Georgetown University

The Reactionary Role of Karma in 20th Century Japan

Brian Victoria
University of Adelaide

A Naturalized Concept of Karma

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 11, 2004

Critical Questions Towards a Naturalized Concept of Karma in Buddhism

Dale S. Wright
Occidental College

In an effort to articulate a naturalized concept of karma for the purposes of contemporary ethical reflection, this paper raises four critical questions about the Buddhist doctrine of karma. The paper asks (1) about the advisability of linking the concept of karma to assurance of ultimate cosmic justice through the doctrine of rebirth; (2) about the effects of this link on the quest for human justice in the social, economic, and political spheres of culture; (3) about the kinds of rewards that the doctrine of karma attaches to virtuous action, whether they tend to be necessary or contingent consequences; and (4) about the extent to which karma is best conceived individually or collectively. The paper ends with suggestions for how a non-metaphysical concept of karma might function and what role it might play in contemporary ethics.

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A Buddhist Ethic Without Karmic Rebirth?

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 1 1994

A Buddhist Ethic Without Karmic Rebirth?

Winston L. King
Vanderbilt University

Is a viable and authentic Buddhist ethic possible without the prospect of rebirth governed by one’s karmic past? This paper explores traditional and contemporary views on karma with a view to determining the importance of this doctrine for practical ethics in the West. The Theravāda emphasis on the personal nature of karma is discussed first, followed by a consideration of the evolution of a social dimension to the doctrine in the Mahāyāna. The latter development is attributed to the twin influences of the Bodhisattva ideal and the metaphysics of Nāgārjuna and Hua Yen. Following this survey of traditional perspectives, attention is turned for the greater part of the paper to a consideration of the relevance of the notion of karmic rebirth for Buddhist ethics in the West. The notion of “social kamma” advanced by Ken Jones in The Social Face of Buddhism is given critical consideration. The conclusion is that a doctrine of karmic rebirth is not essential to a viable and authentic Buddhist ethic in the West.
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