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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Paternalist Deception in the Lotus Sūtra

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 18, 2011

Paternalist Deception in the Lotus Sūtra:
A Normative Assessment

Charles A. Goodman
Binghamton University

The Lotus Sūtra repeatedly asserts the moral permissibility, in certain circumstances, of deceiving others for their own benefit. The examples it uses to illustrate this view have the features of weak paternalism, but the real-world applications it endorses would today be considered strong paternalism. We can explain this puzzling feature of the text by noting that according to Mahāyāna Buddhists, normal, ordinary people are so irrational that they are relevantly similar to the insane. Kant’s determined anti-paternalism, by contrast, relies on an obligation to see others as rational, which can be read in several ways. Recent work in psychology provides support for the Lotus Sūtra’s philosophical anthropology while undermining the plausibility of Kant’s version. But this result does not necessarily lead to an endorsement of political paternalism, since politicians are not qualified to wield such power. Some spiritual teachers, however, may be morally permitted to benefit their students by deceiving them.

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Ethics in the Lotus Sūtra

ISSN:1076-9005
Volume 5, 1998

Ethics in the Lotus Sūtra

Introduced By Robert E. Florida
Brandon University

Rissho Kosei Kai organised an international conference on the Lotus Sūtra that was held in Bandaiso, Japan, in July of 1997. Twelve scholars from Europe, North America and Japan met together for three days in a pleasant retreat centre to discuss various issues and themes in the Lotus Sūtra. Five of the papers, those by Robert Florida, Damien Keown, John R.A.Mayer, Peggy Morgan, and Gene Reeves, seemed to fit nicely into the mandate of the Journal of Buddhist Ethics, and they are being presented here together.

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The Lotus Sūtra and Health Care Ethics

ISSN:1076–9005
Volume 5, 1998

The Lotus Sūtra and Health Care Ethics

Robert E. Florida
Brandon University

In the last several years there has been an increase in interest in the field of Buddhist ethics, particularly health care ethics. In this paper I will review the medical implications found in the Lotus Sūtra. I will first discuss some general ethical principles that apply in health care with reference to the Lotus Sūtra, and then go on to specific references in the sūtra to medicine.

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Paternalism in the Lotus Sūtra

ISSN:1076–9005
Volume 5 1998

Paternalism in the Lotus Sūtra

Damien Keown
Goldsmiths College, University of London

Medical and other analogies which depict the Buddha as a physician or wise parent are found in the Lotus Sūtra and are common in Buddhist literature.  To what extent does this image of the wise father-figure encourage paternalism in Buddhist ethics? Making reference to the approach to medical ethics developed by Beauchamp and Childress (the “four principles”), this paper discusses the ethics of the Lotus Sūtra in the light of debate about the justifiability of paternalism in contemporary medical practice.  It offers a critique of what appears to be an incipient moral paternalism in Mahāyāna Buddhism which manifests itself in a particular development of the concept of skillful means.  It is suggested that Buddhist sources which apply the concept of skillful means to normative ethics may be characterized as “paternalist” insofar as the principle of beneficence is allowed undue predominance over respect for autonomy.

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Reflections on the Threefold Lotus Sūtra

SSN:1076-9005
Volume 5 1998

Reflections on the Threefold Lotus Sūtra

John R.A. Mayer
Brock University

The Threefold Lotus Sūtra provides some very illuminating insights with respect to many of the debates and oppositions which take place in late twentieth-century Western philosophy. The present paper represents reflections on how this Mahāyāna text is applicable to issues in contemporary philosophy.

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Ethics and the Lotus Sūtra

ISSN:1076-9005
Volume 5 1998

Ethics and the Lotus Sūtra

Peggy Morgan
Westminster College, University of Oxford

This paper seeks to introduce and reflect upon not only some important ethical issues that emerge in any consideration of this important text, the Lotus Sūtra, but also the many different ways in which this and other questions can be approached in the study of religions. Demonstrably an area or dimension of a religion such as ethics is inextricably related to the other dimensions of religious life such as narratives, doctrines, experience, rituals and even the visual arts. It is also inextricably linked with the distinctive interpretations of the religious communities whose text it is, as well as scholarly dialogue where questions and insights may be a part of the environment within which traditions themselves skillfully adapt and change.

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Appropriate Means as an Ethical Doctrine in the Lotus Sūtra

ISSN:1076-9005
Volume 5 1998

Appropriate Means as an Ethical Doctrine in the Lotus Sūtra

Gene Reeves
Rikkyo University

In this paper I claim that upāya or hōben in the Lotus Sūtra, contrary to how it has often been translated and understood, is an ethical doctrine, the central tenet of which is that one should not do what is expedient but rather what is good, the good being what will actually help someone else, which is also known as bodhisattva practice. Further, the doctrine of hōben is relativistic. No doctrine, teaching, set of words, mode of practice, etc. can claim absoluteness or finality, as all occur within and are relative to some concrete situation. But some things, doing the right thing in the right situation, can be efficacious, sufficient for salvation.

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