Journal of Buddhist Ethics

An online journal of Buddhist scholarship related to ethics.


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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