Journal of Buddhist Ethics

An online journal of Buddhist scholarship related to ethics.


Facing Death from a Safe Distance

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 23, 2016

Facing Death from a Safe Distance: Saṃvega and Moral Psychology

Lajos Brons
Nihon University and Lakeland University

Saṃvega is a morally motivating state of shock that—according to Buddhaghosa—should be evoked by meditating on death. What kind of mental state it is exactly, and how it is morally motivating is unclear, however. This article presents a theory of saṃvega—what it is and how it works—based on recent insights in psychology. According to dual process theories there are two kinds of mental processes organized in two “systems”: the experiential, automatic system 1, and the rational, controlled system 2. In normal circumstances, system 1 does not believe in its own mortality. Saṃvega occurs when system 1 suddenly realizes that the “subjective self” will inevitably die (while system 2 is already disposed to affirm the subject’s mortality). This results in a state of shock that is morally motivating under certain conditions. Saṃvega increases mortality salience and produces insight in suffering, and in combination with a strengthened sense of loving-kindness or empathic concern both mortality salience and insight in suffering produce moral motivation.

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Is Compassionate Killing Psychologically Impossible?

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 23, 2016

On Compassionate Killing and the Abhidhamma’s “Psychological Ethics”

Damien Keown
University of London Goldsmiths

Is compassionate killing really psychologically impossible, as the Abhidhamma claims? Previously I discussed a Vinaya case that seemed to show the contrary. Reviewing my conclusions in the light of commentarial literature, Rupert Gethin disagreed and restated the Abhidhamma position that killing can never be motivated by compassion. This paper supports my original conclusions and argues further that the Vinaya case reveals underlying problems with the Abhidhamma’s “psychological ethics.”

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Review: Theravāda Psychology and Soteriology

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 3 1996

The Five Aggregates: Understanding Theravāda Psychology and Soteriology. By Mathieu Boisvert, Editions SR Vol.17: Canadian Corporation for Studies in Religion/Corporation Canadienne des Sciences Religieuses, Wilfred Laurier Press, 1995, xii +166 pages, ISBN: 0-88920-257-5, US$24.95.

Reviewed by Peter Harvey

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