Journal of Buddhist Ethics

An online journal of Buddhist scholarship related to ethics.


A Buddhist Chaplain in Occupied Japan

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Prison and the Pure Land: A Buddhist Chaplain in Occupied Japan

Melissa Anne-Marie Curley
Ohio State University

In November 1945, the United States military took over the use of Tokyo’s Sugamo Prison in order to house those charged by the Allied Powers with war crimes. For close to three years, Hanayama Shinshō served as the prison’s volunteer Buddhist chaplain, attending thirty-six executions. Hanayama did not protest the imposition of the death penalty but this essay argues that in his work as chaplain he nonetheless resisted the carceral logic shaping life and death inside Sugamo by mobilizing the ritual and narrative repertoire of Pure Land Buddhism. In Hanayama’s framing, Sugamo was a site of liberation as well as confinement, affording the condemned a unique opportunity to reflect upon the past and commit themselves to a different future, even in death. As Hanayama tells it, the peace discovered by the dead was an absolute peace, transcending politics; he also insists, however, on a connection between this absolute peace and the ordinary peace that the living might hope to secure. The article concludes with a consideration of the political and ethical implications of Hanayama’s reading of the dead as having “found peace” in light of larger conversations about how best to remember—or forget—the nation’s dark past, and what it means to share responsibility for crimes against humanity.

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Review: Ethics and Society in Contemporary Shin

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 17, 2010

Ethics and Society in Contemporary Shin Buddhism. By Ugo Dessi. Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2008, 265 pages, ISBN: 978-3825808150 (cloth), €39.90.

Reviewed by Jeff Wilson

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Foundations of Ethics and Practice in Chinese Pure Land Buddhism

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 10 2003

Foundations of Ethics and Practice in Chinese Pure Land Buddhism

Charles B. Jones
The Catholic University of America

The primary goal of this project was to find a Chinese text that took on the relationship between human religious activity and the saving power of Amitābha in a systematic way. Alas, such a text has so far eluded me. However, by looking at several texts, I have been able to find hints and indications here and there which, added together, constitute a fairly complete and consistent soteriological scheme that relates self-power to other-power. Fully aware of the hermeneutical dangers one faces in collating proof-texts from works spanning greatly-separated times and places around the Chinese empire, I will venture to lay it out as best I can with some confidence that it indeed represents a characteristically Chinese way of approaching the relationship of self-power and other-power, human striving and the Buddha’s original vow-power. I will do this by focusing on a particular arena of human religious activity: ethics and precepts, “ethics” indicating general norms of human behavior, and “precepts” meaning specific vows taken in ritual contexts.

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A Shin Critique of Buddhist Ethics

ISSN:1076-9005 
Volume 4 1997

Teleologized “Virtue” or Mere Religious “Character”? A Critique of Buddhist Ethics From the Shin Buddhist Point of View

Stephen J. Lewis and Galen Amstutz

When comparative ethicists consider the question of ethics in Buddhism, they are tempted to implicate conceptions of teleology and virtue from Western philosophy. Such implications cannot apply to Mahāyāna exemplified in the Japanese Shin tradition. Shin is characterized not only by emptiness philosophy but also by its emphasis on spontaneous (tariki) enlightenment; both of these features undercut the notion that Buddhism can ultimately concern an intentional goal. But a teleological or virtue-oriented sensibility is not needed for the purposes of ordinary life. On the contrary, Shin social history has demonstrated that a powerful tradition of practical life based on Buddhist teaching can exist perfectly well without it. Such wisdom manifests itself both socially and at the individual level as a kind of character, if not ethics in the usual sense.

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Review: Shin Buddhist Religion and Culture

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 5 1998

Popular Buddhism in Japan: Shin Buddhist Religion and Culture. By Esben Andreasen. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1998, 199 pages, ISBN: 0-8248-2027-4 (cloth), US$39.00, ISBN: 0-8248-2028-2 (paperback), US$22.95.

Reviewed by Charles B. Jones

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Review: Hōnen’s Life and Thought

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 5 1998

Hōnens Buddhismus des Reinen Landes: Reform, Reformation oder Häresie?. By Christoph Kleine. Bern, Berlin, et al.: Peter Lang, 1996, xiii + 427 pages pages, ISBN 3-631-49852-7, DM 108.

Reviewed by Gregor Paul

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Review: Visions of Sukhāvatī

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 3 1996

Visions of Sukhāvatī: Shan Tao’s Commentary on the Kuan Wu-Liang-Shou-Fo. By Julian F. Pas. Albany: SUNY Press, 1995, xviii, 452 pages.

Reviewed by Charles B. Jones

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