Journal of Buddhist Ethics

An online journal of Buddhist scholarship related to ethics.


A Buddhist Vision of Social Justice

ISSN 1076–9005
Volume 7, 2000

Selflessness: Toward a Buddhist Vision of Social Justice

Sungtaek Cho
State University of New York at Stony Brook

The difficulty of developing a theoretical framework for Buddhism’s engagement with contemporary social issues is rooted in the very nature of Buddhism as an ontological discourse aiming at individual salvation through inner transformation. It is my contention, however, that the concept of “selflessness” can become the basis of a Buddhist theory of social justice without endangering Buddhism’s primary focus on individual salvation. In this article, I show how the key concept of selflessness can provide a viable ground for Buddhist social justice by comparing it with one of the most influential contemporary Western theories of social justice, that of the American philosopher John Rawls. Drawing on the bodhisattva ideal and the Buddhist concepts of “sickness” and “cure,” I then demonstrate how selflessness can serve as a link that allows Buddhists to be socially engaged even while pursuing the goal of individual salvation.

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