Journal of Buddhist Ethics

An online journal of Buddhist scholarship related to ethics.


Dependent Origination and the Perils of Analogy in Cross-Cultural Philosophy

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

False Friends: Dependent Origination and the Perils of Analogy in Cross-Cultural Philosophy

Karin Meyers
Centre for Buddhist Studies
Kathmandu University

Cross-cultural philosophical inquiry is predicated on the possibility of drawing analogies between ideas from distinct historical and cultural traditions, but is distorted and constrained when those analogies are overdrawn. In considering what Buddhists might have to say about free will, scholars tend to draw analogies between dependent origination and distinctively modern naturalistic ideas of universal causation. Such analogies help promote the idea of Buddhism as a “scientific religion” and help justify the impulse to naturalize Buddhism (or to simply ignore its un- or super-natural elements) in order to make it a more credible conversation partner. By tracing some of the early history of the idea of dependent origination, this essay discusses how and why these analogies have been overdrawn. It addresses why this matters to the inquiry into free will and other cross-cultural philosophical engagements with Buddhism. With respect to naturalizing Buddhism, it argues that decisions about what to exclude from serious consideration (such as karma and rebirth) necessarily influence how we understand ideas (such as dependent origination) we deem more congenial (and thus essential), and that by excluding those we do not find congenial, we foreclose opportunities to submit our own philosophical assumptions to scrutiny and to be genuinely transformed by our encounter with Buddhism.
Read article

A Buddhist Ethic Without Karmic Rebirth?

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 1 1994

A Buddhist Ethic Without Karmic Rebirth?

Winston L. King
Vanderbilt University

Is a viable and authentic Buddhist ethic possible without the prospect of rebirth governed by one’s karmic past? This paper explores traditional and contemporary views on karma with a view to determining the importance of this doctrine for practical ethics in the West. The Theravāda emphasis on the personal nature of karma is discussed first, followed by a consideration of the evolution of a social dimension to the doctrine in the Mahāyāna. The latter development is attributed to the twin influences of the Bodhisattva ideal and the metaphysics of Nāgārjuna and Hua Yen. Following this survey of traditional perspectives, attention is turned for the greater part of the paper to a consideration of the relevance of the notion of karmic rebirth for Buddhist ethics in the West. The notion of “social kamma” advanced by Ken Jones in The Social Face of Buddhism is given critical consideration. The conclusion is that a doctrine of karmic rebirth is not essential to a viable and authentic Buddhist ethic in the West.
Read article