Journal of Buddhist Ethics

An online journal of Buddhist scholarship related to ethics.


Grief, Impermanence, and Upāya

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 23, 2016

“To Whom Does Kisā Gotamī Speak?” Grief, Impermanence, and Upāya

Richard K. Payne
Institute of Buddhist Studies, at the Graduate Theological Union

This article develops a perspective on the nature of Buddhist pastoral care by considering the needs of the bereaved. Differentiating the interpretive frameworks of different audiences and understanding different contexts of interpersonal relations are necessary for effective pastoral care. A distinction between the goal of realizing impermanence and the goal of resolving mourning is heuristically useful in theorizing Buddhist pastoral care. The discussion also seeks to underscore the value of upāya as a positive moral injunction on teachers, indicating the need to properly match their audience and to employ the textual tradition responsibly.

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Review: The Ethics of Śaṅkara and Śāntideva

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 23, 2016

The Ethics of Śaṅkara and Śāntideva: A Selfless Response to an Illusory World. By Warren Lee Todd. Farnham, Surrey and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013, xii + 220, ISBN: 9781409466819 (hardback), $149.95.

Reviewed by Joseph S. O’Leary

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Holistic Eco-Buddhism and the Problem of Universal Identity

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 22, 2015

Nature’s No-Thingness: Holistic Eco-Buddhism and the Problem of Universal Identity

Marek Sullivan
University of Oxford

“Holistic eco-Buddhism” has been roundly criticized for its heterodoxy and philosophical incoherence: the Buddha never claimed we should protect an “eco-self” and there are serious philosophical problems attendant on “identifying with things.” Yet this essay finds inadequate attention has been paid to East Asian sources. Metaphysical issues surrounding eco-Buddhism, i.e., problems of identity and difference, universalism and particularity, have a long history in Chinese Buddhism. In particular, I examine the notion of “merging with things” in pre-Huayan and Huayan Buddhism, suggesting these offer unexplored possibilities for a coherent holistic eco-Buddhism based on the differentiating effects of activity and functionality.

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The Metaphysical Basis of Śāntideva’s Ethics

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 22, 2015

The Metaphysical Basis of Śāntideva’s Ethics

Amod Lele
Boston University

Western Buddhists often believe and proclaim that metaphysical speculation is irrelevant to Buddhist ethics or practice. This view is problematic even with respect to early Buddhism, and cannot be sustained regarding later Indian Buddhists. In Śāntideva’s famous Bodhicaryāvatāra, multiple claims about the nature of reality are premises for conclusions about how human beings should act; that is, metaphysics logically entails ethics for Śāntideva, as it does for many Western philosophers. This article explores four key arguments that Śāntideva makes from metaphysics to ethics: actions are determined by their causes, and therefore we should not get angry; the body is reducible to its component parts, and therefore we should neither protect it nor lust after other bodies; the self is an illusion, and therefore we should be altruistic; all phenomena are empty, and therefore we should not be attached to them. The exploration of these arguments together shows us why metaphysical claims can matter a great deal for Buddhist ethics, practice and liberation.

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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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Compassion in Schopenhauer and Śāntideva

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

Compassion in Schopenhauer and Śāntideva

Kenneth Hutton
University of Glasgow

Although it is well known that Schopenhauer claimed that Buddhism closely reflected his own philosophy, this claim was largely ignored until the mid-late Twentieth century. Most commentators on Schopenhauer (with some recent exceptions) since then have mentioned his Buddhist affinities but have been quite broad and general in their treatment. I feel that any general comparison of Schopenhauer’s philosophy with “general” Buddhism would most likely lead to general conclusions. In this article I have attempted to offer a more specific comparison of what is central to Schopenhauer’s philosophy with what is central to Mahāyāna Buddhism, and that is the concept of compassion.

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Changes in Buddhist Karma

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

Escaping the Inescapable: Changes in Buddhist Karma

Jayarava Attwood

Early Buddhist karma is an impersonal moral force that impartially and inevitably causes the consequences of actions to be visited upon the actor, especially determining their afterlife destination. The story of King Ajātasattu in the Pāli Samaññaphala Sutta, where not even the Buddha can intervene to save him, epitomizes the criterion of inescapability. Zoroastrian ethical thought runs along similar lines and may have influenced the early development of Buddhism. However, in the Mahāyāna version of the Samaññaphala Sutta, the simple act of meeting the Buddha reduces or eliminates the consequences of the King’s patricide. In other Mahāyāna texts, the results of actions are routinely avoidable through the performance of religious practices. Ultimately, Buddhists seem to abandon the idea of the inescapability of the results of actions.

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Buddhist Self-immolation and Mahāyānist Absolute Altruism

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 20, 2013

Thresholds of Transcendence: Buddhist Self-immolation and Mahāyānist Absolute Altruism, Part One

Martin Kovan
University of Melbourne

In China and Tibet, and under the gaze of the global media, the four-year period from February 2009 to February 2013 saw the self-immolations of at least 110 Tibetan Buddhist monks, nuns and lay-people. Underlying the phenomenon of Buddhist self-immolation is a real and interpretive ambiguity between personal, religious, altruistic and political suicide, and political suicide within the Buddhist saṅgha specifically, itself reflected in the varying historical assessments of the practice and currently given by global Buddhist leaders such as His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and the Vietnamese monk and activist Thích Nhất Hạnh.

Part One of this essay surveys the textual and theoretical background to the canonical record and commentarial reception of suicide in Pāli Buddhist texts, and the background to self-immolation in the Mahāyāna, and considers how the current Tibetan Buddhist self-immolations relate ethically to that textual tradition. This forms the basis for, in Part Two, understanding them as altruistic-political acts in the global repertoire of contention.

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Śāntideva on Gifts, Altruism, and Poverty

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 20, 2013

The Compassionate Gift of Vice: Śāntideva on Gifts, Altruism, and Poverty

Amod Lele
Boston University

The Mahāyāna Buddhist thinker Śāntideva tells his audience to give out alcohol, weapons and sex for reasons of Buddhist compassion, though he repeatedly warns of the dangers of all these three. The article shows how Śāntideva resolves this issue: these gifts, and gifts in general, attract their recipients to the virtuous giver, in a way that helps the recipients to become more virtuous in the long run. As a consequence, Śāntideva does recommend the alleviation of poverty, but assigns it a much smaller significance than is usually supposed. His views run counter to many engaged Buddhist discussions of political action, and lend support to the “modernist” interpretation of engaged Buddhist practice.

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Consequentialism, Agent-Neutrality, and Mahāyāna Ethics

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 20, 2013

Consequentialism, Agent-Neutrality, and Mahāyāna Ethics

Charles Goodman
Binghamton University

Several Indian Mahāyāna texts express an ethical perspective that has many features in common with Western forms of universalist consequentialism. Śāntideva, in particular, endorses a strong version of agent-neutrality, claims that compassionate agents should violate Buddhist moral commitments when doing so would produce good results, praises radical altruism, uses a critique of the self to support his ethical views, and even offers a reasonably clear general formulation of what we call act-consequentialism. Meanwhile, Asaṅga’s discussions of the motivation behind rules of moral discipline and the permissible reasons for breaking those rules suggests an interesting and complex version of rule-consequentialism. Evidence for features of consequentialism can be found in several Mahāyāna sūtras as well. In reading these sources, interpretations that draw on virtue ethics may not be as helpful as those that understand the texts as committed to various versions of consequentialism.

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The Dalai Lama and the Nature of Buddhist Ethics

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 20, 2013

The Dalai Lama and the Nature of Buddhist Ethics

Abraham Vélez de Cea
Eastern Kentucky University

This article clarifies the nature of Buddhist ethics from a comparative perspective. It contends that the Dalai Lama’s ethics is best understood as a pluralistic approach to virtue ethics. The article has two parts. The first part challenges Charles Goodman’s interpretation of Mahāyāna Buddhist ethics as an instance of consequentialism. This is done indirectly, that is, not by questioning Goodman’s reading of Śāntideva and Asaṅga, but rather by applying to the Dalai Lama’s ethics the same test that Goodman uses to justify his reading of Mahāyāna ethics as a whole. The second part examines the Dalai Lama’s ethics in comparison to Christine Swanton, a representative of a pluralistic approach to virtue ethics in contemporary analytic philosophy. By comparing the ethics of the Dalai Lama and Swanton, the article does not wish to suggest that her pluralistic approach to virtue ethics is the closest western analogue to Buddhist virtue ethics. I use comparison, not to understand the Dalai Lama’s ethical ideas from the perspective of Swanton’s ethics, but rather to highlight what is unique about the Dalai Lama’s approach to virtue ethics, which is pluralistic in a characteristically Buddhist way.

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Making Suffering Sufferable

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 20, 2013

Suffering Made Sufferable: Śāntideva, Dzongkaba, and Modern Therapeutic Approaches to Suffering’s Silver Lining

Daniel Cozort
Dickinson College

Suffering’s positive side was elucidated beautifully by the eighth century Mahāyāna poet Śāntideva in his Bodhicāryavatāra. Dzongkaba Losang Drakpa, the founder of what came to be known as the Gelukba (dge lugs pa) order of Tibetan Buddhism, used Śāntideva’s text as his main source in the chapter on patience in his masterwork, Lam rim Chenmo. In this article I attempt to explicate Śāntideva’s thought by way of the commentary of Dzongkaba. I then consider it in the context of what Ariel Glucklich has called “Sacred Pain”—the myriad ways in which religious people have found meaning in pain. I conclude with some observations about ways in which some Buddhist-inspired or -influenced therapeutic movements such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Positive Psychology are helping contemporary people to reconcile themselves to pain or to discover that it may have positive value.

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A Determinist Deflation of the Free Will Problem

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 20, 2013

The Metaphysics of No-Self: A Determinist Deflation of the Free Will Problem

Vishnu Sridharan

For over two millennia, the free will problem has proven intractable to philosophers, scientists, and lay people alike. However, Buddhism offers us unique insight into how, when, and why human agency matters to us. In his 2009 book, Consequences of Compassion, Charles Goodman argues that the ultimate nonexistence of the self supports the ultimate nonexistence of free will. Recently in this journal, Riccardo Repetti has critiqued Goodman’s view and made the case that free will does, in fact, ultimately exist. This article first illustrates how Repetti’s view of the self is, actually, entirely consistent with Goodman’s. It goes on to argue that Repetti misconstrues elements of hard determinism as entailing that our wills have no influence on final outcomes. Lastly, it shows how, if Goodman and Repetti are in agreement on the ultimate nonexistence of the self, as well as the causal efficacy of the will, their disagreement about the ultimate existence of free will may be inconsequential.

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Buddhism, Punishment, and Reconciliation

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 19, 2012

Buddhism, Punishment, and Reconciliation

Charles K. Fink
Miami Dade College, Kendall Campus

One important foundation of Buddhist ethics is a commitment to nonviolence. My aim in this paper is to work out the implications of this commitment with regard to the treatment of offenders. Given that punishment involves the intentional infliction of harm, I argue that the practice of punishment is incompatible with the principle of nonviolence. The core moral teaching of the Buddha is to conquer evil with goodness, and it is reconciliation, rather than punishment, that conforms to this teaching. I argue that a commitment to nonviolence requires not only that we refrain from inflicting intentional harm, but that we refrain from inflicting unnecessary harm, and that this has important implications concerning the practice of incapacitation. I analyze the concept of harm and argue that the Buddhist understanding of this notion leads to the conclusion that none of the standard justifications for punishment are compatible with the principle of nonviolence, properly understood.

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Tsongkhapa on Choice and Emotions

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 19, 2012

Emotions, Ethics, and Choice: Lessons from Tsongkhapa

Emily McRae
University of Oklahoma

This paper explores the degree to which we can exercise choice over our emotional experiences and emotional dispositions. I argue that we can choose our emotions in the sense that we can intentionally intervene in them. To show this, I draw on the mind training practices advocated by the 14th century Tibetan Buddhist yogin and philosopher Tsongkhapa (tsong kha pa blo bzang grags pa). I argue that his analysis shows that successful intervention in a negative emotional experience depends on at least four factors: the intensity of the emotional experience, one’s ability to pay attention to the workings of one’s mind and body, knowledge of intervention practices, and insight into the nature of emotions. I argue that this makes sense of Tsongkhapa’s seemingly contradictory claims that the meditator can and should control (and eventually abandon) her anger and desire to harm others and that harmdoers are “servants to their afflictions.”

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Buddhist Hard Determinism

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 19, 2012

Buddhist Hard Determinism: No Self, No Free Will, No Responsibility

Riccardo Repetti
Kingsborough College, CUNY

This is the third article in a four-article series that examines Buddhist responses to the Western philosophical problem of whether free will is compatible with “determinism,” the doctrine of universal causation. The first article (“Earlier”) focused on the first publications on this issue in the 1970s, the “early period.” The second (“Paleo-compatibilism”) and the present articles examine key responses published in the last part of the Twentieth and the first part of the Twenty-first centuries, the “middle period.” The fourth article (“Recent”) examines responses published in the last few years, the “recent period.” Whereas early-period scholars endorsed a compatibilism between free will and determinism, in the middle period the pendulum moved the other way: Mark Siderits argued for a two tiered compatibilism/incompatibilism (or semi-compatibilism) that he dubs “paleo-compatibilism,” grounded in the early Buddhist reductionist notion of “two truths” (conventional truth and ultimate truth); and Charles Goodman argued that Buddhists accept hard determinism—the view that because determinism is true, there can be no free will—because in the absence of a real self determinism leaves no room for morally responsible agency. In “Paleo-compatibilism,” I focused on Siderits’s reductionist account. The present article focuses on Goodman’s hard determinism, and the fourth article will examine the most recent publications expressing Buddhist views of free will. Together with my own meditation-based Buddhist account of free will (“Meditation”), this series of articles provides a comprehensive review of the leading extant writings on this subject.

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Buddhist Reductionism and Free Will: Paleo-compatibilism

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 19, 2012

Buddhist Reductionism and Free Will:Paleo-compatibilism

Riccardo Repetti
Kingsborough College, CUNY

This is the second article in a four-article series that examines Buddhist responses to the Western philosophical problem of whether free will is compatible with “determinism,” the doctrine of universal causation. The first article focused on the first publications on this issue in the 1970s, the “early period”; the present article and the next examine key responses published in the last part of the Twentieth century and first part of the Twenty-first, the “middle period”; and the fourth article will examine responses published in the last few years. Whereas early-period scholars endorsed compatibilism, in the middle period the pendulum moved the other way: Mark Siderits argued for a Buddhist version of partial incompatibilism, semi-compatibilism, or “paleo-compatibilism,” and Charles Goodman argued for a straightforward Buddhist hard determinism. The present article focuses on Siderits’s paleo-compatibilism; the subsequent article focuses on Goodman’s hard determinism.

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Review: An Interpretation and Defense of Buddhist Ethics

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 18, 2011

Consequences of Compassion: An Interpretation and Defense of Buddhist Ethics. By Charles Goodman. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2009, viii + 250 pages, ISBN 978–0–19–537519–0 (cloth), $74.00.

Reviewed by Richard Hayes

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Śāntideva on Justified Anger

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 18, 2011

Bile & Bodhisattvas: Śāntideva on Justified Anger

Nicolas Bommarito
Brown University

In his famous text the Bodhicaryāvatāra, the 8th century Buddhist philosopher Śāntideva argues that anger towards people who harm us is never justified. The usual reading of this argument rests on drawing similarities between harms caused by persons and those caused by non-persons. After laying out my own interpretation of Śāntideva’s reasoning, I offer some objections to Śāntideva’s claim about the similarity between animate and inanimate causes of harm inspired by contemporary philosophical literature in the West. Following this, I argue that by reading Śāntideva’s argument as practical advice rather than as a philosophical claim about rational coherence, his argument can still have important insights even for those who reject his philosophical reasoning.

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Does Anātman Rationally Entail Altruism?

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 18, 2011

Does Anātman Rationally Entail Altruism? On Bodhicaryāvatāra 8:101-103

Stephen Harris
University of New Mexico

In the eighth chapter of the Bodhicaryāvatāra, the Buddhist philosopher Śāntideva has often been interpreted as offering an argument that accepting the ultimate nonexistence of the self (anātman) rationally entails a commitment to altruism, the view that one should care equally for self and others. In this essay, I consider reconstructions of Śāntideva’s argument by contemporary scholars Paul Williams, Mark Siderits and John Pettit. I argue that all of these various reconfigurations of the argument fail to be convincing. This suggests that, for Madhyamaka Buddhists, an understanding of anātman does not entail acceptance of the Bodhisattva path, but rather is instrumental to achieving it. Second, it suggests the possibility that in these verses, Śāntideva was offering meditational techniques, rather than making an argument for altruism from the premise of anātman.

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Paternalist Deception in the Lotus Sūtra

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 18, 2011

Paternalist Deception in the Lotus Sūtra:
A Normative Assessment

Charles A. Goodman
Binghamton University

The Lotus Sūtra repeatedly asserts the moral permissibility, in certain circumstances, of deceiving others for their own benefit. The examples it uses to illustrate this view have the features of weak paternalism, but the real-world applications it endorses would today be considered strong paternalism. We can explain this puzzling feature of the text by noting that according to Mahāyāna Buddhists, normal, ordinary people are so irrational that they are relevantly similar to the insane. Kant’s determined anti-paternalism, by contrast, relies on an obligation to see others as rational, which can be read in several ways. Recent work in psychology provides support for the Lotus Sūtra’s philosophical anthropology while undermining the plausibility of Kant’s version. But this result does not necessarily lead to an endorsement of political paternalism, since politicians are not qualified to wield such power. Some spiritual teachers, however, may be morally permitted to benefit their students by deceiving them.

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Review: Moral Theory in Śāntideva’s Śikṣāsamuccaya

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 15, 2008

Moral Theory in Śāntideva’s Śikṣāsamuccaya: Cultivating the fruits of virtue. By Barbra R. Clayton. London: Routledge, 2006, xv + 165 pages, ISBN 10041534697 (cloth).

Reviewed by Douglas Osto

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Conference: Revisioning Karma

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 12, 2005

Papers from the JBE Online conference

on “Revisioning Karma”

 

Honorary Chairman and Convener: Dale Wright
Occidental College, Los Angeles

 

Critical Questions Towards a Naturalized Concept of Karma in Buddhism

Dale Wright
Occidental College

Groundwork for a Metaphysic of Buddhist Morals: A New Analysis of Puñña and Kusala, in Light of Sukka

Martin Adam
University of Victoria

Merit Transfer in Mahāyāna Buddhism

Barbra Clayton
Mt. Allison University

Reflections on Kant and Karma

Bradford Cokelet
Northwestern University

Karma, Rebirth, and Mental Causation

Christian Coseru
College of Charleston

Is the Buddhist Doctrine of Karma Cognitively Meaningful?

James Deitrick
University of Central Arkansas

Valuing Karma: A Critical Concept for Orienting Interdependence with Wisdom, Attentive Mastery and Moral Clarity

Peter Hershock
East-West Center

Karma, Rebirth, and the Problem of Evil

Whitley Kaufman
University of Massachusetts, Lowell

Karma, Character, and Consequentialism

Damien Keown
Goldsmiths College, University of London

Karma in the Later Texts of the Pāli Canon

Jessica Main
McGill University

Karma: Buddhism and the Phenomenology of the Ethical

Eric Nelson
University of Massachusetts, Lowell

Dark and Bright Karma: A New Reading

Abraham Velez
Georgetown University

The Reactionary Role of Karma in 20th Century Japan

Brian Victoria
University of Adelaide

Śāntideva and the Bodhisattva Path

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 9 2002

Did Śāntideva Destroy the Bodhisattva Path?

Jon Wetlesen
University of Oslo

The question in the title has recently been answered in the affirmative by Paul Williams in his book on Altruism and Reality: Studies in the Philosophy of the Bodhicaryāvatāra. Williams assumes that Śāntideva attempted to justify the bodhisattva’s universal altruism on the basis of a reductive conception of a person, and that this entails a number of absurd consequences that are destructive of the bodhisattva path. Williams concedes that Śāntideva might have avoided these consequences if he had adopted a non-reductive conception of the person as a conventional truth, but Williams seems to assume that this would have to be an individualistic conception, and in that case it would have prevented Śāntideva from reaching his desired conclusion.

I argue that there may be a way out of this dilemma if we interpret Śāntideva’s conception of the person in the direction of an interpersonal holism. In this view, others are perceived not only as more or less similar to oneself, but as parts of oneself. The bodhisattva path is understood as a transformation from the small to the big self within the framework of conventional truth, and eventually to non-self within the highest truth. I believe that this approach takes better care of those few verses in chapter eight of Śāntideva’s book, on which Williams has based his interpretation, and that it is supported by a number of other verses in this context, to which Williams has not paid much attention.

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Review: Philosophy of the Bodhicaryāvatāra

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 6, 1999

Altruism and Reality: Studies in the Philosophy of the Bodhicaryāvatāra. By Paul Williams. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 1998, ISBN 0700710310, cloth, £40.00, $48.00.

Reviewed by John W. Pettit

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Response to John Pettit

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 6, 1999

A Response to John Pettit

Paul Williams
University of Bristol

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