Journal of Buddhist Ethics

An online journal of Buddhist scholarship related to ethics.


Shabkar’s Response to Religious Difference

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 22, 2015

Rimé Revisited: Shabkar’s Response to Religious Difference

Rachel H. Pang
Davidson College

This article analyzes Shabkar Tsokdruk Rangdrol’s (1781–1851) Tibetan Buddhist response to interreligious and intersectarian difference. While there exist numerous studies in Buddhist ethics that address the Buddhist perspective on contemporary issues such as abortion, euthanasia, and terrorism, there has been considerably less attention paid to Buddhist responses towards religious difference. Moreover, the majority of the research on this topic has been conducted within the context of Buddhist-Christian dialogue. This article examines Shabkar’s non-sectarian ideas on their own terms, within the context of Buddhist thought. I demonstrate the strong visionary, apocalyptic, theological, and soteriological dimensions of Shabkar’s rimé, or “unbiased,” approach to religious diversity. The two main applications of these findings are: (1) they broaden the current academic understanding of rimé from being a sociological phenomenon to a theological one grounded in social and historical particularities; (2) they draw attention to the non-philosophical aspects of Buddhist ethics.

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Review: Milarepa’s Biographies

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 22, 2015

The Yogin & the Madman: Reading the Biographical Corpus of Tibet’s Great Saint Milarepa. By Andrew Quintman. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014, 336 pages, ISBN 978-0-231-16415-3 (paperback), $35.00 / £24.00; ISBN 978-0-231-16414-6 (cloth), $105.00 / £72.50.

Reviewed by Massimo Rondolino

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Review: A Green Odyssey

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 22, 2015

Pad Yatra: A Green Odyssey. Directed by Wendy J. N. Lee; Executive Producer, Michelle Yeoh; Narrator, Daryl Hannah. 2013, $549 (Campus Screening License and DVD), $499 (Digital Streaming License), $299 (College and University DVD), and $129 (K-12, Library, and Non-Profit DVD).

Reviewed by Adam T. Miller

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The Ethics (and Economics) of Tibetan Polyandry

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

The Ethics (and Economics) of Tibetan Polyandry

Jonathan Stoltz
University of St. Thomas

Fraternal polyandry—one woman simultaneously being married to two or more brothers—has been a prominent practice within Tibetan agricultural societies for many generations. While the topic of Tibetan polyandry has been widely discussed in the field of anthropology, there are, to my knowledge, no contributions by philosophers on this topic. For this reason alone, my brief analysis of the ethics of Tibetan polyandry will serve to enhance scholars’s understanding of this practice. In this article, I examine the factors that have sustained the practice of polyandry in Tibet, but do so with the further aim of drawing attention to some of the key ethical implications of polyandrous marriage. I argue that the natural law criticisms raised against the practice of polyandry by St. Thomas Aquinas are unsuccessful, but I also argue that the utilitarian motivations for this marriage practice endorsed by agrarian Tibetans are also highly suspect.

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Transforming Gender Bias in Tibetan Buddhism

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

Blossoms of the Dharma: The Contribution of Western Nuns in Transforming Gender Bias in Tibetan Buddhism

Elizabeth Swanepoel
University of Pretoria

This article investigates the nature of gender imbalance in Tibetan Buddhism, particularly pertaining to the unavailability of bhikṣuṇī ordination, and the specific role Western nuns have played in contributing to transforming this imbalance. The article postulates that male privilege continues to dominate the institutional cultures of religious life in Tibetan Buddhism. However, fertile tensions have of late emerged between an underground tradition of highly accomplished female practitioners and the institutional preference for male practitioners. A revalorization process has been initiated in recent years by a number of Western female Buddhologists, some of whom are also fully ordained Tibetan Buddhist nuns. The article highlights the efforts of these accomplished nuns as well as a number of other prominent Western Tibetan Buddhist nuns.

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Buddhist Self-immolation and Mahāyānist Absolute Altruism, Part Two

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

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

Martin Kovan
University of Melbourne

In China and Tibet, and under the gaze of the global media, the five-year period from February 2009 to February 2014 saw the self-immolations of at least 127 Tibetan Buddhist monks, nuns, and lay-people. An English Tibetan Buddhist monk, then resident in France, joined this number in November 2012, though his self-immolation has been excluded from all accounts of the exile Tibetan and other documenters of the ongoing Tibetan crisis. Underlying the phenomenon of Buddhist self-immolation is a real and interpretive ambiguity between personal, religious (or ritual-transcendental), altruistic, and political suicide, as well as political suicide within the Buddhist sangha specifically. These theoretical distinctions appear opaque not only to (aligned and non-aligned, Tibetan and non-Tibetan) observers, but potentially also to self-immolators themselves, despite their deeply motivated conviction.

Such ambiguity is reflected in the varying historical and current assessments of the practice, also represented by globally significant Buddhist leaders such as His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and the Vietnamese monk and activist Thích Nhất Hạnh. This essay analyses the symbolic ontology of suicide in these Tibetan Buddhist cases, and offers metaethical and normative accounts of self-immolation as an altruistic-political act in the “global repertoire of contention” in order to clarify its claims for what is a critically urgent issue in Buddhist ethics.

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The Politics of “Compassion” of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

The Politics of “Compassion” of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama: Between “Religion” and “Secularism”

Masahide Tsujimura
Kobe University
Koyasan University

Since 1959, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama has expressed the view that democratic reforms should be gradually carried out in the Tibetan political system. He did this by enlarging the connotation of the traditional Tibetan concept of chos srid zung ‘brel (union of dharma and polity). This paper will examine how the Dalai Lama succeeded in maintaining the traditional political concept of chos srid zung ‘brel in a modern Tibetan democracy by employing the idea of “compassion” to link “religion” and “secularism.”

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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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Review: Theos Bernard, the White Lama

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 20, 2013

Theos Bernard, the White Lama: Tibet, Yoga, and American Religious Life. Paul G. Hackett. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012, xxii + 494 pages, ISBN 978-0-231-15886-2 (cloth), $32.95.

Reviewed by David M. DiValerio

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Reimagining Buddhist Ethics on the Tibetan Plateau

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 20, 2013

Reimagining Buddhist Ethics on the Tibetan Plateau

Holly Gayley
University of Colorado, Boulder

This article examines the ideological underpinnings of ethical reform currently underway in Tibetan areas of the PRC, based on a newly reconfigured set of ten Buddhist virtues and consolidated into vows taken en masse by the laity. I focus on texts of advice to the laity by cleric-scholars from Larung Buddhist Academy, one of the largest Buddhist institutions on the Tibetan plateau and an important source for an emergent Buddhist modernism. In analyzing texts of advice, I am interested in how lead-ing Buddhist voices articulate a “path forward” for Tibetans as a people, calling simultaneously for ethical reform and cultural preservation. Specifically, I trace the tensions and ironies that emerge in their attempts to synthesize, on the one hand, a Buddhist emphasis on individual moral action and its soteriological ramifications and, on the other hand, a secular concern for the social welfare of the Tibetan population and the preservation of its civilizational inheritance. In doing so, I view ethical reform as part of a broader Buddhist response to China’s civilizing mission vis-à-vis Tibetans and new market forces encouraged by the post-Mao state.

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Vegetarianism in Tibet

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 20, 2013

Buddhism Between Abstinence and Indulgence: Vegetarianism in the Life and Works of Jigmé Lingpa

Geoffrey Barstow
Otterbein University

Tibetan Buddhism idealizes the practice of compassion, the drive to relieve the suffering of others, including animals. At the same time, however, meat is a standard part of the Tibetan diet, and abandoning it is widely understood to be difficult. This tension between the ethical problems of a meat based diet and the difficulty of vegetarianism has not been lost on Tibetan religious leaders, including the eighteenth century master Jigmé Lingpa. Jigmé Lingpa argues repeatedly that meat is a sinful food, incompatible with a compassionate mindset. At the same time, however, he acknowledges the difficulties of vegetarianism, and refuses to mandate vegetarianism among his students. Instead, he offers a variety of practices that can ameliorate the inherent negativity of eating meat. By so doing, Jigmé Lingpa offers his students a chance to continue cultivating compassion without having to completely abandon meat.

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Review: Documentary Film on Finding Tibetan Tulku

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 19, 2012

Unmistaken Child. DVD. Directed by Nati Baratz. New York, NY: Oscilloscope Pictures 2009.

Reviewed by Jason Ellsworth

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Review: Tibetan Ritual

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 19, 2012

Tibetan Ritual. Edited by José Ignacio Cabezón. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010, 320 pages, ISBN 978-0-19-539282-1 (cloth), $29.95.

Reviewed by Holly Gayley

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Review: Jesuits in Tibet

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 19, 2012

Jesuit on the Roof of the World: Ippolito Desideri’s Mission to Tibet. By Trent Pomplum. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010, xvi + 302 pages, ISBN 978-0-19-537786-6 (cloth), $29.95.

Mission to Tibet: The Extraordinary Eighteenth-Century Account of Father Ippolito Desideri, S. J. Translated by Michael J. Sweet and edited by Leonard Zwilling. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2010, xxiv + 797 pages, ISBN 978-086171-676-0 (pbk), $34.95.

Reviewed by John Murphy

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Review: Contemporary Tantric Practices in Tibet

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 18, 2011

Buddhism Beyond the Monastery: Tantric Practices and their Performers in Tibet and the Himalayas. Edited by Sarah Jacoby and Antonio Terrone. Leiden: Brill, 2009, 202 pages, ISBN 978-90-04-17600-3 (cloth), $136.00.

Reviewed by Geoffrey Barstow

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Buddhism, Nonviolence, and Power

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 16, 2009

Buddhism, Nonviolence, and Power

Sallie B. King
James Madison University

Contemporary Buddhists have in recent decades given the world outstanding examples of nonviolent activism. Although these movements have demonstrated great courage and have generated massive popular support, sadly, none of them has, as yet, prevailed. In this paper I will explore how nonviolent power was exercised in these cases. I will draw upon the work of nonviolent theorist Gene Sharp to help us understand the nature and sources of nonviolent power. I will then use that material to analyze the power dynamics of the Buddhist nonviolent struggles in Vietnam during the war years, and in Burma and Tibet today. I will also reflect upon Buddhist attitudes towards the wielding of nonviolent power in conflict situations.

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Review: Tibetan Freedom Fighters

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 14, 2007

Buddha’s Warriors: The Story of the CIA-Backed Tibetan Freedom Fighters, the Chinese Communist Invasion, and the Ultimate Fall of Tibet. By Mikel Dunham. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher & Penguin, 2004, 448 pages, ISBN 1-58542-348-3, US $29.95.

Reviewed by Vibha Arora

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Review: Tibetan Buddhist Monk’s Education

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 12, 2005

The Sound of Two Hands Clapping: The Education of a Tibetan Buddhist Monk.By Georges B. J. Dreyfus. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003. 445 pages. ISBN: 0-520-23260-7.

Reviewed by William Edelglass

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Buddhist Approach to Restorative Justice

ISSN 1076–9005
Volume 7, 2000

How to Reform a Serial Killer: The Buddhist Approach to Restorative Justice

David R. Loy
Bunkyo University

This article considers how Buddhist perspectives on crime and punishment support the contemporary movement toward restorative (in place of retributive) justice. It begins by examining the two Pāli suttas that most directly address these issues: the Angulimala Sutta, about the reform of a serial killer, and the Lion’s Roar Sutta, about the responsibility of a ruler. Then it looks at the Vinaya, which has many implications for our understanding of motivation and reform, and finally at traditional Tibet to see how its criminal justice system embodied these Buddhist perspectives. It concludes with some reflections on why our present criminal justice systems serve the purposes of the state better than the needs of offenders and their victims.

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Review: Pilgrimage and Visionary Landscape in Southeast Tibet

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 7, 2000

The Cult of Pure Crystal Mountain: Popular Pilgrimage and Visionary Landscape in Southeast Tibet. By Toni Huber. N.Y./Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, xxi + 297 pages, ISBN 0–19–512007–8, US $65.00.

Reviewed by Alex McKay

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Review: Dharmakīrti in Tibet

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 7, 2000

Recognizing Reality: Dharmakirti’s Philosophy and Its Tibetan Interpretation. By Georges B. J. Dreyfus. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997, xxi + 622 pages, ISBN 0–7914–3097–9 (hardcover), ISBN 0–7914–3098–7 (paperback), US $68.50 (hardcover), US $22.95 (paperback).

Reviewed by Pascale Hugon

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Review: A History of Modern Tibet

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 6, 1999

The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet Since 1947. By Tsering Shakya. London: Pimlico Original, 1999, xxi + 571 pages, ISBN: 0-71266-533-1, £12.50 (paper).

Reviewed by Martin A. Mills

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Review: Tibetan Buddhism and the West

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 6, 1999

Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West. By Donald Lopez, Jr. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998, Hardcover 272 pages, ISBN 0226493105, US $25.00; Paperback 284 pages, ISBN 0226493113, US $14.00.

Reviewed by Tsering Shakya

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Review: Tibet, China and the Dalai Lama

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 6, 1999

The Snow Lion and the Dragon: Tibet, China and the Dalai Lama. By Melvyn C. Goldstein. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997, xiii + 152 pages, : 0-520-21254-1, US$19.95.

Reviewed by Toni Huber

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Review: Buddhism in Contemporary Tibet

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 5 1998

Buddhism in Contemporary Tibet: Religious Revival and Cultural Identity. Edited By Melvyn C. Goldstein and Matthew T. Kapstein. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998, 235 pages, paperback ISBN: 0520211316, US $15.95, cloth ISBN: 0520211308, US$40.00.

Reviewed by Cathy Cantwell

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Review: Tibetan Memoirs

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 5 1998

Tibetan Lives. Three Himalayan Autobiographies. Edited By Peter Richardus. Richmond: Curzon Press, 1998, xxviii + 223 pages, ISBN 0-7007-1023-X (cloth), UK £40.00.

In the Presence of My Enemies. Memoirs of Tibetan Nobleman Tsipon Shuguba. By Sumner Carnahan & Lama Kunga Rinpoche. Santa Fe: Clear Light Press, 1995, xvii + 238 pages, ISBN 0-9406-6662-6 (paper), US $14.95.

Reviewed by Toni Huber

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Review: A History of Tibetan Painting

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 5 1998

A History of Tibetan Painting: The Great Tibetan Painters and Their Traditions,Beiträge zur Kultur- und Geistesgeschichte Asiens Nr. 15. By David Jackson. Wein: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1996, 432 pages, includes 70 color plates, 210 line drawings, and a black and white fold-out map, ISBN 3-7001-2224-1, US $140.00.

Reviewed by Ian Harris

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Review: Tibetan Art

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 5 1998

Tibetan Art: Towards a Definition of Style. Edited By Jane Casey Singer and Philip Denwood. London: Laurence King, 1997, 319 pages, ISBN: 1-8566-9099-7, £65 (cloth).

Reviewed by Ian Harris

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Review: Tibetan Culture in the Diaspora

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 5 1998

Tibetan Culture in the Diaspora, Papers Presented at a Panel of the 7th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Graz 1995. Edited By Frank J. Korom. Vienna: Verlag derÖsterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1997, 119 pages, ISBN 3-7001-2659-X, $56.80.

Reviewed by Christian von Somm

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Review: Engaged Buddhism in Asia

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 5 1998

Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist Liberation Movements in Asia. Edited by Christopher S. Queen and Sallie B. King. New York: State University of New York, 1996, xii + 446 pages, ISBN 0-7914-2844-3, $24.95.

Reviewed by Mavis L. Fenn

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Review: Tibetan Culture

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 5 1998

Constructing Tibetan Culture: Contemporary Perspectives. Edited By Frank J. Korom. St-Hyacinthe (Quebec): World Heritage Press, 1997, 230 pages, ISBN 1-896064-12-4, US $19.95.

Reviewed By Toni Huber

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“Human Rights” in Buddhism?

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 2 1995

Are There “Human Rights” in Buddhism?

Damien Keown
Goldsmiths College, University of London

It is difficult to think of a more urgent question for Buddhism in the late twentieth century than human rights. Human rights issues in which Buddhism has a direct involvement, notably in the case of Tibet, feature regularly on the agenda in superpower diplomacy. The political, ethical and philosophical questions surrounding human rights are debated vigourously in political and intellectual circles throughout the world. Yet despite its contemporary significance, the subject has merited hardly a footnote in mainstream academic research and publication in the field of Buddhist Studies. Why is this? One reason would seem to be the lack of a precedent within Buddhism itself for discussing issues of this kind; scholars, by and large, continue to follow the tradition’s own agenda, an agenda which appears to some increasingly medieval in the shadow of the twenty-first century. If Buddhism wishes to address the issues which are of concern to today’s global community, it must begin to ask itself new questions alongside the old ones.

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