Journal of Buddhist Ethics

An online journal of Buddhist scholarship related to ethics.


Right Speech is Not Always Gentle

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 24, 2017

Right Speech Is Not Always Gentle: The Buddha’s Authorization of Sharp Criticism, its Rationale, Limits, and Possible Applications

Sallie B. King
Georgetown University

What is Right Speech and how should it be applied in the multiple challenges of social and political life? Examining passages from the Pāli canon shows that although Right Speech is normatively truthful and gentle, the Buddha endorsed “sharp” speech when it was beneficial and timely. He both permitted and modeled direct, sharp criticism of the person whose words or actions were harmful. The monks were taught to use such speech even though it might disturb their equanimity and are seen as having a moral duty to do so. Good moral judgment is needed to determine when sharp speech should be used. Applying the analysis to the question of how Buddhists should respond to the harmful words and actions of Donald Trump, the study finds that the norms of Right Speech entail using sharp speech in this case. In responding to supporters of Donald Trump, the study finds benefit in avoiding sharp speech in an effort to build mutual understanding and heal the deep divisions in contemporary American society. An exception is made for hate speech which is seen as needing to be immediately confronted.

Read article

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

Read article

Mahāyāna Ethics and American Buddhism

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 20, 2013

Mahāyāna Ethics and American Buddhism: Subtle Solutions or Creative Perversions?

Charles S. Prebish
Pennsylvania State University & Utah State University (Emeritus)

“Mahāyāna Ethics and American Buddhism: Subtle Solutions or Creative Perversions?” initially explores the notion of two distinctly different forms of upāya, first presented by Damien Keown in his 1992 volume The Nature of Buddhist Ethics, in which one form of skill-in-means is available only to bodhisattvas prior to stage seven of the bodhisattva’s path and requires adherence to all proper ethical guidelines, while the second form of upāya is applicable to bodhisattvas at stage seven and beyond, and allows them to ignore any and all ethical guidelines in their attempts to alleviate suffering. This distinctly Mahāyāna interpretation of upāya is used to examine the presumably scandalous behavior of Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche and Richard Baker, Rōshi, two of the most popular and controversial figures in American Buddhism. The article concludes that we can at least infer that applied in the proper fashion, by accomplished teachers, the activities allowed by upāya do present possibly subtle explanations of seemingly inappropriate behaviors. On the other hand, if abused by less realized beings, we must recognize these acts as merely creative perversions of a noble ethical heritage.

Read article

Review: Buddhism in America

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 7, 2000

Buddhism in America. By Richard Hughes Seager. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999, xviii + 314 pages, ISBN: 0–231–10868–0, $35.00.

Reviewed By Alioune Koné–el–Adji

Read article

Review: Practice and Study of Buddhism in America

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 6, 1999

Luminous Passage: The Practice and Study of Buddhism in America. By Charles S. Prebish.  University of California Press, 1999, xi + 334 pages, ISBN: 0-520-21696-2 (cloth), 0-520-21697-0 (paper), US $45.00 (cloth), $18.95 (paper).

Reviewed by Franz Aubrey Metcalf

Read article

Review: Faces of Buddhism in America

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 6, 1999

The Faces of Buddhism in America. Edited By Charles S. Prebish and Kenneth K. Tanaka. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998, viii + 370 pages, ISBN 0-520-21301-7, US $50 (cloth), $22 (paper).

Reviewed by Franz Aubrey Metcalf

Read article

Review: Buddhism and the Beat Generation

ISSN 1076-9005
Valume 5 1998

Big Sky Mind: Buddhism and the Beat Generation. Edited by Carole Tonkinson, with Introduction by Stephen Prothero. New York: Riverhead Books, 1995, 387 pages, ISBN: 1-5732-2501-0, US $15.00.

Reviewed by Richard Hughes Seager

Read article

Review: Buddhism in America

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 5 1998

Buddhism in America: Proceedings of the First Buddhism in America Conference. Compiled By Al Rapaport. Edited By Brian D. Hotchkiss. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc., 1998, xv + 568 pages, ISBN 0-8048-3152-1, $29.95.

Reviewed by Charles S. Prebish

Read article

Review: Memoir of Meditation

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 5 1998

The Accidental Buddhist: Mindfulness, Enlightenment, and Sitting Still. By Dinty W. Moore. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1997, 208 pages, ISBN 1565121422, US $19.95.

Reviewed By Richard Hughes Seager

Read article

Review: Buddhism Through American Women’s Eyes

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 5 1998

Buddhism Through American Women’s Eyes. Edited by Karma Lekshe Tsomo. Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion, 1995, 179 pages, ISBN 1-55939-047-6, US $12.95, UK £8.95.

Reviewed by Enid Adam

Read article

Review: A Zen Master’s Lessons

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 4 1997

Instructions to the Cook: A Zen Master’s Lessons in Living a Life That Matters. By Bernard Glassman and Rick Fields. New York: Bell Tower, 1996, ix, 171 pages, ISBN 0-517-70377-7 (cloth), $20.00.

Reviewed by Duncan Ryuuken Williams

Read article

Review: Two American Theravāda temples

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 3 1996

Old Wisdom in the New World. By Paul Numrich. Knoxville, Tennessee: University of Tennessee Press, 1996, xxiv + 181 pages, ISBN 0-87049-905-X, $25 (cloth).

Reviewed by Martin Baumann

Read article

Ethics and Integration in American Buddhism

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 2 1995

Ethics and Integration in American Buddhism

Charles S. Prebish
The Pennsylvania State University

This article identifies and explicates several of the most difficult and problematic issues facing the North American Buddhist movement today. It considers not only the obvious conflict between Asian-American and Euro-American Buddhism, but also those concerns that most directly impact on the ethical dilemmas facing modern American Buddhists. The article considers the tension that exists in American Buddhism’s struggle to find the ideal community for Buddhist practice in its Western environment, as well as some potentially creative solutions.

Read article

Vinaya in American Theravāda Temples

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 1 1994

Vinaya in Theravāda Temples in the United States

Paul David Numrich
University of Illinois at Chicago
 
Vinaya (the monastic discipline) plays an essential role in defining traditional Theravāda Buddhism. This article examines the current state of vinaya recitation and practice in the nearly 150 immigrant Theravāda Buddhist temples in the United States, and also speculates on the prospect of traditional Theravāda’s firm establishment in this country. Specific vinaya issues discussed include the pātimokkha ceremony, the discussion about vinaya adaptation to the American context, adaptations in the areas of monastic attire and relations with women, and principles of adaptation at work in Theravāda temples in the United States. 

Read article