Journal of Buddhist Ethics

An online journal of Buddhist scholarship related to ethics.


Review: Vegetarianism and Animal Ethics in Contemporary Buddhism

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 24, 2017

Vegetarianism and Animal Ethics in Contemporary Buddhism. By James J. Stewart. London: Routledge, 2015, ISBN 1138802166 (hardback), $128.94.

Reviewed by Amy Defibaugh

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Violence and Nonviolence in Buddhist Animal Ethics

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

Violence and Nonviolence in Buddhist Animal Ethics

James Stewart
University of Tasmania

Boiled alive for killing an ant. Suffering endless demonic flagellation for trading as a butcher. According to some Buddhist writings, these are just a few of the punishments bestowed upon those who harm animals. Are such promises sincere or are they merely hollow threats intended to inculcate good conduct? Are there other non-prudential reasons for protecting animals? How do these views differ from preceding Indian traditions? These are some of the questions addressed in this paper. I will argue that the threat of a bad rebirth is a major factor in motivating Buddhists to abstain from animal cruelty. By comparing the Vinaya (both Mahāyāna and Theravāda) to the Sūtra literature I will argue that such claims may be exaggerations to motivate more compassionate conduct from Buddhist adherents. I also argue that Buddhist texts look unfavorably upon animal killing in a way unheard of in the Vedic religious tradition. Although there may be disagreement over what sort of harm may befall animal abusers, it is almost universally acknowledged amongst most Buddhist sects that animal killing is completely unacceptable. However, this pacifism lives in uneasy tension with the promise of extreme violence for impinging on these basic principles of nonviolence.

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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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Vegetarianism and Diet in Pāli Buddhism

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 17, 2010

The Question of Vegetarianism and Diet in Pāli Buddhism

James J. Stewart
University of Tasmania

This article is concerned with the question of whether Pāli Buddhism endorses vegetarianism and therefore whether a good Buddhist ought to abstain from eating meat. A prima facie case for vegetarianism will be presented that relies upon textual citation in which the Buddha stipulates that a good Buddhist must encourage others not to kill. The claim that the Buddha endorses vegetarianism, however, is challenged both by the fact that meat-eating is permissible in the Vinaya and that the Buddha himself seems to have eaten meat. The article will suggest that this conflict emerges as a distinct ethical and legal tension in the canonical texts but that the tension may have arisen as a consequence of difficult prudential decisions the Buddha may have had to make during his ministry.

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