Volume 1 1994
A Buddhist Ethic Without Karmic Rebirth?
Winston L. King
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.