Masao Abe, Zen, and Social Ethics

Volume 4 1997

Masao Abe, Zen Buddhism, and Social Ethics

Daniel Palmer
Purdue University

As the discourse in the West comes to focus more upon social issues, any form of understanding that is to remain alive must be able to respond to such concerns. If Western Buddhism is to survive it must illustrate how it can address these issues. I will argue that Abe recognizes that this has been an area in which Buddhism has been traditionally deficient, but that by reinterpreting several key Buddhist concepts Abe offers a new paradigm of Buddhism that does allow for the possibility of social critique while still retaining the essential insights of traditional Zen Buddhism. In the first section of the paper I will develop the specific nature of the criticisms in relation to the traditional understanding of Buddhist doctrine. In the second section I will show how Abe’s transvaluation of Zen Buddhism in light of his dialogical hermeneutic takes account of these criticisms and develops the resources within Zen thought to deal with them.

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