A Shin Critique of Buddhist Ethics

Volume 4 1997

Teleologized “Virtue” or Mere Religious “Character”? A Critique of Buddhist Ethics From the Shin Buddhist Point of View

Stephen J. Lewis and Galen Amstutz

When comparative ethicists consider the question of ethics in Buddhism, they are tempted to implicate conceptions of teleology and virtue from Western philosophy. Such implications cannot apply to Mahāyāna exemplified in the Japanese Shin tradition. Shin is characterized not only by emptiness philosophy but also by its emphasis on spontaneous (tariki) enlightenment; both of these features undercut the notion that Buddhism can ultimately concern an intentional goal. But a teleological or virtue-oriented sensibility is not needed for the purposes of ordinary life. On the contrary, Shin social history has demonstrated that a powerful tradition of practical life based on Buddhist teaching can exist perfectly well without it. Such wisdom manifests itself both socially and at the individual level as a kind of character, if not ethics in the usual sense.

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