Volume 13, 2006
Introduction to “Zen Social Ethics: Historical Constraints and Present Prospects”
Taigen Dan Leighton
Institute of Buddhist Studies
This collection of papers is from a panel organized by Chris Ives for the Ethics Section of the American Academy of Religion meeting in Philadelphia in November, 2005. As Chair of that panel I offer this brief introduction. The topic addresses a clear concern, apparent to scholars but also to many practitioners, about the problematic approach to ethics of the Zen Buddhist tradition and the place of ethics in its modern context. One major impetus for this concern is the challenge to Japanese Zen from Brian Victoria in his Zen at War, and the revelation of the active support by eminent Zen figures for Japanese militarism and jingoism before and during World War II. One assumption of these papers is that Zen’s historical ethical failings may be symptomatic of internal problematics in the very structure of Zen philosophy and discourse, perhaps more heightened in its interface with the West and modernity.