Mahāyāna Ethics and American Buddhism

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 20, 2013

Mahāyāna Ethics and American Buddhism: Subtle Solutions or Creative Perversions?

Charles S. Prebish
Pennsylvania State University & Utah State University (Emeritus)

“Mahāyāna Ethics and American Buddhism: Subtle Solutions or Creative Perversions?” initially explores the notion of two distinctly different forms of upāya, first presented by Damien Keown in his 1992 volume The Nature of Buddhist Ethics, in which one form of skill-in-means is available only to bodhisattvas prior to stage seven of the bodhisattva’s path and requires adherence to all proper ethical guidelines, while the second form of upāya is applicable to bodhisattvas at stage seven and beyond, and allows them to ignore any and all ethical guidelines in their attempts to alleviate suffering. This distinctly Mahāyāna interpretation of upāya is used to examine the presumably scandalous behavior of Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche and Richard Baker, Rōshi, two of the most popular and controversial figures in American Buddhism. The article concludes that we can at least infer that applied in the proper fashion, by accomplished teachers, the activities allowed by upāya do present possibly subtle explanations of seemingly inappropriate behaviors. On the other hand, if abused by less realized beings, we must recognize these acts as merely creative perversions of a noble ethical heritage.

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