All posts by buddhistethics

Heroic Willpower (Virya)

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Freedom through Cumulative Moral Cultivation: Heroic Willpower (Vīrya)

Jonathan C. Gold
Princeton University

Although abstract speculation on “freedom of the will” is hard to find in premodern Buddhist writings, this is not for Buddhists’ lack of attention to responsibility and effortful moral acts. This paper studies early teachings on the dharmas called “effort” (vyāyāma) and “heroic will-power” (vīrya), which are key to such quintessential Buddhist lists as the Eightfold Path, the Four Right Endeavors, and the Perfections cultivated by a bodhisattva. A look at effortful action as treated in traditional Buddhist texts helps to show why the western philosophical preoccupation with “free will” is not self-evidently worthwhile from a practical or moral perspective. Effort on the Buddhist path accumulates into moral strength through numerous and different kinds of enactments at the level of individual mental events. The goal of this model of practice is that one arrives at the ability to transcend the busy, messy work of having to decide to act morally—one’s virtue becomes spontaneous. This structure suggests that not only is the capacity for moral choice not a necessary precondition of effective practice or moral significance; it may get in the way.
Read article

A Perspective on Free Will from Mindfulness-Based Interventions

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

The Healing Paradox of Controlled Behavior: A Perspective from Mindfulness-Based Interventions

Asaf Federman
Sagol Center for Brain and Mind, Muda Institute, IDC Herzliya
Oren Ergas
Beit Berl College, Israel

In this paper, we discuss the issue of free will as it may be informed by an analysis of originally Buddhism-based meditative disciplines such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), and related mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) that are deployed in a variety of therapeutic contexts. We analyze the mechanics of these forms of mindfulness meditation, paying particular attention to the ways in which they appear to enable individual practitioners to reduce a variety of otherwise unwholesome mental and behavioral factors, such as habituated or conditioned dispositions to reactivity, that are intuitively associated with increasingly ineffective agency or diminished free will, while increasing wholesome mental and behavioral tendencies, such as spontaneous responsiveness. We pay particular attention to a somewhat paradoxical way in which direct efforts at control are counter-productive, on the one hand, while meditative practices designed to cultivate “choiceless awareness,” a sort of non-control associated with a non-judgmental acceptance of things beyond our control, tend to indirectly increase self-regulative abilities, on the other hand.
Read article

Confessions of a Deluded Westerner

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Confessions of a Deluded Westerner

Michael Brent
University of Denver

In this paper, I aim to make two general points. First, I claim that the discussions in Repetti (Buddhist Perspectives on Free Will: Agentless Agency?) assume different, sometimes conflicting, notions of free will, so the guiding question of the book is not as clear as it could be. Second, according to Buddhist tradition, the path to enlightenment requires rejecting the delusional belief in the existence of a persisting self. I claim that if there is no persisting self, there are no intentional actions; and, if there are no intentional actions, there is no hope for Buddhist enlightenment. Thus, rejecting the allegedly delusional belief in a persisting self has disastrous consequences, both for the existence of intentional action and for Buddhist soteriology.
Read article

Tracing the Trajectory of Buddhist Free Will Theorizing

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Tracing the Trajectory of Buddhist Free Will Theorizing

Katie Javanaud
Keble College, Oxford

This paper documents the key trends and developments in the history of Buddhist free will theorizing, indicating potential new avenues for research. Part 1 traces the debate from its origins in the late 19th century to the present day. Though scholarship remains divided as to whether a Buddhist free will problem can even be formulated, this paper contends that such skeptical arguments can be defeated. An important aspect of Buddhist free will debates concerns the commensurability of causal determinism and dependent origination: by evaluating their similarities and differences it becomes clear that dependency relations encompass, but are not limited to, causal relations. Part 2 examines psychological/spiritual responses to the problem, where the focus has shifted away from metaphysics. Finally, this paper initiates an exploration into the prospects of articulating a pan-Buddhist response to the free will problem.
Read article

Symposium on “Buddhist Perspectives on Free Will: Agentless Agency?”

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Symposium on Buddhist Perspectives on Free Will: Agentless Agency?

Rick Repetti
Kingsborough Community College
City University of New York

This special issue of the Journal of Buddhist Ethics, Volume 25, is a symposium on the anthology, Buddhist Perspectives on Free Will: Agentless Agency? (Repetti), and on the topic reflected by that title, more broadly, based on an Author Meets Critics session of the 2018 American Philosophical Association Eastern Division meeting organized by Christian Coseru. To orient readers new to the topic, I first sketch what some of the issues are regarding Buddhist perspectives on free will. Second, I briefly describe the anthology, and third, I introduce the several contributions to this symposium. As I am sympathetic to most of the papers here, I only respond briefly to them in this introduction, giving some reasons for my approval. Two papers here, however, are significantly critical of either the anthology as a whole (Brent), or critical of my contributions to it (Meyers). I respond separately to each of them in the last two papers in the symposium. Together with this introduction, all the included papers are original.
Read article

Basic Goods Provision in Buddhist Economic Ethics

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

The Wisdom of Need: Basic Goods Provision in Buddhist Economic Ethics

Kenneth A. Reinert
Schar School of Policy and Government
George Mason University

Human beings have basic needs, and these needs must be addressed through the provision of basic goods and services. This article reviews the role of basic goods in Buddhist economic ethics, both traditional and contemporary. It suggests that basic goods provision deserves particular attention in economic considerations and that such attention is fully consistent with both Buddhist economic ethics and the idea of moral minimalism in political philosophy. The article proposes and discusses basic goods in the form of “eight requisites,” a modification of the traditional Buddhist “four requisites” of food, clothing, shelter, and medicine.
Read article

Social Inequalities and the Promotion of Women in Buddhism in Thailand

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Social Inequalities and the Promotion of Women in Buddhism in Thailand

Manuel Litalien
Nipissing University

Studies have shown that religion can support or hinder social development (Haynes 2007; Tomalin 2013). This article makes a case in favor of how, in Thailand, the demands for greater justice and gender equality have engaged groups of women to seek higher Buddhist ordination as a means to better promote human and social development. Equal religious philanthropic contribution between men and women is presented as a component to democratic participation in the struggling political Kingdom of Thailand. The study finds that the women’s Buddhist movement in Thailand capitalizes on the limited welfare resources offered by the government, along with the current institutionalized politics of religious diversity, as defined in the Thai constitution. To present the inequalities and challenges faced by Thai Buddhist women, the function of the Thai Buddhist monastic community (saṅgha) will be portrayed as an organization promoting an “inequality regime.” The governing structural configuration of the saṅgha will be presented as reinforcing social roles divided by oppressive gender conceptions. The Buddhist institution’s inequality regime will be depicted in light of its refusal to ordain bhikkhunīs. The exclusion of Thai Buddhist nuns is situated in eight different lenses: namely, biological, ritual, scriptural, cultural, political, institutional, historical, and legal contexts. Finally, the vital sustainable core to these women is introduced as both a global and a local network of Buddhist women. This is better known as a glocalization strategy for the promotion of gender equality in Theravāda Buddhism.
Read article

The Place of Socially Engaged Buddhism in China

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

The Place of Socially Engaged Buddhism in China: Emerging Religious Identity in the Local Community of Urban Shanghai

Weishan Huang
Chinese University of Hong Kong

This article aims to analyze a realization of socially engaged Buddhism outside of Buddhist monasteries in China by using the case studies of Tzu Chi Foundation. Since the 2000s, state-led religious charities have been gradually implemented among Han Buddhist monasteries in China. With a renewal of the religious idea of “Humanistic Buddhism,” temples have set up guideline to conduct their charitable work. At the same time, Buddhist communities have become more diversified due to the international immigration of Buddhist groups. While social service is the central focus of Tzu Chi Foundation worldwide, I raise the question of how a global movement of moral reform and social service can help us re-think the normative account of “public engagement” in a highly regulated and censored society such as China. Based on the ethnographic work, I argue the successful structural adaption of the Tzu Chi movement corresponding with, first, the promotion of socially engaged Buddhism, which aligns with state policy and interests. Secondly, the timely change of organizational missions corresponding with the shift in social identity of urban residents from “Work Units” to “Communities” in urban Shanghai.
Read article

Self-immolations, Human Security, and the Violence of Nonviolence in Tibet

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Burning for a Cause: Self-immolations, Human Security, and the Violence of Nonviolence in Tibet

Antonio Terrone
American Theological Library Association

In Tibetan areas of the People’s Republic of China, more than 150 Tibetans have immolated themselves in the past decade to protest what they perceive as limited religious, cultural, and civil rights. Revered as national heroes in exile and compassionate human rights fighters among Euro-American audiences, Tibetan self-immolators are considered mere terrorists in China. This article brings studies in terrorism into its analysis of the Tibetan self-immolation crisis, examining the ways in which both are heightened by modern communication technology and media. Rejecting any interpretation that aligns self-immolation with suicide terrorism, I argue that although Tibetan self-immolators uphold Buddhist scriptural principles of bodhisattvic self-sacrifice, their martyrdom is nevertheless a form of violence with far ranging causes, both political and religious.
Read article

The Politics of Buddhist Relic Diplomacy Between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

The Politics of Buddhist Relic Diplomacy Between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka

D. Mitra Barua
Cornell University

Buddhists in Chittagong, Bangladesh claim to preserve a lock of hair believed to be of Sakyamuni Buddha himself. This hair relic has become a magnet for domestic and transnational politics; as such, it made journeys to Colombo in 1960, 2007, and 2011. The states of independent Ceylon/Sri Lanka and East Pakistan/Bangladesh facilitated all three international journeys of the relic. Diplomats from both countries were involved in extending state invitations, public exchanges of the relic and a state-funded, grand scale display of the relic.

This article explores the politics of such high profile diplomatic arrangements. For the Bangladeshi Buddhist minority, these international relic exchanges help them temporarily overcome their marginalized position in a predominantly Muslim society and generate religious sympathy among the Buddhist majority in Sri Lanka. Such Buddhist fellowship and sympathy results in sponsorship for Bangladeshi Buddhist novices to attend monastic trainings in Sri Lanka and the donation of Buddhist ritual artifacts like Buddha statues, monastic robes, begging bowls, and so forth, for Buddhist institutions in Bangladesh.

But how do the relic exchanges benefit the Islamic state of Bangladesh and the Sri Lankan government? That question leads to an analysis of the relic exchanges in relation to global and trans-national politics. I argue that the repeated exchanges of the relic are part and parcel of creating “good” governance images for both Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi governments for both a domestic and transnational audience respectively.
Read article

Geopolitics of Buddhism

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Geopolitics of Buddhism

André Laliberté
University of Ottawa

This article argues that Buddhists still lack an international organization that could help them present a unified voice the way that the World Council of Churches does for non-Catholic Christians, or the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, for all Muslims, whether they are Sunni or Shia. There exist international organizations that claim to speak on behalf of Buddhists the world over, but they compete against each other. The basis of this competition has little to do with the differences between the Mahāyāna, Theravāda, and Vajrayāna schools, but owes a lot more to competition between Asian great powers, in particular China and India. The article will demonstrate this by first presenting an historical account of the different attempts to create a unified Buddhist international organization, along with different transnational Buddhist institutions. Then it will review the divisions that have prevented, so far, the creation of such an organization.

Read article

Is Buddhaghosa the Author of the Vinaya and Abhidhamma Commentaries?

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

The Authorship of the Vinaya and Abhidhamma Commentaries: A Response to von Hinüber

Ven. Pandita (Burma)
University of Kelaniya

Von Hinüber claims in his recent article, “Early Scripture Commentary,” which is included in Brill’s Encyclopedia of Buddhism, that: (1) Buddhaghosa is the author of the commentaries on four nikāyas, but (2) not of other commentaries traditionally attributed to him. I agree with (1) but not with (2). On the contrary, I believe it is highly probable that the Vinaya and Abhidhamma commentaries have come from Buddhaghosa. I will give in this article the reasons for this belief.

Read article

Mindfulness and Ethical Dogmatism

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Mindfulness and the Psychology of Ethical Dogmatism

Josef Mattes
University of Vienna

Motivated by recent controversies concerning the relationship between modern mindfulness-based interventions and Buddhism, this article discusses the relationship between mindfulness and dogmatism in general, and dogmatism in ethics in particular. The point of view taken is primarily that of the psychology of judgment and decision making: Various cognitive illusions affect the feelings of righteousness and certainty that tend to accompany ethical and moral judgments. I argue that even though there is some evidence that mindfulness practice improves judgment and decision making, this improvement is rarely as strong as is implied in various contributions to the above-mentioned controversies. In addition, I reflect on claims that “the original teachings of the Buddha” justify the moral stances taken. I argue that these stances likely arise, at least in part, due to the cultural transmission of cognitive dissonance of early Christianity rather than being inherent in the Buddha’s teachings.

Read article

The Atipada Problem in Buddhist Meta-Ethics

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

The Atipada Problem in Buddhist Meta-Ethics

Gordon F. Davis
Carleton University

We can express a wide range of objections to philosophical views by saying a view “goes too far”; but there is a more specific pitfall, which opens up when a philosopher seeks to generalize some form of anti-realism in such a way that it must itself be pronounced groundless or incoherent by its own standards. In cases where this self-stultification looks impossible to overcome without revising the view in question, it can be called the atipada problem. Signifying a risk of “overstepping,” this Sanskrit label reflects a particular relevance to Mahāyāna ethicists who seek to enlarge the scope of compassion by enlarging the meaning of emptiness (śūnyatā) to the point where all truths and ideals are pronounced ultimately empty, and likewise, at least ipso facto, the ideal of compassion itself. This incarnation of the problem is left unresolved by several recent defenders of Madhyamaka ethics, as well as by one recent interpreter of Vasubandhu; meanwhile, some Buddhist ethicists who try to avoid theorizing at this “ultimate” level run into the same general problem nonetheless. More than a specialized meta-ethical puzzle, this problem threatens to undermine central Buddhist ideals in precisely those contexts where philosophical ethics is invoked to vindicate them; however, rather than disposing us to foreswear meta-ethics in an attempt to avoid the problematic views in question, the problem should lead us to expand the scope of Buddhist meta-ethics.

Read article

A Buddhist Chaplain in Occupied Japan

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Prison and the Pure Land: A Buddhist Chaplain in Occupied Japan

Melissa Anne-Marie Curley
Ohio State University

In November 1945, the United States military took over the use of Tokyo’s Sugamo Prison in order to house those charged by the Allied Powers with war crimes. For close to three years, Hanayama Shinshō served as the prison’s volunteer Buddhist chaplain, attending thirty-six executions. Hanayama did not protest the imposition of the death penalty but this essay argues that in his work as chaplain he nonetheless resisted the carceral logic shaping life and death inside Sugamo by mobilizing the ritual and narrative repertoire of Pure Land Buddhism. In Hanayama’s framing, Sugamo was a site of liberation as well as confinement, affording the condemned a unique opportunity to reflect upon the past and commit themselves to a different future, even in death. As Hanayama tells it, the peace discovered by the dead was an absolute peace, transcending politics; he also insists, however, on a connection between this absolute peace and the ordinary peace that the living might hope to secure. The article concludes with a consideration of the political and ethical implications of Hanayama’s reading of the dead as having “found peace” in light of larger conversations about how best to remember—or forget—the nation’s dark past, and what it means to share responsibility for crimes against humanity.

Read article

Buddhist Leadership

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Beyond Precepts in Conceptualizing Buddhist Leadership

Phra Nicholas Thanissaro
University of Warwick

Monastic saṅgha members may be seen as monopolizing leadership in traditional forms of Buddhism. The usual Theravādin justification for this is that monastics keep a greater number of precepts than laypeople and therefore provide a higher standard of ethical leadership as well as being symbols of their religion. Such allocation of authority to monks breaks down where the monastic-lay distinction blurs. This paper presents a review of the literature of anthropological and attitude research findings to explore how the demand for alternative modes of leadership, such as charismatic, visionary, servant, facilitative, strategic, or participative leadership or management, has opened up opportunities for lay people to take more prominent roles in Buddhist leadership in Western Buddhism as well as contemporary Asian contexts.

Read article

Is a Buddhist Praxis Possible?

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Is a Buddhist Praxis Possible?

Charles R. Strain
DePaul University

The question that forms the title of this essay may well evoke an instant response: “Of course, why not?” This answer assumes a vague and quite elastic understanding of praxis. Latin American Liberation theologians saw praxis, to the contrary, as arising from a dialectic of critical reflection and practice. Following the example of Liberation Theology, this paper argues the thesis that the pieces of the puzzle of an adequate critical reflection on Buddhist praxis exist but they have yet to be put together into a Buddhist theory of political transformation akin to any number of Liberation Theologies. The following definition of praxis serves as a heuristic device to examine engaged Buddhist theoretical contributions to a Buddhist praxis: Praxis is action that is: (1) symbolically constituted; (2) historically situated; (3) critically mediated by a social theory; and (4) strategically and politically directed. After examining each of these components in turn, the article concludes by asking what might be the “vehicle” of a distinctively Buddhist praxis.

Read article

Animals as Lamas in Sikkim

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Foxes, Yetis, and Bulls as Lamas: Human-Animal Interactions as a Resource for Exploring Buddhist Ethics in Sikkim

Kalzang Dorjee Bhutia
Occidental College

Sikkimese Bhutia language oral traditions feature an abundance of stories related to human-animal interactions. In order to begin to critically consider the significance of these interactions, this article will engage with these oral traditions and what they can tell us about local traditions of Buddhist ethics. Although some of these tales seem anthropocentric because humans overpower and outwit animals, others are more ambiguous. In this ethical universe, foxes, yetis, and magical bulls all act as agents and, at times, religious teachers, reminding humans of the Buddhist theme of interconnectedness in their interactions with the environment. This article is a starting point for considering how such tales can act as a rich resource for negotiating ambiguous forms of ecocentrism in local Buddhist practice and narrative in the Eastern Himalayas.

Read article

Laughter and Transmission of the Dharma

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Language, Reality, Emptiness, Laughs

Soraj Hongladarom
Chulalongkorn University

Laughter, especially in connection with philosophy, reality, or language, is not much discussed in the vast literature of Buddhism. In the few places where it is discussed, however, there are two strands. On the one hand, laughter is frowned upon when it is seen as an attraction that leads one astray from the path. This is evident in the Tālapuṭa Sūtra, where the Buddha says that actors and comedians would find it very difficult to enter the Path. It is also found in the Vinaya, where the emphasis is on the proper behavior of monks. The Buddha often rebukes monks who laugh out loud in the villages where householders can see them. The other strand views laughter more positively. This strand is found more in the Mahāyāna literature, where the Buddha laughs when he realizes emptiness, that nothing is substantial. The attitude of Buddhism toward laughter is conditional. Laughter and playfulness have a soteriological role to play as a skillful means, and Buddhism is not always serious.

Read article

The Ruination of a Dead Nun’s Stupa

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

The Ruination of a Dead Nun’s Stupa: Does This Really Evince the Suppression of Nuns?

Ven. Pandita (Burma)
University of Kelaniya

It is firstly Horner, and later Schopen, who have expressed negative opinions on a story in the Vinaya. I argue, however, that the aforesaid story, at least its Pāli version, is not so bad as it sounds if we interpret it properly.

Read article

Review: Chan Rhetoric of Uncertainty in the Blue Cliff Record

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 24, 2017

Chan Rhetoric of Uncertainty in the Blue Cliff Record: Sharpening a Sword at the Dragon Gate. By Steven Heine. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016, ISBN 978-0-19-939776-1 (hardback) 978-0-19-939777-8 (paperback), $105.00 USD (hardback) $36.95 USD (paperback).

Reviewed by Rafal K. Stepien

Read article

Monastic Comportment among Buddhist Nuns in Sri Lanka

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 24, 2017

Tradition, Power, and Community among Buddhist Nuns in Sri Lanka

Nirmala S. Salgado
Augustana College

This article focuses on the relationship between two aspects of monastic comportment among Buddhist nuns in Sri Lanka. How nuns present themselves is embedded both in a discourse of power and in a discourse of morality. Their comportment is the subject of public debate insofar as it relates to disputes about tradition and the recognition of the higher ordination of Theravāda nuns. Yet that comportment also relates to the cultivation of moral dispositions (sῑla), such as restraint and discipline, which are intrinsic to tradition and the daily work of nuns in the communal life of a nunnery. The article argues that nuns live a communal form of life in which their cultivation of moral dispositions relates to questions about power and tradition that they cannot ignore, even though they may seek to do so.

Read article

Right Speech is Not Always Gentle

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 24, 2017

Right Speech Is Not Always Gentle: The Buddha’s Authorization of Sharp Criticism, its Rationale, Limits, and Possible Applications

Sallie B. King
Georgetown University

What is Right Speech and how should it be applied in the multiple challenges of social and political life? Examining passages from the Pāli canon shows that although Right Speech is normatively truthful and gentle, the Buddha endorsed “sharp” speech when it was beneficial and timely. He both permitted and modeled direct, sharp criticism of the person whose words or actions were harmful. The monks were taught to use such speech even though it might disturb their equanimity and are seen as having a moral duty to do so. Good moral judgment is needed to determine when sharp speech should be used. Applying the analysis to the question of how Buddhists should respond to the harmful words and actions of Donald Trump, the study finds that the norms of Right Speech entail using sharp speech in this case. In responding to supporters of Donald Trump, the study finds benefit in avoiding sharp speech in an effort to build mutual understanding and heal the deep divisions in contemporary American society. An exception is made for hate speech which is seen as needing to be immediately confronted.

Read article

Burmese Buddhists and Business Ethics

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 24, 2017

In the Midst of Imperfections: Burmese Buddhists and Business Ethics

Pyi Phyo Kyaw
King’s College, University of London

This article looks at interpretations by Buddhists in Burma of right livelihood (sammā-ājīva) and documents the moral reasoning that underlies their business activities. It explores different ways in which Buddhists in Burma, through the use of Buddhist ethics and practices, resolve moral dilemmas that they encounter while pursuing their livelihood. I give a brief summary of the existing scholarship on Buddhist economics and on economic action in Burma, exemplified by the work of E. F. Schumacher and Melford Spiro respectively. In so doing, I wish to highlight a difference between the approaches of the existing scholarship and that of this article: the existing scholarship analyzes economic issues from the perspective of normative ethics; this research analyzes them from the perspective of descriptive ethics, looking at how Buddhists interpret and apply Buddhist ethics in their business activities, in the midst of moral, social, and economic imperfections. The research presented draws on semi-structured interviews and fieldwork conducted in Burma in the summer of 2010 and relates the interpretations given to the relevant Buddhist literature, the textual authorities for doctrines such as morality (sīla).

Read article

A Buddhist Typology of Inherent Values

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 24, 2017

A Buddhist Typology of Inherent Values

Eran Laish
Leipzig University

Intentions and actions are basic elements in Buddhist ethical models. Yet, how are the values of those decided? This article asserts that some of the inherent qualities of lived experience are the basic factors that determine the value of ethical motives and ethical behavior. The examination of Buddhist descriptions of lived experience reveals two complementary types of inherent values—values that accompany individual phenomena and values that indicate structural aspects of human consciousness. Both types manifest certain inherent possibilities of awareness that are necessary for the appearance of ethical values. The first kind of inherent values consists of distinct feelings and volitions, while the second kind includes dualistic and non-dualistic aspects of awareness. By considering these two kinds, it becomes possible to understand how ethical differences are based on distinctions between felt qualities, and how some of these qualities lead to the culmination of the Buddhist path—abiding in non-dual awareness without affective and cognitive afflictions.

Read article

Canonical Exegesis in the Theravāda Vinaya

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 24, 2017

Canonical Exegesis in the Theravāda Vinaya

Bhikkhu Brahmāli
Bodhinyana Monastery
Bhikkhu Anālayo
University of Hamburg

In the present paper the two authors examine dimensions of the canonical exegesis found embedded within the text of the Theravāda Vinaya. In part one, Bhikkhu Anālayo examines the word-commentary on the rules found in the Suttavibhaṅga. In part two, Bhikkhu Brahmāli takes up the function of narrative portions in the Khandhakas.

Read article

Guṇaprabha on Monastic Authority

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 24, 2017

Guṇaprabha on Monastic Authority and Authoritative Doctrine

Paul Nietupski
John Carroll University

This essay is based on sūtras 70–102 in Guṇaprabha’s seventh century Vinayasūtra, his Autocommentary, and the associated sections in all Indian and Tibetan commentaries on the Vinayasūtra. In this excerpt Guṇaprabha and the commentators include remarks on the requirements for monastic community authority and references to relevant authoritative doctrines. The guidelines for monastic authority include applications of procedures in medieval Indian monastic life, including prerequisites and exceptions in the ordination process. The references to authoritative doctrine in Guṇaprabha’s and the commentators’ works include comments on the interface of ethics, concentration, and wisdom, and how ethical guidelines are based on the correct understanding of epistemological value as presented in canonical treatises on doctrine.

Read article

Review: Gods of Medieval Japan

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 24, 2017

Gods of Medieval Japan, Volume 1: The Fluid Pantheon by Bernard Faure. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2015, xii + 496 pages, ISBN 978-0-8248-3933-8 (hardback), $55.00.
Gods of Medieval Japan, Volume 2: Protectors and Predators by Bernard Faure. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2015, x + 512 pages, ISBN 978-0-8248-3931-4 (hardback), $55.00.
.
Reviewed by Joseph P. Elacqua

Read article

Ways of Forsaking the Order According to the Early Vinaya

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 24, 2017

Quitting the Dhamma: The Ways of Forsaking the Order According to the Early Vinaya

Ven. Pandita (Burma)
University of Kelaniya

In this paper, I argue that in the early Vinaya, contrary to the commentarial tradition: (1) two ways of forsaking the Order, equally valid, co-exist; and (2) nuns who have left the Order may be re-ordained without guilt.

Read article

The Good in Aristotle and Early Buddhism

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 24, 2017

On the Good in Aristotle and Early Buddhism: A Response to Abraham Vélez

Damien Keown
University of London, Goldsmiths

In an earlier publication I compared Aristotelian and Buddhist concepts of the consummate good. Abraham Vélez de Cea has claimed I misrepresent the nature of the good by restricting it to certain psychic states and excluding a range of other goods acknowledged by Aristotle and the Buddha. My aim here is to show that my understanding of the good is not the narrow one Vélez suggests. The article concludes with some observations on the relationship between moral and non-moral good in Buddhism.

Read article

Capital Punishment: a Buddhist Critique

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 24, 2017

Capital Punishment: a Buddhist Critique

Martin Kovan
University of Melbourne

Capital punishment is practiced in many nation-states, secular and religious alike. It is also historically a feature of some Buddhist polities, even though it defies the first Buddhist precept (pāṇatipātā) prohibiting lethal harm. This essay considers a neo-Kantian theorization of capital punishment (Sorell) and examines the reasons underwriting its claims (with their roots in Bentham and Mill) with respect to the prevention of and retribution for crime. The contextualization of this argument with Buddhist-metaphysical and epistemological concerns around the normativization of value, demonstrates that such a retributivist conception of capital punishment constitutively undermines its own rational and normative discourse. With this conclusion, the paper upholds and justifies the first Buddhist precept prohibiting lethal action in the case of capital punishment.

Read article

Can Animals Understand the Dharma?

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 24, 2017

Dharma Dogs: Can Animals Understand the Dharma? Textual and Ethnographic Considerations

James Stewart
University of Tasmania

Pāli textual sources occasionally mention the existence of unusual animals with an aptitude for the Buddha’s dharma. In the Jātaka, clever animals do good deeds and are thus reborn in better circumstances. In the Vinaya, the Buddha declares to a serpent that he should observe Buddhist holy days so he can achieve a human rebirth. But can animals develop spiritually? Can they move towards enlightenment? In this article I will be examining textual and ethnographic accounts of whether animals can hear and understand the dharma. Using ethnographic research conducted in Sri Lanka, I will show that although animals are thought to passively benefit from being in proximity to dharma institutions, there seems to be agreement amongst the monks interviewed that animals cannot truly understand the dharma and therefore cannot practice it. Animals are therefore severely hampered in their spiritual advancement. However, these ethnographic and textual findings do indicate that passively listening to dharma preaching, whether it is understood or not, has spiritually productive consequences.

Read article

Dependent Origination and the Value of Nature

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 24, 2017

Dependent Origination, Emptiness, and the Value of Nature

David Cummiskey and Alex Hamilton
Bates College

This article explains the importance of the Buddhist doctrine of dependent origination to contemporary environmental ethics and also develops a Buddhist account of the relational, non-instrumental, and impersonal value of nature. The article’s methodology is “comparative” or “fusion” philosophy. In particular, dependent origination and Nāgārjuna’s doctrine of emptiness are developed in contrast to Aldo Leopold and J. Baird Callicott’s conception of deep ecology, and the Buddhist conception of value is developed using Christine Korsgaard’s Kantian analysis of the distinction between intrinsic/extrinsic value and means/ends value.

Read article

Grief, Impermanence, and Upāya

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 23, 2016

“To Whom Does Kisā Gotamī Speak?” Grief, Impermanence, and Upāya

Richard K. Payne
Institute of Buddhist Studies, at the Graduate Theological Union

This article develops a perspective on the nature of Buddhist pastoral care by considering the needs of the bereaved. Differentiating the interpretive frameworks of different audiences and understanding different contexts of interpersonal relations are necessary for effective pastoral care. A distinction between the goal of realizing impermanence and the goal of resolving mourning is heuristically useful in theorizing Buddhist pastoral care. The discussion also seeks to underscore the value of upāya as a positive moral injunction on teachers, indicating the need to properly match their audience and to employ the textual tradition responsibly.

Read article

Buddhist Nuns’ Ordination in the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya Tradition

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 23, 2016

Buddhist Nuns’ Ordination in the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya Tradition: Two Possible Approaches

Bhikṣuṇī Jampa Tsedroen
Academy of World Religions and Numata Center for Buddhist Studies, University of Hamburg

This article examines the possibilities of reviving the Mūlasarvāstivāda lineage of fully ordained nuns (bhikṣuṇī). It explores two ways to generate a “flawless and perfect” Mūlasarvāstivāda bhikṣuṇī vow, either by Mūlasarvāstivāda monks alone or by Mūlasarvāstivāda monks with Dharmaguptaka nuns (“ecumenical” ordination). The first approach is based on a Vinaya passage which traditionally is taken as the Word of the Buddha, but which, from a historical-critical point of view, is dubious. The second approach is not explicitly represented in the Vinaya but involves “re-reading” or “re-thinking” it with a critical-constructive attitude (“theological” approach). Each approach is based on my latest findings from studying the Tibetan translation of the Bhikṣuṇyupasaṃpadājñāpti and related commentaries.

Read article

Facing Death from a Safe Distance

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 23, 2016

Facing Death from a Safe Distance: Saṃvega and Moral Psychology

Lajos Brons
Nihon University and Lakeland University

Saṃvega is a morally motivating state of shock that—according to Buddhaghosa—should be evoked by meditating on death. What kind of mental state it is exactly, and how it is morally motivating is unclear, however. This article presents a theory of saṃvega—what it is and how it works—based on recent insights in psychology. According to dual process theories there are two kinds of mental processes organized in two “systems”: the experiential, automatic system 1, and the rational, controlled system 2. In normal circumstances, system 1 does not believe in its own mortality. Saṃvega occurs when system 1 suddenly realizes that the “subjective self” will inevitably die (while system 2 is already disposed to affirm the subject’s mortality). This results in a state of shock that is morally motivating under certain conditions. Saṃvega increases mortality salience and produces insight in suffering, and in combination with a strengthened sense of loving-kindness or empathic concern both mortality salience and insight in suffering produce moral motivation.

Read article

Is Compassionate Killing Psychologically Impossible?

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 23, 2016

On Compassionate Killing and the Abhidhamma’s “Psychological Ethics”

Damien Keown
University of London Goldsmiths

Is compassionate killing really psychologically impossible, as the Abhidhamma claims? Previously I discussed a Vinaya case that seemed to show the contrary. Reviewing my conclusions in the light of commentarial literature, Rupert Gethin disagreed and restated the Abhidhamma position that killing can never be motivated by compassion. This paper supports my original conclusions and argues further that the Vinaya case reveals underlying problems with the Abhidhamma’s “psychological ethics.”

Read article

The Going Forth of Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 23, 2016

The Going Forth of Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī in T 60

Bhikkhu Anālayo
University of Hamburg

In what follows I translate a discourse preserved as an individual translation in the Taishō edition under entry number 60, which reports the going forth of Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī. Following that is a discussion concerning the different attitudes toward women that emerge from this discourse and a comparison to the current setting in Thailand.

Read article

The Cessation of Suffering and Buddhist Axiology

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 22, 2015

The Cessation of Suffering and Buddhist Axiology

Daniel Breyer
Illinois State University

This article examines Buddhist axiology. In section 1, the article argues against the dominant interpretations of what is the ultimate good in Buddhist ethics. In section 2, the article argues for a novel interpretation of Buddhist value theory. This is the Nirodha View, which maintains that for at least the Pāli Buddhist tradition, the cessation of suffering is the sole intrinsic good. In section 3, the article responds to objections and briefly suggests that even non-Buddhists should take the Nirodha View seriously.

Read article

Predictions of Women to Buddhahood in Middle-Period Literature

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 22, 2015

Predictions of Women to Buddhahood in Middle-Period Literature

Bhikkhunī Dhammadinnā
Dharma Drum Institute of Liberal Arts

This article studies narratives related to the topic of women receiving a prediction or declaration (vyākaraṇa) for Buddhahood. The texts in question—in their received form—have their place in the Indian Buddhist traditions of the Middle Period. The first episode taken up is the story of Princess Munī who receives the prediction of becoming the present Buddha Śākyamuni; this is found in the so-called “Scripture on the Wise and the Fool.” The second episode is the story of Yaśomatī who receives the prediction that she will become the Buddha Ratnamati; this is found in the Avadānaśataka. When evaluating these comparatively rare instances of predictions received by women, two aspects come up for special consideration: (a) the textual significance of variations regarding the presence or absence of a change of sex, and (b) the epistemological and soteriological consequences for female audiences of women’s narratives constructed by the third-person perspective of male monastic text transmitters. The variations document that the transmitters did not always perceive the transformation of sex into a male as a categorical necessity. This transformation may not have been integral to these narratives of the bodhisattva path as articulated by the textual communities in which these texts originated and circulated.

Read article

Review: Meditation, Modern Buddhism, and the Burmese Monk Ledi Sayadaw

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 22, 2015

The Birth of Insight: meditation, modern Buddhism, and the Burmese Monk Ledi Sayadaw. By Erik Braun. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013, xvi + 257, ISBN 13: 978-0-226-00080-0 (cloth), US $45.00, ISBN 13: 978-0-226-00094-7 (e-book), US $7.00 to $36.00.

Reviewed by Douglas Ober

Read article

Shabkar’s Response to Religious Difference

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 22, 2015

Rimé Revisited: Shabkar’s Response to Religious Difference

Rachel H. Pang
Davidson College

This article analyzes Shabkar Tsokdruk Rangdrol’s (1781–1851) Tibetan Buddhist response to interreligious and intersectarian difference. While there exist numerous studies in Buddhist ethics that address the Buddhist perspective on contemporary issues such as abortion, euthanasia, and terrorism, there has been considerably less attention paid to Buddhist responses towards religious difference. Moreover, the majority of the research on this topic has been conducted within the context of Buddhist-Christian dialogue. This article examines Shabkar’s non-sectarian ideas on their own terms, within the context of Buddhist thought. I demonstrate the strong visionary, apocalyptic, theological, and soteriological dimensions of Shabkar’s rimé, or “unbiased,” approach to religious diversity. The two main applications of these findings are: (1) they broaden the current academic understanding of rimé from being a sociological phenomenon to a theological one grounded in social and historical particularities; (2) they draw attention to the non-philosophical aspects of Buddhist ethics.

Read article

The Cullavagga on Bhikkhunī Ordination

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 22, 2015

The Cullavagga on Bhikkhunī Ordination

Bhikkhu Anālayo
University of Hamburg

With this paper I examine the narrative that in the Cullavagga of the Theravāda Vinaya forms the background to the different rules on bhikkhunī ordination, alternating between translations of the respective portions from the original Pāli and discussions of their implications. An appendix to the paper briefly discusses the term paṇḍaka.

Read article

Ethical Implications of Upāya-Kauśalya

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 22, 2015

Ethical Implications of Upāya-Kauśalya: Helping Without Imposing

Kin Cheung
Temple University

Upāya-kauśalya has been examined as a hermeneutical device, a Mahāyānic innovation, and a philosophy of practice. Although the paternalism of upāya-kauśalya employed in the Lotus Sūtra has been analyzed, there is little attention paid to bringing these ethical implications into a practical context. There is a tension between the motivation, even obligation, to help, and the potential dangers of projecting or imposing one’s conception of what is best for others or how best to help. I examine this issue through various parables. I argue that ordinary people can use upāya-kauśalya and that the ethical implications of upāya-kauśalya involve closing two different gaps in knowledge. This has potential applications not just for individuals, but also for organizations like NPOs or NGOs that try to assist large communities.

Read article

The Four Realities True for Noble Ones

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 22, 2015

The Four Realities True for Noble Ones: A New Approach to the Ariyasaccas

Ven. Pandita (Burma)
University of Kelaniya

Peter Harvey recently argued that the term sacca of ariyasacca should be interpreted as “reality” rather than as “truth,” the common rendition. In this paper, although I basically agree with him, I see quite different implications and come to a wholly new interpretation of the four ariyasaccas.

Read article

Holistic Eco-Buddhism and the Problem of Universal Identity

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 22, 2015

Nature’s No-Thingness: Holistic Eco-Buddhism and the Problem of Universal Identity

Marek Sullivan
University of Oxford

“Holistic eco-Buddhism” has been roundly criticized for its heterodoxy and philosophical incoherence: the Buddha never claimed we should protect an “eco-self” and there are serious philosophical problems attendant on “identifying with things.” Yet this essay finds inadequate attention has been paid to East Asian sources. Metaphysical issues surrounding eco-Buddhism, i.e., problems of identity and difference, universalism and particularity, have a long history in Chinese Buddhism. In particular, I examine the notion of “merging with things” in pre-Huayan and Huayan Buddhism, suggesting these offer unexplored possibilities for a coherent holistic eco-Buddhism based on the differentiating effects of activity and functionality.

Read article

The Metaphysical Basis of Śāntideva’s Ethics

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 22, 2015

The Metaphysical Basis of Śāntideva’s Ethics

Amod Lele
Boston University

Western Buddhists often believe and proclaim that metaphysical speculation is irrelevant to Buddhist ethics or practice. This view is problematic even with respect to early Buddhism, and cannot be sustained regarding later Indian Buddhists. In Śāntideva’s famous Bodhicaryāvatāra, multiple claims about the nature of reality are premises for conclusions about how human beings should act; that is, metaphysics logically entails ethics for Śāntideva, as it does for many Western philosophers. This article explores four key arguments that Śāntideva makes from metaphysics to ethics: actions are determined by their causes, and therefore we should not get angry; the body is reducible to its component parts, and therefore we should neither protect it nor lust after other bodies; the self is an illusion, and therefore we should be altruistic; all phenomena are empty, and therefore we should not be attached to them. The exploration of these arguments together shows us why metaphysical claims can matter a great deal for Buddhist ethics, practice and liberation.

Read article

The Eco-Buddhism of Marie Byles

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 22, 2015

The Eco-Buddhism of Marie Byles

Peggy James
University of Tasmania

Marie Beuzeville Byles (1900–1979) was a key figure in the historical development of Buddhism in Australia, and the nation’s conservation movement. From the 1940s she began to develop an eco-Buddhist worldview and Buddhist environmental ethic that she applied in her day-to-day conservation activities and articulated over the course of four books on Buddhism and dozens of published articles. She is recognized in Australia for her Buddhist environmental thought, the influence that her ideas had in a key environmental debate of her day, and her international profile as a Buddhist. Most histories of modern eco-Buddhism, however, do not mention Byles’s work, and there has thus far been little scholarly analysis of her writings. This paper examines Byles’s eco-Buddhist ideas and activities in detail, and assesses the historical significance of her contribution.

Read article

Everyday Religion and Public Health in Kathmandu

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 22, 2015

Puṇya and Pāp in Public Health: Everyday Religion, Material Culture, and Avenues of Buddhist Activism in Urban Kathmandu

Todd Lewis
College of the Holy Cross

In the dense settlements of old Kathmandu city, an urban ecology is fueled by abundant natural resources and sustained by a complex web of predator and prey species, all in a space dominated by human presence and practices. These include everyday activities in temples, roads, and homes that are rooted in Buddhist and Hindu doctrines. Both traditions emphasize non-violence (ahiṃsā) to all living beings, and adherents seek merit (puṇya) daily from feeding some of them. In light of the still chronic outbreaks of diseases like cholera, and especially in light of the threat of future avian-vector epidemics, a new avenue of doctrinal interpretation favoring human intervention might be developed based on the Bodhicaryāvatāra, an important Mahāyāna Buddhist text. In the spirit of “engaged Buddhism,” the discussion concludes with suggestions on how Newar Buddhist teachers today can use their cultural resources to shift their community’s ethical standpoint and take effective actions.

Read article

The Buddha’s Past Life as a Princess

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 22, 2015

Buddha’s Past Life as a Princess in the Ekottarika-āgama

Ven. Anālayo
University of Hamburg and Dharma Drum Institute of Liberal Arts

In the present article I study the Ekottarika-āgama version of a past life of the Buddha as a princess. I begin with some general observations on the gender of the Buddha’s past lives as reported in jātaka narratives, followed by a translation of the relevant section from the Ekottarika-āgama. Then I compare this Ekottarika-āgama version to three other versions of this tale preserved in Pāli and Chinese, in particular in relation to the way they deal with the dictum that a woman cannot receive a prediction of future Buddhahood.

Read article

Zen Meets Kierkegaard

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 22, 2015

A Love Knowing Nothing: Zen Meets Kierkegaard

Mary Jeanne Larrabee
DePaul University

I present a case for a love that has a wisdom knowing nothing. How this nothing functions underlies what Kierkegaard urges in Works of Love and how Zen compassion moves us to action. In each there is an ethical call to love in action. I investigate how Kierkegaard’s “religiousness B” is a “second immediacy” in relation to God, one springing from a nothing between human and God. This immediacy clarifies what Kierkegaard takes to be the Christian call to love. I draw a parallel between Kierkegaard’s immediacy and the expression of immediacy within a Zen-influenced life, particularly the way in which it calls the Zen practitioner to act toward the specific needs of the person standing before one. In my understanding of both Kierkegaard and Zen life, there is also an ethics of response to the circumstances that put the person in need, such as entrenched poverty or other injustices.

Read article

Thailand’s Mae Chis and the Global Women’s Ordination Movement

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 22, 2015

Becoming Bhikkhunī? Mae Chis and the Global Women’s Ordination Movement

Lisa J. Battaglia
Samford University

Women’s full ordination as Buddhist nuns (Pāli: bhikkhunī, Sanskrit: bhikṣuṇī) has been a contested issue across Buddhist traditions and historical periods. Today, there is a global movement to secure women’s full participation in Buddhist monastic institutions. The present study examines this “bhikkhunī movement” in Thailand from the perspective of mae chis, Thai Buddhist female renunciates who abide by eight precepts yet do not have full ordination or ordination lineage. Employing an anthropological approach informed by postcolonial critical theory, my research reveals that mae chis, women who lead a Buddhist monastic lifestyle characterized by celibate practice and spiritual discipline, are not, on the whole, eager to relinquish their present status, fight against the existing socio-religious order, or pursue bhikkhunī ordination. A critical-empathic consideration of mae chis’ apparent illiberal subjectivities regarding gender hierarchy, female renunciant identity, and women’s liberation brings to light goals and strategies of the global bhikkhunī movement that do not necessarily resonate with the motivations, aims or cultural sensibilities of the Thai white-robed female renunciates.

Read article

Battlefield Dharma

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

Battlefield Dharma: American Buddhists in American Wars

Robert M. Bosco
Centre College

The Internet has become a space for today’s American Buddhist soldiers to think through difficult ethical questions that cannot always be resolved on the battlefield. I argue that this emergent cyber-sangha of American Buddhist soldiers signifies the arrival of an important new feature on the landscape of American Buddhism. As Buddhism integrates ever more deeply into American life and collective consciousness, it forms links with American conceptions of national security, military values, and America’s role on the world. When viewed in the larger social and cultural context of American Buddhism, the development of this cyber-sangha represents a new generation’s answer to the predominantly anti-war Buddhism of 1960s and 1970s that continues to define Buddhism in the public imagination. We are thus beginning to perceive the faint outlines of how American Buddhism might be changing—accommodating itself, perhaps—to a new post-9/11 nationalism.

Read article

Compassion in Schopenhauer and Śāntideva

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

Compassion in Schopenhauer and Śāntideva

Kenneth Hutton
University of Glasgow

Although it is well known that Schopenhauer claimed that Buddhism closely reflected his own philosophy, this claim was largely ignored until the mid-late Twentieth century. Most commentators on Schopenhauer (with some recent exceptions) since then have mentioned his Buddhist affinities but have been quite broad and general in their treatment. I feel that any general comparison of Schopenhauer’s philosophy with “general” Buddhism would most likely lead to general conclusions. In this article I have attempted to offer a more specific comparison of what is central to Schopenhauer’s philosophy with what is central to Mahāyāna Buddhism, and that is the concept of compassion.

Read article

Bhikkhave and Bhikkhu as Gender-inclusive Terminology in Early Buddhist Texts

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

Bhikkhave and Bhikkhu as Gender-inclusive Terminology in Early Buddhist Texts

Alice Collett
York St John University

Bhikkhu Anālayo
University of Hamburg

In what follows we examine whether the use of the vocative bhikkhave or the nominative bhikkhu in Buddhist canonical texts imply that female monastics are being excluded from the audience. In the course of exploring this basic point, we also take up the vocative of proper names and the absence of the term arahantī in Pāli discourse literature.

Read article

Attitudes Arising from Buddhist Nurture in Britain

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

Attitudes Arising from Buddhist Nurture in Britain

Phra Nicholas Thanissaro
University of Warwick

Focus groups comprised of seventy-five self-identifying Buddhist teenagers in Britain were asked to discuss value domains that previous research has identified to be of special interest to Buddhists. These included personal well-being, the nature of faith, the law of karma, monasticism, meditation, home shrines, filial piety, generosity, not killing animals, and alcohol use. The findings suggest that some attitudes held by teenagers were conscious and intrinsically nurtured (“worldview”) while others involved social constructs (“ideologies”). The study finds that parents and the Sangha are mainly responsible for shaping “ideological” patterns in young Buddhists whereas informal nurture by “immersion” (possibly facilitated by caregivers) may be responsible for “worldview” patterns.

Read article

The Role of Deterrence in Buddhist Peace-building

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

The Role of Deterrence in Buddhist Peace-building

Damien Keown
University of London, Goldsmiths

This article proposes that military deterrence can be a legitimate Buddhist strategy for peace. It suggests that such a strategy can provide a “middle way” between the extremes of victory and defeat. Drawing on evidence from the Pāli canon, notably the concept of the Cakkavatti, it argues that the Buddha did not object to kingship, armies or military service, and that military deterrence is a valid means to achieve the social and political stability Buddhism values.

Read article

Violence and Nonviolence in Buddhist Animal Ethics

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

Violence and Nonviolence in Buddhist Animal Ethics

James Stewart
University of Tasmania

Boiled alive for killing an ant. Suffering endless demonic flagellation for trading as a butcher. According to some Buddhist writings, these are just a few of the punishments bestowed upon those who harm animals. Are such promises sincere or are they merely hollow threats intended to inculcate good conduct? Are there other non-prudential reasons for protecting animals? How do these views differ from preceding Indian traditions? These are some of the questions addressed in this paper. I will argue that the threat of a bad rebirth is a major factor in motivating Buddhists to abstain from animal cruelty. By comparing the Vinaya (both Mahāyāna and Theravāda) to the Sūtra literature I will argue that such claims may be exaggerations to motivate more compassionate conduct from Buddhist adherents. I also argue that Buddhist texts look unfavorably upon animal killing in a way unheard of in the Vedic religious tradition. Although there may be disagreement over what sort of harm may befall animal abusers, it is almost universally acknowledged amongst most Buddhist sects that animal killing is completely unacceptable. However, this pacifism lives in uneasy tension with the promise of extreme violence for impinging on these basic principles of nonviolence.

Read article

The Ethics (and Economics) of Tibetan Polyandry

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

The Ethics (and Economics) of Tibetan Polyandry

Jonathan Stoltz
University of St. Thomas

Fraternal polyandry—one woman simultaneously being married to two or more brothers—has been a prominent practice within Tibetan agricultural societies for many generations. While the topic of Tibetan polyandry has been widely discussed in the field of anthropology, there are, to my knowledge, no contributions by philosophers on this topic. For this reason alone, my brief analysis of the ethics of Tibetan polyandry will serve to enhance scholars’s understanding of this practice. In this article, I examine the factors that have sustained the practice of polyandry in Tibet, but do so with the further aim of drawing attention to some of the key ethical implications of polyandrous marriage. I argue that the natural law criticisms raised against the practice of polyandry by St. Thomas Aquinas are unsuccessful, but I also argue that the utilitarian motivations for this marriage practice endorsed by agrarian Tibetans are also highly suspect.

Read article

Transforming Gender Bias in Tibetan Buddhism

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

Blossoms of the Dharma: The Contribution of Western Nuns in Transforming Gender Bias in Tibetan Buddhism

Elizabeth Swanepoel
University of Pretoria

This article investigates the nature of gender imbalance in Tibetan Buddhism, particularly pertaining to the unavailability of bhikṣuṇī ordination, and the specific role Western nuns have played in contributing to transforming this imbalance. The article postulates that male privilege continues to dominate the institutional cultures of religious life in Tibetan Buddhism. However, fertile tensions have of late emerged between an underground tradition of highly accomplished female practitioners and the institutional preference for male practitioners. A revalorization process has been initiated in recent years by a number of Western female Buddhologists, some of whom are also fully ordained Tibetan Buddhist nuns. The article highlights the efforts of these accomplished nuns as well as a number of other prominent Western Tibetan Buddhist nuns.

Read article

Buddhist Practice as Play

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

Buddhist Practice as Play: A Virtue Ethical View

Meynard Vasen

The debate about which Western ethical theory is most suited to understand Buddhist ethics has been fruitful, because it places the Buddhist tradition in a light that brings out new features. In this article I take further Keown’s view on Buddhist ethics by offering a virtue ethical interpretation of Buddhist ethics with praxis/practice as a central notion, and a form of naturalism as foundation. I draw on the notion of play, as developed by Gadamer and Wittgenstein, and on MacIntyre’s view on virtues as grounded in practices, narratives, and traditions, as widening hermeneutical circles. I conclude by arguing that such an interpretation is a fruitful one, both in the sense that it increases our understanding and that it motivates to engage in Buddhist practice.

Read article

Changes in Buddhist Karma

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

Escaping the Inescapable: Changes in Buddhist Karma

Jayarava Attwood

Early Buddhist karma is an impersonal moral force that impartially and inevitably causes the consequences of actions to be visited upon the actor, especially determining their afterlife destination. The story of King Ajātasattu in the Pāli Samaññaphala Sutta, where not even the Buddha can intervene to save him, epitomizes the criterion of inescapability. Zoroastrian ethical thought runs along similar lines and may have influenced the early development of Buddhism. However, in the Mahāyāna version of the Samaññaphala Sutta, the simple act of meeting the Buddha reduces or eliminates the consequences of the King’s patricide. In other Mahāyāna texts, the results of actions are routinely avoidable through the performance of religious practices. Ultimately, Buddhists seem to abandon the idea of the inescapability of the results of actions.

Read article

Bhikkhunī Academy: A Case of Cross-Tradition Exchange

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

Bhikkhunī Academy at Manelwatta Temple: A Case of Cross-Tradition Exchange

Cheng Wei-yi
Hsuan Chuang University

This article is the result of an investigation continued from an earlier article on an exchange between Buddhists in Taiwan and Sri Lanka (“A Cross-Tradition Exchange Between Taiwan and Sri Lanka,” Journal of Buddhist Ethics, vol. 18, 2011). In that article, I investigated the exchange between a Mahāyāna Taiwanese nunnery and a Theravāda Sri Lankan missionary monk. After the initial exchange, described in the 2011 article, a more permanent institute for the education of Sri Lankan Buddhist nuns has been established. This article describes the cross-tradition exchange behind the founding of the educational institute and its implication for exchanges across different Buddhist traditions in Asia.

Read article

Dōgen’s Primer on the Nonmoral Virtues of the Good Person

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

Dōgen’s Primer on the Nonmoral Virtues of the Good Person

Douglas K. Mikkelson
University of Hawai’i at Hilo

The Shōbōgenzō Zuimonki provides a good introduction to Dōgen’s ideas about the virtues possessed by “the good person.” His depiction includes, but extends beyond, the conception of a “morally good” human being. This is evident by the number of “nonmoral” virtues that are manifest in the text. Edmund Pincoffs presents a schematization of numerous virtues based on his conception of virtues and vices as dispositional properties that provide ground for preference or avoidance of persons. This schematization seems especially well suited for an exploration and description of the nonmoral virtues that appear in the Shōbōgenzō Zuimonki.

Read article

Buddhism and Intellectual Property Rights

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

Buddhism and Intellectual Property Rights: The Role of Compassion

Soraj Hongladarom
Chulalongkorn University

I offer the outline of a theory that justifies the concept of intellectual property (IP). IP is usually justified by a utilitarian claim that such rights provide incentives for further discovery and protect the innovator through a monopoly. I propose to broaden the protection offered by the IP regime. My argument is based on the concept of compassion (karuṇā), the aim of relieving suffering in all others. An analysis of how patented products originate shows that they typically depend not only on scientists in the laboratory, but on numerous factors and elements, many of which do not belong to the corporation in which the experiments are conducted. Because these elements have a necessary role in the discovery of inventions, they also deserve fair treatment. In practice, this could mean that the resulting patented product would be made more accessible to the general population and that the corporation would be more actively involved in society. In the long run, this could prove beneficial for all parties, including the patent holders themselves.

Read article

Buddhist Self-immolation and Mahāyānist Absolute Altruism, Part Two

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

Thresholds of Transcendence: Buddhist Self-immolation and Mahāyānist Absolute Altruism, Part Two

Martin Kovan
University of Melbourne

In China and Tibet, and under the gaze of the global media, the five-year period from February 2009 to February 2014 saw the self-immolations of at least 127 Tibetan Buddhist monks, nuns, and lay-people. An English Tibetan Buddhist monk, then resident in France, joined this number in November 2012, though his self-immolation has been excluded from all accounts of the exile Tibetan and other documenters of the ongoing Tibetan crisis. Underlying the phenomenon of Buddhist self-immolation is a real and interpretive ambiguity between personal, religious (or ritual-transcendental), altruistic, and political suicide, as well as political suicide within the Buddhist sangha specifically. These theoretical distinctions appear opaque not only to (aligned and non-aligned, Tibetan and non-Tibetan) observers, but potentially also to self-immolators themselves, despite their deeply motivated conviction.

Such ambiguity is reflected in the varying historical and current assessments of the practice, also represented by globally significant Buddhist leaders such as His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and the Vietnamese monk and activist Thích Nhất Hạnh. This essay analyses the symbolic ontology of suicide in these Tibetan Buddhist cases, and offers metaethical and normative accounts of self-immolation as an altruistic-political act in the “global repertoire of contention” in order to clarify its claims for what is a critically urgent issue in Buddhist ethics.

Read article