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Zen Social Ethics: Zen as a Social Ethics of Responsiveness

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 13, 2006

Zen as a Social Ethics of Responsiveness

T. P. Kasulis
The Ohio State University

One reason traditional Chan or Zen did not develop a comprehensive social ethics is that it arose in an East Asian milieu with axiologies (Confucian, Daoist, and Shintō) already firmly in place. Since these value orientations did not conflict with basic Buddhist principles, Chan/Zen used its praxes and theories of praxis to supplement and enhance, rather than criticize, those indigenous ethical orientations. When we consider the intercultural relevance of Zen ethics today, however, we must examine how its traditional ethical assumptions interface with its Western conversation partners. For example, it is critical that Chan and Zen stress an ethics of responsiveness rather than (as is generally the case of the modern West) one of responsibility. This paper analyzes special philosophical problems arising when one tries to carry Zen moral values without modification into Western contexts.

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