Volume 20, 2013
The Dalai Lama and the Nature of Buddhist Ethics
Abraham Vélez de Cea
Eastern Kentucky University
This article clarifies the nature of Buddhist ethics from a comparative perspective. It contends that the Dalai Lama’s ethics is best understood as a pluralistic approach to virtue ethics. The article has two parts. The first part challenges Charles Goodman’s interpretation of Mahāyāna Buddhist ethics as an instance of consequentialism. This is done indirectly, that is, not by questioning Goodman’s reading of Śāntideva and Asaṅga, but rather by applying to the Dalai Lama’s ethics the same test that Goodman uses to justify his reading of Mahāyāna ethics as a whole. The second part examines the Dalai Lama’s ethics in comparison to Christine Swanton, a representative of a pluralistic approach to virtue ethics in contemporary analytic philosophy. By comparing the ethics of the Dalai Lama and Swanton, the article does not wish to suggest that her pluralistic approach to virtue ethics is the closest western analogue to Buddhist virtue ethics. I use comparison, not to understand the Dalai Lama’s ethical ideas from the perspective of Swanton’s ethics, but rather to highlight what is unique about the Dalai Lama’s approach to virtue ethics, which is pluralistic in a characteristically Buddhist way.