Volume 29, 2022
Buddhist Ethics: A Philosophical Exploration. By Jay L. Garfield. Buddhist Philosophy for Philosophers. New York: Oxford University Press, 2021, xiv + 231 pages, ISBN 978-0-19-090763-1 (hardback), $99/978-0-19-090764-8 (paperback), $24.95/978-0-19-090766-2 (e-book), $16.99.
Reviewed by Amod Lele
Volume 28, 2021
Mindfully Facing Climate Change. By Bhikkhu Anālayo. Barre, Massachusetts: Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, 2019, 206 pp., ISBN 978-1-7067-1988-5 (paperback), $9.95. Open access e-book: https://www.buddhistinquiry.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/MindfullyFacingClimateChange.pdf.
Reviewed by Abhinav Anand
Volume 27, 2020
Violent Karma Stories in Contemporary Sinhala Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion normally respected for its message of non-violence. In this article I will discuss how images of violence are used as a means to compel Buddhists to act in accordance with Buddhist ethical principles. This will be shown through the examination of a contemporary newspaper series from the popular Sinhala language Lankādīpa Irida periodical. In it, we find a series of karma stories that illustrate how examples of violence can be found in modern Buddhistic narratives, both in written and pictorial forms. In this article it will be argued that these modern narratives have a precedent in much earlier, and in some cases ancient, Buddhist writings and art. I will argue that these modern narratives deviate from canonical karma stories in that they focus on the maturation of karma in this life while the former focus on the afterlife. The purpose of these modern stories is to assure the reader of the reality of karma and to entertain the reader with gruesome stories that feature the death of moral transgressors. Read article
Volume 25, 2018
False Friends: Dependent Origination and the Perils of Analogy in Cross-Cultural Philosophy
Centre for Buddhist Studies
Cross-cultural philosophical inquiry is predicated on the possibility of drawing analogies between ideas from distinct historical and cultural traditions, but is distorted and constrained when those analogies are overdrawn. In considering what Buddhists might have to say about free will, scholars tend to draw analogies between dependent origination and distinctively modern naturalistic ideas of universal causation. Such analogies help promote the idea of Buddhism as a “scientific religion” and help justify the impulse to naturalize Buddhism (or to simply ignore its un- or super-natural elements) in order to make it a more credible conversation partner. By tracing some of the early history of the idea of dependent origination, this essay discusses how and why these analogies have been overdrawn. It addresses why this matters to the inquiry into free will and other cross-cultural philosophical engagements with Buddhism. With respect to naturalizing Buddhism, it argues that decisions about what to exclude from serious consideration (such as karma and rebirth) necessarily influence how we understand ideas (such as dependent origination) we deem more congenial (and thus essential), and that by excluding those we do not find congenial, we foreclose opportunities to submit our own philosophical assumptions to scrutiny and to be genuinely transformed by our encounter with Buddhism.
Volume 21, 2014
Escaping the Inescapable: Changes in Buddhist Karma
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.
Volume 21, 2014
Act and Result in Nikāyan Ethics
Scholars continue to debate the ethical priority of act versus result in Buddhist ethics. The present essay looks at the issue as an approach to exploring the connection between act and karmic yield: Why there should be such a connection at all? The priority question was not asked in the Nikāyas (or commentaries) and it seems to have been the same thing to say that an act was good and that it had happy karmic yield, suggesting a kind of identity between the two. Given the necessity and specificity of the connection—the yield must accrue and must accrue for this person—and the analogical resemblance between act and karmic yield, a causal explanation seems unsatisfactory. Suspending such assumptions, the connection appears simply as an indissoluble unity. It is hypothesized here that the unity is grounded in a primordial cosmic order, which I call the “sacral dimension,” conformity to which is by definition right and of necessity beneficial, violation of which is by definition wrong and of necessity harmful. Evidence for belief in such an order is found in the Nikāyas and supporting similarities noted in the Upaniṣads.
Volume 21, 2014
Karma and Female Birth
Numata Center for Buddhist Studies, University of Hamburg;
Dharma Drum Buddhist College, Taiwan
With the present paper I examine the notion that birth as a woman is the result of bad karma based on selected canonical and post-canonical Buddhist texts.
Volume 19, 2012
If Intention Is Karma: A New Approach to the Buddha’s Socio-Political Teachings
Ven. Pandita (Burma)
University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka
I argue in this paper that early Buddhist ethics is one of absolute values and that we can consistently use those absolute values to interpret some early teachings that seemingly show an ethic of context-dependent and negotiable values. My argument is based on the concept of intention as karma, the implications and problems of which I have also discussed.
Volume 12, 2005
Papers from the JBE Online conference
on “Revisioning Karma”
Honorary Chairman and Convener: Dale Wright
Occidental College, Los Angeles
University of Victoria
Mt. Allison University
College of Charleston
University of Central Arkansas
University of Massachusetts, Lowell
Goldsmiths College, University of London
University of Massachusetts, Lowell
University of Adelaide
Volume 11, 2004
Critical Questions Towards a Naturalized Concept of Karma in Buddhism
Dale S. Wright
In an effort to articulate a naturalized concept of karma for the purposes of contemporary ethical reflection, this paper raises four critical questions about the Buddhist doctrine of karma. The paper asks (1) about the advisability of linking the concept of karma to assurance of ultimate cosmic justice through the doctrine of rebirth; (2) about the effects of this link on the quest for human justice in the social, economic, and political spheres of culture; (3) about the kinds of rewards that the doctrine of karma attaches to virtuous action, whether they tend to be necessary or contingent consequences; and (4) about the extent to which karma is best conceived individually or collectively. The paper ends with suggestions for how a non-metaphysical concept of karma might function and what role it might play in contemporary ethics.
Volume 1 1994
A Buddhist Ethic Without Karmic Rebirth?
Winston L. King
Is a viable and authentic Buddhist ethic possible without the prospect of rebirth governed by one’s karmic past? This paper explores traditional and contemporary views on karma with a view to determining the importance of this doctrine for practical ethics in the West. The Theravāda emphasis on the personal nature of karma is discussed first, followed by a consideration of the evolution of a social dimension to the doctrine in the Mahāyāna. The latter development is attributed to the twin influences of the Bodhisattva ideal and the metaphysics of Nāgārjuna and Hua Yen. Following this survey of traditional perspectives, attention is turned for the greater part of the paper to a consideration of the relevance of the notion of karmic rebirth for Buddhist ethics in the West. The notion of “social kamma” advanced by Ken Jones in The Social Face of Buddhism is given critical consideration. The conclusion is that a doctrine of karmic rebirth is not essential to a viable and authentic Buddhist ethic in the West.