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 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 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.