The Social Ethics of Engaged Buddhism
Publication Year: 2005
Published by: University of Hawai'i Press
Series: Topics in Contemporary Buddhism
Series Editor’s Preface
One of the most significant developments in contemporary Buddhism in Asia and the West has been the development of Engaged Buddhism. This is a particularly important and difficult challenge for a religion that values detachment as a central ideal. Whereas Buddhists throughout the ages have been involved with society, their development of a social and political philosophy has not been as advanced as their teachings on inner spirituality.
In recent years, a welcome and growing body of information on Engaged Buddhism has begun to appear. Christopher S. Queen’s and my Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist Liberation Movements in Practice (State University of New York Press, 1996) was the first major academic study. Since then, other compilations have appeared, including David W. Chappell’s Buddhist Peacework: Creating Cultures of Peace (Wisdom, 1999); Christopher S. Queen’s Engaged Buddhism in the West (Wisdom, 2000); and ...
In the Buddhist Compassion Relief General Hospital in Hwalien, Taiwan, a large mosaic in the lobby greets visitors. The mosaic depicts Shakyamuni Buddha treating the illness of a sick monk, an event recorded in Buddhist scripture. Visitors to this Buddhist hospital are told that this image ‘‘represents the policy of this hospital. Besides treating the illness, the staff must, as Buddha did in the mural, also ...
2 Building from Tradition
Engaged Buddhism is a modern, reformist movement found throughout the Buddhist world. As a reformist movement, it by no means breaks from or is discontinuous with the preceding tradition. On the contrary, Engaged Buddhism draws extensively from tradition, key texts, and well-established concepts, values, and practices of the tradition, interpreting them and applying them in accordance with ...
3 Engaged Buddhist Ethical Theory
There has been considerable discussion among scholars of late regarding what kind of ethical system Buddhism has. Much of this discussion has compared Buddhist ethical thinking to the varieties of Western ethical thought. Like Padmasiri de Silva, though even more inclusively, I see elements of most Western ethical theories in the ethics of Buddhism.1 Like James Whitehill and Damien Keown, I give pride of place among these theories to virtue ethics.2
4 Individual and Society
An early question that a social ethics metatheory must address is the nature of the individual and society and the relationship between the two.We shall see that what is clear on the level of ethical theory will produce clarity when the social ethics are applied to particular issues in society; what is ambiguous in theory will produce ambiguities in application.
5 Human Rights
In addition, human rights are the cornerstone of the national campaigns of three Buddhist countries embroiled in particularly acute struggles: Tibet, Cambodia, and Burma. For example, if one looks at the web site of the Tibetan government in exile,4 one will see that ‘‘human rights’’ is one of the main categories under which they organize information relevant to the Tibetan situation. If one clicks on the ...
6 Nonviolence and Its Limits
Most Engaged Buddhists are principled adherents of nonviolence. That is, they adhere to nonviolence on principle in the belief that nonviolence is an inherent good that should not be sacrificed in the interest of achieving some other end, however important. The major traditional source of such principled Buddhist nonviolence is the first precept inviting abstention from the taking of life. In addition, ...
Engaged Buddhists regularly speak about social issues in the international forum, where Western ethical language dominates. I have observed that some terms of this Western discourse are more readily embraced by Buddhist activists than others. ‘‘Justice’’ language, in particular, is much less common among Engaged Buddhists than ‘‘human rights’’ language. The use of human rights language among Engaged ...
The courage and accomplishments, the genius and creativity, of the present generation of Engaged Buddhists are impressive and inspiring by any measure. The Engaged Buddhists are best known for helping to reduce the suffering of millions of people, but we should not neglect their pioneering of a new way of thinking about how one engages the problems and needs of the world. When the present generation of activists is gone, ...