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Being Benevolence

The Social Ethics of Engaged Buddhism

Sallie B. King

Publication Year: 2005

Engaged Buddhism is the contemporary movement of nonviolent social and political activism found throughout the Buddhist world. Its ethical theory sees the world in terms of cause and effect, a view that discourages its practitioners from becoming adversaries, blaming or condemning the other. Its leaders make some of the most important contributions in the Buddhist world to thinking about issues in political theory, human rights, nonviolence, and social justice. Being Benevolence provides for the first time a rich overview of the main ideas and arguments of prominent Engaged Buddhist thinkers and activists on a variety of questions: What kind of political system should modern Asian states have? What are the pros and cons of Western "liberalism"? Can Buddhism support the idea of human rights? Can there ever be a nonviolent nation-state? It identifies the roots of Engaged Buddhist social ethics in such traditional Buddhist concepts and practices as interdependence, compassion, and meditation, and shows how these are applied to particular social and political issues. It illuminates the movement’s metaphysical views on the individual and society and goes on to examine how Engaged Buddhists respond to fundamental questions in political theory concerning the proper balance between the individual and society. The second half of the volume focuses on applied social-political issues: human rights, nonviolence, and social justice.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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p. vii

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Series Editor’s Preface

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p. ix

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.

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pp. xi-xiii

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 ...

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1 Introduction

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pp. 1-11

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 ...

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2 Building from Tradition

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pp. 12-41

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 ...

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3 Engaged Buddhist Ethical Theory

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pp. 42-86

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

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4 Individual and Society

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pp. 87-117

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.

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5 Human Rights

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pp. 118-163

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 ...

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6 Nonviolence and Its Limits

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pp. 164-201

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, ...

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7 Justice/Reconciliation

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pp. 202-228

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 ...

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8 Conclusion

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pp. 229-249

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, ...


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pp. 251-276


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pp. 277-281


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pp. 283-291

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861629
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824828646

Publication Year: 2005

OCLC Number: 698035503
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Being Benevolence

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Subject Headings

  • Buddhist ethics.
  • Buddhism -- Social aspects.
  • Buddhism -- Doctrines.
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