Buddhist Ethics of Violence

Stephen Jenkins

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online September 2010 | | DOI:
Buddhist Ethics of Violence

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Perhaps no topic in Buddhist studies has been more subject to projection and romanticizing than the Buddhist ethics of violence. Euro-American cultures horrified by their own violence looked to Buddhism for an alternate ideal of pacifism, and colonial and postcolonial cultures have emphasized this perception as an emblem of cultural superiority. The subject is also complicated by its political implications for the Tibetan freedom movement and the civil war in Sri Lanka. The subject is also a significant issue for India, as the idealization of King Aśoka has been central to the development and symbolization of Indian nationalism. The uncritical construction of Buddhist pacifism has been ripe for deflation, and a burst of recent studies have emphasized the darker side of Buddhist history. However, it is important to discern whether and to what degree the realities of Buddhist history are dissonant with their own higher ideals, as are all religious traditions, or are instead dissonant with Euro-American fantasies. Buddhist ethical traditions are generally rooted in Indian Buddhist texts, and those sources are emphasized here. The reader should also note that this accords with the author’s research abilities as well and should judge the work here accordingly. The subject is potentially as broad as the vast cultural, geographical, and temporal expanse of Buddhist tradition itself: students should use this bibliography as a guide to further research in the sources noted here. Those interested in applying Western ethical approaches and categories should take care to note that Buddhist studies is still in its infancy, and a vast body of literature has not been translated. Buddhist ethical thought also tends to embrace ambiguity by expressing its ethical instincts in narrative, rather than systematically distilling clarifying principles from narrative as a Western theologian might. Understanding Buddhist ethics therefore requires a high tolerance for ambiguity, which tends to be foreign to Western philosophical and academic practice.

Article.  8120 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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