Being Benevolence

Being Benevolence: The Social Ethics of Engaged Buddhism

Copyright Date: 2005
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  • Book Info
    Being Benevolence
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6162-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Series Editor’s Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
    George J. Tanabe Jr.
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (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 show compassion towards the individual.” The founder, Master Cheng Yen, states that “illness is one of the many unavoidable sufferings between birth and death, and that we should do all we can to help...

  6. 2 Building from Tradition
    (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 the challenges and demands of modernity and with its own ethos of response to the immediate needs of sentient beings.

    Although Engaged Buddhism differs from country to country, certain key ideas and practices drawn from tradition turn up again and again in the...

  7. 3 Engaged Buddhist Ethical Theory
    (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

    The Dalai Lama gives a good example of how Buddhist ethics includes elements of many ethical systems considered distinct in Western philosophy:

    [O]ne of the things which determines whether...

  8. 4 Individual and Society
    (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.

    Engaged Buddhists take traditional views in their understanding of the human individual. We will review them briefly.

    When asked, “What does being human mean to you?” Aung San Suu Kyi replies, “As a Buddhist, if you really want to...

  9. 5 Human Rights
    (pp. 118-163)

    Many Engaged Buddhist leaders speak of human rights regularly and even insistently. Here are three examples.

    A. T. Ariyaratne, founder and director of the Sarvodaya Shramadana organization of Sri Lanka, is a consistent advocate of human rights in Sri Lanka. The objectives of the organization’s peace center, Vishva Niketan (“Universal Abode”) are to

    Acknowledge in all activities, inviolable and inalienable human rights as the basis of peace and justice of every community in the world, where all citizens shall be assured of their human worth and dignity while they on their part discharge their responsibilities to others.¹

    Maha Ghosananda, head...

  10. 6 Nonviolence and Its Limits
    (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, such Buddhist virtues as ahiṁsā (nonharmfulness), compassion, and loving kindness are well understood in Buddhist countries to be marks of personal morality as well as religious and cultural ideals. Right Thought, the second component of the Noble Eightfold...

  11. 7 Justice/Reconciliation
    (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 Buddhists is both extensive (found in many different Buddhist countries and Engaged Buddhist movements and leaders) and intensive (this language is not just occasionally used, but is also the cornerstone of political rhetoric in some cases, such as in the Tibetan, Burmese,...

  12. 8 Conclusion
    (pp. 229-250)

    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, future generations will draw upon their ethical thought, as well as their example, as they respond to the new challenges that time will bring.

    The Engaged Buddhists stand on the...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 251-276)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 277-282)
  15. Index
    (pp. 283-296)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 297-298)