An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics: Foundations, Values, and Issues

By Peter Harvey | Go to book overview

Introduction

Buddhist ethics as a field of academic study in the West is not new, but in recent years has experienced a considerable expansion, as seen, for example, in the very successful Internet Journal of Buddhist Ethics. The schools of Buddhism have rich traditions of thought on ethics, though this is often scattered through a variety of works which also deal with other topics. This book aims to be an integrative over-view of ethics in the different Buddhist traditions, showing the strong continuities as well as divergencies between them. It seeks to do this in a way that addresses issues which are currently of concern in Western thought on ethics and society, so as to clarify the Buddhist perspective(s) on these and make Buddhist ethics more easily available to Western thinkers on these issues. In exploring Buddhist ethics, this work aims to look at what the scriptures and key thinkers have said as well as at how things work out in practice among Buddhists, whose adherence may be at various levels, and who naturally operate in a world in which their religion is only one of the factors that affect their behaviour. Even when Buddhists fall short of their ethical ideals, the way that they tend to do so itself tells one something about the way the religion functions as a living system.

Chapters 1–3 prepare the way for looking at ethical issues by exploring the framework of Buddhist ethics in terms of the foundations of ethics in Buddhism's world-view(s), and the key values which arise from this. While the ethical guidelines of different religions and philosophies have much in common, each is based on a certain view of the world and of human beings' place in it. Such a world-view gives particular emphases to the related ethical system, gives it a particular kind of rationale, and provides particular forms of motivation for acting in accord with it. A religion is more than beliefs and ethics, though, so its ethics also need to be understood in the context of its full range of practices.

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