Saving Zen from Moral Ineptitude: A Response to "Zen Social Ethics: Historical Constraints and Present Prospects"

By Maraldo, John C. | Journal of Buddhist Ethics, Annual 2006 | Go to article overview

Saving Zen from Moral Ineptitude: A Response to "Zen Social Ethics: Historical Constraints and Present Prospects"


Maraldo, John C., Journal of Buddhist Ethics


The four articles on the historical constraints and present prospects of a Zen social ethics are ethical essays in an exemplary sense: although they reflect on what Zen social ethics actually is or has been, their primary concern is with what a Zen social ethics could be or should be. Insofar as the papers are descriptive, they describe a lack or a failure of ethics in the Zen tradition, the failure for example to avert complicity in Japanese militarism and the suffering caused from it. Even where they point to ethical resources within the Zen tradition they do so in the awareness that such resources were not explored, much less utilized, in the past. Yet ...

Saving Zen from moral ineptitude is like saving fish from drowning.

There are at least three possible senses to this saying:

(1) It is nonsense to save fish from drowning and so it is unnecessary to try. From an inherentist perspective, the nature of water is everywhere and there is nowhere it does not reach (like Pao-ch'e's wind in Dogen's Genjokoan, or like Thales' water). (1) The only thing that needs to be done is to get rid of the discriminative thinking that is like putting an oxygen mask over our gills.

(2) From an externalist perspective, it is not our concern where the fish--or Zen if you like--finds itself. Not that Zen is good and safe but that it will go the way it goes. It is not our job as scholars to be trying to save it. We can critique its failings but we're not reformers.

(3) Our four authors do not speak from either of those two perspectives. Rather they take a kind of internalist perspective--not that they necessarily speak from within the Zen tradition or for it, but rather that they speak as concerned scholars and world citizens. They would say, yes indeed fish can drown. "A fish out of water is out of its element"; it cannot extract life-sustaining oxygen from the hydrogen in water--it cannot breathe. Traditional Zen, as Tom Kasulis intimates, just might drown if it forces itself into a culture with a predominately different ethical orientation--one based on integrity and responsibility rather than intimacy and responsiveness. Or, as Jin Park implies, if it is forced into the atmosphere of traditional normative ethics where clear distinctions between right and wrong are deemed essential. (On the other hand, it might teach normativists a new way to breathe if they take the plunge.) Or, as Dale Wright suggests, Zen might drown if it doesn't change, go beyond itself, and evolve its notion and practice of enlightenment to include competence in ethical reflection. Or indeed when in Christopher Ives' view we are the fish, we can drown in our own ideologies, much as Japanese Zen nearly did before and during World War II.

In any case, something needs to be done. Zen needs to do something, or we need to do something with Zen. This is the contention of the four essays in this special issue. And to start off I will agree. I will also accept the convention of identifying a vast array of divergent teachings and practices simply as "Zen," as well as the assumption that Zen so identified is a living tradition that has the potential for change. Being ethicists, we want to know, how should things change? What can Zen be? Our authors make suggestions with a good deal of caution and a heavy dose of historical consciousness of what can go wrong. Together they challenge common stereotypes, often perpetrated by Zen Buddhists themselves, that Zen is beyond good and evil, that wisdom and compassion naturally facilitate one another and enlightenment inherently has a moral dimension so morally blind Zen masters don't count as "true" Zen masters, or that, not relying on words and letters, Zen has detached itself from the realms of politics and social ethics, or that Zen has been of one piece with core Buddhist values. Critical scholars of Zen of course have already exposed these stereotypes as rhetoric removed from reality. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Saving Zen from Moral Ineptitude: A Response to "Zen Social Ethics: Historical Constraints and Present Prospects"
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.