Buddhism and Human Rights

By Damien V. Keown; Charles S. Prebish et al. | Go to book overview
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David Bubna-Litic

We are in an era in which "business" organizations pervade almost every aspect of our lives. The ubiquity of modern business activities in providing products, services and information for almost everything we do has impacted on the deepest level of our thinking. Decisions made by business executives affect almost every aspect of contemporary living. It would be very difficult to set up an autonomous community in the West which did not have some contact with the business community, as cash and products would be required for maintenance and taxes. The rise of the business organization is not the result of a striving for religious union, but rather an organic evolution of a mechanism for distributing the wealth of society. Commercial activities have undergone tremendous changes reflecting technological advances which began in the seventeenth century. These advances which began in Europe now affect all nations in the world. The power of the business community has increased exponentially. Even so business organizations have a political stance on ethical and human rights issues. The role of business has been dominated by the ideology of economic rationalism which depicts firms as neutral mechanisms for wealth generation.

Mahayana Buddhism challenges many of the fundamental assumptions of economic rationalism. The Buddhist ideal for compassionate action in the world based on an experiential understanding of the Dharma set a radically different agenda. The idea of work as a means to an end reflects a base alienation from realized action. When Yun Men's instructs us through his famous kōan statement "Every day is a good day!" 1 he is not suggesting this is contingent on material accumulation or success at work. Rather, he is stating the possibilities of Buddhist practice. Joanna Macy ( 1991) understands that this involves "waking up" to a new vision of human potential based on an understanding of interdependence and oneness. The complicity of modern business organizations in human rights abuses runs counter to this perspective.

Zen Buddhist Ethics

Buddhism, as it developed through Mahayana schools of Ch'an and Zen, has evolved a particular interpretation of Buddhist ethics characterized by a

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