Academic journal article Dalhousie Law Journal

Feeling Relational: The Use of Buddhist Meditation in Restorative Practices

Academic journal article Dalhousie Law Journal

Feeling Relational: The Use of Buddhist Meditation in Restorative Practices

Article excerpt

Some theorists have argued that restorative justice can be defined as a theory of justice based on the relationality of self-the idea that the self exists in and through its relationships with others. This account of self, while analytically compelling, conflicts with our intuitions of individuality. I argue that Buddhist metaphysics provides an explanation of this conflict, and that meditation practice can help restorative justice practitioners develop an intuitive understanding of the relationality of self.

Certains théoriciens ont avancé que la justice réparatrice peut être définie comme étant une théorie de la justice fondée sur la relationnalité du moi-l'idée que le moi existe par et dans ses rapports avec les autres. Même si elle est attirante sur le plan de l'analyse, cette idée du moi s'oppose à nos intuitions de l'individualité. L'auteur avance que la métaphysique bouddhiste donne une explication de ce conflit et que la pratique de la méditation peut aider les praticiens de la justice réparatrice à acquérir une compréhension intuitive de la relationnalité du moi.

Introduction

I. The importance of an articulated account of selfhood

II. The relational self in restorative justice

III. The gap between theory and practice in restorative justice

IV. The contribution of meditation practice

Introduction

The inspiration for this paper comes from Rebecca Redwood French's The Golden Yoke: The Legal Cosmology of Buddhist Tibet.1 In this remarkable work, French paints a picture of the legal culture of pre-annexation Tibet. This culture, as David Loy notes, bears many similarities to the approach taken in restorative justice.2 For example, a legal dispute was not concluded until all parties agreed to the outcome and if, after the judgement, a party found that the dispute continued to linger, they could re-open the previous case.3 All disputes were evaluated in terms of their root or background cause, and an essential part of many legal remedies was to reintegrate the parties into their community.4 While it is interesting that Tibet, like many other cultures, had something like a restorative system of justice, the mere existence of that system is not especially helpful in understanding how to develop a restorative justice system in the west. Buddhist philosophy, however, has a sophisticated and, I think, accurate account of the self and its relationship with others. I argue that this account can enrich the description of relationality of self articulated by some proponents of restorative justice and that Buddhist practices can serve as useful tools to bring an experience of that self into one's daily life.

I. The importance of an articulated account of selfhood

Before launching into the argument, it is important to step back and examine why this is an important question in the first place. Why should restorative justice practitioners, or anyone for that matter, care about the metaphysics of the self? The reason is that almost every ethical claim we make is based on a particular view of what human beings are, and what they ought to do in order to flourish. Even seemingly neutral theories like natural science or economics rely on unstated claims about what we are and what we should be. Underlying every claim about whether an institution is good or bad is a set of assumptions about what kind of being that institution is good or bad for. It is, therefore, important to articulate and examine what we mean by selfhood when making any sort of ethical or political argument.

The ethical justifications of the criminal justice system are based on a particular conception of self. Consider the Canadian prohibition against the death penalty. In United States v Burns the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that extraditing someone to a country in which they may be executed is unconstitutional.5 Implicit in this decision is that it is morally inexcusable to destroy a particular kind of self: the self that is represented by one's physical body. …

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