HUMAN RIGHTS AND HUMAN
RESPONSIBILITIES: BUDDHIST VIEWS
ON INDIVIDUALISM AND ALTRUISM
ROBERT A. F. THURMAN
Addressing questions of human rights and responsibilities today, one first inevitably thinks of the context of such concerns and feels the need to establish the relevance of Buddhist views in particular. There are few Buddhists left in the world, our lifetimes having seen its role as a majority world religion diminished drastically under a tidal wave of Marxism and other forms of "modernity." Nevertheless, as His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama is fond of saying, "from Siberia up to the Thai border, more than a quarter of humanity ... lives in cultures permeated with Buddhist patterns of thought, language, and behavior." There are vast differences in the ways cultures and individuals incorporate these patterns, so much so that the umbrella concept "Buddhism" tends to dissolve under analysis. But we may find certain basic views, habits, and values entrenched in the mentality of this mass of people, which we must reckon with in our attempt to evolve a globally viable conception and practice of human rights. Further, since something's disappearance does not necessarily signify its lack of importance or benefit, we may find Buddhist theoretical contributions to human rights thinking extremely helpful to our concerns. Particularly, the experience of the various Buddhisms as basically nontheistic ideologies in the midst of various theistic cultures is instructive to us today, since one of the major problems in modern ethical thought on human rights has to do with the conflict between traditional theistic systems and contemporary nontheistic (liberal humanist) or atheistic (Marxist) systems.