Buddhism and Human Rights

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

3
WHY THERE ARE NO RIGHTS IN BUDDHISM:
A REPLY TO DAMIEN KEOWN

Craig K. Ihara

Although this is a critique of a serious paper: Damien Keown's "Are There Human Rights in Buddhism?"1 and on a serious issue: whether there are or are not human rights in Buddhism, I would like to begin by considering an example that may well seem irrelevant: ballet.

In any ballet, the male lead is at some point or other responsible for lifting or catching the prima ballerina. This is his role responsibility and if he fails to do it well or not at all, he has failed to do what he ought. In such circumstances others, including the choreographer, the other dancers, or the prima ballerina might express disapproval, criticism, even anger for his failure to do his part by saying any of a number of things, such as: "You're supposed to catch her there," "What's the matter with you?," "You're not doing your job (or playing your part)," "You're incompetent (or irresponsible)." Suppose instead that the choreographer or any of the other dancers came up and rebuked him by saying, "You've wronged the prima ballerina," or "You've violated her rights." Or imagine that the prima ballerina picks herself up and angrily proclaims, "My rights have been violated..." Now I maintain that doing so would be bizarre to say the least and that in fact no one in that situation would resort to the language of rights.

Of course this only one instance, but I maintain that it is indicative of ballet in general, as well as many cooperative enterprises, including team sports. 2 In any specific ballet, each dancer has a specific role to play. Each therefore has role responsibilities which dictate what each dancer should do at a given time on the assumption that others are also doing their part. A failure to do what one ought would be described simply as poor or faulty performance, and definitely not as a violation of anyone's rights.

Now assuming I am correct about this, does it follow that there is no concept of rights in ballet? Not according to Keown and Gewirth. As Gewirth says, it is "important to distinguish between having or using a concept and the clear or explicit recognition and elucidation of it...Thus persons might have and use the concept of a right without explicitly having a word for it." 3

Granting Keown and Gewirth this possibility, the answer to the question — Is there a concept of rights in X? — depends on the criteria for deciding when the concept of rights exists or is being used either in ballet or in any other context, such as Buddhism, where there is no explicit mention of it.

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