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Buddhism and Bioethics  

Jens Schlieter

In the wake of the globalization of modern Western biomedicine and bioethics, Buddhists felt the need for moral action-guides that provide orientation in ethical dilemmas posed by modern biomedicine. Thus, in the 1980s, Asian Buddhists began to develop distinct Buddhist moral action-guides on issues of selective abortion, stem cell research, genetic enhancement, brain death and organ transplantation from brain-dead donors, and physician-assisted suicide. From the 1990s onward, they were joined by a growing number of Western scholars. Buddhist ethicists emphasize the importance of starting from venture points considerably distinct from Western bioethics: Firstly, they are traditionally less concerned with human dignity and human rights. Instead, with a focus on salvific cultivation, karma, and nonviolence, they predominantly reflect the moral quality of the actor’s intentions, leading to additional suffering in this life or the next. Secondly, bioethics, in harmony with Buddhist ethics in general, is understood as moral cultivation, which puts less emphasis on justification of ethics than on the quality of actual actions. Thirdly, on the one hand Buddhist bioethical reasoning includes aspects such as the harmful “self-centeredness,” while on the other hand it declares compassion to be the core value, including an awareness of the universal interdependence of all forms of sentient existence. In the 1980s, pioneering scholars of Buddhist bioethics Shōyō Taniguchi and Pinit Ratanakul began to outline ethical foundations of Buddhist bioethics. While both suggested that Buddhist ethics are in principle capable of providing orientation in all forms of bioethical dilemmas, their approaches differed considerably, for example regarding the duty of doctors to disclose fatal diagnoses. Dissent on this duty, which is emphasized by Ratanakul but relativized by Taniguchi, reflects not only cultural differences but also the latter’s inclusion of Mahāyāna Buddhist ethics of the bodhisattva’s “skillful means.” Based on a famous Western approach, Ratanakul was the first to outline a system of four principles or duties of Buddhist bioethical reasoning: veracity, noninjury to life (ahiṃsā), justice, and compassion (karuṇā). However, it was a Western scholar, Damien Keown, who in 1995 presented the first book-length treatise to cover almost all major bioethical issues, from embryo research to euthanasia for the terminally ill. Keown argued for a neo-Aristotelian virtue-ethics approach and distilled three basic goods from Buddhist canonical texts. This helped to modernize and transform Buddhist ethics into an operational system of Buddhist bioethics. It is argued that there is an equivalent to human dignity in Buddhism, namely the infinite capacity to participate in goodness, or the potential to reach buddhahood. In this vein, the function of human rights lies in providing a suitable environment for individuals to gradually realize this potentiality. Well into the new millennium, more works on Buddhist ethics appeared in which Western scholars of Buddhism included Tibetan Mahāyāna ethical reasoning (Karma Lekshe Tsomo), reconstrued Buddhist ethics as consequentialism (Charles Goodman), or explored the global variety of Buddhist ethical reasoning (Peter Harvey). Probably the most important contemporary controversy in Buddhist bioethics pertains to the question whether killing out of compassion can in certain circumstances be justified. According to a traditional evaluation of cetanā (intention), it has been argued that the intention to kill cannot coexist with a compassionate intention, whereas others concluded that in regard to both embryonic life and the treatment of terminally ill patients there is room for ethically justifiable options. During the 2010s the global as well as Buddhist discourse on bioethics saw a certain consolidation, but will likely gain momentum again—for example, should genome-edited babies become common practice.

Article

Buddhism in Colonial Contexts  

Douglas Ober

Scholars have long recognized the transformative impact that colonialism had on Buddhist institutions, identities, thought, and practice. The period marked the rise of politicized identities linking Buddhism to anti-colonial nationalist movements alongside boisterous discussions about reforming Buddhism to its “innate” humanistic, scientific core. For many decades, histories of Buddhism under colonialism generally subscribed to a singular narrative in which colonial forces leveled such monumental changes that almost all forms of modern Buddhism were seen as derivative of ideologies introduced by Western colonial regimes. These narratives, however, only tell some of the story. Beginning in the last decades of the 20th century, scholarship has increasingly shown how Buddhists responded in a multitude of ways to colonial influence. There was resistance and collusion as well as instances where colonial systems had only minimal impact. Numerous ideas about Buddhism which for most of the 20th century were taken for granted—that the text is closer to “true” Buddhism than contemporary practice, that texts composed in “classical” languages are more authoritative than those in the vernacular, that Buddhism is not really a religion at all but more like a science of the mind or philosophy, that Buddhism is less ritualistic and more rational than other religious traditions, and so on—have their roots in the colonial encounter with Buddhism. Any student wishing to understand the place of Buddhism during the colonial period must consider the multiple trajectories and plural histories rather than singular, monolithic narratives.

Article

Buddhist Chaplaincy  

Monica Sanford and Nathan Jishin Michon

Buddhist chaplaincy is a profession in which Buddhists with specialized training care for the spiritual needs of suffering individuals (careseekers), typically within non-religious settings such as hospitals, hospices, military, workplaces, or universities. Although the roots of spiritual care date back to the beginning of the Buddhist traditions, professionalized Buddhist chaplaincy is a very recent phenomenon. Despite some beginnings in the mid-20th century, most developments have occurred rapidly only within the 21st century. This contemporary movement is occurring in numerous places around the world, including North America, Europe, and Asia, covering a wide range of countries, cultures, and Buddhist traditions. The profession of chaplaincy was originally a Christian vocation but began expanding to serve the needs of multireligious careseekers and train caregivers of various religious backgrounds in the 20th century. Thus, while chaplaincy is now a profession open to all comers, including Buddhists, humanists, and atheists, many of the educational, training, and professional standards for certification or licensing are still normed against Christian expectations and legacy organizational structures, particularly in North America, Europe, and the British Commonwealth. In the countries where Buddhist chaplaincy is flourishing in the early 21st century, different groups are developing degree programs, training opportunities, and professional expectations that accord with their local regulatory bodies and other forms of existing chaplaincy certification. In Asian nations, Buddhists are stepping forward to build standards for providing spiritual care in the context of cultural institutions that are not typically religious (e.g., hospitals and schools). Diverse settings and differing requirements lead to distinctions between Buddhist chaplaincy in different countries. However, some of the core competencies for spiritual care are very consistent: compassion, listening, ritual proficiency, cultural understanding, and reflection. Buddhist and non-Buddhist chaplains alike agree to a fundamental skill set to care for people who are suffering in the various institutions where they work and volunteer. Distinctions between Buddhist and other forms of spiritual care are based on the care model employed, whether strictly co-religionist (i.e., Buddhists caring for Buddhists) or interfaith (i.e., Buddhists caring for all). In the latter case, professional chaplains (of any religion) are trained to provide spiritual care from the spiritual or religious worldview of the careseeker. As such, most Buddhist chaplains must possess basic knowledge and competency in many world religions. Nevertheless, Buddhist spiritual care may be distinct in its theory (Dharma based) and place more emphasis on mindfulness, meditation, and other contemplative techniques to benefit both careseekers and chaplains. Spiritual care that is “Dharma-based” means based on the teachings of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, and/or the Buddhist traditions and teacher who followed after him. This includes a broad range of texts and teachings across the Buddhist world. As an emerging field, there is little literature on Buddhist chaplaincy, so it is currently somewhat difficult to say what theories and practices will come to dominate the profession.

Article

The Economics of Buddhism  

Elizabeth Williams-Oerberg

The economics of Buddhism brings to the fore a conundrum with which Buddhists have had to contend since the time of the Buddha: how should Buddhists engage in economic activity in order to provide for their individual lifestyles and the Buddhist monasteries that support Buddhism? The widespread image of a monk or nun sitting deep in meditation in a cave may exemplify a religion that values nonattachment to materiality and disengagement with economic action. However, when looking more closely at how Buddhist monastics maintain these austere lifestyles, one sees a complex Buddhist economic engagement throughout the history of Buddhism. The economics of Buddhism examines how Buddhists must necessarily engage in economic relations not only to support their lifestyles, but also to establish and expand Buddhist institutions across the world. A large part of Buddhist economic engagement involves an economy of merit. Buddhists have been dependent on dāna, a system of donation and sponsorship, that has aided the building and expansion of Buddhism since the time of the Buddha. This merit-based economy involves a system of exchange in which virtuous actions such as generosity are rewarded with an accumulation of merit (puñña), leading to beneficial circumstances in this life or the next life to come. Based on this system of exchange, monks and nuns receive remuneration from the lay community for their services. It is due to this merit economy that monks and nuns have been able to pursue a monastic lifestyle and monasteries have been built, some of which have become economic epicenters for the surrounding community. Historically, large monasteries across Asia have acquired large plots of land, accumulated large storehouses of grains and goods, and engaged in various other economic endeavors, such as lending money, running businesses, hiring laborers, and so forth. In order to maintain these at times very large Buddhist institutions that have supported monks and nuns, and in essence the survival of Buddhism, this system of exchange—money for merit—has been a crucial aspect of Buddhism. Since the time of the Buddha, the spread and survival of Buddhism has been reliant on economic exchanges and the economic environment of the time. This is very much the case in the early 21st century, with the spread of global capitalism affecting how Buddhist images, goods, and services have been adopted and altered in new environments. For example, with changing economic conditions and the rise of the consumer society, Buddhist monasteries have found new sources of income, such as through tourism. Global sentiments regarding Buddhism as primarily positive, furthermore, have led to the proliferation of Buddhist-inspired objects for sale in the mass consumer society. Instead of seeing Buddhist economic engagement as a paradox, or hypocrisy even, when looking closely at how Buddhism and economic relations are necessarily entwined, one sees a complex relationship that provides the basis for the survival and spread of Buddhism worldwide.