Ethics from a Zen Buddhist Perspective


In seeking to express Christian teaching in a pluralistic world, I think it is imperative that we come to an understanding of, not only atheist ethics, but alternative ethics as well.

For this reason I would recommend reading “Zen as a Social Ethics of Responsiveness” by T. P. Kasulis. I find it a overly simplistic in equating western ethics and Christian ethics, as if Christianity originated in the far west rather than the near east. Which ironically makes this discussion of Buddhist ethics more dualistic than it need be. Nevertheless, the discussion which follows on responsiveness and responsibility is thought provoking. Here is the synopsis of the essay:

“One reason traditional Chan or Zen did not develop a comprehensive social ethics is that it arose in an East Asian milieu with axiologies (Confucian, Daoist, and Shintō) already firmly in place. Since these value orientations did not conflict with basic Buddhist principles, Chan/Zen used its praxes and theories of praxis to supplement and enhance, rather than criticize, those indigenous ethical orientations. When we consider the intercultural relevance of Zen ethics today, however, we must examine how its traditional ethical assumptions interface with its Western conversation partners. For example, it is critical that Chan and Zen stress an ethics of responsiveness rather than (as is generally the case of the modern West) one of responsibility. This paper analyzes special philosophical problems arising when one tries to carry Zen moral values without modification into Western contexts.”

3 thoughts on “Ethics from a Zen Buddhist Perspective

  1. One of the best books that provides remarkable insights into this topic is the book by Jeffrey Maitland titled Mind Body Zen – Waking Up to Your Life. So too with one of his previous books The Spacious Body – Explorations in Somatic Ontology.
    As a former professor of Philosophy at Purdue University Maitland is thoroughly familiar with the Western philosophical and theological canon, and its dreadful dualistic limitations. He gives a profoundly sophisticated ctitique of these limitations in both of these books.


  2. True, but then the ethical systems of non atheists are hardly monolithic either. For instance, within the Hindu tradition, the ahimsa ethic of Ghandi stands in stark contrast to the violent radicalism of elements of the Hindutva. And within the Christian tradition, the ethics of conservatives and progressives can be poles apart at times. Nevertheless I still think there is some value in taking a step back and seeking a wider view.


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