Buddhist ethics

Investigating Buddhist Ethics

This semester RYI offered a class on Buddhist ethics, taught by Prof. Diane Denis. Have you ever wondered what Buddhism has to say about complicated ethical questions? Sure, we should be compassionate, follow our vows, avoid the ten non-virtuous actions and engage in the ten virtuous actions and the six paramitas, but what do we do when an issue is too complex to be answered by these maxims or they contradict each other? Is it more ethical to do a retreat or to help society through activism? I usually have an opinion on ethical issues, but it is mostly based on my gut-feeling rather than ethical considerations and I often wonder if my intuition is in accordance with Buddhist philosophy or not. There are many issues and problems in modern times that are not directly addressed in Buddhist teachings, because they were not relevant at the time. In our class, we started by learning a variety of ethical ideas that Buddhism has to offer and chose individual topics for our research-projects. We tried to apply Buddhist ethics to our topics and are currently presenting them to the rest of the class. The topics range from suicide and organ donation over environment and industrialization to gender equality and journalism. I chose the topic of euthanasia for my research, since my mother is a veterinarian and deals with a constant conflict between committing an act of killing and relieving animals of their suffering. I set out to see if and how Buddhism resolves this conflict, but in the course of my research, I actually found many more aspects relating to the topic than I had hoped for. Through listening to my classmates’ presentations and my own research, I feel like I added a new dimension to the combination of studying and practicing Buddhism, connecting my theoretical studies not only to meditation-practice, but also to my everyday activities and activism in a new way. 

~ Miriam Meyer 

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