Journal of Buddhist Ethics Publication News

d.keown at d.keown at
Wed Mar 15 14:47:48 UTC 1995

In consideration of the Journal of Buddhist Ethics' sponsorship of a major
online conference on Buddhism and Human Rights in 1995, the editors thought
it valuable to begin the 1995 issue of the JBE with an article on this
important topic.  Thus the Journal of Buddhist Ethics is pleased to announce
the publication of the following Research Article:
Title: Are there "Human Rights" in Buddhism?
Author: Damien Keown
Publication Date: March 15, 1995
     It is difficult to think of a more urgent question for Buddhism
in the late twentieth century than human rights. Human rights issues
where Buddhism has a direct involvement, notably in the case of Tibet,
feature regularly on the agenda in superpower diplomacy. The
political, ethical and philosophical questions surrounding human
rights are debated vigourously in political and intellectual circles
throughout the world. Yet despite its contemporary significance, the
subject has merited hardly a footnote in mainstream academic research
and publication in the field of Buddhist Studies. Why is this? One
reason would seem to be the lack of a precedent within Buddhism itself
for discussing issues of this kind; scholars, by and large, continue
to follow the tradition's own agenda, an agenda which appears to some
increasingly medieval in the shadow of the twenty-first century. If
Buddhism wishes to address the issues which are of concern to today's
global community, it must begin to ask itself new questions alongside
the old ones.
     In the context of human rights, which is the theme of this paper,
an important preliminary question would seem to be whether traditional
Buddhism has any understanding of what is meant by "human rights" at
all. Indeed, it may be thought that since the concept of "rights" is
the product of an alien cultural tradition it would be utterly
inappropriate to speak of rights of any kind - "human" or otherwise -
in a Buddhist context. Even if it was felt that these objections were
overstated, and that the issue of human rights does have a legitimate
place on the Buddhist agenda, there would still remain the separate
and no less difficult question of how human rights were to be grounded
in Buddhist doctrine, particularly in the light of the fact that the
tradition itself provides little precedent or guidance in this area.
     This article offers a preliminary exploration of the questions
raised in the paragraph above. It concludes that it is legitimate to
speak of both "rights" and "human rights" in Buddhism, and proposes a
ground for human rights in Buddhist doctrine.
Damien Keown teaches in the Department of Historical & Cultural Studies,
Univerity of London, Goldsmiths.  He may be reached via E-mail at:
d.keown at
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Damien Keown, DPhil
Department of Historical & Cultural Studies
Univerity of London, Goldsmiths
London SE14 6NW
d.keown at
voice: [44] 0171 919 7497
fax: [44] 0171 919 7398


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