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An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics: Foundations, Values and Issues (Introduction to Religion) [Paperback]

Peter Harvey
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

22 Jun 2000 Introduction to Religion
This systematic introduction to Buddhist ethics is aimed at anyone interested in Buddhism, including students, scholars and general readers. Peter Harvey is the author of the acclaimed Introduction to Buddhism (Cambridge, 1990), and his new book is written in a clear style, assuming no prior knowledge. At the same time it develops a careful, probing analysis of the nature and practical dynamics of Buddhist ethics in both its unifying themes and in the particularities of different Buddhist traditions. The book applies Buddhist ethics to a range of issues of contemporary concern: humanity's relationship with the rest of nature; economics; war and peace; euthanasia; abortion; the status of women; and homosexuality. Professor Harvey draws on texts of the main Buddhist traditions, and on historical and contemporary accounts of the behaviour of Buddhists, to describe existing Buddhist ethics, to assess different views within it, and to extend its application into new areas.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 494 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (22 Jun 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521556406
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521556408
  • Product Dimensions: 22.6 x 15.2 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 425,748 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

'Marks the beginning of a new era in the study of Buddhist ethics … an accessible and authoritative way in to a subject that is sure to become one of the major growth areas in Buddhist Studies.' Expository Times

'This volume will undoubtedly carve out a niche for itself in terms of the information it provides, for both the general audience and the serious scholar.' Religion

Book Description

This systematic introduction to Buddhist ethics is aimed at anyone interested in Buddhism, including students, scholars and general readers. Peter Harvey is author of the acclaimed Introduction to Buddhism (Cambridge, 1990), and his new book is written in a clear style, applying Buddhist ethics to issues of contemporary concern.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Fundamental features of Buddhism's word-view relevant to ethics are the framework of karma and rebirth, accepted by all schools of Buddhism, with varying degrees of emphasis, and the Four Noble Truths, the highest teachings of early Buddhism, and of the Theravada school. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Sutta Studies Class Reads Buddhist Ethics 14 Nov 2008
By Robin Friedman TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
For many years, I have been part of a Buddhist studies group that meets twice monthly in a Theravada temple. We have read and discussed many Suttas in the Pali canon, including the long and mid-length discourses and the Dhammapada. Last year, the group decided to venture out from Buddhist Scriptural texts and to read instead Professor Peter Harvey's book, "An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics." Professor Harvey, of the University of Sunderland, is the Cofounder of the UK Association for Buddhist Studies and was the first "Buddhist Studies" Professor in the UK.

We approached Harvey's book, in essentially the same way that we approached the Suttas: we read the text, or portions of it, aloud in class and then discussed what we read. We skipped around among the chapters rather than taking them in order. Our group has now completed its reading of Harvey.

Harvey uses the term `ethics' to describe three related issues: 1. thought on the bases and justification of moral guidelines and on the meaning of moral terms; 2.specific moral guidelines (applied ethics); 3 how people actually behave (descriptive ethics). (p. 2) Harvey in fact covers all three issues in his study, giving his work substantial breadth. To avoid confusion, it is important to keep the three uses of the term `ethics' in mind in approaching the book.

The first three chapters of the book are the broadest and most interesting. In the first chapter, Harvey develops "The Shared Foundations of Buddhist Ethics". He offers an introduction to basic Buddhist teachings as they apply to ethics and he offers an insightful comparison of Buddhist approaches to ethics with the Aristotelian, utilitarian, and Kantian approaches of the West.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New perspectives on vice and virtue 25 Aug 2000
Format:Paperback
Buddhist ethics have long been admired for their sense of tolerance and equality for all beings.
Harvey's book tackles Buddhist ethics from a contemporary standpoint, focussing on the roots and rationale of this ethical system, independent as it is of a Godhead. It is not so much a book about Buddhism but one covering the implications of Buddhist ethics based on impact on the world and society.
The book tackles several issues such as ecology, economics, feminism, sexuality and war based on the historical vantage of Buddhist countries from Sri Lanka to Japan and from modern Western Buddhist and liberal traditions.
The book is both intense and comprehensive and offers a balanced if sometimes academic approach to central issues facing all civilised societies from abortion to species extinction. It would be a keystone for people interested in the basis of natural justice and goodness in the light of legal and secular justice and "human rights".
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good introduction 3 Jan 2012
Format:Paperback
I was told to get this book as part of my degree course; it is, however, not a dry tome but one written with love and reverence by a gentleman who knows his subject.

A worthwhile read whether you are just interested or want to go into depth. Very definitely value for money.
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Sutta Studies Class Reads Buddhist Ethics 14 Nov 2008
By Robin Friedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
For many years, I have been part of a Buddhist studies group that meets twice monthly in a Theravada temple. We have read and discussed many Suttas in the Pali canon, including the long and mid-length discourses and the Dhammapada. Last year, the group decided to venture out from Buddhist Scriptural texts and to read instead Professor Peter Harvey's book, "An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics." We approached the book, in essentially the same way that we approached the Suttas: we read the text, or portions of it, aloud in class and then discussed what we read. We skipped around among the chapters rather than taking them in order. Our group has now completed its reading of Harvey.

Harvey uses the term `ethics' to describe three related issues: 1. thought on the bases and justification of moral guidelines and on the meaning of moral terms; 2.specific moral guidelines (applied ethics); 3 how people actually behave (descriptive ethics). (p. 2) Harvey in fact covers all three issues in his study, giving his work substantial breadth. To avoid confusion, it is important to keep the three uses of the term `ethics' in mind in approaching the book.

The first three chapters of the book are the broadest and most interesting. In the first chapter, Harvey develops "The Shared Foundations of Buddhist Ethics". He offers an introduction to basic Buddhist teachings as they apply to ethics and he offers an insightful comparison of Buddhist approaches to ethics with the Aristotelian, utilitarian, and Kantian approaches of the West. In the second chapter, "Key Buddhist Values", Harvey explains the five precepts, the importance of lovingkindness and compassion and other key teachings that inform Buddhist understandings of ethical behavior. In the third chapter, Harvey discusses Mahayana Buddhism and compares and contrasts it with the Theravada school. He emphasizes throughout his book the diverse character of Buddhism, with different schools, and teachers within each school, having somewhat differing approaches to questions of ethics. If nothing else, Harvey's book shows the complexity of ethical questions, both in and outside of Buddhism, and the many ways these questions have been approached.

The remaining seven chapters of the book treat in considerable detail of broad but specific ethical questions. These include Buddhist attitudes towards the natural world, economic ethics, war and peace, suicide and euthanasia, abortion and contraception, sexual equality, and homosexuality.

In each chapter, Harvey follows the same basic approach.He begins with a definition of the question and proceeds to consider the manner in which the question is addressed in Buddhist Scriptures and other Buddhist texts. He then discusses how various Buddhist countries have, over time, in fact addressed, interpreted, or modified the Scriptural teachings. He comments upon various current approaches to the question. And each chapter ends with a useful summation or conclusion.

I found Harvey made great effort to be rigorous and fair and to avoid the temptation to have his presentation of historical Buddhist teaching viewed through a contemporary prism. In our study group's consideration of the text, we had the liveliest discussions on those chapters which remain highly unsettled and which provoke disagreement: the chapters dealing with abortion and with sexual equality. Commendably, Harvey allows historical Buddhist texts to speak for themselves without overly-interpreting them in a way many people today would find more appealing. Harvey's chapter on war and peace also resulted in an interesting discussion in our group. Harvey explores whether Buddhist teachings allow for the waging of what is known as a "just war." He then discusses the ways that some Buddhist societies have, at different times, rationalized the waging of war and the oppression of minority groups by reading protection for the claimed enemies outside of the scope of the Buddhist texts. It is a candid picture and all-too-familiar for students in the West.

For all its virtues, Harvey's book had difficulties in the way we approached it in the study group. Harvey writes clearly and carefully, but highly academically. His book is dry, almost lifeless in places. In the long weeks we spent with it, our group had difficulty keeping in focus and following the continuity of the book. At times, the book seemed more like an encyclopedia or a legal hornbook than as a record of a living Buddhism. Harvey's book emphasizes the difficulty and diversity of ethical thought and seems to lead to what in other contexts Buddhist teachings might describe as a profusion of views. The book pays insufficient attention to meditation rather than simply argument as a source of ethical understanding. Most of these comments are basically another way of saying that this form of academic study is not as useful as a study of the Suttas for an understanding of Buddhism. Harvey's book should not be faulted too heavily for that. But I do think it would have worked better in a college classroom or in private reading than in a Sutta studies class.

Harvey does quote several times a key text from the Dhammapada (verse 163) which is itself an excellent introduction to Buddhist ethical thought:

"Not to do any evil,
To cultivate what is wholesome,
To purify one's mind:
This is the teaching of the Buddhas."

Readers wishing a detailed consideration of Buddhist approaches to ethical questions will benefit from Harvey's book.

Robin Friedman
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent intro to Buddhist Ethics, a rare standard. 29 Sep 2002
By Stefan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Peter Harvey, Professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Sunderland, has a lot of experience in the field of Buddhist Studies and it shows. Starting with the `Shared Foundations of Buddhist Ethics', he goes on with key `Buddhist Values.' Then he covers the `Mahayana emphases and adaptations,' after which he deals with the practicalities of Buddhist ethics: the Natural world, economic ethics, war and peace, suicide and euthanasia, abortion and contraception, sexual equality, and homosexuality and other forms of `queerness.' It is amazing how he managed to gather so much information on this area, not to mention his impressing knowledge of the texts of most traditions. This sometimes leads to too many traditions cited per chapter, making it hard for the reader to distinguish between them (unless, of course, you are familar with the sources cited.) It can be used most fruitfully when critically taught.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Right and wrong 4 Oct 2000
By Sarakani - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is an easy to understand account of the basis and content of ethical teachings in Buddhism as a global tradition.
Starting with the foundations of Buddhist ethics, Harvey then describes the major precepts in turn as they apply to ordinary practitioners.
He then looks at the implications of these ethics from the social and historical context in many countries from Sri Lanka to Japan. He gives special treatment to topics like Enviromentalism, Feminist issues, Economics and Homosexuality in a Buddhist context and gives an overview of many accounts expressed on these topics. The treatment is sometimes academic, always balanced and frequently too objective.
It is an important book for people who are interested in Natural Justice and the role of Human Rights vs Human Responsibilities in the context of human legal codes and religion. It is also a must for anyone who wants to know the difference between right and wrong and why from a non Theistic position.
6 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Generally, a useful study. 5 July 2005
By Hakuyu - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
People who wish to learn more about 'Buddhist Ethics' will find this book useful. Along with Damien Keown's books, Peter Harvey's study will be invaluable for those who have neither the time nor the resources to explore primary sources for themselves.

Why only 'four stars' then? Like other reviewers, I'm not so sure that Buddhist Ethics can be reduced to 'natural ethics' - or regarded as analogous to natural ethics, on the assumption that as no 'God' is involved, we are safely outside 'theistic' considerations. In the wish to distance themselves from theocentric ethics, some Buddhists have tried to present Buddhism as 'natural' religion. But in actual fact, the terminology involved - either way, reflects Western categories of thinking.

Consider some of the problems here. Neo-pagans, the followers of 'Wicca' etc.- might well define themselves as adherents of 'natural' religion. Are we to conclude, then, that they are Buddhists - by another name?

Admittedly, much that we would define as 'ethical' - in Buddhism, is safely rooted in empirical experience. But on further examination, notions like 'karma' and karmic retribution cannot be 'explained' along purely naturalistic lines at all. Indeed, taken at face value, one could argue that nature per se, provides little evidence to support the idea of karma, which is quite important to the ethical world view of the Buddhists. I'm not questioning karma - in its proper context, I'm just stating that when push comes to shove, Buddhists do not attempt to account for karma in crude 'naturalistic' terms. Rather, it is part of an essentially spiritual world-view.

Hence, if not informed by 'theocentric' considerations, Buddhist ethics are - at their upper end, as it were, informed by assumptions of a 'transcendental' nature. I make this observation, because it is all too easy to approach Buddhism from the outside, believing that it is all neatly packaged, without any of the complications found in theocentric ethics.

This is not a criticism of Buddhism, just a reminder that it cannot be confined to 'natural' ethics, and may not be the simple, strictly 'rational' creed we once imagined.

For the most part, the ethical world view of the Buddhists is marked by impartiality, cool detachment, nothing fevered. Such detachment is evidently derived from something deeper than mere 'natural' religion.
6 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good introduction... though it has its faults.... 27 Nov 2000
By J. Michael Showalter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is a really good introduction for people who a) are knowledgable about Western ethical theories and want to see things from a different perspective of b) people getting into Buddhism who want a good general introduction into what people have thought about what people have thought that Siddhartha Gotama thought and taught. This book is divided into sections first which illustrate bases of Buddhist ethical practices and then how these practices have effected different issue-areas (the environment, homosexuality, etc.) Thus far, this is a remarkable book.... I like it a lot....
The problems that I have with this book are but a few. First, in the first chapter outlining bases for Buddhist ethics, the author cites a few suttras almost exclusively when others could make the points that he is trying to make better. (Don't worry, reader-- I'm not going to belabor this point....) The Asokavedanta (Life story of Asoka, the, I believe, second to last Mauryan Emporer in India) which is revered in Sri Lanka being foremost of these those I thought of off the top of my head... Another is that he occasionally cites Western sources when the primary texts would do.... These little thinks irked me, but I suppose that the author had a reason for them, and they don't really detract from the strength of the whole of the book....
As to the last reviewer saying that this book provides a good insight into non-theistic ethics... I'm not so sure about that. Off the top of my head, I can think of no titles.... but this book deals with Buddhist ethics... which is a broad enough field.... and not EXACTLY non-theistic (although generally so...)
I'd recommend this book to about anyone though especially to the two groups of people I mentioned at the opening of this review....
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