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on 18 April 2009
I bought this book 'on spec' and, to begin with, found it a fascinating and thought-provoking read. However, I finished it feeling rather disappointed.

The present book begins with an exploration of some traditional Buddhist concerns and a discussion of the meta-ethics of Buddhist teachings, locating its concerns, with some reservations, in the domain of virtue ethics.

It has an interesting section on the lack of a tradition of formal ethical thinking within Buddhism, although the given explanations relied too much on external factors such as politics. Perhaps more could have been made of the absolute - and therefore perhaps unspoken - centrality of ethics to the Buddhist way of life?

In the next chapters I began to feel a little worn down. The author takes a topical theme in each chapter and presents a potential Buddhist approach to each subject. This whistlestop tour to modern morality takes in abortion, cloning, ecology, sexuality and war and terrorism.

These are weighty, worthy subjects - and you can't fault the author's sincerity in attempting to shed some light on aspects of great concern in our world.

However, I felt the approach was a little heavy handed and was rather too focused on the metaphysical aspects of Buddhism - in particular, Karma. To my mind the urgent relevance of Buddhism lies in its practical applications.

Karma, rather than being a hard-to-believe doctrine of death and rebirth, should be seen, allied to mindfulness, as a pathway toward enlightenment in the world around us today.

As a result of the over-emphasis on metaphysics the book became laden down with a rather conservative and punitive worldview of right and wrong, not unlike the religiosity of some of our Christian churches.

I also found the book's rather cursory and unrepresentative mention of Zen Buddhism a little perplexing.

The book does have a good discussion of the concept of engaged Buddhism, and it has made me aware of the online Journal of Buddhist Ethics (Keown is the founding editor of the journal).

Overall, the book was interesting but there are better guides available.
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The main part of this book presents a diversity of views of different Buddhists about sexuality, just war, terrorism, abortion, suicide, euthanasia, cloning and stem cells. The description of Buddhism s such covers only twenty pages. This is not a book for beginners. In order to evaluate these different views the readers need considerable knowledge about Buddhism. Just to take one example, the concept of "emptiness." This is a very important subject difficult to understand. "Emptiness" refers to the concept that nothings exists without a cause, that nothing is permanent, that everything is interdependent, in other words there exists nothing "on its own" usually referred to as "inherently". "Emptiness" is presented in the book as a concept that can provide justification for taking life of others with equanimity. This was the opinion of a Japanese nationalistic Buddhist in the context of war. This in my view is not a helpful illustration of "emptiness". In the context of war the Dalai Lama believes self-defense is justified.

The author does indicate that the book requires prior knowledge and also that those that want to develop a more comprehensive understanding should read "Buddhist Ethics" by Hammalawa Saddhatissa and "Introduction to Buddhist Ethics" by Peter Harvey with which I completely agree. I also suggest " Beyond Religion", "Ethics for a whole world" by the Dalai Lama.

This diversity of views the author presents on the subjects treated is not unique for Buddhism. That is the same in Christianity and Islam. All spiritual traditions have some extremist adherents with views that are far removed from the intentions of the founders. In summary the book is interesting for those that would like to compare different Buddhist views on very important ethical issues with the differing views in other spiritual traditions.
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This is a very useful introductory book for anyone who is interested in Buddhist ethics, its principles and sources, and the answers it gives to some of the most pressing ethical questions of today. The first couple of chapters are dedicated to the historical origins and basic principles of Buddhist ethics. The bulk of the book, however, is aimed at someone who is already familiar with Western ethical traditions, and tries to show how the Buddhist teachings relate to those. In particular, the questions of animal and environmental rights, sexuality, war and terrorism, suicide and euthanasia, and cloning each get a separate chapter. In these chapters the naive impression of Buddhism as a very laid-back and permissive ethical tradition is challenged, and the author shows that the basic answers to those ethical dilemmas in Buddhism are not that far away from similar answers given in theJudeo-Christian ethics.

Overall, this is a very enlightening and informative reading. I highly recommend it.
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on 12 October 2008
Keown is without doubt a leading scholar in this area and makes the topic accessible to his readers. He makes very difficult subject matter understandable and interesting. I highly recommend this book and this author.
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on 8 February 2015
Good book to find about Buddhist Ethics. Needs concentration but is worth the effort.
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on 9 February 2016
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on 31 May 2016
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