From Ethics to Aesthetics: A Reconsideration of Buddhist Monastic Rules in the Light of Michel Foucault’s Work on Ethics
(2015) Contemporary Buddhism, 31 p. Article in Press.
This article considers the recent debate over the nature of Buddhist ethics largely conducted by scholars who have argued in different ways that Buddhist ethics may be assimilated to or may correspond with different forms of western ethical theory. I argue that the interpretation of Buddhist texts, and in particular the Vinaya, in light of western ethical theory creates misunderstanding. I argue that in each case of a supposed ethical dilemma, Buddhist ethics should be seen as empirical, since the ultimate point of reference for the choices involved in a proposed action lies in the purity and wholesomeness of each individual action. My approach follows Foucault’s argument for scepticism with regard to the notions of a universal nature or of a universal rationality. I argue that it is not instructive to read Buddhist texts against generalized standards. Rather, it is more productive to regard ethics as creating a space for the ethical, not in a normative sense but one arising from personal practice as related to individual circumstances. At the same time, this article outlines the role of beauty and its role in ethical formation. I suggest that one interpretation of Theravada Buddhism has regarded beauty as a form of sensuous pleasure, which is seen as a danger for someone on the spiritual path. However, an alternative reading of such texts is more sympathetic to the educative role of beauty. © 2015 Taylor & Francis