Oxford Classes on Buddhist Ethics

This Hilary Term the Dalai Lama Centre for Compassion will be offering a series of lectures introducing Buddhist ethics.

The series will be delivered by Dr Dechen Rochard, Fellow of the DLCC. It will take place from 5:30pm-6:30pm on Wednesdays at Seminar Room East, Mansfield College with the first meeting taking place on 18th January 2017.

Those wishing to attend are encouraged to register by email to ralph@dlccoxford.org Since places are limited those who do not register may be refused admittance. We kindly request that registrations be made only by those intending to attend the whole series.

Course outline:

Buddhist teachings on ethics are very practical and provide parameters of action within which a disciple can most effectively transform his or her mental continuum. No theory of ethics is provided as such. This has caused some consternation among modern commentators. Those who wish to rectify the situation have engaged in much debate about whether Buddhist ethics can be mapped onto any of the Western ethical theories, such as virtue ethics (associated with Aristotle), deontological ethics (associated with Kant), and utilitarianism (associated with Bentham and Mill). Damien Keown sets out a classification of Buddhist ethics as a type of virtue ethics that is both egoistic and altruistic, mainly absolutist, objective, naturalistic, and cognitive. Conversely, Peter Harvey argues that “the rich field of Buddhist ethics would be narrowed by wholly collapsing it into any single one of Kantian, Aristotelian or Utilitarian models,” in that it agrees with aspects of each of them and is generally gradualist in approach.

In this series of lectures, although we may touch upon such agreements between Buddhist ethics and Western ethical theories mentioned above, primarily we shall focus on an array of Buddhist teachings on ethics on their own terms. As a basis for this, we shall refer to Peter Harvey’s excellent book, “An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics.”

Lectures 1 and 2 will introduce the foundations of Buddhist thought and explain how “virtue,” “ethical conduct,” and “merit” are seen to operate and relate to what is “right.” We shall also examine the difference between natural non-virtue and non-virtue based on vows and precepts. Lectures 3 and 4 will present ethical conduct in terms of abandoning the ten non-virtuous activities of body, speech, and mind, as well as elucidate how the virtuous mental factors act as antidotes to non-virtuous ones. We shall also discuss the role that keeping vows and precepts plays in transforming one’s mental states and subtle inner energies. Lectures 5 and 6 will explore the notion of interdependence, specifically how the agent, action, and object of action are inter-related in any deed of body, speech, or mind. We shall also discuss the supreme ethical conduct of those who have seen reality directly. Lecture 7 will compare the ethical conduct of those who seek personal liberation from suffering with those who seek enlightenment for the sake of all other beings. Lecture 8 will explore whether Buddhist teachings on ethics can throw any light upon ethical topics hotly debated in modern society, such as abortion and euthanasia, though such topics may also crop up as examples in earlier lectures.

All the above points can be fitted into the categories highlighted by His Holiness the Dalai Lama: the ethics of restraint, virtue, and altruism. As such, this series of lectures compliments the series of seminars exploring His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s thought on ethics conducted by Professor Paul Lodge in the Michaelmas Term. Attendees are not required to have attending the Michaelmas series in order to join for this one.