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Buddhist Practice Theory and Animal Ethics

Thu, 2/15 · 4:30 pm6:00 pm · 008 Friend Center

Janet Gyatso, Harvard Divinity School

In this talk on Buddhism and animals I depart from the approach taken in the recent book Unfortunate Destiny on animals in Buddhism. I am not going to be analyzing ideological and cosmological depictions of animals in Buddhist story literature. Rather, this talk will have real live animals today as its touchstone. It will zero in on one part of my current book project on contemporary animal ethics. The section I will focus on has to do with practical resources from Buddhist traditions that I am seeking to mobilize, as part of the quest to end the current holocaust being visited upon farmed animals by humans today.

The talk will consider three main threads from Buddhist practice theory that are informing in my work: The first, unsurprisingly, has to do with the Buddhist virtue of compassion, in particular how it is activated by humans towards animals. The second considers what I am calling an aleatory life style. I think that animals excel at living life largely through the arts of happenstance and serendipity. What might be ethical about that? Here I will explore the notions in Buddhist tradition of interdependence, or pratityasamutapada (especially in the pertinent colloquial Tibetan usage of the term rten ‘brel) and of auspiciousness, or mangalam, which has to do with making goodness. The third thread draws on some technical distinctions in Buddhist meditation theory. It is part of my effort to think through types of moral cultivation practices which people can use to train themselves to be animal advocates. How might we develop our moral conscience, as well as our intelligence, discernment and commitment to help animals effectively? The talk will cite Buddhist theorists Vasubandhu and Santideva among others, accompanied by my own musings.

Brook Ziporyn will offer a response.

This event is part of the Yin-Cheng Distinguished Lecture Series in Buddhist Studies.

Free and open to the public. The event will also be livestreamed as a webinar.

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