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Level 5

5AAT2901 Buddhist Ethics


The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee this module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.

Credit value: 15
Module tutor:: Professor Kate Crosby
Assessment: One 2,000-word essay (40%) and one two-hour exam (60%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Teaching arrangements: A one two-hour weekly lecture  over ten weeks.
Pre-requisites: none; however, students should normally have taken 4AAT1901 Introduction to Buddhism. Where 4AAT1901 has not been taken, the student should contact the module tutor for advice as to reading they might wish to do in advance of taking the class.  

This module is an introduction to the broad topic of Buddhist ethics. It will focus on the Buddhism(s) of South and South East Asia, with reference also be made to the Buddhism of Tibet and East Asia. It explores the fundamental ideological and cosmological principles of Buddhism and how these shape characteristic Buddhist ethical positions. These will include Buddhist concepts of karma, of causality, the nature of the self, the status of deities, the nature and goals of spiritual life, etc. It will employ historical texts in order to understand the character and purpose of typical Buddhist behaviours and practices from an ethical perspective. It will also draw in some areas of contemporary ethical discussion, such as the environment and the animal world; punishment, killing and violence; sexuality; consumerism; or social justice.

Preliminary reading

  • Crosby, H.K. & A. Skilton. The Bodhicaryavatara. (Oxford World's Classics). Oxford: OUP, 1996 (and later reprints).
  • Goodman, Charles. Consequences of Compassion: An Interpretation and Defense of Buddhist Ethics. NY: OUP, 2009.
  • Harvey, Peter. An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics: Foundations, Values and Issues. Cambridge: CUP 2000.
  • Keown, Damien. ed. Contemporary Buddhist Ethics. London: Routledge, 2000.
  • Keown, Damien. Buddhist Ethics: A Very Short Introduction. (Very Short Introductions) Oxford: OUP, 2005
  • Saddhatissa, H. Buddhist Ethics. NY: Wisdom, 1997

Further information

Module aims
  • To introduce students to the broad character and coverage of Buddhist ethics.
  • To engage with the central principles that inform Buddhist ethics and see how they result in characteristically Buddhist solutions to ethical issues.
  • To develop a critical evaluation of Buddhist responses to some contemporary ethical problems.
Learning outcomes

Generic skills

By the end of the course the successful student should be able to:

  • engage competently with primary and secondary sources.
  • summarise, evaluate and present ideas.
  • research, plan and present essays to specified deadlines.
  • appreciate non-western cultures and worldviews.

Course specific skills

Students should:

  • have gained an informed understanding of various streams of the Buddhist ethical tradition
  • have developed critical skills in understanding the ontological and epistemological bases of Buddhist answers to primary ethical questions
  • be able to evaluate the modern applications of Buddhist ethics in some areas of contemporary ethical concern.
Past syllabi
Previous syllabus document available here for academic year 2015-16.

Please note that module syllabus and topics covered may vary from year to year.


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