Ethics in the Mahāyāna

  • Damien Keown


The nature of Mahāyāna ethics is complex and there is evidence of development in a number of directions, at times contradictory ones. This means that it can appear very different depending on the perspective adopted, a feature which makes it difficult to categorise. Hindery makes the following comment in his 1978 sketch of Mahāyāna ethics:

There are enough references to precepts, virtues, and moral models to suggest that MB [= Mahāyāna Buddhism] involves a moral perspective not merely as a worldview, but directly as a system. In either case ongoing research may uncover the phenomenon that MB morality contains no precepts and values which cannot be found in alternate or even stronger forms in other major ethical traditions. On the other hand, it may more profoundly realise that a new moral gestalt or ethos ensouls this ethics with a unique and still unappreciated dynamic, one symbolised by bodhisattvas, who go on living for others and surrender not to death, and by savior Buddhas with extended hands (1978: 248).


Perfect Knowledge Minor Offence Good Root Small Vehicle Moral Precept 


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Copyright information

© Damien Keown 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Damien Keown
    • 1
  1. 1.Goldsmiths’ CollegeUniversity of LondonUK

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