Weeks 8-9 Gandhi & Buddhist Ethics

Mahatma Gandhi & Buddhist Ethics

  1. Resources
  2. Concepts
  3. Guide Questions
  4. Lecture on ethics by His Holiness the Dalai Lama
  5. Smartboard Notes

Buddhism and Gandhi

Here are some web sites that will enhance your understanding of this week’s reading:


Concepts & Terms to Know:

Objectives for this week: These are the learning objectives you should have mastered after attending the lectures and completing the questions below

  1. Explain Gandhi’s understanding of ahimsa and nonviolence
  2. List the foundational concepts for Buddhist ethics.
  3. Explain the four noble truths and identify their connection with creating a pathway to happiness.
  4. Discuss the parallels between the four noble truths and deontological ethics.
  5. Discuss the parallels between the four noble truths and character ethics as put forth by Plato & Aristotle.


For Buddhists, ethical practice turns on individual understanding of the Four Nobel Truths:

  1. Noble Truth of Sorrow: All is suffering. “Birth is sorrow, age is sorrow, disease is sorrow, death is sorrow, separation from the pleasant is sorrow, every wish unfulfilled is sorrow.”1
  2. Noble Truth of the Arising of Sorrow.
    Suffering is caused by desire. “It arises from craving, which leads to rebirth, which brings delight and passion and seeks pleasure now here, now there — the craving for sensual pleasure, the craving for continued life, the craving for power.”2
  3. Noble Truth of the Stopping of Sorrow.
    End desire and you can end suffering. “It is the complete stopping of craving, so that no passion remains, leaving it, being emancipated from it, being released from it, giving no place to it.”3
  4. End desire by following the eightfold path:
    • Correct View,
    • Correct Intention,
    • Correct Action,
    • Correct Speech,
    • Correct Livelihood,
    • Correct Effort,
    • Correct Mindfulness,
    • Correct Meditation.
  • 1. The Buddhist Tradition in India, China and Japan. Ed. William Theodore deBary. New York:, Vintage Books, 1972, 16.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Ibid., 17.

Guide Questions:

(Gandhi only)

  1. What does Gandhi mean by ahimsa?
  2. Who qualifies as a satyagraha and what belief system do they practice?
  3. How does Gandhi argue that nonviolence is more effective than violence at achieving good?
  4. What is the enemy of ahimsa?
  5. What is the essence of violence? Explain how violence begets more violence (in Gandhi’s terms).
  6. Gandhi argues that it is better to suffer injury than engage in violence. However, he carves out one exception to this rule. What is it?

Tibetan Buddhism: Dalai
Lama lecture

On November 12, 1998 His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet made a historic visit to Pittsburgh, PA to give a series of talks on the Heart Sutra and ethics. The assigned reading and following excerpts are some highlights from his talk on “Challenges and Ethics for the Millennium” given at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall.   These notes are my recollections of the talk, and are not intended as an exact replication of the talk delivered by His Holiness.

Three reasons to be optimistic about 21st Century
Ethics and Values:

  1. We are a more peaceful planet at the end of the 20th century than we were at the beginning. Specifically, individuals are less willing to fight nationalistic wars in the name of territorial conquest. A notable exception occurs in Eastern Europe and Africa, but overall, the planet is witnessing less international conflicts and instead wrestling with the difficulties of internal civil wars.
  2. The “global village” is a reality that promotes peace. When business and environmental interests are entwined by virtue of strong trade, individuals from various nations are more likely to cooperate when
    difficulties arise. We are wired to all parts of the world simultaneously and are able to verify and understand one another on deeper levels than previously possible.  Thus individuals, through advanced communications technology, are getting information from many sources and the media is not free to distort reality to influence public opinion.
  3. The younger generations are more egalitarian than their ancestors and less inclined to label another based on nationality, race, religion, or political orientation. Thus, His Holiness argues that a decrease in nationalism combined with a rise in the humanitarian ethos of equality works to eliminate irrational prejudice and hatreds that have divided peoples throughout history.  



Smartboard Notes from Week 9 Lecture: