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The Unique Perspective on Intention (cetanā), Ethics, Agency, and the Self in Buddhism

Applied Ethics in the Fractured State

ISBN: 978-1-78769-600-6, eISBN: 978-1-78769-599-3

Publication date: 12 November 2018


This chapter investigates the central role that intention (cetanā) plays in Buddhist ethics, the unique perspective into the nature of the self and agency from a Theravāda Buddhist stance. Intention is paramount in determining every mental, verbal, and physical action as wholesome, unwholesome, or neutral in the Buddhist ethico-psychology. Buddhist ethics offer an inclusive, compassionate, and non-theistic perspective into the many moral dilemmas we face today as the mind and its processes, the underlying volition of a thought, context, and circumstances all determine the nature of an action. This is of relevance particularly in the digital age where agency is often imperceptible from societal, legal, and materialistic stances. The virtual world is perceived to be distinct from concrete reality and hence unethical actions considered to be less negative and destructive, and the perpetrators often difficult to trace or made to pay the consequences as societies and legal systems struggle to deal with this new reality. Buddhism has little to say about reforming society but on the other hand provides a refined investigative system of categorization of ethical and unethical actions through its theory of kamma (action) originating in a seed of positive or negative intention in the mind, and the consequences are said to be unavoidable although subject to manifold variations. Although the influence of Buddhism is still fragmented in the West with debates on its relevance, what to adopt, adapt, and discard, it can offer a fresh perspective on ethics, intention, agency, and the self.



Sirimanne, C.R. (2018), "The Unique Perspective on Intention (cetanā), Ethics, Agency, and the Self in Buddhism", Grant, B., Drew, J. and Christensen, H.E. (Ed.) Applied Ethics in the Fractured State (Research in Ethical Issues in Organizations, Vol. 20), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 31-44.



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