Are Modern Understandings of Karma the Teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha?

Are Modern Understandings of Karma the Teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha?” by Brian Victoria, Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, United Kingdom, has been announced as a keynote to be presented at The 13th Asian Conference on Ethics, Religion & Philosophy (ACERP2023) and The 13th Asian Conference on Psychology & the Behavioral Sciences (ACP2023).

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Are Modern Understandings of Karma the Teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha?

"Karma”, like the word "Buddha”, is one of the few words of Buddhist/Hindu origin that have become so commonly used they no longer need to be italicised when written. Thus, when discussing something that happened to a particular person, usually of a negative character, it is unsurprising to hear someone say, “It was his karma, man.” Here, karma becomes very close to meaning "fate", suggesting a power outside of one’s control that determines one’s destiny. But is this the genuine meaning of karma?

This presentation will focus on the understanding of karma in twentieth-century Japan, beginning with that of Rinzai Zen master Shaku Sōen as presented at the World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893, including an examination of the doctrinal underpinnings of Sōen's understanding in the Lotus Sutra. This will be followed by the contrasting understanding of Sōen's lay disciple, D. T. Suzuki, as well as that of the martyred Sōtō Zen priest Uchiyama Gudō.

To ensure that the understanding of karma held by Shaku Sōen, et al. is not regarded as a uniquely Mahayana interpretation, reference will also be made to examples of the use of karma in the Theravada tradition, specifically as used in contemporary Thailand.

In conclusion, an examination of karma as taught by Shakyamuni Buddha will be presented. It will be shown that both the Mahayana and Theravada understandings of karma are far removed, even contradictory, to the teachings of the Buddha himself.

Speaker Biography

Brian Victoria
Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, United Kingdom

Brian VictoriaBrian Victoria is a native of Omaha, Nebraska and a 1961 graduate of Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln, Nebraska. He holds a MA in Buddhist Studies from Sōtō Zen sect-affiliated Komazawa University in Tokyo, and a PhD from the Department of Religious Studies at Temple University.

In addition to a second, enlarged edition of Zen At War (Rowman & Littlefield, 2006), Brian's major writings include Zen War Stories (RoutledgeCurzon, 2003); an autobiographical work in Japanese entitled Gaijin de ari, Zen bozu de ari (As a Foreigner, As a Zen Priest), published by San-ichi Shobo in 1971; Zen Master Dōgen, coauthored with Prof. Yokoi Yūhō of Aichi Gakuin University (Weatherhill, 1976); and a translation of The Zen Life by Sato Koji (Weatherhill, 1972). In addition, Brian has published numerous journal articles, focusing on the relationship of not only Buddhism but religion in general, to violence and warfare.

From 2005 to 2013 Brian was a Professor of Japanese Studies and director of the AEA “Japan and Its Buddhist Traditions Program” at Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio, United States. From 2013 to 2015 he was a Visiting Research Fellow at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto, Japan. His latest book, Zen Terror: The Death of Democracy in Prewar Japan was published by Rowman & Littlefield in February 2020. Brian is currently a Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies and a fully ordained Buddhist priest in the Sōtō Zen sect.

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