The title “Buddhism and Law” refers to an incipient interdisciplinary research area exploring the interactions and overlappings between Buddhist traditions and the legal domain, mainly promoted by Buddhologist Frank Reynolds and legal scholars Rebecca French and Andrew Huxley. From Pali scholarship pioneer T. W. Rhys Davids to the most recent legal comparativists, the legal dimension of Buddhism has found strong detractors, even if their positions are sometimes deprived of due nuances. So the volume Buddhism and Law: An Introduction (French and Nathan 2014, cited under Anthologies) is anything but an ordinary academic work within a settled line of research. We find academic volumes referring to “Buddhist law” (in a lay sense) as early as the late 19th century, whereas the scholarly perception of a particular research area manifested itself in Reynolds 1995 (cited under Anthologies), a special issue of the Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. Defenders of this relatively “new” research field point to Western Buddhist studies promoting a transcendental approach to Buddhist traditions (“the other-worldly bias”), while suffering a research deficit regarding the social and normative dynamics of Buddhist societies. Yet one may observe to what extent Buddhism and law seem to make up quite a controversial couple. Their relationship highly depends upon the meaning conferred to each individual term. Narrow religious approaches to Buddhism and strict positivist definitions of law allow for little interaction, whereas visions encompassing the ethical and sociopolitical dimensions of both elements grant a richer area of intersection. The conceptual density of the Buddhist notion of dharma, often translated as “law,” also contributes to this complexity. The reader may be surprised to find out that Kalupahana’s The Buddha and the Conception of Law mainly addresses epistemological issues, while at the other side of the spectrum, Jardine’s Notes on Buddhist Law (Jardine 1882–1883, cited under Southeast Asia) is exclusively dedicated to Burmese domestic law. The result is a bibliographical kaleidoscope where heterogeneous (and sometimes contradictory) approaches and topics coexist and overlap. The most common and shared ground for studies of Buddhism and law relates to the monastic regulation (Vinaya) and its external (and reciprocal) influences on lay law. In this sense, scholars tend to specialize in particular Buddhist traditions or geographical areas, Theravada Southeast Asia and Vajrayāna Himalayas being the most fertile. Here, literature questioning simplistic assumptions regarding the Buddhist character of law and regulations in Buddhist countries also needs to be taken into account. Broader approaches include the consideration of the impact of Buddhist ethics on social regulation or the problem of political power and its legitimation. Other studies aim at deciphering a Buddhist model of justice or propose a treatment of contemporary normative issues such as human rights or criminology from a Buddhist angle. Methodological plurality comprises textual, conceptual, anthropological, historical, systematic, descriptive, and prescriptive approaches.
There is currently no single-authored academic work systematically covering the whole range of topics and approaches to Buddhism and law. Frank’s Reynolds introduction to the special issue of the Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies (Reynolds 1995) and Rebecca French’s mournful reference to a “missing discipline” (French 2004a) are of use in understanding the status quaestionis at the inception of this discipline, whose configuration finds a decisive momentum in French and Nathan 2014. There is also a gap within comparative law—Huxley’s entry on “Buddhist Law” in Kritzner’s Legal Systems of the World (2002) refers exclusively to Theravada countries, for example. Recent efforts to review the existing literature while proposing a research agenda focusing on contemporary socio-legal issues may be found in Schonthal and Ginsburg 2016. Certain works, on the other hand, are useful in providing a sort of guide to normative and political references in classical sources. Chakravarti 1996 is arguably the most complete reference of this genre.
Alvarez Ortega, Miguel. “Gihi, Sangha, Raja: Role-Based Normativity in Early Buddhism.” Rivista Internazionale di Filsofia del Diritto 2 (2013): 423–446.
Summarized introduction to and discussion of canonical normative references according to social roles: the layman, the monk, and the king. An attempt to identify common features of a Buddhist notion of law is provided in the conclusion.
Chakravarti, Uma. The Social Dimensions of Early Buddhism. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1996.
A comprehensive volume that reflects upon the social milieu of the Buddha’s time and provides detailed references to political and legal positionings in canonical sources.
French, Rebecca R. “The Case of the Missing Discipline: Finding Buddhist Legal Studies.” Buffalo Law Review 52.3 (Summer 2004a): 679–699.
Considers the features and difficulties for the study of Buddhist-based law, with an emphasis on its disciplinary placement.
French, Rebecca R. “Law and Buddhism.” In Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Vol. 1. Edited by R. E. Buswell, 459–461. New York: Macmillan, 2004b.
Very brief introduction that identifies four ways of interaction: monastic law, Buddhist States modeled on the example of Aśoka, legal attitudes in non-Buddhist states, and Buddhism-inspired legal reasoning.
French, Rebecca R., and Mark A. Nathan. “Introducing Buddhism and Law.” In Buddhism and Law: An Introduction. Edited by Rebecca R. French and Mark A. Nathan, 1–30. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
Tries to present and define the topics, concerns, difficulties, and boundaries of what is deemed a relatively new and particular research field: “Buddhism and Law.”
Jayatilleke, K. N. “The Principles of International Law in Buddhist Doctrine.” In Facets of Buddhist Thought: Collected Essays. By K. N. Jayatilleke, 317–482. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society, 2010.
In order to identify/recreate a Buddhist approach to international law, the author introduces main Buddhist concepts and explains normative notions drawn both from monastic and lay sources. Originally published in 1967 as part of the Collected Courses (Recueil des cours) of The Hague Academy of International Law.
Reynolds, Frank. “Buddhism and Law—Preface.” In Special Issue: Buddhism and Law. Edited by Frank Reynolds. Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 18.1 (1995): 1–6.
The first reflection upon the need to define and promote legal approaches to Buddhism. Includes reference to bibliographical antecedents.
Schonthal, Benjamin, and Tom Ginsburg. “Setting an Agenda for the Socio-Legal Study of Contemporary Buddhism.” Asian Journal of Law and Society 3.1 (2016): 1–15.
Reflects upon and summarizes the recent history of this research area. Identifies and characterizes four sections within the so-deemed understudied contemporary socio-legal scholarship on Buddhism: the monastic law-state law relationship, Buddhist constitutionalism, Buddhist legal activism, and Buddhist-interest litigation and Buddhist moral critique of law.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
Purchase an Ebook Version of This Article
Ebooks of the Oxford Bibliographies Online subject articles are available in North America via a number of retailers including Amazon, vitalsource, and more. Simply search on their sites for Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guides and your desired subject article.
If you would like to purchase an eBook article and live outside North America please email firstname.lastname@example.org to express your interest.
- Abhijñā/Ṛddhi (Extraordinary Knowledge and Powers)
- Abortion, Buddhism and
- Ajanta Caves
- Ambedkar Buddhism
- Ancient Indian Society
- Archaeology of Early Buddhism
- Art and Architecture In China, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in India, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Japan, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Nepal, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Tibet, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture on the "Silk Road," Buddhist
- Asceticism, Buddhism and
- Awakening of Faith
- Beats, Buddhism and the
- Bhāviveka / Bhāvaviveka
- Bodh Gaya
- Body, Buddhism and the
- Buddha, Three Bodies of the (Trikāya)
- Buddhism and Ethics
- Buddhism and Law
- Buddhism and Marxism
- Buddhism and Modern Literature
- Buddhist Art and Architecture in Sri Lanka and Southeast A...
- Buddhist Hermeneutics
- Buddhist Ordination
- Buddhist Theories of Causality (karma, pratītyasamutpāda, ...
- Buddhist Thought and Western Philosophy
- Buddhist Thought, Embryology in
- Buddhist-Christian Dialogue
- Cambodian Buddhism
- Canon, History of the Buddhist
- Caste, Buddhism and
- Central Asia, Buddhism in
- China, Esoteric Buddhism in, (Zhenyan and Mijiao)
- China, Pilgrimage in
- Chinese Buddhist Publishing and Print Culture, 1900-1950
- Colonialism and Postcolonialism
- Compassion (karuṇā)
- Cosmology, Astronomy and Astrology
- Culture, Material
- Dalai Lama
- Demons and the Demonic in Buddhism
- Dignāga and Dharmakīrti, The Philosophical Works and Influ...
- Dizang (Jizō, Ksitigarbha)
- Drigung Kagyu (’Bri gung bKa’ brgyud)
- Dzogchen (rDzogs chen)
- Early Buddhist Philosophy (Abhidharma/Abhidhamma)
- Early Modern European Encounters with Buddhism
- East Asian Buddhist Art, Portraiture in
- Ellora Caves
- Emptiness (Śūnyatā)
- Environment, Buddhism and the
- Ethics of Violence, Buddhist
- Family, Buddhism and the
- Feminist Approaches to the Study of Buddhism
- Four Noble Truths
- Funeral Practices
- Gandhāra, Buddhism in
- Gelugpa (dGe lugs pa)
- Gender, Buddhism and
- Hakuin Ekaku
- History of Buddhisms in China
- Image Consecrations
- India, Buddhism in
- India, Mahāmudrā in
- Internationalism, Buddhism and
- Intersections Between Buddhism and Hinduism in Thailand
- Iranian World, Buddhism in the
- Islam, Buddhism and
- Japan, Buddhism in
- Korea, Buddhism in
- Kyōgyōshinshō (Shinran)
- Laos, Buddhism in
- Linji and the Linjilu
- Literature, Chan
- Literature, Tantric
- Local Religion, Buddhism as
- Lotus Sūtra
- Mahayana, Early
- Mahāvairocana Sūtra/Tantra
- Malaysia, Buddhism in
- Mantras and Dhāraṇīs
- Merit Transfer
- Miracles, Buddhist
- Modernism, Buddhist
- Monasticism in East Asia
- Mongolia, Buddhism in
- Mongolia, Buddhist Art and Architecture in
- Mārga (Path)
- Music, and Buddhism
- Myanmar, Buddhism in
- New Medias, Buddhism in
- New Religions in Japan (Shinshūkyō), Buddhism and
- Śāntideva (Bodhicaryāvatāra)
- Nuns, Lives, and Rules
- Oral and Literate Traditions
- Pagan (Bagan)
- Perfection of Wisdom
- Perfections (Six and Ten)
- Philosophy, Chinese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Indian Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Japanese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Tibetan Buddhist
- Pilgrimage in India
- Pilgrimage in Japan
- Pilgrimage in Tibet
- Preaching/Teaching in Buddhism Studies
- Psychology and Psychotherapy, Buddhism in
- Pure Land Buddhism
- Pure Land Sūtras
- Religious Tourism, Buddhism and
- Saṃsāra and Rebirth
- Self, Non-Self, and Personal Identity
- Sexuality and Buddhsim
- Shinto, Buddhism and
- Soka Gakkai
- South and Southeast Asia, Devatās, Nats, And Phii In
- Southeast Asia, Buddhism in
- Sri Lanka, Monasticism in
- Sōtō Zen (Japan)
- Stūpa Pagoda Caitya
- Suffering (Dukkha)
- Sutta (Pāli/Theravada Canon)
- Texts, Dunhuang
- Thai Buddhism
- Thích Nhất Hạnh
- Three Turnings of the Wheel of Doctrine (Dharma-Cakra)
- Tibet, Buddhism in
- Tibet, Mahāmudrā in
- Tibetan Book of the Dead
- Tri Songdetsen
- Uighur Buddhism
- Verse Literature, Tibetan Buddhist
- Vidyādhara (weikza/weizzā)
- Vietnam, Buddhism in
- Vision and Visualization
- Visualization/Contemplation Sutras
- Visuddhimagga (Buddhaghosa)
- Warrior Monk Traditions
- West (North America and Europe), Buddhism in the
- Wheel of Life (Bhava-Cakra)
- Women in Buddhism
- Women in the West, Prominent Buddhist
- Zen, Premodern Japanese