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A study of a Shambhala Buddhist approach to crime, society, and transformation

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Thompson, Karuna Rose




Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies


Shakya, Miroj
Yuen, Elain
Gabriel, Victor


Inspired by contemporary challenges Buddhist communities are facing regarding sexual violence and exploitation, this work asks the following question: What is a Buddhist approach to crime and justice? Through the exploration of four primary texts, the Aggañña Sutta, the Cakkavatti-Sīhanāda Sutta, the Angulimāla Sutta, and the Jewel Garland of Advice for Living, a Buddhist approach to crime, society, and transformation is proposed. The exegesis draws specifically on the Tibetan form of Buddhism, known as Shambhala, that is informed by two of the four primary Tibetan lineages: Nyingma and Kagyu. In this work, justice and crime are framed in the world view of human life as precious, the obligation of society, and leadership as the cultivation of the inherent wakefulness and sanity all human beings possess (i.e., basic goodness/Buddha nature). Crime prevention and the origins of crime are identified as resource based, the responsibility for proper distribution of which belongs to the leadership/ruler, presented in its most idealized form as the wheel-turning monarch: the cakkavatti. When these duties are not met, society devolves into crime and social disorder, all stemming from the leadership/ruler not engaging in a generous distribution of resources to all and not listening to the guidance of advisors. Society re-evolves when moral conduct, based on the five moral actions of not killing, not lying, not stealing, not engaging in sexual misconduct, and not taking intoxicants, returns. Due to innate basic goodness and capacity for insight, when a crime is committed, criminals—through their own intelligence being sparked—are able to change the habitual patterns that led to criminality, as well as crime itself. Transformation occurs through offering environments that create relaxation, rebalancing/reconnecting with sensory experience, and resolving traumatic life experiences. Finally, a brief review of crime and punishment from a Western perspective is considered. In light of the Buddhist approach to crime and society, the abolition of prison is advocated. A call is put forward to view justice as education based on the creation of healing environments that promote skill development, access to resources, and lived meaning.

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University of the West

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