Much of the work in the relatively new field of Theravāda Buddhist ethics has been directed toward critiquing the Weberian characterization of Buddhism as primarily “mystical” and oriented away from social, political, and domestic attention toward the world. Ancient Buddhism, Max Weber wrote, “is a specifically unpolitical and anti-political-status religion, more precisely, a religious ‘technology’ of wandering and of intellectually-schooled mendicant monks” (1996, 206). It is a tradition lacking “a concept of neighborly love,” a sense of social responsibility or “any bridge to any actively conceptualized ‘social’ conduct,” and “almost all beginnings of a methodical lay morality” (208, 213, 218). Even though Buddhism developed some formulations of a lay-oriented social ethics in order to accommodate the sponsorship of rulers beginning with Aśoka, Weber argued, it remained in its various forms throughout Asia a fundamentally mystical and magical (or nonrational) religious tradition, exhibiting a “devaluation of the world” characteristic of mysticism (330–43).

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