As I wrote yesterday, I am in Malibu, where I am participating in the annual conference of Pepperdine Law School’s Nootbaar Institute on Law, Religion, and Ethics. The theme for this year’s conference is Wisdom Law and Lawyers. I was very excited about this conference and not only to escape the winter cold of the Twin Cities or because some of my good friends are among the other speakers.
Yesterday morning began with a wonderful keynote address by Jonathan Burnside, who spoke about the relationship between law and wisdom. The first panel of the morning addressed Practical Reason, Wisdom and the Law.
I spoke on the second panel of the morning on the subject of Religious Traditions and Wisdom. My talk addressed the Buddhist understanding of wisdom and how that might speak to issues of law, lawyers and justice. Specifically, I addressed questions such as: What does Buddhism teach about the nature of wisdom? How, if at all, do those teachings relate to, or perhaps enrich, a Christian understanding of wisdom? And how does a Buddhist understanding of wisdom impact our view of the law and the legal profession?
One of the reasons I was excited to be part of this panel is that, by and large, the study of law and religion is a field that has been dominated by discussions focused on the western religious traditions. Theologians and legal scholars have devoted attention to law and religion in the Christian, Jewish and Islamic contexts. Only recently have some scholars started focusing on law from a Buddhist perspective. (Indeed the first comprehensive book on Buddhism and Law was only published last year.)
One of the the points I made in my talk is that Buddhism embodies a preference for resolving conflict in a way that recognizes the interconnectedness/ interdependence of all beings. Rebecca French, who has devoted significant attention to Buddhist conception of law, suggests that the US legal system, which tends to produce winners and losers, gives “little thought” to the interconnectedness of people and how the decision affects all the individuals involved in the case.” In contrast, she writes, “Buddhists believe that you can’t have closure in a case unless all parties are in agreement with the decision, and unless the whole network of people affected by the case is compensated. From this process, you have a social catharsis; you have a feeling that society has been healed.” The Dalai Lama, speaking at a program on law, Buddhism and social changes several years ago, spoke of the need to employ reconciliation and mediation before going to court. While I don’t think this is the only, and maybe not even the most important, thing Buddhism contributes to how we think about law and justice, I do think it is something worth thinking about.
I hope to share some more thoughts about the conference in subsequent posts.