The heroic saint, junzi, and bodhisattva: A cross-religious and cultural dialogue of moral exemplars
Contemporary scholars of comparative religious ethics study various ideal types of morally paradigmatic persons to understand the morality of a community. Many of these scholars discuss ideal Westernized types, specifically, the "saint" and the " hero" as if these types could be generally applied to all communities. In East Asian communities, however, the "junzi" and the "bodhisattva" have been traditionally viewed as unique types of the moral exemplar. The conceptions of "saint" and "hero" in the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian traditions cannot be universally applied to comparative studies of the moral exemplar across different religious and cultural traditions.
This dissertation conceptualizes three ideal types of the moral exemplar by establishing a cross-religious and cultural dialogue between representatives of three different moral traditions. Aquinas's heroic saint in Judeo-Christianity, Mencius's junzi in Chinese Confucianism, and Manhae's bodhisattva in Korean Buddhism are comparatively discussed through both historical and hermeneutical dialogues. For this comparison, several concept clusters for each type are formulated, and the bridge concepts between the three different types are discussed.
This study of Aquinas's heroic saint and Mencius's junzi reveals similarities and differences between the Western and Eastern traditions. Manhae's bodhisattva is studied as a viable interlocutor that can move dialogue beyond the Western/Eastern or Western/Chinese dichotomy. By introducing Manhae's Buddhist ideal of the paradigmatic person into the comparative dialogue, scholars who use the comparative method can enhance their understanding of how the traditions of human morality can be kept alive in a pluralistic and globalizing world.
By examining past models of the moral exemplar, comparative scholars can learn how beliefs and actions are particularly different or similar. The Westernized type of moral exemplar, such as the hero or the saint, cannot facilitate a comparative dialogue that attempts to understand the deep structure of moral reasoning in each moral tradition. This comparative study suggests a methodology for reflecting ethically on the moral uniqueness of contemporary pluralistic communities.