"You cannot be moral without being religious"

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Re: "You cannot be moral without being religious"

Postby rowyourboat » Fri Feb 04, 2011 4:35 pm

Looking for the causes of morality:

This was said by the Blessed One, said by the Arahant, so I have heard: "Ignorance[1] precedes the arrival of unskillful qualities; lack of conscience & lack of concern[2] follow after. Clear knowing precedes the arrival of skillful qualities; conscience & concern follow after."

§ 40. {Iti 2.13; Iti 34}   

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Re: "You cannot be moral without being religious"

Postby tobes » Sat Feb 05, 2011 12:47 am

Ron-The-Elder wrote:
My problem with all of this is that the jurisdiction in charge determines what is moral and immoral. As Shakespeare put it in his MacBeth, a true moral play...: "What is good for the witches".....



I don't think that follows at all. Acting morally does not imply acting in ideological conformity.

To take Kant for example, one of the greatest moral thinkers to come from Europe, this is exactly the inverse of acting morally.

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Re: "You cannot be moral without being religious"

Postby Ron-The-Elder » Sat Feb 05, 2011 2:08 pm

tobes wrote:
Ron-The-Elder wrote:
My problem with all of this is that the jurisdiction in charge determines what is moral and immoral. As Shakespeare put it in his MacBeth, a true moral play...: "What is good for the witches".....



I don't think that follows at all. Acting morally does not imply acting in ideological conformity.

To take Kant for example, one of the greatest moral thinkers to come from Europe, this is exactly the inverse of acting morally.

:anjali:


Hi, tobes.

We only know what we know. When we are children the jurisdiction in charge is our parents. If our parents happen to be Quakers, then all we will know is Quaker morals. If our parents are witches, then all we will know is witch-craft. Not until we see the ways of others and experience the consequences of following their ways do we ever get a choice.

Kant's flawed thinking is that there is some beautiful law that resides in mankind, and in reality we are as vicious and self-serving as any other animal until we are given guidance by the jurisdiction in charge.
What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
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Re: "You cannot be moral without being religious"

Postby andre9999 » Sat Feb 05, 2011 5:40 pm

Ron-The-Elder wrote:We only know what we know. When we are children the jurisdiction in charge is our parents. If our parents happen to be Quakers, then all we will know is Quaker morals. If our parents are witches, then all we will know is witch-craft. Not until we see the ways of others and experience the consequences of following their ways do we ever get a choice.

Kant's flawed thinking is that there is some beautiful law that resides in mankind, and in reality we are as vicious and self-serving as any other animal until we are given guidance by the jurisdiction in charge.


I agree with this to a large extent, particularly in regard to where much of our moral compass comes from. It's no coincidence that in primarily Christian nations, an atheist's view of right and wrong strangely lines up with the Christian bible.

That said, the flaw with saying that societal factors are the only source of morality is that it requires first cause. If we're all savage beasts until taught otherwise, who was the first beast to find morality? And who taught him or her?
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Re: "You cannot be moral without being religious"

Postby fragrant herbs » Sun Feb 06, 2011 10:47 pm

EnirehtacNI wrote:One day, my friend and I were discussing about this statement ("You cannot be moral without being religious") and concluded that we both have different points of view. She is interested in psychology and studied it for a while and is interested in peoples points of view. She is also curious with my belief in Buddhism and asks me regulary about what I think about things and this may be due to my different points of view.

So we discussed the statement for a while using all sorts of examples to justify whether we agree or disagree with it. I wholesomely disagree with the statement but she agrees with it. I know with these things you cannot be right or wrong but as long as you have something to back it up.

I used the example that humans are a social animal and that they would help each other out for the benefit of the group and for themselves. It might be a selfish concept but you can see that one human may help another out and be moral in the sense that they would be nice to the other and know not hurt them.

But she argues that early humans must of had their beliefs in some sort of god and therefore would be moral to satisfy this god and not themselves because humans are aggressive and predatorial.

So, what are your views on this statement? In what relation does the statement have with Buddhism?

Thanks for time,
:anjali:


Love your avatar.

i have spent time in the past on religious forums where christians say that an atheist has no morals. so wrong. there are atheists, some of whom i know, that have more morals than many christians. as one of my friends said, "you do what is right because it is the right thing to do, not because you fear hell."
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Re: "You cannot be moral without being religious"

Postby Ben » Sun Feb 06, 2011 11:00 pm

Greetings Andre,
andre9999 wrote:I agree with this to a large extent, particularly in regard to where much of our moral compass comes from. It's no coincidence that in primarily Christian nations, an atheist's view of right and wrong strangely lines up with the Christian bible.

Just as an aside, I think its interesting that the morals of most cultures and religions allign. Certainly there are some notable exceptions, but all-in-all, whether one grows up in a taoist household, a hindu, sikh, buddhist, jewish, atheist or muslim household (fundamentalism aside), as examples, there will be a great deal of commonality of morality.
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Re: "You cannot be moral without being religious"

Postby Guy » Mon Feb 07, 2011 5:44 am

Ben wrote:Just as an aside, I think its interesting that the morals of most cultures and religions allign. Certainly there are some notable exceptions, but all-in-all, whether one grows up in a taoist household, a hindu, sikh, buddhist, jewish, atheist or muslim household (fundamentalism aside), as examples, there will be a great deal of commonality of morality.


Exactly, what are the five precepts other than "doing unto others as you would have them do unto you". No one likes being lied to, cheated on, robbed, murdered; so don't do it to others. But stoning people (or cutting off hands, etc) for breaking these moral laws doesn't make sense to me. As Gandhi said "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind". This is why moral laws needs to be accompanied with forgiveness in order to prevent the "dark side" of religion rearing its ugly head. Forgiveness and morality combined ideally should be at the hearts of every religious practitioner.

I also think that the reason why many atheists find it detestable to be preached to by religious people about morality is because of the perceived hypocrisy. While it is true that some so-called "religious people" preach poverty while hoarding wealth and preach sexual responsibility while committing perverted sexual acts, it is a shame that a few rotten apples (combined with endless media coverage on this topic) make the world view religion as a whole (including those who are practicing for the right reasons) in a negative light.

(But here I deserve to be called a hypocrite too when I make jokes such as the venn diagram I posted on this thread)...oh well I forgive myself. Please don't stone me.
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Re: "You cannot be moral without being religious"

Postby Ron-The-Elder » Mon Feb 07, 2011 8:16 pm

Guy wrote:
Ben wrote:Just as an aside, I think its interesting that the morals of most cultures and religions allign. Certainly there are some notable exceptions, but all-in-all, whether one grows up in a taoist household, a hindu, sikh, buddhist, jewish, atheist or muslim household (fundamentalism aside), as examples, there will be a great deal of commonality of morality.


Exactly, what are the five precepts other than "doing unto others as you would have them do unto you". No one likes being lied to, cheated on, robbed, murdered; so don't do it to others. But stoning people (or cutting off hands, etc) for breaking these moral laws doesn't make sense to me. As Gandhi said "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind". This is why moral laws needs to be accompanied with forgiveness in order to prevent the "dark side" of religion rearing its ugly head. Forgiveness and morality combined ideally should be at the hearts of every religious practitioner.

I also think that the reason why many atheists find it detestable to be preached to by religious people about morality is because of the perceived hypocrisy. While it is true that some so-called "religious people" preach poverty while hoarding wealth and preach sexual responsibility while committing perverted sexual acts, it is a shame that a few rotten apples (combined with endless media coverage on this topic) make the world view religion as a whole (including those who are practicing for the right reasons) in a negative light.

(But here I deserve to be called a hypocrite too when I make jokes such as the venn diagram I posted on this thread)...oh well I forgive myself. Please don't stone me.


Hi, Guy. Venerable Goenka seems to agree in his summary of Buddha's teachings regarding precepts:
Like many teachers of different religions Buddha also taught about sila, the five precepts, the panca sila, and like others he explains to people, in different ways, why they should observe sila. You should not kill. Why should you not kill? If somebody comes and kills you, you certainly don't like it. Therefore when you try to kill somebody, that person won't like it. What you don't like, others don't like. So refrain from actions which, if performed by others towards you, you won't like. You should not do something which will hurt or harm others. Therefore don't kill.

If somebody steals something belonging to you which is very dear to you, you won't like it. Certainly you don't like it. Therefore don't take something belonging to somebody else, which is dear to that person. You don't steal it because you don't like that to be done to you.

If someone commits rape or adultery with a member of your family, you don't like it. So you should not do something like that.

Somebody speaks lies and deceives you. You don't like it. Therefore you should not do a thing like this which others won't like. You may agree to these four precepts-"Yes, I understand I should not kill. I should not steal. I should not commit sexual misconduct. I should not speak lies and yet when you get intoxicated you might commit all these four. You are helpless. You are a slave of the intoxicant. You are not the master of yourself. Therefore don't take any intoxicant. Wonderful!

Another way of explaining: if you don't break any one of the sila, after death you will get this heaven or that heaven.

Again wonderful!

Another approach: you are a human being and every human being has to live in society. A householder has to live with the members of his own family, members of the society. Even if someone renounces the householder's life, yet one remains in contact with the society. As a member of the society you should not do anything which will disturb the peace and harmony of the society. You cannot enjoy peace and harmony if all around you there is no peace and harmony at all. If you want to live a life of peace and harmony, that means you must encourage peace and harmony around you. If you are surrounded by burning fire, don't think that you won't suffer from that fire. The heat of the fire will make you miserable. If you want peace, then don't do anything at the physical level or at the vocal level which will disturb the peace and harmony of others, which will harm and hurt others. Wonderful! Wonderful!


resource for further study: http://www.what-buddha-taught.net/Books ... Buddha.htm
What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
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Re: "You cannot be moral without being religious"

Postby Northernbuck » Tue Feb 08, 2011 12:39 am

Modus.Ponens wrote:
octathlon wrote:
Northernbuck wrote:If the argument is that you cannot be moral without being religious, then it also must be true that you cannot be religious without being moral. This part of the argument can be debunked simply by looking at televangelists or extremists; they all have religion, but without morality. If this part of the argument is true, then the first part is false; you can be moral without being religious.

No, that logic doesn't work. That is like saying "if you can't be a square without being a rectangle, then you can't be a rectangle without being a square." [where rectangle = religious and square = moral]

The OP's friend is saying that religiosity is a necessary (but not necessarily a sufficient) condition for being moral. So to disprove it you only need to look at those moral people who aren't religious, and they are easy to find. Google "atheist charities" for example.


Hi Northernbuck

Your argument in red is falacious. You're saying that if p=>q then q=>p, where "=>" stands for "implies", which in general isn't true.


Ahhh. Just checked the site after a long while away. I now see where I went wrong. Trust me, philosophy is still hard for me to grasp at times. Sorry for the confusion. :oops:
But if this neutral feeling that has arisen is conditioned by the body which is impermanent, compounded and dependently arisen, how could such a neutral feeling be permanent? - SN 36.7
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Re: "You cannot be moral without being religious"

Postby tobes » Tue Feb 08, 2011 2:34 am

Ron-The-Elder wrote:
tobes wrote:
Ron-The-Elder wrote:
My problem with all of this is that the jurisdiction in charge determines what is moral and immoral. As Shakespeare put it in his MacBeth, a true moral play...: "What is good for the witches".....



I don't think that follows at all. Acting morally does not imply acting in ideological conformity.

To take Kant for example, one of the greatest moral thinkers to come from Europe, this is exactly the inverse of acting morally.

:anjali:


Hi, tobes.

We only know what we know. When we are children the jurisdiction in charge is our parents. If our parents happen to be Quakers, then all we will know is Quaker morals. If our parents are witches, then all we will know is witch-craft. Not until we see the ways of others and experience the consequences of following their ways do we ever get a choice.

Kant's flawed thinking is that there is some beautiful law that resides in mankind, and in reality we are as vicious and self-serving as any other animal until we are given guidance by the jurisdiction in charge.


I think Kant has it both ways: in Perpetual Peace he retains the Hobbesian assumption that humans are self-interested (and prone to violence and war) and therefore requires a robust political structure to establish a civil society.So in this sense, he's making a similar argument to you: moral life is engendered from political structures. But, yes, he also makes the assumption that humans (and political structures) can live in accord with reason, and reason is in accord with Natural Law (delibertately capitalised) which is inherently moral. This is also given in Perpetual Peace as well as his more direct work on morality, the Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals.

I'm not a Kantian, and I take your point about parents. Quite a Freudian point: morality is fundamentally an expression of the super-ego; the internalisation of the authority usually given from Mummy and Daddy.

I think the Buddhist position is somewhere between these poles. You might say that Buddhist ethics are given by 'the jurisdiction in charge' which implies the Buddha, the teachings, a teacher. But they have to be learned, understood and practiced by a subject, all which requires a certain autonomy of mind, a certain precision in reflection, a certain effort to bring the ethical into constant action (even if this means abstaining from action).

For that reason, it seems difficult to hold that humans are inherently self-interested, or inherently reasonable, or inherently moral, or inherently immoral. All of these may arise depending on what the subject does or doesn't do.

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Re: "You cannot be moral without being religious"

Postby Kim OHara » Tue Feb 08, 2011 10:16 am

tobes wrote:... it seems difficult to hold that humans are inherently self-interested, or inherently reasonable, or inherently moral, or inherently immoral. All of these may arise depending on what the subject does or doesn't do.

Since, as someone has said earlier, all societies seem to develop systems of morality, perhaps it is easier to say that human societies are inherently moral and reasonable and tend to make their members moral and reasonable - by education and/or coercion.
Then:
1. Religions in general provide the myth, the story, that justifies or explains moral behaviour and, often, applies coercion where it's needed.
2. Similarities between moral systems result from societies' universal need to protect individuals from one another and from outside attack.
3. The 'Golden Rule' is a pretty good summary of universal morals.
4. The 'story' is not so constrained by practicalities, which means that religious superstructures can vary widely despite similar moral foundations.

How does that look?
:namaste:
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Re: "You cannot be moral without being religious"

Postby Ron-The-Elder » Tue Feb 08, 2011 3:22 pm

tobes wrote: "I think the Buddhist position is somewhere between these poles. You might say that Buddhist ethics are given by 'the jurisdiction in charge' which implies the Buddha, the teachings, a teacher. But they have to be learned, understood and practiced by a subject, all which requires a certain autonomy of mind, a certain precision in reflection, a certain effort to bring the ethical into constant action (even if this means abstaining from action)."


Actually, Buddha shared what he discovered by his personal experience from over a period of thousands of life-times and having lived (reportedly) on many different worlds and in many different forms. He, in effect, gave us the benefit of his experiences and left it up to us to decide. This is not something which a child can do on their own. Therefore the jurisdiction in charge in Buddhism is parents, much like all the rest of societies and tribes. What Buddha taught for morals was motivational in that he explained how to end dukkha (physical and mental pain, suffering, stress, and dissatisfaction). He, most importantly, pointed out in his laws of dependent origination, impermanence, and kamma ( a proper subset of DO) that the reward and punishment for our behaviors are effectively caused by our own actions, which can be to our benefit if we ever make the connection, so that kamma and kamma-vipakha (intentional action and consequences of our actions) are effectively self inflicted. Dukkah is perpetuated, therefore, by our ignorance of the connection between intentional action and the consequences of our actions.

The hardest to grasp of Buddhas teachings, and which repels most investigators of Buddha's teachings is "emptiness" of nama and rupa (name and form), because most folks want to last forever, which hope just doesn't agree/align with the facts of life, what Buddha calls "The Dhamma".
What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
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Re: "You cannot be moral without being religious"

Postby tobes » Wed Feb 09, 2011 1:56 am

Ron-The-Elder wrote:
tobes wrote: "I think the Buddhist position is somewhere between these poles. You might say that Buddhist ethics are given by 'the jurisdiction in charge' which implies the Buddha, the teachings, a teacher. But they have to be learned, understood and practiced by a subject, all which requires a certain autonomy of mind, a certain precision in reflection, a certain effort to bring the ethical into constant action (even if this means abstaining from action)."


Actually, Buddha shared what he discovered by his personal experience from over a period of thousands of life-times and having lived (reportedly) on many different worlds and in many different forms. He, in effect, gave us the benefit of his experiences and left it up to us to decide. This is not something which a child can do on their own. Therefore the jurisdiction in charge in Buddhism is parents, much like all the rest of societies and tribes. What Buddha taught for morals was motivational in that he explained how to end dukkha (physical and mental pain, suffering, stress, and dissatisfaction). He, most importantly, pointed out in his laws of dependent origination, impermanence, and kamma ( a proper subset of DO) that the reward and punishment for our behaviors are effectively caused by our own actions, which can be to our benefit if we ever make the connection, so that kamma and kamma-vipakha (intentional action and consequences of our actions) are effectively self inflicted. Dukkah is perpetuated, therefore, by our ignorance of the connection between intentional action and the consequences of our actions.

The hardest to grasp of Buddhas teachings, and which repels most investigators of Buddha's teachings is "emptiness" of nama and rupa (name and form), because most folks want to last forever, which hope just doesn't agree/align with the facts of life, what Buddha calls "The Dhamma".



I don't dispute at all your succinct and nuanced account of Buddhist ethics. But I don't see how this follows at all:

This is not something which a child can do on their own. Therefore the jurisdiction in charge in Buddhism is parents, much like all the rest of societies and tribes.

Are you saying that the Buddha is like a parent to Buddhists?

In which case, I would object by saying that I'm a Buddhist, but having never met the Buddha, he is not like a parent to me.

Or are you saying that the moral logic of Buddhism itself has been taught over the generations to children by parents.

In which case I would grant you that this is partly the case in some cultures.

But it does not account for the monastic orders which also (I would say much more robustly) taught the moral logic of Buddhism over the generations.

And it also does not account for the people who are Buddhist, but who's parents are not Buddhist. I have met a great many such people, east and west.

These latter two cases demonstrate that the moral logic of Buddhism cannot be reduced to parental jurisdiction.

I guess the third possibility is that you're saying that without being raised properly by parents (i.e. being taught language and so on) no person would have the capacity to learn the moral logic of Buddhism, and therefore, parents are the jurisdiction in charge of Buddhism.

That seems very reductive to me. It is like saying: without air, no one would be able to breathe, and without breath no one would be able to make monetary exchanges, and therefore air is the fundamental jurisdiction in charge of the economy.

There is a certain truth to that, but it does not tell us very much about economics!

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Re: "You cannot be moral without being religious"

Postby tobes » Wed Feb 09, 2011 2:29 am

Kim O'Hara wrote:
tobes wrote:... it seems difficult to hold that humans are inherently self-interested, or inherently reasonable, or inherently moral, or inherently immoral. All of these may arise depending on what the subject does or doesn't do.

Since, as someone has said earlier, all societies seem to develop systems of morality, perhaps it is easier to say that human societies are inherently moral and reasonable and tend to make their members moral and reasonable - by education and/or coercion.

Then:
1. Religions in general provide the myth, the story, that justifies or explains moral behaviour and, often, applies coercion where it's needed.
2. Similarities between moral systems result from societies' universal need to protect individuals from one another and from outside attack.
3. The 'Golden Rule' is a pretty good summary of universal morals.
4. The 'story' is not so constrained by practicalities, which means that religious superstructures can vary widely despite similar moral foundations.

How does that look?
:namaste:
Kim


I'm not so sure about your basic premise here:

Since, as someone has said earlier, all societies seem to develop systems of morality, perhaps it is easier to say that human societies are inherently moral and reasonable and tend to make their members moral and reasonable - by education and/or coercion.

I think we could say that most societies develop some kind of order, and this is often (but not always) associated with a nomos - a kind of unwritten set of laws which guide normative practices. These can become written laws, and certainly could take the shape of a religious doctrine, or a purely political-legal doctrine, and very often until the last 300 or so years in Europe, the two (the political and the religious) were embedded.

But I think the whole discipline of anthropology sets out to establish that the nomos is usually very different in different cultures and societies: the nomos of Indigenous Australia is going to be very different from the nomos of Ancient Rome or Modern England (hence the problem of trying to balance them in an Australian court of law).

So, I'm sorry to be getting a bit long winded here, but the problem with your premise is that it equates morality with reason, which is very much a European idea (genealogically rooted in the Ancient Greeks), and so, does not account for the huge variations in how different societies order and govern themselves.

:anjali:
Last edited by tobes on Wed Feb 09, 2011 5:28 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: "You cannot be moral without being religious"

Postby alan » Wed Feb 09, 2011 2:59 am

Thanks, Kim, nice answer.
I'd like to expand the discussion away from definitions of "morality". Most people assume that what they think is right must therefore be moral. And what they think is right is usually what they were taught.
So I'd reframe the OP. "Is it possible to act ethically without being religious?"
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Re: "You cannot be moral without being religious"

Postby Ron-The-Elder » Wed Feb 09, 2011 4:33 am

tobes wrote:

I don't dispute at all your succinct and nuanced account of Buddhist ethics. But I don't see how this follows at all:

This is not something which a child can do on their own. Therefore the jurisdiction in charge in Buddhism is parents, much like all the rest of societies and tribes.


Or are you saying that the moral logic of Buddhism itself has been taught over the generations to children by parents.


Yes. Parents, who are Buddhists, teach what they know to their children and see that they attend classes which are taught by qualified Bhante's.

I am talking about children "only". Once children have expanded their horizons educationally, then other influences inevitably takeover. This can happen very quickly, as it did when I was a child, by being exposed to relatives, neighbors, and trades people who have their own sets of morals. Children, as with cloistered adults, cannot be isolated from other influences affecting the morals taught at home forever. In recognition of this The Buddha himself advised isolating the monastic sangha in communities away from villages, but yet close enough to allow the necessities of alms rounds.

To answer to your point regarding the evolution of morals beyond childhood, as adults, when dukkha derived of ignorance rises to such excruciatingly high levels that one can no longer bear it, search in earnest for answers providing relief begins. As any effective Buddhist practitioner knows, relief comes when one has satisfactorily applied the lessons learned through application of Buddha's advisory as found in The Noble Eight Fold Path.

And, you are correct, without The Monastic Community The Dhamma may have certainly disappeared thousands of years ago, or at least been more corrupted than it is today. But we can also thank the Kings who sponsored and commissioned the documentation of The Dhamma for its preservation, and the villager/parents who provided daily alms as well.


......teaching written down to prevent confusion or disappearance of the
True Religion.
The historic event took place at the Aloka cave Vihara or Aluvihara
in the Malaya country (Matale), a place in the island of Tambapanni
(Ceylon). This council is considered to be the Fourth by the
Theravada school although in India, another council held under the
patronage of the Kushan king Kanishka (ote 6) around 100 AD is
considered as the Fourth Council.
At the end of this Council, the texts along with the Attha1kathas
(commentaries) were inscribed on ola palm leaves and the scriptures
were thoroughly checked and rechecked to ensure their authenticity.
This was how the three Pitakas were preserved. A visit to Aloka
Cave will certainly evoke a deep sense of gratitude to the Sangha for
their wisdom and compassion in authenticating and documenting the
Buddha’s teachings for future generations. Thanks to the foresight
and indefatigable efforts of these great Elders, there is no room
either now or in the future for self=styled ‘progressive monks or
scholars’ to adulterate the pure Teaching.
*(The dates are calculated according to the Theravada tradition,
which places the Buddha’s Parinibbana in 543BC. Western sources
place the Buddha’s Parinibbana in 483BC, 60 years later.)


resource for further study: http://www.urbandharma.org/pdf/PDF_Budd ... ddhism.pdf
What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
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Re: "You cannot be moral without being religious"

Postby tobes » Wed Feb 09, 2011 5:38 am

alan wrote:Thanks, Kim, nice answer.
I'd like to expand the discussion away from definitions of "morality". Most people assume that what they think is right must therefore be moral. And what they think is right is usually what they were taught.
So I'd reframe the OP. "Is it possible to act ethically without being religious?"


"What is the difference between morality and ethics?" seems to me to be one of those dead simple questions that every philosopher has a different answer to.

I was working on it a little last year, and I really like this from Theodor Adorno's lectures on: "Problems of Moral Philosophy."

He was a German social theorist, so I hope everyone can forgive him for being a bit....what's the word....papanca!

"Ladies and Gentleman, as a consequence of this [of the resistance to the term 'moral] there has long since been a tendency to smuggle in the notion of ethics as a substitute for the concept of morality, and I once suggested that the concept of ethics was actually the bad conscience of morality, or that ethics is a sort of morality that is ashamed of its own moralising with the consequence that it behaves as if it were morality, but at the same time is not a moralising morality. And if I may be frank with you, it seems to me that the dishonesty implicit in this is worse and more problematic than the blunt incompatibility of our experience with the term morality, an incompatibility that at least permits us to extend or otherwise build on what Kant and Fichte understood by the concept of the moral and thereby arrive at more authoritative and harder insights....."

"In other words, to reduce the problem of morality to ethics is to perform a sort of conjuring trick by means of which the decisive problem of moral philosophy, namely the relation of the individual to the general, is made to disappear."

"What is implied in all this is the idea that if I live in accordance with my own ethos, my own nature, or if, to use the fine phrase of our own time, I realise myself, then this will be enough to bring about the good life. And this is nothing but pure illusion and ideology."

"For these reasons I believe it is better to retain the concept of morality, albeit critically, than to soften up and obscure its problematic nature from the outset by replacing it with the sentimental concept of ethics."

:anjali:
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Re: "You cannot be moral without being religious"

Postby Ben » Wed Feb 09, 2011 5:49 am

Listening to the radio last night, I caught an interesting interview with Dr Peter Singer on the nature of ethics and evolution. Hopefully some will find it useful...
http://www.abc.net.au/rn/latenightlive/ ... 133238.htm
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Re: "You cannot be moral without being religious"

Postby Kim OHara » Wed Feb 09, 2011 12:32 pm

tobes wrote:I'm not so sure about your basic premise here:

Since, as someone has said earlier, all societies seem to develop systems of morality, perhaps it is easier to say that human societies are inherently moral and reasonable and tend to make their members moral and reasonable - by education and/or coercion.

I think we could say that most societies develop some kind of order, and this is often (but not always) associated with a nomos - a kind of unwritten set of laws which guide normative practices. These can become written laws, and certainly could take the shape of a religious doctrine, or a purely political-legal doctrine, and very often until the last 300 or so years in Europe, the two (the political and the religious) were embedded.

But I think the whole discipline of anthropology sets out to establish that the nomos is usually very different in different cultures and societies: the nomos of Indigenous Australia is going to be very different from the nomos of Ancient Rome or Modern England (hence the problem of trying to balance them in an Australian court of law).

So, I'm sorry to be getting a bit long winded here, but the problem with your premise is that it equates morality with reason, which is very much a European idea (genealogically rooted in the Ancient Greeks), and so, does not account for the huge variations in how different societies order and govern themselves.

:anjali:

Hi, tobes,
Thanks for your thoughtful response, although I'm not sure it quite addresses what I actually meant - maybe I wasn't clear enough.
Firstly, my idea of a basic universal morality equates pretty closely to one aspect of what you call a 'nomos', and that it is in fact the aspect of the nomos which tends to be common to all societies - including hunter-gatherer clans and tribes.
Secondly, I can't see how you arrived at the idea I have italicised. It wasn't part of my thinking at the time and I disagreed with it when I saw it in your post. I don't suggest at all that people sat down and reasoned out their moral system from first principles. Rather, I'm coming from an evolutionary psychology line of thought (I know, evolutionary psych is a bit dubious, but I think this use of it is reasonable). What I think has happened time after time is that behaviours which help the group flourish are rewarded by survival of the group (and often the individual) consistently enough to be noticed and eventually put into words. Looking back at them now, we can see that reciprocal altruism - the Golden Rule - is a reasonably accurate summary of their essential elements. The non-essential elements, on the other hand, can vary wildly because they are just that - non-essential.
Your example of traditional Aboriginal law vs Euro-Australian law is valid enough, but the conflict, to my mind, is mostly in the different non-essential elements tangled up with the rather similar essential elements.

About ethics/morality: (1) I am really glad I escaped Adorno. :tongue:
(2) One summary I came across years ago is that morality is society's rule for how its members should act towards each other, while ethics is the individual's rule for how he/she should act towards others. It's perhaps a bit too neat but I liked it enough to remember it ever since.

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Re: "You cannot be moral without being religious"

Postby Ron-The-Elder » Wed Feb 09, 2011 1:12 pm

Taking The Reductionist Approach regarding morality:

Given: "Imagine that society and all of its religions, all of its philosophers, all of its gurus, all of its wise men, all of its documents and documentaries, all of its orally transmitted data, all of its recorded, written, and memorized lessons were vaporized and could no longer be accessed by sentient beings."

Only one child survives this destruction. The child is just at the age whereby it has the ability to search, forage, discover, experience, and learn from its mistakes and successes. All of its feelings, emotions, exterior and interior sensibilities are healthy and functioning. It wants in no way for physical health at first, nor for shelter or sustenance, having been placed in a garden of plenty with limitless resources.

What set of morals would the child develop over its (short) life-time from that point forward?
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But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
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