I am no expert on Buddhist ethics, but I am reminded of a few famous passages from the Tipitaka:
When the Buddha and Ananda saw a monk suffering from dysentery, lying in filth, neglected by other monks around him, they bathed him. Then the Buddha questioned the monks near the sick man about their indifference. They said that the sick monk does nothing for them, so they do nothing for him. The Buddha replied, "Monks, you have no mother, no father, who might attend to you. If you do not attend to one another, then who will attend to you? Monks, he who would attend on me, he should attend to one who is ill." (Vin. I.301 f) Was there a hint of rebuke in the Buddha's words here? If so, then perhaps the inaction of the monks was blameworthy, a result of mental defilements.
In the Karaniya Metta Sutta (Sutta Nipata 1.8) we are told, "Just as a mother would protect with her life her own son, her only son, so one should cultivate an unbounded mind [of metta/lovingkindness] towards all beings." Does this imply that we ought to take action or can the love of a mother for her only child, a mother willing to risk her life for the child, be contained within? We are told that we "should" cultivate this sort of love. If we do not seek to do so, might that be a fault or a form of error?
What do we mean when we say "love" and "compassion" in Buddhism?
Metta is defined as "the aspiration for the true happiness of any, and ultimately all, sentient beings, for these are like oneself in liking happiness and disliking pain." [Peter Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007) p. 104.]
Karuna means "the aspiration that all beings be free of suffering..." [ibid.]
Can these aspirations be genuine if they have no impact on our behavior? Might their absence imply the presence of defilements?
What do you think?
Sīlaṃ balaṃ appaṭimaṃ.
Virtue is a matchless power.
Virtue is the greatest weapon.
Virtue is the best adornment.
Virtue is a wonderful armor.
etaṃ buddhāna sāsanaṃ.
Refraining from all wrong-doing,
Undertaking the good,
Purifying the mind,
This is the teaching of the buddhas.
Dhammapada v. 183/14.5