The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Buddhist ethical conduct including the Five Precepts (Pañcasikkhāpada), and Eightfold Ethical Conduct (Aṭṭhasīla).
Thrylix
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The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Postby Thrylix » Tue Apr 26, 2011 9:01 pm

By most people's standards, I'm a pretty well-rounded, normal 24 year old guy. I'm considered nice, polite, and I'm well-liked. By the standards of most Americans, I'm a good guy.

But an event this weekend got me thinking. I was at a state park playing a tennis match with a friend. After the game, I had lunch and went to the garbage pale to throw something out and I noticed a bustling anthill amidst the grass. Habitually, I planted my foot on top of the structure in order to flatten their little home and then stamped my feet on many of the nearby ants. Enough that I later had to take a stick and grind away at the bottoms of my running sneakers to scrape out the layer of little ant bodies and mud that had gotten gunked deep between the treads.

As someone who is interested in the ethics of killing and dhamma from a theological standpoint (I am not spiritual), what would be the implications of this dynamic? How could one be a good person while also causing death?

How is the karmic debt I've built weighed? I like most animals, I have a dog, I even like insects. According to dhamma, would I be reborn in the hell realms and then be reborn as an ant as many times as there are ants that I've crushed? I've stepped on a lot of bugs over the years, a good number of them on purpose. But what about my good acts in society and toward other people? Are those counted for less?

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daverupa
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Postby daverupa » Tue Apr 26, 2011 9:14 pm


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Khalil Bodhi
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Postby Khalil Bodhi » Tue Apr 26, 2011 9:28 pm

Also, as a nit-picky aside, the Dhamma can't be studied theologically since it's all logos and no theos...

Metta,

Mike
To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas.
-Dhp. 183

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Thrylix
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Postby Thrylix » Tue Apr 26, 2011 9:39 pm

What about in the context of karma as you know it?

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daverupa
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Postby daverupa » Tue Apr 26, 2011 9:53 pm

Kamma is intention. Your intention, then, was to cause the destruction of life (however habitual the urge vis-a-vis ants). The act was therefore a breach of the first precept, and therefore unwholesome, leading on to further suffering and not to the cessation of suffering.

It is important to note that this does not make you a bad person, and you wouldn't be a good person if you had abstained. There can be no good or bad person, simply wholesome and unwholesome actions of body, speech, and mind. This case of ants is an example of unwholesome bodily action.

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Kim OHara
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Postby Kim OHara » Tue Apr 26, 2011 10:09 pm

Last edited by Kim OHara on Tue Apr 26, 2011 10:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Dan74
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Postby Dan74 » Tue Apr 26, 2011 10:26 pm

I wouldn't rush to foretell millions of future rebirths as an ant. At the same time it seems that we usually learn compassion from experiencing deep suffering ourselves. So in that sense there may be some lessons in store for you. Kamma is not punishment, it's a natural consequence of your action. And a natural consequence of an action lacking in compassion is suffering.

Worldly notions like "a good person" is often more to do with a reasonably well-adjusted likeable person, rather than actual moral virtue. I wouldn't worry too much about being considered "a good person" but rather take a good honest look at how you live. Being liked and respected by truly wise and good people counts for something, but most of us don't have much of a clue and you regularly hear stories of neighbours of a convicted serial killer saying what a nice guy he was because we would say "Good Morning!" and took his garbage bins out on time.

In my case, having kids has really brought issues like killing little creatures and animals to the fore. I realized I cannot honestly justify it. So we take insects outside and avoid eating meat. I recall out eldest when he was barely 3 burst into tears when I swatted a mosquito in his bedroom before turning the lights out. He reminded me of it for months to come and made me promise time and time again that this would never happen.

I guess we come into this world with different sensitivity and compassion for different things. But whatever it is, it's good to identify those moral blind spots and work on them.

Good luck on your journey!
_/|\_

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SDC
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Postby SDC » Tue Apr 26, 2011 10:53 pm


Thrylix
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Postby Thrylix » Tue Apr 26, 2011 11:00 pm


Justsit
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Postby Justsit » Tue Apr 26, 2011 11:26 pm


Thrylix
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Postby Thrylix » Tue Apr 26, 2011 11:38 pm


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beeblebrox
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

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ricketybridge
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Postby ricketybridge » Wed Apr 27, 2011 12:08 am

I dunno, I think doing it "just 'cause" shows a lack of compassion. I'd be curious how you guys would deal (or have dealt) with something like a termite infestation... I guess a householder should call an exterminator, right? So as to take care of his assets/family and all, but what about a Buddhist monastery? Do they just let the monastery crumble to the ground?

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beeblebrox
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Postby beeblebrox » Wed Apr 27, 2011 12:43 am


Thrylix
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Postby Thrylix » Wed Apr 27, 2011 12:48 am


Justsit
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Postby Justsit » Wed Apr 27, 2011 1:05 am


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andre9999
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

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chownah
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Postby chownah » Wed Apr 27, 2011 1:39 am


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Jason
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Postby Jason » Wed Apr 27, 2011 3:25 pm

The Buddha defined (literally 'action') as intention, and he essentially took the position that we, as sentient beings, have functional choice via intention operating within a broader framework of causality that conditions the choices available to us at any given time. More importantly, from the Buddhist point of view, kamma is primarily psychological in nature, with the results or fruits (vipaka) of intentional actions being experienced as pleasant, painful, or neither pleasant nor painful feelings (vedana) in the mind. In other word, kamma is how we intentionally react to things, our behaviour. (The Buddha basically took the Jain's deterministic view of kamma and ethicized it.)

That said, it's not about good or bad as much as skillful and unskillful. In Buddhism, all intentional actions are understood to have potential consequences, and actions that cause harm to others and/or ourselves are generally considered to be unskillful and something to be avoided. But if what the Buddha had to say about kamma is true, I don't think there's anyway to know precisely how these things will be experienced (), especially considering the complexity of .

Our experience of the present is conditioned by a multitude of factors, including the results of both past and present actions. For all we know, the results of our past unskillful actions (e.g., killing ants) may count next to nothing compared to all the skillful actions and mental states we've cultivated throughout our lives. More importantly, the Buddha never condemns people merely for making unskillful choices or breaking the precepts; he simply urges them to learn from their mistakes and to make an effort to renounce their unskillful behaviour with the understanding that skillful behaviour leads to long-term welfare and happiness. That's one of the main reasons the precepts are framed as 'training rules' rather than strict commandments.

In this case, the unskillful motivation to harm may be subtle, and may not cause too much stress or suffering right now; but repeatedly cultivating and giving in to the urge to harm may build up over time, becoming an ingrained habit. This can result in not respecting other forms of life and/or inclining the mind towards harming rather than avoiding harm in other circumstances, which can condition more violent behaviour that'll result in more suffering in the future (e.g., maybe losing your temper and harming a pet). Then again, maybe you'll never suffer much over it because of other competing factors. It's impossible to know.
"Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya" ().

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beeblebrox
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

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