The Ethics of Non Action (Classical Theravada version)

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The Ethics of Non Action (Classical Theravada version)

Postby Bankei » Sat Feb 07, 2009 11:30 pm

Hi

I am wondering if there is any concept of Karmic consequences of not doing something.

eg. You see someone drowning and don't save them.

In this situation would you have an intention to left them suffer. Kamma = Intention.

What do you think?

Bankei
Last edited by Bankei on Sun Feb 08, 2009 12:48 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Ethics of Not Action

Postby Ben » Sun Feb 08, 2009 12:34 am

Hi Bankei

Unfortunately, I do not have the majority of my texts with me to help you with this problem.

Morally there seems to be very little difference, if any, between acting and passively standing by to allow an event to unfold to effect a desired result.

Just a few quotes...

"In which four ways does one commit no evil action? Led by desire does one commit evil. Led by anger does one commit evil. Led by ignorance does one commit evil. Led by fear does one commit evil.
-- DN 31 Sigalovada Sutta


Righteous conduct is the observance of the ten good actions (kusalákammapatha) in thought, word and deed: freeing the mind of greed, ill-will and wrong views; avoiding speech that is untruthful, slanderous, abusive and frivolous; and the non- committal acts of killing, stealing and sexual misconduct.
-- Everyman's Ethics: Four Discourses of the Buddha adapted from the translations of Narada Thera: http://www.bps.lk/wheels_library/wheels_pdf/wh_014.pdf


The person who 'passively' allows something immoral to happen, is actually led by the akusala thoughts of desire, anger, ignorance and fear, and attracts the consequent vipaka as a result.
Metta

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Re: The Ethics of Non Action

Postby kc2dpt » Sun Feb 08, 2009 3:00 am

I can't recall coming across anything in the texts which points to non-action as unwholesome.
On the other hand, various abstinences are taught to be wholesome. :shrug:
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Re: The Ethics of Non Action

Postby Ben » Sun Feb 08, 2009 6:17 am

Thanks Jechbi and Peter.

Its time like these I wish I had my Dhamma books. In particular my copy of Ven Bodhi's translation of the Majjhima, A comprehensive manual of the Abhidhamma and the Vissudhimagga. I think they could shine some light on this issue.

My reasoning above is based on the Upali Sutta (?) in the Majjhima Nikaya where the Buddha refutes the doctrine of the Jains who held that the 'physical rod' to be the root of kamma. The Buddha, in the Upali Sutta and elsewhere, asserted that it was the 'mental rod', to use the expression favoured by the Jains, as kammically most potent. Perhaps it was an error of my interpretation to then jump to say that inaction, particularly when the result coincided with the unwholesome roots of desire, aversion or ignorance, were not kammically neutral.

Hi Jechbi
From memory, ahetu-apaccayavada maybe treated in Ledi Sayadaw's Manual of Conditionality and perhaps also in the Compendium of Conditionality in Venerable Bodhi's A Comprehensive Manual of the Abhidhamma.
Kind regards

Ben
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Re: The Ethics of Non Action

Postby Bankei » Mon Feb 09, 2009 1:38 am

Hi

I personally would find it hard to justify non action if someone was suffering in front of me.

The reason I ask this question is that I had been reading some writings by Peter Singer who is a modern philosopher. He argues that it is also unjustifiable to not help someone who you can see suffering. But he takes things further.
e.g. there are people starving right now in many places of the world.
e.g. There are people dying because they can't afford medicine etc.

Do we have a moral obligation to help these people (even though they may be located far away)?

Could there be any karmic affects of not helping them - there is no real conscious decision as there would be with watching someone drown in front of you. Most people would not give a moments thought to these issues, so how could there be Karma?

Bankei
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Re: The Ethics of Non Action (Classical Theravada version)

Postby Annapurna » Mon Feb 09, 2009 7:13 am

I posted a reply here.

It is gone, without a notification as to why.

Why?
http://www.schmuckzauberei.blogspot.com/
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Re: The Ethics of Non Action (Classical Theravada version)

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Feb 09, 2009 7:18 am

Greetings Annabel,

All posts not relevant to the Classical Mahavihara Theravada position have been moved to the General Theravada version of this thread to be found at viewtopic.php?f=13&t=621 . If you have not done so, please read the recently updated guidelines specific to the Classical Mahavihara Theravada section here: viewtopic.php?f=19&t=373

Posts not even relevant to the Theravada perspective have been removed in accordance with the Terms of Service: viewtopic.php?f=8&t=2

Now...

:focus:

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The Ethics of Non Action (Classical Theravada version)

Postby gavesako » Mon Feb 09, 2009 1:28 pm

According to the Pali Vinaya, a bhikkhu incurs no fault when he lets someone drown. As the rule is defined, one has to make some active effort to commit an offence. That is how the Vinaya structure is made, usually it works well but in some cases (such as this one) if does not quite make sense.
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Re: The Ethics of Non Action (Classical Theravada version)

Postby kc2dpt » Tue Feb 10, 2009 3:55 am

Perhaps to understand why inaction would not create karma...

What we might do in the course of a day is finite.
What we might not do in the course of a day is infinite.

For each day the Buddha sought out someone to help there were countless beings he did not try to help.
Conversely, even if I harm one person every day there are countless beings I'm not harming every day.

I suspect a good answer to the question is to be found in the Abhidhamma. Unfortunately I am not familiar with Abhidhamma.
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Re: The Ethics of Non Action (Classical Theravada version)

Postby retrofuturist » Tue Feb 10, 2009 4:04 am

Greetings Peter,

Peter wrote:I suspect a good answer to the question is to be found in the Abhidhamma. Unfortunately I am not familiar with Abhidhamma.


Yes, and in the suttas. In both situations it's the volitional quality of the mindstate (wholesome/unwholesome) at the time that determines the kammic quality... not the physical action (or non-action) itself.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The Ethics of Non Action (Classical Theravada version)

Postby Will » Tue Feb 10, 2009 5:20 am

gavesako wrote:According to the Pali Vinaya, a bhikkhu incurs no fault when he lets someone drown. As the rule is defined, one has to make some active effort to commit an offence. That is how the Vinaya structure is made, usually it works well but in some cases (such as this one) if does not quite make sense.


I wonder if you could fill this out a little Bhante? If the spectator of the drowning one would like to help, but cannot swim or swim well enough, then I can understand no bad vipaka. But suppose the spectator is gleefully wishing on the drowning or as has actually happened, a crowd cheers on a stranger who is thinking of jumping off a building to his death. In those latter cases, would not the intent or will of the sociopath(s) qualify as "some active effort", even if it is mental or verbal effort and not physical?
This noble eightfold path is the ancient path traveled by all the Buddhas of eons past. Nagara Sutta
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Re: The Ethics of Non Action (Classical Theravada version)

Postby gavesako » Tue Feb 10, 2009 2:20 pm

Well, the Vinaya only deals with the legal aspect of the situation (i.e. whether he would incur an offence according to the Vinaya) and not with the skilful or unskilful action itself -- that is more in the area of Dhamma.
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Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

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Re: The Ethics of Non Action (Classical Theravada version)

Postby kc2dpt » Tue Feb 10, 2009 6:26 pm

Correct me if I'm wrong, Bhante, but I would guess the Vinaya only deals with speech and action, not thoughts.
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Re: The Ethics of Non Action (Classical Theravada version)

Postby kc2dpt » Tue Feb 10, 2009 6:39 pm

retrofuturist wrote:it's the volitional quality of the mindstate (wholesome/unwholesome) at the time that determines the kammic quality... not the physical action (or non-action) itself.

Certainly I agree with this. Still I don't think this addresses the original poster's question. All we can conclude from this is that some instances of abstaining will be unwholesome and some will be wholesome. But I think there's a slightly more specific question being asked. Given:

The suttas teach certain actions to always be unwholesome, such as intentional killing.
The suttas also teach it is the underlying mind-state which makes an action unwholesome, such as greed, hate, or delusion.
Thus we can conclude that certain actions (such as intentional killing) will always be based in an unwholesome mind-state (such as hate).
Furthermore, we can easily imagine that one might abstain from an action based in an unwholesome mind-state. I might refrain from jumping in to rescue my drowning enemy and I might refrain from finding someone else to help him because I wish to see him drown. Clearly there's some unwholesomeness going on in this scenario.

From all this we might ask the following question:

Just as certain actions are understood to always be unwholesome...
and just as certain abstinences are understood to always be wholesome (abstaining from killing)...
are certain abstinences understood to always be unwholesome?
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Re: The Ethics of Non Action (Classical Theravada version)

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Feb 11, 2009 3:23 am

Greetings Peter,

Peter wrote:Just as certain actions are understood to always be unwholesome...

Are they? Or is it just that the mindstates that underpin such actions are nearly always unwholesome?

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The Ethics of Non Action (Classical Theravada version)

Postby kc2dpt » Wed Feb 11, 2009 3:44 am

retrofuturist wrote:
Peter wrote:Just as certain actions are understood to always be unwholesome...

Are they? Or is it just that the mindstates that underpin such actions are nearly always unwholesome?

Either you didn't read my post carefully enough or I'm not understanding your question.

Peter wrote:The suttas teach certain actions to always be unwholesome, such as intentional killing.
The suttas also teach it is the underlying mind-state which makes an action unwholesome, such as greed, hate, or delusion.
Thus we can conclude that certain actions (such as intentional killing) will always be based in an unwholesome mind-state (such as hate).


I can try to rephrase my question using your own verbiage if it will help you...

Are certain abstinences understood to always be underpinned by unwholesome mind-states?
- Peter

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Re: The Ethics of Non Action (Classical Theravada version)

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Feb 11, 2009 4:37 am

Greetings Peter,

What I'm suggesting is that the movement of physical elements that comprise the bodily form is in itself morally neutral or amoral. The moral quality of the volitional kammic action is the mindstate underpinning it, which can be wholesome or unwholesome. The strength of the volition could be measured in part by whether that mindstate manifests itself by way of speech or physical action, but it's not the action or the inaction at a physical elemental level which is important in terms of kamma or Buddhist ethics - it is the mindstate that is important. This is why I questioned your assumption that "Just as certain actions are understood to always be unwholesome..."

This is how I understand the situation as per the Abhidhammic analysis. I am happy to be corrected if this is wrong.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The Ethics of Non Action (Classical Theravada version)

Postby cooran » Wed Feb 11, 2009 7:23 am

Helllo all,

My understanding is that Kamma is Intentional Action - a choice.

But .... no intentional action can occur without either a wholesome or unwholesome mental state arising i.e. 'a thought' prior to the choice .... even if it lasts only a millionth of a second.

metta
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Re: The Ethics of Non Action (Classical Theravada version)

Postby kc2dpt » Wed Feb 11, 2009 7:50 pm

Retro, I still don't know what you are disagreeing with.
retrofuturist wrote:The moral quality of the volitional kammic action is the mindstate underpinning it, which can be wholesome or unwholesome.

Peter wrote:The suttas ... teach it is the underlying mind-state which makes an action unwholesome, such as greed, hate, or delusion.

Do you feel what you've said differs in any substantial way with what I've said?

Let me try to phrase my question yet another way.

Since the suttas teach:
a] the moral quality of the volitional kammic action is the mind-state underpinning it, which can be wholesome or unwholesome
and
b] certain actions are always unwholesome (such as intentional killing)
we can conclude
c] certain actions (such as intentional killing) will always be underpinned by unwholesome mind-states.
but can we also conclude
d] certain inactions (like letting someone drown) always underpinned by unwholesome mind-states?
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Re: The Ethics of Non Action (Classical Theravada version)

Postby clw_uk » Wed Feb 11, 2009 7:52 pm

Would it be Inaction?

If there is still ignorance then one would choose not to act because one is not awakened.

Only when one is awakened does action stop.

:namaste:
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