The Ethics of Non Action (Classical Theravada version)

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Re: The Ethics of Non Action

Postby kc2dpt » Wed Feb 11, 2009 8:08 pm

Bankei wrote: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?

I think the key to your dilemma, Bankei, is to remember there are many ways to help people. Feeding the starving and curing the sick are certainly way to help people. The Buddha-to-be left his home and strove diligently in the forest to solve the deeper problem of repeated birth and death, repeated hunger and sickness. He found a solution and then spent the rest of his life sharing what he found with others. This too is a way to help people.

I think if one says to themselves "I know there are sick and hungry people in the world but I'm not going to try to help them" then this is rooted in unwholesome mental states.
I think if one says to themselves "I know there are sick and hungry people in the world and I will try to cure and feed them" then this is rooted in wholesome mental states.
I think if one says to themselves "I know there are sick and hungry people in the world. I believe this is a symptom of a deeper problem of being trapped in a never-ending cycle of birth, hunger, sickness, and death. I will strive to solve this deeper problem and help teach other people to solve it as well" then this is also rooted in wholesome mental states.

To put it another way...

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

"Moral obligation" is a strange phrase in a Buddhist discussion. Who would we be obligated to? I think to put it in a Buddhist context we might say:
Actions which are focused on ignoring suffering are rooted in unwholesomeness.
Actions which are focused on ending suffering are rooted in wholesomeness.
The means by which a Buddhist might focus on ending suffering might seem strange to a non-Buddhist but that doesn't change the intention.

I hope this is helpful.
- Peter

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

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Feb 11, 2009 9:58 pm

Greetings Peter,

Peter wrote: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?

It's your assumption [b] that I am questioning.

I am saying that [b] is an oversimplification of what is actually happening and that no given configuration of the bodily elements is in any way inherently unwholesome, in and of itself.

Sure, in most of cases intentional killing will be underpinned by unwholesome mind-states but not necessarily. Killing fleas out of compassion for a pet? Shooting a man who is just about to take off in a plane who plans to nuke some Japanese cities? Shooting an evil alien to save the world? :alien: Killing insects in a commercial kitchen to maintain hygiene standards? Killing yourself when you're an arahant, incredibly sick, and imposing a great burden on the Sangha?......

In each of the above examples, the mindstate determines the ethical/kammic result. It is an approximation to suggest that all acts of intentional killing are committed based upon unwholesome mindstates... the above list provides some which may or may not be unwholesome, and the last one cannot possibly be unwholesome.

Since I question the validitiy of [b] based on Abhidhammic principles, that brings into question the validity of your resulting conclusion.

I hope that provides some clarification.

Metta,
Retro. :)
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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 kc2dpt » Thu Feb 12, 2009 3:45 am

Retro,

I cannot recall a single instance in the suttas of the Buddha referring to one being killing another being as wholesome. Furthermore one being killing another is always mentioned as unwholesome. As far as I know, the Classical Theravada teaching on the matter is that one being killing another is always underpinned by unwholesome mind-states.

If you want to debate whether killing can be wholesome, I think it's off-topic to this thread. You may wish to start a new thread on it. I know this is a topic which has been discussed at length over at E-S.
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Re: The Ethics of Non Action (Classical Theravada version)

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Feb 12, 2009 3:57 am

Greetings Peter,

Conversely, I think it's very much on topic... here are the questions posed by Bankei thus far.

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


It depends on the mindstate at the time.

Everything I have presented thus far has been to illustrate that it is the mindstate that determines the kammic consequences for the individual, not the movement (or lack thereof) of physical elements within the form aggregate.

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?


The response is the same as above. Kamma is volition is action, which includes mental action. True inaction that has no volitional charge, would have no kammic charge.

As for "moral obligation", that's another question altogether... my responses are limited to the kammic consequences.

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 retrofuturist » Thu Feb 12, 2009 4:49 am

Greetings,

In looking at The Ethics of Non Action it may be useful also to look at...

CRITERIA FOR JUDGING THE UNWHOLESOMENESS OF ACTIONS IN THE TEXTS OF
THERAVADA BUDDHISM
- PETER HARVEY

http://www.buddhistethics.org/2/harvey.txt

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 retrofuturist » Thu Feb 12, 2009 5:09 am

Greetings Peter,

Peter wrote:I cannot recall a single instance in the suttas of the Buddha referring to one being killing another being as wholesome. Furthermore one being killing another is always mentioned as unwholesome. As far as I know, the Classical Theravada teaching on the matter is that one being killing another is always underpinned by unwholesome mind-states..


In the case of venerable Channa's suicide (MN 144) where he "used the knife", the Buddha said this was blameless (anavajjaanii). Arahants do not have unwholesome mind-states... that's what makes them arahants.

Sariputta, when one lays down this body and takes up a new body, then I say one is blameworthy. This did not happen in the case of the bhikkhu Channa, the bhikkhu Channa used the knife blamelessly (MN 144)


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 Jechbi » Thu Feb 12, 2009 7:07 am

Here's a link. It makes sense, but to me it's still shocking. If nothing else, it seems like a poor example to those who might erroneously regard themselves as arahants and believe in ignorance that it's okay to commit suicide. But it supports the contention that even the act of killing can be unexpectedly nuanced in terms of kamma (or lack thereof).
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But never soddens what is open;
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Re: The Ethics of Non Action (Classical Theravada version)

Postby kc2dpt » Thu Feb 12, 2009 2:33 pm

retrofuturist wrote:Everything I have presented thus far has been to illustrate that it is the mindstate that determines the kammic consequences for the individual, not the movement (or lack thereof) of physical elements within the form aggregate.

I see. Now i understand your point.

retrofuturist wrote:
Peter wrote:I cannot recall a single instance in the suttas of the Buddha referring to one being killing another being as wholesome. Furthermore one being killing another is always mentioned as unwholesome. As far as I know, the Classical Theravada teaching on the matter is that one being killing another is always underpinned by unwholesome mind-states..
In the case of venerable Channa's suicide...

Suicide is not an instance of "one being killing another".
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Re: The Ethics of Non Action (Classical Theravada version)

Postby bodom » Thu Feb 12, 2009 2:37 pm

Peter wrote: Suicide is not an instance of "one being killing another".


There are instances of assisted suicide though. Anyone remember Jack Kevorkian?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Kevorkian

:namaste:
The heart of the path is SO simple. No need for long explanations. Give up clinging to love and hate, just rest with things as they are. That is all I do in my own practice. Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing. Of course, there are dozens of meditation techniques to develop samadhi and many kinds of vipassana. But it all comes back to this - just let it all be. Step over here where it is cool, out of the battle. - Ajahn Chah
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Re: The Ethics of Non Action (Classical Theravada version)

Postby kc2dpt » Thu Feb 12, 2009 2:44 pm

bodom_bad_boy wrote:
Peter wrote: Suicide is not an instance of "one being killing another".
There are instances of assisted suicide though. Anyone remember Jack Kevorkian?

What does Dr. Kevorkian have to do with understanding Buddhist teachings? Is there an instance in the suttas of assisted suicide which the Buddha calls wholesome? I am not aware of any. Rather the Buddha taught that to kill another or encourage another to kill is unwholesome. That is why it is considered an offense in Theravada to perform assisted suicide or to encourage another to commit suicide.
- Peter

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

Postby bodom » Thu Feb 12, 2009 2:48 pm

Peter wrote:
bodom_bad_boy wrote:
Peter wrote: Suicide is not an instance of "one being killing another".
There are instances of assisted suicide though. Anyone remember Jack Kevorkian?


What does Dr. Kevorkian have to do with understanding Buddhist teachings?


Compassion maybe?

"My aim in helping the patient was not to cause death," the paper quoted Kevorkian as saying. "My aim was to end suffering. It's got to be decriminalized."

Sounds Buddhist to me. He had good intentions to end the suffering of others.

:namaste:
The heart of the path is SO simple. No need for long explanations. Give up clinging to love and hate, just rest with things as they are. That is all I do in my own practice. Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing. Of course, there are dozens of meditation techniques to develop samadhi and many kinds of vipassana. But it all comes back to this - just let it all be. Step over here where it is cool, out of the battle. - Ajahn Chah
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Re: The Ethics of Non Action (Classical Theravada version)

Postby BubbaBuddhist » Thu Feb 12, 2009 3:16 pm

Sometimes discussing theory doesn't give me the "flavor" of the situation. In the drowning scenario, let's do this:

Scenario one: A total stranger is drowning.
Scenario two: Your child is drowning.

You don't swim very well and the water is turbulent, so there is a good chance you may drown too if you jump in to rescue the victim.

Examine your mind states in these scenarios. I'll be honest. If it were my child there would be no thought at all; I'd jump in without hesitation. If it were a stranger I'd still probably jump in but there would be a moment of "Oh crap, what am I doing?" right before.

In the second scenario I guess it could be argued I replaced an unwholesome mindstate (fear, hesitation) with a wholesome mindstate.

Now what if you recognize the drowning person as a recently-escaped rapist/murderer/arsonist/terrorist? Would you decide, "kamma. Screw him." :lol: Or dive in and drag him out.

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

Postby Jechbi » Thu Feb 12, 2009 4:37 pm

Peter wrote:Suicide is not an instance of "one being killing another".

In one sense it isn't, but in another sense it is. It's true that we are the same being from birth to death, but it's also true that we are a new being with every changing moment.
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Re: The Ethics of Non Action (Classical Theravada version)

Postby kc2dpt » Thu Feb 12, 2009 8:31 pm

Jechbi wrote:
Peter wrote:Suicide is not an instance of "one being killing another".

In one sense it isn't, but in another sense it is. It's true that we are the same being from birth to death, but it's also true that we are a new being with every changing moment.

It seems to me you are confusing two modes. Any discussion of morality belongs to one mode. Any discussion of anatta belongs to the other mode.
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Re: The Ethics of Non Action (Classical Theravada version)

Postby clw_uk » Thu Feb 12, 2009 8:38 pm

It seems to me you are confusing two modes. Any discussion of morality belongs to one mode. Any discussion of anatta belongs to the other mode.


Sadhu!


Jechbi

It's true that we are the same being from birth to death


This is not the teachings of the buddha friend.
“ Your mind is likewise blocked. But the right road awaits you still. Cast out your doubts, your fears and your desires, let go of grief and of hope as well, for where these rule , then the mind is their subject." Boetius
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Re: The Ethics of Non Action (Classical Theravada version)

Postby Ben » Thu Feb 12, 2009 9:42 pm

clw_uk wrote:
It seems to me you are confusing two modes. Any discussion of morality belongs to one mode. Any discussion of anatta belongs to the other mode.


Sadhu!


Jechbi

It's true that we are the same being from birth to death


This is not the teachings of the buddha friend.


Craig if you are going to refute the person's contention above by indicating that it is not the teaching of the Buddha, then please back it up with a quote from the Tipitaka or commentaries, as per the guidelines of this forum.
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Re: The Ethics of Non Action (Classical Theravada version)

Postby clw_uk » Thu Feb 12, 2009 9:52 pm

My apologies


Then Ven. Ananda went to the Blessed One and on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One, "It is said that the world is empty, the world is empty, lord. In what respect is it said that the world is empty?"

"Insofar as it is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self: Thus it is said, Ananda, that the world is empty. And what is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self? The eye is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Forms... Eye-consciousness... Eye-contact is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self.

"The ear is empty...

"The nose is empty...

"The tongue is empty...

"The body is empty...

"The intellect is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Ideas... Intellect-consciousness... Intellect-contact is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Thus it is said that the world is empty


There is no same being throughout exsistence.


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

Postby kc2dpt » Fri Feb 13, 2009 12:30 am

I just realized I need to clarify something.

retrofuturist wrote:
Peter wrote: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.

It's your assumption [b] that I am questioning.

It is not my assumption; it is what I have learned. See teachings on the 10 courses of unwholesome action, for example.

Let me be clear: I do not post my assumptions as what is tradition when discussing Classical Theravada. If I make an assumption, I say so clearly. Many people post their assumptions as what is traditionally taught. I do not. I post what has been traditionally taught as what is traditionally taught.

Unfortunately, I do not have the background of someone like Bhikkhu Dhammanando or Bhikkhu Bodhi so I cannot always go into the details of a teaching like they can. Nevertheless, please do not confuse my posts with those that would attempt to understand the teachings all by themselves. I merely repeat what I have had the good fortune to have learned.
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Re: The Ethics of Non Action (Classical Theravada version)

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Feb 13, 2009 12:33 am

Greetings Peter,

Thanks for the clarification.

Hopefully venerable Dhammanando can help us out with this once he's better.

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 » Fri Feb 13, 2009 3:07 am

Clarification to my clarification: There's always the chance I'm misremembering something. :rolleye: And that would be my fault, not my teachers'.
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