Bhikkhu Bodhi on War and Thanissaro's rebuttal

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism

Which view do you agree with most (on this issue)?

Bhikkhu Bodhi
40
47%
Thanissaro Bhikkhu
46
53%
 
Total votes: 86

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mikenz66
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Re: Bhikkhu Bodhi on War and Thanissaro's rebuttal

Post by mikenz66 »

Mkoll wrote: Maybe not the Western idea, whatever that is. But freedom of choice in the sense of volitional actions of body, speech, and mind (kamma) is absolutely part of Dhamma.
Is volition the same as freedom of choice?

What "freedom" there is does appears to be quite limited. The suttas about anatta seem to say that very clearly. And then there are all those suttas about causes and conditions...

:anjali:
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Mkoll
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Re: Bhikkhu Bodhi on War and Thanissaro's rebuttal

Post by Mkoll »

mikenz66 wrote:Is volition the same as freedom of choice?
I don't see much difference.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company wrote:vo·li·tion
n.
1. The act or an instance of making a conscious choice or decision.
2. A conscious choice or decision.
3. The power or faculty of choosing; the will.
[French, from Medieval Latin voliti, volitin-, from Latin velle, vol-, to wish; see wel-1 in Indo-European roots.]
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Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
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Mkoll
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Re: Bhikkhu Bodhi on War and Thanissaro's rebuttal

Post by Mkoll »

mikenz66 wrote:What "freedom" there is does appears to be quite limited. The suttas about anatta seem to say that very clearly. And then there are all those suttas about causes and conditions...
If the thought of the past pleasures of inebriation arises, I could choose to follow that thought and turn it into action by buying a bottle of booze and getting myself drunk. Or I could choose to reflect on the drawbacks of intoxication, remember my precept, and not pursue that other path.

That's what I mean by freedom of choice.
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
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Re: Bhikkhu Bodhi on War and Thanissaro's rebuttal

Post by Lazy_eye »

But speaking of "free choice" implies an autonomous agent who is making that choice. That seems problematic from a dhamma point of view.

And the concept is not necessary in order to explain why you choose to follow the precept instead of going out to buy booze. You encountered the Dhamma, and the various conditions of your life have lined up in a way that results in you taking up a serious Buddhist practice. No "free agent" is required to explain this.

The Sammaditthi and other suttas show the Buddha rejecting various forms of past-life determinism, but this does not amount to saying that choices are made independent of causes and conditions.
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Mkoll
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Re: Bhikkhu Bodhi on War and Thanissaro's rebuttal

Post by Mkoll »

Lazy_eye wrote:But speaking of "free choice" implies an autonomous agent who is making that choice. That seems problematic from a dhamma point of view.
Not "autonomous" of course, that's a strawman. And it's only problematic from a semantic perspective, not from a dhammic one. Please see this short but important sutta (with my emphasis added) to get an idea of what I mean.
AN 6.38 wrote:Then a certain brahman approached the Blessed One; having approached the Blessed One, he exchanged friendly greetings. After pleasant conversation had passed between them, he sat to one side. Having sat to one side, the brahman spoke to the Blessed One thus:

“Venerable Gotama, I am one of such a doctrine, of such a view: ‘There is no self-doer, there is no other-doer.’”[1]

“I have not, brahman, seen or heard such a doctrine, such a view. How, indeed, could one — moving forward by himself, moving back by himself [2] — say: ‘There is no self-doer, there is no other-doer’? What do you think, brahmin, is there an element or principle of initiating or beginning an action?”[3]

“Just so, Venerable Sir.”

“When there is an element of initiating, are initiating beings [4] clearly discerned?”

“Just so, Venerable Sir.”

“So, brahmin, when there is the element of initiating, initiating beings are clearly discerned; of such beings, this is the self-doer, this, the other-doer. [5]

“What do you think, brahmin, is there an element of exertion [6] ... is there an element of effort [7] ... is there an element of steadfastness [8] ... is there an element of persistence [9] ... is there an element of endeavoring?” [10]

“Just so, Venerable Sir.”

“When there is an element of endeavoring, are endeavoring beings clearly discerned?”


“Just so, Venerable Sir.”

“So, brahmin, when there is the element of endeavoring, endeavoring beings are clearly discerned; of such beings, this is the self-doer, this, the other-doer. I have not, brahmin, seen or heard such a doctrine, such a view as yours. How, indeed, could one — moving forward by himself, moving back by himself — say ‘There is no self-doer, there is no other-doer’?”

“Superb, Venerable Gotama! Superb, Venerable Gotama! Venerable Gotama has made the Dhamma clear in many ways, as though he were turning upright what had been turned upside down, revealing what had been concealed, showing the way to one who was lost, or holding up a lamp in the dark: ‘Those who have eyes see forms!’ Just so, the Venerable Gotama has illuminated the Dhamma in various ways. I go to Venerable Gotama as refuge, and to the Dhamma, and to the assembly of monks. From this day, for as long as I am endowed with breath, let Venerable Gotama remember me as a lay follower who has gone to him for refuge.”
~~~
Lazy_eye wrote:And the concept is not necessary in order to explain why you choose to follow the precept instead of going out to buy booze. You encountered the Dhamma, and the various conditions of your life have lined up in a way that results in you taking up a serious Buddhist practice. No "free agent" is required to explain this.

The Sammaditthi and other suttas show the Buddha rejecting various forms of past-life determinism, but this does not amount to saying that choices are made independent of causes and conditions.
Of course not and I'm not saying that choices are made in a vacuum: that's the same strawman. What I am saying is that one makes choices and reaps the fruit of those choices, i.e. kamma. Choice depends on intention, intention is kamma (AN 6.63), and kamma is what distinguishes one being from another.
MN 135 wrote:"Student, beings are owners of kamma, heir to kamma, born of kamma, related through kamma, and have kamma as their arbitrator. Kamma is what creates distinctions among beings in terms of coarseness & refinement."
[my emphasis added]

~~~

Please don't go to the conclusion that I'm talking about some kind of permanent and independently existent "being" or "self". Because I'm not.
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Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
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Re: Bhikkhu Bodhi on War and Thanissaro's rebuttal

Post by Lazy_eye »

Mkoll wrote: Of course not and I'm not saying that choices are made in a vacuum: that's the same strawman. What I am saying is that one makes choices and reaps the fruit of those choices, i.e. kamma. Choice depends on intention, intention is kamma (AN 6.63), and kamma is what distinguishes one being from another.
But who is this "one" who makes choices and reaps the fruit of those choices? In the Aññatra Sutta, the Buddha is recorded as saying:
[To say] the one who acts is the same one who experiences,' is one extreme....[To say,] 'The one who acts is someone other than the one who experiences,' is the second extreme. Avoiding both of these extremes, the Tathagata teaches the Dhamma by means of the middle. From ignorance as a requisite condition come fabrications. From fabrications as a requisite condition comes consciousness. From consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-&-form...
And if we look at the sutta you cited, the appearance of a self-doer is described as the product of various "elements" -- initiating, endeavoring, persistence, and so on. Therefore it would seem correct to say that the "self-doer" is a construct, and ultimately illusory.
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Anagarika
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Re: Bhikkhu Bodhi on War and Thanissaro's rebuttal

Post by Anagarika »

So, what do we make of the idea that there may be limited circumstances that would call for a Bhikkhu or a layperson on the path to facilitate a lethal response in the face of mass lethality? In other words, can a Buddhist accept the idea of a Just War? I appreciate that a Bhikkhu, if he/she advocated that a lethal aggressor be stopped with necessary force in order to save a community or a school full of children, would be obligated to disrobe. Yet, would it not be more ethical, more reasonable, and of brighter kamma to intervene in order to save many innocent lives, when the cost is the life of a malicious wrongdoer?

This seems to be the question that Buddhist leaders will need to face, in the face of more and more incidents of malicious attacks on communities (I'm being neutral as to the identity of the aggressors), technologically advanced weapons that can kill many for little cost, and a growing polarity between many ethnic groups in traditionally Buddhist countries. The rule must always be nonviolence, but I feel that it's too easy philosophically to take Ven. Thanissaro's position and ignore present realities on the ground, and too appropriate practically, to adopt Bhikkhu Bodhi's, when the goal as Buddhists should be not to blindly advocate rigid enforcement of precepts when innocent children are at risk of death. It's not the child's kamma that places them in the position of being killed, but our kamma to allow it to happen, IMO.

I view the Sammaditthi Sutta, for example, as defining the unskillful act of killing as being rooted in : The "root of the unwholesome" (akusalamūla) is threefold:

greed (lobho)
hatred (doso)
delusion (moho)

If an act is rooted not in greed, hatred or delusion, but in a noble desire to prevent suffering and death of innocents, cannot it be fully unskillful, or cultivate dark kamma? Should we look at the act itself, or look at the act in the context of its root cause or intention, per the Sammaditthi Sutta?
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Re: Bhikkhu Bodhi on War and Thanissaro's rebuttal

Post by Ron-The-Elder »

Buddha's position regarding violence in whatever form is clearly stated in The Simile of The Saw.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

I have given this reasoning a great deal of thought and conclude that beings live under the rule / auspices of many forms of government. Under each we as individuals always have a choice as to how to tolerate and/or respond to violence. From the suttas we learned that nothing we experience in the human realm can compare to what we will have to endure in The Hell Realms as a consequence of intentional violent actions. Therefore the better choice (violence or non-violence) has been made clear for us by The Buddha's teachings in this regard. :buddha1:
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Re: Bhikkhu Bodhi on War and Thanissaro's rebuttal

Post by daverupa »

Anagarika wrote:Should we look at the act itself, or look at the act in the context of its root cause or intention, per the Sammaditthi Sutta?
The causal intention is indeed where the ethical weight seems to reside. This is why I spoke up to address the earlier idea about fate and choice; it isn't that we have total freedom in every way such that we could choose to levitate and shoot fireballs, but this isn't what free will has to mean, so thinking of this lack of fireball-shooting-choice as a problem is off-target, a red herring.

Choice is definitely constrained by various circumstances & environments, but not wholly so. I can't choose to not need food, but I can choose to find food or to ask for it or to fast, and so on. It's true that the range of choices is a conditioned state, but nevertheless choices abound for a given individual, and this is the crux of all ethics.

---

For what it's worth, in a past life hanging with Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu folk, I read Jack Hoban's The Ethical Warrior, which addresses this topic directly but in terms of personal martial arts and individual interventions, expanding this approach to divide those who kill out of greed or hate or what have you from those who kill out of circumstantial necessity due to the fact of there being people of the first sort.

But while self-defense and larger nation-state defense are complicated issues, I think they are still usefully teased apart. I don't think a Buddhist Just War theory can have any traction at all, but individual and small-group defense is easily aligned with moral behaviors, given the proper motives.

---

Finally, asking "who acts" or "who chooses" is off target as well; it is wrong attention to ask this and seek an answer to this. There is just choice and consequence, cause and effect, conditionality, that is to say, with X as condition, Y...

Self-doer is a convention, a way of speaking. There is no conflict between individuated lifeforms and anatta, only between Self-as-permanent-etc. and anatta. The individual acts, a change-while-standing sort of thing for a time, and these acts are either dark, bright, mixed, or liberative.
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Bhikkhu Bodhi on War and Thanissaro's rebuttal

Post by chownah »

Some people might have the best intentions and also be of the view that a particular killing is necessary for some reason.....and still they have been so programmed that the act of actually killing someone could destroy them mentally.
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Re: Bhikkhu Bodhi on War and Thanissaro's rebuttal

Post by pulga »

War is such an unmanageable unleashing of hell on earth that I think as a society we'd be better off with a Sangha that opposed it rather than one that reassured us that the inevitable spilling of innocent blood is somehow justifiable -- if only to hold us in check.
Last edited by pulga on Thu Aug 28, 2014 6:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Bhikkhu Bodhi on War and Thanissaro's rebuttal

Post by Viscid »

daverupa wrote:But while self-defense and larger nation-state defense are complicated issues, I think they are still usefully teased apart. I don't think a Buddhist Just War theory can have any traction at all, but individual and small-group defense is easily aligned with moral behaviors, given the proper motives.
Ah, interesting. So, while there may not be 'just wars,' there could be 'just skirmishes.' I suppose, once the the skirmish becomes large and protracted enough, the intent of those partaking in the conflict transitions from immediate self-defense to an ideological defense. When a conflict becomes political in nature, habitual hatred toward the Other sets in.
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Re: Bhikkhu Bodhi on War and Thanissaro's rebuttal

Post by SarathW »

It is disappointment for me to see that 50% of the members of a well informed Buddhist forum are approving violence.
Are they breaking the first precept?
========
As regards the factor of “purification of defilements” one should study the Book of Tens in the Gradual Sayings to know the practical significance in detail. The Pāḷi text in the Aṅguttaranikāya explains the four factors of defilement for breaking the first precept. “One kills by oneself. One advises, urges, or incites others to kill. One speaks in praise of killing. One consents to the act of killing.” The first two factors are obvious and need no explanation

http://www.aimwell.org/dhamma.html#Shou ... ntheVinaya

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Re: Bhikkhu Bodhi on War and Thanissaro's rebuttal

Post by barcsimalsi »

daverupa wrote: ...
Finally, asking "who acts" or "who chooses" is off target as well; it is wrong attention to ask this and seek an answer to this. There is just choice and consequence, cause and effect, conditionality, that is to say, with X as condition, Y...

Self-doer is a convention, a way of speaking. There is no conflict between individuated lifeforms and anatta, only between Self-as-permanent-etc. and anatta. The individual acts, a change-while-standing sort of thing for a time, and these acts are either dark, bright, mixed, or liberative.
For self-doer is a conventional term, can we say that each of the aggregates(including volition/choice) is a conventional term too since they are all dependently co-arise?
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Re: Bhikkhu Bodhi on War and Thanissaro's rebuttal

Post by alan »

Sometimes it becomes necessary to kill--when confronted by a powerful group of fanatics who you know will kill you or others, or radically disrupt peaceful society. Nazis needed to be killed. ISIS needs to be killed.

Is that purely Buddhist? I don't know. Maybe not. But we don't live in a pure Buddhist world.
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