Philosophy / Fundamental Tenets Of Buddhism
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Autor: anton 21 October 2010
Words: 2690 | Pages: 11
The Fundamental Tenets
Of Buddhist Ethics
The Moral Dilemmas
Word Count: 2,521
To live is to act, and in doing so our actions can have either harmful or beneficial consequences for oneself and others. Buddhist ethics is concerned with the principles and/or practices that help one to act in the ways that are helpful rather than harmful. (fwbo.org) Primary to the human factor is the fact that work implies equally to any setting, a supermarket or the stock market. No matter where we work, we've got to find a way to get along well with the people around us. (McLeod, 2004)
Some claim that Buddhism cannot encourage one to be good, because then you would become attached to goodness. Is it not better to find a middle ground where one does enough good that there cannot be criticism of this action? Buddhist many find that even this middle ground is not enough for their spiritual enlightenment. It may be that as one works on improving themselves through good, a natural process of compassion for others may develop.
It is important to note that three fundamental forms of training are practiced in Buddhism. These practices consist of morality, mental culture, and wisdom. (Plamintr, 1994) Each of these practices is implemented with regards to the five precepts. These practices are the basic objectives behind the precepts rather than the practice themselves.
Morality is translated to sila in Buddhist terms. Sila is a state of normalcy, and when practiced it will return one to one's own basic goodness or original state of normalcy. (Plamintr, 1994) Greed, hatred, anger, jealousy are just some factors that alter individuals nature, making them into something other than their own true self. Sila trains individuals to preserve their true nature while overcoming negative forces.
When viewing morality it is easy to understand that there is, and will be corruption. This in turns effects society, and can be seen when viewing what society is experiencing presently. Whether or not this effect is direct or indirect, it shows the lack of some form of good morality. Without morality one may never achieve the right concentration, and without the right concentration wisdom will not be fully perfected.
How good morality is determined, may be viewed by whether or not an action is either good or evil, right or wrong. (Wangu, 2002) When viewing an action it must be evaluated by some mean, and this may be accomplished through the use of a few simple questions. What were the intentions that motivated the action, what repercussions resulted from this action, and what effect does this action have on others, can show whether or not the action was precipitated with good or evil intent.
For the Buddhist these moral precepts are based on Dhamma, and reflect eternal values. (Wangu, 2002) The percepts help one to live those ideals, and teach one to do the right things while avoiding the wrong things. Moral precepts are not like commandments, such as those used in many Christian religions, they are more a course which one trains willingly in order to obtain a desired objective. The precepts are not practiced to please a supreme being, but are for the good of oneself and the good of society. Training is based on the concept that all human beings have the potential for development. And development may be realized through distinct standards by which individuals may train themselves.
Observance of the five precepts represents the minimal moral obligation for the practicing Buddhist. This practice deeply affects the follower's personal life, as well as their social life. The precepts assist in leading a moral life and advancement on the spiritual path, both on a personal level and on a social level.
The five precepts are a means to an end, they are observed for specific reasons. (Plamintr, 1994) They represent the groundwork for promoting higher virtues, mental development and spiritual enlightenment.
The first precept consists of not destroying living things. A Buddhist will observe the abstinence from the destruction of life. The destruction of life must be seen as a negative act, therefore enlightenment and /or wisdom comes from refraining from such acts. Abandoning all unnecessary destruction of life is the first step. There are those individuals that find entertainment and/or pleasure in destroying another creature, such as those that hunt or fish for sport, or a more drastic means as found in the observance of bullfights, cock fights or dog fights. All these types of destruction of life are senseless and should be abstained from. Even the extermination of insects for one's personal comfort can be seen as unnecessary and even condemnable. As when we exterminate this pest we are often contaminating the environment through the use of pesticides.
It is important, and must be realized, that each individual that practices Buddhism will practice it in accordance to his or her own abilities and the opportunities that arise. (Plamintr, 1994) An individual who hunts for a living because it is necessary to themselves and their family's well being is understandable to an extent. A law enforcement officer, or military personal, out on patrol in hostile areas will find different circumstances, yet are bound by duty. Each situation must therefore be judged upon circumstance and duty. But no matter what duty, situation, or circumstance, Buddhism never justifies destruction of life. (Gyatso, 2001)
The moral dilemma with this first precept concerns the ideal of universal love and compassion. It simple is not just a way of conducting one's life but can be seen in a more spiritual level concerning the purity of ones body, mind, and soul. This purification does not come without considerable effort and training. It is best to take this step in stages or steps. A first step may consist of abandoning any form of killing that is not absolutely necessary. Killing for entertainment whether as a recreational sport or whether observed for the entertainment value it may present is an example of such a step. Although some occupations may not allow such abstinence while in the line of duty it may assist in one seeing or developing sensitivity to the suffering of other beings. Instruments of the law, such as capital punishment, while not advocated by Buddhists, can be seen as devices by which law and order are maintained for the common good of society.
The second precept concerns not taking things that are not given. This would pertain to respecting the possessions of others and not stealing. This is not just the mere stealing of any item, but avoiding taking anything unless you are positive that it was intended for you personally. This precept extends to making any form of living by wrongful means. This precept can be undertaken universally through coexistence, peace, and harmony in society. (Gyatso, 2001) If stealing were acceptable than the rights of possession would be relinquished and society would be in chaos. Even when something is taken with the benefit of doing good, it is still wrong, this would basically defeat the right of possession. Theft and stealing can and never will be a moral act, no matter the intention.
The third percept is the avoidance of sensual and/ or sexual misconduct. This conduct includes rape, adultery, promiscuity, paraphernalia, and sexual perversions. This percept does not only deal specifically with sexual misconduct but broadens to cover overindulgences in any sensual pleasure. Sensual pleasure can be seen in gluttony. (Buddhist_Ethics)
Seldom is there any viable excuse for sexual promiscuity, whether in past or in the present day society. Sexual misconduct and sexual promiscuity are the direct results of human weakness and the inability to restrain sexual urges. In terms of sexual misconduct this percept also extends on taking what is not freely given, which plays on the second precept.
Present day society, we see more and more adolescent sexual activity. Sexual relationships involve certain levels of maturity and emotional stability, of which many individuals, of adolescent age, indulging in are not capable.
Sexuality in today's society is a matter of concern and contention. Ranging from STD's to the first amendment rights of expression. (Parkridge, 2005) In present day society there are many sexual transmitted diseases, and with the Aids epidemic this precept is even more prevalent than ever. If society took any precept of Buddhism to heart this third precept could reduce or eliminate the risk of spreading or being infected by the Aids disease.
When we view this precept in terms of gluttony we can either view it as greed and/or excess. Look at modern day America; it is a nation of gluttons. Americans are a nation of overweight individuals hidden in the gluttony of food, and more over fast food or ready to eat meals. Most modern societies are societies of excess. We find the necessity to purchase the newest and or latest new technologies to assist in our day-to-day lives. Do we need this new and/or improved model? Often the answer would be no, but we are so fully inherent to what we see and are subjected to, that we fall prone to these excesses and become gluttons. Technology has opened new venues and made access and ease with which to fall prone to either the sexual and or sensual version of this precept. Failure to adhere to this precept has caused society to grow more corrupted in this venue than in past societies.
The forth percept concerns the statement of falsehoods or lies. This factor is very important in social life and in personal dealings. It concerns a fact that has become somewhat vague in modern day society, that being respect for the truth. This precept is not concerned with just the lies, but also with gossip, and any and all other forms of speech that are unproductive and hurtful. This is a call to truth and clarity in speech, thought, and expression.
When call for respecting truth, it becomes a means of hindering the temptation to commit wrongful actions. "There are few evil deeds that a liar is incapable of committing." (McLeod, 2004) The practice of not telling falsehoods, or telling lies preserves one's credibility. Often this action for telling falsehoods, is undertaken with negative or evil intentions and may be rooted in hatred or selfishness. The outcome of which is often as negative and hurtful to the doer as it is for the intended. Even when this act is made with the best intentions in mind, it often results in a negative or wrongful conclusion.
Speech is a crucial element in our relationship with other individuals, and yet this medium can often lead into our deceiving others or ourselves without our even knowing we are doing so. It is essential therefore to remain truthful, and to conform to an ethical life.
Modern day society often dictates the ability to follow this precept as it was intended. For example, telling the truth about a patient's condition is sometimes conflicted with other important values, like confidentiality or cultural preferences. (Parkridge, 2005)
How one is perceived with regards to truth is an important factor in the development of sound social relationships, and often makes contracts, agreements, and business dealings meaningful. Each and every day we are forced to decide whether or not to be truly honest. It is imperative to make a distinction therefore to expressing the untruth with selfish intentions and that of telling a well-meaning untruth for instructional purposes. Whatever the intent, false truths are only alternatives to the truth, and may lead to undesirable results.
The fifth precept concerns refraining from partaking in substances, which cause intoxication, alter the state of consciousness, are physiologically addictive, or cause heedlessness.
The negative effects caused by narcotics are well known in present day societies. They represent serious health and social problem throughout the world. Although drinking intoxicants seems to have become widespread in modern society, it is not part of the Buddhist culture. The simple fact that something is commonly practiced does not mean that it is either a good, or a correct behavior.
Intoxicants distort the sensibilities and rob people of their self-control and capability of judgment. Individuals under the influence are more likely to act rashly, with little or no thought to due consideration or forethought. (Geocities, 2005) Societies are inundated with individuals that under the influence of intoxicants and/or mind-altering substances commit murder, rape, or damage to other people or property.
Buddha described addiction to intoxicants as one of the six causes of ruin. (McLeod, 2004) Addiction has been sited as bring about six main disadvantages: loss of wealth, quarrels and strife, a poor state of health, a source of disgrace, shameless and indecent behavior, and weakened intelligence and mental faculties. (Plamintr, 1994)
Although the Buddhist texts and precepts are worded in a negative form they are for positive commitment. Not all negative expressions represent negative attitudes. The precepts are written in negative terms, because this conveys a clearer and/or more specific implication than a more positive tone. To use the first precept as an example of this, we see that undertaking the abstinence of taking the life of beings, has a much stronger connotation than if it would have been stated in a more positive form such as, be kind to all living things.
The five precepts can be summarized as spiritual qualities that are used to advance the following. Precept number one helps in advancing goodwill, compassion, and kindness. The second precept develops generosity, service, non-attachment, contentment, and honesty. The third precept helps in self-restraint, control over ones emotions and senses, and control over sexual desires. The forth precept helps develop honesty, reliability, and moral integrity. The fifth precept promotes mindfulness, wisdom, and clarity of the mind. All are the basis for training oneself towards a more spiritual path while promoting good.
These precepts were not fully intended to be adhered to without committing errors. Just as a student learning to read, mistakes will be made throughout the course of this learning, but correcting those errors and learning the true meaning will help in over coming this obstacle. This is also true with undertaking the guidelines of the precepts.
The ethical code of Buddhism, is the refinement of its ethical principles, and is represented through the five precepts. These precepts are not rules, but guidelines or philosophies for training. They are to be done freely and should be put into to everyday practice with the use of intelligence and sensitivity.
Buddhism acknowledges that life is complex and difficulties are an inherent part. Suggesting that no one single course of action will be the right course of action in all circumstances. The truest course of action is the continually practice of all five precepts each and everyday.
True ethical life grows through ethical sensibility, is refined through developing sensitivity to oneself and others by means of reflection and open communication. (fwbo, 2005) It is seldom know what the consequences of our actions are unless we reflect on them. Therefore, obedience to the rules is of little matter when compared to learning how to act good.
Gyatso, Geshe Kelsang. Introduction to Buddhism. England: Tharpa Publications, 2001
McLeod, Melvin. The Best Buddhist Writing. Boston & London: Shambhala. 2004
Plamintr, Sunthorn. Getting to Know Buddhism. Bangkok: Buddhadhamma Foundation, 1994
Wangu, Madhu Bazaz. Buddhism World Religion. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2002
BuddhaNet Basic Buddhism Guide. Buddhist Ethics. 20 Oct. 2005
Geocities. 1 Jan 2005. 12 Oct. 2005
Park Ridge Center. Buddhist Ethics. 1 Mar. 2005. 20 Oct. 2005
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