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Thread: Western Ethics vs Buddhist Ethics

  1. #11
    Global Moderator KathyLauren's Avatar
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    I found the video annoying. He admits that he doesn't understand western ethics and had to ask his PhD friend about them, and then proceeds to try to bring a western understanding of ethics to Buddhist ethics. I am not convinced he understands either.

    Okay, pot calling the kettle black, because I have no qualifications, and no teacher has certified me to give opinions. But anyway...

    Rather than look at the minutae of which actions are right and which are wrong, upon which there is always argument even when both systems are in agreement, it makes more sense to look at the origins or justifications for what makes an action right or wrong.

    Western ethics, which are primarily Judeo-Christian ethics, are based on authority. An action is wrong in this system because God said so. Western morality is not so much about choosing right or wrong action, but about obedience. Irrational obedience if necessary, as the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac tells us. The point of that story is to remind us that obedience, even if it is repugnant and illogical, is the most important thing. Adam and Eve were punished not for eating an apple, but for disobedience. We are not allowed to ask what is the fundamental value behind God's commandments; we are just required to obey.

    Therefore, in western ethics, right conduct involves memorizing lists of requirements and prohibitions. If a novel situation arises which is neither required nor prohibited, the person is left in a quandary, and has to guess what is the right thing to do. Brad Warner seems to me to be trying to understand Buddhist ethics from this point of view, hence his difficulty in coming to grips with it.

    My understanding is that Buddhist ethics are based on the fundamental value of compassion. Certainly, you can find lists of requirements and prohibitions in Buddhist literature. But, understanding that the value they are based on is compassion rather than obedience, there is less need for such lists. A novel situation can be dealt with by applying the fundamental value. We may at times lack the knowledge to accurately assess which course of action produces the minimum of suffering, but the act of considering the question and endeavouring to act accordingly is karmically cleansing.

    Om mani padme hum
    Kathy

  2. #12
    Forums Member PhillyG's Avatar
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    An interesting perspective. In my opinion Brad Warner's description of Buddhist Ethics in general is highly influenced by Chinese Huayen and Chan/Zen Buddhism. Because everything is interconnected every single action of an entity influences all others in a harmful or non-harmful way. Therefore everyone of my single actions has moral value. I agree with Jason that Theravadins not necessarely agree with that point of view.
    According to Keown in "The Nature of Buddhist Ethics" the holistic (Brad's) point of view has structural similarities with utilitarianism of Bentham. And I think it also leads to similar problems. If even the smallest action, e.g. eating cornflakes or bread for breakfast, has to be taken into account as a moral action it is too much for a single person. The consequence is simplification by reducing the moral realm to a set of rules or inconsistency by ignoring the moral calculation from time to time.
    Both consequences happened for both Westerners and Buddhists as well, especially in daily life. Don't you agree?

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