Revision Sheet for Buddhist Ethics


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Revision Sheet for Buddhist Ethics

  1. 1. Revision Sheet for Buddhist Ethics (Environmental Ethics)The syllabus asks you to: Describe and explain Buddhist ethical teachings on environmental ethics.Begin with a short general description of Buddhist ethical teaching.Explain what is meant by environmental ethics.Then explain how Buddhist ethical teaching relates to environmental ethics.Use quotes or references wherever possible.Use correct terminology.General Information on Buddhist EthicsBuddhist ethics finds its foundation not on the changing social customs but rather onthe unchanging laws of nature. Buddhist ethical values are intrinsically a part ofnature, and the unchanging law of cause and effect (kamma - the sum total of anindividuals actions of body, speech and mind, good, bad and neutral, taken in theircurrent and previous lives).Morality in Buddhism is essentially practical in that it is only a means leading to thefinal goal of ultimate happiness. On the Buddhist path to Emancipation, each individualis considered responsible for his own fortunes and misfortunes. Each individual isexpected to work his own deliverance by his understanding and effort. Buddhistsalvation is the result of ones own moral development and can neither be imposednor granted to one by some external agent.Numbers 3, 4 and 5 of the Noble Eightfold Path deal with morality and ethics, RightSpeech, Right Bodily Action and Right Livelihood.The importance of speech in the context of Buddhist ethics is obvious: words canbreak or save lives, make enemies or friends, start war or create peace. The secondethical principle, right action, involves the body as natural means of expression, as itrefers to deeds that involve bodily actions. Unwholesome actions lead to unsoundstates of mind, while wholesome actions lead to sound states of mind. Positivelyformulated, right action means to act kindly and compassionately, to be honest and torespect the belongings of others. Right livelihood means that one should earn onesliving in a righteous way and that wealth should be gained legally and peacefully.Right speech, right action and right livelihood relate directly to the Five Precepts.The Five Precepts constitute the basic Buddhist code of ethics, undertaken by layfollowers of the Buddha Gautama in the Theravada and Mahayana traditions.Undertaking the five precepts is part of both lay Buddhist initiation and regular layBuddhist devotional practices.1) To undertake the training to avoid taking the life of beings . This preceptapplies to all living beings not just humans. All beings have a right to their lives andthat right should be respected.2) To undertake the training to avoid taking things not given. This preceptgoes further than mere stealing. One should avoid taking anything unless one can besure that is intended that it is for you.
  2. 2. 3) To undertake the training to avoid sensual misconduct. This precept isoften mistranslated or misinterpreted as relating only to sexual misconduct but itcovers any overindulgence in any sensual pleasure such as gluttony as well asmisconduct of a sexual nature.4) To undertake the training to refrain from false speech. As well asavoiding lying and deceiving, this precept covers slander as well as speech which isnot beneficial to the welfare of others.5) To undertake the training to abstain from substances which causeintoxication and heedlessness . This precept is in a special category as it doesnot infer any intrinsic evil in, say, alcohol itself but indulgence in such a substancecould be the cause of breaking the other four precepts.In the Abhisandha Sutta, the Buddha said that undertaking the precepts is a gift tooneself and others.The morality found in all the precepts can be summarized in three simple principles?‘To avoid evil; to do good, to purify the mind. This is the advice given by all theBuddhas. --(Dhammapada, 183)In Buddhism, the distinction between what is good and what is bad is very simple: allactions that have their roots in greed, hatred, and delusion that spring fromselfishness foster the harmful delusion of selfhood. These action are unskillful or bad.They are called Akusala Kamma. All those actions which are rooted in the virtues ofgenerosity, love and wisdom, are meritorious, Kusala Kamma. The criteria of goodand bad apply whether the actions are of thought, word or deed.Kamma is volition, says the Buddha. Actions themselves are considered as neithergood nor bad but only the intention and thought makes them so. Yet Buddhist ethicsdoes not maintain that a person may commit what are conventionally regarded assins provided that he does so with the best of intentions. It is not possible to commitmurder with a good heart because taking of life is simply the outward expression of astate of mind dominated by hate or greed.Buddhist Environmental EthicsBuddhist philosophy appears particularly amenable to environmental ethics. Manynotable Buddhist leaders articulate environmental concerns with moral responsibilityand a core concept that can be translated from Sanskrit as "inter-dependent arising."This concept is a fundamental in Buddhist philosophy. Shared across all schools ofBuddhism, it states that phenomena arise together in a mutually interdependent webof cause and effect. This concept underlies Buddhist thinking about mutualrelationships of cause and effect, and the essential interdependence of all life.Apparently it pre-disposes some Buddhists to recognizing the importance ofenvironmental restraint, or non-harming. It has had a great influence on the idea ofdeep ecology.When confronting environmental issues Buddhist ethics come to our aid, with thebasic principle of non-violence (ahimsa) or harmlessness. In the statement of the firstprecept, abstention from harming living beings, we can see how much of the industrialuse of resources contravenes the principle; in chopping down a rain forest we destroya habitat for other creatures and set up the conditions for top soil erosion, which inturn leads to floods and famine thereby incurring untold suffering on others.
  3. 3. Often, the actions that we commit in relation to the environment also contravene thesecond precept, abstention from taking what is not given. This can happen in quite acrude sense or in a very subtle one. How many of us have, while wandering through afield of flowers, plucked some up-more than we needed-as if they belonged to us andwithout a thought that others will be deprived of the pleasure of appreciating them?The principle of non-violence should not be taken to mean that people shouldabsolutely abandon their use of the earths resources for fear of harming any livingbeings whatsoever. After all, we are also part of nature, and need to maintain ahealthy concern for our own welfare and that of fellow human beings. We need to usethe resources available to free ourselves from the clutches of naturesdestructiveness: storms, floods, and famines.However, with the awareness of the consequences of our actions, we have a greatresponsibility to use the resources in as harm-free and useful a way as possible. AsSangharakshita (founder of the Western Buddhist Order) has said, Right use of natureis part of the spiritual life.The Buddhist approach to solving the global ecological crisis then includes : 1. Compassion is the basis for a balanced view of the whole world and of the environment. 2. The use of the "save and not waste" approach means that nothing in nature is spoiled or wasted. Wanton destruction upsets the vital balance of life. 3. Ecology is rebuilt through the philosophy of Sarvodaya (uplift of all), which is based on loving kindness, compassionate action, and altruistic joy.Quotes“In the long course of rebirth there is not one among living beings with form who hasnot been mother, father, brother, sister, son, or daughter, or some other relative.Being connected with the process of taking birth, one is kin to all wild and domesticanimals, birds, and beings born from the womb” (Lankavatara Sutra).“The world grows smaller and smaller, more and more interdependent . . . today morethan ever before life must be characterized by a sense of universal responsibility, notonly . . . human to human but also human to other forms of life.” (Dalai Lama)“Rajah Koravya had a king banyan tree called Steadfast, and the shade of itswidespread branches was cool and lovely. Its shelter broadened to twelve leagues....None guarded its fruit, and none hurt another for its fruit. Now there came a man whoate his fill of fruit, broke down a branch, and went his way. Thought the spiritdwelling in that tree, ‘How amazing, how astonishing it is, that a man should be so evilas to break off a branch of the tree, after eating his fill. Suppose the tree were tobear no more fruit.’. And the tree bore no more fruit.” (Anguttara Nikaya iii.368)“Human beings can be said to be made from earth, air, water, and fire. But we alsohave spirit and intelligence. We can understand what is happening in the "now." It isour human responsibility to protect and take care of the elements from which wecome and to which we will return. To live the good life now means, in part, takingcare of the elements that constitute ourselves and all living creatures. Our firstprecept is not to take life. The Buddhist who is truly aware of the "now" will notdestroy any living thing, and, therefore, cannot destroy, but rather must care for the
  4. 4. fundamental elements of all living things, earth, air, water, and fire.” (Venerable ThichBon Dat, Abbot of Tu An Pagoda, Ottawa)"The ultimate way to rescue the environment is to return to a state of innocence andtruth, and not to engage in fighting, selfishness, avarice and deceit." (VenerableMaster Hsuan Hua, Chan Patriarch and founder of the Dharma Realm BuddhistAssociation)"The Buddha taught that respect for life and the natural world is essential. Byliving simply one can be in harmony with other creatures and learn toappreciate the interconnectedness of all lives. The simplicity of life involvesdeveloping openness to our environment and relating to the world withawareness and responsive perception. It also enables us to enjoy withoutpossessing, and mutually benefit each other without manipulation." (JoséKalapura,"Science-Religion Dialogue & Ecology: An Asian perspective.")King AshokaKing Ashoka (also known as Ashoka the Great and Priyadarsi) ruled over the MauryaDynasty of India from 273 to 232 B.C. He is one of the most legendary kings in Indianhistory, and presided over a massive empire that included most of the present daycountry of India, plus parts of modern day Iran and Afghanistan.Ashoka also had some very progressive environmental policies, mostly to do withwildlife and the treatment of animals. The emperor’s policies were heavily influencedby his conversion to Buddhism. Ashoka converted after touring the site of a battle hisarmy had fought. The site of vultures feasting and fighting over the bodies ofthousands of dead sickened him. He soon adopted Buddhism and devoted himself to apeaceful life. His newfound policy of non-violence saw his nickname change from“the cruel Ashoka” to “the pious Ashoka”.As part of his new philosophy, Ashoka improved conditions for all living beings in hiskingdom. Human rights and tolerance reached never before seen levels in the empire.But his policies extended not only to humans, but to animals as well.Ashoka was a great promoter of many ideas that would not seem out of place inmodern day environmental circles. For one, he was a great promoter ofvegetarianism. While hunting was allowed for limited food gathering, his belief in thesanctity of all life meant a drastic reduction in animal consumption. Hunting for sportwas outlawed, as was the branding of livestock. The unnecessary slaughter ormutilation of all members of the animal kingdom was banned. He even createdhospitals for animals. His environmental policies probably culminated in the 5th of hisSeven Pillar edicts, in which he gave a large variety of wildlife official governmentprotection, a bit like today’s Endangered Species Act.Not only that, but he attempted to spread these values to other lands. There is alegend from when Ashoka’s son was sent as a missionary to convert Sri Lankan andThai kingdoms to Buddhism. He came upon a king’s sport hunt, and prevented theking from killing a deer while telling him all creatures have the right to life. The kingwas convinced and created an animal sanctuary around his palace. And whereAshoka’s son founded monasteries, he made sheltering animals a central tenet of thecommunity.