[Buddha-l] Karma and ethics [was: angels]

Richard P. Hayes rhayes at unm.edu
Fri May 27 10:55:38 MDT 2005

On Fri, 2005-05-27 at 12:35 -0700, Gad Horowitz wrote:

> Magliola doesnt say its obligatory.  I say it is.

Sorry. I got confused by the wording of your earlier message, which I
thought was attributing this view to him. Mea culpa.

> If its superogatory what remains of ethics.?

Ethics are supererogatory. In Buddhist theory there is no obligation for
anyone to behave in a way that others like. If one wishes to live in a
harmonious world, then one might think of behaving in ways that bring
out behavior one likes in others. 

> Its all just karma.

You've got it. Pretty well all Buddhist "ethical" theory (the jury is
still out on whether Buddhism has any ethical theory at all in the sense
that Europeans have thought about ethics) is based on a study of how
habits are formed and what the quality of life is like for people who
have developed certain habits. That is what karma is all about.

> The vow to do one's utmost for the other obligates all beings whether
> they know it or not. 

If you'll read the karma chapter of the Abhidharmakosha carefully, I
think you'll find that the effects of bad karma are more serious when
one has taken vows. The reason for this is that vows are seen as a way
to cultivate habits that conduce to peace of mind. If one fails to
follow a vow that one has voluntarily chosen to follow, then the chances
of having the discipline to cultivate wholesome habits are seriously
diminished, and one's sense of failure is higher. Since a sense of
failure is one of the many forms that dukkha takes, to fail to follow a
voluntary vow results in dukkha. That is karma-vipaaka. Thinking about
it in ethical terms could be somewhat wrong-headed, for it is imposing a
category onto Buddhism that is alien to it. 

> The boddhisattva is the one who fully assumes this obligation in her
> vow. 

The bodhisattva takes a vow. There is no obligation involved anywhere.

> Anyway, with this, I bow out of this discussion.

Have you taken a vow that you feel obligates you to bow out, or are you
merely bowing out because you feel further discussion does not conduce
to your fulfilling your personal agenda?

> There are limits to e-dialogue.

Like all things, it is finite. And like all things one can use it well
if one wills so to do.

Richard Hayes
Department of Philosophy
University of New Mexico

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