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

Eric Nelson esnels at gmail.com
Fri May 27 11:37:46 MDT 2005

On 5/27/05, Richard P. Hayes <rhayes at unm.edu> wrote:
> On Fri, 2005-05-27 at 12:35 -0700, Gad Horowitz wrote:

I am a little perplexed by Richard's discussion of ethics:
> Ethics are supererogatory. 
is this statement true of all ethics or only of Buddhism? Even if this
is true of Buddhism, most ethics include obligation / duty as well as
the supererogative.  In folks such as Levinas and Peter Singer, the
supererogative is in fact really obligation. Can the Bodhisattva be
thought as awakening to a deeper obligation which is freely and
spontaneously assumed?

> 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.

Does this mean there are no obligations at all or that they are
conditional given one's ends? Isn't the latter the basis of those
"Buddhism as utilitarianism" arguments?

> > 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.

Does this mean that Buddhism has no ethics or that it is more of a
descriptive ethic? Perhaps more analogous to virtue ethics than modern
European prescriptive systems?

As far as vows are concerned--if vows involve intentions, then don't
they involve "ethics" in the sense of prescriptions (even if
conditional)? Doesn't karma involve some kind of responsibility for
one's actions?

Any comments would be appreciated.

> > 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

Eric Sean Nelson

More information about the buddha-l mailing list