[Buddha-l] Ethical Dilemmas

Barnaby Thieme bathieme at hotmail.com
Thu Jun 10 14:06:20 MDT 2010

Several years ago an audience member asked HH the Dalai Lama what you should do if you find yourself in New York City, confronted with a terrorist with a nuclear bomb, and you're the only one who can stop him, and the only way you can stop him is to kill him. HHDL replied "Ask me when it happens." 

A funny reply, and one that fits my general sense of what ethical philosophy or precepts can and cannot do. It seems to me that a tacit premise of these scenarios is that there exists or can exist a coherent set of principles that can effectively codify and evaluate the rightness or wrongness of action, and I think that's simply false. 

Surely HHDL does not believe that -- he probably believes, as any good Gelukpa, that there is in fact an inexorable moral law of karma that is part of the structure of the cosmos, and that retributive action governs rebirth. 

I myself cannot accept that or anything close to it, though I'd grant that there probably are moral precepts which generally support many Buddhist soteriological agendas, e.g., if one is a liar and a thief, those actions probably encourage afflictive desires and self-grasping. 

It seems to me that moral judgment relies ultimately on moral intuition, which is rooted primarily in our evolutionary history as cooperative primates, and has nothing to do with transcendental values. Part of that value-schema is that moral judgments should be coherent, which perhaps drives philosophers like beasts of burden to try to adjudicate the morality of hypothetical scenarios with reference to phantom frameworks, driven by what is essentially an animal instinct. 

Not that I have anything against ethical behavior -- I just think psychology is a better framework for assessing it than philosophy or religious doctrine. 



More than any time in history mankind faces a crossroads. One path
leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction.
Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly. -- Woody Allen

The New Busy is not the too busy. Combine all your e-mail accounts with Hotmail.

More information about the buddha-l mailing list