Pragmatic Buddhist View Of Situational Ethics:
Ven. David Xi-Ken Astor 曦 肯
The situational ethic of Pragmatic Buddhism recognizes that there is no good or evil. Evil it’s self is seen as just misunderstanding or ignorance. A notion of evil propagates the kind of anguish that is human caused. We fail to see the interdependence of things and thus create behaviors that seem evil. We must work to become more altruistic in how we act. Pragmatic Buddhism uses altruism and not compassion in responding to a situation. We must strike a balance between human emotion and reason.
It is important to remember that the Eightfold Path is a description of how the Buddha lived his daily life not what the Buddha committed himself to do. The Buddha did what he did because he realized the causal and connected nature of things and that responsibility for doing good was dependent on what he did to bring about good for himself and others. So we can say that the Eightfold Path is really just a description of what the Buddha’s daily actions looked like, and not a prescription of what should be done as based on a set of pre-described rules and laws. Kalupahana in his book on “Ethics in Early Buddhism”, states that any static moral principle presents the Buddha as opposing any notion of an absolute law, with the Eightfold Path working according to the principle of dependent origination in an objective, law-like way, but allowing appropriate adjustments according to circumstances. He points out that even a person of moral standing can commitment offences, though he explains this by saying that no human is omniscient (p. 94).
Thus the Eightfold Path did not come first, but was a descriptive report answering the question “What do I look like when I live my daily life?” Or the ultimate question “What should I do?” which is the foundation for all ethical discussion, as we know that all personal action is either skillful or not.
This is a question that we might ask ourselves, and take note of how we view the sum of the way be act and think. We follow the Eightfold Path as a result of realizing the casual nature of things. In Pragmatic Buddhism (and Buddhism in general for that matter) it is wise to remember that how we should live our life arise from logical realities that we observe. There are no fundamental codes that have direct relation to real-life experiences. So we relate to the Eightfold Path as a result of our realizing the causal nature of things, and that if we want our life to be better we must invest ourselves in better ways to be aware of the intent of our action. That is a summary of the Pragmatic Buddhist view of living an ethical and moral life. The Eightfold Path is more complex for many individuals than it needs to be. Keep it simple and appreciate the Path for what it is, but don’t see it as a foundation on which we build an ethical practice. Our path is causality.
So to sum this up, we first see causality. Second, we see causality is everywhere we look. Third, we see causality applies to humans. Fourth, use the implications of causality to make our world a better place.
Development of Buddhist Moral Principles/Teaching: The Precepts
Ven. David Xi-Ken Astor 曦 肯
By observing precepts, not only do we cultivate our moral strength, but we also perform the highest service to all sentient beings. Every society and culture has a set of codes of what they consider to be moral actions within its cultural context. These codes are often related to the society’s interest and its code of laws. An action is considered right so long as it does not beak the law and conflict with society’s or individual sensitivities. Important as they may be to the functioning of the society, these “man-made” standards can’t serve as a reliable code to morality which can be applied universally in most cases.
By contrast, Buddhist morality is bases on the universal law of cause and effect, and considers a good or bad action in terms of the manner it affects oneself and others. An action, even if it brings benefit to oneself, can’t be considered a good action if it causes physical and mental pain to another. Buddhist morality addresses a very common, yet crucial question, “How can we judge if an action is good or bad?” Buddhism provides a simple answer. The quality of an action depends on the intention of the action. If a person performs an action out of greed, hatred, and delusion, his action is considered to be less good. No matter how an individual tries to hide the nature of his action, the truth can be found by observing the action itself which will reflect his intention. The mind is the source of all our speech and action. In Buddhism, an individual’s main responsibility is to rid himself of the mental “defilements” of greed, hatred and ignorance. A Buddhist should act out of understanding and wisdom. He performs good deeds because he knows that by doing so he is developing his moral strength which will provide the foundation for his spiritual growth and which will lead to awareness of the interconnectiveness of all things.
The precepts are a condensed form of Buddhist ethical practice. They are to be taken as recommendations, not hard and fast rules. This means the individual is encouraged to use their own intelligence to apply these rules in the best possible way based on the situation of the moment. It is the spirit of the precepts, not the text, that counts, hence, the guidelines for ethical conduct must be seen in the larger context of the Eightfold Path.
The Three Pure Precepts -
1) Do no harm
2) Do only good
3) Do good for others
When considering the Three Pure Precepts, on the surface they seem rather simplistic. In actuality they are an endless source of what the Buddha taught, critically relevant in our daily practice as we bring them into our lives. Doing no harm is the fundamental teaching of Buddhism, and is a central pillar of a Buddhist practice. Why are they considered “pure”? Because they reach everywhere, and consider that everything is interdependent and connected.
When considering these Pure Precepts in relationship to the Five Precepts we see that they are also connected. The notion of good and bad is very hard to define sometimes because moral values are situational. They are relative to culture, personal preference, and social customs. Good is understood differently in different cultures. Good and bad always arise in accordance with circumstances. The unique contribution of Buddhist precepts when considering morality is that they move beyond moral excellence. If we are not aware of the precepts, and how they teach us to live a good life, then it is easy to go on our way and create negative karma.
Ven. Wayne Hughes and I were trained under the direction of Ven. Dr. Jim Eubanks Sensei in the Order of Pragmatic Buddhist. We developed specific and useful ways to creatively re-define the language of the basic Buddhist principals. I would like to introduce the Five Precepts as seen through pragmatic eyes. It is skilful means in action.
The Five Precepts -
Pragmatic Buddhism define the Five Precepts as:
1) Loving Kindness; in all possible circumstances, I will abstain from killing sentient beings.
2) Generosity; I will abstain from taking that which is not needed for my survival.
3) Simplicity and Contentment; I will abstain from sexual misconduct and the abuse of sensory pleasures.
4) Verbal Empowerment; I will abstain from meaningless speech.
5) Kind Speech; I will abstain from harsh speech.
These precepts enable us to live together in civilized societies showing mutual respect to each other, and it is the beginning step in building an ethical and moral practice. These precepts are accepted and brought into our practice voluntarily, especially when we realize the usefulness they provide us when engaging in our social interactions. In many ways, the precepts contain the major focus of the teachings of the dharma. It may take some time to realize this, but when we engage these precepts they continue to be a bottomless source of wisdom, helping us to embrace our full human potential. The Five Precepts reveal the intent in the Three Pure Precepts as they indicate not only what not to do, but what to do. In this way they balance being passive with the need to take action, which addresses the complexity and conflict we encounter in daily life. It is because of this responsibility that the precepts are so relevant and valuable in our practice.
The Threefold Ethic of Pragmatic Buddhism as developed by Eubanks Sensei -
1) We will cultivate authentic AWARENESS
2) We will practice the art of ACCEPTANCE
3) We will employ skillful ACTION
The fourth element of the Four Nobel Truths and the Eightfold Path provides us a guideline, and calls us to action, in order to live a life based on how we implement these ethical standards in our practice. When we understand how to skillfully employ them, in conjunction with the Eightfold Path, we can take productive and positive actions that will alleviate unsatisfactoriness, discontentment and anguish in our lives, and in our communities as we engage the social issues of our day. The very principals that structure the activities of the Engaged Dharma Insight Group.