Buddhist ethics: categorical imperative or utilitarian morality?


yes and probably this can never be really tested or investigated ‘objectively’. For example killing is bad but Angulimala attained enlightenment anyway; so probably people would say that this was because of good kamma in previous lives(?) Contrariwise I heard of people who keep all the precepts and do all the right things according to Buddhism, and have done so for many years, but they have a very hard time meditating. So probably the explanation would be that their mind has been conditioned for many lifetimes(?) So in the end it’s not really something you can investigate probably.

thank you!

The same paradox Gabriel referred is relevant to the Buddha’s authority in general, which ultimately happens through ones own authority. If i were to discard my authority and follow the Buddha. whose mind am i following? mine or the Buddha’s mind?

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Wouldn’t you be following you own mind when taking the decision to follow the Buddha; and from then onwards follow the Buddha’s mind instead of your own?
That’s however very dangerous and scary in my opinion. There are stories everyday of people abandoning their will to that of a guru, (clearly initially what the teacher says to them makes enough sense to convince them) with very dangerous results. Today I read this.

Wow! I haven’t read V Thanissaro’s reply yet but I can say that V Bodhi’s article makes total sense to me! Some of the things I have been writing in this thread (before reading the article) are quite consistent with his views. Written with intelligence and awareness of ‘realpolitik’. Thanks so much for posting the link :slight_smile:

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The framework found in SN42.8 may help understanding how even Angulimala, a serial killer, could have made awakening come to fruition …

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If you think of your mind as the universal (the objective) that comprehends the endless particulars experienced through the senses (the subjective), then the similar structure of your individual psyche (subjective) can be found in the collective mind that we call Buddhism (objective) where individual-particular minds find their meeting point at a more universal-ultimate mind (the one who knows - Tittha sutta could be relevant) which is the Lord Buddha. Our worldly reality seems to be an endless negotiations between the two. For example, your convictions (what you think of as an objective knowledge) is constantly challenged by the input from your senses, and your convictions influence the way you experience the world. Similarly, your own belief system influences the way you understand the teachings of the Buddha, and the teachings of the Buddha influences your own convictions. What we call learning or practice, is the process of falsification between the practitioner and the central authority (the Buddha) where the Buddha asserted his authority by declaring himself as the one who knows, and the practitioner who is encouraged to investigate. From the negotiations between the two comes along the process of justification, usually framed in the question: how do you know? The how is the N8FP which is the development of the mind in wisdom, virtue and concentration.

The above might address the doctrinal aspect of your question, but getting back to Buddhist morality, similar structure can be found. By definition, if you have not achieved certainty in relation to the Buddha’s teachings, justifying your actions using Buddhist rhetoric is not completely warranted. If Kamma is intention, and if the quality of intention is determined by what we know, then justifying actions with moral consequences by referring to the Buddha can be equally a form of escapism or faith. Either way, this uncomfortable situation of lacking certainty is the main driver behind the practice.

Categorically, wars are fought over resources. If survival is the imperative, one might choose war. If lessening suffering is the imperative, then one might choose otherwise. The question here, then, is the utility of identity view. Because a nation, or even a people, is simply a shared identity.

MN62:12.8: This should be truly seen with right understanding like this: ‘This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self.’

And the only conclusion to that is…non-return or beyond.

Therefore, the utilitarian application of Buddhist ethics conditions us to the categorical imperative of the precepts. The ending of suffering is not a guarantee that we will all survive in peace with enough to eat. The ending of suffering is just the end of suffering. It is saying to each other, “please take this last seat on the last lifeboat on the Titanic.”

MN94:30.2: They live without wishes in the present life, extinguished, cooled, experiencing bliss, having become holy in themselves.”

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I think even very advanced Buddhist like to enjoy the security and peace that is guaranteed by military power. Even if you don’t want to acquire more resources, you need a military power to defend yourself and to deter your enemies.
I saw a video by Ajahn Sumedho in which he said that one of the reasons (or perhaps the only reason, I can’t remember) why he wanted to leave Thailand for the UK was because he was worried about his safety due to the Communists at the time at the border. The reason England was safer from communist invasion is somewhat due to its military power.
The Dalai Lama spoke in favor of India’s (the country that was able to host him since it could stand up to China) acquiring the nuclear weapon and we all know about China and Tibet; even highly attained monks did not stay in Tibet and chose to move to countries that are made their life safer thanks to their military power.
I hope I am not going off topic so I’ll stop here, anyway I am just stating the obvious.