I had thought about this post yesterday evening, but did not post it yet… Now after posting it, I just saw that in the meantime some of this has already been taken up and discussed in other “dicussion topics”… For anyone who is still interested, just read the main points in bold letters…
many thanks for sharing this sharp observation. I was not really so clear on this point.
My main inquiry is: Would it be possible, if during the course of the workshop you could highlight, which ethics in your opinion are essential for awakening.
What follows are some thoughts on how to bring our different perspectives on the discussion together, but a lot has now been covered in other “discussion topics”…
Thinking about your comment and the overall discussion, I realize that there are at least four perspectives on the topic, which played a role:
- (personal) Ethics from a viewpoint of a student of the Dhamma, who just wants to know how to find peace with the unavoidable harm that we indirectly cause other beings, just by being alive ourselves.
- Ethics from the viewpoint of the Early Buddhist Teachings
- Ethics from a wider viewpoint of philosophy in general (traditional and modern)
- The viewpoint on Buddhist ethics as an integral part in a balanced practice.
“Trying to find meaning in a meaningless world” (as Bhante Sujato mentioned), I guess I had tried to make all these different perspectives match (…or in other words erase condradictions between those). I guess, I had doubts and questions, because I sensed a dis-congruence of theses viewpoints (in the way I had understood them at the time).
I interpret your comment in such a way, that you first of all suggest to look at the precepts in a direct fashion (as one would do with any ‘law’). Going back to the basics, is a wellcome reminder! However, the doubt about the precepts was already part of the initial question: the question focussed on how to deal with the unavoidable harming of other beings, which constitutes an indirect infringement of the first precept. Admittedly, I understand Claralynns original question as being motivated by compassion for these harmed beings, which is a more noble standpoint, than just wanting to know if one can ‘condone’ that these beings are being harmed and still get away with it, i.e. still get enlightened, but to me this is a related line of argumentation. (‘to condone’ is a little bit too harsh here)
Looking at the examples you mention - vegetarianism and a habitual liar - I would discern them in the following way: For a layperson, I would think that the first precept mainly focusses on intentional harming of any being (with your own hands). To cause a being harm as a secondary effect within in a complex network of consequences, brought about by an act which has mostly wholesome intentions (such as maintaining your body to be able to practice the Dhamma), constitutes a ‘secondary infringement’ of the precept. The basic color of the intention would still be very wholesome. Since the Suttas describe laypersons who became stream-enterers and even arahats, the EBT position seems to be close to this.
Then again, your example of an habitual liar implies repeatedly and intentionally breaking the fourth precept. This would be a ‘first order infringement’, with the basic color of the intention being clearly unwholesome…
I would be very intersted to learn if your approach would be different.
However, apart from this discussion involving the thinking mind, I would also stress Raivo’s suggestion to “feel” one’s way through such issues when it comes to ones practice. When sitting in meditation then even as a beginner, I sometimes know that my mind was not calming down, because I did something unwholesome. Then again, if I cared for others, having had a mind with wholesome intention, I can usually also feel that wholesome quality in the meditation.
Sometimes, I am quite sad about the damage I cause and the way our planet is going down the drain, but I can also enjoy having done a little act of kindness, an act of caring, … of compassion, a shared smile, a kind word, …
So I would think, for ones practice it is very important no to drift off into denial as Bhante Sujato states:
on the other hand one should also not focus on the unwholesome side in an unbalanced way (see the story with homicidal monks after practicing body contemplation in an unbalanced way), but also to actively look for and enjoy the serenity that shines through all these abundant little acts (by others or ourselves) with wholsome qualities in our daily lifes… So if this is really dragging us down, then my two pence worth of advise would be to allow ourselfes to enjoy the path more.
If the world is really without meaning as Bhante Sujato says, then it is completely up to us to define the meaning for ourselves. As such, no meaning that we give the world is better than another: belief in a God, belief in materialism, the Jaina belief, belief in the Dhamma, … It may only be, that certain ‘meanings’ do not yield the expected results, put simply, it may be that they do not work as expected. What a blessing it is then, as Bhante Bramahli points out, that the Buddha passed on the Dhamma to us, which actually works, which keeps its promise, where meaning is given to things in such a way that the Dhamma - if correctly understood - leads to liberation. (I have no intention to judge any of these paths, I only have the feeling that the Dhamma works best for me…)
With much mettaa,