Nice Buddhist Ethics

Well, Jewish ethics can be pretty harsh (see my post).  But Buddhist Ethics are much more nice. “Right livelihood, Right Speech, Right conduct” — who can beat the sila? (also see my diagram)   In the light of that Jewish stuff, the crusades and Islamic law,  Buddhist Ethics make Western Buddhist feel a little snobish.   But apparently, in Asia, Buddhist ethics are not taken very seriously.   In Thailand, there are 227 rules in the Buddhist holy scriptures for monks to obey. But these rules are largely ignored. But heck, look at some from the list. Who could blame them!

  • No dancing, cracking knuckles or wiggling fingers or toes. (Sekhiya 10:5-6)
  • No laughing loudly (Sekhiya 10:11-12)
  • I will not slurp when I eat (Sekhiya 10:51) = ouch, most for most of Asia
  • I will not defecate or urinate while standing (Sekhiya 10:53)
  • Tickling with the fingers is to be confessed (Pācittiya 52)
  • The act of playing in the water is to be confessed. (Pācittiya 53)
  • Should any bhikkhu bathe at intervals of less than half a month, except at the proper occasions, it is to be confessed. (Pācittiya 57)
  • Intentional emission of semen, except while dreaming, entails initial and subsequent meetings of the Community.(Sanghādisesa 5:1)

An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics” (2000) by Peter Harvey has sat on my shelf for a long while. In future posts I hope to quote some interesting facts of shed light naive views of nice Buddhist ethics.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

6 responses to “Nice Buddhist Ethics

  1. aryah

    while I agree with the sentiment, just to emphasize, its the rules *monks* should obey. The fairly commonsensical 5 precepts is all laity should obey.

    And monkish rules are fairly ascetic from the start – no music, theater, sex, money, comfortable beds, eating after noon, cosmetics, perfumes, any decorations etc…

  2. One of the most interesting things I’ve read on “Buddhist ethics”:

    José Cabézon points out that, as far as Americans are concerned, Buddhism by definition has contemporary liberal American ethics. The fact that neither Buddhist scripture nor Asian practice is consistent with contemporary liberal American ethics is irrelevant. Scripture and tradition are not reliable, and happen to have gotten ethics wrong. We should derive correct Buddhist ethics from first principles, instead. And that will inexorably lead us to contemporary liberal American ethics; hooray.

    Since, for many American Buddhists, ethics is the main point of Buddhism, this is a trifle self-referential. “Buddhism” can be redefined as “contemporary American liberalism”, plus “mindfulness” (which mostly means “recycling cans and bottles”), plus the beaming face of the sainted Dalai Lama to validate our self-righteous holiness.

  3. @ aryah
    Indeed, it is very important to understand these as only rules for monks. The whole role of monastics in any traditions is a very different bag of worms. I will look at the 5 precepts stuff later, I hope.
    Thanks for the comment.

  4. @ David Chapman
    Great comment. Ouch, very biting — love it. I agree. Do you find many folks coming into Aro either from other forms of Buddhism or not and having these attitudes. How does your teacher work with these attitude.

    I heard your teacher give a talk where he told a story of confronting a taxi driver in India with a threat of a non-existent gun. Many listeners were indignant — “that is not very Buddhist”, “You regretted it later didn’t you?” , “You wouldn’t do it now since your new level of enlightenment, would you?” were the gist of the questions. I could see your teachers disappointment as he sighed and said, “I got where I wanted to go.”

  5. My experience is* that besides ‘nice’ you also get the ‘anything goes’ interpretation of Buddhist ethics calling it ‘zen’, ‘divine madman’ or ‘mahasiddha’ — so I see it more like a continuum with the Dalai Lama at one end and Chögyam Trungpa (epigons) at the other. Of course you can support any kind of behaviour with Buddhist catch phrases like ‘everything is empty’, ‘ultimately there is no one who gets harmed’ etc.

    * but here it may play a role that Hungarian Buddhism lags approx. 40 years behind that of the US and Western Europe

  6. @roni
    Fun points:
    (1) Hungary may be in a Buddhism time lag
    (2) Judging the morals in books vs morals on the road are different
    (3) Emptiness (and other catch phrases) is used as an excuse

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