August 14, 2014

Moving from a Culture of Death to a Culture of Life

A mere change in technologies will not suffice to avert climate change.

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

On September 21, concerned citizens from all across the United States, and from many other lands, will be converging on New York City for the People's Climate March, billed to be the biggest climate march in history. The immediate occasion for the march is the gathering of world leaders at the United Nations for a summit being convened by the UN Secretary General on the climate crisis. The march's purpose is to tell global leaders that the time for denial and delay is over, that we have to act now if we're going to secure the world against the ravages of climate change. The annual conference of the parties (COP) climate meetings have repeatedly turned out to be cop-outs, carnivals of deception launched with grand rhetoric, but ending in stalemates or hollow promises. People are ready to march in order to show that this won't do. We must recognize that climate disruption is real, that the consequences of inaction will be catastrophic, and that the need for swift and effective action is overwhelming. Preserving the crucial life-support systems of planet Earth simply won't be possible with the tiny baby steps that have so far been taken. If we're going to emerge intact, what we need at minimum are binding and enforceable commitments to steep cuts in carbon emissions coupled with a mass-scale transition to renewable sources of energy.

However, while greater efficiency and clean energy policies are clearly essential in combating climate disruption, a long-term solution must go deeper than the implementation of new technologies and the adoption of such pragmatic measures as cap-and-trade or a carbon tax. The climate instability we are facing today is symptomatic of a deeper malady, a cancer spreading through the inner organs of global civilization. The extreme weather events we have experienced come to us as a wake-up call demanding that we treat the underlying causes. For any treatment to succeed, we must closely examine the paradigm that underlies our industrial-commercial-financial economy, for it is this model that lies at the root of the crisis. Since this paradigm—this particular constellation of views and values—has acquired a global reach that now extends from New York and London to Delhi, Seoul, and Beijing, the transformations needed must be equally global.

The dominant political and economic elites claim that this system is beyond doubt or questioning, that it is as immutable as the laws of physics. They confront us with the maxim, "There is no alternative." Yet when it is carefully scrutinized, this system reveals itself to be sustained by a matrix of ideas and values that have been shaped and imposed by powerful vested interests. Examination shows, moreover, that these ideas and values are the hidden forces behind the climate crisis. They are the drivers behind more frequent and severe floods, droughts, and heat waves, behind more acidic oceans, collapsing ice sheets, and vanishing glaciers. Day by day this model is dragging human civilization down a treacherous slope threatening planetary suicide.

The distinctive mark of this paradigm—which is none other than the paradigm of corporate capitalism—is the locating of all value in monetary wealth. Human value, labor value, natural value all translate into financial value, and the last is the only value to which the paradigm ascribes ultimacy. All other values must submit to the reign of monetary wealth in the form of increased profits and greater returns on investments. The model posits the goal of the economy to be continuous growth, based on the madcap premise of infinite growth on a finite planet.

The cogency of this way of thinking depends on a process of objectification, which means that it treats everything—people, animals, and trees, rivers, land, and mountains—as objects to be utilized to generate financial gain for corporations, their executives, and their shareholders. This logic of objectification and its accompanying scheme of values entail policies aimed at the unrestrained domination and subjugation of nature. The system depends on the ruthless extraction of natural resources to generate energy and produce commodities for sale in the market. It thereby turns nature's bounty into a plurality of goods, often inessential and frivolous goods, leaving behind mountains of waste and pollution. Yet those in the seats of power refuse to take responsibility for the wreckage they leave behind. Instead, they push the clean-up job on to governments by a process shrewdly called externalization, with the bill to be met by public funding.

The corporate paradigm treats people just as callously as it treats stones, trees, and soil. It pushes indigenous peoples off their lands and treats labor as an abstract variable, reducing real human beings to figures in a database. Mega-transnationals squeeze workers for the economic value they can generate while refusing to provide them with adequate rights and benefits—considerations that would cut into their profit margins and thus make the firms less "competitive" in the global marketplace. Then, when the labor of the workers is no longer needed, the company casts them aside to fend for themselves with the same unconcern as we might cast aside an empty plastic bottle.

This system flourishes by inciting in people insatiable desires for the consumption of material commodities. Its blueprint is the simple "throughput" sequence by which resources and labor are converted into goods that are converted into monetary wealth and material waste. Rapid model replacement, by which last year's glittering iPad or car or clothing quickly becomes obsolete, is used to increase sales and thereby bolster economic growth. To keep the economy spinning, the system pushes credit programs that turn people into debt-slaves beholden to ravenous financial institutions. Even those pursuing a higher education now court the risk of becoming hapless debtors for life.

All these factors functioning in unison churn out the devastation we see around us, signs of a planet in peril. We're living in a world weighed down by the culture of death, both literally and figuratively. Amid unimaginable luxury, almost 900 million people must endure chronic hunger and malnutrition; easily cured diseases turn fatal; the gap between a super-rich elite and everyone else grows wider and climate disruption claims tens of millions of lives each year. Unless we change direction fast, the final outcome could well be the collapse of human civilization as we know it. Yet we are not without guides, for thinkers from Lewis Mumford to David Korten, James Speth and Gar Alperovitz, have long been pointing the way to a better future. Perhaps it's time to lend them an ear.

To avoid civilizational collapse, we not only need new technologies to reduce carbon emissions but even more fundamentally, a new paradigm, a model for a culture of life that can replace the pernicious culture of death. We need, in brief, an alternative way of understanding the world and an alternative set of values conducive to a more integral relationship of people with each other, with nature, and with the cosmos. This paradigm should be rooted in what I call the "affirmation of subjectivity" to replace the heartless objectifying processes of corporate capitalism. We need a vision that recognizes other people and other life forms as subjects of experience possessing intrinsic value. The model should also recognize nature, indeed the cosmos itself, as endowed with a profound subjective dimension, even an inherent intelligence by which it can transform stardust into planets that bring forth a profusion of life forms and mold moist clay into conscious beings with feelings and thoughts and ideals and hopes and the innate capacity to reflect the cosmos back upon itself.

This change in worldview must lead to reverence and respect for the natural world, recognized as our irreplaceable home and nurturing mother. It must acknowledge the finitude of nature, and treat it accordingly, bearing in mind our responsibility to future generations. It should promote solidarity between peoples everywhere based on empathy, respect, and a shared humanity. It must lead to the development of benign "appropriate technologies," the selective utilization of natural resources, and the deployment of renewable sources of energy. It should further endorse an ethic of simplicity, contentment, and restraint to replace the voracious appetite of consumerism. And most deeply of all, it should awaken in us an aspiration toward communion with the cosmos and all living beings, a harmonization between human ideals and the creative capacities of the universe.

We now stand at a crossroads where we must choose between competing worldviews. Depending on our choice, we can move in either of two directions: we can move toward continued devastation and eventual global collapse or we can instead turn toward inner renewal and healthier relationships with each other, with the earth, and with the cosmos. As climate change accelerates, the choice before us is being thrown into sharper relief, and thus the need to choose wisely grows ever more urgent.

The obstacles that confront us are formidable. We must face down powerful corporations committed to endless profit, who are ready to pump from the ground billions of barrels of oil per day for years on end, with no concern for the long-term consequences. Instead, they cast up clouds of confusion and depict their opponents as whacky "tree huggers" or dangerous "eco-terrorists." We must push servile politicians to act boldly to protect people, not corporations, though we know that many of them owe their secure positions to the generosity of the carbon industries. And we must see through the blather of the mainstream media that refuse to tackle crucial issues with the seriousness they deserve. Instead we must take up the discipline of educating ourselves and helping others remove the blinders that obstruct their vision.

To prevail against these obstacles, we will need exceptional determination and will power. We must be uncompromising in our insistence on the need to change paradigms—to make the transition to a higher stage in our technological development and in our cultural and spiritual evolution. For our own sakes and for generations to come, we must bluntly repudiate the culture of death and embrace a new vision, a new economy, a new culture committed to the real enhancement of life.

Much damage has already been done. We've delayed too long—much too long—and terrible consequences lie ahead for populations all around the world. The global South and the small island nations will be hit hardest, but no country is exempt from the furies to be unleashed by a destabilized climate. It may not be too late, however, to change course, if we have the faith that we still can avoid the worst. But to succeed we must push hard, holding fast to the conviction "Together we can do it." The People's Climate March will be one powerful demonstration of the strength that comes through unity.

Join Tricycle and Buddhist communities in New York and beyond as we march to demand climate justice on September 21. Register to get updates, including the meeting location for Buddhist groups, here

The Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi is a Theravada Buddhist monk and the former editor of the Buddhist Publication Society in Kandy, Sri Lanka. His latest publication is a full translation of the Anguttara Nikaya (Wisdom Publications, 2012). He founded Buddhist Global Relief in 2008.

A version of this article first appeared in TruthoutIt is adapted here with permission.

Image: Chrystal Clarity. Courtesy People's Climate March.

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kammie's picture

Personally, I don't want to start storming for "climate justice," because that would be emotional violence. Having come of age in the 60s, I've been there, seen that, and it doesn't even slow things down. In this phrase from the article, "The system depends on the ruthless extraction of natural resources to generate energy and produce commodities for sale in the market. It thereby turns nature's bounty into a plurality of goods, often inessential and frivolous goods, leaving behind mountains of waste and pollution. Yet those in the seats of power refuse to take responsibility for the wreckage they leave behind. Instead, they push the clean-up job on to governments by a process shrewdly called externalization, with the bill to be met by public funding," I would change the words: "those in the seats of power" to "those passing the money across the store counter to purchase these inessential and frivolous goods." The rest of that paragraph would remain as true as it is. The place to focus is on the suffering and concomitant unskillfulness of the purchasers. It's the desperation and misplaced hope of the ordinary masses that is driving us to extinction.

OneVoice's picture

Bhikkhu Bodhi's doctrine of Just War claims to be "Buddhist," in the absence of any support in the Pali Canon (as he openly admits) and counter to the Buddha's clear, consistent and pervasive teachings that intentional killing is never wholesome. Starting from this disadvantageous position, how does he propose to legitimize his doctrine of Just War in terms of the Dhamma?

Bhikkhu Bodhi says in this thread: "I really wonder whether the Buddha, if he were alive in 1939-41, would have recommended capitulating to the Nazis rather than opposing them militarily. It is intriguing (as I pointed out in the essay) that we never find in the texts any cases where a conflict of obligations--or a situation with conflicting moral aspects--is brought to the Buddha's attention for advice. Perhaps it was because he realized that worldly affairs are just too complex for any simple formulas to work that he did not address situations of moral conflict, not because he regarded the precepts as unconditional absolutes, Thus, contrary to yourself and other radical fundamentalists, I tend to take the moral directives of the texts as general rules, intrinsically valid but not unconditional absolutes. The real world is just too complex and messy for moral absolutes to bear desirable fruit." (italics mine)

    I would like to address his argument piece by piece:

  • "I really wonder whether the Buddha, if he were alive in 1939-41..." Hmm. I really wonder whether Mahatma Gandhi, if he were alive on Sept. 11, 2001, would have recommended capitulating to Al-Qaeda rather than opposing them militarily. Perhaps Gandhi never meant for satyagraha to apply in a complex, post-911 world. I really wonder whether Margaret Thatcher, if she had ever considered home ownership in Sub-Saharan Africa, would have recommended privatizing council estates rather than championing socialized housing. Perhaps she realized that the the affairs of Sub-Saharan African economies are just too complex for any simple economic formulas to work. Perhaps, this game is rather easy and could be used to controvert anyone's views who is not around any more to register an objection. Since Gandhi did weigh in on WWII without carving out an exception, I had to move the ball to 9/11. Otherwise I'm sure I wouldn't have been among the first to gut Gandhi's life's work by invoking Hitler. The point of all of this is that a baseless speculation about what the Buddha might have been thinking has been used to attempt to overturn the consistent record of his 45 year teaching career.
  • "It is intriguing (as I pointed out in the essay) that we never find in the texts any cases where a conflict of obligations--or a situation with conflicting moral aspects--is brought to the Buddha's attention for advice." This is a bizarre argument as every decision, every single pointer of Dhamma, is a choice between and among conflicting obligations and values. There's not much more worth saying about this, but somehow this strange statement is also used to attempt to overturn the Buddha's consistent body of teachings.
  • "Thus, contrary to yourself [me :-)] and other radical fundamentalists..."
  • This loaded label is misapplied to those who refuse to justify lethal force. "Buddhist Fundamentalism" is commonly understood the other way round. For example, the wikipedia entry on fundamentalism states under "Buddhist Fundamentalism:" "In the most recent instances, Buddhist fundamentalism has also targeted other religious and ethnic groups, such as that in Burma. As a Buddhist dominated nation, Burma has seen recent tensions between Muslim minorities and the Buddhist majority, especially during the 2013 Burma anti-Muslim riots..." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamentalism. (The irony of this is that Bhikkhu Bodhi's own position advocates creating a religious justification for killing, and he posted with admiration the views of a Sri Lankan monk who justified killing to defend Buddhism (search for "Ven. Piyadassi" on this thread)). But the point is not to decide to whom the label should attach. What I wish to point out is how the label was used in the context of the argument. Bhikkhu Bodhi makes a bold, absolute claim of his own: that the world is too complex for moral absolutes and simple formulas. What does he present in support of this universal law? Nothing but labeling the dissenting viewpoint "radical fundamentalism." Rhetorically, it may be effective, but it only goes that far and no further.

    • As an example of a legitimate argument, here is something challenging. Bhikkhu Bodhi says: "The real world is just too complex and messy for moral absolutes to bear desirable fruit." But in this same thread in response to a question of whether he thinks torture can be justified by the Dhamma he posts: "Firstly, torture is prohibited by the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment. Moreover Article 2.2 of the Convention states: "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture... Thus, simply on legal grounds (which are in turn based on moral grounds) I could not approve of torture, nor would I ever argue that the Buddha Dhamma can justify torture." It seems when it comes to UN Conventions he has no problem taking "absolutist" stands -- a "radical conventionalist," if you will. ;-)
    • Or here's another. Bhikkhu Bodhi says: "The real world is just too complex and messy for moral absolutes to bear desirable fruit." What about laws against apartheid, cannibalism, child molestation, child pornography, genocide, forced genital mutilation, slavery, wars of aggression, and so on? Would he argue against the simplistic, absolute prohibitions of these behaviors? Are they only "general rules, intrinsically valid but not unconditional absolutes?" Are they archaic and in need of nuanced, situational exceptions to reflect the growing complexity of the modern world?

I apologize for the ad hoc approach to dissecting Bhikkhu Bodhi's arguments. It's quite a bit to wade through, sort out, and get to the bottom of things. In my next post I hope to do more of a systematic treatment of how Bhikkhu Bodhi manages to present his own personal political view as the only alternative to the "rigid" adherence to the Pali Canon. And in another I will address the baselessness of Bhikkhu Bodhi's claim that the Dhamma needs an update, and question who it is exactly he proposes to perform this "update."

buddhasoup's picture

Once again, One Voice, you, who is such a voice for the Dhamma, ignores the mandates of Right Speech and continues your attacks on Ven. Bodhi's very subtle, nuanced argument regarding the ethics of mindful resistance in the face of genocide or mass killing of innocents. You, who has translated nothing from the Pali texts, who have done nothing to save the life of a starving child, feels free to "call out" one of the most learned, accomplished, and compassionate Bhikkhus of our time. I suppose your campaign has given you a self-imposed sense of power or influence, but your posts to me suggest more of the "peanut gallery" mentality. You made your points many days ago...why the incessant trumpeting of the same material? Have you nothing better to do with your time?

For folks interested in a sober, non-ad hom discussion of this interesting subject, you can find some thoughtful exchanges here at: http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=21602

Grasshopper's picture

A note for One Voice:

I have been a Theravada Buddhist all my life, and I must say in your defense that I have never heard any serious Buddhist hold to the opinion that the first precept doesn’t apply in all circumstances. Every monastic teacher with whom I’ve studied, both in America and in Asia, has stressed the point that the five precepts are to be followed even during famine and war.
I was surprised to learn of the monks who used the Cakkavati Sihanada Sutta to justify killing by the state. I always thought that the main message of that sutta was that the Dhamma king follows policies so wise that he never needs to use his army. It’s bad enough to see that message twisted to justify killing. It’s even worse to see someone claim that that twisted message is endorsed by the majority of Theravadin Buddhists.
So, contrary to Ven. Bodhi’s comment, you are not a lone voice in the fight to hold to the first precept in all circumstances. And even if you were the lone voice, it wouldn’t be a sign that you were wrong. Issues of right and wrong, blameworthy and blameless, are not decided by popular vote.

OneVoice's picture

Lone voice or not, this is a simple matter. After all Bhikkhu Bodhi concedes there is no support in the Canon for his position, the Buddha's clear and consistent teachings support mine, and I'm only arguing that we shouldn't invent any justifications to kill people. I think I'll sleep all right. Thanks for the bit of support, in any case.

Jayson's picture

I know Thanissaro Bhikkhu has been quite adamant about the point that any form of intentional killing is unskillful at some level.

OneVoice's picture

Do you have a link where Ven. Thanissaro addresses the issue head on?

Jayson's picture
OneVoice's picture

Brilliant. Thanks for that.

"Killing is never skillful. Stealing, lying, and everything else in the first list are never skillful. When asked if there was anything whose killing he approved of, the Buddha answered that there was only one thing: anger. In no recorded instance did he approve of killing any living being at all. When one of his monks went to an executioner and told the man to kill his victims compassionately, with one blow, rather than torturing them, the Buddha expelled the monk from the Sangha, on the grounds that even the recommendation to kill compassionately is still a recommendation to kill — something he would never condone." —Thanissaro Bhikkhu http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/gettingmessage.html

candor's picture

Interesting.

As a vegan, I encounter the "plants are 'living beings' (meaning : sentient beings) argument" on a regular basis, which of course, I consider absurd (laughably so if it weren't for the ignorant and self-interested motive generating the argument). I consider "living beings" to be, at a minimum, what the American philosopher Tom Regan calls "subjects-a-life" (search it). Living beings such as insects, I see as borderline cases, and while I try to avoid harming them, I'm not nearly as strict about it as with beings who clearly have higher level functioning such as emotions and preferences (eg chickens, pigs, dogs, cows).

With the exception, as I've mentioned before in this thread, of self-defense (including self defense against starvation or malnutrition), or defense against blatant tyranny, and only when such defense is likely to be successful, I agree with the prohibition against killing "any living being at all."

OneVoice's picture

Re Bhikkhu Bodhi's Just War:

From an interview with Aidan Delgado, a conscientious objector in the Iraq War:

"'How hard was it to get conscientious objector status?'
'Extremely difficult – there's a huge burden of proof. You have to do an interview with an investigating officer who grills you on your beliefs to find out if you're just making it up or if you've really thought it out. You have to have some kind of documentation. I think one of my strongest points was that I had a lot of military paperwork showing that I had gradually identified myself as a Buddhist. I also had a lot of conversations with my superiors where I talked about being an objector and being a Buddhist, and they went on the record and said, "Yes, he's talked about it progressively throughout the deployment." That really did a lot to establish my sincerity."' http://www.thewe.cc/contents/more/archive2005/january/concientious_objec...

Here are the rules for Conscientious Objector status in the U.S.:

"The current statute says that CO claimants must object to "participation in war in any form." This means that in order to qualify as a CO you must be prepared to say honestly that you would refuse to participate in any war in which you would reasonably be expected to fight. You cannot say that you could participate in a particular war, but not others. "Selective conscientious objection " uses the "just war" moral teaching and international law to justify some wars and rule out others. Selective conscientious objection is not permitted in the United States." http://www.scn.org/IP/sdmcc/co.htm

Here is Bhikkhu Bodhi from this thread:

"Naturally, there are many shades of opinion about the exact conditions that can justify war, but serious ethical thinkers without preset agendas recognize that the advocacy of uncompromising pacificism is morally pernicious." And, "Thus, contrary to yourself and other radical fundamentalists, I tend to take the moral directives of the [Buddhist] texts as general rules, intrinsically valid but not unconditional absolutes." (emphasis mine)

If we take Bhikkhu Bodhi at his word, he considers this young CO to be a "radical fundamentalist," his beliefs to be "morally pernicious," that he had no legitimate right to claim CO status as a Buddhist, and that the U.S. Army granted it mistakenly. I wonder what Bhikkhu Bodhi would do if an investigative officer called and asked him to render an opinion in a real case. Would the opinion be used to send the young soldier to the front to maim and kill or to be maimed or killed? Or would the facade of tidy U.N. Charters and abstract justifications crumble at the realization that his words have real consequences, will wreak havoc on a young persons life, mind, family, and on those who catch his bullets, and their families.

I would be interested to know if Bhikkhu Bodhi denounces Conscientious Objector status on the basis of adherence to the Buddhist religion (as the logic of his doctrine of Just War dictates).

OneVoice's picture

Re Bhikkhu Bodhi's just war:

I thought Bhikkhu Bodhi's antiseptic, academic justification for war (immediately below) made for an interesting contrast with the actual experience of a combat soldier.

"By citing the UN Charter I indicate that the defensive party to the conflict should use only proportionate force, try to avoid civilian casualties, and end combat operations as soon as possible. These are provisions recognized by almost all authorities on international jurisprudence." -- Bhikkhu Bodhi

"When the soldier has lost a comrade to this enemy or possibly had his family destroyed by them through bombings or through political atrocities, so frequently the case in World War II, his anger and resentment deepen into hatred. Then the war for him takes on the character of a vendetta. Until he has himself destroyed as many of the enemy as possible, his lust for vengeance can hardly be appeased. I have known soldiers who were avid to exterminate every last one of the enemy, so fierce was their hatred. Such soldiers took great delight in hearing or reading of mass destruction through bombings. Anyone who has known or been a soldier of this kind is aware of how hatred penetrates every fiber of his being. His reason for living is to seek revenge; not an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but a tenfold retaliation." -- J. Glenn Gray, who fought in World War II, on the peculiar nature of vengeance in “The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle”

This is the genie Bhikkhu Bodhi wishes to unleash and thinks he can put back in the bottle with his tidy, U.N. legal documents.

buddhasoup's picture

Your argument is a strawman. You are creating vendetta genies, unleashing them, and claiming them to be part of Ven. Bodhi's nuanced argument. Where in Ven. Bodhi's essays did he suggest that vengeance is a factor in an ethical use of necessary force to repel a lethal wrongdoer? Are you suggesting that reasonable and ethical people cannot make rational, ethical, and appropriate decisions re: necessary defensive force in the face of a lethal harm? Nowhere in the Suttas will you find a Buddha that is a fool, or a martyr, or someone that sits by silently and watches violence consume a community. Nowhere does the Buddha, in his exchanges with kings, demand that they lay down their arms and forsake their defenses. If the Buddha had intended that his disciples be self righteous martyrs in the face of a lethal aggressor, wouldn't he have taught this? Just as the Buddha refused to answer certain questions presented to him, he is silent on the issue of ethical use of defensive force. Therefore, the training rule against taking of life is not an absolute injunction, but a critical factor one must apply in the cultivation of one's own kamma and eventual rebirth.

Jayson's picture

Yes, it seems true that the Buddha allowed for kings to have standing armies for defense, according to the Chakkavatti- sihanada Sutta. The 'Seeha Senapathi Sutta' from Anguttara Nikaya-5 is interesting to read too. I think this is wise and can be seen as the Buddha's gradual teaching.

Monks cannot intentionally kill (or ask others to kill) or they will be expelled from the sangha: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/vin/sv/bhikkhu-pati.html#pr

Non-lethal intentional self-defense seems to be a lesser offense: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/vin/sv/bhikkhu-pati.html#pc-74

There's also the simile of the saw to reflect on: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.021x.than.html

OneVoice's picture

The Cakkavattisihananda Sutta (http://tipitaka.wikia.com/wiki/Cakkavattisihanada_Sutta) is a fable told by the Buddha which includes traditional story elements. It stresses that a righteous king never conquers or rules by force, but conquers and rules by following and spreading the Dhamma. The fact that there is an "army" in a fable about a king, even though it never fights, and the king conquers by preaching, "Do not take life," should not be deemed sufficient evidence that the Buddha justified armies or war. The story includes the fact that the righteous king had 1,000 sons. Does this mean the Buddha advocated large families? There are many places in the Canon where the Buddha mentions "slaves" incidentally without taking an aside to condemn it. Is this sufficient evidence to create a Buddhist justification for slavery? This is ironic because the "moral of the story" of this sutta is the corrosive effect on the well-being of the population when the King first resorts to state sponsored killing (capital punishment) as an expedient means instead of generosity. The people take the King's actions as an example, the population begins to violate all of the precepts, and the country devolves into chaos.

In the Siha Sutta (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an05/an05.034.than.html) the Buddha praises the generosity of a donor who happens to be a general. I don't know if some think that the fact that the Buddha didn't dress down the general for being a soldier signifies something. A lot of Suttas demonstrate the Buddha's restraint when teaching. He did not rail against or try to change the world. He taught people in response to questions, and didn't lecture them without invitation. He also accepted donations from thieves and prostitutes.

A highly relevant sutta is the Yodhajiva Sutta, which demonstrates the Buddha's restraint and directly addresses the issue of killing in war. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn42/sn42.003.than.html. The Buddha teaches a soldier that the intention to kill people in battle will take him to hell, and that the wrong view that killing in battle is noble (e.g. Just War) will take him to hell or an animal rebirth. The soldier thanks the Buddha for cutting through all the deceits he'd been told his whole life about how war was noble. If you want to extrapolate from conspicuous omissions in the Canon, this would be one. Not only would this have been the perfect opportunity, but if there were meant to be an exception for, "depending on whether your cause is just," the Buddha's answer here is insufficient to the point of wrong and cruel ... telling the poor fellow he'll go to hell and omitting the terribly important exception that would exonerate and even elevate him. But Bhikkhu Bodhi says in this thread: "Wouldn’t we maintain that in this situation military action to stop the aggressor is laudable, even obligatory, and that a soldier’s actions can be viewed as morally commendable?"

The Yodhajiva Sutta is also pretty strong counter-evidence to the assertion made time and again by Bhikkhu Bodhi and others in this thread that the Buddha never addressed the issue of war or killing in battle.

I would be interested to see if anyone tries to have an honest go at trying to reconcile Bhikkhu Bodhi's advocacy of a doctrine of Just War to the Dhamma in this case, or whether they agree with me that the view he is promulgating is that which leads to rebirth in hell or the animal womb.

Jayson's picture

I'm not sure I can add much more to this debate that has seemed to drift away from the original topic of this article on climate change.

However, I must say that I very much appreciate Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi for taking the time to clarify his thoughts, address issues and response to questions.

From my reading of the Pali canon, intentional killing is seen as unskillful. There's also not much support for a Judeo-Christian view of "just" war. I also understand the orthodox Theravadan view and the dangers of the "slippery slope." Is it best to seek a non-violent solution to violent provocation? Yes. Do the vinaya rules call for a monk to not recommend killing, suicide or help arrange a murder? Yes, that is true as well. Looking at specific passages that I can recall, there is the story of when the Buddha stops a war and the Buddha tells a solider of the dangers of being reborn in a hell realm if he kills with hatred.

However...

Is killing sometimes necessary as is being suggested? Perhaps. For a lay person, on exceedingly rare occasions, when all other possibilities have been exhausted, it is unfortunate but may be necessary to use potentially lethal force to maintain the four requisites needed to survive in this world.

That is your choice as a lay person. You will have to deal with the consequences of that decision, but it doesn't mean you cannot recover from whatever karmic effect comes from the act.

We must remember the Jataka story of the Buddha as a ship captain in a previous life as a bodhisattva who killed a pirate who planned to kill everyone in order to steal cargo.

We also must call to mind the complexity of karma, and the fact that Angulimala eventually become an arhat.

I'm not going to go into details on the degree of killing either, but obviously the taking of human life is considered worse than the taking of animals. Yet, you shouldn't go out and slay animals either. The Buddha cautions against the slaughter of animals in his words about right livelihood for lay followers to reduce their karmic burden. Proceeding down the hierarchy of forms of violence and killing, we can further examine the karmic consequences of taking the lives of other sentient beings. All these count in the karmic bank account.

We must understand the first precept in the context of karma and not view the precepts as commandments, as has been noted before.

At the same time, we must also come to an understanding that peace cannot come from violence and that there is still a level of unsatisfactoriness that comes with having the practical need to kill in this world. From there, we can turn to a greater peace. The Buddhist path is a gradual path.

Those are my thoughts from what I know in the canon. Please correct me if I'm wrong about these canonical passages.

Full disclosure, I have had the good fortune of walking with Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi at one of his Buddhist Global Relief walks -- an initiative that is an act of great compassion on his part. Yet, I also have learned from with certain forest tradition monastics who dedicated themselves to a certain lifestyle and karmic trajectory with less interest in certain societal affairs. So, I have respect for all members of the noble sangha and can see different perspective on applying the Dhamma in particular circumstances.

Thank you.

OneVoice's picture

.I am glad to have your viewpoint on kamma. I think it was on the whole excellent and I agree with most of it. I'd like to expand on a few points.

"That is your choice as a lay person. You will have to deal with the consequences of that decision, but it doesn't mean you cannot recover from whatever karmic effect comes from the act." I agree with this statement. I have never said that the first precept is a commandment, the violation of which will send you straight to hell, or that there is no chance to make a recovery like Angulimala. Nor have I said there were no gradations to violations of the precepts based on the quality of intention and the circumstances. The bit I have been objecting to, and which it is fair to say Bhikkhu Bodhi has been advocating, is that there would be positive kamma (or at least no negative karma) coming from intentionally killing under certain circumstances, e.g. saving someone else basically. We need to accept responsibility for our unskillful actions (as you said "That is your choice as a lay person") instead of trying to distort the Dhamma to justify whatever it is we think is right. This is the loophole and slippery slope that I am fighting here.

"We must remember the Jataka story of the Buddha as a ship captain in a previous life as a bodhisattva who killed a pirate who planned to kill everyone in order to steal cargo." I think you might be taking this as counter-evidence that killing is admirable or wholesome in this case. Because the Bodhisattva did something in the Jatakas, does not necessarily mean it was wholesome. In some tales he killed, stole, committed adultery and did other unwholesome things, and in others he exhibits great heroism and virtue. The Buddha's teachings should determine how we interpret the Jatakas, not the other way round.

"We must understand the first precept in the context of karma and not view the precepts as commandments, as has been noted before." I also agree they are not commandments. The Buddha is simply outlining how kamma functions to serve as a guideposts for the suffering and confused. He never compelled people to follow them.

Jayson's picture

Thanks for your response and expansion of a few of my points.

The Jataka tale is very interesting. I don't see the story as an example of killing as admirable or skillful. More than anything, it points out the dangers of lay life and how it will present you with different challenges than monastic life. In lay life, you may be put in a unique situation where you must determine which is a lesser evil.

That raises the issue of whether it's possible to clearly determine a lesser evil. How do we know a lesser evil won't lead to a greater evil in the future? This starts to travel down the road of utilitarianism.

Also, do we know how many previous lifetimes that we've lived where we've already made that choice of a lesser evil and ended up being reborn again to confront a greater evil?

Again, it all comes down to choice. You can't run from your karma.

However, I don't think you're quite as far apart from Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi as you may think. From what I've read, it doesn't seem like he's suggesting that intentionally killing is completely skillful or without fault. Where there might be disagreement is how much ability a person has in determining the extent of evil. If you believe that you can accurately calculate degrees of negative karma, then you can make a choice of a lesser evil. If not, it's a risky proposition.

OneVoice's picture

Hi, thanks for your reply. I think you are correct in describing the complex utilitarian choices that can face us in the world when we try to reduce suffering with a worldly/materialist view, i.e. that what is of primary importance is avoiding physical suffering and preserving physical life. These values make complete sense in their context. And I also do not also wish to give the impression that I completely disregard physical suffering and death as immaterial. Not at all, which is why I have railed in this thread at what I see as the end result of creating justifications for killing. Unwholesome views taken to their logical conclusion have caused the most horrific bloodshed.

Your view is a bit more interesting because it seems to reflect an attempt to reconcile a worldly context with the Buddha's karmic context, or the Dhamma, which prioritizes your "kammic" life over your physical life. In the Dhamma your actions have paramount importance in shaping your reality and creating effects in the world over very long terms, potentially countless lives. Your physical life could end today. This is why, given the context, it is far more important to protect your kamma, than to sacrifice your principles to save your life. So the precepts are not a arbitrary "commandments." They are distillations of utilitarian calculations based on a (very) long-term context. The world can be complex and confusing. How do we know what's right?

On the night of the Buddha's enlightenment, when his mind was refined and concentrated, he could trace back the tangled chains of cause and effect through his previous lives and saw what caused happiness and what caused suffering. And he also could sort out the chains of cause and effect in other beings' lives. If you find this account credible (or at least not incredible) the Buddha had a much more sophisticated understanding of the causes of suffering than we do. And the Buddha's purpose in giving the precepts was to give some basic rules for guidance that he had distilled from his understanding. They serve a bit like safety rails. When the mind is getting overwhelmed in the welter of competing values, greed, anger and confusion can appear and suggest, "Just take it, nobody's looking," or, "She's a nice one, I don't care if she's got a husband and family," or ..."The only way to solve the problem is to kill my opponent." So if we have these safety rails we can immediately cut through these crazy ideas the mind is giving us. If we don't, if these suggestions are not absolutely out of the question, we're much more likely to be tricked and carried away by sly rationalizations. So when you have the precepts, you can immediately detect when your mind has gone too far and is suggesting crazy things that will lead to suffering. And you can also immediately detect when someone else has gone too far and is proposing crazy things, e.g. when "spiritual teachers" try to sleep with their students ... or when they tell you that killing can be justified. The knee-jerk assumption that if you hold the precepts to be "absolute" you are automatically "rigid" or trying to condemn people to hell ... I think is fallout from the Western tradition where people were oppressed by commandments and guilt and blind submission. But there is another way of regarding them where their absolute or uncompromising aspect is a tremendous and precious gift, like lighthouses in a dangerous channel crossing, or a tree branch in a raging flood. You may get tossed around and hardly know which way is up, but you can say, "At least I know this much..." This is why I find it so dismaying when "Buddhist" teachers try to knock these few precious absolutes from the world and try to leave us with no solid ground at all, no fixed reference points.

Briefly, I want to address potential objections to my statement about "prioritizing your kammic life over your physical life," to wit, "that it's selfish, whatnot." This is a kind of false conflict that doesn't exist in the Dhamma. The Dhamma cuts through the confusion of the world in that, if an action is (truly, not superficially) good it's good for everybody. And if an action is bad, it's bad for everybody. As the pre-political Bhikkhu Bodhi put so eloquently, "Of course even then I can never ensure that other living beings will be absolutely immune from harm and suffering, but this is beyond anyone's power. All that lies within my power and the sphere of my responsibility are the attitudes and actions that emanate from myself towards others." The problem with trying to "save the world" is that it is a very steep and slippery slope toward "ends justifies the means" thinking, which is the basis for all degree of atrocities. And I accuse the political Bhikkhu Bodhi of trying to peddle this very thing, this debased formula as the Buddha's Dhamma, namely, that the good end of saving people justifies evil means ... to kill them first. How can it be that a philosophy regarded as low and repugnant even by secular standards, could be the Dhamma? How could an expedient and amoral form of utilitarianism be compatible with kamma and rebirth? I want encourage people, and Bhikkhu Bodhi himself, to think really, really hard about what exactly it is that he is saying with his U.N. based doctrine of Just war and not let it pass on his reputation without examination.

OneVoice's picture

re: Bhikkhu Bodhi's "Buddhist" War Doctrine

Compare Bhikkhu Bodhi's view today:

Thus, contrary to yourself and other radical fundamentalists, I tend to take the moral directives of the texts as general rules, intrinsically valid but not unconditional absolutes. The real world is just too complex and messy for moral absolutes to bear desirable fruit.

...with his "radical fundamentalist" views from 2010 (against all violence, let alone killing):

[The] Buddha teaches time and again that violence must be avoided, that peace can never be established by force and conquest...The Buddha says that peace can only be found outside the vicious circle of conquest and violence... Conquer the hostile person by love and goodness... The Buddha taught: For it is only by love, never by violence that hatred can be brought to cease; For it is only by peace, by patience, by kindness and compassion that the cycle of violence and revenge can be brought to a stop. --Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi 2010 http://www.scribd.com/doc/46909222/Social-Dimension-of-Buddha-s-teaching

...or against his eloquent and uncompromising stance from 1994:

Of course even then I can never ensure that other living beings will be absolutely immune from harm and suffering, but this is beyond anyone's power. All that lies within my power and the sphere of my responsibility are the attitudes and actions that emanate from myself towards others. And as long as these are circumscribed by the training rule to abstain from taking life, no living being need feel threatened in my presence, or fear that harm and suffering will come from me. -- Bhikkhu Bodhi 1994 http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/wheel282.html

Or compare the Bhikkhu Bodhi's current relativist or situational stance (which approves of killing people should they present a credible threat to national security) vs. his uncompromising take on the fifth precept on liquor. (It's curious that he gives the Buddha credit for understanding "well the subtle, pernicious nature of addiction," but not the overt, pernicious nature of war.)

For his lay followers the Buddha has prescribed five precepts as the minimal moral observance: abstinence from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech, and the use of intoxicants. He did not lay down these precepts arbitrarily or out of compliance with ancient customs, but because he understood, with his omniscient knowledge, which lines of conduct lead to our welfare and happiness and which lead to harm and suffering. The fifth precept, it should be stressed, is not a pledge merely to abstain from intoxication or from excessive consumption of liquor. It calls for nothing short of total abstinence. By this rule the Buddha shows that he has understood well the subtle, pernicious nature of addiction. --Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi 1997 http://www.vipassana.com/resources/bodhi/discipline_of_sobriety.php

(italics all mine.)

I dare say there seem to be some glaring inconsistencies between Bhikkhu Bodhi's teachings of today and formerly, but readers can judge for themselves. It's not in the least difficult to find instances of his "absolutist" and "radical fundamentalist" teachings by googling about. I think it's a fair question to ask, given the gravity and novelty of what he is proposing, whether he believes he can reconcile his former teachings (which were consistent with the Pali Canon and Theravada Buddhism) with his current promotion of a Just War doctrine? Or does he disown his pre-2010 teachings related to the Dhamma in order to make way for it?

buddhasoup's picture

Why not let Ven. Bodhi explain where he is coming from on these issues of concern for the 21st century?: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7miNzN5n3-s

This is what distinguishes wisdom from dogmatism or fundamentalism. I trust that men and women of the caliber of Bhikkhu Bodhi can act as wise kalyana mitta for the rest of us, who take the Dhamma seriously and to heart. Wisdom defined: wis·dom ˈwizdəm/ noun. "the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise. The soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment. The body of knowledge and principles that develops within a specified society or period."

I will take wisdom over dogmatic application any day.

OneVoice's picture

I am reposting the four questions that took the stuffing out of your previous arguments. I challenge you to answer them as I have answered yours.

1. You state the first precept as: "I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking life," and explain "that the injunction applies to the skillful kamma that is cultivated by adherence to the training rules." Putting it the other way round it reads: "by not adhering to the training rule you cultivate unskillful kamma." Could you please explain why it is you think this supports your position and not mine?

2. The Buddha's declaration of the Middle Path is as follows: "Monks, these two extremes ought not to be practiced by one who has gone forth from the household life. (What are the two?) There is addiction to indulgence of sense-pleasures, which is low, coarse, the way of ordinary people, unworthy, and unprofitable; and there is addiction to self-mortification, which is painful, unworthy, and unprofitable. (transl. Piyadassi Thera)" What is it in this passage that supports your argument? Do you consider refraining from killing other people to be an addiction to punishing yourself?"

3. Is there some rule you know of that the Buddha was transgressing when he bathed the filthy monk? If there were, that would support your argument.

4. I understand that you were a samanera (for a time) and never ordained as a monk, but maybe you have some familiarity with the Monks' Rules anyway as in my case. My understanding is that the first four Monks' Rules are the parajikas, and that they are: no killing, no stealing, no sex and no making false claims of enlightenment. And if a monk violates any one of these rules, he is immediately and automatically ejected from the Sangha with no chance ever again in this life to ordain as a monk. I don't know about you, but that sounds awfully "rigid" to me. And there are absolutely no exceptions for a monk intentionally killing another human being even if you're doing it to protect another, even your mother. How, then, do you square this with your theory that the Buddha was categorically not "rigid," as you seem to assert? Or that the Buddha's injunction against killing by laypeople or armies couldn't also have been "rigid" and absolute? I also invite Bhikkhu Bodhi, who should have an intimate knowledge of the Monks' Rules, to explain this strange "absolutism" in the Buddha Dhamma.

4. How do you square your sense of "situational morality" of the Buddha and the Dhamma (I think this is a fair term, but you may correct me), with Bhikkhu Bodhi's lovely and accurate teaching on the precept against killing that I posted below? Did you read it? I like the part where he says: "All that lies within my power and the sphere of my responsibility are the attitudes and actions that emanate from myself towards others. And as long as these are circumscribed by the training rule to abstain from taking life, no living being need feel threatened in my presence, or fear that harm and suffering will come from me." Shall we update it to: "... some living beings ought to feel threatened in my presence, and fear that harm and suffering will come from me, depending on the situation."?

buddhasoup's picture

"I challenge you to answer them as I have answered yours."

OneVoice, I want to see you respond to my earlier challenge first. I challenged you to really put your regard for life and nonviolence into practice, and make a donation to Buddhist Global Relief. As I had mentioned earlier, Ven. Bodhi has done more to improve the lives of malnourished children, to support education for women in disadvantaged countries, and bring global awareness to food insecurity than any Buddhist monastic on the planet. Here's the link: https://buddhistglobalrelief.org/active/donation.php.

Be as forceful with your dana as you are with your debate.

OneVoice's picture

Bhikkhu Bodhi's Doctrine of Just War

You are attempting to reverse the order of things. I will take your unwillingness to face up to my questions after multiple reminders as an admission of failure. You are also trying to divert the discussion and bring it down to a personal level (again) by making an issue of my charity. I hope readers will review the thread carefully with an eye to integrity. For the record, since you seem unable or unwilling to follow basic rules of civil debate, I will be disregarding your posts.

Bhikkhu Bodhi's picture

There is some intelligent discussion of Theravada Buddhism and just war theory in Tessa Bartholomeusz, In Defense of Dharma, pp. 47-48. The whole book may be worth a reading (though I just discovered it online). Here is an excerpt:
"According to Childress, if an “obligation is viewed as absolute, it cannot be over-ridden under any circumstances; it has priority over all other obligations with which it might come into conflict.” Read in this light, the CSS’s [Cakkavatti-Sihanada Sutta's] depiction of the just king who maintains his army – even after disavowing violence – suggests that non-violence can be over-ridden, that violence can be justified, if only as a “last resort.” The canon’s representation of the just king can be translated into the language of just-war scholarship in the following way: as Childress reminds
us in his exposition of Christian just-war tradition, the obligation to be non-violent is “intrinsically binding, but it does not determine one’s actual obligation.” With
this in mind, some of the views on the CSS reviewed here, which focus on its just king and army, seem reasonable: the king’s prima facie duty to practice nonviolence is binding, but violence remains possible and even justifiable in some
contexts. But (as is the case with prima facie duties in general) owing to the fact that in Theravada Buddhism it is, prima facie, wrong to be violent, any violent act demands good reason....
"In the Buddhist context, as my informants suggested, the image of the warlike but pacifist king of the CSS points to a justification for war that can over-ride the prima facie duty of non-violence. However, as in Christian just-war thinking as
interpreted by Childress, in the military metaphor of the CSS, the prima facie obligation to be non-violent is not completely canceled even when it is overruled. Rather, the prima facie duty of non-violence, suggested by the present but
inactive army of the warrior king, is possibly intended to guide and limit justifiable violent acts. If it is over-ruled by another prima facie responsibility, such as Childress reminds us, the protection “of the innocent from unjust attack, [or] to restore rights wrongfully denied, or to reestablish a just order,” it is not deemed inoperative."

Bartholomeusz interviewed a number of prominent monks at different points along the spectrum, from ultra-nationalist to somewhat detached scholar-monks, and the ones she cites in the passages I have read so far all seem to recognize the limits to the application of non-violence. For example, Ven. Piyadassi of Vajirarama Monastery (1914-1998) who was one of my own kalyanamittas in Sri Lanka), said in his interview:
"Here the king might have to use the army and use force. Well, the Buddha never interfered in these matters [of the state] and surely he would have known that even righteous kings would have to defend themselves if attacked. You have to defend yourself. These are difficult questions. If someone goes to kill my mother, I’m going to stop him. So this could be
a condition in which I am forced to kill. But still killing is killing and saving is saving. Killing cannot be justified in Buddhism, but a king defending the country and Buddhism can [be justified]; the Buddha never got involved in these matters."

So Bhikkhu Bodhi is not in the unique position of dragging all the other Theravada monks and nuns throughout Asia into a hell hole contrary to their beliefs. In fact, in his insistence on the absolutely unconditional force of the precept to abstain from taking life--as admitting of no exonerating circumstances--our friend "One Voice" is, among Theravadins in Asian countries, almost--if not quite--lliterally "one voice."

OneVoice's picture

Re Bhikkhu Bodhi's Doctrine of Just War

Just to review: I had accused your advocacy of situational state-sponsored killing as being wholly unsupported by the Pali Canon and Theravada Buddhism. In response you have presented a number of arguments after which you eloquently conclude that, inversely, "almost" every Asian Theravadin has a view aligned with yours, i.e. that the Buddha would say killing is more wholesome than not killing in certain situations, and that "almost" none are aligned with me. Your view, by the way, you have admitted from the outset has no basis in the Pali Canon. My position, on the other hand, which does have consistent, coherent and pervasive basis in the Pali Canon, is that the intentional killing of a living being is always unwholesome.

Before I address the validity of your arguments, I would like to give you an opportunity to retract or revise your obviously overstated, though poetic and dramatic, conclusion.

Your arguments:
You have referenced this book by Tessa Bartholomeusz, an academic who wrote books about Sri Lankan Buddhism. In an apparent attempt to support the idea that a "Buddhist" doctrine of Just War is seriously discussed by other Theravada scholar-monks and scholars, you dedicate the majority of your post to "the intelligent discussion of Theravada Buddhism and just war theory" of one "Childress" excerpted from Bartholomeusz' book. Childress even interprets "the CSS’s [Cakkavatti-Sihanada Sutta's] depiction of the just king who maintains his army." Serious discussion, indeed. I wonder, though, whether you bothered to find out who this "Childress" was. And I wonder whether you think quoting at length a Christian philosopher and theologian who writes books on Just War and Biomedical Ethics makes your case that Just War is seriously discussed among Theravada Buddhists. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Childress

You say: "Bartholomeusz interviewed a number of prominent monks at different points along the spectrum, from ultra-nationalist to somewhat detached scholar-monks, and the ones she cites in the passages I have read so far all seem to recognize the limits to the application of non-violence." But the book is not a compendium of interviews with learned and virtuous scholar-monks, but a sociological study of how a country, traumatized and corrupted by decades of ethnic and religious conflict, justifies (or rationalizes) violence in practice. This review with excerpts describes the book in markedly different terms to yours: "In chapter five, "Sri Lankan Buddhism and Just-war Thinking Revisited," once more Bartholomeusz calls to the stage examples from the bewildering array of monks, politicians, journalists, scientists, poets, songwriters, laypeople and sangha council members who justify or even glorify (p. 91) violence, evoking variations on the theme of Sri Lanka as a sacred Buddhist island." http://blogs.dickinson.edu/buddhistethics/files/2010/04/vroom-review.pdf. And "One hopes Bartholomeusz's overwhelming amount of evidence pointing to the centrality of violence in Sri Lankan Buddhism will serve as an incentive to do so, and perhaps also create a new awareness among those Sinhalese Buddhists that, as Bartholomeusz contends, have thus far been unable to see the extent and danger of their pro-violence attitudes." Ibid. And "Rather, 'the idea of war, endorsed by monks and legitimated by the vamsas, has become part of the fabric of contemporary Buddhism in Sri Lanka.' As a vivid witness to this, Bartholomeusz describes a sangha of political monks that nowadays take their refuge vows in 'rata, jatiya, agama or country, nation/race, religion,' instead of the traditional and more all-inclusive Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha." Ibid. Really? Is this what you wish to support your argument with? You have restricted your evidence so far to Sri Lanka, but Buddhist monks in Myanmar are presently leading an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya Muslim minority. I am certain you don't consider their views to be serious, intelligent discussion of Theravada Buddhism and just war theory. Wouldn't you also agree that doctrines we ascribe to Theravada Buddhism should reflect the most admirable values and voices of the Tradition and not the debased and despicable?

You quote as support for your position Ven. Piyadassi: "Here the king might have to use the army and use force. Well, the Buddha never interfered in these matters [of the state] and surely he would have known that even righteous kings would have to defend themselves if attacked. You have to defend yourself. These are difficult questions. If someone goes to kill my mother, I’m going to stop him. So this could be a condition in which I am forced to kill. But still killing is killing and saving is saving. Killing cannot be justified in Buddhism, but a king defending the country and Buddhism can [be justified]; the Buddha never got involved in these matters." The only statements that might contradict my position are the two which I have italicized: The first is easily reconciled to my position in that the Venerable is not delusional about the karmic results of being "forced to kill" because he immediately qualifies it with what I've bolded; The second has the only wee bit of support for your position in your post. Namely that one monk in Sri Lanka said "a king defending the country and Buddhism can [?]." You have summarized the crucial bit, "be justified," and provided no reference link. I have been unable to find the quote on my own, but no matter. The whole thing can be easily dismissed. His view as represented claims killing someone to protect "Buddhism" is justifiable and wholesome according to the Dhamma. Do you wish to publicly subscribe for the record to this view as well?

That about does it for your arguments. Your presentation of the unsavory aspects of the Sri Lankan Tradition and my own introduction of the Myanmar monks leading campaigns of ethnic cleansing, however, do present a problem in settling the issue of whether your proposed doctrine of "Just" War represents the Theravada Tradition. If the Tradition includes all self-identifying, "card-carrying" members, lay or ordained, then you are correct. If the Tradition were restricted to those whose Dhamma was defensible in terms of the Buddha's teachings in the Pali Canon, then I would be correct. I would hope that we would both consider the views driving the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar not to represent the Theravada Tradition, but beyond that, I don't see a way to increase clarity by pursuing this direction.

I also wish to point out that I have put to Bhikkhu Bodhi a number of proper and tremendously challenging questions elsewhere on this thread. I encourage readers who find this discussion interesting and important to review it to see what has been addressed, what neglected, and the quality of the responses throughout.

Grasshopper's picture

A note for One Voice:

I have been a Theravada Buddhist all my life, and I must say in your defense that I have never heard any serious Buddhist hold to the opinion the first precept doesn’t apply in all circumstances. Every monastic teacher with whom I’ve studied, both in America and in Asia, has stressed the point that the five precepts are to be followed even during famine and war.
I was surprised to learn of the monks who used the Cakkavati Sihanada Sutta to justify killing by the state. I always thought that the main message of that sutta was that the Dhamma king follows policies so wise that he never needs to use his army. It’s bad enough to see that message twisted to justify killing. It’s even worse to see someone claim that that twisted message is endorsed by the majority of Theravadin Buddhists.
So, contrary to Ven. Bodhi’s comment, you are not a lone voice in the fight to hold to the first precept in all circumstances. And even if you were the lone voice, it wouldn’t be a sign that you were wrong. Issues of right and wrong, blameworthy and blameless, are not decided by popular vote.

OneVoice's picture

Another addition to this highly informative thread on Bhikkhu Bodhi's "Buddhist" doctrine of Just War...

For the well being and non-confusion of the readers and participants of this thread I thought I would post the teachings of a highly respected Theravada Buddhist scholar-monk who's peaceful and accurate understanding of the Dhamma contradicts Bhikkhu Bodhi's attempt to fabricate a Buddhist doctrine of "just" war, i.e. that the Buddha would have approved of the use of mass lethal force to try to stop a perceived grave and lethal threat from an enemy.

"Political Teachings:

On the problem of war, the Buddha teaches to rule in accordance with Dhamma, the rulers have to avoid aggressiveness and conquer by violence. The Buddha once prevented a war over water (river) between the Koliya and the Sakyan. [The] Buddha teaches time and again that violence must be avoided, that peace can never be established by force and conquest. The conqueror only breeds resentment in those conquered while he himself has to live in constant anxiety worrying that he himself will be defeated in turn. The Buddha says that peace can only be found outside the vicious circle of conquest and violence.

For the Buddha, the real conqueror is not the one who conquers other men, other nations or other society, but one who conquers himself. If there is a warrior who conquers 1000 men 1000 times, his conquest is very slight compared to the conquest of a man who conquers one man, himself. The man who conquers himself, his desires, cravings, anger and delusion, he is the supreme victor in battle. The Buddha teaches that there are four kids of conquests his followers should make:
1.Conquer the evil person by means of goodness
2.Conquer the liar by truth
3.Conquer the stingy by giving generously
4.conquer the hostile person by love and goodness.

The Buddha taught:
For it is only by love, never by violence that hatred can be brought to cease;
For it is only by peace, by patience, by kindness and compassion that the cycle of violence and revenge can be brought to a stop." -- Bhikkhu Bodhi

http://www.scribd.com/doc/46909222/Social-Dimension-of-Buddha-s-teaching

buddhasoup's picture

There is no contradiction in what Ven. Bodhi posited in his most recent discussion of appropriate interventions to prevent mass killing of innocents. Everything that he stated in the excerpts of August 23, 2014, 6:30 pm are correct, and equally correct is the very limited exception that he is carving out to avoid the pitfalls of ethical absolutist positions. Ven. Bodhi was also careful to note that his exception is one that he individually posits, and he does not state it to be founded in the EBTs specifically. The Buddha never countenanced such an issue directly, and we have no guidance from the EBTs as to how he would rule on this specific issue.

You've attempted to portray Ven. Bodhi in a contradiction, but it seems to me that all you have done is reveal that you do not understand the careful point that he is making. Blinded by, and clinging to, absolutist views, you are in a sense creating your own sets of conflicts. I didn't respond to your earlier set of questions in large part as I found them to be more flogging of horses. OneVoice, you just don't get the essential point. It's a subtle point, but it's there to be seen.

In my work, I rely on statutes, laws. One law is that a vehicle approaching a stop sign must come to a full and complete stop. This is the law. It is a more than a precept, as it is a requirement imposed under penalty of incarceration or other sanction. However, this law has an exception. An emergency vehicle may, in the course of attending an emergency, drive through the signed intersection without stopping. We recognize that as important as it is that vehicles always stop at stop signs, there are limited exceptions to this rule. This is a simple example of how limited exceptions, grounded in reason and ethics, apply to a given fact pattern. I really feel that is all that Ven. Bodhi was trying to illustrate.

The internet has created some awkward interactions. On this forum, we have a Pali scholar and Dhamma expert who is also a compassionate and dedicated Bhikkhu and modern Bodhisattva, having to suffer darts thrown at him from an internet peanut gallery. Before the internet, OneVoice, you would have had to attend a lecture in a large hall, and test your mettle in an assembly of your peers. You, who are bogged down in the pages of the Pali Suttas so deeply, ignore one of the most important teachings, samma vaca:

"Monks, a statement endowed with five factors is well-spoken.... Which five?
"It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will."

— AN 5.198

A mind of affection and a mind of goodwill wouldn't have taken the spitball shots from the peanut gallery as you have done, aimed at a giant among Buddhist scholarship. Perhaps you'll exercise enough bravery to reveal your true name, and I'll be happy to give you mine. Then, we can continue the discussion openly and honestly, and not have the anonymity of the peanut gallery to protect us.

OneVoice's picture

re Bhikkhu Bodhi's "Buddhist" radical doctrine of Just War:

"Blinded, clinging, peanut gallery, bogged down, [lacking] bravery, [hidden], [dishonest], no goodwill or affection, horse flogger ;)" Honestly, why does it seem so trying to field my questions straightforwardly without bringing it down to a personal level? If you were really confident in the correctness of your position, couldn't you just brush me away by sending a Dhamma based "dart" straight to the heart of my argument? When I responded to your previous post I cited the highly relevant case of the "absolutist" monks' rule against killing human beings in that it provides no "limited exceptions." Period. You present Bhikkhu Bodhi's argument that the precepts were never meant to be "absolutist," and, in your words, that only blind, clinging people would take them that way. Since the Buddha set out the Monks' Rules, do you consider him blind and clinging as well? Or do you assert that the monks rules against killing, stealing, sex and false claims of enlightenment also should have "limited" exceptions?

You seem to be saying that I have no right to challenge Bhikkhu Bodhi's novel doctrine, that I should cower in the formidable shadow of his Pali Scholarship. What you don't factor in is that, however impressive Bhikkhu Bodhi's reputation might be, there are many other "giants" of Theravada Buddhist scholarship, a few in the West, including Bhikkhu Bodhi himself before his teachings became politicized, many of at least of his caliber in Asia, and countless throughout the history of Theravada Buddhism that all absolutely condemn his novel position on killing. That is why I refer to it as "rogue," i.e., that it has gone off the rails from Theravada Buddhism. And given he is the one proposing this radical rewrite, he should be prepared to defend it in terms of the Tradition and the Pali Canon. You may agree with him and think it sounds fine. And the both of you have a perfect right to believe whatever it is you want about the rightness of killing people under certain circumstances. But insisting it is also Theravada Buddhism, or represents the Buddha of the Pali Canon, is a bit of having it both ways now isn't it?

As far as revealing my identity, I prefer to let the quality of my arguments carry their own weight, or not. I have no desire to know your true name. I know everything I need from the quality of your arguments and the integrity with which you conduct yourself in debate.

By the way, now that you've had a chance to rest and think about it, the stand-up thing to do would be to either answer the questions I put to your previous arguments or admit you have no basis for them. It's not fair to put something out, and then when someone hands you your hat, accuse them of "flogging."

I have also put some very fair, admittedly difficult, and pertinent questions directly to Bhikkhu Bodhi on this thread, and he has yet to answer most of them. I encourage readers of this thread to evaluate for themselves the relevance and fairness of the questions I have posed against the quality and adequacy of his responses so far.

peacenik's picture

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, I read your articles with interest and appreciation. Thank you for this (and your other) article(s) [I had forgotten that I had this account and that I could post comments].

I'm very inspired by the coupling of Dharma based insight with social concern.

buddhasoup's picture

I'd like to add my two baht, if I could. I'm a card carrying Theravadin, and even wore robes for a time as a Samanera in Thailand. One trait that I have noticed among Theravada forums is the itinerant Pali competent Sutta specialist, with an unpleasant and condescending tone. I would sometimes drift over to friendly and unserious Mahayana forums, simply because the internecine conflicts among lay Theravadins was so toxic. OneVoice, your approach in this discussion reminds me of the bitter tone of some Theravada aficionados that dispense with respect, equanimity, and kindness in order to prove a point.

You have suggested that Ven. Bodhi's position in this discussion is a "pernicious" violation of the Pali Canon's teachings on the precepts. Ven. Bodhi has already carefully described the precepts as the Canon has defined their definition and application. The precepts that I took were couched as "Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami;" "I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking life." The injunction applies to the skillful kamma that is cultivated by adherence to the training rules. These precepts are part of the practice that establishes one on the Path to liberation from samsara. However, these injunctions are not, as has been pointed out, absolutes, as some would see them.

On the issue of a moral use of force in limited exigent circumstances, it seems clear that, while the Canon does not directly discuss exceptions or situations that permit deviation from the training rules, I would argue that the Buddha was not a rigid absolutist, nor did he suffer foolish or self-destructive behavior. He was, in my view, an enlightened pragmatist. When the absolute of asceticism left him near death, a middle ground was found that allowed him to continue his life and path. When he came across a common monk with dysentery, he and Ananda stopped and compassionately bathed the filthy monk; the Buddha saw no impediment to doing what was right at the right time. The Buddha could have gathered the monks, given a talk admonishing them to do better, and assigned others to do the dirty work. But that approach would have elevated form and theory over practicality and morality. In other words, if we look at the Buddha of the EBTs, he is a man not limited by rigid rules, but one exhibiting boundless reason.

OneVoice, you have positioned the First Precept in absolutist terms, but my sense from the Suttas is that the Buddha has never asked us to leave our ethics, wisdom, and reason at the door, but only to undertake the training rules in good faith, apply them to our developing kamma as best we can, and have faith in the fruits of that path. I am grateful that we have wise and compassionate men like Ven. Bodhi to help light the way on that path.

OneVoice's picture

I am going to ignore your addressing the tone of my posts, because I have already pointed out the standards of civilized debate elsewhere in the thread. You might wish to consult it. So now let's move on to your argument, about which I have a few questions.

1. You state the first precept as: "I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking life," and explain "that the injunction applies to the skillful kamma that is cultivated by adherence to the training rules." Putting it the other way round it reads: "by not adhering to the training rule you cultivate unskillful kamma." Could you please explain why it is you think this supports your position and not mine?

2. The Buddha's declaration of the Middle Path is as follows: "Monks, these two extremes ought not to be practiced by one who has gone forth from the household life. (What are the two?) There is addiction to indulgence of sense-pleasures, which is low, coarse, the way of ordinary people, unworthy, and unprofitable; and there is addiction to self-mortification, which is painful, unworthy, and unprofitable. (transl. Piyadassi Thera)" What is it in this passage that supports your argument? Do you consider refraining from killing other people to be an addiction to punishing yourself?"

3. Is there some rule you know of that the Buddha was transgressing when he bathed the filthy monk? If there were, that would support your argument.

4. I understand that you were a samanera (for a time) and never ordained as a monk, but maybe you have some familiarity with the Monks' Rules anyway as in my case. My understanding is that the first four Monks' Rules are the parajikas, and that they are: no killing, no stealing, no sex and no making false claims of enlightenment. And if a monk violates any one of these rules, he is immediately and automatically ejected from the Sangha with no chance ever again in this life to ordain as a monk. I don't know about you, but that sounds awfully "rigid" to me. And there are absolutely no exceptions for a monk intentionally killing another human being even if you're doing it to protect another, even your mother. How, then, do you square this with your theory that the Buddha was categorically not "rigid," as you seem to assert? Or that the Buddha's injunction against killing by laypeople or armies couldn't also have been "rigid" and absolute? I also invite Bhikkhu Bodhi, who should have an intimate knowledge of the Monks' Rules, to explain this strange "absolutism" in the Buddha Dhamma.

4. How do you square your sense of "situational morality" of the Buddha and the Dhamma (I think this is a fair term, but you may correct me), with Bhikkhu Bodhi's lovely and accurate teaching on the precept against killing that I posted below? Did you read it? I like the part where he says: "All that lies within my power and the sphere of my responsibility are the attitudes and actions that emanate from myself towards others. And as long as these are circumscribed by the training rule to abstain from taking life, no living being need feel threatened in my presence, or fear that harm and suffering will come from me." Shall we update it to: "... some living beings ought to feel threatened in my presence, and fear that harm and suffering will come from me, depending on the situation."?

5. I also welcome Bhikkhu Bodhi to reconcile this inspiring Dhamma of his with his novel theory of Buddhist "just war."

Thank you for adding your two baht. I welcome your response.

buddhasoup's picture

OneVoice, as it is getting late, and you've (we've) exhausted many minutes of effort and energy flogging this issue, I will make a suggestion: here's the Buddhist Global Relief donation site: https://buddhistglobalrelief.org/active/donation.php
Instead of continuing to flog this precept horse, why not do something truly Dhammic and constructive? Support Buddhist Global Relief.

Ven. Bodhi is the monk that has literally taken Theravada off the cushion and engaged it actively with the needs of a suffering world. All the of sharp words and all of the keen debate won't do a thing to feed a hungry or malnourished child. So, instead of doing what we Theravadins seem so capable of doing, which is flogging dhammic horses, why not do something that truly makes merit? Want to support the First Precept with vigor? Save a life...I am sure that Ven. Bodhi's BGR has saved many.

I support BGR..I challenge you to do the same. That's real absolutist Dhamma.

OneVoice's picture

I invite you to have a good rest and attempt to face straight on the perfectly valid questions I have put to your argument. Otherwise your response above comes off a bit dodgy. After that I will happily address these new suggestions you have made.

workbc9's picture

Climate change ( once known as Global Warming) is a hoax. Further, any action by government to "fix " the problem which comes in the form of tax or policies, as proposed by the author, which equates to the use of force seems counter to Buddha nature.

OneVoice's picture

Here is an eloquent explanation of the first precept which respects the Buddha's teachings in the Pali Canon and gives no quarter to justifications for intentionally killing any living being, let alone human beings.

One more word should be added concerning the formulation of the precepts. Despite their negative wording, even in that form the precepts are productive of tremendous positive benefits for others as well as for oneself. The Buddha says that one who abstains from the destruction of life gives immeasurable safety and security to countless living beings. How the simple observance of a single precept leads to such a result is not immediately obvious but calls for some thought. Now by myself I can never give immeasurable safety and security to other beings by any program of positive action. Even if I were to go on protest against all the slaughterhouses in the world, or to march against war continuously without stopping, by such action I could never stop the slaughter of animals or ensure that war would come to an end. But when I adopt for myself the precept to abstain from the destruction of life, then by reason of the precept I do not intentionally destroy the life of any living being. Thus any other being can feel safe and secure in my presence; all beings are ensured that they will never meet harm from me. Of course even then I can never ensure that other living beings will be absolutely immune from harm and suffering, but this is beyond anyone's power. All that lies within my power and the sphere of my responsibility are the attitudes and actions that emanate from myself towards others. And as long as these are circumscribed by the training rule to abstain from taking life, no living being need feel threatened in my presence, or fear that harm and suffering will come from me. -- Bhikkhu Bodhi

I miss him.

The full explanation of all the precepts can be found here: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/wheel282.html
For just the first precept, here: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/wheel282.html#prec2

mmhalliday's picture

Just wanted to thank Bhikkhu Bodhi for this article. It's a brave man to write so eloquently and clearly on this topic in a US based magazine, given the sad state of affairs in USA when it comes to climate change denial and disinformation. Not that climate change denial is limited to the US, but the US does still carry a lot of political weight in the world and could be leading the way out of this crisis rather than burying its head in the sand.

Certainly effort needs to be made in combatting the deliberate misinformation re climate change that is spread by people and companies with vested interests in maintaining non-sustainable energy sources, destroying the environment, creating obstacles to green development. Daniel Kahnemann has written some very good things about how, as a species, we are not good at making decisions about problems which aren't yet fully visible in the present and which need a long-term perspective to solve them.

OneVoice's picture

For Bhikkhu Bodhi: You have stated elsewhere in this thread that, "the suttas lay down moral prescriptions ... [that] ... would clash with what appears to be another moral obligation, namely, to avoid the brutal slaughter of many people after all attempts to do so by peaceful means have failed." Just to get to the nut we should replace the word "avoid" with "stop with deadly force." I do think that fairly represents your position. My question is, then, where in the Canon (not the UN Charter) can you find support for this "moral obligation"? The point being, you may find it persuasive, but do you have any business calling it Buddha Dhamma?

OneVoice's picture

I would like to ask Bhikkhu Bodhi in particular whether he would justify torture, and assert that the Buddha's Dhamma justifies torture, in a case where a government sincerely believed that it was the only way to get information that would prevent a mass terrorist attack against a domestic population?

Bhikkhu Bodhi's picture

Firstly, torture is prohibited by the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment. Moreover Article 2.2 of the Convention states: "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."
See http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/39/a39r046.htm

Thus, simply on legal grounds (which are in turn based on moral grounds) I could not approve of torture, nor would I ever argue that the Buddha Dhamma can justify torture.

Secondly, it is a well established fact, based on statements from experienced interrogators, that torture is not only ineffective as a means of acquiring reliable information, but it is actually counterproductive. One example going back to 2009:
"Over the weekend, Ali Soufan, the FBI interrogator who is credited with helping acquire most of the useful intelligence from Abu Zubayda prior to his being waterboarded, responded to torture apologists who argue that torture was necessary to save American lives. Soufan points out that torture as policy locked out those interrogators who had the most expertise about Al Qaeda as an organization (the CIA didn't have an interrogation program until after 9/11), and as a result of torture, we may have failed to get as much useful information as we could have."
From "Torture's Failure," American Prospect
http://prospect.org/article/tortures-failure

OneVoice's picture

You seem to cite UN Charters and Conventions with the same finality that I do with the Buddha Dhamma! Given that this thread is on Tricycle: the Buddhist Review, I don't think I'm out of place in saying I couldn't care less what some committee of lawyers at the UN drafted and then submitted to an assembly of politicians for haggling and revision. But we all must choose where to place our faith. I am interested in why you "would ... [n]ever argue that the Buddha Dhamma can justify torture," but you do argue that the Buddha Dhamma can justify intentional killing. Certainly not all, but many, would prefer to be tortured than to be killed. (Unfortunately, it seems wise at this point to point out for the record that I am not advocating torture.) As a follow up, I consider your posting about the ineffectiveness of torture to be an argument based on "the ends justify the means," i.e. that if it were effective you might try to justify it as wholesome, as some of the other posters seem to entertain as a possibility. Is this what you mean to say, and if so, in what way is that Dhamma? I appreciate your willingness to continue to field questions on this thread. Given your influence, I think it is very important to try to tease out all the implications of your radical (from the point of view of Theravada Buddhism) doctrine. Please pardon my blatant disrespect, relative to the Dhamma, of UN Conventions.

candor's picture

Torture doesn't work that way. An "informant" will say just about anything to appease the torturer. In fact, most experts on torture (including those who have been tortured) agree that it backfires, sometimes causing the "informant" to give information that the torturer wants to hear, but is false and misleading.

Anyone who supports torture does so out of ignorance.

It would be a *possible* moral dilemma only if it were uncontroversially effective in its purported goals. As it is, torture is clearly wrong in all cases.

wsking's picture

Perhaps that is a question better answered by someone skilled in issues of national security than by an ordained monk, OneView. Many Buddhist monks and nuns have been tortured to death in the last century, so it would be hard for us to answer you without personal bias.

Do you have any good ideas for creating a life affirming culture? Where would you start? I don't think torture is quite what we had in mind.
Gassho
_/|\_

OneVoice's picture

re: Bhikkhu Bodhi advocates Buddhist doctrine of Just War

I wholeheartedly agree. I wonder if you have noticed that his advocacy for the establishment of a Theravada Buddhist "license to kill," i.e. doctrine of Just War, is predicated on issues of national security, U.N. Conventions, etc.

wsking's picture

I would like to add a thought: While we may know original doctrine and practice it as a personal choice, there is no force that precludes moderation in any practice.

As the fastest growing religious group in America, we have great political responsibility to uphold and improve upon the safety and integrity of American values and American family values.

Should we opt to follow a fundamentalist perspective on issues of defense, such as has been promoted by some in this discussion, Buddhism and Buddhists could eventually be seen as a threat to national security. What would happen to the army, navy, and air force if everyone refused to kill? Who would defend our country, which has been so dearly protected up to now? Who will defend other nations and other peoples in trouble, which we have repeatedly done up to now and I feel should continue to do. It is important to realize that the karma of the world in the future has been made by the decisions of our ancestors in the past, and will be made by us, also.

Therefore, it is essential that we remain practical and open-minded, remembering that all doctrines are intended to help us live with virtue, integrity and happiness, not to bind us into mindless servitude, unable to adapt to changing situations and times.

I believe that the community of nations makes it clear that they hold mutual respect and help as their primary focus. That they agree they do not want to kill, and that they do want to avoid war. But that when all other avenues of settling differences have failed, it is the right of nations to protect their sovereignty and the right of individuals to protect their lives. This clearly shows the basic goodness of people everywhere. The fact that they could all agree on this is wonderful.

This is a practical view we can uphold as Buddhists in a political world. And we, at least, can be sincere about it. It is important that in both our personal and professional lives, we work for harmony between people, engaging with and supporting those whose difficult responsibilities can benefit from our input and mediation.

If we hold inflexible fundamentalist views on social and political issues, particularly on matters of security and defense, we will be immediately discounted. No one will listen to anything constructive we may say, nor will we be able to help or mitigate difficult situations, or obtain any standing or position in which we could do so.

Therefore, while personally we may keep a fundamentalist practice, publically it is more beneficial for us to protect and help, by keeping a more moderate purpose and view.
Here, I am making a distinction between private practice and social engagement, showing how both may be practised for the benefit of a society.

eror's picture

Beyond my novice questions i also wanted to thank to Bhikku Bodi for his honest, passionate and well reasoned arguments for the necessity of a new life affirming and life sustaining paradigm change in modern global culture. The thread it engendered reminded me of the discussions in philosophy on this and similar topics. How wonderful to know that this and similar conversations about the need for change in modern society are going on in different social milieus, different cultures and from different perspectives. Maybe there is hope for mankind after all.

eror's picture

Even if killing does harm one's karma should an individuals first concern their own personal karma or should the concern first be to help life flourish, something that can and sometimes does seem to necessitate the killing of life. and if that is so, if there is a necessity to kill but harm to one's karma for doing it, is there any difference, karma wise, between killing humans and other animals? My apologies i am new to Buddhism and these questions came up reading the article and consequent thread and i'm a little confused - obviously thank you

OneVoice's picture

There is no "tension" between doing something good for yourself and good for others. If an action is truly good, it is good for you and good for others; If an action is truly bad, it is bad for you and bad for others. For example, apropos of this thread, if you intentionally kill another living being, that's bad for them obviously, but it's also bad for you because deep in your heart you are agonized and conflicted about it, especially if you've killed a human being. The idea that good works require self-sacrifice is a strange and counter-productive idea we have in the West probably inherited from some form of Christianity.

eror's picture

i really don't understand - if your are killing something certainly you are sad to have to do this but as a gardener i have to kill plants, insects and animals all the time and i don't like doing it. is it good for the many things i kill? No, but it is for the other plants i'm cultivating, and it's good for me and for other people and even for other insects and creatures. But also some people are not agonized and conflicted about killing anything - we see this with true psychopaths - and to be honest, for myself i don't think i would feel more conflicted about killing a person than i am about having to kill an animal when necessary. For instance a crazed or violent bear for no appreciable reason is often a sick bear and one would probably be doing it a great favour to kill it, what then, what about when we kill out of compassion? there are so many questions - i apoligize for jumping all over the place but i feel more confused than ever about this issue