Date: Wed, 11 Oct 1995 12:27:17 +0100
From: "peter.harvey" [email protected]
Subject: Ethics and aesthetics; & karma.
Ken O’Neill writes: Buddhist awakening has a lot more to do with aesthetics as value than as some contorted ethical good’.
While awakened states can clearly be seen as ‘beautiful’, and an appreciation of natural beauty goes right back to the beginning of Buddhism (see eg. the //Theragaathaa//), dissolving the ethical out of Buddhism will not wash. The //Arahat// is the culmination of the Noble Eightfold Path and a Buddha is the culmination (as seen from this side of enlightenment) of the Bodhisattva path. In both, //siila//, or ‘moral virtue’, plays a key part. No //siila//, no //Arahats//, Bodhisattvas or Buddhas. Bodhisattvas may sometimes ‘bend the rules’ out of compassion, but this does not show that the norms of //siila// are unimportant.
Of course, in Pure Land Buddhism, it is emphasised that one cannot ‘earn’ liberation by following ethical norms etc. But in other forms of Buddhism, it is not really a question of ‘earning’, but of skilfully growing, and also letting go of the products of growth so that one can grow further… True //siila// enhances growth because it is in tune with //Dharma//, the Self-less nature of reality. On Pure Land Buddhism: if Amitaabha Buddha has so much //punya//, ‘merit’ (but I prefer ‘goodness-power’, or ‘purifying-power’) to give away to devotees, where did it come from in the first place? From the practice of //siila// and the other perfections.
True //siila// is beautiful, but an appreciation of beauty is no guarantee of ethical virtue, and //may// even side-track energy from the process of living by ethical norms.
Ken also says: ‘there’s no karma cost accountant to balance the books by means of generally accepted accounting principles – to do so requires dogmatrists or philosophers’.
True, no ‘cost accountant’, as the process of karma leading to results is a purely natural process. The //Suttas// are full of principles pointing out how certain kind of actions conduce to certain kinds of results. Basically, action motivated by greed, hatred and/or delusion leads to unpleasant results, and action motivated by non-greed (generosity, renunciation), non-hatred (lovingkindness & compassion) and non-delusion (wisdom, clarity of mind, insight) leads to pleasant results. Or: action aimed at harming any being leads to unpleasant results; actions aimed at truly benefitting a being leads to pleasant karmic results. Or, again, action rooted in the delusion of Self/I am, leads to unpleasant karmic results , being ‘against the grain of reality’, so to speak; actions rooted in awareness of lack-of-Self/I-essence lead to pleasant results (and, further, conduces to the transcending of all karmic results). Buddhists may sometimes have got into the ‘you-will-go-to-hell-because -you-do-not-believe-my-‘true’-version-of-Buddhism-game’, but this is just silly. As far as I can tell, the only view which the Buddha held to have bad karmic effects (of a strong kind) was: ‘it does not matter what you do, what karma you perform; there are no fruits of action’.