Meaning of Intention, Negligence, "Cause"

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rcteutsch
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Meaning of Intention, Negligence, "Cause"

Post by rcteutsch » Fri Aug 31, 2018 2:51 pm

Intention is the determinative factor for whether kamma is wholesome or unwholesome. What is the meaning of intention, i.e., the Pali term translated as intention that refers to the mental quality determinative of wholesome or unwholesome quality of kamma. In American criminal law, for example, intention is defined in terms of purpose and knowledge. For example, one has intention to kill a person if the purpose of one's action was to the kill another being, or if one knew that one's action would kill another being. Knowledge, in turn, is defined in terms of "substantial certainty." In other words, if one is substantially certain that one's actions would result in the death of another person, then one had the requisite intention for criminal liability. Obviously American criminal law is not authoritative for Theravada Buddhism, my "intention" is merely to frame the discussion (no pun "intended").

Furthermore, I believe I saw somewhere that "negligence" is form of intention. What is "intentional negligence?" In American tort law, for example, negligence is merely the failure to act in accordance with the applicable standard of care, usually cast in terms of the "ordinarily prudent person." Gross negligence, in tern, is defined as "reckless disregard" for the risks associated with one's action. What sort of "negligence" is unwholesome from a Theravada point of view?

Also, does Theravada Buddhism have a detailed exegesis of "causation" with respect to moral action? In American tort law, for example, a "cause" can be cause-in-fact and/or a proximate cause. A cause-in-fact is an action that "but for" its occurrence, the event in question would not have occurred. Proximate cause, in turn, limits the extent to which causes-in-fact can be the grounds for liability: a cause is usually a "proximate cause" only if the effects of the action are foreseeable? Does "intention" serve the same role as "proximate cause" in Theravada, to limit the range of actions one is kammically responsible for?

I apologize in advance if my questions pose problems for others.

With metta,
Robert :namaste:

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Sam Vara
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Re: Meaning of Intention, Negligence, "Cause"

Post by Sam Vara » Fri Aug 31, 2018 3:46 pm

The passage often quoted here is this:
Intention, I tell you, is kamma. Intending, one does kamma by way of body, speech, & intellect.
https://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dha ... kamma.html

The word translated as "intention" is cetana. As far as I can see, it doesn't have a special meaning different from the way we normally use the word "intention" in everyday speech. Intentional action is volitional, choosing one outcome rather than other; acting so as to realise one's preference. That's how it is talked about in the suttas.

Sujato's translation is slightly different:
It is choice that I call deeds. For after making a choice one acts by way of body, speech, and mind.
https://suttacentral.net/an6.63/en/sujato

I'm not sure whether the "substantial certainty" aspect of law is here relevant, in that intention in a common-sense and kammic context does not require the certainty that the action will have the intended result; merely the belief. I think that there are kammic consequences for a seriously deluded person who fervently intends the death of another through incompetent means such as magic. This might relate to the fact that most legal systems deal merely with action and speech, whereas kamma also operates by means of thinking alone.

Negligence (pamada) can be seen as falling short of the type of mindfulness which is required to keep us from having bad intentions:
pamada is defined as absence of mindfulness. Says the Buddha in the Anguttara Nikaya:

Monks, I know not of any other single thing of such power to cause the arising of good thoughts if not yet arisen, or to cause the waning of evil thoughts if already arisen, as heedfulness. In him who is heedful, good thoughts not yet arisen, do arise, and evil thoughts, if arisen, do wane.

Constant mindfulness and vigilance are necessary to avoid ill and perform good.
https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/aut ... el001.html

In this respect, negligence is heedlessness, focusing on something other than the Dhamma, which therefore results in future suffering. (Interestingly, Warder also translates the term as "pastime", implying that the heedless have taken their eye off the ball and are merely amusing themselves...)

In terms of the causes of kamma, the Buddha says this:
And what is the source of deeds? Contact is their source.
Our choices or intentions are dependent upon sense-contact in any of the six sense-spheres. Without contact, kamma cannot arise; there is nothing contacted for our choice or intention to latch on to. In terms of our actions being causally potent with regard to the world, the Buddha did not talk about specifics. The results of that kamma are mediated through the state of mind of the one who receives those results, so their exact nature is unconjecturable.

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Bundokji
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Re: Meaning of Intention, Negligence, "Cause"

Post by Bundokji » Fri Aug 31, 2018 4:07 pm

When i read your questions, i had the following thoughts arising in my mind.

Your question included the term "meaning" which usually implies "end" or "purpose". Would that be a good starting point to differentiate between the law of Kamma and civil law and how both relate to intention?

The purpose of civil law is to organize the relationship between legal entities whether these entities happen to be individuals or a business. The purpose of Dhamma is to liberate individuals from suffering.

Civil law is based on various assumptions that came into existence out of necessities. If you want to live with others, you need predictable behavior, hence rights and responsibilities are divided by law. Also civil law requires a certain hierarchical structure (a government/law enforcement) to ensure the law is followed.

The focus of Kamma on the other hand is on the individual. Not every Kammic action directly affects others, but in the case of law, the question of intention is raised only if the action affected others in negative ways. This is why the consequences of intentions are often avoidable in civil law, but not according to Kamma. In Kamma, every intentional action has consequences as it shapes the human mind and future states. Also the idea of rights and responsibilities has nothing to do with Kamma, hence the law of Kamma is not binding. According to Kamma, you are free to do what you want, but you deal with the future consequences, while in civil law, you are not free to do certain actions, and if you do them, there are legal consequences.

Buddhism is concerned with ignorance rather than negligence. The approach to end ignorance is through developing wisdom, while negligence has more to do with fear and greed (legal consequences).

There is also a difference between morality and law. Not every immoral action is illegal and vice versa. In Buddhism, however, the relationship between Kamma and morality is more complicated. Would every breaking of the precepts necessarily constitute an unwholesome action from a Kammic perspective? you might receive different answers from different Buddhists.

Finally, the quality of a "cause" from a Buddhist perspective is the future state it leads to. On the other hand, civil law is concerned with the immediate consequences on others.
And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: "Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!"

This was the last word of the Tathagata.

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Re: Meaning of Intention, Negligence, "Cause"

Post by arunam » Fri Aug 31, 2018 8:20 pm

rcteutsch wrote:
Fri Aug 31, 2018 2:51 pm


Also, does Theravada Buddhism have a detailed exegesis of "causation" with respect to moral action?
It certainly does. All action(kamma) is rooted in six seed causes. Three immoral and three moral.

Three immoral seeds
Greed(loba)
Hate(dosa)
Delusion(moha)

Three moral seeds
Non-greed(aloba)
Non-hate(adosa)
Non-delusion(amoha)

They will sprout when necessary ground and nutriment is there, and flower through Body,speech and mind.

So any intention(cetana) to act will be coloured by these seed causes.

Here is a explanation of "causation" with respect to immoral action given in the Nettippakarana
==================================
What is called 'any kind of evil' is the three kinds of misconduct, namely bodily misconduct, verbal misconduct, and mental mis- conduct. These are the ten unprofitable courses of action, namely killing breathing things, taking what is not given, and misconduct in sensual-desires; false speech, malicious speech, harsh speech, and gossip; and covetousness, ill will, and wrong view.

These are two kinds of action, namely choice and concomitant of cognisance.

Herein, killing breathing things, malicious speech and harsh
speech are moulded by hate; taking what is not given, misconduct in
sensual-desires, and false speech are moulded by greed; and gossip is
moulded by delusion. These seven kinds of acting are action as
choice.
[Body and speech]

Covetousness is greed as a root of the unprofitable; ill will is hate as a root of the unprofitable; wrong view is the wrong path. These three kinds of acting are action as concomitant of cognizance. That is why it was said 'action as choice and action as concomitant of cognisance.
[Mind]
=================================
A path is made by walking on it

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mikenz66
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Re: Meaning of Intention, Negligence, "Cause"

Post by mikenz66 » Fri Aug 31, 2018 9:28 pm

Hi Sam Vara,
Sam Vara wrote:
Fri Aug 31, 2018 3:46 pm
The passage often quoted here is this:
Intention, I tell you, is kamma. Intending, one does kamma by way of body, speech, & intellect.
https://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dha ... kamma.html

The word translated as "intention" is cetana. As far as I can see, it doesn't have a special meaning different from the way we normally use the word "intention" in everyday speech. Intentional action is volitional, choosing one outcome rather than other; acting so as to realise one's preference. That's how it is talked about in the suttas.

Sujato's translation is slightly different:
It is choice that I call deeds. For after making a choice one acts by way of body, speech, and mind.
https://suttacentral.net/an6.63/en/sujato

I'm not sure whether the "substantial certainty" aspect of law is here relevant, in that intention in a common-sense and kammic context does not require the certainty that the action will have the intended result; merely the belief. I think that there are kammic consequences for a seriously deluded person who fervently intends the death of another through incompetent means such as magic. This might relate to the fact that most legal systems deal merely with action and speech, whereas kamma also operates by means of thinking alone.
....
I have found that the word "intention" is quite problematic in discussion.

In a Dhamma context, I take "intention" to mean "doing it deliberately". I intend to press the key on the keyboard, for example. Some meditation teachers emphasise paying attention to intention, and in that context they definitely mean what I said above: "intending to press the key, intending to raise the foot off the floor, ..."

However, in some circles, intention is interpreted as what I would call motivation: "I came to this retreat with the intention of becoming more awake..."

So I agree with you. I think the intention that the Buddha meant is simply the opposite of accidental. So killing a bug you don't see when you are walking is unintentional. Stepping on the bug deliberately, but not "intending" to kill it is still cetana, i.e. intention in the Dhamma sense. I think that example is actually used in a sutta or commentary somewhere.

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Mike

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Sam Vara
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Re: Meaning of Intention, Negligence, "Cause"

Post by Sam Vara » Fri Aug 31, 2018 10:03 pm

mikenz66 wrote:
Fri Aug 31, 2018 9:28 pm
...
Thanks Mike, that's useful. I like the Sujato translation (i.e. Action = Choice) because it makes that point, although it might be a bit misleading in some senses. When we choose one course rather than another (including a course of negligence by choosing not to see the options in terms of Dhamma) then we are, I think, intending.

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Re: Meaning of Intention, Negligence, "Cause"

Post by chownah » Sat Sep 01, 2018 2:53 am

mikenz66 wrote:
Fri Aug 31, 2018 9:28 pm
Stepping on the bug deliberately, but not "intending" to kill it is still cetana, i.e. intention in the Dhamma sense. I think that example is actually used in a sutta or commentary somewhere.
I'm not clear on this. Of course it is intention to do any deliberate action. I'm not clear on whether you are saying that this intention is to kill or not. I would say that perhaps the intention was to help the bug in some (strange) way.....and so the fruits of that intention would not be the fruits of a killing.
chownah

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Re: Meaning of Intention, Negligence, "Cause"

Post by mikenz66 » Sat Sep 01, 2018 4:27 am

Sorry, what I mean is that if one did an action, but did not anticipate the consequences, it is still an intentional action. Perhaps a bug is a poor example. Perhaps the following would be a better example to discuss:

You push on something, and it falls over and breaks.
I think it's clear that the pushing is an intentional action.
Perhaps the breakage is unintentional?

:heart:
Mike

chownah
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Re: Meaning of Intention, Negligence, "Cause"

Post by chownah » Sat Sep 01, 2018 5:33 am

mikenz66 wrote:
Sat Sep 01, 2018 4:27 am
Sorry, what I mean is that if one did an action, but did not anticipate the consequences, it is still an intentional action. Perhaps a bug is a poor example. Perhaps the following would be a better example to discuss:

You push on something, and it falls over and breaks.
I think it's clear that the pushing is an intentional action.
Perhaps the breakage is unintentional?

:heart:
Mike
Thanks. I agree. So if we are clearing the bugs off of our table to have a more pleasant place to eat (for example) and one is being cautious in doing so but inspite of our cautions one dies....then the clearing of bugs is intentional but the causing the death of one is not. (We could consider a surgeon who cuts open a patient trying to cure her but she ends up dieing.)
chownah

rcteutsch
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Re: Meaning of Intention, Negligence, "Cause"

Post by rcteutsch » Mon Sep 17, 2018 9:07 pm

Sam Vara wrote:
Fri Aug 31, 2018 3:46 pm
The passage often quoted here is this:
Intention, I tell you, is kamma. Intending, one does kamma by way of body, speech, & intellect.
https://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dha ... kamma.html

The word translated as "intention" is cetana. As far as I can see, it doesn't have a special meaning different from the way we normally use the word "intention" in everyday speech. Intentional action is volitional, choosing one outcome rather than other; acting so as to realise one's preference. That's how it is talked about in the suttas.

Sujato's translation is slightly different:
It is choice that I call deeds. For after making a choice one acts by way of body, speech, and mind.
https://suttacentral.net/an6.63/en/sujato

I'm not sure whether the "substantial certainty" aspect of law is here relevant, in that intention in a common-sense and kammic context does not require the certainty that the action will have the intended result; merely the belief. I think that there are kammic consequences for a seriously deluded person who fervently intends the death of another through incompetent means such as magic. This might relate to the fact that most legal systems deal merely with action and speech, whereas kamma also operates by means of thinking alone.

Negligence (pamada) can be seen as falling short of the type of mindfulness which is required to keep us from having bad intentions:
pamada is defined as absence of mindfulness. Says the Buddha in the Anguttara Nikaya:

Monks, I know not of any other single thing of such power to cause the arising of good thoughts if not yet arisen, or to cause the waning of evil thoughts if already arisen, as heedfulness. In him who is heedful, good thoughts not yet arisen, do arise, and evil thoughts, if arisen, do wane.

Constant mindfulness and vigilance are necessary to avoid ill and perform good.
https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/aut ... el001.html

In this respect, negligence is heedlessness, focusing on something other than the Dhamma, which therefore results in future suffering. (Interestingly, Warder also translates the term as "pastime", implying that the heedless have taken their eye off the ball and are merely amusing themselves...)

In terms of the causes of kamma, the Buddha says this:
And what is the source of deeds? Contact is their source.
Our choices or intentions are dependent upon sense-contact in any of the six sense-spheres. Without contact, kamma cannot arise; there is nothing contacted for our choice or intention to latch on to. In terms of our actions being causally potent with regard to the world, the Buddha did not talk about specifics. The results of that kamma are mediated through the state of mind of the one who receives those results, so their exact nature is unconjecturable.
Thank you for your reply. If I interpret it correctly, you are saying that having the belief that one's actions will cause the death of a living being means that one has the "intention" to kill that being. It seems, however, there are many actions in which people engage in which someone, if he or she considers the consequences of his or her actions, is likely to have the belief that death will result, but which Theravada, I don't think, would consider to have been done with the intention to kill. For example, if I drive my car on the highway during the summer for a significant period of time, say on vacation, I could quite reasonably believe that my actions will cause the death of insects. If I am a farmer and plow my crops with a tractor, I might have the belief that my actions will cause the death of any number of small creatures. Do these actions exhibit the intention to kill, if their underlying purpose was not to kill the beings?

On the other hand, it appears that intention in Buddhism does not simply refer to motivation or purpose. For example, I do not think Theravada would find it permissible to not-accidentally cause the death of a person for the purpose of saving two others. While one's purpose or motivation may actually be to preserve life, out of compassion, there would still be negative kamma for killing a person.

If "belief one's actions will cause death" is too broad a standard and "having the purpose or motivation to cause death" is too narrow, what is the appropriate standard for intention?

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Sam Vara
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Re: Meaning of Intention, Negligence, "Cause"

Post by Sam Vara » Mon Sep 17, 2018 10:32 pm

rcteutsch wrote:
Mon Sep 17, 2018 9:07 pm

Thank you for your reply. If I interpret it correctly, you are saying that having the belief that one's actions will cause the death of a living being means that one has the "intention" to kill that being.
No, that's not quite what I mean. Intention is wanting a particular outcome, rather than having a belief. One can believe that one's actions will kill, but not want that outcome.
It seems, however, there are many actions in which people engage in which someone, if he or she considers the consequences of his or her actions, is likely to have the belief that death will result, but which Theravada, I don't think, would consider to have been done with the intention to kill. For example, if I drive my car on the highway during the summer for a significant period of time, say on vacation, I could quite reasonably believe that my actions will cause the death of insects. If I am a farmer and plow my crops with a tractor, I might have the belief that my actions will cause the death of any number of small creatures. Do these actions exhibit the intention to kill, if their underlying purpose was not to kill the beings?
No, these actions do not exhibit the intention to kill. The results may well be unintended consequences, but as far as I understand they are not kammically significant.
I do not think Theravada would find it permissible to not-accidentally cause the death of a person for the purpose of saving two others. While one's purpose or motivation may actually be to preserve life, out of compassion, there would still be negative kamma for killing a person.
Here, I don't think "Theravada" has a voice; merely individual Theravadan practitioners. I don't know of any examples of this type of dilemma in the suttas, and it seems to have been popularised by Philippa Foot and the "Trolleyologists" in the 1960s and '70s. My guess is that such a situation would best be seen as "mixed" kamma:
kamma that is dark & bright with dark & bright result There is the case where a certain person fabricates a bodily fabrication that is injurious & non-injurious... a verbal fabrication that is injurious & non-injurious... a mental fabrication that is injurious & non-injurious...
https://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dha ... kamma.html
If "belief one's actions will cause death" is too broad a standard and "having the purpose or motivation to cause death" is too narrow, what is the appropriate standard for intention?
The latter, I think. Wanting a particular outcome.

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Re: Meaning of Intention, Negligence, "Cause"

Post by chownah » Tue Sep 18, 2018 3:24 am

Sam Vara wrote:
Mon Sep 17, 2018 10:32 pm

The latter, I think. Wanting a particular outcome.
Then "to have your cake and eat it too" would not produce bad kamma for example during a famine one kills one's pet chicken and eats it because one did not want the particular outcome of the chicken being killed but only wanted the outcome of having something to eat?
chownah

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Sam Vara
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Re: Meaning of Intention, Negligence, "Cause"

Post by Sam Vara » Tue Sep 18, 2018 6:19 am

chownah wrote:
Tue Sep 18, 2018 3:24 am
Sam Vara wrote:
Mon Sep 17, 2018 10:32 pm

The latter, I think. Wanting a particular outcome.
Then "to have your cake and eat it too" would not produce bad kamma for example during a famine one kills one's pet chicken and eats it because one did not want the particular outcome of the chicken being killed but only wanted the outcome of having something to eat?
chownah
One would know that eating would necessarily involve killing, and killing is dark kamma. One would have to want the chicken dead.

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Re: Meaning of Intention, Negligence, "Cause"

Post by chownah » Tue Sep 18, 2018 10:21 am

Sam Vara wrote:
Tue Sep 18, 2018 6:19 am
chownah wrote:
Tue Sep 18, 2018 3:24 am
Sam Vara wrote:
Mon Sep 17, 2018 10:32 pm

The latter, I think. Wanting a particular outcome.
Then "to have your cake and eat it too" would not produce bad kamma for example during a famine one kills one's pet chicken and eats it because one did not want the particular outcome of the chicken being killed but only wanted the outcome of having something to eat?
chownah
One would know that eating would necessarily involve killing, and killing is dark kamma. One would have to want the chicken dead.
It seems to me that your views expressed here are not consistent with your previous statement that intention is wanting a particular outcome.
chownah

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Re: Meaning of Intention, Negligence, "Cause"

Post by Sam Vara » Tue Sep 18, 2018 10:26 am

chownah wrote:
Tue Sep 18, 2018 10:21 am
It seems to me that your views expressed here are not consistent with your previous statement that intention is wanting a particular outcome.
chownah
They might not be, but can you say why you think that?

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