Bases for Skillful Action?

Buddhist ethical conduct including the Five Precepts (Pañcasikkhāpada), and Eightfold Ethical Conduct (Aṭṭhasīla).
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contemplans
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Bases for Skillful Action?

Post by contemplans » Sat Dec 17, 2011 9:29 pm

Most teachers teach that good karma (kusalakamma) is a basis to cultivating the path, while bad karma (akusalakamma) leads one away from enlightenment. Now the Buddha taught that some things were universally good, like the five precepts for all his disciples. Not only are they universally good for deepening one's practice of his teachings, but they are good by nature, which is shown by them leading to better births in the future. So they are a law of the cosmos. But if there is a law of the cosmos, then should there not be a law giver? And if they are universal, should not that law giver be all good? For otherwise, no law can truly me universal without a universal good from which it emanates. And while in meditation one lays aside questions deemed wrong views and inquiry, as is done in theistic meditation as well sometimes (via negativa), in everyday life is the ethical system of Buddhism only founded upon custom or some other relative framework? For if the ethical system is not absolute, then how can one make statements that killing beings is always bad, or stealing is always bad? What becomes of the vinaya of the dhamma-vinaya?

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Ben
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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Post by Ben » Sat Dec 17, 2011 9:35 pm

Hi contemplans,
contemplans wrote:But if there is a law of the cosmos, then should there not be a law giver?
Why?

kind regards,

Ben
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acinteyyo
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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Post by acinteyyo » Sat Dec 17, 2011 9:49 pm

contemplans wrote:Most teachers teach that good karma (kusalakamma) is a basis to cultivating the path, while bad karma (akusalakamma) leads one away from enlightenment. Now the Buddha taught that some things were universally good, like the five precepts for all his disciples. Not only are they universally good for deepening one's practice of his teachings, but they are good by nature, which is shown by them leading to better births in the future. So they are a law of the cosmos. But if there is a law of the cosmos, then should there not be a law giver? And if they are universal, should not that law giver be all good? For otherwise, no law can truly me universal without a universal good from which it emanates. And while in meditation one lays aside questions deemed wrong views and inquiry, as is done in theistic meditation as well sometimes (via negativa), in everyday life is the ethical system of Buddhism only founded upon custom or some other relative framework? For if the ethical system is not absolute, then how can one make statements that killing beings is always bad, or stealing is always bad? What becomes of the vinaya of the dhamma-vinaya?
Hi,

hm... I disagree that the Buddha taught the precepts are "universally good" and I don't consider them "laws". The precepts are tools, if they're used properly they can be a guide to wholesome actions, if used inappropriately they may lead to more suffering. I don't think your premiss is valid therefore your conclusions don't follow in my eyes. I abstain from speculations about the cosmos, a cosmic law and things like that. I try to go only as far as to the edge of the all. The basis of skillful action is wisdom. It can be developed here and now because here and now is everything we need to know, IF we can be mindful...

best wishes, acinteyyo
Thag 1.20. Ajita - I do not fear death; nor do I long for life. I’ll lay down this body, aware and mindful.

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contemplans
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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Post by contemplans » Sat Dec 17, 2011 11:14 pm

Ben wrote:Hi contemplans,
contemplans wrote:But if there is a law of the cosmos, then should there not be a law giver?
Why?

kind regards,

Ben
If all was relative, then how can the relative give rise to the absolute? It's like building on a sandy foundation. The Buddha appealed to absolutes in his teaching. The four noble truths are especially taught as universal. The concept of dukkha must have a universal basis on which to even consider it bad. Most people go about their life thinking dukkha is just fine. If dukkha = bad is not universal, then the path is optional at best. But the Buddha said it is universal. In fact he said that all beings who come to enlightenment, come to the knowledge of the four noble truths. Nibbana itself is an absolute. But Nibbana isn't created by the path, but attained. Apparently that plane of existence exists outside of our ability to achieve it. I understand the Buddha wished to set aside a discussion like this because it leads one to creates stories about the world, etc. But it seems like Buddhism in America, at least, creates opposite stories to contrast themselves with Christianity and other theistic traditions, as the early Buddhists did to contrast themselves with the Hindus. With that said, can we then conclude that the Buddha in fact did not make proclamations about the absolute nature of reality?
acinteyyo wrote: hm... I disagree that the Buddha taught the precepts are "universally good" and I don't consider them "laws". The precepts are tools, if they're used properly they can be a guide to wholesome actions, if used inappropriate they may lead to more suffering. I don't think your premiss is valid therefore your conclusions don't follow in my eyes. I abstain from speculations about the cosmos, a cosmic law and things like that. I try to go only as far as to the edge of the all. The basis of skillful action is wisdom. It can be developed here and now because here and now is everything we need to know, IF we can be mindful...

best wishes, acinteyyo
I understand. Appropriate and inappropriate are value measures. If they are not based on absolute values, then they are relative. What is appropriate for one is inappropriate for another. And so murder and the other offenses might actually be a skillful action on the path. They are laws not in the sense of commands, but in the sense of reflections of nature. Since the Buddha taught to investigate nature, and cause and effect, it would seem logical to me that this would be within scope of inquiry outside of concentration meditation. Ultimately, we need to ask the why.


It would seem that the Buddha taught things such as not-self, and right view, not as metaphysical assertions, but as strategies to no longer identify with the reality we experience. It may well be that God exists, there are universal moral principles, we have souls, etc., but such discussions the Buddha would say would perpetuate dukkha. If these things are objective realities, then how can a path that denies them lead to the realization of them. And if they are not true, and there is no absolute reality, then how can the path that leads to Nibbana be anything more than one choice among many to pass the time, or Nibbana be anything more but a mirage-like goal, simply a state of our temporal minds?

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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Post by Khalil Bodhi » Sun Dec 18, 2011 1:06 am

Welcome contemplans,

The Lord Buddha was a radical phenomenologist not a metaphysician. It appears you are trying to straight-jacket the Dhamma with theological understandings of the universe. I wish you all the best but please don't be offended if not many here take the bait. Mettaya.
To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas.
-Dhp. 183

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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Post by santa100 » Sun Dec 18, 2011 2:56 am

Contemplans wrote:
For if the ethical system is not absolute, then how can one make statements that killing beings is always bad, or stealing is always bad? What becomes of the vinaya of the dhamma-vinaya?
The Buddha was a practical physician who would remove the arrow from a man's chest instead of just sit and explain what type of arrow, or who shot him, etc.. Buddhist ethical system is not absolute in the sense that it's flexible, practical, and conducive to the elimination of suffering. It focuses on what is skillful/un-skillful instead of good/bad. That's why there's only statement like "abstain from killing", instead of "killing is always bad"; or "abstain from stealing" instead of "stealing is always bad"; The problem with "absolute" statements, systems, doctrines are that they open the door to extreme attachment to views. This form of attachment is very dangerous because if there's something absolutely good, there must be something absolutely evil, and if I was absolutely correct, you would've been absolutely wrong. This is where conflict arises. And this is the beginning of suffering. THere's an interesting story I'd like to share:

"Two traveling monks reached a river where they met a beautiful young woman. Wary of the current, she asked if they could carry her across. One of the monks hesitated, but the other quickly picked her up onto his shoulders, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other bank. She thanked him and departed.

As the monks continued on their way, the one was brooding and preoccupied. Unable to hold his silence, he spoke out. "Brother, our spiritual training teaches us to avoid any contact with women, but you picked that one up on your shoulders and carried her!"

"Brother," the second monk replied, "I set her down on the other side, while you are still carrying her."

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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Post by ground » Sun Dec 18, 2011 7:07 am

From ignorance as a requisite condition come fabrications. From fabrications as a requisite condition comes consciousness. From consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-&-form. From name-&-form as a requisite condition come the six sense media. From the six sense media as a requisite condition comes contact. From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling. From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving. From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging/sustenance. From clinging/sustenance as a requisite condition comes becoming. From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth. From birth as a requisite condition, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. Such is the origination of this entire mass of stress & suffering.

"Now from the remainderless fading & cessation of that very ignorance comes the cessation of fabrications. From the cessation of fabrications comes the cessation of consciousness. From the cessation of consciousness comes the cessation of name-&-form. From the cessation of name-&-form comes the cessation of the six sense media. From the cessation of the six sense media comes the cessation of contact. From the cessation of contact comes the cessation of feeling. From the cessation of feeling comes the cessation of craving. From the cessation of craving comes the cessation of clinging/sustenance. From the cessation of clinging/sustenance comes the cessation of becoming. From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth. From the cessation of birth, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress & suffering."

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
The "Bases for Skillful Action" is just this.


Kind regards

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acinteyyo
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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Post by acinteyyo » Sun Dec 18, 2011 10:28 am

:goodpost:
contemplans wrote:
acinteyyo wrote: hm... I disagree that the Buddha taught the precepts are "universally good" and I don't consider them "laws". The precepts are tools, if they're used properly they can be a guide to wholesome actions, if used inappropriate they may lead to more suffering. I don't think your premiss is valid therefore your conclusions don't follow in my eyes. I abstain from speculations about the cosmos, a cosmic law and things like that. I try to go only as far as to the edge of the all
I understand. Appropriate and inappropriate are value measures. If they are not based on absolute values, then they are relative. What is appropriate for one is inappropriate for another. And so murder and the other offenses might actually be a skillful action on the path. They are laws not in the sense of commands, but in the sense of reflections of nature. Since the Buddha taught to investigate nature, and cause and effect, it would seem logical to me that this would be within scope of inquiry outside of concentration meditation. Ultimately, we need to ask the why.
My friend, things are not as black and white as you try to lay them down. Appropriate and inappropriate are value measures. But not based on absolute values, based on experience and any experience is relative/subjective or "private". What is appropriate for one may be inappropriate for another. But to conclude that murder for example might actually be a skillful action on the path then ignores how things originate dependently.
"Intention, I tell you, is action. Intending, one does action by way of body, speech, & intellect." - AN 6.63
Intentions rooted in greed, hatred and delusion, originate from ignorance of the nature of things, cause and effect or dependent origination, different labels for the same thing... and can only lead to suffering.
These things are within the scope of inquiry outside of concentration meditation. As long as one doesn't go beyond the all, because then one entangles oneself in the net of speculative views for sure.
Imho to ask "why" ultimately never led to satisfying answers. Liberating wisdom is not to be attained by asking questions. But don't get me wrong, certainly asking questions has its significance on the path.
contemplans wrote:It would seem that the Buddha taught things such as not-self, and right view, not as metaphysical assertions, but as strategies to no longer identify with the reality we experience. It may well be that God exists, there are universal moral principles, we have souls, etc., but such discussions the Buddha would say would perpetuate dukkha.

As I said... in my eyes great danger of entanglement in a net of speculative views...
contemplans wrote:If these things are objective realities, then how can a path that denies them lead to the realization of them.
I don't know what path you talking about, but the noble 8-fold path is not meant to lead to the realization of existence or non-existence of God, universal moral principles or that we have a soul, it's meant to liberate from suffering.
contemplans wrote:And if they are not true, and there is no absolute reality, then how can the path that leads to Nibbana be anything more than one choice among many to pass the time, or Nibbana be anything more but a mirage-like goal, simply a state of our temporal minds?
By asking you won't know. Doesn't matter what answer you will get it seems you already took up your position.

best wishes, acinteyyo
Thag 1.20. Ajita - I do not fear death; nor do I long for life. I’ll lay down this body, aware and mindful.

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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Post by Dan74 » Sun Dec 18, 2011 11:52 am

Some people manage to reconcile Buddhism and Theism for themselves. Others opt for one or the other. But I don't think there is an objective answer. If you find Christianity truly spiritually nourishing, there is no reason to abandon it. And there is no reason to worry about the Buddha's position on this. My personal suspicion is that if he saw that another faith was beneficial to a person he would have encouraged that person to give it 100%, but I may be wrong.

Many Buddhists believe that Theism is flawed and the Buddha's teaching is truer and more profound. This may be so, but how many of us fully avail ourselves of the depth and richness of our spiritual tradition? There are certainly Christians who are much more enlightened than many Buddhists, so perhaps more depends on the practitioner than the faith. Perhaps a Christian who has truly exhausted what his tradition has to offer would be reborn as a Buddhist? I don't know - just speculation.

In any case, all the best with your practice, whatever it may be!
_/|\_

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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Post by contemplans » Mon Dec 19, 2011 2:59 am

I am just trying to see if anyone sees an absolute basis for any Buddhist teaching, including the Four Noble Truths, and if so, then where do they think such an absolute comes from. This is worthy of inquiry, since later Buddhists often took up theistic teachings and beliefs, and in our time many take up atheistic teachings and beliefs. How can any ethical system be worthy of practice that is not absolute on its key teachings? I am truly wondering how some reconcile this with the wider Buddhist teaching. Or maybe some just haven't asked themselves what is the basis for the ethical teachings.

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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Post by Brizzy » Mon Dec 19, 2011 3:15 am

contemplans wrote:I am just trying to see if anyone sees an absolute basis for any Buddhist teaching, including the Four Noble Truths.................................................................
Nibbana. (Please note - NOT the ground of being).
If one wishes to create a Law Giver, that is entirely their prerogative.

Metta

:smile:
Ignorance is an intentional act.

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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Post by Kenshou » Mon Dec 19, 2011 3:16 am

The thing Buddhist ethics revolves around is, whether actions are beneficial and lead to the reduction of suffering and stress, or do not. It is a pragmatic distinction drawn up for a specific purpose, and not for establishing a theory of objective moral absolutes.

Dan74
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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Post by Dan74 » Mon Dec 19, 2011 3:23 am

contemplans wrote:I am just trying to see if anyone sees an absolute basis for any Buddhist teaching, including the Four Noble Truths, and if so, then where do they think such an absolute comes from. This is worthy of inquiry, since later Buddhists often took up theistic teachings and beliefs, and in our time many take up atheistic teachings and beliefs. How can any ethical system be worthy of practice that is not absolute on its key teachings? I am truly wondering how some reconcile this with the wider Buddhist teaching. Or maybe some just haven't asked themselves what is the basis for the ethical teachings.
I don't see the need for any absolute basis at all. In fact I think any purported absolute basis is a recipe for corrosive doubt and unnecessary inner conflict.

The Buddhist practice yields results - practitioners become more patient, kind, clear-minded, present and thoughtful, in my experience. So the proof is in the pudding. Plus, as one practices, a lot of what the teachings say begins to make a great deal of sense.

Returning to the absolute basis, the Buddhist teachings on emptiness/not-self pretty much lay this to rest. I don't know what you mean when you say that "later Buddhists took up theistic teachings and beliefs." Whatever looks that way are only expedient means, never absolutes.

If there is one absolute in Buddhism, it is that awakening is preferable to ignorance and delusion.
_/|\_

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ground
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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Post by ground » Mon Dec 19, 2011 3:28 am

contemplans wrote:I am just trying to see if anyone sees an absolute basis for any Buddhist teaching, including the Four Noble Truths, and if so, then where do they think such an absolute comes from.
There is a dependently originated basis, no absolute one. When thinking "absolute" where does this thought arise from? It arises from body and mind, right? Body and mind are impermanent, do have beginning and end and are changing from moment to moment and so they have been dependently arisen and do change continuously and dependently. How could something dependently arisen and changing (body and mind) produce something (the thought "absolute") that is absolute?

contemplans wrote: This is worthy of inquiry, since later Buddhists often took up theistic teachings and beliefs, and in our time many take up atheistic teachings and beliefs. How can any ethical system be worthy of practice that is not absolute on its key teachings? I am truly wondering how some reconcile this with the wider Buddhist teaching. Or maybe some just haven't asked themselves what is the basis for the ethical teachings.
The basis for the ethical teachings is dependent origination, since it is dependent origination it is the aggregates (consciousness, perception, feeling, volitional formations, form/rupa/body) which can also be called "body and mind".

These aggregates are called clinging aggregates because they are continuously clinging to their own products which in your case is the thought "absolute".
Ethical conduct is just the means to generate an environmental sphere for this clinging to cease. In this context it is called "conducive". Having contextual meaning it is itself a relative phenomenon. There is no need to grasp an absolute support for ethical conduct.


Kind regards

danieLion
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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Post by danieLion » Mon Dec 19, 2011 8:57 am

Where exactly is the Buddha recorded as clearly, distinctly, and without equivocation stating that anything is "universally good"? "Universal goodness" is for Kantian, categorical imperative dogmatists, not drop-out, "F**k you, society!", rebels like the Buddha.
DanieLion :heart:

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