The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Buddhist ethical conduct including the Five Precepts (Pañcasikkhāpada), and Eightfold Ethical Conduct (Aṭṭhasīla).
Justsit
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Post by Justsit » Wed Apr 27, 2011 1:05 am

Thrylix wrote:...I never thought about why I do it it until recently.
Well, now that you've thought about it recently, why do you think you do it?

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andre9999
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Post by andre9999 » Wed Apr 27, 2011 1:26 am

Thrylix wrote:But what about my good acts in society and toward other people? Are those counted for less?
Maybe if you do even more good acts you can work up enough credit to kill better stuff.

chownah
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Post by chownah » Wed Apr 27, 2011 1:39 am

Thrylix wrote:
I'm just wondering how weighty the habitual act of destroying life is while still performing mostly good acts.

Doesn't the motive behind the act matter in this context? If I did it because I wanted to cause pain, that's one thing. But to do it "just 'cause," which is why I do it, well, that seems like another thing entirely. Has that any bearing on karmic consequences?

Do you have a theory of your own about why someone like me casually steps on ants? I could use more insight into it myself, because I never thought about why I do it it until recently.
It's difficult to know how weighty killing ants is....also its difficult to know how weighty "performing mostly good acts" is....the Buddha taught that the exact workings of kamma is not knowable.

The motive behind the act is key. The Buddha taught that things don't happen "just 'cause"...he taught that there is always a cause or condition which brings about activity. If you want to find out what is causing this killing of ants then I think you have made a good start already by the ponderings you have reported....maybe if you are mindful every time you kill bugs and then ponder what your mental state is then perhaps you will come to some understanding...if you don't know how to be mindful of the things you are doing then practicing meditation will help....the main reason in Buddhist thought for meditating is to train the mind and make it more capable of being mindful and focused....meditation can be learned from many different disciplines but of course Buddhists will recommend a Buddhist approach....many other disciplines teach mindfulness meditation that is very similar to the Buddhist way.....to me it was surprising that the Buddha didn't really teach very much about meditation techniques....it seems that meditation techniques were commonly known amoung alot of different spiritual groups during the Buddha's time so he didn't teach the actual techniques but just how to apply some of the effects of meditation to the Buddhist path.

You created this thread in the "Dhamma free for all" forum where you will receive replies of all levels of seriousness and applicability.....you might get more serious and helpful replies if you post in the "Discovering Theravada" forum since it seems that you are not very knowledgeable about Buddist thought.
chownah

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Jason
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Post by Jason » Wed Apr 27, 2011 3:25 pm

The Buddha defined kamma (literally 'action') as intention, and he essentially took the position that we, as sentient beings, have functional choice via intention operating within a broader framework of causality that conditions the choices available to us at any given time. More importantly, from the Buddhist point of view, kamma is primarily psychological in nature, with the results or fruits (vipaka) of intentional actions being experienced as pleasant, painful, or neither pleasant nor painful feelings (vedana) in the mind. In other word, kamma is how we intentionally react to things, our behaviour. (The Buddha basically took the Jain's deterministic view of kamma and ethicized it.)

That said, it's not about good or bad as much as skillful and unskillful. In Buddhism, all intentional actions are understood to have potential consequences, and actions that cause harm to others and/or ourselves are generally considered to be unskillful and something to be avoided. But if what the Buddha had to say about kamma is true, I don't think there's anyway to know precisely how these things will be experienced (AN 4.77), especially considering the complexity of this/that conditionality.

Our experience of the present is conditioned by a multitude of factors, including the results of both past and present actions. For all we know, the results of our past unskillful actions (e.g., killing ants) may count next to nothing compared to all the skillful actions and mental states we've cultivated throughout our lives. More importantly, the Buddha never condemns people merely for making unskillful choices or breaking the precepts; he simply urges them to learn from their mistakes and to make an effort to renounce their unskillful behaviour with the understanding that skillful behaviour leads to long-term welfare and happiness. That's one of the main reasons the precepts are framed as 'training rules' rather than strict commandments.

In this case, the unskillful motivation to harm may be subtle, and may not cause too much stress or suffering right now; but repeatedly cultivating and giving in to the urge to harm may build up over time, becoming an ingrained habit. This can result in not respecting other forms of life and/or inclining the mind towards harming rather than avoiding harm in other circumstances, which can condition more violent behaviour that'll result in more suffering in the future (e.g., maybe losing your temper and harming a pet). Then again, maybe you'll never suffer much over it because of other competing factors. It's impossible to know.
"Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya" (AN 7.58).

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beeblebrox
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Post by beeblebrox » Wed Apr 27, 2011 3:50 pm

Jason wrote:In this case, the unskillful motivation to harm may be subtle, and may not cause too much stress or suffering right now; but repeatedly cultivating and giving in to the urge to harm may build up over time, becoming an ingrained habit. This can result in not respecting other forms of life and/or inclining the mind towards harming rather than avoiding harm in other circumstances, which can condition more violent behaviour that'll result in more suffering in the future (e.g., maybe losing your temper and harming a pet). Then again, maybe you'll never suffer much over it because of other competing factors. It's impossible to know.
A couple quotes from the Dhammapada that are related to this:
Dhp IX - Papavagga

(translated by Ven. Buddharakkhita):

121. Think not lightly of evil, saying, "It will not come to me." Drop by drop is the water pot filled. Likewise, the fool, gathering it little by little, fills himself with evil.

122. Think not lightly of good, saying, "It will not come to me." Drop by drop is the water pot filled. Likewise, the wise man, gathering it little by little, fills himself with good.


(translated by Ven. Thanissaro):

121-122

Don't underestimate evil
('It won't amount to much').
A water jar fills,
even with water
falling in drops.
With evil — even if
bit
by
bit,
habitually —
the fool fills himself full.

Don't underestimate merit
('It won't amount to much').
A water jar fills,
even with water
falling in drops.
With merit — even if
bit
by
bit,
habitually —
the enlightened one fills himself full.

Thrylix
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Post by Thrylix » Wed Apr 27, 2011 4:15 pm

Justsit wrote:
Thrylix wrote:...I never thought about why I do it it until recently.
Well, now that you've thought about it recently, why do you think you do it?
I'm going to venture a guess that it's a sort of subconscious display of dominance over other beings that I think don't matter. What better way of affirming your dominance over another being than by crushing the life out of it?

I don't think that's true so much now, but I think that might probably the function behind how the habit began. Now it just feels natural.

ricketybridge
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Post by ricketybridge » Wed Apr 27, 2011 5:49 pm

Thrylix wrote:I'm going to venture a guess that it's a sort of subconscious display of dominance over other beings that I think don't matter. What better way of affirming your dominance over another being than by crushing the life out of it?

I don't think that's true so much now, but I think that might probably the function behind how the habit began. Now it just feels natural.
Now that you're aware of that, I would hope that you can let it go. Not that I'm so sympathetic towards ants (nor do I believe in literal karma and rebirth), but it seems like it's become a subtle sort of craving to you, and as we all know, craving leads to dukkha. (Old-timers, let me know if I'm off base here.) The need for dominance is a need to feed the ego. Both ego and dominance are illusory, and no more so than in this case, where destroying the ants is of absolutely no consequence to your life other than your inner experience of domination.

If you eliminate that need to bolster your ego, then you'll eliminate the desire to destroy the ants (and who knows what other behavior you may be doing, subconsciously for that same reason!).

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Refugee
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Post by Refugee » Wed Apr 27, 2011 6:55 pm

ricketybridge wrote: .... .... .... I'd be curious how you guys would deal (or have dealt) with something like a termite infestation... I guess a householder should call an exterminator, right? So as to take care of his assets/family and all, but what about a Buddhist monastery? Do they just let the monastery crumble to the ground?
I try as much as possible not to kill ants and other insects, if at all possible. If ants, flies, tiny lizzards, etc... get into my house, I trap them in my "insect catcher" (see-through plastic bowl and sheet of paper) and deposit them in my garden. I just ignore insects I see outside my house. But when termites attacked my kitchen "built-in" furniture, I sprayed the infested areas with insectcide because there is no way of removing them alive. The same happened when a hord of very tiny ants invaded my kitchen. Try to catch them, you just squash them, or they just disappear into the cupboards and other hidden areas. Also, I am allergic to dust mites - my body itch all over and get red pimple-like eruptions on the skin. Dust mites are too tiny to see. So, I wash linen, curtains, etc... very often and leave them in the sun just so as to kill the dust mites. So, sometimes it's quite difficult to keep the first precept. Sometimes, almost impossible, like avoiding de-worming medicine if you or your family or pets gets infested. Despite all this, we try our best not to kill heedlessly. BTW, calling an exterminator to do the "unwholesome" task does not relieve you of the karmic consequences. I don't think it's very nice to pass the bad karma to others. If it must be done, do it yourself - unless it is a task beyond your capability.
Metta to all.
My practice is simply this: Avoid evil, do good, and purify the mind.

Thrylix
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Post by Thrylix » Sat May 14, 2011 4:10 am

All interesting views.

I've thought about all of them. I can't truthfully say I've stopped terrorizing ants, but the comments here made me a bit kinder to smaller lifeforms. Instead of stepping on every individual ant in my vicinity, as I was wont to do a month ago, I give their little anthills a single firm kick or stomp, just because I enjoy viewing the chaos and panic that unfolds at my feet.

I know some here don't approve, but what can I say? It's survival of the biggest. :P

Reductor
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Post by Reductor » Sat May 14, 2011 4:52 am

If your character improves any more, youll almost be as ethical as my five year old.

Think of that while your knocking down your next hill.

Take care.

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Kim OHara
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Post by Kim OHara » Sat May 14, 2011 4:55 am

Thrylix wrote:All interesting views.

I've thought about all of them. I can't truthfully say I've stopped terrorizing ants, but the comments here made me a bit kinder to smaller lifeforms. Instead of stepping on every individual ant in my vicinity, as I was wont to do a month ago, I give their little anthills a single firm kick or stomp, just because I enjoy viewing the chaos and panic that unfolds at my feet.

I know some here don't approve, but what can I say? It's survival of the biggest. :P
If you're small enough to take pleasure in it, you're smaller than they are.
:namaste:
Kim

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ground
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Post by ground » Sat May 14, 2011 4:57 am

Thrylix wrote:I know some here don't approve, but what can I say? It's survival of the biggest. :P
May you experience the peaceful mind resulting from respecting and appreciating other beings.

Kind regards

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andre9999
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Post by andre9999 » Sat May 14, 2011 3:40 pm

Thrylix wrote:I know some here don't approve, but what can I say? It's survival of the biggest. :P
I doubt anyone here approves. You're a moron. My three year-old knows better than to act so foolishly.

farmer
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Post by farmer » Sat May 14, 2011 6:42 pm

In my opinion/experience there is a link between not harming anything and a person's ability to nurture an attitude of universal good will. It isn't easy to develop a desire for all beings to be happy if you have been stomping on anthills. On the other hand, when you have been harmless, and even helpful to other creatures, good will flows naturally.

If you are interested in the karmic consequences of killing small creatures, why don't you do an experiment: resolve to abstain from any gratuitous killing for a month or a year, and watch to see whether the change has any effect. How does it feel to step around an anthill rather than on it? Do people look at you differently? Do you feel differently? Better yet, make a point of doing some small beneficial act for another creature or person every day, and see how that affects you.

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m0rl0ck
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Re: The ethics of minimizing suffering and being a "good person"

Post by m0rl0ck » Sun May 15, 2011 7:26 pm

Thrylix wrote:
Justsit wrote:
Thrylix wrote:...I never thought about why I do it it until recently.
Well, now that you've thought about it recently, why do you think you do it?
I'm going to venture a guess that it's a sort of subconscious display of dominance over other beings that I think don't matter. What better way of affirming your dominance over another being than by crushing the life out of it?

I don't think that's true so much now, but I think that might probably the function behind how the habit began. Now it just feels natural.
Its more likely hardwired into the human organism. Insects and arthropods are direct competitors for available food, carry parasites, sting, carry diseases and micro-organisms, and are themselves directly parasitical on the human organism.

From a survival trait standpoint, it would be surprising if there werent an immediate urge to kill small creepy crawlies. You are probably no more personally responsible for this urge than you are for the color of you hair.
Its ridiculous imo to try to even assign responsibility for an instinctive reaction of this kind and there is no agency or deity there to judge us. Karma is not a punishing avenger and there is no god.

That said, just because you have the urge or reaction, doesnt necessarily mean you have to follow thru. Catching your self at it is great, probably means you are paying attention.
“The truth knocks on the door and you say, "Go away, I'm looking for the truth," and so it goes away. Puzzling.” ― Robert M. Pirsig

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