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Buddhism and Morality

personperson Where is my mind?'Merica! Veteran
Came across this article and I liked the way it breaks down the Buddhist view of moral relativism vs absolute morality.

http://buddhism.about.com/od/basicbuddhistteachings/a/morality1.htm
...However, the Precepts are not commandments, but principles, and it is up to us to determine how to apply these principles to our lives...

...There are no moral absolutes in Buddhism and it is recognized that ethical decision-making involves a complex nexus of causes and conditions. 'Buddhism' encompasses a wide spectrum of beliefs and practices, and the canonical scriptures leave room for a range of interpretations. All of these are grounded in a theory of intentionality, and individuals are encouraged to analyze issues carefully for themselves. ... When making moral choices, individuals are advised to examine their motivation--whether aversion, attachment, ignorance, wisdom, or compassion--and to weigh the consequences of their actions in light of the Buddha's teachings....

"Once for all, then, a short precept is given you: Love, and do what you will: whether you hold your peace, through love hold your peace; whether you cry out, through love cry out; whether you correct, through love correct; whether you spare, through love do you spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good."
~ St. Augustine
Basically Buddhism says learn to be kind and wise in yourself and your actions will automatically be moral. What's more using this approach you can be adaptive to specific situations instead of trying to fit a prescribed rule into life.
VastmindInvincible_summerriverflowlobster

Comments

  • vinlynvinlyn Colorado...for now Veteran
    I think that a key issue here is a role that most religions have traditionally played in societies. And I think that one could make a strong case for saying that most societies have used religion as a basis for their systems of law, going back to well before the Code Of Hammurabi. Sometimes that's been a negative, but it's also often been a positive.

    I think about the most-Buddhist nation on earth at this time -- Thailand. Rampant prostitution (including forced prostitution and child prostitution), rampant bribery and collusion, a major problem with theft, lying seen as a way of life (as long as it's polite), drunk driving causing huge numbers of fatalities and often not charged...I could go on. Is it related to the idea that Precepts are not commandments, but only training rules (nobody quite ever says training for what)?

    And I think of the threads on this forum when people rant about how wrong it is to eat meat...but some of those same people in other threads will say that in Buddhism there are no moral absolutes.

    Try this the next time someone asks you to tell them something about Buddhism. Say, "Well, in Buddhism it's not wrong to murder another person. It's not wrong to steal. It's not wrong to lie. It's not wrong to rape."

    I don't see what's wrong with at least a few moral absolutes.
    Invincible_summer
  • personperson Where is my mind? 'Merica! Veteran
    I think maybe there is a distinction to be made between morality and law and order.

    I don't think just because sometimes it may reasonably be moral to kill someone for instance means that we shouldn't have laws against murder.
    Try this the next time someone asks you to tell them something about Buddhism. Say, "Well, in Buddhism it's not wrong to murder another person. It's not wrong to steal. It's not wrong to lie. It's not wrong to rape."
    I see it like this, something like rape isn't wrong simply because it is. It is wrong because it causes pain and suffering on another person and ultimately the rapist. There are reasons and contexts in which actions occur that make them wrong, the wrongness or rightness isn't contained within the act itself.
    JeffreyInvincible_summerriverflowlobster
  • NevermindNevermind Bitter & Hateful Veteran
    When is it reasonably moral to kill someone?
    Invincible_summer
  • personperson Where is my mind? 'Merica! Veteran
    edited May 2013
    Nevermind said:

    When is it reasonably moral to kill someone?

    Suppose you were a police officer or even just an ordinary citizen that carries a firearm. If you saw someone wearing an explosive vest walking into a crowd holding a button and he was say 40 ft away, imo it would be moral to kill that person.

    This is certainly an extreme and unlikely scenario but it shows the way that the morality of an act exists in the circumstances more than it does in the act itself.

    Time is also relative. Just because it is in our day to day lives we can make schedules, earn an hourly wage, etc. But in extreme circumstances (traveling at half the speed of light) the passage of time changes. It is context dependent and not an absolute phenomena.

  • vinlynvinlyn Colorado...for now Veteran
    Nevermind said:

    When is it reasonably moral to kill someone?

    Although you're not responding to my point, in a sense you just touched on it.

    In Buddhism, many think there are no moral absolutes. Yet, you just indicated you believe in a moral absolute...some would say to the extreme (since you imply it is never right to kill someone).
  • vinlynvinlyn Colorado...for now Veteran
    genkaku said:

    Ethics are what anyone exercises when in the company of others. Morality is what individuals exercise when no one is looking.

    ...

    Hmmm, I'd almost say the opposite.

  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    Moral absolute is being taken to mean it is always wrong to rape. That is true, but rape has no essence of evil. It is just harmful and happens to be always harmful. There is no devil that the rapist has colluded with, rather it's just that they terribly harmed someone.

    So in this sense rape is not a moral absolute in the sense that it doesn't have an evil essence.

    You could call it a moral absolute if you want. But in that case you would probably mean that it is always wrong to rape and not that rape has a metaphysical (is that right word) connection with the devil or with 'evil'.


    From the Chuang Tzu regarding words (of which moral absolute is an example of a word)
    “The fish trap exists because of the fish. Once you've gotten the fish you can forget the trap. The rabbit snare exists because of the rabbit. Once you've gotten the rabbit, you can forget the snare. Words exist because of meaning. Once you've gotten the meaning, you can forget the words. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words so I can talk with him?”
    riverflow
  • VastmindVastmind Memphis, TN Veteran
    edited May 2013
    From the article:
    'There is no justification in Buddhism for causing others to suffer for Buddhism.'

    You can say that again!
  • NevermindNevermind Bitter & Hateful Veteran
    edited May 2013
    vinlyn said:

    Nevermind said:

    When is it reasonably moral to kill someone?

    Although you're not responding to my point, in a sense you just touched on it.

    In Buddhism, many think there are no moral absolutes. Yet, you just indicated you believe in a moral absolute...some would say to the extreme (since you imply it is never right to kill someone).
    That's quite a leap. Anyway, I don't think that moral absolutes are as absolute as anyone might believe. In fact it probably doesn't matter much what anyone believes, in the right circumstances anyone might kill. After the dirty deed is done it only comes to how the kill is 'reasonably' moralized.
  • Suppose you were a police officer or even just an ordinary citizen that carries a firearm. If you saw someone wearing an explosive vest walking into a crowd holding a button and he was say 40 ft away, imo it would be moral to kill that person.
    Actually the intention is key ie. to stop the killing of many. That is what it all comes down to. Intending to kill someone and carrying out that intention is not justified. This means executions as a means of seeking revenge/justice is also unwholesome.
    riverflow
  • karmablueskarmablues Veteran
    edited May 2013
    The way I've been taught to apply the five precepts is that they should be considered as minimal guidelines. That means we can take them as expressing rules that are not absolute, but whenever possible we should try to interpret them broadly rather than narrowly. That means, rather than trying to find ways to justify our actions that may be questionable, we should rather focus on ways to refine our behaviour (bodily and mental) by interpreting the precepts as broadly as possible. For example, under a narrow interpretation of the first precept, hitting someone is not covered, but when we interpret the first precept broadly, it is clear that such action is covered.

    In fact, the precepts are often considered to be "training rules" and the verses for undertaking the observance of precepts is often interpreted as, "I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking life, etc." In this way, we can look at the precepts as the training against anger, greed and delusion or in other words training to develop qualities which will lead to the elimination of anger, greed and delusion. For example, we can see that training in the observance of the first precept leads to less anger and more compassion. Training in the second precept leads to less greed and more generosity, etc.

    Thus, ultimately, any action which promotes anger, greed and delusion is against the "training rules" eg. for the fourth precept on lying, we should thus interpret it broadly to include other acts of wrongful speech such as divisive speech, harsh speech and idle chatter because these acts promotes anger or delusion. Also, we can see that divisive speech and harsh speech would be detrimental to training for the development of compassion as a way of overcoming anger, and thus should be regarded as in breach of the fourth "training rule".

    Another perspective which promotes the broad interpretation of the five precepts is to look at the goal of the precepts as being a practice of non-harming. In the Abhisanda Sutta the Buddha said that the precepts can be regarded as "five gifts, five great gifts — original, long-standing, traditional, ancient, unadulterated, unadulterated from the beginning — that are not open to suspicion, will never be open to suspicion, and are unfaulted by knowledgeable contemplatives & brahmans" And why is this so? Because by observing the five precepts one "gives freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings."

    So from the above, we can see that any action which goes against providing other beings with "freedom from danger, freedom from animosity and freedom from oppression" should be regarded as being in breach of the precepts.

    Another way to interpret the precepts more broadly is to read them in conjunction with the Buddha's teaching on the ten wholesome and unwholesome courses of action. In the Saleyyaka Sutta, the Buddha breaks down the ten unwholesome conducts targeted specifically for householders into three groupings as follows:

    1. Three kinds of unwholesome bodily conduct:
    a) killing
    b) stealing
    c) sexual misconduct

    2) Fours kinds of unwholesome verbal conduct:
    a) false speech
    b) divisive speech
    c) idle speech

    3) Three kinds of unwholesome mental conduct:
    a) covetousness (greed)
    b) ill will (anger)
    c) wrong view (delusion)

    The above can be regarded as training rules for householders as the Buddha declared in the afore-mentioned Sutta that "it is possible that, by realization himself with direct knowledge, [a householder] may here and now enter upon and abide in the deliverance of the heart and the deliverance by wisdom that are taint-free with exhaustion of taints. Why is that? Because he observes conduct in accordance with the Dhamma, righteous conduct."

    The inclusion of unwholesome mental conduct clearly shows that, as part of the training rules for householders, we should regard thoughts of greed, anger and delusion and thereby any actions motivated by such thoughts as being against the precepts.

    The ten wholesome and unwholesome conducts are also found in the Mahayana tradition, see The Ten Wholesome Ways Of Actions Sutra

    In sum, the Buddha's teachings on the precepts call for the abstention of the following:

    1) Thoughts of greed/covetousness
    2) Thoughts of anger/ill-will
    3) Thoughts that are deluded or based on wrong views
    4) Acts that are based on greed/covetousness
    5) Acts that are based on anger/ill-will
    6) Acts that are based on thoughts that are deluded or founded on wrong views
    7) Acts that subjects a living being to danger
    8) Acts that subjects a living being to animosity
    9) Acts that subjects a living being to oppression
    riverflowpersonJeffreylobster
  • When is it not morally reprehensible to rape and murder a child? Is there ever a time where that is not absolutely and inherently wrong? I mean, if we're going to jump into moral relativity and state "context matters," then I think what needs to immediately follow is the acknowledgement that there is never going to realistically be a context under which certain acts are NOT immoral.

    Look at some of the things that happen in the Middle East - some women are raped, beaten, and then their family throws acid on their face and/or burns them when they are the victims! How is that not considered absolutely wrong?

    Maybe I am too "fused" with a traditional moral code, which would look at child rape as universally detestable.

    Though we could turn this into a "choice vs. free will vs. determinism" debate and question the reality of morality. But, that's for another thread entirely. I think.
  • vinlynvinlyn Colorado...for now Veteran

    When is it not morally reprehensible to rape and murder a child? Is there ever a time where that is not absolutely and inherently wrong? I mean, if we're going to jump into moral relativity and state "context matters," then I think what needs to immediately follow is the acknowledgement that there is never going to realistically be a context under which certain acts are NOT immoral.

    Look at some of the things that happen in the Middle East - some women are raped, beaten, and then their family throws acid on their face and/or burns them when they are the victims! How is that not considered absolutely wrong?

    Maybe I am too "fused" with a traditional moral code, which would look at child rape as universally detestable.

    Though we could turn this into a "choice vs. free will vs. determinism" debate and question the reality of morality. But, that's for another thread entirely. I think.

    Very well stated.

    This concept of a training rule. Training for what? The Olympics? Of course not. What are they really saying the benefit of a following a training rule is? The reduction or elimination of their own suffering. And that's a good reason, but a purely selfish one.

    I look at what Karmablues wrote, and it's excellently written, and it's perhaps the best explanation from such a viewpoint that I've seen. I see some wisdom there. But what is it about some Buddhists who seem to want to say, "I don't like to be held to rules". Such as in, "Oh, not murdering somebody, that's just a training rule." Why is it they can't say, "Murdering a fellow human being is wrong". And yet, they get upset if a monk wants to wear regular men's clothing (a thread we go through here every once in a while), or you suggest that a monk should be able to have a light dinner at 5 p.m. (another discussion we've had here.



  • @vinlyn

    The purpose of following a training rule is to lessen anger, greed and delusion. Same as meditation is training of the mind, and what for? To lessen (and eventually be free from) anger, greed and delusion.

    What are the benefits of lessening anger, greed and delusion? Yes, one of the benefits is that it makes one suffer less, but at the same time, it also means that one causes less or no harm to other living beings. So there are two benefits that we should aspire for.

    The reason I believe its useful to see the precepts as a training rule is so that we aren't stuck with literal interpretations of the precepts. What we do is to look at the objective of the training, ie. the lessening of (and eventually being free from) anger, greed and delusion. When we see it that way, we can understand the need to interpret the precepts broadly so that any action which is detrimental to that goal can be considered as in breach of the precepts.

    I also said quite clearly that training in the precepts also involves training to develop qualities such as compassion and generosity. I don't see anything necessarily selfish about wanting to train to be more compassionate and generous.

    I also specifically mentioned that the precepts are also considered as "five great gifts" because when one observes them one is providing "limitless number of living beings" "freedom from danger, freedom from animosity and freedom from oppression". Again I don't see anything necessarily selfish about wanting to provide other living beings with the gift of such freedoms.

    In fact, and I say this from experience, training in the observance of the precepts often means that we have to make a lot of sacrifices and voluntarily subject ourselves to suffering in order to be able to observe the precepts. For example, you see a mosquito in the room. You want to train yourself in compassion through observance of the first precept so you don't kill it. By doing so, you've made the sacrifice to be kept awake from the mosquito buzzing in your ear or to get bitten by the mosquito in order that you can train in observing the first precept. That's just a small example, but anyone who seriously trains in the observance of the precepts will know that it is only possible to do so if you are ready to make both small and often great sacrifices, ie. you must be ready to voluntarily subject yourself to suffering.
    kokororiverflowpersonMaryAnne
  • zenffzenff Veteran
    edited May 2013
    Rules are formulated with a set of typical situations in mind. For instance someone gets very angry at another person; wants to shoot him and actually does it. That’s killing and the rule says you can’t do that.

    Now if someone is dying of cancer and is in the final stages and suffers unbearable pains and begs you to put an end to his misery; that is not one of the typical situations we had in mind when we made the rule.
    If the rule is an absolute there is no problem. Killing is killing and it is wrong.
    If the rule is merely an interpretation of a bigger principle (like not harming and being compassionate) there is a problem. The problem is; what is the best way of applying the bigger principle in this not-typical situation.
    So I think that rules are not absolutes they are attempts to clarify a general notion.

    (this is also true for complex and detailed legislation. Judges have to rethink and refine the rule in unforseen situations)


    The training aspect is that it is very difficult not to ever kill at all. When I drive my car I kill many insects. When I breathe I may swallow a fly and kill it.
    Or take lying. When your kids are in the age where they learned the word “why” and they bombard you with extremely good questions, you get to the point where you don’t answer every question patiently and truthfully. You find some fast answers or you go insane.
    Not killing and not lying are training rules. You never make it 100% but you do the best you can under the circumstances.

    personMaryAnne
  • zenffzenff Veteran
    Rape is simple it seems. It is always wrong.

    But I think there are interesting legal cases about what exactly rape is. I vaguely remember a bizarre case of a guy who slips into a married woman’s bed when the husband is gone. He makes love to her but the woman only wakes up half during the act and she never opens her eyes until it is too late and she looks into the smiling face of a stranger.

    The guy goes to court and claims he didn’t rape the woman because he used no force or violence.
    When the rule is an absolute he walks free. But the judges had to think about it (I don’t remember the outcome).

    In a moral sense you’d have to fall back on the idea behind the rule. The idea is that intercourse should be a matter of mutual consent and although in this case there was no violence; there was deception which prevented genuine mutual consent; and so it was wrong.

    The rule is not an absolute but it is the reflection of a bigger principle and therefore it must be refined in complex real-life situations.
    MaryAnne
  • vinlynvinlyn Colorado...for now Veteran

    @vinlyn

    The purpose of following a training rule is to lessen anger, greed and delusion. Same as meditation is training of the mind, and what for? To lessen (and eventually be free from) anger, greed and delusion.

    What are the benefits of lessening anger, greed and delusion? Yes, one of the benefits is that it makes one suffer less, but at the same time, it also means that one causes less or no harm to other living beings. So there are two benefits that we should aspire for.

    The reason I believe its useful to see the precepts as a training rule is so that we aren't stuck with literal interpretations of the precepts. What we do is to look at the objective of the training, ie. the lessening of (and eventually being free from) anger, greed and delusion. When we see it that way, we can understand the need to interpret the precepts broadly so that any action which is detrimental to that goal can be considered as in breach of the precepts.

    I also said quite clearly that training in the precepts also involves training to develop qualities such as compassion and generosity. I don't see anything necessarily selfish about wanting to train to be more compassionate and generous.

    I also specifically mentioned that the precepts are also considered as "five great gifts" because when one observes them one is providing "limitless number of living beings" "freedom from danger, freedom from animosity and freedom from oppression". Again I don't see anything necessarily selfish about wanting to provide other living beings with the gift of such freedoms.

    In fact, and I say this from experience, training in the observance of the precepts often means that we have to make a lot of sacrifices and voluntarily subject ourselves to suffering in order to be able to observe the precepts. For example, you see a mosquito in the room. You want to train yourself in compassion through observance of the first precept so you don't kill it. By doing so, you've made the sacrifice to be kept awake from the mosquito buzzing in your ear or to get bitten by the mosquito in order that you can train in observing the first precept. That's just a small example, but anyone who seriously trains in the observance of the precepts will know that it is only possible to do so if you are ready to make both small and often great sacrifices, ie. you must be ready to voluntarily subject yourself to suffering.

    I give you credit, karmablues. Not one other person on this forum who has ever talked about training rules has ever provided an explanation that satisfied me in terms of what training rules are all about. I accept your explanation.

    However, I do not see how that negates the value of absolutes in morality. I don't see anything wrong with saying, "Murdering another human is wrong." And although this does not relate to your post or topic, just for the record, even with that "absolute", I'm not saying that under highly unusual circumstances that killing another person may not be necessary and acceptable. But I've gone 63 years without murdering or even physically hurting another person, known and worked with thousands of other people, and not of them has murdered anyone. I look at the Travon Martin case, for example, and condemn his being killed, because there simply was no reason that anyone should have died that night. Under all but incredible situations, murdering another person should be an absolute wrong thing to do.

    But again, I compliment your position on training rules. Finally someone who could justify the concept, rather than other people on this forum who have dismissed the Five Precepts as being just training rules. I would say that the way you have explained the concept actually strengthens the importance of the Five Precepts, rather than weakens them, as most people have done.

    Thanks for your posts.



  • karmablueskarmablues Veteran
    edited May 2013
    @vinlyn

    Thanks for your compliments. I've learned a lot from various posters here including yourself so I always try to give back whenever I can by sharing what I believe may be useful. I'm glad to know you find some of my stuff beneficial. :)
  • FlorianFlorian Veteran
    edited May 2013
    I feel that 'training rules' is not quite the right phrase, or might be misleading. When we know truth we will behave morally because there is nothing else we can do. Until then it will be helpful to our life and our practice if we act as if we know it already. This is a well know fact of psychology much used in, for instance, motivating salesmen. To become successful, act succesful.

    The question of whether there are any absolute rules is complicated, I'd say, because in a way there would be and in way there wouldn't be. That's the trouble with the doctrine of two truths, or with the world if you like, no simple bi-polar answers.

    A story goes that the Buddha committed murder in a previous life, and I expect this story survives because it illustrates an important point about moral behaviour.

    I like @zenff's comment about rules, "The rule is not an absolute but it is the reflection of a bigger principle and therefore it must be refined in complex real-life situations."
    riverflowpersonkarmablues
  • personperson Where is my mind? 'Merica! Veteran
    pegembara said:

    Suppose you were a police officer or even just an ordinary citizen that carries a firearm. If you saw someone wearing an explosive vest walking into a crowd holding a button and he was say 40 ft away, imo it would be moral to kill that person.
    Actually the intention is key ie. to stop the killing of many. That is what it all comes down to. Intending to kill someone and carrying out that intention is not justified. This means executions as a means of seeking revenge/justice is also unwholesome.

    I don't know if it was intentional or not but the use of the word also here seems to imply a moral equivalency between my example and capital punishment. If that wasn't the intent nevermind, if it was I just want to make it clear that imo the wish to prevent harm to many vs the wish to seek revenge/justice makes the former moral and the latter immoral.

    When is it not morally reprehensible to rape and murder a child? Is there ever a time where that is not absolutely and inherently wrong? I mean, if we're going to jump into moral relativity and state "context matters," then I think what needs to immediately follow is the acknowledgement that there is never going to realistically be a context under which certain acts are NOT immoral.

    Look at some of the things that happen in the Middle East - some women are raped, beaten, and then their family throws acid on their face and/or burns them when they are the victims! How is that not considered absolutely wrong?

    Maybe I am too "fused" with a traditional moral code, which would look at child rape as universally detestable.

    When the Chinese invaded Tibet the soldiers would sometimes force the monks to have sex with the nuns or they would execute people.

    Really the main issue is seeing that an act is morally reprehensible because of some underlying principle of not harming others and that all beings want to be happy not because it is some handed down rule that must be obeyed. There is no flexibility in absolutes for difficult situations.

    ...

    The fear in letting go of absolute morals is that then the opposite of anything goes relativism would take hold. Buddhism doesn't say anything goes, no consequences, it acknowledges that beings desire happiness and are averse to suffering and it explains what are the ways of thinking and being that are best to bring that about.
  • @person - in that situation, the rape is still wrong but I see the Chinese as being the rapists and not the monks. Although the monks are the "vehicle," it is the Chinese who are the authorities and doing the forcing. It is still wrong what was done, but I see the Chinese as being the wrongdoers in that situation.

    It is similar to Nazi concentration camps where the Nazis would force Jews to kill a fellow inmate, or else the Nazis would commit a greater atrocity. Though it might have been the Jewish prisoner who pulled the trigger, it is the Nazis who created the situation and acted as the authority behind it; it is still their wrongdoing.

    That's just my opinion, though. I think cause and effect is important. Though it might be the Jewish prisoner or the monk doing the act, in both situations it was an oppressor causing them to do so "or else something far worse will happen." Being put in that situation, for many, will result in them trying to minimize harm. This process happens without "choice," I would say. Cause and effect.
    MaryAnne
  • personperson Where is my mind? 'Merica! Veteran
    Yeah, @mynameisuntz I think you're right there. I don't want to get into an argument about how rape could be ok in some cases, because that's a little silly and is really besides the point.

    To go back to my analogy with time being relative. Even though it is relative in most of our day to day life it isn't we can act as if its an absolute. If we didn't understand the relative nature of it though and thought it was always steady then we'd have problems with satellites (their time needs to be adjusted slightly to account for the speed they travel at or they'd get out of sync with earth time).

    Its about whether something is a rule that just is that way or if there is a principle that is more fundamental and informs the rule so that
  • vinlynvinlyn Colorado...for now Veteran
    Florian said:

    I feel that 'training rules' is not quite the right phrase, or might be misleading. When we know truth we will behave morally because there is nothing else we can do. Until then it will be helpful to our life and our practice if we act as if we know it already. This is a well know fact of psychology much used in, for instance, motivating salesmen. To become successful, act succesful.

    The question of whether there are any absolute rules is complicated, I'd say, because in a way there would be and in way there wouldn't be. That's the trouble with the doctrine of two truths, or with the world if you like, no simple bi-polar answers.

    A story goes that the Buddha committed murder in a previous life, and I expect this story survives because it illustrates an important point about moral behaviour.

    I like @zenff's comment about rules, "The rule is not an absolute but it is the reflection of a bigger principle and therefore it must be refined in complex real-life situations."

    I think you're headed in the right direction here, because even "absolute truths" may not be "absolute". I know that sounds a little silly, but it's sort of like thinking that morality and decision making are simple. They're not. Yet, though it may not seem that way, even in the country with the highest murder rate, it's .0008% of the population in a year. So murder is a very rare circumstance. What in life is 100%? Virtually nothing.

  • karmablueskarmablues Veteran
    edited May 2013
    Here is Thich Nhat Hanh's view on applying the first precept (which he also equates to the practice of non-violence) to a difficult situation:
    I am often asked, "What if you are practicing nonviolence and someone breaks into your house and tries to kidnap your daughter or kill your husband? What should you do? Should you still act in a nonviolent way?" The answer depends on your state of being. If you are prepared, you may react calmly and intelligently, in the most nonviolent way possible. But to be ready to react with intelligence and nonviolence, you have to train yourself in advance. It may take ten years, or longer. If you wait until the time of crisis to ask the question, it will be too late. A this-or-that kind of answer would be superficial. At that crucial moment, even if you know that nonviolence is better than violence, if your understanding is only intellectual and not in your whole being, you will not act nonviolently. The fear and anger in you will prevent you from acting in the most nonviolent way.
    [Links to Thich Nhat Hanh's commentaries on the five precepts can be found here. They are a good read.]

    So it seems that TNH is calling for responding with non-violence even in extreme circumstances where the life of a loved one is in real danger.

    riverflowperson
  • @karmablues - I would have pressed him a little further, personally, hah. Maybe asked, "what if there is no other choice? Either act with violence, maybe after nonviolent routes have been exhausted, or your loved one will be harmed?"

    I am open to being persuaded, but I do not think I could ever act with nonviolence if a loved one's well-being is being absolutely threatened, and nonviolence has proven to be ineffective.
  • karmablueskarmablues Veteran
    edited May 2013
    @mynameisuntz

    Looking at the quoted passage, TNH says that how we respond to such a difficult situation depends on our "state of being". You are admitting that in your current state of being, you could never act with nonviolence in such a situation. But that is why TNH says that we should "train" ourselves to be able to react with non-violence in such a difficult situation. That means being able to overcome the "fear and anger" which will cause us to react violently. It also means having a deep understanding about the fact that "non-violence is better than violence" beyond the sphere of intellectual knowledge. All of this seems quite a feat, but he did say it could take "ten years or more" of training.
    riverflowperson
  • @karmablues - I understand that, which makes it futile to even try to intellectualize the issue because, as it seems to be implied, it's beyond the sphere of factual knowledge or logic.

    I guess I am in a state of being where I would not allow someone to harm a child once all non-violent options have been tried. If the safety and well-being of a child were at stake and nothing else would stop it, I would intervene with force if it were in my ability. I cannot intellectually understand how opting out of intervening by force is better. And, again, I say this understanding that TNH's statement is beyond the sphere of intellectual knowledge.
  • FlorianFlorian Veteran
    vinlyn said:

    I think you're headed in the right direction here, because even "absolute truths" may not be "absolute". I know that sounds a little silly, but it's sort of like thinking that morality and decision making are simple. They're not. Yet, though it may not seem that way, even in the country with the highest murder rate, it's .0008% of the population in a year. So murder is a very rare circumstance. What in life is 100%? Virtually nothing.


    Well, I didn't mean to suggest that absolute truths are not absolute. If a truth is not absolute then it's not absolute. It's the rules that are not absolute, the underlying truths from which they derive would be. That is, the rules would be as they are because the word is as it is. Or, as Lao Tsu puts it, the laws of the mundane realm would derive from the laws of Heaven, and these laws would be as they are 'Tao being what it is'.

  • karmablueskarmablues Veteran
    edited May 2013
    @mynameisuntz

    Actually what I understand TNH to be saying, and which is what I tried to convey in my post above, is that if we merely use our intellect to comprehend the concept of non-violence then out of human nature we will make exceptions to non-violence. Like in your case (and personally I feel the same way as you do) is that when a loved one is in danger you would resort to violence if that is necessary to offer protection to the loved one. The reason you and I feel this way is because our understanding of non-violence is in the intellectual sphere. And true to this feeling, when the situation presents itself, we will in fact act in violent ways if necessary.

    However, TNH is saying that when one's understanding of non-violence goes beyond the intellectual sphere and is rather "in your whole being" which I think means the same thing as what he said earlier in the article where the quoted passage was taken from, which is that "Most important is to become nonviolence". So basically, once our "state of being" has become one of total non-violence then when we are faced with such difficult situation, we would still do our best to offer protection but only by using non-violent means to achieve our goals.

    I suppose one way of looking at it is that a person who has achieved the ultimate training in non-violence actually looses the capacity to act in violent ways. Therefore, it is not actually a case of "opting out of intervening by force" as you put it, but more a case of being unable to carry out acts of violence due to having a very deep understanding about non-violence that goes beyond the intellectual sphere.
    riverflowpersonJeffrey
  • FlorianFlorian Veteran
    edited May 2013
    Good point about becoming non-violence. Still, I think even a Buddha can seem to be violent if they feel it appropriate. But the action would not be undertaken in the spirit of violence. That is, perhaps sometime violence may be compassionate action in disguise.
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