It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!
Listening to the Philosophize This! series on Kant and morality, and it's making me realize just how ahead of his time the Buddha was. As far back as 2,600 years ago, the Buddha constructed what I view to be the perfect synthesis or middle way between deontology and consequentialism in his teachings on kamma, especially when taking into consideration the monastic code of conduct. The basic premise of his teachings on morality is that our actions (kamma) have consequences, both for ourselves and others, and that those consequences are determined in large part by the intentions underlying them. In essence, it suggests there's a cause and effect relationship between our actions and how they're experienced by ourselves and others.
Pragmatically speaking, actions are deemed morally blameworthy or 'unskillful' (akusala) if they lead to to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both, while actions that don't lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both are deemed morally blameless or 'skillful' (kusala) (MN 61). Therefore, the distinction between skillful and unskillful actions is based upon how their results are experienced—not only by ourselves, but by others as well. This emphasis on the consequential aspect of actions is similar to Jeremy Bentham's teleological utilitarianism, with John Stuart Mill's idea of higher and lower happiness being similar to the Buddha's distinction between long-term and short-term welfare and happiness.
Psychologically speaking, however, the quality of the intentions behind the actions are what ultimately determine whether they're unskillful or skillful. This aspect is closer to Kant's deontology when combined with the Buddhist principle of ahimsa or harmlessness. Intentional actions rooted in greed, hatred, or delusion have the tendency to produce painful mental feelings "like those of the beings in hell," while intentional actions rooted in non-greed, non-hatred and non-delusion produce the opposite ("like those of the Beautiful Black Devas"). Then there are acts rooted in both that bring mixed results "like those of human beings, some devas, and some beings in the lower realms" (AN 4.235).
The Buddha's reply to King Pasenadi in SN 3.8 in particular provides one of the key foundations for Buddhist morality, the principle of harmlessness. This short exchange focuses on the moral character of the individual that, in turn, revolves around seeing our desires for happiness and freedom from pain in all living creatures, particularly human beings. The underlying idea here being that there's no one as dear to us as ourselves, that all sentient beings essentially want to be happy in their own way (according to their specific capacities), and that this is a fairly decent and logical reason to desire their happiness and well-being as well as our own. The reasoning here is fairly simple. If our happiness and well-being comes at the expense of others, they'll do everything in their power to upset that happiness. Conversely, if they were to infringe upon ours, wouldn't it follow that we'd do everything in our power to upset theirs? Looking at it from this perspective, where insecurity dominates the moral playing field, a world with moral security not only seems more desirable, but more conducive to the flourishing of conscious beings. Moreover, the former promotes a vicious circle of retribution, and one of the ways to break this circle is an ethical framework that takes the happiness and general well-being of others into consideration, something akin to Kant's categorical imperative, with harmlessness as a universal law.
In terms of the monastic code of discipline, moral offenses are further broken down and analyzed for the purpose of determining penalties within the monastic community (i.e., acknowledgement, verbal confession, confession with forfeiture, meeting of the entire community, expulsion), being divided into five factors: "the effort, the perception under which it is made, the intention motivating it, the object at which it is aimed, and the result" (The Buddhist Monastic Code). The idea is that all of these things come into play in our intentional actions of body, speech, and mind, and the moral impact of our actions varies in large part depending upon the circumstances. The Buddha also took the non-linearity of this process into consideration, noting that the results of certain actions may be felt much later than the initial act itself, when the conditions ripen, and that the results of some actions may serve to condition and/or mitigate the results of others (psychologically as well as externally).
Because the Buddha saw the interdependence of life, he was able to perceive that our actions and their results were two sides of the same coin, and that it wasn't just how they affect us but how they affect others that we can gain insight into the nature of morality. That's why one of the primary practices of Buddhism is mindfulness of our intentions and whether our actions lead to harm and suffering or the opposite, while constantly trying to refine them to be as skillful as possible until we achieve a form of moral perfection. As St. Maximus writes in Opuscula theologica et polemica, from a complimentary Christian perspective, "A perfect nature has no need of choice, for it knows naturally what is good. Its freedom is based on this knowledge."