Karma

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Re: Karma

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Wed Mar 05, 2014 8:02 pm

I wish people would read posts more carefully.
I said:
"It makes little difference whether one kills a mosquito or a human as far as ending up with one less creature is concerned."
Please note the entire second half of that sentence:
as far as ending up with one less creature is concerned
...and, if taken in the context of what I posted previously, (or even if you didn't follow the the thread back that far)
I said that how the importance is weighed depends on the criteria one is using.
So, while there are many good arguments for why killing a human is different from killing a mosquito,
as far as ending up with one less creature is concerned, there is no difference.
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Re: Karma

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Wed Mar 05, 2014 8:12 pm

Jesse wrote: You guys are making the assumption that human life is devalued when said to be equal to insects. This is hardly the case, rather insects lives as equally valuable and precious as ours.

That can be true, depending on the criteria.
What criteria are you basing that statement on?
For example, if the criteria is whether or not a creature has the potential and ability to intentionally save the life of another creature (or many other creatures), and one weighs the value of life on that,
then humans would likely win out.
If the question is over what creature has the most 'right' to live their life to its last natural day
(and some would say, thus work out their karma as well),
then certainly all life forms are equal.
If the question is, out of the six realms, which beings have the greatest opportunity to study and practice dharma,
then, according to the teachings (as I understand them),
birth in the human realm is the hardest to obtain
and also the one which offers the greatest (of not only) opportunity to practice Dharma
both for oneself and for the benefit of all beings.
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Re: Karma

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Wed Mar 05, 2014 8:21 pm

jeeprs wrote: Why is it, you think, that killing mosquitoes is not recognized as a crime, whilst animal cruelty or killing is, and intentionally killing humans (apart from in acts of warfare or legitimate self-defence), regarded as 'murder'? Surely this distinction has some basis in reality?


Killing and mistreating animals has barely been regarded as illegal for the last hundred years or so, and even now, only in a few countries, who also tend to be the ones with the largest per-person consumption of animals! That's the only 'reality: behind that.

This discussion reminds me of a fable by Aesop, in which a lion and a human are arguing over which is superior. They pass by a stature of a human slaying a lion and the human says, "there...that proves that humans are superior"." and the lion says, 'ah ...but that statue was carved by a human. If a Lion had made it, it would look very different".
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Re: Karma

Postby Jesse » Wed Mar 05, 2014 9:06 pm

What criteria are you basing that statement on?


That in the end, a life is a unique thing, and to borrow someone else's words, book-ended by eternity on both sides.

if the criteria is whether or not a creature has the potential and ability to intentionally save the life of another creature (or many other creatures), and one weighs the value of life on that


They are all arbitrary measures of value, they don't mean anything.

Why is it, you think, that killing mosquitoes is not recognized as a crime, whilst animal cruelty or killing is, and intentionally killing humans (apart from in acts of warfare or legitimate self-defence), regarded as 'murder'? Surely this distinction has some basis in reality?


Because it's a human view, one based on our own sense of importance in the universe. Try this; adopt a bug, take care of it like any other animal, or human for that matter, bond with it. Then try to reason it's life away as insignificant.

Our view of what has value means absolutely nothing in the end, actually our view's in totality amount to squat.

You haven't demonstrated knowledge that is superior to those whom you criticise. Rather, you make a lot of assertions and declarations without any supporting arguments. We are not simply picking on you, but Internet forums are places where your ideas are challenged, so you have to expect that if you post on them.


As I previously said I provided plenty of supporting arguments, It's not my fault you either don't accept them as evidence, or you don't understand them, but you stated from the beginning that the entire school of ethics has failed to convince you, so my attempt was pretty vain in the end.

Here you go:
- Aside from emotions and human law, what dictates what is moral or not? If i change my feelings or perception of some moral dillema does that also change the morality of the act?
- Hypothetically if a new species emerged which far surpassed our intelligence, to them we would be 'lesser animals', and our lives would be the equivalent of those insects to them. Does that mean our lives are worth less than theirs? If not, why are insects lives worth less than ours? We are not superior or more important than an insect. I know it's hard to admit, but it's the truth.
- Is it immoral to kill someone who is going to kill many other innocent people?
- If you have a time machine, would it be immoral to travel back in time and kill Adolf Hitler before he committed any crimes?


Some are the equivalent of thought experiments, and when you think about them there is no definitive answer, but you don't have to use mine, there are plenty of them out there that illustrate the point.

Here are some more:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem
http://pragmatistethics.blogspot.com/2010/06/ethical-philosophy-thought-experiments.html

And as far as forums and criticism goes, there is a stark difference between constructive criticism and friendly arguments, and toxic hostile ones. These forums have been leaning towards the former for a while, and I imagine that's why we are missing quite a few our more knowledgeable members.
"We know nothing at all. All our knowledge is but the knowledge of schoolchildren. The real nature of things we shall never know." - Albert Einstein
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Re: Karma

Postby smcj » Wed Mar 05, 2014 9:58 pm

Hypothetically if a new species emerged which far surpassed our intelligence, to them we would be 'lesser animals', and our lives would be the equivalent of those insects to them. Does that mean our lives are worth less than theirs? If not, why are insects lives worth less than ours? We are not superior or more important than an insect. I know it's hard to admit, but it's the truth.

I have the impression that Buddhism does have a hierarchy in terms of the subject of violence. For instance harming one's father or mother is worse than harming a stranger. Also killing a bodhisattva or harming a buddha is many times worse than harming a normal individual.

So the potency of the act seems to be increased by the level of karmic connection or the awareness of the recipient. The more aware they are, the more potent the karma. I suspect that the teachings do not emphasize this as this would lead immature minds to think it is no big deal to kill bugs and such. It's still a big deal to the bugs!

At least that's the impression I have from the teachings I've heard.
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Re: Karma

Postby Wayfarer » Wed Mar 05, 2014 11:03 pm

I think you're right on the mark there. I have heard it said that Tibetan monks are extremely averse to killing any life-forms whatever - there was a sequence in the film version of Seven Years in Tibet, where preparations for the construction of a private screening room for the Dalai Lama were disrupted because the monks wanted to re-locate all the earthworms. But that said, it is always understood that harming people is worse than harming simple creatures. There's a reason for that, although as it seems so controversial I won't press the point.

The underlying issue is that the background to all these questions is completely different in the modern world. The idea that the Universe is morally barren and that moral values and so on are purely internal to the human mind is a particularly modern idea, but it is so well-entrenched in modern life that it is hard to see it; it is like asking a fish to notice water. This is discussed at some length in Paul Fuller The Notion of Ditthi in Theravada Buddhism: The Point of View.
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Re: Karma

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Wed Mar 05, 2014 11:21 pm

Jesse wrote:
if the criteria is whether or not a creature has the potential and ability to intentionally save the life of another creature (or many other creatures), and one weighs the value of life on that

They are all arbitrary measures of value, they don't mean anything.


Yes, they are arbitrary values. That is my point as well.
but that doesn't mean they don't count for anything.
They just don't count for anything if you are using a different criteria.
But you also offer your arbitrary values, and they mean something to you, don't they?

You know, it's like Lucy asking Schroeder,
"If Beethoven was so great, why wasn't he ever on a bubble-gum card?"
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The Chinese characters are Fo (buddha) and Ming (bright). The image is of a student of Buddhism, who, imagining himself to be a monk, and not understanding the true meaning of the words takes the sound of the words literally. Likewise, People on web forums sometime seem to be foaming at the mouth.
Original painting by P.Volker /used by permission.
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Re: Karma

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Wed Mar 05, 2014 11:28 pm

jeeprs wrote: The idea that the Universe is morally barren and that moral values and so on are purely internal to the human mind is a particularly modern idea, but it is so well-entrenched in modern life that it is hard to see it; it is like asking a fish to notice water.


It's a modern idea because we now know so much more about the universe than people ever have known before. On the scale of things, our planet is so tiny, that if the known universe were a person, Earth would not even be the size of a molecule in that body. If Earth were a clock, all of human existence would account for barely a few minutes. We are so insignificantly insignificant, it can hardly be imagined. Luckily, we have huge, inflated egos to make up for it. We can put ourselves smack-dab in the middle of whatever mandala we can imagine, and watch the whole universe revolve around our desires.

There is some research I read that suggests that we have evolved in a way that a few of these otherwise arbitrary moral values are to some degree hard-wired into our brains. But the idea that karma is a sort of justice system imposed by the universe (maybe not what you are saying, but what is widely assumed) is a misunderstanding. If "the universe" sends a giant rock smashing into our dinky little planet, that's not a reward or punishment. It's just a collision, and a very minor one at that. Not even a scratch on the bumper.
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Profile Picture: "The Foaming Monk"
The Chinese characters are Fo (buddha) and Ming (bright). The image is of a student of Buddhism, who, imagining himself to be a monk, and not understanding the true meaning of the words takes the sound of the words literally. Likewise, People on web forums sometime seem to be foaming at the mouth.
Original painting by P.Volker /used by permission.
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Re: Karma

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Wed Mar 05, 2014 11:57 pm

smcj wrote:
I have the impression that Buddhism does have a hierarchy in terms of the subject of violence. For instance harming one's father or mother is worse than harming a stranger. Also killing a bodhisattva or harming a buddha is many times worse than harming a normal individual.


Yes, but the thing is, it's not because the life of one type of being is intrinsically worth more than the life of another type of being. It's not that kind of a value system. But we have all sorts of hierarchies in our lives. If I drop a plate and it smashes on the kitchen floor, even though i might step on a tiny sharp piece of it the middle of the night in my bare feet, get an infection and die, by comparison, if I accidentally burn my house down, this is considered worse than breaking a dish. Both the plate and the house are 'emptiness' from a buddhist perspective. Both can be replaced. In fact, probably the house is insured but the plate isn't. So, what makes it worse is all of the other hassle and ripple effect. i can throw the broken plate into the trash can. The burned down house on the other hand, that's a big deal.

I think, basically (though not completely) it's that way with 'varying degrees of karmic weight' too.
Killing a human, generally, weighs heavily on a person's mind. Seeing animals that we identify with being hurt is emotionally disturbing. Buddhism is a very 'practical' philosophy in may ways, and things that disturb the mind are generally regarded as "bad". Is this arbitrary? sure. But when the point is to not have a disturbed mind, then these things weigh in differently.

I remember once, a woman who had the same teacher as me, driving to see him, a deer jumped into the front of her car and was killed. She was so distraught...just all tears, even though it wasn't her intention. She met with the teacher for a long time. i don't know what happened. I guess they got it worked out.
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The Chinese characters are Fo (buddha) and Ming (bright). The image is of a student of Buddhism, who, imagining himself to be a monk, and not understanding the true meaning of the words takes the sound of the words literally. Likewise, People on web forums sometime seem to be foaming at the mouth.
Original painting by P.Volker /used by permission.
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Re: Karma

Postby Wayfarer » Thu Mar 06, 2014 12:01 am

PadmaVonSambha wrote:It's a modern idea because we now know so much more about the universe than people ever have known before.


I think you have put your finger right on the issue here - we have emerged, blinking, into this vast Universe of impersonal forces and unthinkable inter-stellar spaces, from the earlier worldview of Gods and demons and angels and crystal spheres. This was the subject of much of the great literature of the 20th C especially the existentialists - Camus, Sartre, and others.

The thing is, though, that I think that in some profound sense, it is still a myth. I think the view that the 'scientific picture' is the real one, and that it ought to replace the religious one, actually grew directly out of Western Christianity. Many of the pre-conditions for the 'scientific revolution' to emerge were provided by Greek philosophy and Christian theology - the concepts of substance, agency, creation, and so on. They provided the framework within which Newton and Galileo and Descartes made their discoveries.

But this has had many, shall we say, unforseen consequences. As Bikkhu Bodhi put it in a powerful lecture, A Buddhist Response to Contemporary Dilemmas of Human Existence:

The early founders of the Scientific Revolution in the seventeenth century — such as Galileo, Boyle, Descartes and Newton — were deeply religious men, for whom the belief in the wise and benign Creator was the premise behind their investigations into lawfulness of nature. However, while they remained loyal to the theistic premises of Christian faith, the drift of their thought severely attenuated the organic connection between the divine and the natural order, a connection so central to the premodern world view. They retained God only as the remote Creator and law-giver of Nature and sanctioned moral values as the expression of the Divine Will, the laws decreed for man by his Maker. In their thought a sharp dualism emerged between the transcendent sphere and the empirical world. The realm of "hard facts" ultimately consisted of units of senseless matter governed by mechanical laws, while ethics, values and ideals were removed from the realm of facts and assigned to the sphere of an interior subjectivity.

It was only a matter of time until, in the trail of the so-called Enlightenment, a wave of thinkers appeared who overturned the dualistic thesis central to this world view in favor of the straightforward materialism. This development was a following through of the reductionistic methodology to its final logical consequences. Once sense perception was hailed as the key to knowledge and quantification came to be regarded as the criterion of actuality, the logical next step was to suspend entirely the belief in a supernatural order and all it implied. Hence finally an uncompromising version of mechanistic materialism prevailed, whose axioms became the pillars of the new world view. Matter is now the only ultimate reality, and divine principle of any sort dismissed as sheer imagination.

The triumph of materialism in the sphere of cosmology and metaphysics had the profoundest impact on human self-understanding. The message it conveyed was that the inward dimensions of our existence, with its vast profusion of spiritual and ethical concerns, is mere adventitious superstructure. The inward is reducible to the external, the invisible to the visible, the personal to the impersonal. Mind becomes a higher order function of the brain, the individual a node in a social order governed by statistical laws. All humankind's ideals and values are relegated to the status of illusions: they are projections of biological drives, sublimated wish-fulfillment. Even ethics, the philosophy of moral conduct, comes to be explained away as a flowery way of expressing personal preferences. Its claim to any objective foundation is untenable, and all ethical judgments become equally valid. The ascendancy of relativism is complete.


So that is the context within which this question is being argued. Or, should I say, it was the context, because I think that this view is actually typical of that period called 'modernity', which I would put between Newton and Einstein. Many things have been discovered since which throw that into question - the discovery of the 'dark universe', the mysteries of 'observer problem' and the 'anthropic principle'. So there is a ton of stuff to discuss in all that, I had better leave it there for now.

PadmaVonSambha wrote:There is some research I read that suggests that we have evolved in a way that a few of these otherwise arbitrary moral values are to some degree hard-wired into our brains.


That's the great thing about evolutionary psychology - it is sufficienty flexible to explain everything. Have a look at this New Yorker essay, It Ain't Necessarily So: How much do evolutionary stories reveal about the mind?.
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