Inherently immoral actions.

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Inherently immoral actions.

Postby Indrajala » Thu Jul 08, 2010 4:39 pm

As of late I have been researching and reading some of the work of Daoxuan 道宣 (596–667) who is a notable figure in East Asian Buddhism. His exegesis of the Dharmagupta-vinaya is probably his most famous work. As far as I know, few if any western scholars have paid much attention to his work and as I have heard here in Japan the scholars of Buddhism even here find his style of writing somewhat garrulous yet often unreadable. His use of syntax and employment of heavy literary Chinese is rather unusual in Classical Chinese Buddhist writing. In any case, I find his work interesting and will present one concept here.

Daoxuan describes a dichotomy, which perhaps is his own original idea, of inherently immoral actions or evils and hidden or concealed evils. The terms respectively are xìngè 性惡 and zhēxìng 遮性. The xìngè 性惡, or inherently evil actions, is defined by Daoxuan as follows.


《四分律疏》卷2:「言性惡者。如煞婬等。無問聖教。禁以不禁。作則是違。體是不善。障道招報。損害深重。故曰性惡。」[1]

Inherent evils are things such as killing and stealing which regardless if they are holy teachings, forbidden or not forbidden, if done are wrong and their essence being unwholesome. They are block the path and bring about retribution. Their damage and harm are deep and heavy and thus it is called inherently evil.





Zhēxìng 遮性 refers to Zhē'è 遮惡, or hidden evils, which is defined as follows.

《四分律疏》卷2:「言遮惡者。掘地壞生。造房等類。佛未制前。造作此事。業性輕微。體非不善。但以事務紛動。妨修道業。」[2]

Hidden evils are things such as tilling the soil and disrupting life or building domiciles. Before the Buddha regulated these activities to commit these things was in the nature of the karma only trivial. In essence they are not unwholesome. It is just that through these actions one disrupts things and prevents activities of practising the path.




I find this dichotomy useful to consider. Basically, there are actions which, either within a religious context or not, are by their nature evil and condemned by the majority, society and most individuals. Taking life, rape or stealing the property of others all are conducted with the intention to harm another and thus inevitably lead to one's own suffering. However, there are also hidden evils which by their nature are either neutral or trivial as Daoxuan points out, yet for the Buddhist practitioner are subtle hindrances towards development and realization. Daoxuan uses the example of building domiciles or tilling the soil, but this could also include playing games or passing the time in activities not in line with the dharma. These are subtle obstacles and are therefore potentially difficult to immediately detect.

Indeed, it is perhaps the subtle obstacles that we should concern ourselves with. Few of us would ever cultivate the intention to kill somebody, but we might fail to notice the subtle hindrances. As Hanfeizi points out the sages of old have a saying:

故先聖有諺曰:“不躓於山,而躓於垤。”
You don't trip over a mountain, but you trip over an anthill.




We need to be mindful of the little things.


1(CBETA, X41, no. 731, p. 569, c6-8 // Z 1:65, p. 225, d9-11 // R65, p. 450, b9-11)

2(CBETA, X41, no. 731, p. 569, c8-10 // Z 1:65, p. 225, d11-13 // R65, p. 450, b11-13)
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Re: Inherently immoral actions.

Postby Astus » Thu Jul 08, 2010 10:08 pm

This looks like a kind of return to Hinayana thinking about inherent qualities, which may be fitting for the Vinaya nevertheless, or not. In Therevada there are 12 akusala cittas and 14 akusala cetasikas, although those are mental things and not acts, but dharmas that are definitely wrong. For as it has always been with karma, only intentional acts count, so unintentional killing and stealing cannot be akusala. And from this it is not that difficult to conceive compassion as a driving intention behind any act which brings us to a new bodhisattva ethics. As a further (and final in terms of Indian Buddhism) development there is the Tantric ethics which can include even murder among its practices. And as a criticism of inherently wrong actions the Jains can be mentioned who try to avoid killing all forms of lives taking the act itself as sinful.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Inherently immoral actions.

Postby Indrajala » Fri Jul 09, 2010 3:18 am

Astus wrote:This looks like a kind of return to Hinayana thinking about inherent qualities, which may be fitting for the Vinaya nevertheless, or not.


This is incorrect because Daoxuan also elaborates on how the Mahayana precepts, while including the "Hinayana" precepts, are superior to them. In Daoxuan's vision the three sets of pure precepts (三聚淨戒) are key.

Maintaining all precepts (攝律儀戒).
Precepts including all good dharmas (攝善法戒).
Precepts for the sake of all sentient beings (攝衆生戒).

The first are mostly identical to Hinayana precepts. The Hinayana lacks the latter two.

Moreover, Daoxuan was a proponent of Cittamatra and his system of ethics reflects that. Moreover, due to his association with Xuanzang he also later in his career adopted Yogacara bija (seed) theory.

It also goes without saying that one need not dive into metaphysical speculation about the real or unreal quality of things. I don't find such speculation particularly useful in ethics anyways. The lot of people will just declare that since everything is unreal or illusory they can do whatever they want.

When it comes to ethics, it is best to deal in the common world of cause and effect.


In Therevada there are 12 akusala cittas and 14 akusala cetasikas, although those are mental things and not acts, but dharmas that are definitely wrong. For as it has always been with karma, only intentional acts count, so unintentional killing and stealing cannot be akusala.


No Buddhist would disagree with this. Daoxuan is not saying that unintentional killing is naturally evil or akusala karma.


And from this it is not that difficult to conceive compassion as a driving intention behind any act which brings us to a new bodhisattva ethics.


Sure, but compassionate killing is not something most people could do. By this I mean have no feeling of malice or hatred or ill will.

As a further (and final in terms of Indian Buddhism) development there is the Tantric ethics which can include even murder among its practices. And as a criticism of inherently wrong actions the Jains can be mentioned who try to avoid killing all forms of lives taking the act itself as sinful.


None of that is relevant to Daoxuan's point.
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Re: Inherently immoral actions.

Postby Huifeng » Fri Jul 09, 2010 5:41 am

It seems to me to be more a case of the basic reason why the Buddha instigated certain rules in the first place. Throughout the Vinaya, we tend to see two main reasons: 1. that the action in question is clearly an obstacle to the path; 2. that the behavior in question is considered inappropriate for other reasons, such as societal norms or being conducive to situations whereby the first type of actions may be more likely to occur, and thus only obstructive in a roundabout manner. Classic example is how Chinese will almost always explain the five precepts as having the first four as "precepts by nature", but that the fifth - abstaining from alcohol, etc. - is a "precept by abstaining". Note that the latter type is also called "遮戒 遮,制止之意。指對輕罪之禁戒。又作息世譏嫌戒、新戒、客戒。" FGBD sv. Note the "息世譏嫌戒" = "precepts to remove blame or suspicion from society".
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Re: Inherently immoral actions.

Postby Huifeng » Fri Jul 09, 2010 6:36 am

As an aside, the 南山律學辭典 nanshan lvxue cidian which is part of the whole CBETA package is worth looking into for this sort of stuff, too.

eg.
【性遮二戒】
子題:性惡、性戒、遮惡、舊戒、客戒、性重、性輕、主戒、新戒、遮重、遮輕

戒本疏‧四波羅夷法:「(一、總示)明遮性者,由惡緣境,不可隨說。以義收之,大分為二。(二、別釋)(一﹑釋性戒)言性惡者,如十不善,體是違理。無論大聖制與不制,若作違行,感得苦果,故言性惡。是故如來制戒防約;若不制者,業結三塗,不在人道,何能修善?故因過制,從本惡以標名,禁性惡故,名為性戒。(二﹑釋遮戒)言遮惡者,如伐斫草木、墾掘土地,威儀麤醜,不光俗信。聖未制前,造作無罪;由非正業,無妨福善。自制已後,塵染更深;妨亂修道,招世譏謗,故名遮也。所言遮者,能遮正道,故言遮惡;前之性惡,能遮福故。亦可此惡為教遮而生,故名遮也。(三、引古解)有人解云,若論性戒,捨罪以求福;若論遮戒,捨福以求道。(四、引文解)(一﹑引示經論)故智論云,十善十惡,名為舊戒;五篇七聚,名為客戒。前十善惡,不假制有;若論篇聚,必假聖制。又涅槃云,菩薩持性重戒,與息世譏戒,等無差別。文廣如彼。(二﹑結顯輕重)明知篇聚,制約世譏。以義求之,如初篇婬殺,名性重也;下篇所制,名性輕也。遮亦輕重,所以自明。」行宗記釋云:「智論為二,初示名。縱佛未出,輪王亦制,由來恆有,如主常在,故名舊戒;佛出方有,法滅便無,去住不定,故云客戒。或可以上望下,合云主戒;以下對上,合云新戒。文中互舉,義必兩通。問:『諸遮可爾;七支性惡,既是舊有,何以五篇七聚,俱名客戒?』答:『業雖舊有,制是新加;性涉二重,遮唯一制故也。』前下,次釋義。配上舊客,二名可見。次涅槃中,初引經文,彼性重戒,即目十善;息世戒,通命篇聚。結顯中,上二句通示廣教。以下,義判重輕。遮亦輕重者,二房媒嫁為遮重,提等下篇為遮輕;又復三篇迭望,重輕可知。」(戒疏記卷五‧五七‧四)


【遮戒】
亦名:遮惡

戒本疏‧四波羅夷法:「言遮惡者,如伐斫草木、墾掘土地,威儀麤醜,不光俗信。聖未制前,造作無罪;由非正業,無妨福善。自制已後,塵染更深;妨亂修道,招世譏謗;故名遮也。所言遮者,能遮正道,故言遮惡;前之性惡,能遮福故。亦可此惡為教遮而生,故名遮也。」行宗記釋云:「遮戒中,初敘過明惡。威儀麤者,失自利故。不光俗者,失利他故。聖下,約制釋遮,初示反前性惡。自下,明因制成犯。塵染更深者,多違犯故。妨道招譏,亦即自他兩失。所下,轉釋名義,有二。遮正道者,約過釋也;教遮生者,從制釋也。」(戒疏記卷五‧五七‧一六)
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Re: Inherently immoral actions.

Postby Astus » Fri Jul 09, 2010 2:21 pm

Reading Huseng's response to my objections and Master Huifeng's added comments I have to ask: then what's so new about what Daoxuan says? Inherent evil is not that inherent any more, distinction of inherent and hidden is something that has always been there. So, what can we learn here?
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Inherently immoral actions.

Postby Indrajala » Fri Jul 09, 2010 3:52 pm

Astus wrote:Reading Huseng's response to my objections and Master Huifeng's added comments I have to ask: then what's so new about what Daoxuan says? Inherent evil is not that inherent any more, distinction of inherent and hidden is something that has always been there. So, what can we learn here?


I think it is just a useful way of ordering precepts and understanding them.

I think the "inherent evil" is an appropriate appellation for said concept.

We're not dealing with metaphysical speculation here on the empty nature of good and evil. This is simple ethics. Killing people is inherently evil as far as general rules in society and the holy life go.

Obviously if you start poking at such ideas they "inherent nature" will quickly dissolve under analysis, but ethics at this level need not be subject to such metaphysical speculation.
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