Why isn't it allowed? Natural versus proscribed misdeeds

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Why isn't it allowed? Natural versus proscribed misdeeds

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Jul 02, 2013 8:34 am

A very important distinction in the Buddhist presentation of Ethics or Morality is the division between Natural Misdeeds and Proscribed misdeeds. Due to a lack of knowledge about this point, it is possible for practitioners to label what would be harmless actions in some cases as being somehow 'bad' because they are not allowed by the Buddha, not understanding the context of the restriction.

Natural misdeeds (རང་བཞིན་གྱི་ཁ་ན་མ་ཐོ་བ་ rang-bzhin-gyi kha-na ma-tho-ba) are deeds that are inherently negative, regardless of context. Berzin calls them 'naturally uncommendable actions' and describes them this way:

A negative action which, because it is destructive by nature, ripens into the experience of suffering by anyone who commits it.


An example of this kind of action would be purposefully killing.

Proscribed misdeeds( བཅས་པའི་ཁ་ན་མ་ཐོ་བ་ bcas-pa'i kha-na ma-tho-ba, Pratikshepa.nasAvadya) are actions that are proscribed due to certain circumstances, rules or conventions. Berzin calls them 'prohibited uncommendable actions' and describes them like this:

Ethically neutral (unspecified) actions that Buddha prohibited for certain types of practitioners, for instance monks or nuns, as detrimental to their spiritual practice.
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
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Re: Why isn't it allowed? Natural versus proscribed misdeeds

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jul 02, 2013 9:12 am

I think the idea is that there is some kind of karmic retribution for having made a vow to the Buddha distantly through your precepts and then breaking it. The metaphysics used to explain this, as far as I've read in Chinese, are generally poorly constructed and easily refuted. In some commentary literature they talk about all the terrible hells you'll find yourself in for being disobedient to ecclesiastical law.

So, intentionally eating yeast, which is prohibited by proscription, will get you into some awful hell for immeasurable years unless you confess it.

That's just dreadfully dogmatic on a level that is repulsive.

A lot of the Vinaya commentary literature is a lot of fire and brimstone. A whole lot of talk of hell for having knowingly violated Church law.
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Re: Why isn't it allowed? Natural versus proscribed misdeeds

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Jul 02, 2013 9:15 am

Honestly in the Vinaya commentary given by Geshe Sonam at Nalanda monastery there was not that flavour at all, not in the commentary on the Vinaya Sutra that he used for the course, by Kunkyen Tsonawa.
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: Why isn't it allowed? Natural versus proscribed misdeeds

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jul 02, 2013 9:41 am

Sure, not all of it is like that. The classical stuff though preserved from Sanskrit in Chinese is rather illustrative of mid-period Vinaya commentary literature.

There is a lot of reification clearly existent in such works and displays a lack of insight into life and practice.
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Re: Why isn't it allowed? Natural versus proscribed misdeeds

Postby Will » Tue Jul 02, 2013 3:37 pm

Maybe it has more to do with whether you vowed or pledged to not do proscribed acts. If one gets in the habit of breaking promises re: proscribed acts, then it may lead to deciding certain natural misdeeds are not that terrible. Bad habits are easy to form and very hard to break.
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Re: Why isn't it allowed? Natural versus proscribed misdeeds

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jul 02, 2013 3:59 pm

Will wrote:Maybe it has more to do with whether you vowed or pledged to not do proscribed acts. If one gets in the habit of breaking promises re: proscribed acts, then it may lead to deciding certain natural misdeeds are not that terrible. Bad habits are easy to form and very hard to break.


One issue with this is that the original Vinaya rules according to the Vinaya texts were just house rules and not vows or precepts.
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Re: Why isn't it allowed? Natural versus proscribed misdeeds

Postby Will » Tue Jul 02, 2013 4:03 pm

Indrajala wrote:
Will wrote:Maybe it has more to do with whether you vowed or pledged to not do proscribed acts. If one gets in the habit of breaking promises re: proscribed acts, then it may lead to deciding certain natural misdeeds are not that terrible. Bad habits are easy to form and very hard to break.


One issue with this is that the original Vinaya rules according to the Vinaya texts were just house rules and not vows or precepts.


So the earliest monastics (or lay folk) never promised or pledged to do or not do anything?
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Re: Why isn't it allowed? Natural versus proscribed misdeeds

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jul 02, 2013 4:58 pm

Will wrote:So the earliest monastics (or lay folk) never promised or pledged to do or not do anything?


At one point there were not rules or precepts or vows. At one point there was no Vinaya at all. I wrote something about this recently:

http://huayanzang.blogspot.com/2013/06/ ... inaya.html

In any case, vows and precepts have limitations. If you need a vow to stop yourself from committing homicide or burglary, then you probably need to focus on other matters than quiet contemplation and meditation.

Likewise, some propose that the solution to monastic degeneration is more Vinaya education. That's like saying we need to introduce more laws and make sure people know all about it in order to reduce crime. That has limited utility.

The confession practices are key. If you personally reflect on your misdeeds and affirm that you'll not commit such acts again, there is real benefit. Precepts maybe to some degree help someone identify their misdeeds, but then proscribed misdeeds are just violations of ecclesiastical law basically.

From a scholarly perspective a lot of the Vinaya was made up long after the Buddha passed away. So, a proscribed misdeed can basically amount to disobeying rules laid down by later monks who crafted new regulations and attributed them to the Buddha.

Even in ancient times people were aware that not everything was so authentic. Faxian in the 5th century reported that the Mahāsāṃghika was said to be the oldest version of the Vinaya in India. So, what does that mean for the other Vinaya texts and all their additional rules (Mahāsāṃghika has 218 precepts, Dharmagupta is 250)? Are a lot of those rules the product of later ecclesiastical authorities?

Probably. In which case, are you really going to go to hell because you knowingly disobeyed them?

I sure hope not.
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Re: Why isn't it allowed? Natural versus proscribed misdeeds

Postby Will » Tue Jul 02, 2013 5:33 pm

Not sure what the implication of your blog post is Indrajala. But it does seem you are expending much attention & energy to these issues of rules & authorities.

May your path toward buddhahood never be blocked! :bow:
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Re: Why isn't it allowed? Natural versus proscribed misdeeds

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jul 02, 2013 6:16 pm

Will wrote:Not sure what the implication of your blog post is Indrajala. But it does seem you are expending much attention & energy to these issues of rules & authorities.

May your path toward buddhahood never be blocked! :bow:


I just hope people will look at things critically. If some communities want to follow lists of rules strictly, that's their decision, but then they shouldn't be judgemental of others, especially since the Vinaya might not really be so authentic as modern scholarship is increasingly revealing (again though Faxian was aware that not everything was so authentic too).

There's the site of Bhikkhu Buddhadhatu where in his FAQ he details how disagreeable he finds certain monks and their wrong practice of the Vinaya.

http://www.heartforpeace.net/faqs.php

For instance:

Bhikkhu, sometimes you are too critical of monks or nuns who handle money and eat after midday. These monks and nuns feel unhappy over your remarks. What is your view on this?

    When the Buddha entered Parinibbana (i.e. He passed away), some of the monks were happy! One of them was Venerable Subhadda (not to be confused with another Venerable Subhadda who became the last person to be converted by the Buddha) who said, “That’s good! Now we can live at ease. We can do whatever we want and not be bothered by all the rules anymore!” Even during the Buddha’s time, there were monks who did not appreciate being taught the right path.

    Such people are very silly - they do not value having their eyes opened so that they would do no wrong. I tell the truth for the sake of the Dhamma. If I see Sangha members adhering to wrong practices, I have to speak out so as to set them straight. It is my moral obligation to do that so as to protect the Dhamma and the image of the Holy Sangha. If you see a child about to put his hand into a fire, what would you do? Let him burn himself or try to pull him away from it? Similarly, by criticising the Sangha who do wrong, I am trying to save them from the fire of ignorance, and unfortunate rebirths in the future. If I just keep quiet, I am not human.

    As lay supporters, you can also help to put these monks and nuns back on the right path. Do not give them any money and do not cook meat and fish for them to eat. If you offer meat and fish as Dana, you cannot escape Samsara because you must face retribution for your bad Kamma. You must allow yourself to be reborn as animals for others to kill and eat you! If the Sangha members say it is okay for them to eat meat and that they will chant prayers for the dead animals, say to them, “Why don’t we kill you and then chant for you? Would you like that?”


There's also this remark:

    Who is your teacher? A monk? No! The Buddha? No - He passed away more than 2,550 years ago. One of the Rinpoches? No! Your true teacher is the Vinaya. You have to keep the Precepts, and if you still wish to have a teacher among the Sangha members, see if he keeps his Precepts too. The Buddha stressed before His Parinibbana that although His physical body would no longer be with us, as long as we keep the Vinaya, He is always there.


These sort of judgemental remarks rest on shaky foundations (to say nothing of the fact the Buddha ate meat). You see these types of sentiments elsewhere, too, and I think it can lead to neurotic and harmful behaviours.

In any case, at heart I'm an anarchist and have a pathological distrust of authority and rules. I think society and communities need their hierarchies and rules to function properly, but then as an individual you can not participate in a lot of it and do your own thing, but at the same time you sacrifice the benefits gained from belonging somewhere. Being a free agent comes with a price.

So, when I read a lot of Vinaya literature I'm somewhat repulsed by it. For instance, it talks about how the sangha can withhold food from a monk (asking the benefactor to not give him any food) if they suspect he did some misdeed as a means of forcing him to confess whatever he supposedly did. That's basically torture. If he gets desperate and takes food that wasn't given you can nail him for that sin, too.

Then some of the literature talks about "uniformity of views" where a monk holding a heretical view can be ejected from the sangha. There is ecclesiastical sanction for thought policing.

Expecting a renunciate to refrain from sex and overeating is fine, but once you get into the Vinaya past the surface stuff it can be disturbing at times.
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Re: Why isn't it allowed? Natural versus proscribed misdeeds

Postby Will » Tue Jul 02, 2013 6:52 pm

"at heart I'm an anarchist and have a pathological distrust of authority and rules." Good gracious! :shock:
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Re: Why isn't it allowed? Natural versus proscribed misdeeds

Postby Indrajala » Wed Jul 03, 2013 1:36 am

Will wrote:"at heart I'm an anarchist and have a pathological distrust of authority and rules." Good gracious! :shock:


Nevertheless, we still need to operate in a world that isn't always so accommodating. I might not appreciate certain procedures and regulations coming from authority structures that are clearly self-serving and don't have my interests at heart, but, as an example, if I don't follow visa procedures then I will end up in jail, deported and unable to return to a foreign country.

The state has a monopoly on violence, which ensures I comply, and comply I do because the consequences are undesirable.

I don't like it, but that's the world we live in.
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Re: Why isn't it allowed? Natural versus proscribed misdeeds

Postby lobster » Wed Jul 03, 2013 2:38 am

I noticed in your scholarly blog entry:

All this raises further questions about any attempts at reforming Buddhist monastic codes in the modern day. We will consider such questions in a future post.


In this Kali Yuga of subtle and overt misdeed, has this future arrived?
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Re: Why isn't it allowed? Natural versus proscribed misdeeds

Postby sukhamanveti » Sun Aug 11, 2013 3:44 am

JKhedrup wrote:Natural misdeeds (རང་བཞིན་གྱི་ཁ་ན་མ་ཐོ་བ་ rang-bzhin-gyi kha-na ma-tho-ba) are deeds that are inherently negative, regardless of context. Berzin calls them 'naturally uncommendable actions' and describes them this way:

A negative action which, because it is destructive by nature, ripens into the experience of suffering by anyone who commits it.


An example of this kind of action would be purposefully killing.


This raises a difficulty for me. I have difficulty reconciling the idea that some actions, such as deliberate killing, are "inherently negative, regardless of context" with the Upaya Kaushalya Sutra, Shantideva's Compendium of Training, the lojong text The Peacocks' Roaming through the Jungle of Virulent Poison, and the 11th branch vow of bodhisattvas in Tibetan Buddhism. The texts seem to say that moral precepts are contextual rather than absolute and that moral precepts must be broken under certain circumstances out of compassion or virtuous intention.

In the Upaya Kaushalya Sutra a sea captain must kill a would-be killer on his ship out of compassion for the other passengers and out of compassion for the killer himself. The sea captain, Great Compassion, is a past life of the Buddha, we are told. Because he selflessly chooses to kill out of Great Compassion for beings, knowing he could be reborn in a state of torment, he does not suffer in a naraka or "hell realm" after all, although he does tread on a thorn as a karmic consequence. On the other hand, the same text says the Buddha could have avoided the thorn, but lets himself get pricked by it to teach others about karma. The deed of compassionate killing is portrayed as praiseworthy here.

In Shantideva's Compendium of Training, the case for precept-breaking according to context is even stronger. We read that "With compassion there is no non-virtue..." This is the basis for the 11th faulty action for the bodhisattva: "Not committing one of the seven non-virtues of body and speech to benefit others out of compassion" or "Not doing out of compassion what is otherwise non-virtuous."

In his Compendium of Training, Shantideva also says, "But if he [the bodhisattva]...does not cause small pain and suffering to arise as a way of preventing great pain and suffering, or does not abandon a small benefit in order to achieve a greater benefit, if he neglects to do these things even for a moment, he is at fault." (trans. Charles Goodman) This is what Lhalung Palgyi Dorje did in 842 C.E. when he returned his vows to save the country and the religion, by killing the brutal tyrant Langdarma. He committed an ostensibly negative act to prevent many terrible acts of destruction. His action has been traditionally celebrated by many. Returning monastic vows and killing under such circumstances is also required by The Peacocks' Roaming through the Jungle of Virulent Poison.

What is it that I'm missing here?
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Re: Why isn't it allowed? Natural versus proscribed misdeeds

Postby In the bone yard » Sun Aug 11, 2013 4:29 pm

Hi sukhamanveti,

Those are sutra and tantra teachings grouped together.
Be careful interpreting tantra teachings because they're not meant to be understood intellectually.
I'll give an example in a minute...

A bodhisattva (meant here as a realized one) or Vajrayana practioner is held by his or her samaya (vow of merit) and progress on the path is depended upon it.
There's a higher understanding of cause and effect, an acute sensitivity, and so they are "held under a higher standard".

There are countless tantra teachings where killing occurs but it's the states of mind that are being killed.
For instance in the book, "The Great Kagyu Masters: The Golden Lineage Treasury" there's killing of states of mind, or killing of one's ego, that are named after worldly dieties.
So if you read it literally it appears that someone is being killed but only a state of mind or one's ego is being killed.

So yea, it's good to determine where a teaching falls before using discriminating wisdom.

A living example would be Rinpoche Chogyam Trungpa where some believe many of his deeds where impure.
We couldn't have gotten away with what he did. At the same time we can't possibly fathom his reasons for doing some of the things he did.
We don't have the realization to see what this great being did and what he needed to do or the reasons behind it.
We only have people's interpretations of his actions.
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Re: Why isn't it allowed? Natural versus proscribed misdeeds

Postby In the bone yard » Sun Aug 11, 2013 5:55 pm

To make clearer what I was saying about Samaya...

"does not cause small pain and suffering to arise as a way of preventing great pain and suffering, or does not abandon a small benefit in order to achieve a greater benefit, if he neglects to do these things even for a moment, he is at fault."

An example would be using wrathful, enlightened activity (as 1 of 4 enlightened activities... pacifying, increasing, subjugating, wrathful).
Short term it may be uncomfortable for oneself and another to use wrath, but a bigger cause and effect was prevented.

In the higher tantra it is said that cause and effect is abandoned althogether at very higher levels of attainment.
All stains concerning cause and effect are abandoned and one "enters the action via the 5 wisdoms."
They work entirely for the benefit of sentient beings.
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Re: Why isn't it allowed? Natural versus proscribed misdeeds

Postby uan » Mon Aug 12, 2013 2:08 am

sukhamanveti wrote:
JKhedrup wrote:Natural misdeeds (རང་བཞིན་གྱི་ཁ་ན་མ་ཐོ་བ་ rang-bzhin-gyi kha-na ma-tho-ba) are deeds that are inherently negative, regardless of context. Berzin calls them 'naturally uncommendable actions' and describes them this way:

A negative action which, because it is destructive by nature, ripens into the experience of suffering by anyone who commits it.


An example of this kind of action would be purposefully killing.


This raises a difficulty for me. I have difficulty reconciling the idea that some actions, such as deliberate killing, are "inherently negative, regardless of context" with the Upaya Kaushalya Sutra, Shantideva's Compendium of Training, the lojong text The Peacocks' Roaming through the Jungle of Virulent Poison, and the 11th branch vow of bodhisattvas in Tibetan Buddhism. The texts seem to say that moral precepts are contextual rather than absolute and that moral precepts must be broken under certain circumstances out of compassion or virtuous intention.

In the Upaya Kaushalya Sutra a sea captain must kill a would-be killer on his ship out of compassion for the other passengers and out of compassion for the killer himself. The sea captain, Great Compassion, is a past life of the Buddha, we are told. Because he selflessly chooses to kill out of Great Compassion for beings, knowing he could be reborn in a state of torment, he does not suffer in a naraka or "hell realm" after all, although he does tread on a thorn as a karmic consequence. On the other hand, the same text says the Buddha could have avoided the thorn, but lets himself get pricked by it to teach others about karma. The deed of compassionate killing is portrayed as praiseworthy here.

In Shantideva's Compendium of Training, the case for precept-breaking according to context is even stronger. We read that "With compassion there is no non-virtue..." This is the basis for the 11th faulty action for the bodhisattva: "Not committing one of the seven non-virtues of body and speech to benefit others out of compassion" or "Not doing out of compassion what is otherwise non-virtuous."

In his Compendium of Training, Shantideva also says, "But if he [the bodhisattva]...does not cause small pain and suffering to arise as a way of preventing great pain and suffering, or does not abandon a small benefit in order to achieve a greater benefit, if he neglects to do these things even for a moment, he is at fault." (trans. Charles Goodman) This is what Lhalung Palgyi Dorje did in 842 C.E. when he returned his vows to save the country and the religion, by killing the brutal tyrant Langdarma. He committed an ostensibly negative act to prevent many terrible acts of destruction. His action has been traditionally celebrated by many. Returning monastic vows and killing under such circumstances is also required by The Peacocks' Roaming through the Jungle of Virulent Poison.

What is it that I'm missing here?


I think the issue is not to let "rules" get in the way of what is most valuable - human life. A good example would be the 2002 Mecca Girls School fire (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2002_Mecca_girls'_school_fire. Because the girls weren't in proper dress they weren't allowed to escape the building and fire fighters weren't allowed to enter. Fifteen girls died, but at least there was no violation of religious law :crazy: .

So do you kill or not kill someone, even if that is the only way to prevent that person from killing others?

What makes this more complicated is that a certain amount of training, understanding, and/or wisdom is required to have insight into a situation and to know that we aren't coming from the same place as those religious police were in allowing the girls to die, or that we aren't deluded in some other way.

Fortunately most of these examples for the vast majority of us are just thought experiments that let us develop a deeper understanding of how to apply morality/ethics. Unfortunately, many of the "proscribed" laws are often used in ways antithetical to the teachings of whichever religion have them (whether it's Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, etc.).
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Re: Why isn't it allowed? Natural versus proscribed misdeeds

Postby sukhamanveti » Mon Aug 12, 2013 10:30 am

Thank you In the bone yard and uan for your kind replies and your thoughts. You both make good observations.

I should have added that, in the cases I mentioned, the killing is interpreted as literal rather than figurative, even in the "tantric flavored" lojong text. Geshe Lhundub Sopa provides a commentary on it in which he explains in three paragraphs that sometimes war against certain kinds of destructive people is necessary and sometimes certain people must even be "eliminated," because the alternative is much, much worse. As the two verses of the lojong text assert, one must return one's Pratimoksha vow and fight when enemies are destroying Buddhism. Not returning one's monastic vows would be the greater violation. Similarly, two years ago His Holiness the Dalai Lama seems to have approved of the assassination of Osama bin Laden, arguing, "If something is serious and it is necessary to take counter-measures, you have to take counter-measures." (http://articles.latimes.com/2011/may/04 ... a-20110504) Both of the commentaries I have on the bodhisattva vow permit killing (and other negative actions) for those who have actualized bodhicitta and are acting out of compassion.

I think I may have found exactly what I was looking for. I was getting "hung up" on words such as "natural misdeeds" or "naturally uncommendable actions," and especially "inherently negative, regardless of context," and wondering how they could be applicable, given the texts I mentioned (among others). It was a problem of meaning and coherence for me. I think I was also reading too much into those words. Geshe Sonam Rinchen has made some helpful comments in The Bodhisattva Vow that I had actually read before but forgotten. He explains that actions of "natural non-virtue" are seen as such because they "are in themselves harmful." "Inherently negative regardless of context" (etc.) may simply mean "invariably causing harm" then instead of inherently wrong, wrong regardless of context, or always blameworthy, which is how I had been reading these words initially. Although, they are certainly misdeeds for those who are monks and nuns (while they are monks and nuns) regardless of context, as well as lay persons who have not actualized bodhicitta out of compassion. These actions are "never permitted according to the individual liberation vow," but may be mandatory for lay bodhisattvas.

I suppose another way to look at it may be that the “natural misdeeds” perspective belongs to what is sometimes called the “listener’s vehicle” (for lack of a better term and with no offense intended) portion of the Tibetan Buddhist teachings, since it seems most applicable in the texts to lay persons who have not actualized bodhicitta and monks and nuns.

I’m a bit sleepy at this hour. I hope this is intelligible. :smile:

EDIT: I changed "deeds" to "misdeeds."
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Re: Why isn't it allowed? Natural versus proscribed misdeeds

Postby muni » Mon Aug 12, 2013 11:39 am

If one breaks the rules in order to not harm or take us out of ignorance, let it be. There can be a lot of silliness or even harm by grasping to the limitations of prescribed rules. There can be harm in the first place for ourselves and so others, by so called "acting by Dharma" while a lot of benefit by actions in which the Dharma is not recognized as being Dharma.

All harm is by clinging.
While of course vows, eventually ethical rules can help to keep us wakeful not to harm (misdeeds) as guideline. :namaste:

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Re: Why isn't it allowed? Natural versus proscribed misdeeds

Postby invisiblediamond » Mon Aug 12, 2013 7:46 pm

It occurs to me that vinaya might the worlds first codifications of conducts. So making and modifying rules as issues arise along with unanimous voting was a system of checks and balances. Buddha was trying to get the Sangha to take a more sophisticated course but they didn't get it. Instead opting for a simplified scheme that they could handle.

It's as if the habits of democracy were new and the Sangha wasn't ready. Maybe it's time for some monks to implement this strategy. Subtle thinking was basically an invention of Buddha it seems. Or his clan.

Then the function of vinaya will be clear, to steer people away from actions that start fights or legal actions, I.e. keeping the peace. Rather than lay down a universal law which is opposite of a wise person.

The vinaya does assist Mahayana and Vajrayana. It's a favorable condition for some. And a good way to communicate ones values to the uninitiated.
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