Buddhist Morality

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NatureTalk
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Buddhist Morality

Post by NatureTalk »

New user here, know little about Buddhism. Here's a thought experiment which may with your help expand my understanding.

Let's say I've stolen my neighbor's car. Unless you correct me, I'll assume for now that Buddhism would advise me to return it.

Let's say my father stole the car and gave it to me. I had nothing to do with the theft, but I know it was stolen and who the rightful owner is. Return the car?

Let's say my great grandfather stole the car, and it was passed it down through the family each generation. Now I own the car (must be an early Model T Ford!), I know it was stolen, and which family it was stolen from. Return the car?
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Ayu
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Re: Buddhist Morality

Post by Ayu »

Why not return it?
If I think of another example, e.g. stolen artworks, stolen by nazis from jews. Why not return it?

You don't need Buddhist view for this case at all. It is just common sense, or in other words it concerns 'secular ethics'.
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NatureTalk
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Re: Buddhist Morality

Post by NatureTalk »

Ayu wrote: Thu Jan 14, 2021 12:53 pmWhy not return it?
Thanks. Sounds right to me.
Ayu wrote: Thu Jan 14, 2021 12:53 pmYou don't need Buddhist view for this case at all. It is just common sense, or in other words it concerns 'secular ethics'.
Well, um, let's see how common sense it is, and how Buddhist philosophy might tackle a harder problem in some manner others can not.

Let's say my European ancestors stole North America from the native people's by use of a ruthless genocide, and as a contemporary white American I have inherited much of the value of this stolen property. If I was a Buddhist should I sign my house over to the nearest Indian reservation? Should American Buddhists as a group argue in the public square for full restitution to native peoples in some form?
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Ayu
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Re: Buddhist Morality

Post by Ayu »

This problem sounds very artificial (construed).

It's clear times changed and you cannot turn back the time of 200 years. Nevertheless the dept stays. Therefore the descendants of European immigrants should be aware of the fact they owe much. Therefore, they should treat the decendants of Native Americans very differently. They should grant them rights. I think, Canada is showing a better model how to do it?

And actually here we touch buddhist view:
- the interdependence of everything and how thankful we can be for everything. Just a piece of bread demands to thankfulness for the farmer, the miller, the baker, the storekeeper, the producer of fertilizer, ...
- the appreciation for every being,
- the respect for every being.

Okay. Sounds like preaching. Sorry, that's not my intention. :hi:
For the benefit and ease of all sentient beings. :heart:
NatureTalk
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Re: Buddhist Morality

Post by NatureTalk »

Ayu wrote: Thu Jan 14, 2021 1:24 pm This problem sounds very artificial (construed).
Very real issue, but yes, this is a thought experiment. I'm comparing the reaction to this thought experiment on a Catholic and Buddhist site. In both cases, when the morality becomes too inconvenient it is discarded. Please note, I'm personally doing nothing on the native peoples issue, so this is not a moral superiority play.
It's clear times changed and you cannot turn back the time of 200 years.
Why not? What would stop any of us from turning our property over to the nearest Indians, and then perhaps renting it back from them according to whatever terms they set? What's stopping us from getting on a boat and going back to Europe? Don't people do that all the time?
Therefore, they should treat the decendants of Native Americans very differently.
Ok, sounds good. How differently?
I think, Canada is showing a better model how to do it?
Don't know, but wouldn't doubt that at all. Canadians are sane. We don't engage in such nonsense here in the States. :-)
Okay. Sounds like preaching. Sorry, that's not my intention. :hi:
No problem at all, I'm here to hear the Buddhist view, and am not offended by preaching, which that really wasn't anyway.
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PadmaVonSamba
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Re: Buddhist Morality

Post by PadmaVonSamba »

It was pretty obvious where this was heading.
Reminds me of an early Simpsons episode, where Fat Tony has recruited Bart into his gang:

Bart: Uh, say, are you guys crooks?
Fat Tony: Bart, um, is it wrong to steal a loaf of bread to feed your starving family?
Bart: No.
Fat Tony: Well, suppose you got a large starving family. Is it wrong to steal a truckload of bread to feed them?
Bart: Uh uh.
Fat Tony: And, what if your family don't like bread? They like...cigarettes?
Bart: I guess that's okay.
Fat Tony: Now, what if instead of giving them away, you sold them at a price that was practically giving them away. Would that be a crime, Bart?
Bart: Hell, no!
Fat Tony: Enjoy your gift.


The motivation for morality Buddhism is somewhat different than in the abrahamic (biblical) tradition, where it is God’s judgement one is contending with.
In Buddhism, morality ultimately comes down to what actions (of body, speech, and mind) keep you from accumulating the negative behaviors and mental imprints which...
... cause suffering in this lifetime,
...become conditions for unfavorable rebirth in future lifetimes, and
...delay your final realization of buddhahood.

Thus, the issue of stealing, as with killing, lying, and so on really has more to do with the act itself, the motivation behind committing the act, the degree of either satisfaction or remorse from having committed the act, and the desire (or lack of) to do it again.

To address the issue of reparation specifically, no one living today engaged in the actual taking of land from the indigenous peoples. That doesn’t mean, of course, that it wasn’t stolen, of that descendants of those who stole it aren’t benefitting from it what otherwise would be the enjoyment of the descendants (or destroying what it’s descendants might not have destroyed). So, on one level, or in one sense, that’s true. And what can be said is that (depending on who you are descended from) “our ancestors owe their ancestors”. The actions of those who stole the land, depending on their actions, will have led to negative karmic results. If someone killed a family of indigenous people, that person will experience negative karmic results in relation to that. But that person’s newborn child will not, you might say, suffer any “karmic responsibility” for the actions that someone else committed, even if they are aware of the circumstances.

It’s similar to the issue of killing and eating meat.
The person who buys meat at the store may be contributing to the perpetuation of the meat industry, and therefore be helping to create the conditions where others are encouraged to kill animals, and to that degree is acquiring “negative karma”, even besides creating the conditions for future beings to be killed.
But, that buying of meat does not carry the same “karmic weight” from the act of actually killing the animal yourself.
Everything and everybody is interconnected. If a school teacher eats bacon and eggs for breakfast, and then, fueled by that food, spends the morning teaching children, and the children benefit from that teaching, you can connect all the links and determine that the children are benefiting from the killing of the pigs and the farming of the chickens. The truck driver who delivered the food products to the grocery store is also connected, as is the person who helped build the road the truck drove on.

There is probably a mathematical equation to determine how many degrees of separation it takes before one’s connection to previous events becomes so random that there is less than a 50% chance any responsibility exists.

So, buddhism doesn’t address reparations. It addresses individual karma, and to some degree “collective karma” which has little or nothing to do with specific historical events, and more to do with perception (we all see grass as green).

And, if one wants to speculate on rebirth, it’s possible that many people alive today are those indigenous people, in their future existence (which for them would be now). That would make “karmic” sense, if they had a really strong connection to that land.
But do we really want to speculate?
EMPTIFUL.
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PeterC
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Re: Buddhist Morality

Post by PeterC »

NatureTalk wrote: Thu Jan 14, 2021 12:42 pm New user here, know little about Buddhism....
If you’re interested in the Buddhist view of morality, and you’re already familiar with the ten virtues and ten non-virtues (https://www.rigpawiki.org/index.php?tit ... ve_actions), you could start here:

https://studybuddhism.com/en/advanced-s ... l-behavior
DharmaN00b
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Re: Buddhist Morality

Post by DharmaN00b »

Morality is discarded when it becomes inconvenient? Another way of saying this is that when you've lost everything bargaining power goes out the window.

One of my past experience dealing with thousands of households, was that the poorest usually had tons of stuff to give unconditionally, and i wouldn't always put that down to personal loss. Some of the stuff people kept (yikes!)

But, yes, people can be very territorial. Memoirs make it real. It's a can of worms. :quoteunquote:

Anyways, I mean give unconditionally, and who needs a ford model t?
Malcolm
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Re: Buddhist Morality

Post by Malcolm »

NatureTalk wrote: Thu Jan 14, 2021 12:42 pm New user here, know little about Buddhism. Here's a thought experiment which may with your help expand my understanding.

Let's say I've stolen my neighbor's car. Unless you correct me, I'll assume for now that Buddhism would advise me to return it.

Let's say my father stole the car and gave it to me. I had nothing to do with the theft, but I know it was stolen and who the rightful owner is. Return the car?

Let's say my great grandfather stole the car, and it was passed it down through the family each generation. Now I own the car (must be an early Model T Ford!), I know it was stolen, and which family it was stolen from. Return the car?
If you know it’s stolen, and you accept it, you participated in its theft just as much as the original thief.

This is the classical Buddhist position.
"Nonduality is merely a name;
that name does not exist."
—Kotalipa
SilenceMonkey
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Re: Buddhist Morality

Post by SilenceMonkey »

Ayu wrote: Thu Jan 14, 2021 1:24 pm This problem sounds very artificial (construed).

It's clear times changed and you cannot turn back the time of 200 years. Nevertheless the dept stays. Therefore the descendants of European immigrants should be aware of the fact they owe much. Therefore, they should treat the decendants of Native Americans very differently. They should grant them rights. I think, Canada is showing a better model how to do it?

And actually here we touch buddhist view:
- the interdependence of everything and how thankful we can be for everything. Just a piece of bread demands to thankfulness for the farmer, the miller, the baker, the storekeeper, the producer of fertilizer, ...
- the appreciation for every being,
- the respect for every being.

Okay. Sounds like preaching. Sorry, that's not my intention. :hi:
I love Ayu's answers. I think compassion is more important than right and wrong.
NatureTalk
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Re: Buddhist Morality

Post by NatureTalk »

Malcolm wrote: Thu Jan 14, 2021 3:43 pmIf you know it’s stolen, and you accept it, you participated in its theft just as much as the original thief. This is the classical Buddhist position.
Thank you. I guess what we're discussing here is how far we wish to take such a principle. A car is one thing, a continent another.

Giving the continent back is highly problematic. But making all the Indian tribes very rich is not. We raise taxes, and hand the money over.

Ok, so actually implementing such a plan is politically problematic too, agreed. But arguing for it is not. And yet, pretty much nobody of any religion (or non-religion) wishes to so argue.

Is morality a myth?
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Johnny Dangerous
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Re: Buddhist Morality

Post by Johnny Dangerous »

NatureTalk wrote: Fri Jan 15, 2021 2:05 am
Malcolm wrote: Thu Jan 14, 2021 3:43 pmIf you know it’s stolen, and you accept it, you participated in its theft just as much as the original thief. This is the classical Buddhist position.
Thank you. I guess what we're discussing here is how far we wish to take such a principle. A car is one thing, a continent another.

Giving the continent back is highly problematic. But making all the Indian tribes very rich is not. We raise taxes, and hand the money over.

Ok, so actually implementing such a plan is politically problematic too, agreed. But arguing for it is not. And yet, pretty much nobody of any religion (or non-religion) wishes to so argue.

Is morality a myth?
Ever heard of reparations? These and similar programs have been suggested both for Black and and Native Communities. So, in fact, many people have made such arguments. Now, will we implement them? I seriously doubt it.

The practicality and realism of such arguments is debatable, their existence definitely is not.

Concluding that "morality is a myth" is already a pretty questionable conclusion, even moreso based on something you are incorrect about.
"...if you think about how many hours, months and years of your life you've spent looking at things, being fascinated by things that have now passed away, then how wonderful to spend even five minutes looking into the nature of your own mind."

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Re: Buddhist Morality

Post by shaunc »

Malcolm wrote: Thu Jan 14, 2021 3:43 pm
NatureTalk wrote: Thu Jan 14, 2021 12:42 pm New user here, know little about Buddhism. Here's a thought experiment which may with your help expand my understanding.

Let's say I've stolen my neighbor's car. Unless you correct me, I'll assume for now that Buddhism would advise me to return it.

Let's say my father stole the car and gave it to me. I had nothing to do with the theft, but I know it was stolen and who the rightful owner is. Return the car?

Let's say my great grandfather stole the car, and it was passed it down through the family each generation. Now I own the car (must be an early Model T Ford!), I know it was stolen, and which family it was stolen from. Return the car?
If you know it’s stolen, and you accept it, you participated in its theft just as much as the original thief.

This is the classical Buddhist position.
It's also the position a judge would take in a court of law.
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Re: Buddhist Morality

Post by mikenz66 »

Johnny Dangerous wrote: Fri Jan 15, 2021 3:05 am Ever heard of reparations? These and similar programs have been suggested both for Black and and Native Communities. So, in fact, many people have made such arguments. Now, will we implement them? I seriously doubt it.
We actually did do this in to a certain extent New Zealand (compensating for illegally-confiscated land). However the first people (Māori) here had the advantage of a single treaty with the British back in 1840 that set out certain rights on both sides. Also, there were enough of them (currently 15% of the population have Māori ancestry, though they are overwhelmingly mixed race), and the country is small enough (roughly the area of Colorado) that they couldn't just be sent off to some far corner of the country...

Of course, things are far from perfect here, with many of the same difficult issues as black and native Americans, Canadians, or Australians...

Mike
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Re: Buddhist Morality

Post by SilenceMonkey »

NatureTalk wrote: Fri Jan 15, 2021 2:05 am
Is morality a myth?
I think private ownership is a myth... but a very strong one and most people seem to believe in it. It's the basis for such strong feelings of attachment to one's property and resentment if it is damaged or stolen. Maybe that's the basis of our strong karma surrounding possessions.
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Re: Buddhist Morality

Post by Malcolm »

NatureTalk wrote: Fri Jan 15, 2021 2:05 am
Malcolm wrote: Thu Jan 14, 2021 3:43 pmIf you know it’s stolen, and you accept it, you participated in its theft just as much as the original thief. This is the classical Buddhist position.
Thank you. I guess what we're discussing here is how far we wish to take such a principle. A car is one thing, a continent another.
Taking what is not given, I.e stealing, is strictly defined in Buddhism as depriving another of something they believe they possess. Our notion that we stole land from Natives is rather modern, and involves concepts of property we introduced. Thus, I am not sure your shifting of goal posts is applicable.
"Nonduality is merely a name;
that name does not exist."
—Kotalipa
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Johnny Dangerous
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Re: Buddhist Morality

Post by Johnny Dangerous »

Along a similar line, while I certainly believe that the creation of America involved stealing from (and frankly near genocide of) Native Americans, and others, as far as land goes, there's no way to give it back now.

The only reasonable approach under our current circumstances is to advocate for greater autonomy and/or relief for tribes, etc. For instance, advocating for land and water rights It's not possible to "give it back" altogether. Individuals could leave in protest, but this is impractical for a whole host of reasons, and would really just be performative anyway.

So yeah, make more coherent comparisons.
"...if you think about how many hours, months and years of your life you've spent looking at things, being fascinated by things that have now passed away, then how wonderful to spend even five minutes looking into the nature of your own mind."

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Malcolm
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Re: Buddhist Morality

Post by Malcolm »

Johnny Dangerous wrote: Fri Jan 15, 2021 6:52 am Along a similar line, while I certainly believe that the creation of America involved stealing from (and frankly near genocide of) Native Americans, and others, as far as land goes, there's no way to give it back now.

The only reasonable approach under our current circumstances is to advocate for greater autonomy and/or relief for tribes, etc. For instance, advocating for land and water rights It's not possible to "give it back" altogether. Individuals could leave in protest, but this is impractical for a whole host of reasons, and would really just be performative anyway.

So yeah, make more coherent comparisons.
One thing that often goes unrecognized when the idea that Europeans “stole” land from Indians is, as I mention above, the fact that European and Native concepts of “property” were completely unintelligible to each other. It is certainly the case that Europeans dispossessed, displaced, and often exterminated Native people, but the history of this is far more complicated than a simple reductionist trope. It’s also somewhat off topic for a discussion of Buddhist ethical theory,

Buddhist ethical theory is about personal conduct, and is not equipped or even intended to address issues such such large-scale, generational social justice issues. This is not to say that a Buddhist should not adress them, but there is virtually no guidance here from the Buddha.

In this respect Western discourse on ethics is more apt.
"Nonduality is merely a name;
that name does not exist."
—Kotalipa
NatureTalk
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Re: Buddhist Morality

Post by NatureTalk »

Malcolm wrote: Fri Jan 15, 2021 6:28 amTaking what is not given, I.e stealing, is strictly defined in Buddhism as depriving another of something they believe they possess. Our notion that we stole land from Natives is rather modern, and involves concepts of property we introduced. Thus, I am not sure your shifting of goal posts is applicable.
Ok, point taken, but perhaps we are getting a bit too clever?

It's true that the Indian concept of land ownership was quite different than the European concept. Nonetheless, the Indians lived off a particular area of land, and Europeans kicked them off and took over that area. To be fair, the Indians often did the same thing amongst themselves.

This thread is in part an exploration of the tribal nature of ideologies (not just Buddhism). We can observe how at the moment that the thought experiment became inconvenient we jumped from a seemingly universal peaceful agreement to a pattern of dodge and weave rationalizations, ie. a defense of the tribal territory. The exact same thing happened when I posed these questions on a Catholic forum.

I don't see this as an exclusive property of Buddhism or any other religion, but instead a universal property of all ideologies (as best I can tell). We attach ourselves to some collection of thoughts, and when that collection of thoughts is perceived to be under threat we circle the wagons and start moving towards conflict.

Typically we try to solve this by jumping from one ideology to another. If we see the Christians in conflict with each other, we turn up our noses and try some other religion. But the pattern of conflict seems to follow us where ever we go. What can we learn from that?

The thread might also be seen as an exploration of the limits of ideology. Europe was dominated by Christianity to a degree unimaginable to us today for 1,000 years before the European discovery of North America. 1,000 years. And yet that didn't stop there from being a very wide spread largely uncontested nearly universal consensus for genocide once some inconvenient people got in the way.

Ok, there's been some improvement along the way. We aren't that in to genocide now, but we're still content to sit on the stolen property without much concern. We don't even think of it as stolen property.

And let's not pick on religion here. Science culture philosophy claims we should accumulate new knowledge as fast as we possibly can, even though that process has aimed thousands of massive hydrogen bombs down our throats. We see the threat, and are largely bored by it.

Is morality a myth? Ok, too sweeping a question. But not that unreasonable.
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Re: Buddhist Morality

Post by Johnny Dangerous »

BTW, a theme I see in the OP is the idea that morality is some set of unalterable guidelines which must apply the same in all circumstances.

This is a somewhat absurd idea of what morality is generally, but particularly so from the Buddhist standpoint.

Generally speaking in Buddhism what is moral in a given situation is determined largely by the parameters of the situation, and figuring out how best to benefit all parties in said situation. What causes the least harm and does the most benefit. Particularly in the Mahayana, this is a much greater concern than simply trying to apply the same exact set of rules to all moral questions.
Is morality a myth? Ok, too sweeping a question. But not that unreasonable.
To answer that question you'd first need to define morality. You haven't done that, just some vague "thought experiments" trying to compare situations which are so dissimilar that it is hard to find a pattern of moral reasoning that could be applied in both, beyond the very general.

Certain, relative moral reasoning exists, we can get into whether people genuinely act altruistically, but at least on a conscious level, people clearly reason out moral positions. So, "is morality a myth" is a bit of hyperbolic question.
"...if you think about how many hours, months and years of your life you've spent looking at things, being fascinated by things that have now passed away, then how wonderful to spend even five minutes looking into the nature of your own mind."

-James Low
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