Comments on ““Buddhist ethics” is a fraud”

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jayarava 2015-09-23

A very ambitious agenda. I look forward to reading more. What does FTFY mean?

roughgarden 2015-09-24

This is what you said on June 16, 2011, from your post on McMahan’s Buddhist Modernism:

"There is nothing inherently wrong with mixing Buddhism with Western ideas. Buddhist traditionalists object to mixing Buddhism with anything else. “Pure Dharma” is supposedly unchanged since the time of Shakyamuni Buddha, and messing with it is wrong wrong wrong. I respect that viewpoint, but I disagree (and so does McMahan). Buddhism has actually been hybridizing with other systems almost from the beginning; and why should we think that new presentations of its core principles won’t be better for new times?"

Do you still hold this viewpoint? or are you changing your view only with regard to “Buddhist ethics”?

David Chapman 2015-09-24

John Willemsens — Thank you!

jayarava — Thanks! Unlike most of my writing projects, this one is nearly completed, so it won’t suffer the usual fate of being back-burnered half way through. “FTFY” is internet slang for “fixed that for you”—the idea being that contemporary Buddhists “fix” the tradition just by saying “compassion!” a lot.

roughgarden — This is an important point, thanks! My next post should start to clarify. In short, no change in viewpoint!

My objection is not that “Buddhist ethics” is not traditional. Two things, rather: (1) it pretends to have some continuity with the tradition, when in fact it has none at all; (2) it pretends to be something distinctive, whereas it is simply contemporary secular ethics.

I would very much welcome a distinctive modern Buddhist ethics. But there isn’t any, that I know of.

Darcey Riley 2015-09-24

Oh yay, new posts! I’m really looking forward to this series, because I love reading deconstructions.

That said, I am also very tempted to play devil’s advocate for a minute. This might be totally off-base, because I’m not actually familiar with “Buddhist ethics”. But it seems like you reduce “what is valuable in Buddhist ethics?” to “what new ethical principles does it teach us?”, and I would argue that there are other ways that Buddhist ethics could be valuable.

For instance, even if someone already believed in the standard leftist morality, “Buddhist ethics” might strengthen their commitment to that moral code by grounding it in a spiritual tradition. Like, it might be easier to follow the principle of “have compassion for all living beings” if you believe that at some spiritual level, all life is connected, and that by hurting another living being, you are actually hurting yourself. (I’m not sure if that claim has anything to do with Buddhism or Buddhist ethics; it was just the first thing that came to mind. But I like it as an example, because it’s not really a factual proposition so much as an emotional attitude. The claim “your life is connected to the life of that squirrel over there” can’t really be true or false, because… connected in what way? Everything is connected at some level (e.g. we’re all made out of atoms). It’s more that… as human beings, we are constantly doing analogical reasoning and comparing things to one another… and a statement like “everything is connected” is more like a directive that alters how we do analogical reasoning, leading us to focus on the similarity between all living beings, rather than their differences. This increases feelings of empathy and connectedness, which inspire people to actually act on their leftist moral principles. So I don’t think the statement “we are all connected” is wrong. In keeping with your essay on “Boundaries, objects, and connections”, I don’t actually think it’s something that can be right or wrong. But it still might be useful to hear because it alters our emotional attitudes towards things.)

David Chapman 2015-09-24
even if someone already believed in the standard leftist morality, “Buddhist ethics” might strengthen their commitment to that moral code by grounding it in a spiritual tradition.

That’s a good point! The series touches on this later, but from a somewhat different angle, and the way you have put it will force me to think about it a bit more.

My view has been that the version of secular morality taught as “Buddhist ethics” is particularly basic; there’s more sophisticated versions available. So, reinforcing it with religious woo is unhelpful. However, this does depend on how ethically sophisticated an individual is. For the least sophisticated, emphasizing the importance of compassion might be a step up. And if they have trouble feeling that, then adding woo could help.

Kevin Moir 2015-09-24

Fixed That For You

okiebuddhist 2015-09-25

Good points! My only contention may be the Buddhist focus on virtue. (I am not sure what the Pali/Sanskrit term means.) However, Virtue Ethics is a major player in Western ethics and philosophy and, though primarily focusing on Aristotle, most texts discuss Confucius and Buddha to some extent. Cheers! –okiebuddhist

Maurits Kwee 2015-09-26

I could not agree more! Kudos, kudos, kudos… I have been grappling with this issue for a decade or so and my alternative on this particular matter is that Dharma reflects a ‘non-foundational morality of collaborative practice.’ Thanks for writing this. Next step is to convey this liberating text to the champions of this monstruous social construction of ‘Buddhist ethics’ and their Asian colonized epigons…

Sabio Lantz 2015-09-30

It seems that “morality” vs “ethics” may eventually need defining to keep ideas clear. Are you using them differently?

In your reply to roughgarden you say you have two point, but you also have a third, no?

That modern buddhist ethics is potentially harmful [while using superiority rhetoric of ancient and unique.]

Your writing, as always is refreshingly blunt, organized and succinct. Excited about what is coming. It makes me think of similar rhetorical, doctrinal ploys in other religions too. Religions like to pretend that without them there would be a collapse of morality, for without them ethics have no real base.

David Chapman 2015-09-30
It seems that “morality” vs “ethics” may eventually need defining to keep ideas clear. Are you using them differently?

Yes, using a distinction borrowed from Damien Keown (the foremost Western Buddhist ethicist), which I explained briefly in a later post.

That modern buddhist ethics is potentially harmful [while using superiority rhetoric of ancient and unique.]

Yes, good point. To the extent that contemporary leftish secular morality is wrong, it’s harmful to reinforce it with magical justification by pretending it is Buddhist. Later I’ll point out ways I think it is wrong, and will suggest that the strategy has been somewhat successful: some people have been held back in their personal and moral development by it.

Andrew Furst 2015-10-05

Wow, provocative and intriguing. You pushed many of my buttons. I look forward to reading these.

Indranil Choudhury 2015-10-06

As a practising buddhist from India, long identified the issue, but MUST CONGRATULATE you for bringing up this “most important & urgent issue”… This understanding comes of you from solid practise, not from theoritical fantasizing.... Long warned by Buddha himself.. SADHU SADHU SADHU…

Indranil Choudhury 2015-11-01

The only “Buddhist ethics” is to attain a “clear mind” so with that one can see the world by self.

D. C. Wijeratna 2016-02-23

Excellent article.
Please let me give my ‘two cents worth’.

Not Western Buddhists but all Buddhists are the same excluding a few, a very few.
The reason is: Buddhism is a ‘religion or philosophy’.
The primary concern of religion is power; power over individuals or power over nations.
Philosophers are individuals who rave over anything that come to their minds and who have the ability to play with words. Buddhists scholars also belong to this category.

In the case of adherents of a religion, there are two points to note: Actions do not corresponds to words. What is true for the individual is not true for the group (nation). For the group, there are no rules; killing, viloence, subjugation is the norm. I will not elaborate on this. History of religions will establish beyond any reasonable doubt my thesis.

The significant thing about Buddhist scholars is that they haven’t any need to establish the accuracy of their information. I came across a very interesting example of this in Wikipedia while looking for the ‘four noble truths’ of Buddhism.

Carol Anderson notes that the four truths are missing in critical passages in the canon,[45] and states:
… the four noble truths were probably not part of the earliest strata of what came to be recognized as Buddhism, but that they emerged as a central teaching in a slightly later period that still preceded the final redactions of the various Buddhist canons.[46]

Stephen Batchelor notes that the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta contains incongruities, and states that
The First Discourse cannot be treated as a verbatim transcript of what the Buddha taught in the Deer Park, but as a document that has evolved over an unspecified period of time until it reached the form in which it is found today in the canons of the different Buddhist schools.[47]

According to Anderson, the four truths probably entered the Sutta Pitaka from the Vinaya, the rules for monastic order.[48][note 30] They were first added to enlightenment-stories which contain the Four Jhanas, replacing terms for “liberating insight”.[50][note 31] From there they were added to the biographical stories of the Buddha:[52][note 32]

K.R. Norman concluded that the earliest version of the sutta did not contain the word “noble”, but was added later.[54]

I can attest that every word uttered by Lord Buddha (Buddho Bhagva) are derived from the ‘four noble truths’ (cattari ariyasaccani) proclaimed by the Lord Buddha.

I am sure that Carol Sanderson has read through the ‘final redactions of the various canons’ in Pali, Sanskrit, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Cambodian canons. She doesn’t seem to know that different Buddhist traditions are based on interpretations of the ‘four noble truths’.

Stephen Batchelor says ‘the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta contains incongruities’.Can he point out the incongruities? Batchelor’s statement is false.

K. R. Norman: The word “noble” certainly did not appear in the earliest version of the Sutta; it is an English word. “noble” is a laughable translation of the word ‘ariya’. The contextual meaning of the word is something like: the four axioms on which the ‘Dhamma of the Lord’ is founded. Oxford Dictionary does not contain the term ‘noble truth’; most probably, because ‘truth is one’.

By the way Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta is a name given by whoever committed Lord’s advice given to Bhikkhus of the group of five into the written form. Incidentally Dhammacakka is not dhamma-wheel or wheel of truth.

I am a person who has the highest respect for the Lord Buddha which I express in the following manner ‘namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammasambuddhassa’.

Shaun Bartone 2016-05-26

Buddhist ethics is based on “moral psychology” or a neuroscience of morality: Jay L. Garfield: “Ask Not What Buddhism Can Do For Cognitive Neuroscience. . . ” p. 28. “6. Buddhism and Moral Psychology: A Real Contribution” http://www.smith.edu/philosophy/docs/garfield_ask_not.pdf

Oghiator ,Florence Etuwe 2016-11-27

Thanks for your article.But if Buddhist ethics are not ethics, then what are they? I believe that Buddhism has some traditions and customs, which are embedded in their ethics. Do you believe they have their traditions and customs? Also,what about the Buddha’s teachings?

David Chapman 2016-11-27
If Buddhist ethics are not ethics, then what are they?

I answer that in “Ethics is advertising.”

Buddhism has some traditions and customs, which are embedded in their ethics.

See “Traditional Buddhism has no ethical system” and “Buddhist morality is Medieval.”

What about the Buddha’s teachings?

We don’t know what he taught, or even if he existed at all. There’s no historical records. If the earliest available texts (which date from hundreds of years after he is supposed to have died) reflect his teaching accurately, then he had little to say about morality, and what he did say was crude and useless for modern people.

Waldo 2018-08-13

You have no understanding of karma theory and fail to understand how Buddhist ethics is informed by its metaphysics. The Wheel of Life is a simple example of presenting a metaphysics which informs refraining from the three poisons. It’s people like you when the Buddha meant that the degeneration of his teachings will come from within by people who think they understand his teachings. It’s unfortunate how the internet gives a platform for windbags like you in the form of useless and indeed harmful blogs like this.

Uilium Lowbrow 2018-10-15

…and ETHICS means?

Obviously a certain interpretation or definition is meant and now I am curious as to how it is meant. Is this some kinda postmodern Buddhist angle on the it? I dunno, I’m just a poor puthajana , dying every second and gradually drifting away through the distraction of material wealth and I don’t want to waste time.

So it would be fortunate if there was a concise document of the specific
teachings, interpretations & methods that are being taught here.
We are all dying and it seems to me that we could all get to practical skilled knowledge faster if we had a succinct approach to both teaching and learning with q&w later for oversight perhaps.

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