By “ethics,” in quotes, I mean talk about ethics, rather than what people actually do. This page explains “ethics” as signaling: personal advertisement. We all display “ethicalness” as a strategy for looking like attractive mates and coworkers, by signaling class status, tribal loyalty, and superior personality traits.
Although this post is part of a series on leftish “Buddhist ethics,” most of it applies equally to all ethical posturing. As you read it, you can imagine the small adjustments required for Christian rightish “ethics,” or for secular centrist “ethics.”
People really, really want Buddhism to be about ethics, even though it isn’t. Anyone who has read more than a couple Buddhist books knows:
From this, one ought to conclude that “Buddhist ethics” is not Buddhist at all. It just is leftish secular morality. Calling it “Buddhist” does not make it so. Although most Buddhists know the facts, no one draws the obvious conclusion. Why do Buddhists want to pretend we have a distinctive “Buddhist ethics”?
Many of the Western creators of Consensus Buddhism say in their autobiographies that they went to Asia because they were disgusted with the sex-and-drugs hedonism of hippie culture. Coming from Protestant cultures, they were looking for a system of self-restraint, but they had rejected Christianity.
The lay precepts against sexual misconduct and intoxication may have come at first as welcome repudiations of hippie self-indulgence. However, as we’ll see on the next page, they had to be loosened, reinterpreted, and effectively negated to function in America.
Joseph Goldstein’s One Dharma claims in places to be a “unified theory of Dharma” that combines “all the lineages of Buddhism.”
The book begins with a two-page endorsement from the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama is widely (mis)understood in the West as the Pope of Tibetan Buddhism. The most distinctive feature of Tibetan Buddhism is its inclusion of Buddhist Tantra.
However, One Dharma is 100% Tantra-free.
It’s hard to imagine the Pope of Rome endorsing a book by a Muslim about the unity of all the Abrahamic religions. But it would be particularly hard to imagine if the book never mentioned any distinctively Catholic doctrine.
It might seem that something odd is going on here… But in fact a Tantra-free Western Buddhism is precisely what the Dalai Lama would want to endorse.