'What we do affects
those around us and it is a mark of the individual that he accepts responsibility
for the consequences of his own actions. No longer does he blame outside
forces for his own fortunes and misfortunes, no longer does he blindly
and wilfully try to impose himself, childlike, upon the world: he has
developed an ethical sense, an awareness that actions have consequences.
'This ethical sense
is inner and natural, in complete contrast to morality imposed by convention
or by authority. Conventional morality is a matter of local custom
and differs, often drastically, from area to area and from age to age.
The enormous variations worldwide in what is acceptable behaviour in
sexual matters are sufficient illustration of this. Conformity with
conventional morality is guaranteed by fear of social ostracism. Though
anyone who has developed real individuality may find it prudent at times
to conform to conventional morality, for it is often enforced by law,
fear of social disapproval cannot be among his ethical determinants.
depend on the commandments of a God also cannot guide the individual.
Here the moral code is cast as 'Thou shalt not'. The main reason for
obeying is fear of the consequences of disobedience. Western morality
has, until quite recently, been almost entirely based on fear, in the
first place of God's judgment and consequent damnation, and secondly
of the temporal judgments of Church courts, godly magistrates, and even
Inquisition. The characteristic moral emotion here is guilt and irrational
fear of divine disapproval. Such guilt and fear linger on even in the
minds of those who have never been even nominal Christians.
'A morality which
relies upon external sanction is not real morality. Such pseudo-morality
relieves the individual of responsibility. 'Not my will, but thine'
can lead to the most extreme inhumanity and cruelty. The blood which
stains the hands of many followers of the world's theistic religions
is evidence of the ease with which they can shrug off all human feeling.
does not try to impose moral absolutes onto all behaviour. The words
'good' and 'bad' have no place in the vocabulary of real ethics. More
suitable terms of ethical evaluation are morally 'skilful' and 'unskilful'.
A skilful action requires an intelligent and practical awareness. No
moral rulebook can lay down how to be skilful. Skilfulness depends on
an appraisal of the particular situation and the likely outcome of any
action for oneself as well as for those whom it will affect. Moral action
is, then, a craft, a skill which is learnt by practice and persistence.
Mistakes, perhaps many of them, will be made but each one provides its
lessons in how best to act.
'Awareness is not
a cold and abstract quality, and skill implies not only clarity but
warmth. Skilful actions proceed from positive healthy mental states
- states of generosity, of friendliness, and of clear mindedness. Unskilful
actions have at their root negative unwholesome mental states - neurotic
craving, ill will, and blind stupidity. It is the mental state which
determines the ethical character of an action.
is new and every person is unique. It may well be that what is skilful
for one person is not for another. …'
for Today', by Subhuti, pub FWBO/Windhorse 1983 rev. 1988,
'We have already
seen that Buddhist ethics is entirely cast in terms of skill. There
are no absolute moral values, and each person must learn by his own
experience how best to act.' ibid. p 180
'Do you think the
general public understands the first thing about Buddhist values and
ethics? Generally in England the morals are protestant. … There's no
way that any Buddhist should be called to account for themselves on
anything other than Buddhist terms. …
'What would a court
of English law know about Buddhist ethics. How can any Buddhist allow
themselves to be judged on judeo-xtian based standards?'
by FWBO member Angelo on Tues 31 Oct 2000 in article <firstname.lastname@example.org>
in thread 'The fear of homosexuality double bind' in newsgroup talk.religion.buddhism