Emmet wrote: ↑
Sun Aug 26, 2018 1:10 pm
Yes. Precepts are not rigid laws or commandments; they're exemplars; the archetype of how a bodhisattva operates. We operate in the saha world; where real life is not black and white, but infinite gradients of gray. Sometimes we're faced with conundrums for which there simply are no good options, only least bad ones. What option best promotes and maintains ahimsa
; "non-harming"? Which option is most consistent with my vow to liberate all beings? What choice best inures to the welfare of all, no matter how imperfectly?
I agree that the precepts are not rigid laws or commandments and that this mindset (seeing things as either-or) is a cause of a lot of misery in the world, both to the individual and to society. Our minds however, with all their limitations, in an attempt to solve a fallacy (false dilemma) usually replace it with another fallacy (the fallacy of middle ground) which states that all extremes must be wrong.
Let us examine your statement once again:
We operate in the saha world; where real life is not black and white, but infinite gradients of gray.
While we don't have access to each others mind, and if your ideal is to liberate others from their misery, all we can talk about in a meaningful way is our world of appearances. In this world, the mind understands the notion (infinite gradients of gray) as a fixed rule, clings to it and we are back to square one.
This is where the notion of "talking non sense" becomes relevant which is used in the philosophy of language and it is neither an insult nor a personal attack. When human beings communicate, they assume that words correspond to reality, and that the meaning of the word is what it stands for. By understanding this, we are back to common sense. If anyone wants to make exceptions to the first precept, he/she will need to provide evidence from the original source.
I remember watching a documentary about Zen Buddhism in which two masters were enjoying a tea ceremony, then one of them said:
Before practicing Zen, tea is tea and a bowl is a bowl. When Zen is practiced, tea is no longer tea and a bowl is no longer a bowl. Upon enlightenment, tea is again tea and a bowl is bowl.
An honest attempt to help others that do not take into consideration our own limitations is not only futile, but full of danger. You raised a very good point by setting a criteria:
What option best promotes and maintains ahimsa; "non-harming"? Which option is most consistent with my vow to liberate all beings? What choice best inures to the welfare of all, no matter how imperfectly?
Let us think hypothetically contemplate the possible outcomes of each alternative if taken into an extreme:
1- The first extreme is to see the first precept as a commandment, or a fixed rule. Where would this extreme take you? you might end up as a good jain
2- The second extreme: morality depends on our intention. Ultimately, there are no good or bad. Where would this extreme take you? moral nihilism.
It is worth noting that when the practitioner try to keep the precepts, and think of them as a "no go area" as Ven Thanissaro indicated, his very attempts to control, through trial and error, would help him understand how to grasp the teachings in the right way.
There's a story told of an exemplary monk beyond reproach, who awoke to find a naked woman in his bed. In great anguish, she said her child was very ill, perhaps terminally so, and that for sport the richest merchant in town promised to provide her child with the best medical care in the world if she could entice the monk to forsake his vows. Without hesitation the monk had sex with her, with great compassion and loving kindness. When the abbot found out, he publicly humiliated the monk and banished him; out of respect for the woman and to protect her from further suffering, the monk offered no defense. The sangha as a whole, who knew of the true facts of the case, came to his defense and persuaded the abbot to relent.
One of the Jataka Tales tells of a previous incarnation of the Buddha as a sea captain, who discovers that there is a murderous pirate on board, intent upon robbing and killing his passengers. He could either do nothing, in which case the passengers would all be killed, or he could expose the pirate for what he is, in which case the passengers would kill him first. He chose to kill the pirate himself, thereby not only saving the passengers lives, but saving them from the karmic consequences of killing the pirate. and conversely saving the pirate from the karmic consequences of killing the passengers. To save all beings, he chose to accept the karmic debt of killing himself.
In the Lotus Sutra, to entice the distracted children (us) from the burning house (samsaric world), the father (the Buddha) blatantly lied, promising them amusements far superior tho those which so enchanted them. The leader of a caravan, knowing that they were almost there if they could only summon the strength to push on a little longer, just as everyone was so exhausted and discouraged they were on the verge of giving up and going home, created a mirage of a golden city; by deception enticing them to drive on. The physician upon arriving home found that his children had gotten into his stores and poisoned themselves. Unable to coax them into taking the antidote, he left, then send word that he had died, and his dying wish was that his children would comply and take the medicine he had prescribed for them.
The saha world is a complicated, confusing, and messy place, where rigid legalism and simplistic notions of good and evil frequently have unintended and untoward consequences, sometimes exacerbating rather than ameliorating a situation. A bodhisattva not only acts ethically, but to applies those ethics skillfully, for the benefit of all beings. That requires some wisdom, creativity, and flexibility which rigid legalism precludes. However imperfectly, we do the best we can.
On the other hand, there is a sutta about a monk who saw a guy being tortured before capital punishment, so he interfered by calling for a quick execution. The monk had to disrobe because he intentionally encouraged killing and regretted his actions.
One of the complications of the saha world is our futile attempts to do the right thing for the wrong reason. Each school of Buddhism applies different methods and techniques to help us understand, and when i joined this forum, i did not come with a package but with an attempt to understand. From my shallow understanding of the bodhisattva path, my mind somehow links to Ernest Becker's "the denial of death". Delaying ones own enlightenment by playing a hero seems to fit Becker's theory as a glove.