Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ethics and Morality within Buddhism and Christianity

        My second Philosophy paper, a comparative essay between an Eastern and Western Religion, from this past fall semester. I did keep learning things I hadn't known before. 
I earned a 95% on this one, too.

Philosophy 200
November 21, 2013

Ethics and Morality within Eastern and Western Religions

When comparing and contrasting Eastern and Western Religions, in this case Buddhism and Christianity, ethics and morality play a vital role, albeit those virtues originate from different sources. Ethics are commonly defined as a set of principles of right conduct or a system of moral values. Morality is defined as the quality of being in accord with standards of right or good conduct. The concepts of ethics and morality are knit very closely together. It leads one to ask, ultimately,
where does good and upright moral conduct originate and how does it affect society?
A Buddhist is taught to develop good conduct or ethics by training in the "Five Moral Precepts." According to Buddhist teachings, each action performed must be studied to determine whether it would be harmful to oneself or to another, with all actions considered harmful to be avoided. Buddhists begin teaching these five concepts to their children at a young age, allowing them to begin practicing ethical living while still growing into adulthood.
The Five Precepts, which are also called trainings, are as follows:
“1. I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.
2. I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.
3. I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.
4. I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech.
5. I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness (Insight)
These are training rules, which, if broken, the Buddhist should become aware of the offense, leading to an examination of how to avoid such an offense in the future. The practicing Buddhist would emphasize the use of a skillful mind that would enable him to avoid any situation or action that might cause any type of suffering or remorse to himself or others.  Buddhism places a great emphasis on 'mind' and tries to cultivate a calm and peaceful awareness; therefore, feelings of remorse, anxiety, and guilt are considered mental anguish and are to be avoided.
Additionally, Buddhists follow the Eightfold Path, also called the Middle Path or Middle Way. It is the system of following eight divisions of the path to achieve spiritual enlightenment and cease suffering:
1.       “Right understanding: Understanding that the Four Noble Truths are noble and true.
2.       Right thought: Determining and resolving to practice Buddhist faith.
3.       Right speech: Avoiding slander, gossip, lying, and all forms of untrue and abusive speech.
4.       Right conduct: Adhering to the idea of nonviolence (ahimsa), as well as refraining from any form of stealing or sexual impropriety.
5.       Right means of making a living: Not slaughtering animals or working at jobs that force you to violate others.
6.       Right mental attitude or effort: Avoiding negative thoughts and emotions, such as anger and jealousy.
7.       Right mindfulness: Having a clear sense of one’s mental state and bodily health and feelings.
8.       Right concentration: Using meditation to reach the highest level of enlightenment (Gellman and Hartman).”
Furthermore, Buddhism is a tradition that focuses on personal spiritual development and is grounded in a fundamental belief in the inherent dignity of all life. Buddhists strive for a deep insight into the true nature of life and do not worship gods or deities whereas in the monotheistic western religion of Christianity, spiritual development is considered something that one cannot do by his or her own will, but can only be accomplished through the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit’s internal work.
For example, The Ten Commandments were set forth so as to show what holiness is, since purity, rightness and goodness are attributes of God. “The point of the Ten Commandments is to show us how bad we are and how desperately in need of a Savior we are. The Ten Commandments were never given as a set of guidelines to live by. They were given to show us our utter failure in the eyes of God. The Ten Commandments then, by virtue of the fact that they expose our sins to our minds, lead us to hope in someone other than ourselves for our salvation (Rick Walston),”  that being Christ Jesus.
 As a Christian, the standard is perfection: “ Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Bible Matt 5:48)” A Christian believes that the sanctification process continues as he lives his life to God’s glory, studying scripture in order to know truth, and denying sinful fleshly desires. Although a Christian will not reach perfection on this side of heaven, he strives to do the best he can each day, which honors and brings glory to God, with the hope that his witness will draw others toward Christ. Since no human is perfect and will fall into sin or unintentionally hurt another, Jesus spoke frequently about forgiveness of sins in the context of asking others to forgive us when we cause a hurt in their life and freely forgiving those who have caused us pain or suffering. Although both Christians and Buddhists strive to not cause harm to others, a Buddhist is careful to be peaceful and not cause strife for anyone else, whereas a Christian realizes that unintended sins against others will occur, but one can find redemption and forgiveness through Christ’s atoning death on the cross. However, both religions agree that it is best not cause anyone suffering in the first place.
Secondly, In the Eastern religions there is noticeable amount of moral reverence shown when it comes to how parents, family, and elders are respected and treated. Children are taught these concepts early in life. Proof of this can be seen in Buddhist teachings. The Itivuttaka, a collection of 112 short discourses of sayings of the Buddha, offers the following example: “This was said by the Blessed One, said by the Arahant, so I have heard: "Living with Brahma are those families where, in the home, mother & father are revered by the children. 'Brahma' is a designation for mother & father. 'The first devas' is a designation for mother & father. 'The first teachers' is a designation for mother & father. 'Those worthy of gifts' is a designation for mother & father. Why is that? Mother & father do much for their children. They care for them, nourish them, introduce them to this world. So the wise should pay them homage, honor with food & drink, clothing & bedding, anointing & bathing & washing their feet. Performing these services to their parents, the wise are praised right here and after death rejoice in heaven. (Windisch 106)."
In the Sigalovada Sutta, a Buddhist code of discipline, the following suggestion is given. “In five ways a child should minister to his parents as the eastern quarter [i.e., the direction of the rising sun or birth]: 'Once supported by them, I will now be their support; I will perform duties incumbent on them; I will keep up the lineage and tradition of my family; I will make myself worthy of my heritage; I will give alms on their behalf when they are dead.' In five ways do the parents, thus ministered to as the eastern quarter by their child, act in sympathy with him: they restrain him from vice, they exhort him to virtue, they train hum to a profession, they contract a suitable marriage for him, and in due time they hand over his inheritance (Thero III, 189). “
In the Path of Purification one reads, “Consequently he should think about that person thus: This person, it seems as my mother in the past carried me in her womb for ten months and removed from me without disgust as if it were yellow sandalwood my urine, excrement, spittle, snot, etc., and played with me in her lap, and nourished me, carrying me about at her hip. And this person as my father went by great paths and paths set on piles, etc., to pursue the trade of merchant, and he risked his life for me by going into battle in double array, by sailing on the great ocean in shops and doing other difficult things and he nourished me by bringing back wealth by one means or another thinking to feed his children (Nanamoli and Buddhaghosa IX, 36).”
It is clear that the moral code of revering our elders is carried out in a very serious manner in the Buddhist religion and culture. Educating children to recognize the love and sacrifice made by caring parents is key in building an ethical and moral generation. The entire society benefits as children are taught to respect and care for their parents and elders, since these children will one day grow old also, and will need their children to care for them.
Likewise, God instructs Christian parents to teach their children discipline and respect.  The Bible offers as guidance to parents the following three verses: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Bible Eph. 6:4),”  “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother (Bible Prov. 29:15),” and “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it (Bible Prov. 22:6).” To the young Christians God instructs, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right (Bible Eph. 6:1),”
Respect and caring for one’s parents is also a Christian moral responsibility.  "Honor your father and mother"—which is the first commandment with a promise—"that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth" (Ephesians 6:2-3). When Christians honor and care for their parents, they are serving God as well. The Bible says, “The church should care for any widow who has no one else to care for her. But if she has children or grandchildren, their first responsibility is to show Godliness at home and repay their parents by taking care of them. This is something that pleases God very much....But those who won't care for their own relatives, especially those living in the same household, have denied what we believe. Such people are worse than unbelievers (Bible 1 Timothy 5:3-4, 8).”
It is clearly seen that Buddhists look to their internal self to do the morally right thing by employing the Buddha’s teachings of the Five Precepts and the Noble Eight –Fold path, whereas Christians derive their moral and ethical code from what God has written in His Holy Word, the Bible. The morals and ethics that result are amazingly quite similar and can be summed up in the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated. The British academic philosopher Simon Blackburn states, “The Golden Rule can be found in some form in almost every ethical tradition (Blackburn 101),” in both Eastern and Western Religions. If this Golden Rule is followed, the result is a peaceful and kinder society who cares for the needs of their fellow man. When a nation drifts from practicing some form of religion, we see that society lose respect and consideration for their elders and one another. Thereafter, a moral decline begins as the society becomes more corrupt and inflicts endless kinds of harm and suffering upon one another. It is no wonder that Buddha is quoted as saying he didn’t start the philosophy, he was simply bringing the old ways back. A similar cry is heard in America today, encouraging people to return to the faith of our forefathers, that morality might return to our land.

Works Cited

Bible, Holy. The Holy Bible. Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, 2001. Print.
Blackburn, Simon. Ethics: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. Book.
Gellman, Rabbi Mark and Monsignor Thomas Hartman. Religion for Dummies. New York: Wiley Publishing Inc., 2002. Print.
Insight, Access to. "The Five Precepts: paƱca-sila", edited by Access to Insight. 5 November 2013. We. 19 November 2013.
Nanamoli, Bhikkhu and Bhadantacariya Buddhaghosa. The Path of Purification: Visuddhimagga. Onalaska: Pariyatti Publishing, 1975, 1991. Print.
Rick Walston, Ph.D. Coffee Talk with Professor Walston. 30 April 2001. web. 20 November 2013.
Thero, Pandit. P. Pemaratana. Sigalovada Sutta: The Code of Discipline for Layman. Penang Buddhist Association, 1968. Print.
Windisch, Editor E. Itivuttaka. Pali Text Society, 1975. Print.

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