Author Topic: Emptiness and morality  (Read 1342 times)

Offline bahman

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Emptiness and morality
« on: April 19, 2017, 09:18:28 am »
 I am new in this forum and this is my first thread. So here is my first question: How could we find a base for morality if emptiness is true?

Offline zafrogzen

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Re: Emptiness and morality
« Reply #1 on: April 19, 2017, 11:18:21 am »
Bahman wrote
Quote
How could we find a base for morality if emptiness is true?

I haven't much time so I'll repeat something I wrote here http://www.frogzen.com/uncategorized/eternal-life/

Behaving well and doing good under threat of suffering in a future existence presupposes a firm faith in order to be effective. If that faith wavers, or disappears completely, then the moral imperative wavers and disappears as well, and one is free to behave badly.

I think it would be be better if folks were encouraged to see that good behavior is worthwhile simply because it is good — because it works better for themselves and the rest of the world. I know atheistic humanists who are incredibly moral and compassionate, without the threat of punishment in a future life hanging over them.

Religions that emphasize a better life in a future birth, whether in heaven or in another form of rebirth, all tend to denigrate this present existence, which is considered an unclean vale of suffering and degeneration — merely a stepping stone to a better life somewhere else in the future.

I can’t help but think that this attitude can be self-fulfilling.
My first formal meditation training was with Shunryu Suzuki in the 60's and later with Kobun, Robert Aitken and many other teachers (mainly zen). However, I've spent the most time practicing on my own, which is all I do now. I'm living in a rather isolated area so I miss connecting with other practitioners. Despite my interest in zen I've made an effort to remain secular. You can visit my website at http://www.frogzen.com

Offline bahman

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Re: Emptiness and morality
« Reply #2 on: April 19, 2017, 12:51:37 pm »
Bahman wrote
Quote
How could we find a base for morality if emptiness is true?

I haven't much time so I'll repeat something I wrote here http://www.frogzen.com/uncategorized/eternal-life/

Behaving well and doing good under threat of suffering in a future existence presupposes a firm faith in order to be effective. If that faith wavers, or disappears completely, then the moral imperative wavers and disappears as well, and one is free to behave badly.

I think it would be be better if folks were encouraged to see that good behavior is worthwhile simply because it is good — because it works better for themselves and the rest of the world. I know atheistic humanists who are incredibly moral and compassionate, without the threat of punishment in a future life hanging over them.

Religions that emphasize a better life in a future birth, whether in heaven or in another form of rebirth, all tend to denigrate this present existence, which is considered an unclean vale of suffering and degeneration — merely a stepping stone to a better life somewhere else in the future.

I can’t help but think that this attitude can be self-fulfilling.


 So suffering is a base to distinguish a moral act from immoral one. I have other questions now: 1) Is there any proof that a moral act leads to less suffering in the next life (what if it is the opposite?)? Why suffering is a negative thing? We know well that we cannot improve intellectually and physically without suffering. What if we could enjoy suffering (masochism)?

Offline zafrogzen

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Re: Emptiness and morality
« Reply #3 on: April 19, 2017, 08:12:55 pm »
 
Quote
So suffering is a base to distinguish a moral act from immoral one.

I didn't say that. My point was that the threat of "suffering" in a future life is the usual "base" for morality, at least in most religions, including Buddhism, and that "emptiness" does not preclude morality -- which is actually more effective when it is based on objective criteria rather than belief. Your original question implied that emptiness and morality are mutually exclusive.
My first formal meditation training was with Shunryu Suzuki in the 60's and later with Kobun, Robert Aitken and many other teachers (mainly zen). However, I've spent the most time practicing on my own, which is all I do now. I'm living in a rather isolated area so I miss connecting with other practitioners. Despite my interest in zen I've made an effort to remain secular. You can visit my website at http://www.frogzen.com

Offline VincentRJ

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Re: Emptiness and morality
« Reply #4 on: April 19, 2017, 08:18:12 pm »
So suffering is a base to distinguish a moral act from immoral one. I have other questions now: 1) Is there any proof that a moral act leads to less suffering in the next life (what if it is the opposite?)? Why suffering is a negative thing? We know well that we cannot improve intellectually and physically without suffering. What if we could enjoy suffering (masochism)?

There is no proof that there is a next life based upon our identity in this life, except in the sense that our children carry forward our own genes and any alteration to that genetic make-up that our behaviour might have caused prior to having children. Part of the Buddha's message is that we should live in the present and deal with the issues of the present rather than speculate on imponderables.

It is possible to improve intellectually and physically without 'undue' suffering. For example, if one is studying a subject which one finds meaningful, whether History, Philosophy, Physics, Engineering or Comparative Religion, and so on, and so on, the joys of learning should greatly outweigh the minor discomforts one might experience along the way.

However, if one is studying a subject which one doesn't like in order to get a job which one also might not like, but which pays a good salary, then there will likely be a lot of suffering involved.

Likewise, if a person's concept of improving physically is to do heavy workouts in a gym to gain visually impressive muscles, then one will likely suffer, not only due to the stress of repeatedly lifting heavy weights, but also due to any failure to meet expectations.

On the other hand, if a person attempts to improve his physical condition by eating wholesome food and taking regular walks in the countryside appreciating the wonders of nature, then apart from the possibility of an accident occurring, there should be little suffering involved.

As regards masochism, I'm no expert, but from my limited understanding, masochists do suffer from considerable stress such as severe anxiety, guilt and shame.
I believe there's one type of sexual masochism called asphyxiophilia, whereby a person receives sexual satisfaction by having their breathing restricted. While some people engage in this practice with partners, others prefer to restrict their breathing while they are alone, and accidental death might occur as a result.

Another major principle of Buddhism is that everything is connected in some way. Many people take great delight in gorging themselves on tasty but unwholesome food, such as hamburgers and ice cream. You might ask, 'What's wrong with that? Where's the suffering?'

The suffering occurs down the track when the person becomes obese and begins to suffer from a host of ailments due to their lifestyle.

I hope I've helped to clarify the situation for you, Bahman. The Kalama Sutta also addresses these doubts you've raised.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalama_Sutta

Offline stillpointdancer

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Re: Emptiness and morality
« Reply #5 on: April 20, 2017, 02:56:07 am »
I am new in this forum and this is my first thread. So here is my first question: How could we find a base for morality if emptiness is true?
Depends what you mean by morality and emptiness. Buddhism doesn't have the same kind of moral codes as religions such as Christianity. It has right action, which is part of the path. Part of being on the path is not to follow some moral code blindly, but to become aware that actions have consequences, and to work out for yourself what is the right thing to do. We let go of a moral code to develop right action.

Emptiness is not emptiness in the nihilistic understanding of the word, but that things lack permanence and your attachment to them should be dealt with accordingly. Emptiness is then no longer 'true' in the sense that it is another 'thing' and as such becomes something we need to let go of.

The two go hand in hand, there can't be a fixed, unchanging moral code when there is no fixed, unchanging reality, and the question you posed then becomes, "How do I develop right action as someone who is following the path, knowing that all things are impermanent and that things arise on conditions?"
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

Offline zafrogzen

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Re: Emptiness and morality
« Reply #6 on: April 20, 2017, 08:20:29 am »
Genuine realization of emptiness is to see that you share the same basic nature with everything else, that your "self" is not a separate entity but is intimately interconnected with all of life. Thus if you harm others and the environment you are harming yourself. That is the deeper meaning of the universal “Golden Rule” and is the basis for Buddhist compassion.

To me that is the ultimate in “morality." External codes of conduct and threats of future punishment in an afterlife can never be as effective as true emptiness. Unfortunately it's rarely seen or experienced deeply by most people on this planet.
My first formal meditation training was with Shunryu Suzuki in the 60's and later with Kobun, Robert Aitken and many other teachers (mainly zen). However, I've spent the most time practicing on my own, which is all I do now. I'm living in a rather isolated area so I miss connecting with other practitioners. Despite my interest in zen I've made an effort to remain secular. You can visit my website at http://www.frogzen.com

Offline Solodris

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Re: Emptiness and morality
« Reply #7 on: April 20, 2017, 08:31:16 am »
There is no proof that there is a next life based upon our identity in this life, except in the sense that our children carry forward our own genes and any alteration to that genetic make-up that our behaviour might have caused prior to having children. Part of the Buddha's message is that we should live in the present and deal with the issues of the present rather than speculate on imponderables.

I hope I've helped to clarify the situation for you, Bahman. The Kalama Sutta also addresses these doubts you've raised.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalama_Sutta

How does the Kalama Sutra adress considering what is called identity as a source of authority on what is proof and not?

Offline bahman

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Re: Emptiness and morality
« Reply #8 on: April 20, 2017, 10:00:02 am »
I didn't say that. My point was that the threat of "suffering" in a future life is the usual "base" for morality, at least in most religions, including Buddhism,

 That is what I meant when I said morality is based on suffering.

and that "emptiness" does not preclude morality -- which is actually more effective when it is based on objective criteria rather than belief. Your original question implied that emptiness and morality are mutually exclusive.

 Why not (bold part)? Suffering enforces the morality. What is the use of emptiness?

Offline bahman

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Re: Emptiness and morality
« Reply #9 on: April 20, 2017, 10:23:38 am »
There is no proof that there is a next life based upon our identity in this life, except in the sense that our children carry forward our own genes and any alteration to that genetic make-up that our behaviour might have caused prior to having children. Part of the Buddha's message is that we should live in the present and deal with the issues of the present rather than speculate on imponderables.

 How does he believe in the cycle of rebirth then?

It is possible to improve intellectually and physically without 'undue' suffering. For example, if one is studying a subject which one finds meaningful, whether History, Philosophy, Physics, Engineering or Comparative Religion, and so on, and so on, the joys of learning should greatly outweigh the minor discomforts one might experience along the way.

 Yes, but suffering is unavoidable.

However, if one is studying a subject which one doesn't like in order to get a job which one also might not like, but which pays a good salary, then there will likely be a lot of suffering involved.

 That I agree.

Likewise, if a person's concept of improving physically is to do heavy workouts in a gym to gain visually impressive muscles, then one will likely suffer, not only due to the stress of repeatedly lifting heavy weights, but also due to any failure to meet expectations.

On the other hand, if a person attempts to improve his physical condition by eating wholesome food and taking regular walks in the countryside appreciating the wonders of nature, then apart from the possibility of an accident occurring, there should be little suffering involved.

 I agree.

As regards masochism, I'm no expert, but from my limited understanding, masochists do suffer from considerable stress such as severe anxiety, guilt and shame.
I believe there's one type of sexual masochism called asphyxiophilia, whereby a person receives sexual satisfaction by having their breathing restricted. While some people engage in this practice with partners, others prefer to restrict their breathing while they are alone, and accidental death might occur as a result.

 Interesting.

Another major principle of Buddhism is that everything is connected in some way. Many people take great delight in gorging themselves on tasty but unwholesome food, such as hamburgers and ice cream. You might ask, 'What's wrong with that? Where's the suffering?'

The suffering occurs down the track when the person becomes obese and begins to suffer from a host of ailments due to their lifestyle.

I hope I've helped to clarify the situation for you, Bahman. The Kalama Sutta also addresses these doubts you've raised.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalama_Sutta

 Thanks.

Offline VincentRJ

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Re: Emptiness and morality
« Reply #10 on: April 20, 2017, 07:44:01 pm »
There is no proof that there is a next life based upon our identity in this life, except in the sense that our children carry forward our own genes and any alteration to that genetic make-up that our behaviour might have caused prior to having children. Part of the Buddha's message is that we should live in the present and deal with the issues of the present rather than speculate on imponderables.

 How does he believe in the cycle of rebirth then?

We don't really know what the Buddha actually believed. There are no written records from that time. Everything we know from the texts, such as the Pali Canon, is reliant upon the accuracy of human memory for about 400 years.

One story from the Pali Canon refers to the Buddha's reluctance to teach his methods after he had attained enlightenment. He was of the opinion that no-one would understand, and that he would be wasting his time. To Quote:

"After the Buddha had gained enlightenment, so the story goes, he considered whether to teach others the truth he had discovered. Thinking that it would be troublesome for him, since the Dhamma is deep and difficult, and people ensconsed in worldly enjoyment, are not interested, he initially decided on not teaching but instead on 'living at ease'.

Brahma, the creator god of Indian mythology, having perceived the Buddha's decision, appeared before him, bowed down, and requested that he teach because some beings had but little dust on their eyes, and would also find enlightenment if they heard the Dhamma.

The Buddha reconsidered. He surveyed the world with Buddha-vision and saw beings like lotuses at various stages of growth, some indeed likely to understand the truth; he then changed his mind and decided to teach."


Now that's a nice story, but let's consider the practical implications. Any teacher should know that one cannot teach advanced subjects to beginners. It would be futile to attempt to teach a university course to primary school kids. One has to start from the initial understanding of the student.

In those days, the Vedic religion predominated so I presume that the Buddha understood that most people interested in religious matters would have a background belief in the reincarnation of a personal identity or soul.
Such beliefs would have to be accommodated in the Buddha's teachings. The inclusion of the influence of Brahma in the story, a creator god, sounds like propaganda, in order to get the attention of people who are immersed in Vedic mythology."

It is possible to improve intellectually and physically without 'undue' suffering. For example, if one is studying a subject which one finds meaningful, whether History, Philosophy, Physics, Engineering or Comparative Religion, and so on, and so on, the joys of learning should greatly outweigh the minor discomforts one might experience along the way.

 
Quote
Yes, but suffering is unavoidable.

Suffering is not just one thing, either/or. There are various levels and degrees of suffering. At a very basic level, if I have a back pain I can get relief simply by taking a few Ibuprofen capsules.

If you know that certain activities are likely to lead to increased suffering, then the sensible approach is to avoid them. For example, when I lift heavy objects, I always try to remember to bend my knees. That eliminates the consequences of back pain.


Offline zafrogzen

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Re: Emptiness and morality
« Reply #11 on: April 20, 2017, 08:20:44 pm »
bahman,

I wrote
Quote
Your original question implied that emptiness and morality are mutually exclusive.

You wrote
Quote
Why not? Suffering enforces the morality. What is the use of emptiness?

Did you miss the following post of mine or just not understand it?
Quote
Genuine realization of emptiness is to see that you share the same basic nature with everything else, that your "self" is not a separate entity but is intimately interconnected with all of life. Thus if you harm others and the environment you are harming yourself. That is the deeper meaning of the universal “Golden Rule” and is the basis for Buddhist compassion.

To me that is the ultimate in “morality."
My first formal meditation training was with Shunryu Suzuki in the 60's and later with Kobun, Robert Aitken and many other teachers (mainly zen). However, I've spent the most time practicing on my own, which is all I do now. I'm living in a rather isolated area so I miss connecting with other practitioners. Despite my interest in zen I've made an effort to remain secular. You can visit my website at http://www.frogzen.com

Offline stillpointdancer

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Re: Emptiness and morality
« Reply #12 on: April 21, 2017, 03:34:22 am »
Genuine realization of emptiness is to see that you share the same basic nature with everything else, that your "self" is not a separate entity but is intimately interconnected with all of life. Thus if you harm others and the environment you are harming yourself. That is the deeper meaning of the universal “Golden Rule” and is the basis for Buddhist compassion.

To me that is the ultimate in “morality." External codes of conduct and threats of future punishment in an afterlife can never be as effective as true emptiness. Unfortunately it's rarely seen or experienced deeply by most people on this planet.
Good post, Zafrogzen. Well said.
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

Offline Ron-the-Elder

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Re: Emptiness and morality
« Reply #13 on: April 21, 2017, 04:13:34 am »
Quote
Vincent RJ:  "Likewise, if a person's concept of improving physically is to do heavy workouts in a gym to gain visually impressive muscles, then one will likely suffer, not only due to the stress of repeatedly lifting heavy weights, but also due to any failure to meet expectations."

 :lmfao:

Yep!  And when our motivation for developing those muscles is to attract a mate with whom to have sex, and produce children, which demotivates both from having more sex, they argue, seperate, hire lawyers, get divorced, fight over custody, only to have the kids rebel against their parents as teens,  run off with a biker with tatoos, quit college, and etc., and etc.  there is only  more suffering. :smack:    ..... All for the want of muscles to attract a mate with whom we can have sex.   :teehee:

And then, ironically, the next generation does the very same thing:  "The Samsaric Cycle".....of suffering. :lmfao:
« Last Edit: April 21, 2017, 08:36:20 am by Ron-the-Elder »
What Makes an Elder? :
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But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
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Offline bahman

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Re: Emptiness and morality
« Reply #14 on: April 21, 2017, 09:52:42 am »
bahman,

I wrote

Quote
Your original question implied that emptiness and morality are mutually exclusive.

You wrote

Quote
Why not? Suffering enforces the morality. What is the use of emptiness?

Did you miss the following post of mine or just not understand it?

Quote
Genuine realization of emptiness is to see that you share the same basic nature with everything else, that your "self" is not a separate entity but is intimately interconnected with all of life. Thus if you harm others and the environment you are harming yourself. That is the deeper meaning of the universal “Golden Rule” and is the basis for Buddhist compassion.

To me that is the ultimate in “morality."


 Could you please define emptiness?

 


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