Friday, August 30, 2013

The Four Noble Truths of the Buddha, part 9

Part 8 here.

The fifth fold of the noble eight-fold path is for a Buddhist to engage in "Right Livelihood":
Monks, a lay follower should not engage in five types of business. Which five? Business in weapons, business in human beings, business in meat, business in intoxicants, and business in poison. (Vanijja Sutta)
Business in human beings, aka slave trading of forcing women into prostitution, is a criminal offense in all modern societies.  There are "sweat shops" and IT "body shops", but employment there is usually at will, even if at exploitative wages or with terrible working conditions.

The other four prohibited businesses are generally regulated all over the world, with none of them being banned.  Since the Buddhists regard taking of any life as a bad act, insecticides, pesticides, and other kinds of poisons are not to be manufactured by a Buddhist.  Buddhists also are most certainly against the death penalty, enacted by any means.

I believe these injunctions are well-intentioned, even though they are too concrete and wide-ranging  for specific professions ("no intoxicants!"), while it ignores the rather important fact that harm can be indirect.

A currency manipulator can cause untold misery in a developing market.  An advertiser can make people worse about themselves.  A media professional can brainwash people into whatever suits his paymasters.  A government can make unjust laws.  A business enterprise can be environmentally reckless.

As with any specific listing of moral and immoral acts, the very specificity is what makes it dated and irrelevant.  But without that specificity, there is the danger that people will interpret the moral injunction as is convenient to them.

Ethics is a very complex subject.  See for example the Trolley Problem.  All religions, I think, do aim at a harmonious and peaceful society, but they fail because instead of aiming at general evolution of people's mental and ethical faculties, they become righteous and ban specific behaviors which are otherwise part of normal human life, or which are merely cultural norms of a specific era.

Following edicts can lead to a peaceful society, but not an evolved one.  Raising the level of intellectual discourse in a society is a tall undertaking, no doubt, and the fields of education and media have the strongest role to play towards that goal.

I also think that a country's legal apparatus must enforce punishment of patently harmful acts.  Religion can offer advice, but if there is a murder or a theft, the punishment must not be left to Karma.  In many traditionally religious societies, people meekly accept failures of justice delivery because of helplessness, but that helplessness does not find a channel because of hackneyed notions that justice will ultimately be done elsewhere.

This belief must be eradicated from societies for better judicial effectiveness.  If that means educating people, especially children, that reincarnation, just like creationism, is bunkum, so be it.

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