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I have a hypothetical question.

Let's say I don't believe in karma, reincarnation, or any deities of any sort. I also saw in some texts and videos that, to achieve higher awareness, I should not define good or bad either. That I should be equanimous towards everything. If there is no distinction between good and evil, where does morality come from then, in the absence of karma? How do I justify my inclination toward doing good to humanity?

Is my question nonsensical? Please help me resolve this conflict.

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    Since karma is a core principle in Buddhism, I don't think it makes sense to expect a Buddhist explanation of morality while also, a priori, rejecting the existence of karma. Dec 28, 2022 at 16:10

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The basis of morality (secular or religious) is the observation that causes have consequences: actions have reactions and abreactions; nothing is isolated or immune. When we talk about karma, dao, the Golden Rule, the Categorical Imperative, the interplay of sin and virtue, or whatever, all we're really pointing at is a kind of expanded, psychotropic version of Newton's laws, one that includes psychosocial (and if you like, spiritual) principles. Loosely put, we have something like:

  • The mind will continue to do what the mind has always done, unless some effort is applied
  • The impact of the mind on the world is proportional to the intensity of its desires
  • Every mental action has an equal and opposite set of reactions, in ourselves and in others

In other words, if we punch someone in the face, we don't stop at calculating the force of the blow and the resultant damage to flesh and bone. The intent to strike is an inertial state of the mind that carries through into the punch, and that creates a set of reactions in the mind of the other that produces a response (given the complex inertial state of their own mind). Note that people often have a hard time explaining why they threw a punch. They'll have some immediate trigger, sure, but they generally have no clear idea why they were primed to throw a punch in the first place. That 'priming' — the inertial state of their mind — could be the result of their upbringing (which could be a result of their parent's upbringing, and their grandparents...), or it might come from encounters with their peers early on, or from some unpleasant interaction with a stranger sometime, or even something more esoteric than that. All we can honestly say is that the inertial state of one mind ran up against the inertial state of another mind, and there was a transfer of mental inertia (an applied force) through the mediation of a punch.

Immoral behavior is always predicated on the belief that there will be no significant consequences to the self for a given action. It's a carefully gilded lie.

Buddhist practice aims to do two things:

  • Defuse that mental inertia so that we can act freely in the world
  • Uproot the notion that a self immune to consequences exists

When we still the onrushing inertia of the mind and grasp our fundamental integration with the world, our behavior becomes naturally moral. It's like someone going to the doctor saying: "I'm having a hard time walking; I keep slipping and sliding and falling over," only to have the doctor say: "Hm. Have you tried taking off those roller skates?" Buddhist teachings are just like that doctor's advice, but we're the ones who have to see how our own minds carry us away.

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Your question is perfectly valid. In my understanding, the morality in Buddhism comes from a fundamental natural law of information/representation. Let me try and summarize it here.

Sentient beings experience reality through representation, what we can call the content of their minds.

Representation is a kind of simplified reflection of reality or an informational echo of reality.

Representation is especially not good at handling contradictions. Contradictions are hard and sentient beings find them uncomfortable or even painful.

Certain types of behaviors objectively lead to contradictions. For example, lying, provoking conflict, violence, taking someone else's possessions - are some basic examples of behavior that most often lead to contradictions one or more sentient beings have to experience.

There are nuances, but in general actions that lead to conflicts and contradictions - and therfore to uncomfortable and painful experience - are "evil" and actions that lead away from conflicts and contradictions and towards peace and harmony are "good".

Not all such actions create results right away. Some actions setup latent circumstances that tend to cause trouble later on. This is what we colloquially call karma, the latent unripened results of previous actions. Again, nothing supernatural.

Now you can understand the following quote from the Dhammapada:

To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas.

Because the "evil" (by definition) leads to contradictions and suffering, the "good" (by definition) leads to peace and harmony, and the "mind" is the source of all representation.

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Ajaan Geoff touches on morality in this segment from his book The Wings to Awakening. He's writing about the night of the Buddha's awakening and the insights that the Buddha experienced that night. You might have to read a little of the context for this paragraph (see link) in order to get a better sense for the authenticity of his claim about morality here.

"The second insight—into the death and rebirth of beings throughout the cosmos—provided part of the answer to the questions surrounding the issue of causality in the pursuit of happiness. The primary causal factor is the mind, and in particular the moral quality of the intentions comprising its thoughts, words, and deeds, and the rightness of the views underlying them. Thus moral principles are inherent in the functioning of the cosmos, rather than being mere social conventions. For this reason, any quest for happiness must focus on mastering the quality of the mind’s views and intentions."

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Maybe not necessarily related to the question, but I think for a westerner studying religion a very important issue is how you treat knowledge. You should be not only trying to understand some concepts, but also consider what kind of context and background people originally talking about these concepts have or used to have. How the understanding and usage of language might differ between Eastern/Western people and so on. You might be using the same words but they might not mean the same thing for different people.

The western philosophical tradition in general is a process of deepening in metaphisics, the process of questioning every conclusion you come to, not creating new concepts, but "destroying" and getting rid of the existing ones you have obtained during the life so far. So, "studying Buddhism" might be quite a different process for Eastern people for example. You should be asking a question if you can even study Buddhism doing the same thing that other people do as well (a.k.a. should you listen to what Buddha was saying or should you be doing what Buddha was doing himself? or maybe you should not even do anything, after all Buddha was not looking for help from other people but was just thinking by himself:)).

Regarding your question, it might be worth considering why you have an urge to ask such questions. Why you need morality and why you have a need to do "good to humanity". For example, if this comes from the fact you have been growing in a western society built on Christianity, you might not even have to answer such questions because they won't make sense anymore for you after some thinking and understanding where these questions come from.

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Point 1- You dont believe in these some concepts, but you believe in certain texts that believe in those concepts. Bound to run into a paradox.

Point 2- What you might have read in some texts can be contextual and that too of a small scope. WHat Great masters have written in a majority of texts is very much about karma, etc. and good or bad only.

Point 3- Being Equanimous is not the same thing as there being no distinction between good or bad. Equanimity ("upekha") is your subjective action. Good or bad is explicitly defined in the texts. It is based on the function of things and their consequences (karma). Equanimity isnt saying or asserting that there is no good or bad.

Morality comes in to play only because there are good acts and there are bad acts. There is good and bad and learning to identify what is what, not merely at the level of how it appears, is an active part of Buddhist learning. Morality comes into play only because there is karma and other related concepts. ALl these together justify the reasoning of morality and act as a source of true conviction to be good. If you remove them, then the question of asking how does one justify morality is like having a car, taking away its wheels and engines and then asking "hey! how do I justify these to be a car".

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Where does morality come from in Buddhism? Is morality objective?

"Skillful virtues have freedom from remorse as their purpose, Ananda, and freedom from remorse as their reward."
Kimattha Sutta

You can read the whole sutta to see how skillful virtues lead to enlightenment. It starts from freedom from remorse, which leads to joy and so on.

So, if skillful virtues result in freedom from remorse, then immoral behavior lead to remorse. So, this means that virtue is universal or objective in Buddhism.

Well, some things are not universal or objective. For example, should you try to beat the lights when the traffic light is red? These are not universal or objective. These are learned.

But some things like taking a life, taking what belongs to others, speaking untruth and adultery are definitely universal or objective.

Where is this source of objective morality?

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Sāvatthī at Jeta's Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika's monastery. And on that occasion King Pasenadi Kosala had gone with Queen Mallikā to the upper palace. Then he said to her, "Mallikā, is there anyone dearer to you than yourself?"

"No, great king. There is no one dearer to me than myself. And what about you, great king? Is there anyone dearer to you than yourself?"

"No, Mallikā. There is no one dearer to me than myself."

Then the king, descending from the palace, went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he said to the Blessed One, "Just now, when I had gone with Queen Mallikā to the upper palace, I said to her, 'Mallikā, is there anyone dearer to you than yourself?'

"When this was said, she said to me, 'No, great king. There is no one dearer to me than myself. And what about you, great king? Is there anyone dearer to you than yourself?'

"When this was said, I said to her, 'No, Mallikā. There is no one dearer to me than myself.'"

Then, on realizing the significance of that, the Blessed One on that occasion exclaimed:

Searching all directions
with your awareness,
you find no one dearer
than yourself.
In the same way, others
are thickly dear to themselves.
So you shouldn't hurt others
if you love yourself.

Udana 5.1

  1. All tremble at violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.

  2. All tremble at violence; life is dear to all. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.

  3. One who, while himself seeking happiness, oppresses with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will not attain happiness hereafter.

  4. One who, while himself seeking happiness, does not oppress with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will find happiness hereafter.
    Dhammapada 10

What does this show?

Morality is objective, because we know that nobody is dearer to us than ourselves (if we still have self view and conceit), and we recognize that this is also the case for other unenlightened sentient beings.

So, you would feel remorse when hurting others, because you know that if others did that to you, you would feel pain. The basis of morality is compassion towards the suffering of others, because we can relate to it due to our own suffering.

How do I know this to be true?

Simply list out every possible way you can hurt another person, and most likely, you would have derived the basic code of morality found in most religions by negating every item in your list.

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  • I find this answer quite acceptable. However, there is this inherent axiom that one must love oneself, and then we can develop theorems and corollaries towards morality and virtues. Could you please elaborate on why we should love ourselves? What if someone does not? Jan 1, 2023 at 18:15
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Within the Buddha's teaching it can seem like everything is a contradiction. This is because there are two ways to approach reality in Buddhism. Ultimate reality and conceptual reality.

In the Buddha's teaching something is either going to lead to suffering or not lead to suffering. That comes from the ultimate reality Buddha teaching.

In this ultimate reality way of seeing there are no good or evil people, just good and bad mind states AKA Samsara.

Doing good to humanity? Doing good for yourself? There is no difference in this ultimate reality way of seeing things.

One doesn't have to be equanimous towards everything. One practices the eightfold path. Equanimity just happens from doing skillful Buddhist practice. It's not personal.

So, see, we individuals have to do a balancing act of sorts between helping ourselves & helping others because every moment is different. Rather than just having blind faith in our personal preconceived notions, the government, a church or even the Buddha's words.

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    Is this quoting something else?
    – ruben2020
    Dec 28, 2022 at 1:13
  • No, I would note the author of the quote, but these are common approaches to the Buddha's teaching.
    – Lowbrow
    Dec 29, 2022 at 10:59
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A Safe Bet Sutta : https://www.dhammatalks.org/suttas/MN/MN60.html

>"The sutta falls into two parts, the first part covering his “safe-bet” arguments, and the second part extolling the person who practices the Dhamma for tormenting neither himself nor others. The two parts are connected in that they both present pragmatic arguments for accepting the Buddha’s teaching."

I have heard that on one occasion, when the Blessed One was on a wandering tour among the Kosalans with a large Saṅgha of monks, he arrived at the brahman village of the Kosalans called Sāla.

The brahman householders heard, “Master Gotama the contemplative—the son of the Sakyans, having gone forth from the Sakyan clan—on a wandering tour among the Kosalans with a large Saṅgha of monks—has arrived at Sāla. And of that master Gotama this fine reputation has spread: ‘He is indeed a Blessed One, worthy & rightly self-awakened, consummate in clear-knowing & conduct, well-gone, an expert with regard to the cosmos, unexcelled trainer of people fit to be tamed, teacher of devas & human beings, awakened, blessed. He makes known—having realized it through direct knowledge—this world with its devas, Māras, & Brahmās, this generation with its contemplatives & brahmans, its royalty & commonfolk; he explains the Dhamma admirable in the beginning, admirable in the middle, admirable in the end; he expounds the holy life both in its particulars & in its essence, entirely perfect, surpassingly pure. It is good to see such a worthy one.’”

So the brahman householders of Sāla went to the Blessed One. On arrival, some of them bowed down to the Blessed One and sat to one side. Some of them exchanged courteous greetings with him and, after an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, sat to one side. Some of them sat to one side having saluted him with their hands palm-to-palm over their hearts. Some of them sat to one side having announced their name & clan. Some of them sat to one side in silence.

As they were sitting there, the Blessed One asked them, “Householders, is there any teacher agreeable to you, in whom you have found grounded conviction?”

“No, lord, there is no teacher agreeable to us, in whom we have found grounded conviction.”

“As you have not found an agreeable teacher, you should adopt and practice this safe-bet teaching, for this safe-bet teaching—when accepted and adopted—will be to your long-term welfare & happiness.

“And what is the safe-bet teaching? Existence & Non-existence

A. “There are some contemplatives & brahmans who hold this doctrine, hold this view: ‘There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed. There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions. There is no this world, no next world, no mother, no father, no spontaneously reborn beings; no contemplatives or brahmans who, faring rightly and practicing rightly, proclaim this world and the next after having directly known and realized it for themselves.’1

B. “Some contemplatives & brahmans, speaking in direct opposition to those contemplatives & brahmans, say this: ‘There is what is given, what is offered, what is sacrificed. There are fruits & results of good & bad actions. There is this world & the next world. There is mother & father. There are spontaneously reborn beings; there are contemplatives & brahmans who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.’

“What do you think, householders? Don’t these contemplatives & brahmans speak in direct opposition to each other?”

“Yes, lord.”

A1. “Now, householders, of those contemplatives & brahmans who hold this doctrine, hold this view—’There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed. There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions. There is no this world, no next world, no mother, no father, no spontaneously reborn beings; no contemplatives or brahmans who, faring rightly and practicing rightly, proclaim this world and the next after having directly known and realized it for themselves’—it can be expected that, shunning these three skillful activities—good bodily conduct, good verbal conduct, good mental conduct—they will adopt & practice these three unskillful activities: bad bodily conduct, bad verbal conduct, bad mental conduct. Why is that? Because those venerable contemplatives & brahmans do not see, in unskillful activities, the drawbacks, the degradation, and the defilement; nor in skillful activities the rewards of renunciation, resembling cleansing.

A2. “Because there actually is the next world, the view of one who thinks, ‘There is no next world’ is his wrong view. Because there actually is the next world, when he is resolved that ‘There is no next world,’ that is his wrong resolve. Because there actually is the next world, when he speaks the statement, ‘There is no next world,’ that is his wrong speech. Because there actually is the next world, when he says that ‘There is no next world,’ he makes himself an opponent to those arahants who know the next world. Because there actually is the next world, when he persuades another that ‘There is no next world,’ that is persuasion in what is not true Dhamma. And in that persuasion in what is not true Dhamma, he exalts himself and disparages others. Whatever good habituation he previously had is abandoned, while bad habituation is manifested. And this wrong view, wrong resolve, wrong speech, opposition to the arahants, persuasion in what is not true Dhamma, exaltation of self, & disparagement of others: These many evil, unskillful activities come into play, in dependence on wrong view.

A3. “With regard to this, an observant person considers thus: ‘If there is no next world, then—with the breakup of the body, after death—this venerable person has made himself safe. But if there is the next world, then this venerable person—on the breakup of the body, after death—will reappear in a plane of deprivation, a bad destination, a lower realm, hell. Even if we didn’t speak of the next world, and there weren’t the true statement of those venerable contemplatives & brahmans, this venerable person is still criticized in the here & now by the observant as a person of bad habits & wrong view2: one who holds to a doctrine of non-existence.’ If there really is a next world, then this venerable person has made a bad throw twice: in that he is criticized by the observant here & now, and in that—with the breakup of the body, after death—he will reappear in a plane of deprivation, a bad destination, a lower realm, hell. Thus this safe-bet teaching, when poorly grasped & poorly adopted by him, covers (only) one side, and leaves behind the possibility of the skillful.

B1. “Now, householders, of those contemplatives & brahmans who hold this doctrine, hold this view—’There is what is given, what is offered, what is sacrificed. There are fruits & results of good & bad actions. There is this world & the next world. There is mother & father. There are spontaneously reborn beings; there are contemplatives & brahmans who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves’—it can be expected that, shunning these three unskillful activities—bad bodily conduct, bad verbal conduct, bad mental conduct—they will adopt & practice these three skillful activities: good bodily conduct, good verbal conduct, good mental conduct. Why is that? Because those venerable contemplatives & brahmans see in unskillful activities the drawbacks, the degradation, and the defilement; and in skillful activities the rewards of renunciation, resembling cleansing.

B2. “Because there actually is the next world, the view of one who thinks, ‘There is a next world’ is his right view. Because there actually is the next world, when he is resolved that ‘There is a next world,’ that is his right resolve. Because there actually is the next world, when he speaks the statement, ‘There is a next world,’ that is his right speech. Because there actually is the next world, when he says that ‘There is a next world,’ he doesn’t make himself an opponent to those arahants who know the next world. Because there actually is the next world, when he persuades another that ‘There is a next world,’ that is persuasion in what is true Dhamma. And in that persuasion in what is true Dhamma, he doesn’t exalt himself or disparage others. Whatever bad habituation he previously had is abandoned, while good habituation is manifested. And this right view, right resolve, right speech, non-opposition to the arahants, persuasion in what is true Dhamma, non-exaltation of self, & non-disparagement of others: These many skillful activities come into play, in dependence on right view.

B3. “With regard to this, an observant person considers thus: ‘If there is the next world, then this venerable person—on the breakup of the body, after death—will reappear in a good destination, a heavenly world. Even if we didn’t speak of the next world, and there weren’t the true statement of those venerable contemplatives & brahmans, this venerable person is still praised in the here & now by the observant as a person of good habits & right view: one who holds to a doctrine of existence.’ If there really is a next world, then this venerable person has made a good throw twice, in that he is praised by the observant here & now; and in that—with the breakup of the body, after death—he will reappear in a good destination, a heavenly world. Thus this safe-bet teaching, when well grasped & adopted by him, covers both sides, and leaves behind the possibility of the unskillful. Action & Non-action

A. “There are some contemplatives & brahmans who hold this doctrine, hold this view: ‘In acting or getting others to act, in mutilating or getting others to mutilate, in torturing or getting others to torture, in inflicting sorrow or in getting others to inflict sorrow, in tormenting or getting others to torment, in intimidating or getting others to intimidate, in taking life, taking what is not given, breaking into houses, plundering wealth, committing burglary, ambushing highways, committing adultery, speaking falsehood—one does no evil. If with a razor-edged disk one were to turn all the living beings on this earth to a single heap of flesh, a single pile of flesh, there would be no evil from that cause, no coming of evil. Even if one were to go along the right bank of the Ganges, killing and getting others to kill, mutilating and getting others to mutilate, torturing and getting others to torture, there would be no evil from that cause, no coming of evil. Even if one were to go along the left bank of the Ganges, giving and getting others to give, making sacrifices and getting others to make sacrifices, there would be no merit from that cause, no coming of merit. Through generosity, self-control, restraint, and truthful speech there is no merit from that cause, no coming of merit.’3

B. “Some contemplatives & brahmans, speaking in direct opposition to those contemplatives & brahmans, say this: ‘In acting or getting others to act, in mutilating or getting others to mutilate, in torturing or getting others to torture, in inflicting sorrow or in getting others to inflict sorrow, in tormenting or getting others to torment, in intimidating or getting others to intimidate, in taking life, taking what is not given, breaking into houses, plundering wealth, committing burglary, ambushing highways, committing adultery, speaking falsehood—one does evil. If with a razor-edged disk one were to turn all the living beings on this earth to a single heap of flesh, a single pile of flesh, there would be evil from that cause, there would be a coming of evil. If one were to go along the right bank of the Ganges, killing and getting others to kill, mutilating and getting others to mutilate, torturing and getting others to torture, there would be evil from that cause, there would be a coming of evil. If one were to go along the left bank of the Ganges, giving and getting others to give, making sacrifices and getting others to make sacrifices, there would be merit from that cause, there would be a coming of merit. Through generosity, self-control, restraint, and truthful speech there is merit from that cause, there is a coming of merit.’

“What do you think, householders? Don’t these contemplatives & brahmans speak in direct opposition to each other?”

“Yes, lord.”

A1. “Now, householders, of those contemplatives & brahmans who hold this doctrine, hold this view—’In acting or getting others to act, in mutilating or getting others to mutilate, in torturing or getting others to torture… one does no evil … Through generosity, self-control, restraint, and truthful speech there is no merit from that cause, no coming of merit’—it can be expected that, shunning these three skillful activities—good bodily conduct, good verbal conduct, good mental conduct—they will adopt & practice these three unskillful activities: bad bodily conduct, bad verbal conduct, bad mental conduct. Why is that? Because those venerable contemplatives & brahmans do not see, in unskillful activities, the drawbacks, the degradation, and the defilement; nor in skillful activities the rewards of renunciation, resembling cleansing.

A2. “Because there actually is action, the view of one who thinks, ‘There is no action’ is his wrong view. Because there actually is action, when he is resolved that ‘There is no action,’ that is his wrong resolve. Because there actually is action, when he speaks the statement, ‘There is no action,’ that is his wrong speech. Because there actually is action, when he says that ‘There is no action,’ he makes himself an opponent to those arahants who teach action. Because there actually is action, when he persuades another that ‘There is no action,’ that is persuasion in what is not true Dhamma. And in that persuasion in what is not true Dhamma, he exalts himself and disparages others. Whatever good habituation he previously had is abandoned, while bad habituation is manifested. And this wrong view, wrong resolve, wrong speech, opposition to the arahants, persuasion in what is not true Dhamma, exaltation of self, & disparagement of others: These many evil, unskillful activities come into play, in dependence on wrong view.

A3. “With regard to this, an observant person considers thus: ‘If there is no action, then—with the breakup of the body, after death—this venerable person has made himself safe. But if there is action, then this venerable person—on the breakup of the body, after death—will reappear in a plane of deprivation, a bad destination, a lower realm, hell. Even if we didn’t speak of action, and there weren’t the true statement of those venerable contemplatives & brahmans, this venerable person is still criticized in the here & now by the observant as a person of bad habits & wrong view: one who holds to a doctrine of non-action.’ If there really is action, then this venerable person has made a bad throw twice: in that he is criticized by the observant here & now; and in that—with the breakup of the body, after death—he will reappear in a plane of deprivation, a bad destination, a lower realm, hell. Thus this safe-bet teaching, when poorly grasped & poorly adopted by him, covers (only) one side, and leaves behind the possibility of the skillful.

B1. “Now, householders, of those contemplatives & brahmans who hold this doctrine, hold this view—’In acting or getting others to act, in mutilating or getting others to mutilate, in torturing or getting others to torture… one does evil.… Through generosity, self-control, restraint, and truthful speech there is merit from that cause, there is a coming of merit’—it can be expected that, shunning these three unskillful activities—bad bodily conduct, bad verbal conduct, bad mental conduct—they will adopt & practice these three skillful activities: good bodily conduct, good verbal conduct, good mental conduct. Why is that? Because those venerable contemplatives & brahmans see in unskillful activities the drawbacks, the degradation, and the defilement; and in skillful activities the rewards of renunciation, resembling cleansing.

B2. “Because there actually is action, the view of one who thinks, ‘There is action’ is his right view. Because there actually is action, when he is resolved that ‘There is action,’ that is his right resolve. Because there actually is action, when he speaks the statement, ‘There is action,’ that is his right speech. Because there actually is action, when he says that ‘There is action,’ he doesn’t make himself an opponent to those arahants who teach action. Because there actually is action, when he persuades another that ‘There is action,’ that is persuasion in what is true Dhamma. And in that persuasion in what is true Dhamma, he doesn’t exalt himself or disparage others. Whatever bad habituation he previously had is abandoned, while good habituation is manifested. And this right view, right resolve, right speech, non-opposition to the arahants, persuasion in what is true Dhamma, non-exaltation of self, & non-disparagement of others: These many skillful activities come into play, in dependence on right view.

B3. “With regard to this, an observant person considers thus: ‘If there is action, then this venerable person—on the breakup of the body, after death—will reappear in a good destination, a heavenly world. Even if we didn’t speak of action, and there weren’t the true statement of those venerable contemplatives & brahmans, this venerable person is still praised in the here & now by the observant as a person of good habits & right view: one who holds to a doctrine of action.’ If there really is a next world, then this venerable person has made a good throw twice, in that he is praised by the observant here & now; and in that—with the breakup of the body, after death—he will reappear in a good destination, a heavenly world. Thus this safe-bet teaching, when well grasped & adopted by him, covers both sides, and leaves behind the possibility of the unskillful. Causality & Non-causality

A. “There are some contemplatives & brahmans who hold this doctrine, hold this view: ‘There is no causality, no requisite condition, for the defilement of beings. Beings are defiled without causality, without requisite condition. There is no causality, no requisite condition, for the purification of beings. Beings are purified without causality, without requisite condition. There is no strength, no effort, no human energy, no human endeavor. All living beings, all life, all beings, all souls are powerless, devoid of strength, devoid of effort. Subject to the changes of fate, serendipity, and nature, they experience pleasure and pain in the six great classes of birth.’4

B. “Some contemplatives & brahmans, speaking in direct opposition to those contemplatives & brahmans, say this: ‘There is causality, there is requisite condition, for the defilement of beings. Beings are defiled with causality, with requisite condition. There is causality, there is requisite condition, for the purification of beings. Beings are purified with causality, with requisite condition. There is strength, there is effort, there is human energy, there is human endeavor. It’s not the case that all living beings, all life, all beings, all souls are powerless, devoid of strength, devoid of effort; or that subject to the changes of fate, serendipity, and nature, they experience pleasure and pain in the six great classes of birth.’

“What do you think, householders? Don’t these contemplatives & brahmans speak in direct opposition to each other?”

“Yes, lord.”

A1. “Now, householders, of those contemplatives & brahmans who hold this doctrine, hold this view—’There is no cause, no requisite condition, for the defilement of beings.… Subject to the changes of fate, serendipity, and nature, they experience pleasure and pain in the six great classes of birth’—it can be expected that, shunning these three skillful activities—good bodily conduct, good verbal conduct, good mental conduct—they will adopt & practice these three unskillful activities: bad bodily conduct, bad verbal conduct, bad mental conduct. Why is that? Because those venerable contemplatives & brahmans do not see, in unskillful activities, the drawbacks, the degradation, and the defilement; nor in skillful activities the rewards of renunciation, resembling cleansing.

A2. “Because there actually is causality, the view of one who thinks, ‘There is no causality’ is his wrong view. Because there actually is causality, when he is resolved that ‘There is no causality,’ that is his wrong resolve. Because there actually is causality, when he speaks the statement, ‘There is no causality,’ that is his wrong speech. Because there actually is causality, when he says that ‘There is no causality,’ he makes himself an opponent to those arahants who teach causality. Because there actually is causality, when he persuades another that ‘There is no causality,’ that is persuasion in what is not true Dhamma. And in that persuasion in what is not true Dhamma, he exalts himself and disparages others. Whatever good habituation he previously had is abandoned, while bad habituation is manifested. And this wrong view, wrong resolve, wrong speech, opposition to the arahants, persuasion in what is not true Dhamma, exaltation of self, & disparagement of others: These many evil, unskillful activities come into play, in dependence on wrong view.

A3. “With regard to this, an observant person considers thus: ‘If there is no causality, then—with the breakup of the body, after death—this venerable person has made himself safe. But if there is causality, then this venerable person—on the breakup of the body, after death—will reappear in a plane of deprivation, a bad destination, a lower realm, hell. Even if we didn’t speak of causality, and there weren’t the true statement of those venerable contemplatives & brahmans, this venerable person is still criticized in the here & now by the observant as a person of bad habits & wrong view: one who holds to a doctrine of non-causality.’ If there really is a next world, then this venerable person has made a bad throw twice: in that he is criticized by the observant here & now, and in that—with the breakup of the body, after death—he will reappear in a plane of deprivation, a bad destination, a lower realm, hell. Thus this safe-bet teaching, when poorly grasped & poorly adopted by him, covers (only) one side, and leaves behind the possibility of the skillful.

B1. “Now, householders, of those contemplatives & brahmans who hold this doctrine, hold this view—’There is causality, there is requisite condition, for the defilement of beings.… It’s not the case that all living beings, all life, all beings, all souls are powerless, devoid of strength, devoid of effort; or that subject to the changes of fate, serendipity, and nature, they experience pleasure and pain in the six great classes of birth’—it can be expected that, shunning these three unskillful activities—bad bodily conduct, bad verbal conduct, bad mental conduct—they will adopt & practice these three skillful activities: good bodily conduct, good verbal conduct, good mental conduct. Why is that? Because those venerable contemplatives & brahmans see in unskillful activities the drawbacks, the degradation, and the defilement; and in skillful activities the rewards of renunciation, resembling cleansing.

B2. “Because there actually is causality, the view of one who thinks, ‘There is causality’ is his right view. Because there actually is causality, when he is resolved that ‘There is causality,’ that is his right resolve. Because there actually causality, when he speaks the statement, ‘There is causality,’ that is his right speech. Because there actually is causality, when he says that ‘There is causality,’ he doesn’t make himself an opponent to those arahants who teach causality. Because there actually is causality, when he persuades another that ‘There is causality,’ that is persuasion in what is true Dhamma. And in that persuasion in what is true Dhamma, he doesn’t exalt himself or disparage others. Whatever bad habituation he previously had is abandoned, while good habituation is manifested. And this right view, right resolve, right speech, non-opposition to the arahants, persuasion in what is true Dhamma, non-exaltation of self, & non-disparagement of others: These many skillful activities come into play, in dependence on right view.

B3. “With regard to this, an observant person considers thus: ‘If there is causality, then this venerable person—on the breakup of the body, after death—will reappear in a good destination, a heavenly world. Even if we didn’t speak of causality, and there weren’t the true statement of those venerable contemplatives & brahmans, this venerable person is still praised in the here & now by the observant as a person of good habits & right view: one who holds to a doctrine of causality.’ If there really is causality, then this venerable person has made a good throw twice, in that he is praised by the observant here & now; and in that—with the breakup of the body, after death—he will reappear in a good destination, a heavenly world. Thus this safe-bet teaching, when well grasped & adopted by him, covers both sides, and leaves behind the possibility of the unskillful.

the Buddha, A Safe Bet Apaṇṇaka Sutta (MN 60) | Translate from Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, https://www.dhammatalks.org/suttas/MN/MN60.html

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Morality in Buddhism comes from at least two sources:

  1. moral empathy; the human conscience having empathy

  2. moral sensitivity; the human conscience developed in mental/neurological sensitivity.

Moral empathy is described in SN 55.7 as follows, for example:

A noble disciple reflects: ‘I want to live and don’t want to die; I want to be happy and recoil from pain. Since this is so, if someone were to take my life, I wouldn’t like that. But others also want to live and don’t want to die; they want to be happy and recoil from pain. So if I were to take the life of someone else, they wouldn’t like that either. The thing that is disliked by me is also disliked by others. Since I dislike this thing, how can I inflict it on someone else?’ Reflecting in this way, they give up killing living creatures themselves. And they encourage others to give up killing living creatures, praising the giving up of killing living creatures.

Moral sensitivity is described as follows in AN 3.55:

One excited by lust, overcome by lust, with mind obsessed by it, intending for his own affliction, for the affliction of others or for the affliction of both, experiences mental suffering and dejection.

One full of hate, overcome by hatred …

One who is deluded, overcome by delusion, with mind obsessed by it, intending for his own affliction, for the affliction of others or for the affliction of both, experiences mental suffering and dejection.

But when lust, hate, delusion are abandoned, he does not intend for his own affliction, for the affliction of others, or for the affliction of both, and he does not experience mental suffering and dejection. It is in this way, nibbāna is directly visible.

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“There is the case where a disciple of the noble ones reflects thus: ‘I love life & don’t love death. I love happiness & abhor pain. Now if I—loving life & not loving death, loving happiness & abhorring pain—were to be killed, that would be displeasing & disagreeable to me. And if I were to kill another who loves life & doesn’t love death, who loves happiness & abhors pain, that would be displeasing & disagreeable to the other. What is displeasing & disagreeable to me is displeasing & disagreeable to others. How can I inflict on others what is displeasing & disagreeable to me?’ Reflecting in this way, he himself refrains from taking life, he gets others to refrain from taking life, and he speaks in praise of refraining from taking life. In this way, his bodily behavior is pure in three ways.1

“Further, he reflects thus: ‘If someone, by way of theft, were to take from me what I haven’t given, that would be displeasing & disagreeable to me. And if I, by way of theft, were to take from another what he/she hadn’t given, that would be displeasing & disagreeable to the other. What is displeasing & disagreeable to me is displeasing & disagreeable to others. How can I inflict on others what is displeasing & disagreeable to me?’ Reflecting in this way, he himself refrains from taking, by way of theft, what hasn’t been given, he gets others to refrain from taking, by way of theft, what hasn’t been given, and he speaks in praise of refraining from taking, by way of theft, what hasn’t been given. In this way, his bodily behavior is pure in three ways.

“Further, he reflects thus: ‘If someone were to commit adultery with my wives, that would be displeasing & disagreeable to me. And if I were to commit adultery with the wives of another, that would be displeasing & disagreeable to the other. What is displeasing & disagreeable to me is displeasing & disagreeable to others. How can I inflict on others what is displeasing & disagreeable to me?’ Reflecting in this way, he himself refrains from sexual misconduct, he gets others to refrain from sexual misconduct, and he speaks in praise of refraining from sexual misconduct. In this way, his bodily behavior is pure in three ways.

“Further, he reflects thus: ‘If someone were to damage my well-being by telling a lie, that would be displeasing & disagreeable to me. And if I were to damage the well-being of another by telling a lie, that would be displeasing & disagreeable to the other. What is displeasing & disagreeable to me is displeasing & disagreeable to others. How can I inflict on others what is displeasing & disagreeable to me?’ Reflecting in this way, he himself refrains from telling lies, he gets others to refrain from telling lies, and he speaks in praise of refraining from telling lies. In this way, his verbal behavior is pure in three ways.

~ the Buddha, Samyutta Nikaya 55:7, transl. Thanissaro https://www.dhammatalks.org/suttas/SN/SN55_7.html

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