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Chapter 4: Distinguishing The Good and The Evil

11/03/201417:24(Xem: 2298)
Chapter 4: Distinguishing The Good and The Evil
The Scientific
Outlook Of Buddhism

By Wang Chi Biu
English Translation By P. H. Wei


Chapter 4

Distinguishing The Good and The Evil

"Refrain from every evil. Practise every good deed." So popular is this dictum that even a little child may be able to say it. In view of the fact that it is generally accepted by every religion, some simple-minded people assume that because all religions teach morality, they are all beneficial to humanity. To scientific-minded person who go into every question by analytic and deductive reasoning, such assumption sounds too simple to be true. Here are a few relevant questions: 1) How do these religions of the world define right and wrong in their own way? 2) What are the criteria to distinguish the right and wrong? 3) What is the objective of every religion to urge people to do good and not to do evil? 1)) Regarding the first question of defining right and wrong, not only there is no uniformity among the world religions; in some respects, they are at variance with one another; whiles ancestral worship is disapproved by some religions, it is supported by Buddhism and Confucianism; again, according to some religions, there is nothing wrong with killing animals for food as they are made by the Creator for human consumption; another religion forbids eating a certain kind of animal only. According to Buddhism, positively it is wrong to kill animals, birds, fish and any other living things just to satisfy one’s palate for food. 2)) As to the question of criteria to determine right and wrong, again, there is no uniformity among the world religions, as every religion goes by its own laws established by its founder, and to disobey them is considered sinful; on the other hand, Buddhism sets up most meticulous rules of discipline for Buddhist at different levels of spiritual development. Those rules for monks and nuns are more numerous and more strict than those for lay Buddhists at large, and what is permissible for Bhiskshus and Bhikshunis does not apply to Buddhists ordained for Bodhisattvahood. 3)) On the question of the objective of moral teaching, all religions hold different views from one another; to go to Paradise is the goal of some religion and to be saints and sages is the aspiration of another, but Buddhism asks for no reward whatsoever either from this world or from Buddha-lands for what Buddhists may attain spontaneously at the advanced stage of buddhahood development is Supreme Perfect Enlightenment. After all, it must be conceded that the question of right and wrong is not so simple as ordinary people think it to be.

Indeed, Buddhism treats the principle of right and wrong most meticulously and most comprehensively. One may do good deeds in either positive or negative way, and good deeds may be either producing good karma or entirely free from karma. If one practises good deeds actively and energetically, this is said to be working in the positive way, and if one refrains from doing evils, this is said to be doing good in the negative way; good deeds that are productive of good karma are not all free from defilements and may be subject to further changes, but good deeds that are karma-free are undefiled pure and unconditioned. Being unable to discern clearly what is right and what is wrong, people generally would say: "I’ll do what is right as prompted by my clear conscience. In my life I’ve never done any evil." This, however, is no assurance at all that one may not go wrong, in view of the fact that every day, every minute, one may be subjected to the impact of stupidity, egoism, arrogance, craving, etc in every act of his daily life, and so he is sowing numerous seeds of bad karma continually and incessantly. Moreover, the so-called "conscience" is no other than the six discriminating Consciousnesses, which, as described in the Sutra, are the "six thieves in one’s own house". This is how unconsciously, one goes wrong easily from day to day, or from moment to moment. In order to do the good and not the evil, the first and foremost thing is to realize the true meaning of good and evil before one chooses what to do, and in order to discern the good and the evil correctly, it is necessary to have good understanding of the fundamental truth of Equality. From the standpoint of Buddhism, true Equality is where the sentient beings art at parity with one another, where there is neither a subject nor an object of parity, nor any distinction between Ego-personality and other-personality. In delusion, sentient beings, however, make discrimination of subject and object, the ego and others; from egoism arise arrogance, pride and self-conceit, and for themselves, they would grab everything, by hook or by crook. This is the fundamental reason why the Ten Demeritorious Deeds (greed, hatred, stupidity, killing, stealing, debauchery, gossip, slander, lying, frivolous talk) and erroneous views crop up in the world so abundantly. IN short, as long as there is egoism, regardless whatever one may do for oneself or for others, all thoughts and behavior corresponding to it would be bad karma automatically; on the other hand, if one is free of egoism, invariable every deed would be good karma. All this shows that in defining and distinguishing right and wrong, Buddhism tackles the question fundamentally at its very root. However, in view of the numerous bad karma of sentient beings accumulated from beginningless time, Buddha has set up various expedient means of cultivation to help all of them at different levels of development to attain gradually the goal of self-enlightenment. On the other hand, other religions, ignorant of the fundamental truth of universal equality of all sentient beings, not only look upon killing living creatures with immunity but also with approval on the ground that though animals have life, they have no consciousness at all and furthermore, they are made by the Creator for human food; positively such heretical views are in striking contrast with the Buddhist principle of Universal Equality of sentient beings. Whereas monotheistic and polytheistic religions, by the imposition of reward and punishment, ask people to believe in God or gods, e.g. believers would go to Paradise and non-believers to hell, Buddhism says that because Buddha-nature is immanent in everyone, fundamentally Buddha and sentient beings are at parity with each other. From this standpoint of Buddhism, to believe in God or any deity to be higher than sentient beings runs counter to the Principle of Universal Equality.

As to the question of establishing criteria to determine right and wrong, instead of stressing on the act, as conventional practices usually do, Buddhism probes into the motive of the act. In the view of Buddhism, scolding and hitting others may not be a bad thing at all if it is done for their benefit, and paying compliments and respects to others may be insincere and wrongful if it is done for an ulterior motive; for one practising Bodhisattva discipline rules, it may not be wrong to kill or to steal, provided that this is done entirely for others’ benefit. To illustrate, if an avaricious and chauvinistic despot, who has caused the loss of innumerable lives and properties of his people, is killed by a Buddhist undergoing Bodhisattva discipline, this is considered not only justifiable and noble, but also highly meritorious. In view of this, we can see what a Positive and Rational religion Buddhism is.

(B) The Universal Law of Cause and Effect

In all aspects of transformations of A) matter, B) mind, and C) matter and mind combined, the Law of Cause and Effect extends its operation incessantly and continuously. From the time of their spiritual development to their attainment of Buddhahood, in and out of this world, sentient being are subjected to the operation of this Law. In view of its extensive application, it may be fittingly called The Universal Law of Cause and Effect. For short, it is called the Law of Cause and Effect; for elaboration, "Cause and Conditions, Fruit and Retribution." The cause means the primary cause and conditions are auxiliary causes; whatever is produced by cause and conditions is called "fruit", and to whoever is responsible for making the cause, the fruit is identically a "retribution". The Law of Cause, Condition, Fruit and Retribution is well summed up in the following gatha: "Even with the passing of hundreds and thousands of aeons, one’s karma may remain and would not bear the fruit till the cause and conditions meet, and then none but its maker alone would have to bear the suffering of the retribution. "In the gatha three points are noteworthy: 1) Karma, as a cause, would not be nullified by itself even after the lapse of long, long time, same as what was said in Newton’s Law of Motion that still things always remained still and moving things were always on the move, and in either case, they would not by themselves, change their phenomena of stillness and motion, unless intervened by an external force. 2) When the cause and conditions meet together, regardless how long and how short this may take, the fruit would be produced eventually, e.g. by the external force, still things would move at once and moving things would either change their direction, or accelerate their speed or come to stop. 3) By one’s doing, which is the cause, one gets the fruit automatically, this is to say, for one’s happiness or misery, one oneself alone is responsible, and neither happiness is reward, nor misery is punishment from God; as claimed by some religion, one gets retribution for another’s doing, and vice versa, but such cases are repudiated by Buddhism to be fallacious and illogical. In science, the Law of Cause and Effect, though included in the Universal Law of Cause and Effect, deals only with material things and their interrelationships. But if the object of research has to do with human affairs or with the mind, then the scientific experiment would come to a halt. From this, it may be seen that the cause-and-effect relationships expounded by science are comparatively simple. For example, when a copper wire moves in a magnetic field, in order to intercept the magnetic line of force, electric pressure would be produced. In this case, the copper wire is the primary cause, its motion and the magnetic line are the conditions and the electric pressure is the effect; but it there is no copper wire, or if the wire is not moving in the magnetic field to counteract the magnetic line of force, there would be no electric pressure at all. From this, it can be clearly seen that the cause-and-effect relationships of material things may be summed up in a simple dictum: "such cause, such effect". In a word, the Law of Cause and Effect works out automatically and precisely in due time. Not only it applies to relationships between the material things, but also those between mind and mind, and to those of combined matter and mind as well. Considering that matter and mind are of one integrated whole, it can be inferred that the Law of Causality, that applies to the one, also holds good with the other.

Of couse, the interrelationships of combined matter and mind are far more complicated than those of material things discussed in the foregoing, and what is said on this question so far, is too precise, readers may better refer to Buddhist Scriptures for comprehensive and meticulous details. Speaking of causes, there are tow fundamental theories: 1) the six causes given by Abbhidharma-kosa-Sastra; and 2) the ten causes given by Yogacarabhumi-Sastra; in both Sastras the sphere of causes is so extensive that conditions (secondary causes) are also included. In Dirghagama Sutra conditions are classified into four different kinds: a) Primary cause and Secondary cause, b) Equal Incessant Causes, c) Condition qua perceived qua perceived object, and d) Condition qua contributing factor (causes helping primary cause to grow). This classification of cause and conditions is common to both Mahayana and Hinayana Schools. In the Pali texts there are as many as twenty-four conditions, resulting from the further divisions of both Condition qua perceived object and Condition qua contributing factor. Under those twenty-four conditions all aspects of interrelationships between mind and form, mind and mind, mind and combined matter and mind, body and mind, combined body and mind and another combined body and mind are dealt with at great length. From this, we can see that the question of complicated and comprehensive relationships of those diverse and manifold phenomena of the world is dealt with thoroughly and scientifically in Buddhism. Let us take up those four general Conditions for brief discussion.
  1. Both cause and conditions are primary causes. For instance cotton is the primary cause of yarn, wheat, the cause of flour, and copper wire, the cause of electric current. As to those cases where mind is concerned or where matter and mind are involved, every act of the body, of the mouth, of the mind, commonly called karma, is the primary cause.
  2. By Equal Incessant Cause, it is meant that owing to the eight Consciousness and their Mental Associates, thoughts arise and pass out from moment to moment continually in succession, and when transformation is brought about in this manner, the cause is called Equal Incessant Cause. Such cause applies to phenomena of the mind exclusively.
  3. When the discriminating mind and the objects of discrimination are confronting each other, with the former looking upon the latter as the object of causation, such phenomenon is attributed to be the secondary cause responsible for subsequent thoughts; thus it is called Condition qua perceived objects.
  4. In all psychic and material phenomena, those causes, either by their being in accord with, or by their being in opposition to the primary cause, affects its subsequent development, and for this reason, they are called Conditions que contributing factor. It holds only with phenomena of material things that if there are a primary cause and conditions qua perceived objects, the fruit would be produced accordingly, but as to those phenomena where mind is involved, the four conditions must be present together to bear the fruit.

Fruits produced by the combination of causes and conditions as enumerated in the foregoing are classified in to five categories:
  1. Vipakaphala, (retribution maturing at various times);
  2. Nisyandaphala, (like effects from like causes);
  3. Visamyogaphala (cutting off the retribution bond);
  4. Perusakaraphala, (the fruit as result of human activity);
  5. Adhiputiphala, (dominant effect or superior fruit).

For better and deeper understanding of those interrelationships, readers may refer to Abhidharma-kosa-Sastra and Vidya-matra-siddhi Sastra(Theory of Mere Consciousness).

As said in the Sutras, all material things and environments including the earth, mountains, rivers, the sun, the moon, stars, planets, birds, animals, etc. etc. are not made by a creator, but are produced by the collective karma of humanity, formed either in the past generations or at the present age. For instance, from the time Shanghai (The biggest city in China) was open to foreign trade to its development as the largest commercial port of China, the cause and effect of this incident came about in less than a century and so could be known more easily than the sun, the earth, the moon, etc., the causes of which can traced from the past history of thousands of years ago. However, the operation of Buddhist Law of Cause and Effect is unrestricted by time; when causes would bear fruit, varies in every case, as causes implanted in the past may meet conditions either at the present age or in the next generation or more, and with the causes sown in this life, this also holds true; in a word, when the fruit may become mature depends solely on when the cause and conditions will meet together. Ignorant of the Law of Cause and Effect operating in this manner, some people say that the Law is unsound because the cause and the effect do not correspond with each other, as shown by the fact that some good people have suffered bad retribution in their lifetime while the notorious had enjoyed their good fortune to their last day. Of course, those critics entirely miss the fundamental principle of the Law; on the one hand, the good and bad fruit could be produced by causes sown in past lives, and on the other hand, it is possible that causes of good and bad karma sown in this life may not have met the conditions as yet and so the fruit is still not mature.

The fundamental truth, as pointed out by the Law of Cause and Effect, is this; for one’s own doing, be it good or bad, none can be free from retribution; neither can take another person’s retribution by proxy. It is wrong to assume that descendents would be blessed with fruit of good deeds of their ancestors, for whatever fortune may have come to them is the fruit of their own good karma which have nothing to do with those of the latter; furthermore, under the principle, that good draw the good, it is possible for "like father" and "like son" to be united together in one family. This is the way the Law operates. Furthermore, as pointed out by the Law of Causality, cause and effect are at parity with each other; a cause is also an effect of its cause, an effect is also a cause of another effect, and so ad infinitum. Therefore, as far as their formation is concerned, both cause and effect are not fixed but relative to each other, e.g. where there is cause, there is effect, and vice versa. For instance, yarn is the fruit of cotton and itself the cause of cloth. Likewise, cloth is the fruit of yarn and the cause of clothing. Apart from material things, the Law also operates in the sphere of human affairs, e.g., father is the son of grandfather and father of his child, and the same may be said of grandfather, and ad infinitum. In view of this, not only is the Unequal Cause Theory illogical but also fallacious, because it is not conforming with the reality. As deduced from the Buddhist Law of Cause and Effect, necessarily, life goes on in three periods of time, namely, the past, the present and the future. Because of incessant and continuous operation of this Law, there is neither a "first" cause nor a "last" effect, inasmuch as cause is always preceded by its own cause and an effect is always followed by its own effect. It is on this principle that the Theory of Transmigration into six levels of existence is established. Though without the supernatural power of clairvoyance, we cannot see how this Law operates in the sequence of time from the past to the present and from the present to the future, nevertheless, by direct inference and logical reasoning, this theory is sound and credible.

One may ask: conceding that from the Law of Cause and Effect, we have no difficulty in knowing the relationships between material things and also those between matter and mind, (e.g. those psychological reactions and sensations to material things such as pleasure and pain, sadness and joy, etc.) however, can the mind change material things or not? "Yes, it can" Considering that fruits mature at varying times, in such cases, if they do not come in the present life, the truth cannot be verified, however, there are ample proofs and concrete examples to show that while responding to things, the mind can cause, and does cause them to change. At the bare mentioning of sour plum, saliva comes out of the mouth automatically. While ascending to a steepy rock overhanging the mountain, if we just think of what danger we may encounter in the climbing, at once the feet become so weak that they can hardly stand firm or be lifted up at all. Again, in wet dreams, even though the object of affection is imaginary, emission takes place actually. According to a legendary tale, Lee Kwong (A ancient Chinese general in Song Dynasty), a hunter, who shot a tiger at a distance, found that the object was a rock and the arrow pierced so deep into it that it could not be pulled out; to test his own strength, he shot at the rock again and again and despite his doing his utmost, none of his arrows could stick into it at all. In his childhood, Kumarajiva, the distinguished Buddhist personage, once went with his mother to a monastery, and seeing a bowl, playfully put in on the head. Later, taking it off, and on recognizing that it was made of metal, he could not life it any more. From the above instances, it is obviously clear, that material things can be changed by the mind. It is because fundamentally, weight and hardness are not inherent in material things in degrees, and it is not until with the emergence of the condition qua contributing factor of the body-organ that the body-consciousness would give rise to the concept of how hard and how heavy those things are felt to be. When there are changes with the condition, the weight and hardness would be changed correspondingly, thus a rock might appear no harder than a tiger’s skin and an iron bowl as light as a tile. Extraordinary as this seems to be, yet in the light of the Theory of Mere Consciousness, all the instances are simple, common and rational. Considering that all transformations of matter, of mind and of the combination of matter and mind are governed by the Law of Cause and Effect, and none of the transformations can be free of the operation of this Law, is it not fitting to call it the Universal Law of Cause and Effect?

(C) Holding To Existence, Extinction, Annihilation and Permanence

Being ignorant of the Buddhist Theory of Causation, people assume that everything is unchanging and permanent, consequently they attach undue importance to material possessions, particularly life and wealth, but when they see the common incidents of death and loss of fortune in everyday life, the become passive and pessimistic with the opposite thought that whatever has ceased to exist is extinct permanently. However, if they realize the principle that everything produced by causes and conditions is devoid of self-nature, they would come to understand that the existence of everything is illusory and unreal, and so is its extinction. If its extinction is real, how can it exist again after its extinction? On the other hand, if its existence is real, there should be no extinction at all. According to the Theory of Conservation of Matter, in the old physics, all material things were taken to be real, permanent and immutable. If this was true, there should be no annihilation; on the other hand, if annihilation was real, consequently, there should no existence at all e.g. once mountains, people and things were annihilated, their extinction should be permanent and immutable. However, as prove by modern scientists, material things are neither stable nor immutable, and so is their extinction. When matter becomes extinct, it turns into energy; inversely, when energy is extinct, matter is formed. Thus the transformations of matter and energy are inter-changeable. This is in full accord with the Buddhist principle that insofar as the essence of a thing is neither existent nor extinct, despite the manifold transformations of its illusory phenomena, everything may be said to be neither existent nor annihilating. On the other hand, those who are ignorant of this truth, assume that every illusory phenomenon is stable and real, and so they cling to the Theory of Eternalism. And on learning from Buddhist Scriptures that all illusory phenomena exist and become extinct, by causation, again they make the wrong assumption that the essence of everything is to exist and to become extinct by causation, and so they abide in Annihilation. In short, Eternalism is a conventional misconception but Annihilation is a far more vicious and dangerous heretical view.

"Life is empty. Let us eat, drink and make merry while we can. And why should we be so foolish to practise austerity?" From Buddhism’s point of view, such common talk in every society is foolish and self-deceptive, for on analysis, it may be said to be partly Annihilation and partly Eternalism. To say that life is empty falls into the concept of Annihilation and is in sharp contrast with the True Void and Reality of Buddhism; if they think that to "eat, drink and make merry" is a real thing in life, this carries the notion of permanence. Again, on the assumption that those "real" things would be annihilated and their extinction would be permanent, they would indulge themselves in the enjoyment of five sensuous desires to the utmost degree but make no effort to cultivate good deeds. Such is the outlook of life of those good and honest people at large. With their misunderstanding that Buddhism is established on theological basis and is deceitful and superstitious, those who are strongly entrenched with annihilation, however, defiantly ignore the law of Cause, Condition, Fruit and Retribution, and for their own advantages, would exert every effort to grab power, to seek wealth and to satisfy their selfish desires by all means. If they commit so much evil every day, surely their bad karma would lead them nowhere but infinite sufferings consequently. To understand Existence, Extinction, Annihilation and Permanence precisely, two charts are herewith presented in the following:
Chart A) What is Said by Buddha

Substance: neither existent nor extinct – Non-Annihilation.

Illusory Phenomena: both existent and extinct Impermanence.

Chart B) Illusory Phenomena Misconceived by Sentient Being To Be Realty

a. Those illusory phenomena that have been formed are taken to be permanent.
b. Those illusory phenomena that have not become extinct are taken to be permanent.
c. Those illusory phenomena that are still unformed are take to be annihilated.
d. Those illusory phenomena that are extinct are taken to be annihilated.

By way of illustration, some scientific facts may be mentioned here to show that in both charts A and B, all the statements can be substantiated to be valid truths by scientific principles. When switch is turned on, there is electric light. People who have knowledge of Electrical Science usually think that the intensity of electric light is stable and unchangeable, and so is the electric current. This may be said to be an illusion arising from permanence. In truth, since the quantity and the direction of electric current undergo momentary changes continually, electric light corresponds to the changes accordingly, but it changes so quickly that this can hardly be seen by the naked eye. Again, those people used to think that electric current, like water supply from waterpipe, comes from the Power plant. This is general illusion regarding the "coming" of electricity. Electric current is also called alternate current in the Electrical Science, for the variations of its quantity corresponds to the sine curve, that is, it proceeds to one direction by arising from zero to the maximum degree, then diminishing its intensity gradually and receding back to the zero point, where by the same process it goes to the opposite direction, and this is the way electric current, while undergoing changes, moves alternately. From this, it can be seen that in the sequence of its alternate transmutations from arising to cessation and from cessation to arising operating incessantly in a cycle, electric current is unstable at every moment. Also it may be inferred that when the current runs back and forth along the wire, its quantity would neither increase when it is turned on by the switch nor would decrease when it is turned off; meanwhile, regardless of electric light being turned on or off, the quantity of electrons of copper atoms of the electric wire remains unchanged. Where there is no increase, there is no creation; where there is no decrease, there is no extinction. As long as the process of alternate arising and cessation of electric current is in continuous operation, such phenomenal changes only show that electric current is unstable and impermanent at all times. As the electrons of copper atoms neither decrease nor become extinct, they may be said to be non-extinct. Then switch is on, electrons produce electric light, and when it is off, they give no light, thus their functions may be said to be non-identical. As they are unchanged, whether they are still or in motion, they may be said to be undifferentiated from one another. When electric current is on, it causes the electrons of the wire to be vibrating but no electrons are transmitted by power station; this indicates that there is no " coming" of electricity at all. With the cessation of electric current, the electrons remain where they are and this may be said that there is no "going" of electrons. From this analogy, the profound implications of the following statement from the Sutra may be realized:

"neither existent nor extinct, neither increasing nor decreasing, neither permanent no annihilating, neither identical nor differentiated, and neither coming nor going."
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26/03/2011(Xem: 2118)
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15/03/2011(Xem: 2097)
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05/01/2011(Xem: 2890)
The topic of this panel is "Biotechnology: Boon or Bane for Spiritual Development." It has very often been said that we are on the threshold of the biotech century, and I am sure that all of you are very clearly aware that genetic engineering is going to totally reshape life on this planet in many ways: economically, politically, scientifically--particularly in terms of medicine, and also environmentally.
01/12/2010(Xem: 2653)
It was many years ago when I became a Buddhist and I was quite young, between 14 and 16, but I remember that it was first of all the two facts of rebirth and Kamma which convinced me of the truth of the Dhamma.
12/05/2010(Xem: 10900)
The Pope, who managed to get the United Nations "International Year for Tolerance" off to a good start with the launch of his book, 'Crossing the Threshold of Hope' - Johnathan Cape, London, has demonstrated his abysmal ignorance and lack of understanding of Buddhism. Although he, with reservations, expresses guarded approval of Judaism, Hinduism and Islam, he considers Buddhism beyond the pale. He trots out the usual cliches about Buddhism being "negative" and pessimistic. What really worries him is the appeal Buddhism has to the 'Western' mind, especially to Catholics who see in Buddhist meditation techniques something that has been lost from the contemplative tradition of early Christianity. He provides no logical arguments against Buddhism but resorts to dogma to prove his point.
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Nguyện đem công đức này, trang nghiêm Phật Tịnh Độ, trên đền bốn ơn nặng, dưới cứu khổ ba đường,
nếu có người thấy nghe, đều phát lòng Bồ Đề, hết một báo thân này, sinh qua cõi Cực Lạc.

May the Merit and virtue,accrued from this work, adorn the Buddhas pureland,
Repay the four great kindnesses above, andrelieve the suffering of those on the three paths below,
may those who see or hear of these efforts generates Bodhi Mind, spend their lives devoted to the Buddha Dharma,
the Land of Ultimate Bliss.

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