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Ethics in Buddhism and Change over Time

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"Ethics" in a particular belief system, is a moral philosophy or set of moral principles and rules of conduct that a group of people believe in and live by. In the Buddhist religion, the fundamental Buddhist teaching is the doctrine of conditionality. Everything is dependent on conditions - nothing has a fixed and final essence and this includes ourselves. Buddhism seeks to minimize any thoughts or actions, that cause humans to suffer and that suffering results from the nature of the reaction to events, rather than necessarily the nature of those events.

Buddhist scriptures provide guidelines to ethical behavior. One's own conscience and understanding of the Dharma ( The religious teaching of Buddha), provides an insight into the working of Karma,( The action that will inevitably give rise to certain results) . Buddhist lay people try to practice the Five Precepts, to live morally, act in a just and spiritual manner, to abstain from: killing living beings, taking what is not given, engaging in sexual misconduct, speaking falsely and taking drink and drugs which confuse the mind.

The following data has been collected from resources obtained from Buddhist philosophy and ethics and from guided conversations with two Thai families, who are practicing Buddhists and uphold and live by the fundamental principles of the Buddhist teaching.

The four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path form the core of Buddhist teachings: that is suffering and sorrow resulting from pain and illness and old age. Death is inevitable and we tend to suffer when we contemplate death. The Buddha argued that a great deal of suffering is caused through the general unsatisfactory nature of the relationships with other human beings. Most human beings suffer, due to the events and cycles in their life, that are inevitable and their reaction to this suffering.

This reaction to human suffering became the Second Noble Truth. Buddha argued that when people desire the world to be different and these desires are impossible to change, e.g., the onset of old age, the result will be pain and suffering. It is argued that we should take sensible steps to slow down he process, such as eating healthy food and exercising, but we cannot change the final result. Also, the acquisition of material possessions can cause suffering, as we desire more and more of what we often will never have.

Buddhists believe, that we should find strategies to end the cycle of having desires and then suffering would cease. This possibility of ceasing suffering is the Third Noble Truth. The Fourth Noble Truth or The Noble Eightfold, was Buddha's strategy to gradually reduce the tendency to suffer. The first requirement is that the individual should hold"Right Views" e.g., appreciate the nature of impermanence. Buddhists appreciate that all things eventually decay and that attachment to the impermanent, will ultimately lead to unhappiness.

Another "Right View" is the doctrine of "no-self" - that is that no permanent soul or self can continue in existence, after the death of an individual. This will minimize suffering. The "Right Resolve" is the second feature of the Eightfold Path and is described as the determination to be non-attached to the material world and to show care and sensitivity towards our fellow beings. Right Speech is the next requirement on the Eightfold Path and involves the willpower not to use unpleasant or harmful speech about others. Related to Right Speech is the requirement of Right Conduct. This prohibits the Buddhist from killing living creatures and from immoral sexual conduct. Stealing is prohibited also, under this Eightfold Path.

The Fifth component of the Eightfold Path is that the Buddhist should not engage in an occupation that harms other living things, e.g. Butcher. The next element of the Eightfold Path is "Right Attention" and this encourages the person to be mindful of everyday events and functions. This incorporates such things as eating, walking, sitting and breathing. The final aspect is "Right Meditation". This is to enable the Buddhist to see the true nature of the physical world and hence avoid suffering. This peace and tranquility is known as nirvana or enlightenment. The focus on breathing or anapanasati, is a common form of meditation - to calm the mind and to prepare it for the next stage of meditation. These meditative techniques are used to try and understand the world in a clearer and more objective way.

Buddhism holds, that because death is not the end, suffering does not cease, but continues until the Karma that created the suffering has played itself out. The willful taking of one's life is an intentional act that is egotistically motivated with



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