Monday, March 12, 2012

Long Quote on Confession and Ethics

"For many people, a belief in divine punishment or reward is integral to their sense of the meaning of religion. For instance, on a recent journey to India, I met a Sri Lankan Muslim while I was waiting for a connection at Kuwait airport. He was a nice chap and we got talking. When he heard I was a Buddhist, he started asking me about the violent things that he had seen some Buddhist monks doing in Sri Lanka. I had to agree with him and say, ‘Yes, it’s terrible’, because I knew about them too. He went on to ask, ‘Well, what is there that guarantees morality in Buddhism?’  So I tried to explain about Buddhist ethics, but he could only comment, ‘Well, that’s not enough is it? Who is going to refrain from doing bad things, or care about doing good, if there is no punishment for evil?’  To him it seemed obvious that, if people did not believe there was an all-powerful God waiting to fry them if they stepped out of line, they would throw all moral restraint to the winds.

This attitude is found in all theistic religions. In a sense, it is found in Buddhist societies too, although it does not really fit in with the Buddhist view of things. Bhante has often commented that the gory detail in which some Buddhists speak about the torments of hell is really a means of social control, comparable to similar talk in the theistic religious traditions. It seems that most societies have considered it necessary to frighten the mass of people into morality (or at least into docility). I doubt whether such terror tactics are beneficial or even effective, but this is not the place to explore that question. The point is that this fear of a punishing power has got nothing to do with Buddhist morality as such. We should recognise that some of the difficulties that we typically face in our spiritual lives come from our inability to distinguish remorse from its near enemy, namely the fear of losing love and acceptance, or of being punished (or some poisonous brew concocted from the two)."

(from "Remorse and Confession in the Spiritual Community" By Subhuti)

In a way, there's nothing to add to that, but it's a point I struggle with others.  They want ethics to have more bite.  They want to judge people.  The idea that ethics is something you develop for yourself, that you apply to yourself, is a foreign thing.  People want to hack into others.  In a way, there is something profound about just working on yourself, and letting everyone else sort themselves out.  It's the thing you have most control over.

No comments: