Purpose versus morality

iBrian

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Does everything have purpose?

In the "Past Lives" thread I commented on seeing constructive purpose in what could be perceived as "moral" and "immoral" action.

I see the ability to make meaning in many things – assuming we sit down and ascertain their purpose. By that I'm referencing world events.

History is my guide here, and how a close reading of any part of human history shows how inextricably linked events are. Cause has effect, and effect initiates cause.

Where injustice is perceived humanity has a habit of addressing the wrong, where it can – though not often in terms of an individual lifetime (think: apartheid here).

A more specific example that comes to mind is Adolf Hitler and his rule over Nazi Germany – more precisely, the effects of the Second World War. On the one-hand, the Nazi's are held responsible for the callous execution of around 7million people (mainly composed of Jews, but also Romany, Soviets, etc) – all performed with a precision beyond the Japanese, despite the fact that history records Hirihito's men as directly responsible for the deaths of 10 million Chinese.

Did Adolf Hitler serve a purpose, though? Could it be said, after all, that he was nothing more than a tool of Fate? Aside from the technical and medicinal innovations that resulted directly from WWII, there were also marked ideology changes. The most marked that comes to mind was of Eugenics.

Darwin's proposition of evolution of species created fertile ground for imagining a superior human race. Frederick Nietsche wrote about it. Even Darwin's eccentric cousin, Francis Galton, promoted and developed the theory. What Adolf Hitler showed us is precisely what Eugenics can deliver – a single "superior race" that seeks to exists by exterminating (purifying) others. The Nazi's taught us to be repulsed by Eugenics – a decade before the DNA molecule was mapped.

Now we have a developing embryonic field of genetic science – the science of genetics – just at the right time to abhor the direct genetic construction of a "superior" human race.

The point of this waffle – in the scheme of all things and in the breadth of the universe – has humanity ultimately been positively affected by acts of terrible immorality? If so, does that mean therefore there are positive moral consequences or negative immoral action?

Therefore does that not mean that morality itself has far less meaning in the universe than world religious thought would prefer? In fact, is morality itself not an irrelevant term excepting within the confines of human cultures? Is the universe not ultimately amoral?

Something for discussion. :)



 

Vajradhara

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I said:
Does everything have purpose?

In the "Past Lives" thread I commented on seeing constructive purpose in what could be perceived as "moral" and "immoral" action.

I see the ability to make meaning in many things – assuming we sit down and ascertain their purpose. By that I'm referencing world events.

History is my guide here, and how a close reading of any part of human history shows how inextricably linked events are. Cause has effect, and effect initiates cause.

Where injustice is perceived humanity has a habit of addressing the wrong, where it can – though not often in terms of an individual lifetime (think: apartheid here).

A more specific example that comes to mind is Adolf Hitler and his rule over Nazi Germany – more precisely, the effects of the Second World War. On the one-hand, the Nazi's are held responsible for the callous execution of around 7million people (mainly composed of Jews, but also Romany, Soviets, etc) – all performed with a precision beyond the Japanese, despite the fact that history records Hirihito's men as directly responsible for the deaths of 10 million Chinese.

Did Adolf Hitler serve a purpose, though? Could it be said, after all, that he was nothing more than a tool of Fate? Aside from the technical and medicinal innovations that resulted directly from WWII, there were also marked ideology changes. The most marked that comes to mind was of Eugenics.

Darwin's proposition of evolution of species created fertile ground for imagining a superior human race. Frederick Nietsche wrote about it. Even Darwin's eccentric cousin, Francis Galton, promoted and developed the theory. What Adolf Hitler showed us is precisely what Eugenics can deliver – a single "superior race" that seeks to exists by exterminating (purifying) others. The Nazi's taught us to be repulsed by Eugenics – a decade before the DNA molecule was mapped.

Now we have a developing embryonic field of genetic science – the science of genetics – just at the right time to abhor the direct genetic construction of a "superior" human race.

The point of this waffle – in the scheme of all things and in the breadth of the universe – has humanity ultimately been positively affected by acts of terrible immorality? If so, does that mean therefore there are positive moral consequences or negative immoral action?

Therefore does that not mean that morality itself has far less meaning in the universe than world religious thought would prefer? In fact, is morality itself not an irrelevant term excepting within the confines of human cultures? Is the universe not ultimately amoral?

Something for discussion. :)


Namaste Brian,

another good thread topic....

the Buddhist position is essentially thus: interdependent co-arising. which basically states that this is because that is and that is because this is. in terms of cause and effect... it cannot be shown where something arises without dependence upon something else. in an explicitly causal universe (cause producing effect and effect producing the next cause) you'll eventually find yourself with an infinite regress, the Buddhist position is that all things derive thier nature and essence in dependence upon other things. things are "co-arising" which means coming into being (effect) whilst, at the same time, being the source for something else to come into being (cause).

with that out of the way.. let's move along with the reply...

in a sense there is a connotation of "good" and "bad" in the way these terms are used... and this is inherent to the terms themselves, in my opinion. morals and ethics are, they are neither good nor bad in and of themselves. it is only the presence of a percieving consiciouness that divdes them into "good" and "bad". i would also posit that there are no universal moral absolutes. of course, there is no way for us to know that logically, however, i suppose i would even go so far as to say that there are no earthly moral absolutes.
 

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This is all the sort of talk that can terribly rile the fundamentalists! Absolute morality is one of the banes of belief and has turned some friends I know into self-proclaimed judges of all things right and wrong as if omnipotent.
 

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Dave the Web said:
This is all the sort of talk that can terribly rile the fundamentalists! Absolute morality is one of the banes of belief and has turned some friends I know into self-proclaimed judges of all things right and wrong as if omnipotent.

Namaste Dave,

thank you for the post.

i agree with you in every respect here :)

that's one of the oddly quirky things of monotheism, in my opinion, that of the "righteous". in common use that is simply slang for people that agree with what they already believe.. and by extension, the "un-righteous" are those that disagree with them.

i don't think that fundamentalism is "bad", i actually think that it can be rather positive for some people. in my opinion, it's spiritual materialism rearing it's ugly head (read ego) that causes so much consternation.

i never intend to offend however i realize that someone may become so despite my intentions. if anyone reading this thread is offended, please accept my apology.
 

iBrian

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Vajradhara -

I am curious - how do you relate to your following comment:

i would also posit that there are no universal moral absolutes.

with what you wrote elsewhere about Karma? I'm under the impression that you imply that there's a general acceptance that Karma is driven by some absolute sense of morality. I'll not quote you here, as much as reference the idea, as I don't want to be seen to be "attacking" your position. I'm simply curious as to whether you see an incongruity - or, perhaps more likely, it is simply a consequence of being on a spiritual path, and its an issue not yet addressed to your own satisfaction?
 

Vajradhara

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I said:
Vajradhara -

I am curious - how do you relate to your following comment:



with what you wrote elsewhere about Karma? I'm under the impression that you imply that there's a general acceptance that Karma is driven by some absolute sense of morality. I'll not quote you here, as much as reference the idea, as I don't want to be seen to be "attacking" your position. I'm simply curious as to whether you see an incongruity - or, perhaps more likely, it is simply a consequence of being on a spiritual path, and its an issue not yet addressed to your own satisfaction?

Namaste Brian,

thank you for the post.

Karma is the universal moral law, in and of itself, there is nothing that drives karma, per sey.

when people use the terms "absolute" and "truth" and so forth, there is an underlying presumtion therein. that presumption is that these people have ascertained these things.. in many cases, people feel this way due to a religious teaching. for instance, one may say that Braham created all these things and so forth and that is a "truth" for them. it is not a truth for a Christian or a Muslim and so forth.

in my school of Buddhism we view things a bit differently :) we have a doctrine of the Two Truths which basically states that there is a relative truth and an absolute truth. we are capable of understanding the relative truth since it is through our senses that we ascertain these things.. and as such, they are constrained by what they can experience. the absolute truth is beyond the range of the senses and cannot be comprehended via the intellect. so, in a sense, we can postulate an absolute truth however we can never know it. we can know relative truth... and that is the basis for my statement.

now... we can speak of absolute truth in a theoritical sense however we must keep in mind that the words we use and the concepts we try to convey are not even crude approximiations to the absolute truth.

it would, perhaps, be easier to understand this way of thinking if you were to keep in mind one of the fundamental tenets of Buddhism.. which is that everyone is acting and thinking with a deluded mind and as such the product of such a deluded mind is only going to be an illusion itself.

however... i realize that i may not have answered the question posed... if so, i apologize! :)
 

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if this, then that

morality and purpose are mutually exclusive concepts. one does not depend on or define the other. good and bad intentions may have good and/or bad consequences. whether a thing is good or bad depends on our perspective of it. what is good for some may be bad for others. or bad in one context, but good in another. a primarily bad thing may have secondary good effects. or a primarily good thing may have secondary bad effects. this is neither good nor bad in and of itself... merely causation.
and realize also that purpose can be served intentionally and unintentionally/ expected and unexpected.
purpose is a matter of cause and effect; while morality is a matter of good-bad determinations. morality seeks to evaluate whether causation is good or bad for us in some sense. we make the mistake of habitually dualizing reality-- forcing one or the other instead this and that, but nothing is completely good or bad. good and bad must be properly evaluated according to how cause and effect relate to each other.
indeed, it may be said that there are no effects, merely an infinite series of causes. the end does justify the means.
 

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errata

that last sentence warrants clarification:
in evaluating ends and means, one should consider the ends and means in relation to each other. the end determines the value of the means. means define the ends, but they do not determine the value of the ends.
intentions may be good, but if they cause bad to happen, then they've served a bad purpose. the merit of means is independent from the merit of ends. good may serve a bad purpose. bad may serve a good purpose.
the means may be esteemed as bad while the ends may be deemed good.
and, of course, good may cause good; bad may cause bad.
 

iBrian

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Hi Varadjara

The whole issue of the subjective experience versus an objective reality is a favourite subject of mine. :)

Unfortunately, any postulated objective reality is unknown to us, as everything comes through the subjective experience (not simply personally, but also culturally defined).

The issue with religious belief is that commonly there is the presumption that objective reality is fully accessible to the subjective experience – at least for the founders and direct followers, if not also core believers.

The wide variety of the claimed interpretations of objective reality does nothing to dispel the notion that subjective experience is the primary shaper of these ideas – not to mention supporting the idea that the subjective experience is too flawed to be relied on to define Objective Reality.

Now, a couple of points you've raised about Buddhism are quite interesting.

For a start, you refer to karma as being like a form of 'moral engine'. However, as we've indicated, this can only be a matter of 'faith' in the first place.

From your own description, either my ignorance flaws my perceptions of it, or else there is a conflict in Buddhism (as I see it in your comments).

With reference to your words about Karma and the 32 marks of the Buddha: the implication from my own reading of them is that Buddhism insists there is a moral engine, which rewards the "good" with material riches and beauty – and punishes the "bad" with poverty and ugliness!!

Hopefully I'm not the only one who sees an incongruity in that perception with general Buddhist ideology! Otherwise Buddhism, in this regard, is described as promoting materialism and superficiality!
More seriously, the argument that those who are poor are so as a result of misdeeds in previous existences, is something I find insidious – it diminishes the worth of the ordinary peasant in lieu of an almost sycophantic regard for the upper echelons of society. In simpler terms, it skates close to the Orientalism of the upper classes being closer to the Divine. It also implies a universal judgement and condemnation of humanity not too far removed from monotheistic Hell – instead of being tormented in an place of abstract origin, people are instead tortured in this physical existence.

Of course, I may have quite misunderstood what you were describing – Eastern Thought is not a strong study area for myself. I tend to focus more directly on the cultures surrounding the Mediterranean Basin, so likely I've misinterpreted your comments.

 

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I said:
Hi Varadjara

The whole issue of the subjective experience versus an objective reality is a favourite subject of mine. :)

Unfortunately, any postulated objective reality is unknown to us, as everything comes through the subjective experience (not simply personally, but also culturally defined).

The issue with religious belief is that commonly there is the presumption that objective reality is fully accessible to the subjective experience – at least for the founders and direct followers, if not also core believers.

The wide variety of the claimed interpretations of objective reality does nothing to dispel the notion that subjective experience is the primary shaper of these ideas – not to mention supporting the idea that the subjective experience is too flawed to be relied on to define Objective Reality.

Now, a couple of points you've raised about Buddhism are quite interesting.

For a start, you refer to karma as being like a form of 'moral engine'. However, as we've indicated, this can only be a matter of 'faith' in the first place.

From your own description, either my ignorance flaws my perceptions of it, or else there is a conflict in Buddhism (as I see it in your comments).

With reference to your words about Karma and the 32 marks of the Buddha: the implication from my own reading of them is that Buddhism insists there is a moral engine, which rewards the "good" with material riches and beauty – and punishes the "bad" with poverty and ugliness!!

Hopefully I'm not the only one who sees an incongruity in that perception with general Buddhist ideology! Otherwise Buddhism, in this regard, is described as promoting materialism and superficiality!
More seriously, the argument that those who are poor are so as a result of misdeeds in previous existences, is something I find insidious – it diminishes the worth of the ordinary peasant in lieu of an almost sycophantic regard for the upper echelons of society. In simpler terms, it skates close to the Orientalism of the upper classes being closer to the Divine. It also implies a universal judgement and condemnation of humanity not too far removed from monotheistic Hell – instead of being tormented in an place of abstract origin, people are instead tortured in this physical existence.

Of course, I may have quite misunderstood what you were describing – Eastern Thought is not a strong study area for myself. I tend to focus more directly on the cultures surrounding the Mediterranean Basin, so likely I've misinterpreted your comments.


Namaste Brian,

thank you for the post.

That position is pretty much the Buddhist position... objective reality cannot be known, only subject reality for it is through our very sense that we know reality. Buddism doesn't posit an object reality verses a subject reality... what it really does, though there is some debate herein, is postulate a conventionl truth and an aboslute truth. though not perhaps in the same way in which we mean those terms in the west. since i've already touched on that in a previous post, i'll move along.

we don't consider karma to be a matter of faith, per se, rather a matter of observation. we observe that a person that tends to act and behave in negative ways engenders negative consequences and vice versa. in the same way that "you reap what you sow" and "the shadow follows the wheel of the oxcart" we, by engaging in positive or negative actions, reap what we sow.

ah.. here's the thing... there is no reward or punishment within the system of karma... if you find yourself in a low position or afflicted with a terrible pox, that is due to karma. if you find yourself in a high position or fantastically wealthy, that is also due to karma. karma is not imposed by an outside power as a system of rewards or punishments.. karma is the natural process whereby the actions that one engages in create consequences, and karma is the ripening of those consequences.

let me use an analogy...

we don't consider that the farmer was punished when, because the farmer failed to plant the seeds correctly or water them as they need to be, the crop fails to come in and his family starves. no, we consider that the farmer is paying the consequences of his failure to plant the seeds at the right time and to water the crop correctly. this isn't a punishment nor, conversely, if the crop were to come in would it be a reward. it would be the natural result of planting the seeds at the right time and watering the crop correctly.

to make it all even more complicated.... karma is individual, group (city, state) and country! it is said that only an enlightened one can truly comprehend the workings of karma.

oh, i think that you're ideas of what karma is do match what some people think that karma is. this attitude that you are describing is akin to the way in which karma was understood through the Hindu system. in that system, karma was.. for all intents and purposes, unchangeable and one suffered or was proposerious due to their own merit... a foreseeable consequence was that people weren't too keen on helping others, being as their condition was brought upon by themselves.

Buddhism specifically rejects this position, for we feel that karma is something malleable... something you can change. though the karma that you are enduring right now, has already ripened, there is plenty that has not and you can change the conditions so that the negative karma doesn't ripen and the postive karma does.

this is why we do not have as fatalistic a view on things as some would initially suspect :)
 

iBrian

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Hi there, Vajradhara

Certainly there is a danger of Karma appearing to Free Will, which in itself would create particular philosophical issues. I think this one way in which you mean that the Buddhist interpretation is further developed, by eliminating this risk.

However, I still feel the suggestion of wealth, beauty, etc, as rewards for actions in previous lives to seem terribly materialistic and much against my general understanding of Buddhist philosophy – which involves the negation of meaning in all things material. Hence why Siddhartha Guatama never returned to his throne – the acceptance of material things was irrelevant to happiness.

After all, if a material thing is of no worth, then where is the spiritual reward in being given even more worthlessness?

I hope you can see my concern there – or perhaps mis-understanding, whichever is the more appropriate term. :)

Consequences within a single life-time – this I can plainly see. :) History is very much a witness to this (and personal experience). What I find hard to comprehend is that events beyond a lifetime will shape it's physical manifestation.

I observe Nature - and I see that nature plays a numbers game. Most animals will procreate more young than can be expected to survive, precisely because Nature runs on an engine where every organism on this earth will be consumed by another, whether its own species, a predator, or detritus feeder.

So when a frog lays thousands of eggs in a pond, is it predetermined which of them may live? Or is it strictly a reference point for humans, in that we are suggested as being the only creatures with Freewill?

Or perhaps I am stuck in thinking about Karma in a Vedic sense of the term, rather than Buddhist - or simply I've failed to grasp the reasoning for causation between lifetimes. Perhaps (again!) at the heart of the misunderstanding is the perception of time itself!

Now let's see how that relates to the original issue of morality. :)

 

Vajradhara

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I said:
Hi there, Vajradhara

Certainly there is a danger of Karma appearing to Free Will, which in itself would create particular philosophical issues. I think this one way in which you mean that the Buddhist interpretation is further developed, by eliminating this risk.

However, I still feel the suggestion of wealth, beauty, etc, as rewards for actions in previous lives to seem terribly materialistic and much against my general understanding of Buddhist philosophy – which involves the negation of meaning in all things material. Hence why Siddhartha Guatama never returned to his throne – the acceptance of material things was irrelevant to happiness.

After all, if a material thing is of no worth, then where is the spiritual reward in being given even more worthlessness?

I hope you can see my concern there – or perhaps mis-understanding, whichever is the more appropriate term. :)

Consequences within a single life-time – this I can plainly see. :) History is very much a witness to this (and personal experience). What I find hard to comprehend is that events beyond a lifetime will shape it's physical manifestation.

I observe Nature - and I see that nature plays a numbers game. Most animals will procreate more young than can be expected to survive, precisely because Nature runs on an engine where every organism on this earth will be consumed by another, whether its own species, a predator, or detritus feeder.

So when a frog lays thousands of eggs in a pond, is it predetermined which of them may live? Or is it strictly a reference point for humans, in that we are suggested as being the only creatures with Freewill?

Or perhaps I am stuck in thinking about Karma in a Vedic sense of the term, rather than Buddhist - or simply I've failed to grasp the reasoning for causation between lifetimes. Perhaps (again!) at the heart of the misunderstanding is the perception of time itself!

Now let's see how that relates to the original issue of morality. :)


Namaste Brian,

hmm.. i don't want to derail this thread... so i'll tell you what... i'll post a more thorough explanation of Karma, mostly from a Theravedan view, in a new thread and we can continue with the disucssion of morality on this one :)
 

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eugenics

Did Adolf Hitler serve a purpose, though? Could it be said, after all, that he was nothing more than a tool of Fate? Aside from the technical and medicinal innovations that resulted directly from WWII, there were also marked ideology changes. The most marked that comes to mind was of Eugenics.

Darwin's proposition of evolution of species created fertile ground for imagining a superior human race. Frederick Nietsche wrote about it. Even Darwin's eccentric cousin, Francis Galton, promoted and developed the theory. What Adolf Hitler showed us is precisely what Eugenics can deliver – a single "superior race" that seeks to exists by exterminating (purifying) others. The Nazi's taught us to be repulsed by Eugenics – a decade before the DNA molecule was mapped.

From Louis..
First let me apologise for my general ignorance -
I don't even know how to spell "Buddha"....
But I do know something about "Eugenics".
It's a BOGUS science - something which BEGAN with
the twisted notion of Aryan superiorty and was then
propped up by inconsistent evidence.
True science always begins from ZERO and goes only
where consistent evidence leads .
Read the notes and journals of Dr. Mengele and you
will see the Nazis were TOTALY ignorant of genetics !
 
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